Friday, December 2, 2011


It is officially Christmas season in the U.S.  I know this because Fox News announced that while Christmas displays have been "banned" from public areas, the "fair and balanced" network has set up its nativity scene on the plaza.  Mazel tov!  (Yes, I admit to watching Fox News on occasion.  Choices are limited here.  But I take doses of CNN, MSNBC, the French English language news, and the BBC to ensure my diet is "fair and balanced.")

In fact, some Christmas displays have been banned from government property as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  However, as demonstrated by Fox's own display on its property, Christmas displays in public areas on private property are not impacted in the least. Just a minor detail. 

But Fox's proud if slightly erroneous declaration does raise a point, and that is that I look forward to the next month here in Israel. While the Christmas season in the U.S. is pleasant and often brings out the best in people (excluding the malls), it also brings into clarity that, as wonderful and tolerant and inclusive as America is, Jews are still a minority there. 

While Jews in America, along with everyone else, will be deluged with Christmas commercials and tree-trimming tips, while everyone will assume you celebrate Christmas and will wish you a Merry Christmas (or, in the politically correct jargon that so irritates Fox, "happy holidays"), while many Jewish parents will be dealing with kids facing Christmas issues in the schools, while many Jews will lower their voices when they talk about Jewish topics in restaurants and other public places, Israeli Jews will be very unself-consciously preparing for and celebrating Hanukkah.  The preparations and celebrations will weave their way into the nation's everyday life. They help to create and define the life.

Hanukkah is a more minor holiday relative to several other Jewish holidays than Christmas is.  It has gotten a higher profile in the diaspora because it comes at about the same time of the year as Christmas and, in this era of tolerance and inclusiveness and good marketing, the general community focuses on it.  Moreover, Jewish parents and institutions often attach more importance to it than it traditionally received as a way of comforting children and perhaps themselves at a time when the fact that Jews do not fully share in the mainstream American experience is driven home. 

While it is true that Hanukkah has gotten more attention in the U.S. than it deserves based strictly on its importance on the Jewish calendar, it is also true that Israelis have a pretty good time with the holiday while in no way elevating it to the importance of the several more significant holidays.  An indicator: K-12 schools  take a Hanukkah break, colleges and universities do not.  Some folks do take a few days or an hour off here and there, but the nation does not close up shop as it does on the High Holy Days and Passover. 

Merchants will be stacking their shelves high with souvganiot (jelly doughnuts, a traditional Hanukkah treat in Israel) and other Hanukkah products, kids will be doing Hanukkah activities in schools and in public, and Hanukkiahs (Hanukkah menorahs) will be going up on public buildings, in restaurants, and stores.

People will be very openly and very unabashedly celebrating Hanukkah and, by implication, the fact that Israel moves on the Jewish calendar. I recall having dinner in an Italian restaurant in Jerusalem about 10 years ago when the proprietor, an Italian Jew, interrupted all of the staff and the diners, lit the Hanukkiah, and sang the blessings in a first-rate operatic voice. The entire restaurant joined in.  

Last year we walked the narrow streets and walkways of an older neighborhood just when families were outside lighting the oil lamps of their Hanukkiahs and singing the blessings.  A beautiful throwback to earlier days.

One can have a very festive and joyous Hanukkah in the U.S. and other countries in the diaspora, surrounded by a beautiful and fun environment dominated by the majority's holiday.  However, the celebration and the feeling is different when it is part of the majority culture.  As Christmas does in America, Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays permeate all aspects of life in Israel. It is a very comfortable and uplifting feeling to be in the majority and on your people's calendar.



I received several questions in response to my column on Thanksgiving and becoming an Israeli citizen.  Here are a few answers:

1. No, one is not required to relinquish his or her American citizenship upon becoming an Israeli citizen. Rather, one obtains the right to complain about two dysfunctional legislative systems.

2. Yes, the tax collector always gets his share, but not more. Israel currently has a a ten-year moratorium on taxes on income from foreign sources for new immigrants. Even if that were not in place, one would pay U.S. taxes on U.S. income, and then pay the difference if any between those taxes and higher Israeli taxes to the Israeli government.

3. Car insurance, like almost everything else, is more expensive in Israel while incomes are significantly less. No, I can't figure out how everyone gets by either.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Love reading your blogs Alan! Happy Hanuka.

  3. Nice! Watch out for those sufganiot...