Rachel Bell

The holiday season

During this holiday season, something about the way that Jewish life in Israel, and the complex experience of social media, is changing my life, my family, perhaps us all, has become evident. An online acquaintance, of which I have so many, pondered about the curiosity and interest in the holiday season evident in Israel. Why has Christmas become popular?…she wondered aloud to the digital world in an early morning post.

A family member asked if I was planning to take my kids to see festivities in other cities. My son paid enough attention to consider that this might be an opportunity to ask for presents, since it was somebody’s holiday, and holidays meant presents. Friends flooded the internet with happy wishes for a pleasant holidays, and one went to work in a soup kitchen. I myself looked with nostalgia at a former professor’s beautiful photographs of her home’s beautiful decorations, and the decorative trees and decor of struggling single parents with low budgets trying to create holidays for their children.

And then I flashed back to a memory of wandering amongst gold and silver tinted trees heavy with sparkling baubles, I don’t remember where I was, perhaps at a large store, or perhaps at my father’s place of work. There was something so bittersweet about this image, and my memory of a bitter sharp sense of painful exclusion that I felt at the holiday. I remember this almost cruel sense of separation, an overwhelming sense that I couldn’t participate in what took place around me, that I was separate, other. I didn’t know how to react to the overwhelming presence of such festivities. They were creative, beautiful, and colorful. But in the long-untreated depression of my years of growing up, they were a painful source of sadness.

I wonder now with the Israeli friendliness and the interest in Christmas, the funny signs popping up in stores, the special concerts, the curiosity. Perhaps it is nostalgia for elements of the past, as may Israelis descend from families who lived in Christian lands for centuries, We acknowledge that we have been enriched by exposure, other holidays, other ways of life, that are a solid part of our fused and complex and vibrant heritage. Perhaps we now feel safe enough in our identities, concrete enough in our identities, to enjoy the colorful experience of other heritages, without it suggesting to us an imminent threat, without it causing fear of an ever looming genocide.

Whatever this sentiment is, I must now acknowledge that years and decades living in Israel has had a calming effect. And perhaps also, many years of experiencing the world through the prism of global social media have changed my sense of the world. I have a strong psychologically safe home from which I venture into the social world to share my experiences, a home that although threatened daily is yet incredibly solid and vital.

So while friends are posting beautiful painter-like photographs of cityscapes, silver skies, and holiday celebrations, I have been thinking about how silly and small and safe my home life has become. Someone posted a picture of her daughter wearing underpants as necklace and bracelets, and wandering around the home looking for socks to put on her hands. My son and daughter actually do wear underpants too on their heads at home. My daughter used to put on my son’s underpants on her head all the time, as she thought it was quite fun (she was very small). True story.

This is my beautiful life. Underpants as hats in a Tel Aviv apartment, with pigeons roosting on the balcony and damp walls that need to be treated. Former acquaintances from first grade wishing me well and commenting on my life while others damn me as a globalist or Zionist, thanks to the complex experience of social media. Today I was invited visually into other homes, visiting moments in other families daily experiences, while my kids tried to take away the phone so that they can see kids in spiderman suits crawl under tables. I go on people’s vacations with them, see a girl who I remember as a three year old grow up far away.

Christmas is a regular day, with work to do, grocery shopping to finish, kids to send to school. Yet  it is not forgotten, our past and present history of sharing life with so many other cultures is not ever forgotten. In the virtual world of social media, I wish hundreds of people to have a beautiful holiday. Being threatened from afar, being welcomed from afar, being judged from afar, being understood from afar, and walking through my simple anonymous day in the streets of Tel Aviv, are all part of the experience of life here.

About the Author
Rachel Bell considers living in Israel a challenge, as is writing for a living for over 20 years. Her family, from Tzfat and later Tel Aviv, left her a legacy of commitment to the project of self-determination and indigenous self-actualization called Israel.
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