Weeks before the first jingle of the very first bell this holiday season, I noticed a poster up in the window of my local Noah’s Bagels store in downtown San Francisco. It was an ad for Noah’s new holiday food product, a red and white candy cane-shaped bagel.
The candy cane’s official slogan: “Feliz Noshidad.” That’s mangled Spaddish (a pidgin of Spanish and Yiddish) for “Merry Christmas.”
Excuse me, but since when did my favorite bagel store go all Santa Claus on me? What’s next? Fruitcake menorahs and Manischewitz brand eggnog?
Reasonable Jews can disagree, but one of the charms of Noah’s Bagels all these years has been the overtly Jewish atmosphere in every shop. I love the faded maps of the New York subway system and the outsized photos of matzah-munching Chassidic Jews posing somewhere in the depths of Flatbush or the Lower East Side.
And who else could have injected the word “shmear” into the American lexicon?
Moreover, since moving to the Bay Area, I had the pleasure of meeting Noah and Hope Alper, the founders of Noah’s Bagels and now owners of that fine Berkeley eatery Ristorante Raphael (it’s kosher, by the way).
The Alpers are true mensches — friendly, accessible and always giving back to the Jewish community.
Several years ago they sold their stake in Noah’s Bagels to a national restaurant management company. I hope they made a bundle. Even though the couple cut its ties to the company they started, it seemed they had mandated that the distinctly Jewish vibe in Noah’s Bagels stores remained intact.
And it generally did, at least until now, with those candy canes and — bear with me while I barf — “Feliz Noshidad.”
I realize that we Jews are a tiny minority in this country, which means we’re a minority in the marketplace as well. As such, to some degree we have to go along to get along. So if offering candy cane bagels helps spur seasonal sales and bulks up fourth quarter profits, who am I to argue with the gods of American capitalism.
But that sign in the window took me back to my upbringing in L.A., where it was always beginning to look a lot like Christmas, even long before December. Usually the first synthetic trees and spray-can fake snow would go on sale in October, when average daytime temperatures could fry eggs (or reindeer) on the sidewalk.
I remember those nonstop TV commercials for Norelco electric shavers and for Mission Pak (an assortment of dried fruits and, probably, even drier nuts). I remember singing carols in elementary school. I remember sitting on Santa’s lap in the May Co. foyer and asking for Rock-Em Sock-Em Robots.
Though we never actually celebrated Christmas, I have far more memories of that holiday than of Chanukah. My atheist parents are partly at fault, but most of the blame goes to America’s atomic fusion of religion and commerce every December.
The entire U.S. economy depends on Christmas. That benign impulse to give holiday gifts to friends and family is now the leading indicator of America’s fiscal health. And anything that reminds us of our seasonal patriotic duty to buy buy buy is good good good.
But somewhere lost in all this is the original meaning of the holidays, which is why the Catholic Knights of Columbus trot out their “Keep the Christ in Christmas” campaign every year.
I don’t have a problem with that. And I also recognize that, distasteful as it is, Christmas spending and its impact on American life isn’t about to change. But please, Corporate Christian America: Leave us, our holidays and our baked goods out of it.
Please don’t take one of our little inroads into mainstream economic culture and turn it into just another chestnut roasting on an open fire. Can’t we keep our shmeary, noshy Noah’s Bagels at least as Jewish as it always has been?
I think its time we said say “no” to the creeping Christmasization of our Jewish intellectual property, “no” to the bleaching of our ethnic identity just to make a buck, and above all, “no” to candy cane bagels.
Let’s keep the “No” in Noah’s.
Dan Pine</b can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.