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Journal Entry from Israel by Teddy Weinberger

During one of the classes I took with him at Columbia University, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg (of blessed memory) once said “it’s good that somewhere on earth December 25th is a regular work day.” He was speaking of course about Israel. I wondered, however, what a Christian living in Israel feels about Israeli December twenty-fifths. I decided to turn to my friend Krista Gerloff for her perspective. Krista, a native Czech, moved to Israel in 1994 from Germany with two small children and her German husband. Three more children were born in Israel. Here is what Krista shared with me:

“When I first came to Israel and observed and experienced the Erev [eve of] Shabbat celebration I thought: That’s like Christmas every week. You start to plan it in advance: What you will cook and bake (and according to that you do your shopping), and how you will arrange your time so that the house is clean before the Sabbath. The whole family comes together on Friday night and everybody is neatly dressed. But it is not only the planning, it is the expectation of the Shabbat to come. It is a family celebration every week as we Czech Christians have on Christmas Eve once a year.

As a child I was of course concerned about the presents under the Christmas tree. However, today in my memory what was most important was the family coming together around the table in a special way: singing songs and reading the Christmas story from the New Testament and also the time of preparation and expectation before the holiday. The traditional Czech Christmas meal is fish. For that purpose before Christmas there are everywhere tubs with living fish in front of the butcher stores and people put them in a bathtub at home to keep them fresh. The Czech Christmas bread looks just like Challah.

When I was in Ulpan learning Hebrew I also started to learn to understand the Jewish people. Once our teacher Rivka asked the students what was their reason for coming to Israel. Roger, an American Jew, said that he couldn’t stand the Christmas rush any more: Already in October there were Christmas carols in the shopping malls. I have to tell you that I understand him completely. Once I saw on the internet an American Christmas show and I couldn’t believe my eyes: Dozens of dancers dressed as Father Christmas were jumping around to the sound of “Jingle Bells.” This whole figure of a good-natured grandpa with a red hood annoys me anyway. What does he have to do with the Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem? I am happy that I live in a country that calls Christmas by its real name–Chag ha-Molad: the Celebration of the Birth.

But of course there is no celebration of Christmas in the Jewish state except the celebrations in the Galilee (where Arab Christians mainly live) and especially in Bethlehem in the Palestinian Autonomy. In my European home Christmas is so much part of people’s life that I was asked: What do Jews do on Christmas? My answer was: Nothing–they live their everyday life and also my children go to school.

So what is there on Christmas for Christians in Jerusalem? There are those Christmas cypress trees that the Jewish National Fund generously offers every year, and there are just two services on the night of the 24th of December in the Old City, in the Anglican Christ Church and the Protestant Church of the Redeemer. They are so overcrowded by Christians and curious Israelis that the pastor begs his friends not to come. Can you imagine? The pastor asks the believers not to come to church on Christmas Eve. Of course he doesn’t want anybody to be trampled down.

Many traditional Christians are used to a liturgical silence but those Christmas services are full of Israelis who walk around, talk, and sigh with pleasure over the “Silent Night” that the church choir sings bravely into the general chaos.

Since I live in Israel I remind myself daily that Yeshua was a Jew–he was neither Czech nor European and He must have been very different from what I always imagined. So if you really and truly want to escape the Christmas rush, come to the land where Yeshua was born.”

    Teddy Weinberger made aliyah in 1997 with his wife, former Omahan Sarah Ross, and their five children. Their oldest three, Nathan, Rebecca and Ruthie, are veterans of the Israel Defense Forces; Weinberger can be reached at weinross@net