It may seem a little odd considering it was eighteen years ago, but I remember my first Christmas Day in Israel very clearly.
I’d been here almost five months and I went to my ulpan class that morning, as usual. The classes were held in Raanana’s immigrant absorption center.
As I waited for the teacher to arrive, I opened my exercise book on a new page and wrote the date.
Sunday December 25.
Only then did it dawn on me: not only was it Sunday, it was Christmas Day to boot. What a double whammy to be hit with, so early in the morning.
I felt a sudden wave of nostalgia for the Old Country. I wasn’t yet anywhere near used to Sunday being a school/ulpan/working day; this being Christmas Day simply added insult to injury. Thoughts of cosy winter days stretched in front of the TV, watching the inevitable White Christmas in the morning and the Queen’s speech mid-afternoon, came flooding into my mind. I became misty-eyed as I recalled our family get-togethers on Boxing Day (as December 26 is called in Britain).
I could hardly bring myself to concentrate on the intricacies of the pi’el and the pu’al, two of the Israeli active and passive verb formations, which the teacher was busy writing up on the board. That morning, as I daydreamed about Christmases past, I was in a distinctly passive mood.
During the morning coffee break I forced myself to get a grip. I stood outside in the December sunshine and remembered the cold, miserable British winter, and the reality of being cooped up indoors for too many days with my young kids. I remembered the mayhem in the stores in the run-up to Christmas and, above all, the complete irrelevance of the festival to me as a religious Jew.
I had no business being anything other than happy and grateful to be living in the Jewish State this Xmas. I resolved to put the date out of my mind and came back into the class with renewed vigor.
“We have a treat for you today,” the teacher informed us. “The Israeli Police Orchestra is giving a special performance here this morning and we are all invited.”
We filed downstairs to the main hall. This should be a truly Israeli experience, I thought to myself, and the perfect way to banish irreligious recollections of my former life in Blighty.
Sure enough, I was soon clapping along to the strains of Hallelujah and other Israeli classics
The conductor turned toward the audience to acknowledge our applause.
“And now,” he said, “we have a tune for today.”
A few chords into the tune, I did a double take. It was Jingle Bells.