My wife and I arrived in Israel last night for a stay of about ten days. The visit incorporates the opportunity for the unveiling of my late mother’s tombstone, and also some sorely needed R and R. Only a few minutes ago, my wife checked her e-mail and saw that someone on our synagogue listserv had asked what Christmas was like in Israel.
The short answer is- you wouldn’t know it’s Christmas.
We awoke this morning to a day of brilliant sunshine that eventually warmed up to about seventy-five degrees in the Tel-Aviv area. Wanting to take advantage of every bit of time we have, even on a short Friday, we made our way to the twice-weekly crafts fair on Rehov Nahalat Binyamin in Tel-Aviv, right near Shul HaCarmel.
The traffic in Tel-Aviv was awful- nothing unusual there- and the streets were jam-packed with people enjoying a respite from what has been a (blessedly) stormy winter so far. Needless to say, coming from freezing New York, we were beyond thrilled to be outside in our shirtsleeves, making our way through the marketplace to look at the lovely crafts and enjoy the street artists.
As we made our way back to our car to return to Rehovot, where my sister lives and we are spending Shabbat, we got to the check-out booth in the public parking lot. I, as I am prone to do, was contemplating the prospect of re-entering the same traffic that we encountered getting there. Thinking that unhappy thought, I handed the woman my parking ticket, paid her the extra twelve shekel that I owed her, and she matter-of-factly said “Todah v’Shabbat Shalom!”
“That’s it,” I said to my wife. “That’s what you have to love about being here (among many other things.” Here it was, Christmas Day, and were we in the same situation in New York- even New York- pulling out of a public parking lot, the cashier would have of course said “Thank you and Merry Christmas.” And I wouldn’t expect anything other. But there in Tel-Aviv, the thought was Shabbat which was quickly approaching, not Christmas.
I know that appearances can be deceiving, but I’m pretty sure that the woman checking me out of the lot was not religious. And yet her routine greeting was “Todah v’Shabbat Shalom.” Totally natural, unforced, and organic.
There are millions of reasons to love Israel, and millions to be frustrated by it. But I must admit, this is one of the reasons I love it. It’s Christmas Day, and I don’t know it.