Beginning each November and continuing for several weeks, Malori Asman finds herself discreetly closing the door to her home office as she plays one particular Pandora station from her computer.
It is there, in the comfort of her solitude, that she can avoid the disdainful looks of family members and be free to indulge in her guilty pleasure of the season: listening to Christmas music.
“I love Christmas music,” confessed Asman, president and founder of Amazing Journeys, a Jewish travel company based in Pittsburgh. “My family is very much the ‘bah humbug’ type, but I get very excited come November.”
Asman has her car radio tuned to WISH-100, which bills itself as “Pittsburgh’s Official Christmas Station,” so that even while driving she can enjoy her favorite yuletide tunes, such as “O, Holy Night” and “Silent Night,” to which she knows every word.
The songs are nostalgic for Asman, who fondly recalls her days of caroling with the choir of her mostly Jewish high school in Beverly Hills, Calif., serenading the shoppers on Rodeo Drive from the singers’ perch on the rooftop of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Asman, with her guilty seasonal pleasure, is hardly alone among members of the Pittsburgh Jewish community — many of whom clandestinely look forward to Christmastime for one reason or another.
Take Ari Goldberg, for example, the former adviser to the Pittsburgh chapter for the Orthodox youth group, NCSY. Goldberg, now a financial adviser, said he “loves the lights this time of year.”
Between Christmas and New Year’s, Goldberg routinely took a group of NCSYers to New York City. The purpose of the trip was for the teens, who hailed mostly from public schools, to learn Torah during winter break.
But Goldberg also made sure each year to stop with the teens at Rockefeller Center — to see the big Christmas tree brilliantly decorated with lights.
“I just love the look of this time of year,” Goldberg admitted.
So does Dave Rullo, administrative and communications coordinator for South Hills Jewish Pittsburgh. Each year around Christmas, Rullo, his wife, and his son make a point to visit Phipps Conservatory’s holiday flower and light show.
“There’s a general calmness at Phipps this time of year,” said Rullo, adding that the feeling is a welcome contrast to the hustle and bustle elsewhere in the world. “We’ve done this forever.”
For longtime community members Nina and Dan Butler, this time of year inspires them to watch a certain holiday-themed film, which they own on DVD.
“We are huge fans of ‘It Happened One Christmas,’” Nina Butler divulged. “It’s a remake of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ and it’s really a beautiful story about recognizing all the remarkable goodness in your life and that there’s a ripple effect that each individual makes in their family and in their community.”
While she and her husband enjoy the film over and over again, her kids, she said, “just roll their eyes.”
Although Brian Eglash definitely has a guilty Christmas pleasure, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the holiday.
“I like watching the NBA games on Christmas day,” said Eglash, senior vice president and chief development officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, a Wisconsin native whose secret pleasure is admittedly odd in a town that is all about other sports. “That’s my traditional activity.”
Perhaps more aptly described as a “secret wish” rather than a guilty pleasure is the urge Rabbi Chuck Diamond develops each Christmas season: to don a costume and play Santa Claus.
“I get it a lot — that I look like Santa,” said Diamond, whose white beard, generous smile and striking demeanor do, actually, evoke Father Christmas.
“Little kids often think I am Santa,” said the founder of Kehillah La La. “In fact, I have a friend with a 3-year-old daughter who saw a photo of Santa Claus at the mall and said, ‘Look, there’s Rabbi Chuck!’”
Diamond — who has a connection to someone who sold Santa suits — is seriously considering playing the part, maybe at parties.
“I think that would be a cool thing to do,” he said. “Maybe next year.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at