C'mon, let's face it. Christmas season was not a bad time of year for most committed Jews growing up in America. We sincerely wished friends and neighbours "happy holidays", took in the sights and sounds, and enjoyed witnessing the generous spirit of the season. Most importantly, we learned, as Jews, to walk and draw defined lines between faiths with dignity. Yet even with those positive memories, once in Israel, many of us found the absence of Christmas and Easter trappings and culture to be incredibly liberating. A sense of peace and joy came over us as we settled-in as Jews in our own land, with our own heritage and unadulterated holidays taking center stage.
But in recent years, the Christmas culture is making determined inroads in the Jewish state. It is a little prophetic and very sad that this stunning ad that Israel's Ministry of Absorption was forced to pull a year ago could be altogether obsolete in the near future, as Santa and Christmas trees become an increasing part of the Israeli winter landscape.
The Jewish formula of employing wisdom, discretion and tenacity when approaching other faiths is fast-buckling under a multicultural invasion which demands freedom and tolerance in the extreme.
How do Jews in a Jewish and democratic state, which depends heavily upon pro-Israel Christian tourism, welcome non-Jewish visitors during their holiday season without compromising the foundations and principals of our faith? Well, based on the number of faux pas rung up in the last couple of weeks by our government representatives, activists and writers, we could do a lot better...
Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?
There was one improvement worth noting over last year. This year, Prime Minister Netanyahu measured his words more carefully. In 2011 the Prime Minister's message to the Christian world was one of "Merry Christmas" along with an invitation to "visit the very places where Jesus lived and preached…" In this year's address, Netanyahu refrained from saying "merry Christmas" and from mentioning Jesus. Instead he wished Christians "the merriest of holidays" and concluded with "happy holidays" and wishes for prosperity and peace. Fair enough.
In both the 2011 and 2012 greetings, the Prime Minister placed an emphasis on pluralism, religious freedom and tolerance. While those are nice words, without proper definition they can at times complicate matters for the Jews trying to preserve the uniqueness of their faith and the character and integrity of Eretz Yisrael.
Israel's globalized President Shimon Peres brought us no surprises as he reportedly sang carols under the Christmas tree with a lot of little Santas and with Archbishop Elias Chacour. While standing before a rather grim painting of Mary and baby Jesus, a solemn Peres offered his profound wishes for a "happy Christmas".
Israeli leaders' versions (inversions?) of "merry holidays" and "happy Christmas" would likely cause Bill O'Reilly's head to spin… like a dreidel.
Trees and Santas on the Old City Walls
It's become a tradition of sorts for the Municipality of Jerusalem, in partnership with the Jewish National Fund (JNF), to distribute free Christmas trees to the Christian residents of Jerusalem.
Save for a handwritten afterthought declaring, "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year", a rather dignified advertisement from the Municipality of Jerusalem announced the following:
"On the occasion of the Christmas holiday season, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Jewish National Fund will be distributing free trees to the residents of the city who celebrate Christmas."
It seems that this somewhat controversial gesture of good will wasn't good enough for some government officials, and municipal merry-makers chose to shift into overkill by having Santa distribute trees on the Old City Walls. But it was the Municipality's decision to display a Christmas tree at the entrance to the Jaffa Gate which caused numbers of Jews to protest.
Bells, bows and mistletoe deck the homepage of the City of Jerusalem
As of this writing, the Christmas tree at the Jaffa Gate has been removed, but the same cannot be said of the large animated and decked-out "Merry Christmas" card gracing the English homepage of the Jerusalem Municipality. Wouldn't a carefully worded message from Mayor Barkat wishing the Christian residents and visitors in Israel a happy holiday season be the better and more Jewish option?
To Tell the Truth about Christmas Lights
It is not unusual for the Tourism Ministry to promote Christianity and to tout Israel as the Land of Jesus. This year's card depicts a high-tech light display of an Italian renaissance-style church dome next to Jerusalem's Old City walls.
Some may recall that last June residents of the Old City were complaining that the light display of Christian symbolism was inappropriate for the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. At the time the Ariel Company, a subsidiary of the Jerusalem Municipality, told Arutz 7 that, "there is no connection between the dome and Christianity, and any attempt to associate it with any religion is absurd."
As "absurd" as it may be, it is apparent that Israel's Ministry of Tourism most certainly associates that dome with Christianity and Christmas.
Playing with Jesus and Mary...Game Over?
Of course, it needs to be reiterated that all of the Israeli hoopla concerning Christmas serves as a means to prove that Israel respects religious freedom in a region which is witnessing increased attacks by Muslims against Christian minorities. And there is always the less-than-subtle attempt to pit "Judeo-Christian" values and culture against "Islamo-Fascism". But this road is apparently full of pitfalls for the Jew as, even in the pursuit of truth, the end does not always justify the means.
Someone at Israel's Foreign Ministry in Ireland was imbibing a wee bit too much eggnog at the embassy's pre-Christmas party when they posted an imprudent "thought for Christmas" on the embassy Facebook page.
After a media outrage, the post was quickly pulled and the Foreign Ministry is now scrambling to apologize.
For the record, the posting wasn't too far off the mark as it seems Santa lost his head – quite literally- in 2010 in the Old City. And that stunt was brought to you by Reuters, not the Israel Embassy, under the title "Time to beheading home, Santa".
While the media can get away with it, Israeli diplomats and other Jewish personalities cannot mess with another religion's icons without getting called to order or causing a diplomatic row.
The Palestinians, on the other hand, can kidnap Jesus, issue him a Palestinian identity card, and steal Christmas to advance their agenda with no dire consequences. In fact, the Christian mayor of Bethlehem and the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Jerusalem both recently declared that this year's Christmas marked not only the birth of Jesus but also the birth of a Palestinian state.
Jews to Ransom Jesus?
For some reason this "injustice" of a Palestinian Jesus really irks Jewish writers and activists, to the point where they feel obligated to redeem the image of the kidnapped Christian lord and savoir and set the "historic record" straight.
…Moreover, the assertion that Jesus was a Palestinian Arab first aired by Yasser Arafat and often repeated by his successor Mahmoud Abbas is nothing less than a mendacious attempt to delegitimize the Jewish people and to steal Jewish history….
JewishIsrael has a few questions for those Jewish activists who seem inordinately concerned about the fate and history of Jesus:
The inordinate obsession with the historic roots of a Jewish Jesus and promoting Israel as the land of Jesus is something we Jews should not be encouraging, nor should we have ever toyed with the concept in the first place.
The lessons learned this Christmas in Israel may be that Judaism and its core foundations should not be compromised when addressing regional issues such as religious freedom or the persecution of Christians in Arab lands. Demonstrative and over-the-top Christmas displays should not be used as proof that Israel guarantees religious freedom and freedom of worship. Nor should we Jews turn any political and strategic partnership with pro-Israel Christians into a spiritual alliance, because of the inevitable crossing of lines. It seems that our breaching of spiritual boundaries will forever be intrinsically connected to the state of our physical borders.
Christmas cards from the edge
Dr. Mike Evans is a writer, evangelist, self-proclaimed prophet, and crusader for christ whose appearances are well-publicized and well-received in the Knesset, at the Begin Heritage Center, and at Ariel University. He claims to have founded the modern Christian Zionist movement with Menachem Begin, and he also claims that he prophetically and personally anointed - with oil purchased at the Garden Tomb - Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister of Israel.
Mike Evans, the product of a Jewish mother and gentile father, gained notoriety in the 1970s and the 1980s by targeting young Jews for conversion on college campuses. Jewish leadership at the time considered him such a serious and viable threat to the American Jewish community that the entire spectrum of American Jewish organizations united to form an emergency task force to fight him. Continuous alerts were issued about him from 1977 through 1985. His organization and missionary efforts were considered as dangerous and effective as those of Jews for Jesus.
JewishIsrael has a major report in the works on Mike Evans.
Evans has recently purchased a large and significant piece of prime real estate in Jerusalem for a World Evangelical Center. That center is the focus of Evans' Christmas card message - a series of images accompanied by the Christian Holy City Hymn. We leave you with the lead graphic and a portion of the lyrics.
The streets no longer rang,
Hush'd were the glad Hosannas
The little children sang.
The sun grew dark with mystery,
The morn was cold and chill,
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill.