Cantor Gurney's Shabbat Message - December 24, 2021

  • Clergy
  • Shabbat

1961. Cleveland, Ohio. I insist that my mother take me to the’ downtown' May Company to see Santa. “Everyone else is!” I say. 

After waiting forever in a line (my poor mom), I climb up on Santa’s lap. ”And what would you like for Christmas?” Santa asked in a bored, flat tone.

After a thousand kids before me, who wouldn’t be tired? Poor Santa. “Well I’m Jewish," I respond, "but I’d like the new Strombacher Road Race Set!"   

2006.Los Angeles, California, on board Delta Air Lines. The flight attendant wishes Gillian a Merry Christmas. “I’m not Christmas, I’m Hanukkah.” (Proud mom).

1970, Cleveland Heights High School Choir. Winter Concert. The first half of program is Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, and seven excerpts from J.S.Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, with Orchestra. The second half contained every Christmas Song ever written!

Winter Concert, 1971. The first half: Hanerot Hallalu by Louis Lewandowski; Hanukkah Candle Blessings, Ma’oz Tzur arranged by Robert Page, Choir Director and Associate Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, and five excerpts from Handel’s Judas Maccabeus, with Orchestra. The Second Half: Christmas Carols and more Hanukkah songs. Note that more than 50% of the choir and orchestra were Jews.

December 24, 1983, Merkin Concert Hall, New York City. I conduct the choir at a concert featuring five great traditional Cantors and Synagogue music masterpieces. Immediately after, I hop in a cab, crosstown to St. James Episcopal for Christmas Eve Mass. It was snowing.

Upon reflection I’m acutely aware of my great personal fortune to have lived in places and times among diverse communities of wonderful, open, and curious people. As children, we went to school and played together. We enjoyed meals in each other’s homes. We did everything together, and best of all, we knew, respected, and loved each other.

Please understand that I know how challenged, perhaps even lonely Jews have felt for a long time living in America at this time of year, this "December Dilemma." Despite all the challenges of the past and those hate-filled ones we face today, there is one way forward. We continue to devote ourselves to creating proud, well-educated, and passionate  Jews, ready and willing to embrace those who want to know and embrace us.

We begin a new book of the Torah this Shabbat, the Book of Exodus, in which we encounter yet again, our people’s timeless quest for freedom and identity. Let us bring it with us into this new year with courage, the strength of body, mind, and spirit, and a song of joy in our hearts.

Shabbat Shalom,

Don Gurney