Shabbat opening on Christmas Eve (sort of)


LOS ANGELES (JTA) — As quietly as rising challah, Jews prepare for Christmas.

Slipping a favorite DVD into the player, then popping open a take-out carton or two of Kung Pao something, we make ready for a quiet December’s eve.

But before you get shluffy from all that MSG, let me recommend a film to consider for a Christmas Eve from my personal collection of imaginary films. It’s called “When Malka Meets Santa.”

I know, I know: It sounds like a direct-to-cable holiday movie even more suspect than “Santa Conquers the Martians.” Nonetheless, it’s a film that could be playing near you soon, opening Dec. 24, when Christmas Eve lands on Shabbat.

The two stars of this soon-to-be released film — A-listers Shabbat HaMalka, the Sabbath Queen, and Santa Claus — rarely perform together. But when they do, they offer the Jewish audience a peak into a story of religious conflict and tension beyond the usual December dilemma fare.A critic might wonder: Do these two really need to share screen time? Don’t they appeal to different audiences?

Just look at their conflicting styles.

Santa, whose late-night performances are known to millions, likes to clandestinely drop into homes through the chimney. He hails from the North Pole.

On the other hand HaMalka, the shechina, the feminine presence that Jews welcome into their households and synagogues every Friday night, doesn’t need a chimney to enter a scene. Like Elijah, she’s more of a front-door type. And HaMalka hails from a more mystical background.

The accidental co-stars do have something in common; both have theme music written by Jews. But HaMalka’s, “L’Cha Dodi,” found on her “Kabbalat Shabbat” soundtrack and everybody’s mix list, doesn’t rely on red-nose reindeers in white Christmas dreams for flavor.

She prefers a more regal approach: “Come my beloved, with chorus of praise” begins the song that introduces her presence to her worldwide audience.

As to audience, each has a different approach to treating their fans.

Once a year, Santa makes the rounds offering his loyal base a reward. His “naughty or nice” list is a major meme.

HaMalka makes the rounds once a week, every week. She visits without spotlights or outdoor displays, or making judgments. You can’t sit on her lap. And she travels light, preferring a less materialistic approach. HaMalka brings only, as her song goes, an idealistic “new light.”

Santa, of course, is known for his big reveal, the audience give-away — the fancy wrapping and tantalizingly large package under the tree. It’s a broad performance that fills one with wonder: Is the packaging more intriguing than the contents?

HaMalka, according to her fans, is the total package. Not to sound like her publicist, but she’s a peaceful Shabbat guest host whose easy feeling performances bring her fans through the week.

To one of HaMalka’s biggest fans, Abraham Heschel, the idea of a Sabbath Queen, or bride, signified “majesty tempered with mercy and delicate innocence that is waiting for affection.”

Santa engenders affection, too. His fans write songs to him hoping that he’ll “hurry down” their chimneys and bring them gifts like “two front teeth.”

After imagining them on screen together, I have to admit I didn’t see much chemistry. Santa is more of a physical comedy guy, while HaMalka goes for a more spiritual presence.

He’s always up on rooftops, sometimes sliding off them, while the trades compare HaMalka to a fountain of blessings and say she’s simply radiant.

So where does this mismatched couple meet?

In Malibu, of course, where all the celebrities hook up.

As the scene plays out, it’s sunset at the end of a long work week and Santa, before beginning his long night of deliveries, stops for a break on a deserted stretch of beach. In the distance he sees a vision in white walking slowly toward him as his sleigh bells suddenly start to go “Bim-bam.”

Now folks, if you think for one moment that as the sun sets, HaMalka and Santa meet on the sand, and the Sabbath Queen greets the  Ho Ho Guy with “Shabbat Shalom,” and she climbs into his sleigh and they go for a ride, and then she talks him into taking Shabbat off …

And as they fly over LA, after hearing a loud chorus of L’cha Dodi coming from a synagogue, they land in the temple’s parking lot, where because every car’s alarm goes off the congregants all rush outside and are greeted by the HaMalka and “HaSanta,” who donates everything in his bag to the temple’s teen group’s toy drive …

If you think that’s how “When Malka Meets Santa” ends, wow, do you need a break from all the rum-pa-pa-bumming in your ho-ho-ho home.

Actually, after sharing a moment on the beach, the two agree to keep their relationship professional, meeting only occasionally for Chinese takeout.

(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles.)



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