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Spiritual Growth for Jews

One Holiday Concert Too Many

Posted on | December 17, 2013 | By Michael Gros | 14 Comments

Twelve years ago Dan Fried had an epiphany from a most unusual source. When his daughter was forced to participate in a non-Jewish holiday concert in her public school, Dan suddenly found himself standing up for his religion. The experience launched him from being religiously apathetic to becoming an activist for personal freedoms and eventually to becoming a frum Jew. The events also revealed to him strengths that he did not know he had.

Dan grew up in Connecticut where he lives until today. He was raised in a Conservative Jewish home. After his marriage in 1984, he and his wife Marge joined first a Reform synagogue and then a Conservative synagogue. Both felt spiritually empty. They weren’t looking for religion but just wanted something that gave them a path in life.

One day in December 1998 their daughter Rachael, who was in the third grade in a local public school, came home from school singing songs about Jesus and Christmas. She said the kids were practicing songs everyday for their school’s Christmas concert a few weeks later.

Dan’s wife was outraged, but Dan shrugged it off. Marge told Dan that he needed to speak to the school principal and insist that the concert not include Christian holiday songs. Dan reluctantly agreed.

“I was the last guy you should call when my daughter is singing about Jesus. I was the bottom of the list to defend my daughter’s and my family’s Yiddishkeit.”

Dan had a close relationship with the principal so he expected that she would be receptive to his appeal. He was dead wrong. She belittled his request and refused to change the concert.

Dan researched legal precedent and returned to the principal with court decisions that supported the separation of Church and State in cases similar to his. Again she refused to listen.

The school had a high number of non-observant Jewish students, so Dan turned to their parents to garner support for his efforts. They all refused to help, saying they did not want to cause problems.

Around this time Dan received tickets to an upcoming Sunday Yankees game. He told Rachael and her sister Leah, who was in the fifth grade, that they could skip their Sunday Hebrew School that morning. Recalling his own childhood experience dreading Sunday school each week, he was shocked when they said they loved Sunday school and would not miss it for a baseball game.

“That’s when I realized that I was fighting a real fight. My daughters had a real built-in connection to Judaism.”

His daughters’ reaction gave new fuel to Dan’s one-man fight. He threatened the school with a lawsuit and began calling local media outlets. The school still refused to listen and said it would proceed with the concert.

The evening of the concert arrived. The Frieds arrived at the school and were greeted by local news outlets. The school’s principal welcomed Dan with a warm reception as if nothing had happened, but Dan walked passed her and entered the building. Around his neck he wore a camcorder to record the event, and on his face was a stern demeanor. This was the culmination of weeks of preparation and he was prepared for the coming fight.

The students took their place on the stage as every parent sat on the edges of their seats awaiting the confrontation. Who would back down – the school or Mr. Fried? Would he really make a scene?

The students began singing several general holiday songs. Dan’s stomach turned in knots as they began a song about Jesus. They sang several stanzas and then the choir conductor told them to stop. He announced that he wanted to demonstrate how the student can sing harmonies, but that the school had decided not to sing the specific religious song about Jesus that night. Dan had won!

The concert ended and the Frieds walked out of the room. The other Jewish families tried to pat Dan on his back as he went. He was ecstatic that the school backed down, but was disappointed at the other families for not supporting him.

Dan’s fight against the concert was a pivotal moment. He had discovered that his Judaism had real meaning for him and his family and that he was prepared to fight for it. Hashem saw Dan’s drive and eagerness and sent him messengers to assist on his growing appreciation for Judaism.

During the year before the concert, a frum family had moved next door to the Frieds. The Frieds watched them with bewilderment as they walked to synagogue in the snow and ate in a small booth outside their house for one week in the cold Connecticut autumn.

One Friday night the family invited the Frieds for Shabbas dinner. When the father put his hands on his children’s heads to bless them, Dan began to cry.

“I had never seen such a beautiful thing,” Dan said. “I asked him what he was doing. He told me that every Friday night we bless our children. I read the words of the blessing and water came to my eyes. I knew this is what I wanted. I knew right there and then I was sold, hook, line and sinker.”

Dan and Marge began learning more about Orthodoxy. They soon pulled their daughters out of public school and enrolled them in a local Orthodox day school. With their daughters taking the lead, the entire family fell in love with Orthodoxy and became observant.

The Frieds have since become leaders in the local Orthodox community. As a volunteer project, Dan runs a service called ConnectIsrael.com which broadcasts shiurium and Jewish communal projects around the world via videoconferencing. He sees it as his way to give back to the Jewish world.

“Everyone has a calling in life. Mine is to stand up and do something,” Dan said. “From the day my kids were singing about Jesus I stood up and haven’t sat down since.”

Dan’s role as a community activist at first caught him by surprise, but it was just what he needed to turn his life around. He still looks back this time of year and smiles at the ironic beginning of his journey.

Michael Gros is the former Chief Operating Officer of the outreach organization The Atlanta Scholars Kollel. He writes from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. The Teshuva Journey column chronicles uplifting teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. To read more articles and sign up to receive them via email, visit http://www.michaelgros.com. Originally posted 12/29/2010.

Comments

14 Responses to “One Holiday Concert Too Many”

  1. Bob Miller
    December 29th, 2010 @ 11:15 am

    Jews in public schools should be able to opt out of non-Jewish religious activities there without repercussions. However, any Jewish attempt to keep the non-Jews from celebrating their own holidays there invites problems—even if a valid legal case can be made to support it.

  2. Charlie Hall
    December 29th, 2010 @ 11:35 am

    I agree with Bob. There is nothing wrong with Christians celebrating Christmas. Just excuse me from the celebration.

  3. ross
    December 29th, 2010 @ 11:53 am

    I can certainly sympathize with the Jewish families who didn’t get involved for fear of repercussions. Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have been outraged by my kids singing songs which had as much to do with me as my own religion. It wouldn’t be worth causing problems. It’s a sad state of affairs. Yes, it doesn’t feel right, and perhaps I would cringe a little, but the holidays pass, and the kids would forget. Maybe they would find time to joke about it at Grandma’s late afternoon Passover seder.

  4. Charlie Hall
    December 29th, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

    I would have just politely excused myself from the choir for that performance.

    Has anyone noticed the irony that in most frum communities, his daughter would not be PERMITTED to sing in a choir?

  5. Judy Resnick
    December 29th, 2010 @ 5:49 pm

    It was bashert. If the principal had just agreed with him and ordered that the concert include only secular songs, Dan Fried would never have realized how much his Judaism meant to him. That a frum family “just happened” to move in next door was also bashert.

  6. Gary
    December 29th, 2010 @ 9:03 pm

    As I commented elsewhere, businesses should stick to business and governments should govern. Our public institutions (and most private premises with public access) should maintain a non-sectarian atmosphere.

    It seems to me that the real spark for this family’s movement into observant Judaism was kindled in the children’s Sunday school. It was their revelation that they wouldn’t miss it to attend a ball game that inspired the father to become intensely involved in this matter and to become observant.

    The term “spiritually empty” appears in this article. It is unclear from the context if the parents felt that way before joining non-Orthodox synagogues, or despite joining them. While not attributing the sentiment to this particular writer, I have heard people apply the term “spiritually empty” to any way of life besides Orthodox Judaism. I don’t think that I was spiritually empty prior to becoming observant. I believe that becoming observant gave me the means and opportunity to improve on the spirituality that I already had, and to expand and refine it, too.

    Becoming observant is analogous to the advice given by Elisha to the widow in II Kings 4. Until she obtained vessels from her neighbors, she had no place to put the untapped reserves of oil that she had in the single vessel that she owned. Adopting the ways of the Torah provides us with many vessels in which to pour our untapped spiritual reserves. Those vessels include the midot/character traits that we improve and the other people who can benefit from our acts of chesed/kindness.

  7. Martin Fleischer
    December 30th, 2010 @ 9:23 am

    Truly inspiring! It is so true in many cases that “the children will teach the parents”.

    Marty

  8. Belle
    December 30th, 2010 @ 6:21 pm

    I have fond memories of my public high school choir experiences, where we learned and sang with gusto pieces such as Handel’s “Messiah,” various XMas carols (we actually went caroling)and other Xstian religious pieces including madrigals. The music was (is) stupendous, and in fact, I miss singing these songs and miss this dimension in my life. If I hear someone singing “Halleluyah” by Handel, I want to join in with various harmonies and sing my heart out. There is nothing quite like some of these musical oratorios. I don’t know what to do about this, as it is obviously a conflict (both in terms of singing about Yushka and in terms of females singing out loud)! It’s worse than feeling attached to our ol’ Rock and Roll! But I guess I just thank G-d that he gave me a horrid voice and that I couldn’t go anywhere with this hobby anyway!

  9. Martin Fleischer
    December 31st, 2010 @ 10:41 am

    I, too, have memories. Our assistant principal dressed up as that guy in the red suit and white beard and asked “Have you been a good boy this year?” Of course I said yes…and he gave me a candy cane, which I did not eat. My school also had holiday concerts, but I don’t remember anything about Jesus in it..I do remember a girl singing “White Christmas”. This is mid-60’s to early 70’s we are talking about in Midwood, Brooklyn. I also attended a Hebrew School 3 times a week, where my Zaide, A’H’, had worked as a beadle for many years.

  10. David F.
    January 2nd, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

    Why in the world would anyone feel the need to write anything critical about Dan or this article. Clearly, it doesn’t discuss everything going on in their life or at that time so if nothing else, context is severely lacking. Why judge someone’s actions in that case? We’re talking about real people, not theoretical instances. It behooves us not to judge or be critical but to appreciate the message/s of this story.

  11. Judy Resnick
    January 2nd, 2011 @ 8:32 pm

    I have the highest admiration for Dan Fried and his family. Instead of just sitting back, they took action to defend the rights of the Jewish kids at that public school. In addition, they had the moral and physical courage to change their lives around completely once they recognized what the truth was. Dan Fried, his wife and his daughters are Jewish Heroes who deserve medallions of gold.

  12. LC
    January 4th, 2011 @ 11:30 am

    @Belle – We also sang some of the classical Xmas (religious) works in HS choir, but there were enough quasi-affiliated Jews that a whole bunch of us (and maybe some of the Xians, because it amused them) sang about “Cheese whiz” in place of you-know-who. Not sure if we toned it down enough to not be audible over the original words, or whether the director just let it go, but as long as we weren’t singing “those words”, it never occurred to any of us to opt out.

    And yes, there was always one Chanukah song as well – even one year a Hebrew song (transliterated).

  13. Belle
    January 4th, 2011 @ 7:34 pm

    One year in HS in response to the Jewish kids’ pressure, the choir director had us learn and sing Handel’s oratorio “Judas Maccabeus” instead of “Messiah.” It was a good learning experience, but alas, it was token. The bottom line is that this is a Xian nation, most classical music is Xian inspired, and public school is not Jewish school.

    I personally prefer allowing Xian things into public school because I think the nation is better off with religion than without religion. It also makes Jews in public school feel a little alienated from the culture, which is good. Less assimilation.

  14. Red Cow
    December 17th, 2013 @ 3:33 am

    Being a Jewish Neshama in this world invites problems. On one hand the world was created for the Jewish People to perform mitzvos in it and fix it- on the other hand it’s Alma DeShikra (a world of lies).

    When a Jewish soul finds itself too for away from it’s source it naturally thirsts to return. That’s the story of many a Baal Teshuvas.

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