Columbia Library columns (v.27(1977Nov-1978May))

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  v.27,no.3(1978:May): Page 18  

A Unique American Apostate


IN an article entitled "The Christmas Tree," published by the
Jewish Times, December 31, 1869, Felix Adler, an outraged
Jewish young man, lashed out against the custom which had
arisen among some New York Jews to bring a Christmas tree into
their homes during the Yuletide season. With unrestrained anger,
he remarked.

To celebrate a day which has cost us so much pain, so much blood, so
many sorrowful experiences with joy and merriment—is this not a bit¬
ter and cruel mockery? However much wt may esteem our Christian
neighbors, however highly we may honor their institutions, we are
Jews and we have our own history, our own remembrances of the past.

By the fall of 1876, however, Adler's rcligkms self-perception
had markedly changed. He no longer railed against Jews who
adopted alien religious symbols, for he himself had inspired the
creation of a universal, social and religious fellowship transcend¬
ing all doctrinal differences—the New York Society for Ethical
Culture. Dedicated to the pursuit of social justice, the implemen¬
tation of proper moral relations between people, and the elevation
of the human spitit, this Society, under Adler's leadership, sought
to unite in a common bond all those searching for a spiritual ap¬
proach to life more in consonance with the temper of the modern,
secular and industrial age. Years later, with a family of his own,
Felix Adler even came to hold regular Christmas parties in his
home featuting a Christmas tree and an exchange of gifts, while
the hope for a "Merry Christmas" often concluded many of his
personal letters to his family. To be sure, he rejected rhe Christian
meaning of the day and understood Christmas only in a symbolic
sense as a festival of light and hope. Ncycrtheless, it is clear that
in the course of time, Adler had undergone a decisive religious

  v.27,no.3(1978:May): Page 18