It’s Christmas today. I didn’t even realize Christmas was this week until two of my students pointed it out on Monday. It’s hard to remember that Christmas exists because I live in Israel. Apart from a few other students mentioning Christmas this week, Facebook statuses from my non-Jewish American friends and seeing some of the Russian stores in Netanya decorated with Christmas trees and Santa hats, I would never know Christmas is among us. How could I? Christmas is not broadcast here. And I love it.
*My students are aware of Christmas. December 23rd, 2013*
Now don’t go calling me a Grinch. I was raised half-Christian and half-Jewish by my mother and father, respectively. I celebrated both holidays growing up. Religion didn’t exist in my household (except from one of my mother’s sisters who was a little more on the hardcore side of Christianity) so Christmas and Chanukah just meant eating delicious food, attending parties and receiving presents. These times also meant time off from school and holiday-themed movies and TV shows. I lived in a fantasy land of course. Snow was fun back then. Snow is terrible as an adult unless you get the day off of college or work. Dealing with the arduous trek of trying to get to Hotel Yehudah in Jerusalem last weekend for my Leadership Summit when the city was crushed by snow makes me wonder why people rejoice when they see the white stuff. Now I may be biased being a New Englander and being from a state that actually has a system in place to deal with snow but really, if you, like me, are living in a country that rarely sees snow and, therefore, has no infrastructure for it, you can’t think snow is fun. But hey, maybe I’m just angry that my college rarely cancelled classes. A foot of snow in Massachusetts is considered a dusting after all.
The other thing I was deluded about growing up was presents. Any kid likes to get presents, but as I got older and had to buy presents for family, co-workers and friends, I saw the stress that went into buying presents—saving money, agonizing over what to get someone, customers yelling at salespeople and parents snapping at their kids. These images never represented the images of the happy family I saw plastered all over the displays at Old Navy. Needless to say, being in Israel allows me to get away from this stress.
I so, so love that Israel is an escape from Christmas. Despite the escape here, there are many parts about Christmas that I do enjoy—eggnog lattes (seriously, why does Israel not have Starbucks?) and other seasonal drinks, time off from work, Nickelodeon breaking out the old-school cartoons like Rugrats and Doug, Christmas parties, presents and snagging babysitting gigs.
I may be a Jew, but I don’t hate Christmas; I just hate the commercialization of it. I also hate the commercialization of Valentine’s Day and Thanksgiving. Although it may be hard to be in the States during Christmas while being a Jew, I really don’t think about it that much. I can go the movies and eat Chinese food on Christmas if I choose to. I still have my Jewish community in Boston. I work on Christmas Eve so that I can trade off the Jewish holidays with Christian co-workers taking my place on those days. I don’t get offended when people tell me to have a Merry Christmas. Why? Because I know that America has a Christian majority and that Christmas is the national holiday. I know that I live in a Jewish state and when my best friend, Cassie and her father visit me in April, I’m sure they won’t get offended being told to have a nice Passover or Shabbat Shalom because they know what Israel is about. (They aren’t Jewish.)
I’m not one of those people who thinks that the USA should call a Christmas tree a holiday tree or that salespeople have to say “Seasons Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Now as an American, I have issues with religion being in public schools because I know about America, supposedly, having the separation of government and religion (how my second high school, a pilot school, got away with having holiday decorations up, both Christian and Jewish, without facing a legal challenge baffles me.) If religion is so important to parents, private schools and homeschooling exist for this reason. I may be hypocritical living in the only Jewish state in the world and where religion dictates governmental decisions (I can’t get married here for instance due to the Rabbinate’s rules), but I know what this country is and why she is this way. I know that Israel was founded as a Jewish state. I know that America was, contrary to popular opinion, not founded as a Christian nation. So I expect religion to stay separate from the government but at the same time, I recognize the Christian majority. There are much more pressing issues to worry about than someone sending me an invitation to a Christmas party. And I should know—I went to a Christmas-themed party in Tel Aviv last week that was hosted and attended by all Jews. I can handle America not recognizing me; that’s what I have Israel for.
Even in Israel, I am not bombarded with Jewish holiday reminders. Apart from seeing a sukkah on every corner, I would not have known it was Sukkot in September. I was away for Chanukah in London, but had I been here, I never saw menorahs anywhere or heard Chanukah music. How is it that Israel has declared Judaism as its religion and was founded as a Jewish state, yet doesn’t even remind you of what that religion is? Why does America, that, in theory, is supposed to be secular, remind me of Christmas in September (a new record this year; the Christmas stuff comes out in October usually)? I don’t have an answer.
All I know is that is that while I may be in Israel for the second time in my life, Jewish-wise I still have no idea what I’m doing. I just happen to have a lot more experience doing whatever it is.
E.L. Doctorow once said that writing is like driving a car at night in the fog. Judaism is like that too, isn’t it? You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can, hopefully, make the whole trip that way.
Tonight I just see December 25th as another day. I will watch Silver Linings Playbook with one of my Fellows, Scott, and we will eat Chinese food. And when I lie awake tonight, counting blessings instead of presents, I know that I have more than enough.