This is my second Chanukah in Israel. I leave the USA a week or two after Thanksgiving and return just before New Years. My last few days in the USA it feels that the whole country is getting ready for Christmas. Lights start going up, I see Christmas trees through neighbors’ windows, and all the stores are full with people shopping. Christmas is really a beautiful holiday. I just hate it.
I know I shouldn’t hate the holiday. I know it is about love and peace and good will towards mankind. I have watched Charlie Brown celebrate Christmas more than a dozen times. But it is not my holiday and I don’t need Christmas to teach me about good will towards mankind. I have my religion that teaches me the same values. If anything, those are Jewish values that we have passed on to the Christians. So where do Christians get off telling me to love my neighbor? That’s a line they got from our Book. Fine. I love you. Merry Christmas. Now piss off and stop singing about Rudolph and his red nose.
Stepping off the plane in Israel is like walking onto the set of a “Twilight Zone” episode. Christmas has suddenly disappeared. It feels surreal. No decorations. No Christmas trees. Nobody worrying about pouting or shouting. Santa Claus is not coming to this town.
Yesterday I went shopping at the supermarket. What was advertised? Doughnuts, chocolate Chanukah gelt, dreidles and oil lamps. It is nice being in a country where my holidays dominate. Especially during Chanukah which as my son Ben taught me, was a fight against assimilation.
I celebrated the first night of Chanukah with my wife’s family. They lit the menorah and said the blessings. I knew them all. Then they sang “Maoz Tzur.” I could mumble my way along with the words. This was followed by Chanukah song after Chanukah song. They all knew the words. I recognized one song from Hebrew School, “Mi Yimalel Gvurot Yisrael” but could barely remember how it goes. I almost wanted to start singing “Jingle Bells” because at least I know all the words to that song.
In Israel, they play Chanukah songs on the radio. I don’t recognize them, never heard them before, and they sound strangely similar to Christmas songs. On every corner, somebody is selling doughnuts. What is up with doughnuts? I eat latkes.
This season makes me feel that I am not at home anywhere. I don’t fit in back in the USA with Christmas and I can’t follow along in Israel during Chanukah.
This morning while davening shacharit, as required, I added the paragraph retelling the miracle of the victory of Jews over the Greeks that led to the celebration of Chanukah. I got chills. Here I am thanking Hashem for the miracle of Chanukah in the same place where it happened. And I believe that the establishment of the modern State of Israel is a repetition of the same miracle.
I don’t yet feel at home here in Israel. But I want to. This is where the miracles for the Jewish people happened and are happening. This is where I belong.