The Lonely Jew at Christmas
We’re all familiar with that feeling, best summed up by loveable Jewish South Park character Kyle Broflovski: “I’m a Jew. A lonely Jew. On Christmas.” The lonely holiday season starts earlier every year. First, the local Target clears out the Halloween costumes and dusts the shelves. Then come the decorations: Red and green everything, from placemats to socks to Hershey®’s Kisses®. Then there’s someone ringing an annoying little bell outside of every supermarket. All this is before the carols are pumped into every radio station and Muzak system. Before you know it, you’re feeling excluded–Bah Humbug!–and craving Chinese food, left to wonder if there are any good movies playing.
Well, you’re not alone. Comedian Lewis Black, The Daily Show’s chief curmudgeon, has taken on the subject in his soon-to-be-holiday classic, I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas.
In the book, we see a side of Black that doesn’t quite mesh with the angry, ranting persona we see in his stand-up routines. It is the side that doesn’t have a wife or kids to soften the sense of exclusion–he divorced his wife after discovering that their baby’s real father was a mime (that’s not a joke). If that doesn’t explain why he feels lonely in the “family holiday” season, nothing will.
It’s the time of year when everywhere you look family is extolled and glorified, presented as the ultimate goal and mile marker of life. Everywhere we look, we are told that family is what’s really important and if you haven’t got that, well, a lump of coal starts to look good. “If you’re single during Christmas, and I don’t know, I mean, if you’re a single woman I don’t even know how you survive it,” Black told Moment in an exclusive interview.
For Black, being alone exemplifies the Jewish-Christmas experience, which he believes inspires empathy through the experience of being an outsider. “You’re separated from the rest of society…you’re not a part of that group, the big group.” You know, that group being the one that celebrates Christmas.
Like many Jews, Black grew up with Christmas envy. Raised in a largely Jewish neighborhood of Silver Spring, Maryland, Black engaged in a tradition with which many American Jews are familiar; he’d go over to his Christian friends’ houses to see what presents they received. Despite having many positive Jewish experiences, Black soon realized his rather large Hebrew vocabulary didn’t have much use outside of temple, and was tired of having to share his birthday with the entirety of the Jewish enterprise in the Middle East because it coincided with Israel’s Independence Day. A pledge drive during Yom Kippur services proved a bridge too far so he “bailed on the Jewish traditions.”
Now, without a religious community or a family, he spends every year with his own Christmas ritual: Black shares a meal with the same couple and their children because, as he writes in his book, “otherwise I might not get out of bed and my friends took pity on me and they know what will get me up and moving: Food.” He then goes home to sit at his kitchen table and cut checks to some of his favorite non-profit organizations. “It just makes me feel that I’m involved with the day in some fashion and it also seems like the day you should do it.” His favorite charities include the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, The Michael J. Fox Foundation, The Children’s Health Fund and The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, among many others.
Black writes, “It’s the best present I give myself every year. (In fact, it’s the only time I give the absolutely perfect present to the absolutely right person.)”
By Amelia Cohen-Levy