Little kids want to believe. Teenagers don’t want to believe. We are Jewish but we are not religious. I am glad we aren’t, especially for the upbringing of my 5 children.

If we had been religious Jews I could not have dressed as Santa and brought gifts to my kids at a young age. I would have missed their faces of delight, and their smiles when they knew it was me, but pretended not to know. I can understand Jews refusal to celebrate Christmas because of Jesus who said he was God and we did not believe him. I can side with anyone who refuses to believe that a certain person is God. The whole story of Jesus is very alien to Jews and to many Europeans who have abandoned religion in the last decades, especially in Spain and Italy. But most religious Jews fail to realize that in many countries Jesus has lost its prominence to Santa a much simpler and easier to like character. Yes I know Santa is also about consumerism and I do feel sorry for the parents who can’t buy toys for their kids (my kids know this and we donate toys for them). And the world sucks in many ways. But you have to agree with me that there is something beautifully simple for young kids about a man who comes from the North Pole with lots of gifts. Especially if they have been good kids ;).

And later on, with my older kids, not being religious spared me of trying to convince them of the literal interpretation of the Bible. A struggle that many still go through, especially in USA the only developed country in which most people are still religious. This would have been painful for me, as the Bible has so many absurdities in it that I would have been unable to defend it as true. I am so glad I did not have to tell my kids that we believe in all the absurdities of the Bible “because we have faith”. Starting with the universe being but a few thousand years old most of what I read in the Bible is of no scientific value and what is even worse, frequently of dubious ethical value.

During the Jewish holidays I have manage to explain to my kids that we celebrate because we are part of the Jewish people who share a common heritage as a people not only as a religion. We celebrate as many of my non religious Christian friends celebrate, as a tradition not as a literal belief. I also explain that most of the founders of the State of Israel were not religious and that most of the achievements of the Jewish people are way outside the realm of religion, mostly in literature, entrepreneurship and science. I frequently like to tell the story of Golda Meir, one of the founders of Israel who was an atheist and when asked if she believed in God she answered wisely “I believe in the Jewish people and the Jewish people believe in God”. In our home there are only two kinds of answers to any question a child may pose: the most likely to be true answer and as frequently, the I don’t know answer. I don’t know feels better than religion to me.

So today, right here in St Barts in our sailboat, I will dress as Santa again, this time for our baby and 5 year old. I can’t wait to see how happy they will be. And yes, they are also getting their Chanukah gifts. We celebrate all that there is to celebrate. And we are happy this way.

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Joaquin on December 24, 2011  · 

Relativism is probably just as bad a being faithful. Maybe a good explanation would be, god resides in all of us, so be good to yourself and others, for in the end there’s no consequence for believing.

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Eduardo Lina on December 25, 2011  · 

I doubt I could dress up as Santa, yet I share your spirit of celebrating all that there is to celebrate…
I am writing from Israel. Having so many people around (anywhere, not just in Israel) who claim to have the right interpretation of ANY of the Holy Books, we don’t have an easy time here. By “we” I mean, for example, people who, when it comes to religious issues, can also come up with any of the two answers you favor (“the most likely to be true answer and as frequently, the I don’t know answer”).
In fact, “we” have a hard time with lots of those people who want to impose their interpretation of the Truth concerning so many issues on all of us here (that includes denying the right of Israel to exist , deciding on the “right” place of women in Israeli society – even in buses, just check the Israeli media, and so much more) … We have a lot to do here, indeed. For sure, Golda and the Founding Fathers have left us much to do (Should I say “Thank G-d” for that?).
I guess, the ongoing struggle is to bring people to mutually tolerate other people’s truths, too.
I am not religious, yet am very Jewish indeed (that is, incidentally, THE reason I came to live here so many years ago). I find it difficult to believe in miracles, and yet Israel is in so many ways a miracle.
I commend you for so many positive things I have learned you have been involved in (, sharing, donating, and bringing up your Jewishness so straightforwardly among others…).
Best wishes to you and your family, and… Would it be too much to ask you for a “A la Varsavsky” video of that area you are visiting now? I like those. You seem to have moved your sharing to Twitter, which is, perhaps, detrimental when it comes to your blog.

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Martin Varsavsky on December 25, 2011  · 

I should write more I apologize for that.

ben kaufmann on December 26, 2011  · 

Martin hola, comparto plenamente tus sentimientos, aca en Chile tenemos un pequeño grupo que llamamos Judios sin dios (con minuscula 🙂 )

Los ateos tenemos que ser mas visibles.

Tambien estoy en el mundo de la educacion, puedes ver y en la seccion educacion. Trabajamos con 300 mil alumnos en Chile con no solo tecnologias educativas , tambien creamos en efectoeducativo contenidos pedagogicos. Ahora hemos comenzado a exportar a Brasil e Israel

Si vas a la Bett en Londres en dos semanas favor avisame


Ben Kaufmann desde Santiago Chile

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Dolores Turro on December 26, 2011  · 

Interesting discussion 🙂
Many years ago, when I was a teenager in Argentina, one of my Jewish friend said that her family celebrated Xmas because it was the birthday of one of the most awesome Jewish people ever born.
In Australia, there’s a local group called Jews for Jesus, and they do celebrate Xmas and Hanukkah at the same time.

As an atheist, I couldn’t give a toss… but I still think that for the sake of every little child there has to be a “Santa” who still keeps that lovely magic alive. Martin, go on being Santa, for your children and grandchildren!!

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Adan on December 28, 2011  · 

Comparing Santa to Christ, because he’s an easier to like character, is not a very intelligent thing to say.

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Haim on December 31, 2011  · 

For generations, Jews have found other ways to celebrate all holidays.
It is a balance between our traditions and other people believes. It’s not easy.
It might sound strange, but I’m glad that I never had celebrated Santa’s visit.
Why? Because it is a matter of identity, not religion.
And I hope I’m passing this Jewish identity to my kids, the same way my parents did to me, and their parents to them, and…

Martin:It seems like you had all figured out regarding your Jewishness. Good for you, honestly. However, I always sense a conflict when you write about it (Sometimes like “un corso a contramano”). In fact, we all have many unresolved issues, don’t we? I’ve being reading you for years, and I do believe that your kids won’t suffer of any conflicts regarding any Jewish identity. Happy new year.

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