My friend from Costa Rica came to visit me in Jerusalem on Christmas Eve. It was wonderful to see her, and it also gave me the opportunity visit my city as a tourist. It’s nice to be reminded how exciting the Old City can be.
We wandered around and enjoyed the views.
View from the Austrian Hospice (looking southward). Today it’s a hotel and in the past it was a rest stop for Austrian pilgrims.
Exiting the Lion’s Gate, we looked over Gethsemane (lower left) and the Mount of Olives cemetery (right). Perfectly timed as the sun was just about to be blocked by the walls of the Old City.
Candle lighting at the Kotel. It was, after all, also the third night of Chanukah.
Since it was Christmas Eve and there wasn’t a Chinese restaurant on our way, we had kosher Korean food. From the left, clockwise: gimbap, tteok-bokki (sweet version), japchae, and kimchi. YUM!
Next stop, Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was unbelievably crowded. And yet quiet and respectful. It may surprise you to know that many of the special tours were in Hebrew – meaning Israelis were visiting.
Nativity scene in the silent chapel at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Crusader graffiti. These marks were left by Crusaders along the walls going down the stairs to Helene’s Chapel. Helene was Constantine’s mother and declared this site to be the location of the crucifixion.
The Holy Selpuchre itself. Inside this structure is a tomb that was opened in 2016 to be cleaned and restored. Some Christians dispute the site, but there is actually a tomb there consistent with the time period. See the National Geographic article about it HERE.
In the Christian quarter. One of the few places in Jerusalem decorated with lights.
Lighting up the walls of the Old City.
We finished our evening by wading through a Chabad candle lighting at the entrance to Mamilla. The yeshiva boys are dancing, jumping, singing. The band is on the balcony playing wild Chanukah music featuring a flute. (Think mosh pit at a Jethro Tull concert.)
This was a great way to end 2019 and get ready for 2020. (I can’t believe it will be 2020 in a few days!!!)
Wishing you all good health, many joyous occasions, and success, productivity, and prosperity in all your projects!
Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice – the day with the fewest hours of daylight in the northern hemisphere. It’s also the first night of Chanukah. In the spirit of adding a little light in the darkest time of the year, here’s some good news!
(As I typed that I realized that I was being hemisphere-ist. In the southern hemisphere, tomorrow is the day with the most daylight hours. Sorry, Southerners!)
We’ve got Christmas in Jerusalem!
“Jerusalem Santa” (Photo by Muammar Awad/Xinhua) SOURCE
This lovely guy brings Christmas cheer to the Old City by dressing up as Santa Claus and handing out Christmas trees provided for free by the municipality of Jerusalem.
The Christmas tree in St. James Convent in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter (Photo: Vince Photography) SOURCE
You can always count on a Christmas tree outside the YMCA, but this year, the Armenian Quarter in the Old City is dressing up for Christmas.
James Corden’s Chanukah song
Need I say more?
LadBaby wins Christmas #1 AGAIN
This is an utterly silly song, but the story is absolutely heartwarming and sweet. LadBaby is a social media family who make hilarious videos, have fun, make each other laugh with a lot of British-style teasing, and have lots of followers like me around the world.
Last Christmas, LadBaby did a novelty song – “We Built This City (on Sausage Rolls)” – won Christmas #1 in the UK, and donated all the profits to The Trussell Trust. They were able to provide 70,000 emergency food packages for people in need in the UK.
So this year, they decided to try again. And they won Christmas #1 AGAIN! All profits will go to The Tressell Trust to provide food for those in need. Well done, LadBaby! (*Bonus Fun Fact: The only other groups to have back to back Christmas #1s are The Beatles and the Spice Girls!)
So whether you are celebrating Chanukah, Solstice, Christmas, Kwanza, the New Year, or all of the above
It was Thanksgiving this week and Israel doesn’t do Thanksgiving, so we Americans do what we can for ourselves. My family tradition is to go around the table saying what we’re thankful for and I have to admit, my thankfulness was clouded by the annoying week I had. In general, I have a lot of blessings and I’m truly thankful, but this post is a little bit of a rant.
For some reason, Israel has really embraced Black Friday. It’s especially weird since Thanksgiving is not a national holiday and “the day after Thanksgiving to kick off the Christmas shopping season” doesn’t exist. It’s not a kickoff for Chanukah shopping either – just to be clear. I’m mostly annoyed because if you are going to take something “Christmassy” from America, why would you take greedy materialism? It’s not even balanced by popularizing How the Grinch Stole Christmas or A Christmas Carol. There are no friends and family values as we find in It’s a Wonderful Life.
The weirdest part of Black Friday is that this year it’s mostly written in English. There were ads a year or two ago that gave us shishi shachor the literal translation into Hebrew of Black Friday. Since no one knew exactly what that meant, they switched to English so that everyone would understand it’s a big sale weekend (just like in America!). And because there is no Thanksgiving, Black Friday is a week long. Because that makes sense.
Traditional. Nothing says Black Friday like balloons.
Because blue is so much more festive.
Guess what’s for sale? Make-up and beauty products. I’m not convinced this is better.
I was channeling Walter at the bowling alley at the work league match this week. I’m not a great bowler, but I do enjoy it and usually the games are fun. Not everyone is Walter-serious about the matches, but the other offices participate with good sportsmanship and a sense of camaraderie among all the players.
This week we were playing against the municipality. That was probably the first strike against them. No one likes the municipality in real life, so we aren’t going to change our opinions even if it is a league game.
Their team was a rooster surrounded by hens – one was a grandmother who thought it was a good idea to bring her grandson, surely he could bowl a few turns, right?
I should mention here that bowling in Israel would horrify even The Dude. You don’t have to rent shoes; we just play in sneakers. No one follows any bowler etiquette. Thankfully the scoring is automated, otherwise who knows what would happen.
Some players are new to bowling, but obviously these people have had no guidance at all. These hens picked up a ball using their thumb, index finger, and second finger; walked up to the foul line (often over the line); started swinging the ball (and-a one, and-a two, and-a three); let go with no follow-through causing the ball to plonk on the lane and miraculously roll its way toward the pins. The worst part was that it worked sometimes – usually when I was looking. (I did manage to calm myself down by looking at their total scores; they weren’t that successful.)
I confirmed that the unusual hold is used in bowling, but it’s not standard. The swing and plonk method is ridiculous. I tried to be an example using the 4-step release, and they even noticed, but somehow didn’t realize that their bowling style was the equivalent of toddlers who need gutter-guards.
One might forgive the lack of skill and knowledge, but to top it off they were rude bowlers. They were constantly in the way. They took over all the chairs with themselves and their stuff – they had more than 4 people on their team, to allow them to switch out in different games (which is legal), but they didn’t care that there was another team there.
But worst of all was the attitude that they couldn’t understand why we were annoyed. It’s like the bully in the schoolyard who pushes you to your limit and then says, “Why are you getting so upset?”
At this point, even The Dude can’t smooth it over by saying, “It’s just a game, man.”
I wanted to show the Walter “over the line” video, but it had too many f-bombs in it and I don’t want to encourage threats of gun violence. Better the dulcet tones of The Stranger reminding us to take ‘er easy while we sip a White Russian with The Dude.
Israel is not the 51st state
Sure, there’s turkey and fixings for Thanksgiving (Chag HaHodaya – Hebrew for Holiday of Thanks), there’s bowling and everyone knows about The Big Lebowski, and it was just announced that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade floats are coming to Jerusalem for the first night of Chanukah. But no matter how American Israel might think it is, it’s still in the Middle East.
There’s too much to process from the news about Jerusalem and Israel, so please enjoy another fluff piece!
I like marking solstices and equinoxes. It reminds me that our little blue planet continues to revolve around the sun and the problems in our day to day lives are minuscule when seen through the lens of the galaxy or the universe. I like the winter solstice because starting now, the days are getting longer. We’ve passed the darkest day and it will only get better from here.
It’s beginning to look a lot like … oh, wait, no it isn’t
I enjoy seeing the Christmas tree in front of the YMCA. I’ve even seen a picture of Santa riding through the Old City on a camel. But Israel doesn’t do the commercial version of Christmas. Black Friday is just a shopping day that has no relation to Christmas. In fact, December 25 and January 1 are regular workdays.
Issa Kassissieh, wearing a Santa Claus costume, rides a camel during the annual Christmas tree distribution by the Jerusalem municipality in Jerusalem’s Old City December 21, 2017. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS) SOURCE
This year Christmas and Chanukah are at the same time!
Christmas in Israel is not really a thing.
Is everything wrapped in green, red, silver. and gold? Nope.
Are the streets festooned with lights of every color? Nope.
Ben Yehuda/ Zion Square. No festooned lights, but a giant Chabad menorah
Is there a Santa booth so that parents can take pictures of their usually crying and nervous children asking for things for Christmas? Nope.
Christmas carols while shopping? I was out today and didn’t hear a single one, so Nope. Youtube is a good source of American Jews adding their voices to Chanukah culture. This year’s Maccabeats offering is an homage to Hamilton.
Maccabeats – Hasmonean: A Hamilton Chanukah
(*Note to email readers: This post has a lot of pictures and video links that don’t seem to show up in the email. So come to the site to see the videos.)
Christmas cookies, Christmas fudge, gingerbread, fruit cake? Nope, nope, nope, and thankfully nope. We have donuts.
These are the fancy ones. There are also yucky, I mean, plain, old-fashioned, jam-filled ones. Source
Christmas trees? N . . . well, I did find one at the, ahem, cough, YMCA, of course.
Are the television channels playing every snow-themed, Christmas-y movie or show ever made? Nope.
A Christmas Carol – any of the many versions? Nope.
It’s a Wonderful Life? Well, I like that one so I try to watch it. I have the DVD.
The Grinch? Nope.
Well, what do you have? Apparently, Israel decided to take on Black Friday, Even though Israel doesn’t have Thanksgiving or Christmas, advertisers decided to cash in on the shopping frenzy of December.
Advertisement that I got in my email – Black Friday is spelled in Hebrew בלאק פריידי, and pronounced “black friday.” They didn’t translate it, they transliterated it.
At first I laughed because there is simply no connection to the Friday after the fourth Thursday of November in a country that doesn’t have a Christmas shopping season. But then I was sad. Of all the Christmas traditions to borrow, why that one? When did Christmas become about greed?
Dr. Seuss, one of the great philosophers of our time, reminds us with How the Grinch Stole Christmas that Christmas cannot be bought in a store. It’s not about the STUFF. It’s about things that money doesn’t buy like:
Being with Loved Ones
Generosity of Spirit
Israel, in spite of the Black Friday blight, is a lot like Who-ville. The Grinch doesn’t need to come and take all the stuff that we don’t have – the ribbons, bows, presents, trees, roast beast, etc. What he can’t take away is lighting the candles together with friends and family. Singing songs of freedom. Telling and retelling the stories of our forefathers standing up for their beliefs (ok, also the miracle of the oil). I might even go so far as to say that Israel might have a little bit more Christmas spirit than other places that have replaced Christmas with greed.
Let your heart grow three sizes today and have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah, and Joyous Solstice!
The Grinch’s heart grows three sizes.
I’m a big fan of the Maccabeats, so here’s a list of their Chanukah songs in no particular order. Start a new a Capella Chanukah tradition!
There. I said it. I’m a Jew who lives in Israel and I like Christmas.
I like the lights. I like Christmas trees. I like Christmas carols. Don’t get me started on Christmas cookies and gingerbread houses.
My enjoyment of Christmas follows the philosophy Dr. Seuss, one of the great philosophers of our time. The Grinch cannot steal Christmas because it is not based on material goods.
My favorite movie for Christmas is It’s a Wonderful Life. The message is simple: You matter. The things that seem insignificant to you matter a great deal to someone else and could change their lives. George Bailey is accidentally $8,000 in debt and everyone bands together to help him because without him they would not be who they are. Not only do you matter, but we all matter to each other.
The Little Drummer Boy has nothing to give but his drumming ability. And the gift he gives is his song and his passion.
In O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, the man gives up his prized watch to buy a comb for his wife’s beautiful hair and the woman gives up her beautiful hair to buy a watch chain for her husband. It was not the gift that mattered, but the sacrifice that each was willing to make for the other.
In Dicken’s A Christmas Carol (written and all the multitude of film adaptations), Scrooge realizes that all his wealth is pointless if he is alone. His gifts to the Cratchit family are not about buying their love or spoiling Tiny Tim. Scrooge finally has someone to share his bounty with. The Cratchit family matters to him and he matters to the Cratchit family.
I’ve heard that there is a “war on Christmas” in the US and I wholeheartedly agree. But it is not the war on whether or not it is okay to greet people with a “Merry Christmas!” The war on Christmas begins with consumerism and greed. It continues with encouraging children to make demands of gifts without also teaching them gratitude. It is probably not much of a coincidence that we go from the “give me candy” of Halloween to the “give me presents” of Christmas while forgetting about the “thank you” of Thanksgiving. It breeds in the culture of the disposable that has forgotten the meaning of value.
I’m not a pre-rehabilitated Grinch or Scrooge. I don’t think that Christmas should be all about ideals. Have all the stuff! Enjoy the glorious wrapping paper and the excitement of presents under the tree! Bring out Santa’s Christmas magic for the kids and enjoy the egg nog! But don’t forget that the real spirit of Christmas is you, the choices you make, the example you set. Aren’t we all reminded at Christmastime “peace on earth, good will to all”?
A note about Christmas in Israel
We are not surrounded by Christmas carols in the malls. Decorations featuring stockings, trees, or Santa are few and far between. There are no piles of gorgeously wrapped presents next to elves and Santas awaiting children to tell them their Christmas wishes or have pictures taken with them.
But there is Christmas. There is a significant community of Arab Christians and they do have the familiar decorations with the tree, lights, presents and family dinner. But it’s more of a religious holiday. Secular Christmas is not a thing in Israel.
Though here’s NORAD’s evidence that Santa did come to Jerusalem.
Today is a regular day in Israel. I must admit that in the early years of living in Israel, it felt weird to be at work and write 25 December on a document. That also means that if you wish to celebrate Christmas, you have to ask for the day off and use your vacation days for it.
A Christmas Tale
A couple of evenings ago, I heard about a singing duo backed by a jazz trio who would be singing Christmas carols at a pub in town. But they would be singing only carols that were written by Jews. That is A LOT of songs, by the way, and most of them are the most famous and most beloved songs of Christmas: White Christmas, Winter Wonderland, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, Silver Bells, and plenty more. (Others have written about why this is, so I won’t mention it here.)
But here’s the interesting part: I went to the pub and I couldn’t get a seat. It was totally packed with middle-aged, religious American Jews. It may have been a coincidence, but the men could have passed for Santas with their beards and round bellies shaking like bowls full of jelly. The women with their headcoverings might as well have been wearing kerchiefs. There weren’t any reindeer available, so I just walked home.
Even though last night ‘twas the night before Christmas, Happy Christmas to all and to all a goodnight!