We had a friend in Kansas whose daughter became engaged to a Jewish man, whom we knew predominantly because he relayed a story of his interaction with a famous, retired athlete. Noticing a Star of David hanging around our friend’s neck, the athlete asked if he was a Jew. Responding that he was Jewish, he was then told that he was going to Hell unless he accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his savior. Out the blue!

It is easy to understand that this would be upsetting, but it was a little harder to understand why this gentleman’s father said he would not attend his son’s wedding if it would be held in a church with a cross.

I came to understand this attitude after I read “Constantine’s Sword,” an eye-opening book by a noted Catholic author that detailed the systematic persecution of Jews by Christians for more than 2,000 years.

Recall the First Crusade? The Crusaders, whipped up to defeat the infidels in Jerusalem, never actually made it to the Holy Land but found plenty of Jewish “infidels” along the way, whom they could murder and steal from. You could understand that Jewish people might develop an aversion to the “Christians,” identified by crosses painted on their tunics, who perpetrated such crimes.

If we fast-forward to 1858, we find a 300-year-old Jewish ghetto in Rome. Life in the ghetto was horrific, with every aspect controlled by the Christians outside. In this ghetto, faced with a severely ill 1-year old Jewish child, a Catholic servant baptized him to supposedly ensure his place in heaven. The child was then taken, at the age of 6, from his parents and raised predominantly by the Pope. Really! Could anyone make this stuff up?

Imagine all the other terrible acts that could be excused in a society that would tolerate something like that. The “Mortara affair” did have some far-reaching negative effects for the Vatican, perhaps including the destruction of the Papal States, but it is still kind of scary, isn’t it? Scarier still, considering all of the subsequent events leading up to the Holocaust.

I have fond memories of my childhood, especially around Christmas. I remember the first Midnight Mass I attended: I fell asleep! But the warm colors, the smell of the incense, the joy permeated my life at the time. Merry Christmas was a salutation of joy, warmth and fellowship. I never felt it was meant to exclude anyone.

But now I understand how others might think differently. It is not with any sense of discrimination that I might say “Merry Christmas” to someone, but it also might reflect that understanding and empathy if I say, “Happy Holidays,” instead. After all, it is the people who hear it that give meaning to what we say.

Whatever words you prefer, and whatever you celebrate this time of the year, I hope you have a peaceful and joyful and empathetic holiday season that leads you into a wonderful 2018!

Dr. Kluzak, an Idyllwild resident, is board certified in Anatomic Pathology, Obstetrics and Gynecology. He also is a freelance photographer for the Town Crier.