This is a cartoon, published in the December 20, 1962 edition of The Chicago Sentinel, addressing the experience of being Jewish in America during the Christmas season – a conflict known as the “December Dilemma.” The cartoon depicts a school assembly at a public school. The stage is filled with Christmas decorations, such as Christmas trees, a chimney with Christmas presents sitting next to it, a scene with camels bringing the wise mento visit Jesus, and wreaths. In the corner of the stage sits a chanukiya with a Magen David in the design. The principal is speaking to the students in the audience, and the caption reads: “And this year, boys and girls, we are going to celebrate both festivals.”
The first amendment of the United States Constitution forbids the passage of any law establishing a particular state religion or restricting a person’s ability to practice their religion freely. This amendment sets the foundation for the separation of church and state that is a hallmark of religious life in America. The place of religion in the public realm is of great concern to American Jews, and public schools have often been the focal point of discussion on the topic. As of the 1960s, Jews began challenging the common practice in public schools of having assemblies and parties devoted to Christian holidays. Schools tried to solve the problem by including a small Jewish element in the holiday celebration– a song or decoration – in order to be inclusive. This cartoon is addressing the tension often felt by Jewish families who send their children to public school.
This is one of a large number of cartoons in the Dayenu series created by Henry Rabin, the artist, and Leonard Pritkin, the author of the texts, under the pseudonym Henry Leonard. The Dayenu cartoons often pointed out issues facing the American Jewish community.
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Dayenu – “Dayenu” was a weekly cartoon that appeared in Jewish newspapers in the 1950s and 1960s. The cartoon was signed by Henry Leonard, a pseudonym used to represent two people: Rabbi Henry Rabin and the artist Leonard Prikitin. The cartoon, titled “Dayenu” (meaning enough) from the Haggadah was intended to be humorous, sometimes even poking fun at the US Jewish communities at the time. At its peak, “Dayenu” appeared in 50 Jewish newspapers and was later collected in four books.
Jewish Community of the United States – At the time of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, between 1,500 and 2,500 Jews were living in the United States, most of them Sephardi. In the middle of the nineteenth century, a wave of German Jews, largely secular and educated, arrived in the United States. Another wave of immigration arrived from Eastern Europe, a result of pogroms and the difficult economic situation in these countries . Most of these new immigrants were Ashkenazi and spoke mainly Yiddish. They arrived, believing that the United States was a “goldene medina,” a country of gold, but the reality was hard. Many of the newcomers worked as manual labourers in difficult conditions, such as in the sweatshops in New York’s Lower East Side. By the beginning of the twentieth century, more than a million Jews lived in the United States, most of them in New York City. Despite immigration quotas, by 1940 the American Jewish population numbered more the 4.5 million. While the first generation of immigrants lived in close-knit Yiddish-speaking communities, the next generation integrated quickly and, in many cases, assimilated into American society and became prominent in many areas of American life. Today American Jews are extremely influential in American politics, business, academia, and culture. Over the last few decades Jews from many countries, such as Russia, Iran, and Israel, have arrived in the United States. The American Jewish community is the second largest Jewish community in the world, numbering between 5.5 and 7 million people. More than 2 million Jews live in New York, making it the city with the largest Jewish population in the world. Half of American Jews consider themselves religious, and there are many Jewish organisations and institutions in the country.