Perhaps some of you remember that in the early 90s in Israel one of the Israeli food companies (Chef Hayam?) produced frozen Kosher Shrimps. It sounds confusing, but actually they were bits of kosher fish which were made to look like shrimps. Since the Israeli customers, who bought the product, had never eaten a real shrimp, no one knew the difference..
A good friend of mine, an Orthodox Jew debated whether it was even ethical to eat them. Although she knew that the shrimps were Kosher, it felt wrong, and she was reluctant to eat something which pretended to be a shrimp.
The fact that this product disappeared from store freezers quite quickly might be an indication that my friend wasn’t the only one who felt that way.
Today on the radio, the Member of Knesset Ksenia Svetlova attempted to explain the meaning of Novy God (New year), to Benny Teitelbaum, another Orthodox Jew, as part of a campaign to make it an Israeli holiday.
More than one million Israelis who arrived from the former Soviet Union celebrate this family holiday on December 31st. It is the only secular holiday that they had in their old country.
As Ms Svetlova explained, in the former Soviet Union religious holidays were banned and as a child, like everyone else, she knew nothing about Judaism or Christianity.
But when Teitelbaum heard that a tree played part in this holiday all hell broke loose. He refused to listen any longer, and in a condescending way announced to the M.K that Israel was a Jewish state, and the tree was Christian.
Although all around the world trees are traditional Christmas custom, like many other pagan symbols, Easter eggs for example, they do not have their origin in the New Testament and have no religious meaning.
Two years ago, before the last election, a member of the Knesset, Dr. Hanna Swaid, an Arab Christian, had sent an official request to Yuli Edelstein, 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. This is part of what I wrote then.
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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 enlightenment 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.
I was disappointed, I had thought that the Speaker had more courage. He must have forgotten that, like him, many Soviet 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 from his native land still celebrate New Year with a small Christmas Tree.
In Israel we have no separation of State and Church, but surely a Christmas tree in the Knesset would threaten no one. 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.
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I wouldn't like to think why it was so easy for Yuli Edelstein to refuse Hanna Swaid's request, but that was then. Now that his compatriot Ksenia Svetlova explained the secular meaning of the tree, perhaps like the shrimp, we could kosher the holiday and make more than million people proud of their heritage and comfortable in their identities as Israelis.
Happy New Year or Novy GodThe essay appeared in the Times Of Israel