"Mum, I've got exciting news... I'm going to be Joseph in the Nativity Play!"
What do you say? We live in a small Cotswolds town. I am the only Rabbi in the county. My son is the only Jewish child in his secular state school. In fact, he is the only child in his school of any non-Christian religion. I told them not to exclude him from any school activities but I never imagined they would cast him as Joseph!
My wannabe-actor was delighted but I had mixed feelings - proud that he had been given this responsible role; amused at the irony that the real Joseph was undoubtedly a 'nice Jewish boy'; and disturbed that my son would be playing a lead role in this religious expression of Christmas and Christianity. Imagine my horror when I realised that the performance was on the first night of Chanukah!
As the Rabbi of a provincial community, I hear things like this all the time. There was the Pantomime Dame who nearly fell off her platforms when a member's son replied that he did not get ANY Christmas presents. Then there was the invitation that I received to a 'Sharing of Food and Prayers in the Spirit of Peace' due to take place at lunchtime on Yom Kippur.
These are not cases of discrimination or malice - merely a lack of awareness. And the only response to that is to talk more about being Jewish and encourage our children to do the same. Outlying Jewish organisations like PJ Library, that reach out to us provincial Jews, are essential in making this happen. I shall be doing my bit next week when I go into my son's school, carrying our newest Chanukah book from PJ Library, to teach the children (and the teachers!) about another reason why this is the 'most wonderful time of the year'.
About Rabbi Anna Gerrard
Having lived in London and Jerusalem, I now live in the Cotswolds and work as the Rabbi of Gloucestershire Liberal Jewish Community. My creative approach to Judaism blends traditional ideas with modern family life. When I am not working, I can usually be found playing with my six-year old son or pulling up the weeds in my vegetable garden.
December 11, 2017