Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thoughts on Hoboken public school holiday celebration issue

From time to time, I offer some comments about issues in Hoboken’s civic life that are somehow connected to the Jewish community or Jewish issues.  
Hoboken has attracted some press coverage because of a decision regarding a Hoboken public school's holiday celebration (you can read about it here). 

My comments are printed below.  Permission is granted to reprint or forward what I have written, but please include my blog web address, rabbischeinberg.blogspot.com, so the comments can be read in their entirety.

First, the Hoboken Jewish community is very diverse.  There is no unanimity in Hoboken’s Jewish community on this (or almost any other) issue.  For this reason, I emphasize that the opinion I express below is my own, and it is not necessarily the opinion of the United Synagogue of Hoboken or its members.

Jews are a minority in the United States.  Choosing to raise children as Jews in the United States entails an acknowledgment that there will be some special challenges - as well as some special opportunities - that come from raising children in a minority culture.   Each year, the December holidays provide Jewish familes with the challenge of affirming a minority culture, as well as the opportunity to help children to understand that there’s nothing wrong with being different.  In fact, one of the most important and useful adult skills that parents can inculcate in their children is a deep comfort with being different from the mainstream.  

One of the great blessings of this country is that minorities are not merely tolerated, but encouraged to be fully a part of this country and encouraged to thrive.  This is one of the values that has made our country great, and has made New Jersey and Hoboken great.  Public schools, especially, are places where we celebrate both our commonality and our diversity. To my understanding,  the Board of Education’s decision has enabled more students to feel that their diversity is validated, while not limiting any student’s opportunity to celebrate Christmas.  Thus It appears to me that this is the kind of pluralistic perspective to which we ought to aspire.  

It has been disheartening to see some of the public discourse on this issue.  I usually prefer to avoid reading the ‘comments’ sections of web sites, because they give the opportunity to anyone with an internet connection to make anonymous attacks on others.  Certainly many of the hurtful comments I have read about this issue are in sharp contrast to the warmth and respect that I have almost always felt in my face-to-face interactions (whether agreements or disagreements) with Hobokenites of all religious and cultural backgrounds.  Especially at this festive time of year, I hope that those in and outside of our Hoboken community will address this and other issues with the spirit of civility that has characterized our country at the best of times.