I currently live in a Jewish state and I’ve only just begun to comprehend the implications of that simple, yet entirely loaded statement.
What made me finally realize that I am living in nation-state created to stand as a home for millions of Jews around the world? It wasn’t the fact that nationwide, buses, shops and restaurants completely shut down for Shabbat (a day of the week religiously and traditionally set aside to rest and pray). It wasn’t the fact that I have to learn Hebrew, a biblical language of the Jewish Israelites. It wasn’t even the fact that Jewish holidays are considered state holidays.
What made me finally sit and acknowledge that I am living in the Jewish homeland was a recurring conversation I’ve had with Israelis the last few weeks. It went something like this:
Israeli: “So what are you doing during Hannukah break?”
Me: “Well, it’s close to my birthday so I will try to go out with my friends.”
Israeli: “Oh, when is your birthday?”
Me: “It’s on Christmas!”
Israeli: “Oh, what day is that again?”
Me: “…Oh my.”
A holiday only experienced through movies and TV, Christmas is as far from the minds of Israelis as I am from America.
Being in Israel this time of year with all of its glorious lack of yuletide glee has given me some true perspective on my situation. I am in a state where the majority of people are Jewish. I actually have to work on birthday. I don’t have Christmas parties to attend or gingerbread houses to decorate. I’m not constantly asked, “did you get all of your Christmas shopping done?” I am not the lonely Jew on Christmas this year.
I’ve never felt so normal. I am no longer the reason why my workplace calls the infamous Christmas party a “holiday” party. Here, I am just like everyone else. Well, except for the whole “American” thing. Damnit, I was so close.
Growing up in the Bible Belt, I was never just like everyone else. It may sound a little overdramatic, but for those who didn’t grow up getting told you were going to hell by your first grade peers, you’d be surprised how various social settings and circumstances arise which clearly set you apart in a predominantly Christian-Baptist-Methodist town. To name a few: high school football games, assignments in school, my Bat Mitzvah and youth groups.
I feel a bit naked here in Israel, like I’ve lost my “thing”. No one cares that my birthday is on Christmas. They literally don’t even know what day it’s on. I must say I’m glad I don’t have to hear, “Oh, you’re a Christmas baby!” every time I flash my ID to someone.
But enough of that – I’ll bring it back down to earth now and say that the concept of a Jewish State does not just positively affect my yearly aversion to all things Christmas.
Conflict is spread over every nook and cranny of the idea and practice of Israel’s existence. This country was created on the premise that Israel is the birthplace of the Jews and that idea alone is enough to ring the bells of controversy around the world.
Of note, the Israeli government recently proposed a piece of legislation known as the Nationality Law which at its core declares that not only is Israel for the Jewish people and the Jewish people alone, but more importantly, Judaism can and should override democracy.
Although caveats for the protection of minorities are sprinkled about the legislation, something tells me that the Arab and Christian population making up 20% of the Israel won’t be too happy about this. And why should they be? Anyone living in Israel who isn’t Jewish would be stripped of communal rights, left to fend for themselves in a land that they and their families have lived in for ages.
My mind isn’t anywhere close to being made up about all of this. I can say that every side is wrong and right. I can say that the literal existence of Israel will always stand as an issue – too many people see rightful ownership over such a small piece of land. But I can also say I believe in the importance of a Jewish State. After all, I am getting to live out the benefits of its existence and feel a sense of belonging unmatchable to anything I’ve ever felt.
The future is uncertain, for myself and the State of Israel. But as I sing my merry Hannukah tune, I think about the Jewish friends I’ve made, my new home away from home, and the fact that I haven’t seen a single Christmas ornament all year.
Peace and love.