4th Candle of Hanukkah
Every time I read another headline about Xmas in the Israeli English online press, I got lower and lower. I thought to myself, I need to blog about this, but I just didn't have the heart to do it. It's so depressing.
Then, this morning, when I received an email with a whole list of these same articles that I'd been trying to avoid dealing with, I realized that I was just not going to be able to dodge this unpleasant issue.
Xmas is being publicized and even celebrated - by Jews in Israel - more than ever before.
This is especially disconcerting to me as a convert, because in the process of becoming a righteous gentile, the pagan-based observance of this Xian holiday was the first thing to go. And what a battle it was swimming against that seasonal tsunami.
I had previously visited Israel during this time of year and knew that it was possible to forget the holiday even existed - back in 1994 anyway. Being Xmas-free in December was one of the things I had most looked forward to after making aliyah.
It was a bit of a shock when, after settling in the Galil, that first December rolled around and suddenly there were lights and trees all over Haifa. That's the first I knew that Xian Arabs lived there and they were celebrating Xmas in the traditional way.
The situation improved greatly after moving south to Beit Shemesh (before there was even a Ramat Beit Shemesh). But, then something changed. The first Toeva Parade in Jerusalem (2002), then the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif (2005). And then an invasion of African "migrants." (2010) Now, today a report has been issued that "only 14% of legal immigrants to Israel in the last eight years are halachicly Jewish." I can't pinpoint the precise moment it began, but somewhere back there a culture war really got underway, first covertly and now overtly.
THIS IS HOW HELLENISM DEVELOPED AND TOOK OVER IN THIS LAND IN THE DAYS OF THE MACCABEES!!
"Bayamim hahem bazeman hazeh."
(A sampling of online Xmas-themed news articles:)
Israeli Jews flock to Jesus’s hometown Nazareth to catch a ‘European’ Christmas (TOI)
Israel's best Christmas trees (JPost)
Christmas season is here and the holiday spirit is felt around the country, mainly thanks to the countless brilliant evergreens decorating our streets, churches, restaurants and balconies. (Ynet)
A Greek Jew revisits Christmas and Hanukkah (JPost)
Gazan Christians on Christmas (JPost)And the very worst of all...
Christmas celebrations in Israeli school (Blog)
Hanukkah, Christmas and the light of the Messiah"Hellenism" is alive and well and thriving in 21st century Israel. Even the Prime Minister is pushing cultural assimilation!! Where is Judah Maccabee when you need him most?
Hanukkah is not Judaism’s most important holiday. But it has become the most representative, as it were – the Jewish answer to Christmas. On most years there is some overlap in dates, and this has led to various expressions of commonality or sharing. Some Israeli public spaces, not to mention spaces in the United States or elsewhere, are being gradually crafted in light of a joint celebration.
...both festivals celebrate the same ideal, that of messianic light coming into the world and transforming it. With the increasing commercialization of Christmas, as well as Hanukkah, the festival(s) has become a commercial-cultural expression, devoid of true spiritual significance. There is no difficulty in creating a crossover between two festivals of two religions, both of which have been flattened out in terms of their spiritual significance. This is what most of Christmas-Hanukkah is about. There is, however, another way of going about relating the two, by seeking their deeper common spiritual message. Such an approach speaks to the religiously committed on both sides, and could provide deeper meaning to those who already find themselves in crossover situations.
...Let us then consider Hanukkah and Christmas as times of aspiration for that higher ideal to which both traditions aspire, to the truly transformative light of Messiah that the world awaits. That aspiration can lend deeper meaning to the existing reality of the parallel or joint celebration. It invites all to consider how these festivals can be transformative, an alternative to prevailing cultural norms, much as Hanukkah itself was a battle for a higher vision in the face of contemporary cultural norms. The light of Messiah, celebrated in diverse ways in both traditions, can then be recognized as Christmas celebrations in Israeli schoola light of peace that is shone into the world by people of faith.
[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alon Goshen-Gottstein is the founder and director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute. He is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading figures in interreligious dialogue, specializing in bridging the theological and academic dimension with a variety of practical initiatives, especially involving world religious leadership.]