In these few days before Christmas, a simple phrase from this week’s Torah portion becomes especially relevant to me.

It is part of a request: As Jacob lies dying, he asks his son Joseph to make a promise of chesed v’emet, kindness and truth, to bury him in the land of his fathers rather than in Egypt.

Chesed, kindness, because he wants his son to do this thing for him out of devotion and loyalty. Emet, truth, because his true identity is his other name, Israel. The name that was bestowed on him by an angel with whom he wrestled all night. The name that will be given to the land from which he came, the land promised to him and to his forefathers by their God.

Kindness and truth. These are the two elements of myself that I see most prominently at this time of year. Kindness because I know how important Christmas is to the society around me. I am careful to acknowledge it; I say “Merry Christmas” to the Publix cashier decked out in Christmas jewelry, buy gifts for friends, admire the lights and decorations.

And truth because I do not care about Christmas. It’s someone else’s holiday. My truth is something different, and during this “holiday season” the differences are, to me, glaring.

For Jacob, the societal differences are glaring too. He asks to see his grandsons so that he can bless them. But when Joseph brings them to him, they are dressed in Egyptian garb and speak Egyptian, not Hebrew.

Not surprisingly, Jacob asks, “Who are these?” (Genesis 48:8). It’s unclear in the text whether he actually doesn’t recognize them or is merely reacting to the appearance of total assimilation into Egyptian society. But nevertheless, when he recognizes them he does not withhold his blessing, despite their external assimilation.

Like Joseph and his sons, I am assimilated into the society around me. I speak English, eat in the same restaurants, shop in the same stores, wear the same clothes, and live a very American life. It is only when I choose to identify as a Jew in public by wearing a kipa (the Hebrew word for yarmulke) that I look different. And even then, it’s not such a huge difference.

And yet, in many ways I am indeed quite different from my neighbors.

I will admit that I merely tolerate the onslaught that is Christmas in America. I will gladly go back to my normal existence after December 25th. And yet, it is an important reminder that I am indeed not the same as my neighbors, that my tolerance, kindness, and understanding are both important and need to be reciprocated.

Living in a pluralistic society requires a depth of openness and understanding that must be reciprocal. At Christmas, the majority culture tends to forget the need for that reciprocity; it melts away as our Christian neighbors indulge in their holiday festivities.

May they and we remember that our responsibility as Americans is to be both kind and truthful. To be welcoming and understanding, and true to ourselves. To do more than merely tolerate each other, but rather to acknowledge that the strength of our nation lies not in our sameness but in appreciating and celebrating our differences.