How To Be The Absolutely Most Perfect Holiday Guest There Ever Was!

Over at Wirecutter, there’s advice about what you should and shouldn’t do when you’re a holiday dinner guest. Don’t bring flowers, do bring ice, and if you arrive with a dish, make sure it’s hot because the oven will be busy.

So you may be wondering, What’s wrong with flowers?  Well, apparently you’d be bothering your hosts who would have to interrupt their frantic activity to go to all the trouble of finding you a vase and filling it with water.  But if that’s the only problem, and you have your heart set on a bouquet, why not bring your own vase and a bottle of distilled water?  Easy-peasy.

As for bringing food when you’re invited to dinner, I have to disagree.  If you haven’t been expressly invited to do so, it seems pretty rude.  It implies that you have a back-up plan in case your hosts are bad cooks.

And ice?  Really?  Are you dining out in some desert land where people have minimal refrigeration?  Maybe the Wirecutter author was troubled by climate change melting the icebergs in Greenland, got a little confused, thinks that the world is facing an ice shortage.  The holiday season does that to people.

But back to those pesky flowers.  If you really do believe the Wirecutter author is right, skip flowers and do something much grander: bring a Christmas tree, something artificial that’s already decorated.  You’ll be praised for your thoughtfulness.  Just forget the tinsel since it’s apparently destroying the planet.

Of course, you might be headed to a Jewish household, in which case you should bring extra Hanukkah candles because sometimes they break or get scarfed by a dog. If your hosts have enough, no matter: it shows that you care.  And while you’re at it, some potato pancakes wouldn’t hurt, since everyone argues about whose bubbeh makes the best ones.

Don’t debate, just stop by Whole Foods for their version and stay above the fray.  And yes, bring your own olive oil and counter portable countertop stove so you don’t have to bug you hosts.  Get there early so you’ll be ready for the other guests.  Now I know I advised against bringing food, but latkehs are more than food, they’re an institution.

Oh, and finally Wirecutter suggests that if you bring something like a bottle of whiskey, hide it so you don’t have to share it with the other guests.  Whatever happened to wine that joined other bottles on the table?  Did Scrooge write that column?

And do people really need to be reminded to at the very least send an email thanking their hosts?  Were the readers of Wirecutter raised by wolves?  Maybe the subtext of this article is a dinner party that went horribly wrong, a version of the B-52’s song “Party Out of Bounds.”

Lev Raphael is the author of 26 books in genres from memoir to mystery.

Forward Magazine Posts Iffy Claims That “A Christmas Carol” Is Anti-Semitic

A clickbait article in Forward online recently tried to argue the case that Dickens’s classic novel is filled with Jew hatred.  That argument was full of of holes.

While the money lender may be an anti-Semitic stereotype and Scrooge does lend money, that’s just one of his many business dealings. The sign “Scrooge and Marley” hangs over a “warehouse door,” so money lending doesn’t seem to be his main profession. A warehouse suggests a wholesale business of some kind, though Dickens never specifies what that is. It’s not likely that the warehouse was packed with boxes of gold sovereigns and pound notes.

The second line of the novel tells readers that Scrooge would be trusted in any endeavor he turned to on the London Stock Exchange. Later in the book, it’s stock brokers on the Exchange whom he hears gossiping about his death. So we can assume Dickens was suggesting that Scrooge was somehow involved in stocks and bonds.

But wait–is Scrooge actually Jewish? The Forward article suggested that Dickens’s choice of Scrooge’s first name Ebenezer is clearly anti-Semitic. That’s laughable.  Biblical names were widely given to Anglo-Saxon boys and girls in the 19th century.  And some of them of them were uncommon ones like his: Hezekiah, Obadiah, Tabitha, Jemima.

While Ebenezer may mean something in Hebrew (“stone of help”), so what? Many much more widely-used English names like John and Mary are derived from Hebrew. If Scrooge had somehow managed to have a wife named Elizabeth, would that be anti-Semitic, too?  After all, it comes from Elisheva (“God is abundance”).

The author of the article goes on to note that Scrooge’s late partner has “a fully Jewish moniker” in Jacob Marley. Jacob is obviously the name of a Biblical patriarch, but then the author makes the blockbuster revelation that Marley is Hebrew for “it is bitter to me.”

That’s the point at which I thought I might need a glass of heavily-spiked eggnog. And I don’t even like eggnog.

I’ve read a number of Dickens biographies and haven’t encountered reports of Dickens knowing anything besides some French in addition to his native English, so how did he become a scholar in Hebrew?

Even if a trove of letters was discovered that proved Dickens was a secret student of the language, why would he bother camouflaging his anti-Semitism? It was open enough in books like Oliver Twist, Sketches by Boz, and David Copperfield.

But wait!  Maybe there are more stunning secrets buried in Dickens’s novels! Perhaps Chuzzlewit is an anagram for something in Aramaic?  Maybe we should be reading Bleak House backwards! And what if we’re about to see the publication of The Dickens Code by some enterprising author?!  Is Tom Hanks already studying a script where he plays a Dickensologist?

Back on Planet Earth, it turns out that name Marley has a long history with no Jewish connections at all:

This long-established surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is locational from any of the various places thus called, including Marley in Devonshire, Durham, Kent and the West Riding of Yorkshire, or Marley Farm in Brede (Sussex). The Yorkshire place, recorded as “Mardelai” in the Domesday Book of 1086, derives its first element from the Olde English pre-7th Century “mearth” meaning (pine) marten, plus “leah”, a wood or clearing.

It took me only a few minutes to track down that information.  No tortured etymology necessary.

The Forward article makes the final killing point–quoting another writer–that Scrooge hates Christmas and has a pointed nose.  There you have it, ladies and gentlemen.  To cap it all off, the author ends his article with “Bah, humbug,”  which must have taken a great deal of thought.

In the course of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge comes to see how the world is filled with poverty, some of it close to home.  And there’s that vision of Ignorance and Want which is absolutely harrowing.

Scrooge also realizes how his emotional life has been stunted, and shame makes him more compassionate. That’s not anti-Semitic or pro-Christian, and it has nothing to do with religion or identity: It’s just plain human.

An American pioneer in writing fiction about children of Holocaust survivors, Lev Raphael is the author of 26 books in genres from memoir to mystery. His latest novel is State University of Murder.