Jewish Bulletin - Entertainment




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Jews take credit for writing, singing Christmas songs

VIVI ABRAMS

Atlanta Jewish Times

A Methodist dad wants to get into the Christmas mood. He plays a record of "The Christmas Song" and sings along to the familiar "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" refrain. Then he feels like a movie, and watches "White Christmas" with his family. Before bed, he reads his daughter the Caldecott-winning children's Christmas book, "The Polar Express."

He's just had a very Jewish night.

Not many people know it, but Jews have a long history of orchestrating Christmas, back to the early 1800s when French composer Adolphe Adam wrote the music for "O Holy Night."

"Christmas Song" composer Mel Torme was also Jewish. Chris Van Allsburg, a convert to Judaism, wrote "The Polar Express." And "White Christmas," a film about song-and-dance men who romance women for the holidays in a Vermont ski lodge, had a Jewish star (Danny Kaye), director (Michael Curtiz) and composer (Irving Berlin). Berlin, born Israel Baline, wrote "White Christmas" for the film "Holiday Inn" in 1942 and resurrected it for the Bing Crosby film in 1954.

Actor and commentator Ben Stein recently wrote an essay saying that Jews should feel no shame about having so much power in Hollywood, because it's a sign of how much they love America. He said the same about Christmas.

"I have always felt that no one loved Christmas like the Jews," Stein wrote in an e-mail. "No family tensions, no disappointments about the wrong gift, just that great Christmas spirit. For a Jew to be in America at Christmas, with all the love in the air, after two millennia of being hunted and killed at Christian holidays, is pure bliss, and I believe we feel it keenly."

Nate Teibloom, editor of jewhoo.com, a Web site that identifies famous Jews, had a different reason for why Jews involve themselves in the Christmas spirit: the bottom line.

"There's a huge market," he said. "Virtually every recording artist puts out a Christmas album eventually, including Jewish recording artists. It's money in the bank. [However,] some Jewish recording artists tend to shy away from doing the religious Christmas songs."

One Jewish popular songwriter, who asked not to be identified, believes so many Jewish composers write Christmas songs "because it broadens the field of endeavor.

"Every year for a couple of months the recordings sell all over again. It's the old profit system, not an underwriting of another faith," he said.

Teibloom said Jewish songwriters dominated the popular music scene from around 1920 to 1965, around the time "Your Hit Parade" made Christmas songs into favorites.

"Tin Pan Alley rose up in Manhattan with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of songwriters turning out song after song after song," he said. They were bound to write Christmas songs, too."

"White Christmas" was one of thousands of songs Irving Berlin wrote in his career, Teibloom said.

"He wrote a song called "I Love Israel," Teibloom said. "He probably wrote a song for Arbor Day, too."

According to jewhoo.com, Jeffery Tambor, the actor who co-starred as Mayor May Who in the recent film "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," was asked if he ever worked on a project as big and expensive as the Grinch film. He replied, "Maybe my bar mitzvah."

Speaking of the Grinch, remember the original animated version soundtrack with the great line, "He's a mean one, Mr. Grinch"? Contrary to what some might think, the Grinch was not Jewish -- but the songwriter was (Albert Hague).

There are even Jewish ornaments on the Christmas tree -- Hallmark features one of a miniature Larry Fine of Three Stooges fame.

But songs are by far the biggest Jewish contribution to Christmas pop culture. Barbra Streisand and Kenny G. (Gorelick) have put out hugely successful Christmas albums.

Other Christmas carols written or performed by Jews include:

* "We Need a Little Christmas" (Jerry Herman).

* "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "A Holly Jolly Christmas" (Johnny Marks).

* "The Christmas Waltz" and "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" (Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne).

* "Silver Bells" (Ray Evans, lyricist, and Jay Livingston, composer).

*"I'm Getting' Nuttin' for Christmas" (Barry Gordon, performer).

So to all the Jews walking around the mall this year and getting annoyed by all the holiday music on the sound system: Quit blaming the Christians.

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