There’s a lot of talk about Jews and how we came to occupy so many positions of power in the U.S.

In government, finance, entertainment, medicine, law and science you do indeed find a lot of Jews, out of proportion to our minuscule numbers. I don’t think it does anybody any good to deny that. Many theories have been put forth as to why that is: the focus on literacy and family; laws that pushed us into the then-unseemly businesses of banking and trade, or, less charitably, an unscrupulous nature, or a self-serving monopoly over the levers of control.

But I have another theory for the source of the modern American Jews’ success: Santa Claus.

I come to this theory not through exhaustive, painstaking research, but through being a Jewish parent (also exhaustive). Here in Portland, a majority of my children’s friends are Christian. When my daughter, the oldest, was 5, she left the confines of her Jewish pre-K for public school and, once it turned cold, was hit full force with Christmas. This made her sad. Sure, there was Hanukkah to look forward to but, c’mon, really? Hanukkah was never designed, even in its current incarnation, to compete with Christmas.

It was a difficult pill to swallow, that a joyful old man brought presents to all her friends, but not to her. So I came clean. After all, this wasn’t my fiction to uphold, particularly if it caused my daughter tears. My obligation was to her.

“There’s no Santa Claus,” I told her on the walk home from kindergarten. “It’s all made up.”



“It’s all a lie. And you can’t tell any of your friends.”

What happened to her in that moment, what wheels turned, what light bulbs clicked on and which turned dark is, I believe, a consequential moment in her life and one that has been repeated in every Jew living in the modern Christian West.

In that moment she confirmed, as she no doubt suspected, that adults lie to keep their kids happy, entertained and even docile. But adults can lie in big ways, too. They can construct and peddle fantasies on a grand scale and guiltlessly pass them off as truth. And furthermore, now she was in on it. She had a responsibility to her friends, who needed to continue to believe that lie. Now her otherness was not a handicap, but a superpower.

She also learned that it is not through magic that her friends received their largesse, but through the love and toil of their parents.

In that moment she learned that life has two layers: the thin blanket of glittery non-reality that lies on top of the other harder and brighter world of real truth, mundane but no less beautiful, that lies beneath. Well, she didn’t really say that at the time but I knew that’s what she was thinking.

Imagine the leg up that peek behind the curtain gives to a developing brain trying to understand the world. It may make her want to be involved in the creation of that fantasy world, since it is only humans spinning yarns, after all. It may help her see what can be achieved through collective action, and maybe she will want to organize that collective action, or to fight against it. It may show her that markets and dreams can be manipulated, and perhaps she will want to try her hand at that, or perhaps she will want to protect others from it. She is, after all, a trustworthy steward of truth.

A few weeks after that conversation, Hanukkah arrived, with its consistency of ritual, its message that freedom and family are a treasure, and that people, our ancestors, made the miracle we celebrate. And that God was there to help, but only after we helped ourselves.

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