There was a beautiful tree in Rishon’s Gan Ha-ir (Central City Park), all decorated and trimmed with its strands of light bulbs lighting up the park in the evening.
No. It was not a Chanukah bush. It was a real tree, designed to make our many thousands of Russian Jews “feel comfortable” in memories of their former country.
An elderly woman standing in front of the tree recalled happy childhood memories in Leningrad (St. Petersburg). She did not wish me a “Merry Christmas” but, instead, a “happy Father Winter” with an additional “cnovim godim”, Russian for a happy new year.
We did not have snow, a rarity in our city. Nevertheless, the out-of-place tree looked stunning.
This was several years ago and I have not seen the decorated tree this year. Perhaps the several years of their living in Israel reminded them that they are Jews now living in a Jewish country.
I remember a knock on my door in past years. I opened it to find a fat man dressed all in red from head to toe sporting a long white beard.
I assumed that he was a charedi Jew, an orthodox observer, who had come dressed as Elijah the Prophet to welcome a coming new secular year with a messianic message of hope.
But when he introduced himself as Father Christmas, I politely shut my door and said “you are in the wrong house”.
Today, the Arab Muslim and Christian city of Nazareth in the north is swarmed by Israeli Jews who want to see what Christmas looks like without having to travel overseas. London and Paris may be magnificent in mid to late December, but we have our Nazareth… the place where it all began.
Asked by non-Jews in Nazareth why Jews were coming, staying in Nazareth hotels and attending solemn Mass services in the Church of the Annunciation, the Jewish replies were inspiring to me.
“We have come to see how others worship on their sacred holiday and to extend our good wishes to the citizens of Nazareth”.
Warm and cordial words from Israeli Jews to Israeli non-Jews. Would that their season’s greetings could be repeated during the rest of the months in the year.
Although he was born in a manger not very far away from the holy city of Jerusalem, Jesus was never referred to as Jesus of Bethlehem… only as Jesus of Nazareth. It was his childhood home where he grew up in his parent’s home with his fellow Jewish friends, several of whom in later years became followers of his message.
Since the death of Jesus at the hands of the Romans but supported by Jewish priests in the temple, relations between Christians and Jews have been hostile and bitter for more than two thousand years.
He is not regarded anywhere in Jewish religious documents. He is never mentioned by his name, rather only in the Talmud as “ha-hu”, that man.
His Hebrew name was Yeshu (Greek name for Jesus) and he was known as Yeshu HaNotzri (Yeshu or Jesus from Nazareth).
But he lived his life as a Jew and sought to imbue others with a message of love and hope. During the brief years of his life he never intended to change the laws of Torah Judaism. He wanted only to refresh them and give meaning to the manner of Jewish laws and practices as he understood them.
Christianity was not a religion created by Jesus. It was the teaching of a Jew from Tarsus in Syria, a disciple who never knew Jesus. His Hebrew name was Saul.
In Greek, the Hebrew name of Saul is Paul. And it is Paul who is the true father of the Christian religion whereas Jesus never intended to break away from the observance and prayers of Judaism. He was born, lived his life and died as a Jew.
As Paul traveled throughout the Greek islands preaching and teaching in the name of the Christos (Greek for “the messiah”) his message was accepted widely and ultimately spread through the cities and towns of the Roman empire and became the official religion of the empire.
Yes, the fat man in red with a flowing beard who knocked at my door may have been told that he was at the wrong house, nevertheless I am happy to share greetings of love and of peace to all who knock upon my door with goodwill.
We have 177,000 Christian citizens in Israel. May they be blessed on this sacred holiday with Shalom.