Bentzi Gopstein, the Israeli Scrooge

It suddenly struck me.  Bentzi Gopstein, the head of the extreme right-wing Lehava movement which opposes Jewish-Arab intermarriage, who recently called for a ban of all Christmas celebrations and the expulsion of Christians from Israel, is the Israeli Scrooge. Ebenezer Scrooge, the “hero” of Charles Dickens’ popular novella “A Christmas Carol” hated the joy of Christmas, denouncing it with his famous phrase “bah, humbug”, much to the chagrin of the poor Oliver Twist-like kids of Dickens’ industrial revolutionary England.

The hyper serious Gopstein wants to do the same thing to all the Filipino’s like my father’s dedicated caretaker Faye, all the Russian and Ukrainian Christians married to Jewish immigrants, to the African Christian migrant workers and to the Israeli Arab Christians.  Just imagine if anyone in the “Christian West” would call for the banning of Chanukah celebrations, and would want to expel all the Jews.

“How could you celebrate Christmas?” they asked

I know that some Israelis have good reason to be sensitive about Christmas celebrations.  At  Kibbutz Barkai after the masses of volunteers began arriving in 1967 after the Six Day War from Western Europe and North America, when the first Christmas came around in December the volunteers naturally had a Christmas party, with hot punch, guitars and singing.  I naturally joined in, and the next day the veteran kibbutz founders who were all Holocaust survivors from Poland and Romania were horrified.  “How could you celebrate Christmas?!  For us, Christmas was the day that the goyim got drunk and attacked the Jews!”

So I tried to explain to them that the Christmas of my youth in New York was entirely different.  As author Sayed Kashua describes it in his Haaretz column today from his current perch at a mid-western university “In the holiday spirit” – “I don’t remember even once when consuming an infinite number of TV shows lately with the children when Jesus, Christianity or Bethlehem were even mentioned.  No it’s almost all about the North Pole, where Santa was born”.  And of course there’s the ecumenical holiday cheer and the shopping.  I had a very warm feeling towards the holiday songs.  Which is my excuse for posting here some of my favorite Christmas-time songs.  So here goes.

Let’s start with the master, Nat King Cole, and his beautiful Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire) :

If that was too tranquil for you, here comes Chuck Berry with Run Run Rudolph:

And though I could have chosen Dean Martin, Pat Boone or Michael Bubble (?), here’s Elvis, singing the ultimate seasonal song, Winter Wonderland:

And here’s one of my favorites, Little Drummer Boy, a haunting song whose lyrics seem to be secondary to the music and the performance:

And here’s a rousing combination of rock and country, Jingle Bell Rock, popular ever since it was first recorded back in 1957:

And we can’t leave out the wonderful Weavers song of peace and holiday cheer We Wish You a Merry Christmas.  They even manage to get Shalom into the song:

Okay, now let’s get serious with Bob Geldoff and the Band-Aid gang singing the original Do They Know It’s Christmas? at Live-Aid 1985:

And what we all need, courtesy of John and Yoko, a Happy Christmas/War is Over:

And now for the ultimate classic with its incredible simplicity, White Christmas, the best selling single of all-time, recorded by Bing Crosby, here with some help from another master, Frank Sinatra, written by none other than our very own Israel Isidore Baline aka Irving Berlin:

And the same song with the wonderful rhythm and blues version by the Drifters with the great Clyde McPhatter in the lead:

To get back to Bentzi Gopstein and Scrooge, Scrooge eventually undergoes a transformation, and at the end of “A Christmas Carol” he learns to appreciate about caring for others.

Is it too much to wish that Bentzi Gopstein will also undergo such a transformation, and learn to care about others?

About the Author
Hillel Schenker is Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv