Rick Rosenthal looks the part. He has a white beard. He wears red suits all the time. His job for the last seven years has been that of a surrogate Santa Claus. And he’s an Orthodox Jew. Here’s his story of giving back to kids.
Rick Rosenthal is a professional, year-round Santa who also attends Congregation Young Israel of Toco Hills in Atlanta. (Courtesy of Rosenthal)
(JTA) — Just like any other Santa Claus, Santa Rick will spend much of the next couple of weeks sitting children on his knee, asking whether they’ve been good and listening to their Christmas wishes.
If it’s a Saturday, he may have slept overnight in the building. And he’ll only accept payment after nightfall.
For Santa Rick’s last name is Rosenthal, and he’s an Orthodox Jew who does not drive or handle money on Shabbat. But that doesn’t stop him from doing his job.
“I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t help a child,” said Rosenthal, 66, who lives in Atlanta and attends Young Israel of Toco Hills. “If you look at the world as children do, that’s a better feeling. I’m a better person and a better Jew because I’m Santa.”
Rosenthal — a full-time, professional Santa — sees no contradiction between serving as the symbol of Christmas and living as an observant Jew. To him, Santa is a nonreligious spiritual figure who provides trust, reassurance and comfort to the young and old.
He says that anyone who is inclined to criticize him for working as a Santa should consider ways they help non-Jews observe holidays — like working a shift on Christmas when Christians take the day off.
“As a Jew, we are to be a light unto the world,” Rosenthal said, paraphrasing a famous Jewish aphorism from the Bible. “That’s one of our jobs. If we can help make people’s lives better, we should do that. It’s a mitzvah. If we can ease tensions between Jews and non-Jews, we can do that….”