December Dilemma

Caspari Christmas Tree
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Fast forward to the early years of Putin’s rule. Coming to Israel, and soon thereafter adopting a Messianic Jewish identity in this new land, I was faced with a question: what holidays do I celebrate now that I am no longer a Jewish agnostic living in Russia, but an Israeli Messianic Jew? “Noviy god” is not really an option, I reasoned.  For one thing, it’s a secular holiday. For another, as a Jew, I now desired to follow the Jewish calendar, a calendar which already contained four New Year celebrations, and certainly did not need another one.

As someone who values Jewish history and tradition, it was important for me to observe Hanukkah. As a believer in Christ, I was also considering Christmas. But could I celebrate both? The customs involved in celebrating Christ’s birth are viewed by most Messianic Jews as being of pagan origin, and as such, many of us refrain from celebrating Christmas. But focusing on the idea that it’s a celebration of the Messiah’s birth, Christmas can actually be viewed as a Jewish holiday, I reasoned. So why not celebrate Christmas?

Over the course of my first few years in Israel, these thoughts would run through my mind every December. To add to this dilemma, I now needed to decide what I should tell my young Israeli-born daughter who knows nothing about paganism, or Jewish-Gentile “parting of the ways”, and almost nothing about Russian culture, when she asks: “Dad, I want a Christmas tree this year – it’s so pretty when it’s lit up with colored bulbs! Please, Dad – p-l-e-e-e-a-s-e can we have it?”

And then a new twist was added to the mix. Or rather, an old twist. I recently heard of a novel cultural trend in Israel, another winter holiday celebration. Can you guess what it’s called? I’ll give you a hint: it’s Russian in origin. This latest Israeli celebration of the new Gregorian calendar year is called “noviy god”… and not just by my fellow Russian-speaking immigrants, but by native Israelis.

What’s the point of all of this? Identities are tricky, and they develop in tricky ways. Sometimes, in ways more tricky than we would wish. But isn’t that how life is, in general?

This article was posted December 16, 2019 on by Alec Goldberg, Israel Director, and reposted here with permission.