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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2008/12/22
by Mike Gruenberg

A Judeo Christian Christmas

In My Life
For all of us living in the United States, we are going through some truly remarkable times. Next month, the first African-American in our history will be sworn into the office of President of our country. Considering that in my lifetime I saw segregated schools, racial inequalities and lived within a system that denied equal rights to all Americans, the election of Barack Obama is truly an extraordinary event. It speaks well of the American people that our electoral process chose such a worthy candidate. We are well on our way to providing equal opportunities for all our citizens.
After all, America is the melting pot of the world. Generations of people from every country have come here to find a better life for themselves and their families. My family came here from Europe in 1939 to avoid persecution and to raise a family. They believed in the American dream as did so many before them and so many since.
In my life, I have lived in New York and now I am a resident of the Washington, D.C. area. In both of those places, I witnessed people arriving from every corner of the world who sought to work and seek the opportunity to provide a better life for themselves and their families. I consider myself fortunate to have always lived among a diverse group of people.
The key to success in the quest for peace, understanding and harmony amongst all peoples is the ability to understand the customs and beliefs of everyone. In this holiday time of celebrating the good cheer of Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanza and Festivus, it is interesting to see how different ethnic groups celebrate the traditions and music not only from their own roots, but also understanding the customs of other religious and ethnic groups as well.
As is the yearly tradition of the record companies, we are deluged every Fall/Winter season with a selection of Christmas albums sung by a variety of artists just in time for us to buy for your friends and family. Country Western, RocknRoll, Broadway, Classical and the ever popular Easy Listening artists give us their holiday fare in nicely packaged albums.
In examining this yearly phenomenon presented to us by the record companies and in the interest of exploring the finer points of Judeo-Christian relationships, I decided to look at artists and composers of the Jewish faith writing for and singing on Christmas albums. Here are but a few examples:

Irving Berlin Perhaps the most poignant example of this is that of Irving Berlin. The immigrant son from a deeply religious Judaic family, Irving Berlin is the composer of White Christmas. Dont know if his dad and mom knew about his writing of this tune, but everyone throughout the world has probably sung the song synonymous with Christmas courtesy of Mr. Berlin.
Neil Diamond As a young man growing up in Brooklyn who attended Erasmus Hall and Lincoln High Schools, Neil spent his time writing songs that have become rock standards. As he grew in popularity, he was often referred to as the Jewish Elvis. This year, you can buy Neil Diamond, The Christmas Album Volume 2 to go along with his first Christmas album. On the first one, Neil is pictured in front of a roaring fire. In the picture, we are unable to see the mantle above the fireplace which I suspect may have housed a menorah for the benefit of Neils rabbi so as not to think that he completely forgot his faith in pursuit of the holiday market.
Barbara Streisand Attending the same high school in Brooklyn as Neil Diamond and with the same Hebraic roots as her friend, Ms. Streisand has achieved international stardom and notoriety. This year, you can get Christmas Memories released in 2001 and A Christmas Album from Barbara that was released in 2004. Not sure what Barbaras Christmas memories were, but given her strong Judaic roots, I suspect that there are latkes involved.
Barry Manilow Speaking about Jewish performers from Brooklyn who are singing Christmas songs, OY, how can I not mention Barry who has embraced the holiday spirit in a big way. You can get A Christmas Gift of Love and Because Its Christmas, On the Because Its Christmas album, Barry is pictured in front of a roaring fire in a fireplace. It may be the same set Neil Diamond used for his Christmas album. Its nice to see two famous performers of the Hebraic persuasion, both from Brooklyn sharing their songs and fireplaces for the holidays.
Over the last few weeks, I have been fortunate to have stayed away for the most part from the mall, thus avoiding the holiday madness crowds. I did pay a visit or two to the mall, but was surprised (and not disappointed) that I didnt hear the usual Jingle Bell Rock Rocking Around the Christmas Tree and Feliz Navidad.
This year, my pick for best Christmas song for 2008 is by JET with their tune Back Door Santa. Of course, this song should also be listened to in addition to the greatest Christmas album ever made which is A Christmas Gift For You produced by Phil Spector. The album features modern versions of all the traditional Christmas songs sung by The Crystals, The Ronettes, Darlene Love and Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans. Produced in 1963, the album conceived and produced by Phil Spector, a Jewish guy from the Bronx still sounds as fresh and vital today as it did 45 years ago.
Heres wishing all the Jambands family, friends and readers a happy and safe holiday season. Enjoy the music.

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