Friday, July 11, 2014

A Tree In The Knesset? Not This Christmas

I heard on  National Israeli Radio that a member of the Knesset (our parliament),  an Arab Christian, had sent an official request to the Speaker of the house asking him to place a Christmas tree at the entrance to the Knesset building before the holiday, the Speaker refused.

Granting a permission to place the tree at the entrance could have been a wonderful holiday   gift from the Holy Land, showing Christian people in Israel and around the world the enlightment of the Jewish nation. Such decision could have been a triumphant moment in that Speaker’s political career, singling him out as a leader dedicated to promote pluralism and religious tolerance toward minorities in our country.

Moreover, he proved his lack of sensitivity and imagination when he suggested that the Christian member of Knesset would place a tree in his own office.  If a tree at the entrance was too much for him, the Speaker could have offered instead that they'd decorate one/or some of the many suitable trees surrounding the Knesset building--a creative and festive solution. Thus, the Speaker of the Knesset missed a chance to be inclusive and  generous at a time when such a gesture  from Israel could have gained us some needed good-will.

 I was disappointed, I had thought that our Speaker had more courage, especially since he himself  experienced some religious persecutions in the former Soviet Union. He must have forgotten that the Jews left  for Israel because they had suffered there due to their religious beliefs and their Zionism. He also didn't remember that Jewish people in his native land still  celebrate New Year with a small Christmas Tree.

In the Jewish State we have no separation of State and Church, but surely a Christmas tree in the Knesset would threaten no one, and neither could it confuse naive visitors about the religious affiliation of that institution. Quite the contrary, a lighted tree--  a modern day Star of Bethlehem, placed prominently is a sign of strength and confidence. It can mean that since Jewish religion has the hegemony in this land, now is the time to be generous to others. Besides, everyone knows that a tree is just a tree: Christ was born in the Middle East and not in the evergreen forests of Northern Europe, and the Christmas tree is more a holiday spectacle than a religious symbol.

The Speaker’s response to that Christmas request brings to mind a  Zen story: two Zen monks walk along the river and meet a woman, she asks them to help her cross the river. One refuses to help, the other picks her up and carries her across. After a while the one who refused to help chides his friend reminding him of his religious vow never to touch a woman. The helpful monk  answers "I left the woman on the river bank, but you are still carrying her with you”.

I hope that in this New Year  our politicians will act like the wise monk instead of coming up with excuses and learned reasons to explain why so often they fail to do the right thing.

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