When you’re in Israel for Christmas, you really don’t notice. No trees. No lights. No carols. No vacation days. It’s just another Monday.
Sure you can search out Christmas here in places like Bethlehem or Nazareth. But it’s not ubiquitous, like it is in New Jersey, for example.
I miss it.
I don’t miss creches or outlandish lights and decoration. Mostly I miss the music. It envelops me. It’s beautiful; hauntingly beautiful. It doesn’t make me any less Jewish if I hum along with the classic carols. They have lasted so long because they are so beautiful.
I also miss the cheer. I know some of it is forced and many are alone and miserable. Life goes on with or without Christmas. But people seem to try harder to be nice to one another. It’s the Christmas spirit. And being friendly is always welcome.
But when I’m here, in Herzliya, never expecting a white Christmas (but hoping at least for some rain), I somehow feel more Jewish. I am reminded that I am not celebrating someone else’s holiday. Even by default.
By default like when I was a kid at Chancellor Avenue School in Newark NJ. Our public school was mainly Jewish, about 90% of the kids were Jewish. Most of our teachers were also Jewish. Yet, the curriculum demanded that we celebrate Christmas. It was really sacrilegious. We learned carols. We had a Christmas play. Parties and grab bags. Decorated tree in the lobby. The whole nine yards… Do schools still do this? I suspect that many of them do. I don’t know for sure since my children went to Jewish day school where the only overdone observance was usually Chanukah, a relatively minor holiday.
Is it by fault or default that our present US administration is striving for Christmas to be an American holiday, an American holy day? It’s a holy day of Americans but not an American holy day. We need to remind our highest officials that America, by decree, by doctrine, by law, is a land supporting freedom of worship. So Jew or agnostic or atheist or Muslim or B’hai or Buddhist, enjoy the music but ignore the inference that it’s your celebration. You’ve got yours. Christians have Christmas.
So, for those in this complicated holy land, I wish you all a happy regular old Monday. I know you won’t have snow or carols or even presents under a tree. But I hope you will have peace on Earth and goodwill to man.
To those Christians in my ken, I wish you too a joyous Christmas and may we share that peace on Earth and goodwill to man.