Retro Charlotte

Charlotteans celebrate Hannukah

Hazzan Shapiro lights the menorah with children Toua, Sharona and Shiva. 1963
Hazzan Shapiro lights the menorah with children Toua, Sharona and Shiva. 1963 The Charlotte Observer

Hannukah began this year on Sunday, December 6 and will end on Monday, December 14.

Here’s an 1971 story by Charlotte Observer reporter Sam R. Covington:

“Jews Face Special Christmas Pressures”

“When I was small I said my kids are going to have a Christmas tree,” said one 17-year-old Jewish girl. “I don’t feel that anymore.”

“It never made any difference to me,” commented her brother.

If Jewish families, a minority in North Carolina, face special pressures at Christmastime, it appears education in the home and the temple is the answer.

Two Jewish families - one with small children, the other with older ones - in Charlotte were asked for comments on any special problems they face as their Christian neighbors are celebrating their holiday.

“Fortunately, Hannukah comes pretty close to Christmas,” said Mrs. Sam J. Schreiber, of Cumberland Avenue.

“When my children wanted a Christmas tree I told them that wasn’t right,” Mrs. Schreiber said.

Sam and Alice Schreiber have raised four children, Sherry, 24; Marnie, 22; Michael, 20; and Babette, 17.

Decorating a tree or using other Christmas symbols in her home would have constituted a serious sacrilege, said Mrs. Schreiber.

Jewish children feel a pressure to emulate their Christian friends mostly between the ages of 5 and 12, she said.

“When they’re younger you can just brush it off, but once they’re in school you really have it,” she said.

Mrs. Rita Steinberger of Lansdowne Road, the mother of three boys, 6, 7, and 11 years of age, seconded the importance of home and temple education.

“I feel that Jewish children are very comfortable about Hannukah because we have just super-educated them about it,” said Mrs. Steinberger.

Hannukah is a minor Jewish holiday coming near Christmas. It commemorates a Jewish victory for religious freedom and is celebrated with the lighting of candles, special foods and games for the children and the exchanging of small gifts in the home.

Mrs. Schreiber recalls that Christian friends of her children, when they were younger, occasionally wondered a bit enviously why the family exchanged gifts on eight nights instead of just one.

She used to tell her children it was fine to help their friends decorate their trees, and the family recalls driving out to view Christmas lights as a special treat.

But a Jewish family having a Christmas tree would be disrespectful of Christianity, she repeated. “To me, it’s a very religious occasion for you.”

“My children, you know, they always go into the other houses and see the Christmas trees,” Mrs. Steinberger commented. “It’s nice to know that you can have friends of another religion.”

Some families, and theirs is one, give small gifts in the name of Santa Claus, “But that’s not a religious figure, but the spirit of giving,” Mrs. Schreiber said.

She noted that the childrens’ school this year had both Christmas and Hannukah decorations, and she was pleased to find earlier that her second-grader’s spelling book contained both “Hannukah” and “Christmas” as words to learn.

One effect that Christmas might have made on Hannukah is in the area of gift-giving. Mr. and Mrs. Schreiber noted that the “little gifts” of the Jewish holiday sometimes escalate into lavishness.

“To me, the lavish gift - giving in Hannukah is symptomatic of inroads of assimilation,” said Sam Schreiber.

Many Christian families would agree with them that sometimes unheeding competition with the neighbors takes the joy out of the holiday gift-giving.

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