Memo to Elena Kagan: Not All Jews Spend Christmas at Chinese Restaurants


The blogosphere is lit up with Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s response to a question at her confirmation hearing. The Washington Post reported that a senator asked, “’Christmas Day bomber. Where were you at on Christmas Day?’ Kagan … seemed confused by his query and started answering him seriously. But Graham cut her off and said, ‘No. I just asked where you were at on Christmas.’ Kagan’s response – ‘Like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant’ — was brilliant in its humor, timing and the self-effacing manner in which it was delivered.”

Most of the commentary is about Kagan’s sense of humor, like that from JTA, the Jewish Week, and the Christian Science Monitor. Over at Jewcy, Jason Diamond said “a serious burst of pride shot through my being when a person who is possibly (hopefully) going to sit in the highest judicial seat in the land, made mention of one of my favorite Jewish traditions.”

I also hope that Elena Kagan is confirmed. I’m proud that she’s Jewish. I’m even proud of her association with one of my alma maters – yes, I have a degree from Harvard Law School, something I don’t ever emphasize in my current position.

But Supreme Court justices shouldn’t make factual errors, and she ought to know, and the commentators ought to know, that we are way past the time when “all Jews” are at Chinese restaurants” at Christmas. In fact, we all ought to realize that we are either at the time, or close to the time, when half of young adults who identify as Jews will have grown up participating in Christmas celebrations with their interfaith families. The Jewish partners and children in interfaith families aren’t going to Chinese restaurants for Christmas – they’re having Christmas dinner with their relatives who aren’t Jewish.

About Ed Case

Ed Case is Founder of InterfaithFamily and works at IFF Headquarters in Newton, MA.

5 thoughts on “Memo to Elena Kagan: Not All Jews Spend Christmas at Chinese Restaurants”

  • Graham’s question was pretty off the wall. Since he clarified that he was inquiring about Kagan’s position re: the Christmas Bomber, one can only wonder what his purpose was. As far as I know, the Supreme Court doesn’t have emergency sessions over the Christmas recess, none of the justices are in the presidential line of succession, and a justice is not required for the swearing the successor [e.g., Lyndon Johnson].

    That being said, I got quite a kvell out of Kagan’s answer. And less that a year earlier was Barney Frank’s response to the “Obama is a Nazi” questioner with a question! Yes, I’d say American Jews have arrived. Not only are we walking the avenues of power, but we’re not tip-toeing.

    I don’t see the tradition of eating Chinese on Christmas slipping away as we American Jews become more integrated —and intermarried— to the larger US culture. On Christmas my wife and I see a movie and have Chinese, and invite our goyishe friends along.

  • Gotta agree with the others here.  Didn’t bug me at all.  She was using humor to give a little verbal slap to a senator who seems to assume that everyone celebrates Christmas.  I am in an interfaith marriage where we, in fact, celebrate Christmas for my husband and his mom, and include a stocking for my Jewish kids.  I haven’t been to a movie and had Chinese food on Christmas for years.  And I laughed hysterically at her quip. 

  • Honestly, you have a problem with Kagan, but not with Graham for asking her where she was on Christmas???

    Can we please deal with the Anti-Semitism of the question before we jump on Kagan for her essentializing response?

  • What a poorly written (and nonsensical) editorial. So now it’s offensive to assume that the norm for Jews is that they don’t celebrate Christian holidays? I find that belief more offensive than Nominee Kagan’s comments.

  • Her comment was perfect to put a Senator who was asking a pointless question in his place.

    As part of an interfaith family, I loved the answer and took it for the jibe a the Senator it was, not as a hurtful and exclusionary blanket statement about Judaism.  If she had said, “Well, like many Jews, except for those engaged in loving an familial relationships with someone of another religion for which I have the utmost respect, or those who don’t prefer that cuisine or who have a gluten intolerance and can’t find an option they like or those that live in smaller communities who do not have the benefit of having such an establishment nearby etc, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.” I would not be as proud of her, the media wouldn’t be praising her and I wouldn’t be able to admire her wit and brevity.

    Stick with the sense of pride you have for her nomination, not with this slightly offended feeling on behalf of a minority that I think probably got the joke. 

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