Is this a Christian country or what?

1996 Chanukah Stamp

1996 Chanukah Stamp

In 1962, the United States Postal Service issued its first Christmas stamp.  Thereafter, it issued a new design almost every year. Most of the designs featured a Madonna and Child.  For the next thirty-four years, the USPS refused requests for a Chanukah stamp, on the grounds that it does not produce designs on overtly religious themes!

The USPS claimed that their Madonna-and-Child Christmas stamps were not religious because they were images of great works of art.   Even if this pathetic self-deception were allowed to stand unchallenged, the USPS could just as well have put some great Jewish art reproductions on a Chanukah stamp.

For thirty-four years there was a Christmas stamp but no Chanukah stamp.  The first Chanukah stamp was finally released in 1996.   Since then, it has been reissued each year, but the design has changed only twice.  (We’ve seen two menorah stamps and one dreidel stamp.)

dreidle stamp

dreidle stamp

This sort of non-violent antisemitism is deeply ingrained in American culture.  Declaring that wreaths, or Christmas trees, or devotional portraits of Madonna and Child, are not religious symbols requires the same contortion of “logic” that permits Christmas to be a national holiday, and that permits some Sunday Blue Laws to stand.  It’s the mild antisemitism of a majority culture that, although it doesn’t want to be antisemitic, feels that Christianity is normal, and everything else is not.  Like swimming fish that do not see their water.  Like white folk who feel that being white is normal: that everything else is OK too, but white is normal.

I’m not so liberal that I can imagine each group abandoning its own feelings of what is normal; but I do protest when any group thinks that its own “normal” defines what it means to be a real American.

This snippet of USPS history reminds me of the International Red Cross, a more overtly antisemitic institution (not to be confused with the American Red Cross, which is not antisemitic).  For years, the International Red Cross refused to allow the Israeli Magein David Edom (Red Star-of-David) membership, on the grounds that a cross was the required symbol, even though they permitted Arab countries to be members with their Moslem Red-Star-and-Crescent institutions.

U-tsu  ei-tsa  v’su-far,
da-b’ru  da-var  v’lo  ya-kum,
ki   i-ma-nu  Keil.

Happy Chanukah!

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  1. #1 by Jewish Jihad on December 8, 2010 - 1:46 pm

    A woman goes to the post office to buy stamps for her Hanukkah cards.

    She says to the clerk, “May I have 50 Hanukkah stamps?”

    The clerk says, “What denomination?”

    “Oh my God,” the woman says, “has it come to this? Give me 16 Orthodox, 22 Conservative, and 12 Reform.”

(will not be published)