Those were the instructions my mother gave me after I told her that I had been chosen to be a sixth grade Christmas caroler. She felt that I would be betraying my Jewish heritage if I sang the name of “Jesus.” I didn’t agree with her, so I didn’t obey.
For me, music trumps all, and I’m not talking about Donald. Other Jews don’t have a problem paying tribute to the birth of Jesus. Look at Irving Berlin. He composed the iconic two tunes associated with Christian holidays: “White Christmas” and “Easter Parade.” High-profile Jewish vocalists have joyfully sung Christian holiday songs, such as Barbra Streisand with one album of Christmas melodies and Neil Diamond with three different Christmas albums.
In 1994, the First World Sacred Music Festival occurred in Los Angeles and was a spectacular event. Because Los Angeles has so many different religions, the event lasted for two weeks in many sacred as well as public venues. However, the most exciting program occurred at the Hollywood Bowl. First of all, the Dalai Lama blessed this gathering of almost 18,000 audience members. To protect him, all of us had to pass through metal detectors before being seated.
After his blessing, the performances ensued. Because there were so many musical acts, the concert began at 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon and ended at 10:00 p.m. As each group sang, the excitement heightened until we reached the last act, a renowned choir from the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.
The pianist slowly played some chords and then intoned: “You may have AT & T, but sometimes your call doesn’t go through.” She played some arpeggios and continued. “You may have Sprint, but they, too, have problems and sometimes you can’t get through.” After playing more chords and arpeggios, she dramatically mentioned more phone carriers, all with connection flaws, leading to the climax: “But there is one person who will always be there to answer your call, and his name is…” In the spirit of the moment the entire audience shouted, “JESUS!” Then the choir began and we rocked on throughout their set until we left the Bowl on a high note.
By singing the name “Jesus,” did that negate my religious or spiritual beliefs? Did it change who I am? I don’t believe so. For me, the music transcended the words.
Is it bad/evil/or disloyal to sing the name of another one’s God?
I have never felt so, but I speak only for myself.
Oops! I have much more to write about, but it’s time to leave for my Las Cruces Ukuleles rehearsal for our four upcoming Christmas concerts. And when we get to the word “Jesus” I will have no problem belting out his name.
Norine Dresser is a folklorist who delights in music of all kinds, religious and secular, Western and Eastern.