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A Jewish Christmas

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Many people do not realize how much of an impact Jewish people have had on what we have come to view as the typical “Christmas Celebration.” Although most people don’t think about it, the facts should not be surprising. Jewish individuals have shared talents and abilities brought through their culture from eastern Europe, which included Theater and Music.

Here’s one reason that the involvement of Jews in Christmas festivities isn’t a novel idea: Going back to the start of Christmas, most of the people involved in the story (including Joseph, Mary, Jesus and the Shepherds) were Jewish. The only Gentiles in the story were evil King Herod and the Magi who brought gifts from the East (and it might be noted that none of these were Christians).

Of the two most popular renditions of the Christmas story, one was written by a Jewish Tax Collector (Matthew). The other was written by a Physician named Luke.

It seems Christmas really is Jewish. Let us sing Hallelujah ... Oh yes, The Hallelujah Chorus was also written by a Jew!

Here are a few more:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - Written by: Johnny Marks
White Christmas - Written by: Irving Berlin
Winter Wonderland - Written by: Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith
Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! - Written by: Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne
The Christmas Song (“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”) - Written by: Mel Tormé, Robert Wells
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree - Written by: Johnny Marks
Run Rudolph Run
Mary’s Cradle Song
Cradle Song To The Holy Infant
A Jubilant Christmas Carol (Brahms, arranged by Goldman)
The Virgin Mary Wandered
Sleep, Little Jesus, Sleep
On Christmas Night
Sleigh Ride - Written by: Leroy Anderson, Mitchell Parish
Silver Bells - Written by: Jay Livingston, Ray Evans
I'll Be Home For Christmas - Written by: Walter Kent, Kim Gannon, Buck Ram
A Holly Jolly Christmas - Written in 1962 by Johnny Marks
(There's No Place Like) Home For The Holidays - Written by: Bob Allen, Al Stillman

Each song is distinct. But they share a set of defining characteristics, reckons Klapman. ‘These songs are emotionally warm, nostalgic and completely secular, nor are they exclusionary in any way,’ he says. ‘The greatest Jewish Christmas songs are remarkably consistent in their universality, inclusiveness and lack of hypocrisy – for the simple reason the people who wrote them never pretended to be something they were not.’”

Maurice Goldman (1910–1984) was an internationally known composer and conductor. Goldman’s compositions and arrangements are largely in the areas of Yiddish and Hebraic music. However, like his mentors, Ernest Bloch and Aaron Copland, Goldman’s music breaks the boundaries of traditional Jewish melodies, employing chordal and harmonic elements found in classical, jazz, and American folk music.

Goldman was born on April 20 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Soon thereafter, his family relocated to Cleveland Ohio, where his father, Marcus Goldman worked as a rabbi.

Goldman’s musical talent appeared early in life. He was already singing, playing piano and composing original music at the age of five.

Goldman attended Glenville High School in Cleveland, where he served as head of the Choral Department. At this stage, he worked largely as a singer, lending his rich baritone voice to performances of various pieces, including Handel’s “Invocation To Music” and “So Fahr Ich Hin,” a motet by Heinrich Schütz.

Goldman went on to study at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. It was at Western Reserve where he met his wife-to-be, Ethel Mann, a gifted flutist who would go on to play with the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra.

At age 26, Goldman became the youngest person to conduct a concert at Cleveland’s famed Severance Hall. On that first night, Goldman received a standing ovation.

That same year, Goldman won a scholarship to attend a conducting workshop at The Berkshire School Of Music, located in Tanglewood Massachusetts. Goldman worked under the tutelage of Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. While at Tanglewood, Goldman worked alongside several of his heroes, including Ernest Bloch,Aaron Copland, and Paul Hindemith.

During his early years in Cleveland, Goldman served as the director of the Akron Opera Company and the Cleveland Jewish Singing Society. He directed the Opera Department at the Cleveland Institute of Music, served as the choral director at Euclid Avenue Temple, and the Vocal Director at the Cleveland Music School Settlement. Goldman also served as the cantor at Fairmont Temple and Temple On The Heights. Additionally, he hosted two highly popular Cleveland radio programs, Operama (WHK radio) and Classics In Wax.

Goldman divided his time between composing, arranging and conducting. While still in his 20’s, he conducted a number of operas, including Die Meistersinger, Rape Of The Lucretia, and Parsifal.

So as you prepare to celebrate Christmas next year, remember: Christmas is a Jewish holiday. Not only in the Bible, but also in non-religious tradition!

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