The Arty Semite

What Is That Song Playing in My Ear?

By Joshua Eli Plaut

Earlier this week, Joshua Eli Plaut wrote about Hanukkah events in the New York City area. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Jews have played a crucial role in popularizing Christmas. They have enhanced the national observance of Christmas by composing many of the Christmas songs beloved by all Americans. More secular than religious, these songs,/) among them Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” Walter Rollins and Steve Fletcher’s “Frosty the Snowman,” and, most recently, Paul Simon’s “Getting Ready for Christmas Day,” remind celebrants that Christmas belongs to all Americans who share in the spirit of patriotism, generosity, peace, and good will.

Ironically, other Jews in the United States have developed strategies to downplay the significance of Christmas by composing poems and songs — in print, performance, and the media — that satirize and neutralize the religious nature of the holiday. Humorous songs and comedic performances offer outlets for the disenfranchised to vent disappointment over society’s fixation with the crass commercialization of Christmas.

Harboring an appreciation for music, I listened to many Hanukkah record albums and compact discs that introduced new songs to the public. This led to my discovering musical parodies of Christmas and Hanukkah that were recorded on specialty labels and eventually recreated on CDs, DVDs, and YouTube.

Check out the following:

Read more


It's Hanukkah Time! Where's the Party?

By Joshua Eli Plaut

Last week, Joshua Eli Plaut wrote about Festivus and Jewish Santas. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Every December, I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of Jewish celebrations taking place across the United States. This is a continuing testimony to what I document and espouse in my recently published book “A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to be Jewish.” We Jews can rejoice in Jewish ways beyond the Hanukkah festival and embrace the goodwill generated by Christmas to find Jewish meaning in the December holiday season.

Saturday night marked the first night of Hanukkah. Menorah lightings will abound in homes and in public places. I presided over the menorah lighting at East 35th and Park Avenue in New York City at 5:00 p.m. We were crammed onto the median with cars whizzing by! Exciting but a bit on the dangerous side. I had never officiated at the lighting of a menorah in a public space!

Read more


Author Blog: Festivus!

By Joshua Eli Plaut

Earlier this week, Joshua Eli Plaut wrote about Jewish Santas. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Festivus, the secular December holiday credited to a screenwriter of the 1990s television sitcom “Seinfeld,” grew in popularity beyond its television roots as a secular societal celebration that allowed participants to express their feelings and frustrations with the holiday season. Festivus parties take place across the United States, serving as magnets for younger generations of Americans, among them many Jews. The celebrants of Festivus have stripped the holiday season of any religious meaning, instead relying upon irony and parody to carry the day.

Festivus Chai! And at Whole Food’s no less! While rambling around the aisles of the Whole Foods at Union Square in Greenwich Village, my wife, son and I encountered an entire wall of Festivus Chai! According to its online marketing materials, Festivus Chai is a limited‐edition seasonal holiday chai made with real cocoa, holiday spices, and organic ingredients.

Read more


So You Want to Dress Up as Santa?

By Joshua Eli Plaut

Joshua Eli Plaut, PhD, is the full-time Executive Director of American Friends of Rabin Medical, as well as the Rabbi of the Metropolitan Synagogue in Manhattan. His most recent book, “A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to be Jewish,” is now available. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


So you want to dress up as Santa?!!! This is not as unusual as it might seem! I have covered this phenomenon in my recent book “A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to be Jewish” (Rutgers University Press, 2012) and other published articles. Interestingly, it is still a noteworthy occurrence as occasional reports of Jewish Santas still appear in the press. The phenomenal of a Jewish Santa is still alive and kicking!

In a New York Times article (November 18, 2012) titled “Skinny Santa Who Fights Fires,” journalist Corey Kilgannon writes about Jonas Cohen, a member of the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Corps. Jonas has played Santa for his department for over 30 years!

Read more



Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.