By Chloe Newman, Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Ashdod
While this holiday season didn’t resemble the traditions of my youth, it was still very special for me. With my new friends and communities here in Israel, I took part in multi-cultural celebrations across the country. The saying here goes that Israelis will take any excuse to celebrate, eat, drink, and be merry with the ones they love…and especially without the bombardment of superficial, commercial holiday stresses, why not?
In past years on Chanukah, my family and I lit candles and exchanged gifts. I remember dreidels, latkes, and chocolate gelt sales and displays becoming more and more aggressive in our local markets. This year, I celebrated in Israel, where all of the holidays seem much less commercialized than back home. Even a holiday like Chanukah seemed hardly present (no pun intended), save for the three days off from school and the overflowing abundance of freshly baked jelly donuts. When I did spend one special evening sharing a holiday meal with a soldier friend and her family, it far exceeded America’s month (or more) of in-your-face advertisements and pressures for holiday shopping.
Just after Christmas Day, I caught a train to Haifa. There I was able to see the last day of the annual “Holiday of Holiday’s” celebration, where, for two weeks, festivities and special events are throughout the city’s museums, restaurants, and streets. Although there were many ticketed events available, I spent my weekend visiting the public celebrations and sites, exploring the beautiful landscape, architecture, and little pockets of art and nature scattered across the city’s mountainside.
Though Israel is most often recognized for its Jewish population, in Haifa I found a plethora of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim symbols, not to mention the breathtaking Baha’i Gardens. When I came upon the “UNESCO Square for Tolerance and Peace,” I could feel what a powerful and extraordinary promotion the site is for the peaceful coexistence of these overlapping religious populations.
Haifa’s multi-culturalism was also apparent as I moseyed through the large crowds of people, ducked in and out of shops, and watched the festival’s daily mid-afternoon parade of soldiers, students, and Santas. Every day, the streets were filled with the smoke and smells of cooked treats, many of which I didn’t recognize. Upon discovering a few colorful stands of popcorn and cotton candy, it seemed all too American in the midst of the now commonplace falafel and humus vendors.
The “Holiday of Holidays” usually spans across Chanukah, Id al-Adha, and Christmas, although my friends and I visited Tel-Aviv for the latter. I had not expected much to be seen; I was, after all, living in the Jewish State. There was the occasional decorated window, a few pedestrians with Santa hats on…and that was about it. As we found out, Christmas festivities are mostly reserved for New Year’s Eve, which Israelis call “Sylvester.” The history of this day is complex for Jews, but the opportunity for a celebration was certainly seized in Tel-Aviv.
So, my friends and I returned here for New Year’s Eve, and the bars and clubs were overflowing. We journeyed in and out of different venues, and when midnight hit, we all turned to each other expecting the announcement. No one else looked up. No one seemed to notice the time, except for us. We shrugged and laughed, and agreed that this New Year’s (as opposed to that of the Jewish calendar) was truly just an excuse to party.
Reflecting on these holidays, I realize that I did miss seeing my family and old friends, to uphold the little traditions we had. Yet, I’m hopeful that this year’s experience of Israeli holiday culture is having a positive influence on me, one I can bring with me when I return. I am fascinated by this particular mix of secular and religious celebrations, and the many coexisting cultures within Israel. It certainly sparks my curiosity about what other internationally significant days of gratitude for family, friends, and “excuses to party” I’ve been missing out on.
To read more about Chloe’s adventures in Israel, check out her blog.
Solidarity of Nations - Achvat Amimhttp://www.masaisrael.org/sites/default/files/solidarity%20of%20nations.jpg
Achvat Amim, which means "solidarity of nations" in Hebrew, is a new 5 month volunteer experience in Jerusalem that directly engages with the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the core value of self-determination for all peoples. Achvat Amim is renewing the conversation on Jewish Peoplehood and Zionism for the 21st century. Together, we build a dynamic learning community in which we explore and shape Jewish culture and identity as individuals and as part of a greater whole, engage with the challenging realities in Israel and the West Bank, and build on the rich history and traditions of which we are a living part.
Achvat Amim is a framework for meaningful volunteer work with leading Israeli human rights organizations, including Rabbis for Human Rights, which do grassroots work with Israelis and Palestinians in and around Jerusalem. Achvat Amim focuses on developing practical skills in community development and education through intensive volunteer projects and engaging with social change and human rights movements. The program combines learning programs, outdoor experiences, seminars, and trips around the country with working on real projects with leading human rights organizations.
Join us in building a future rooted in the Jewish values of Tzedek (Justice), Shalom (Peace), and Achvat Amim (Solidarity of Nations).
Find out more: achvatamim.org
A 5 month experience in Jerusalem for human rights and justice work informed by Torah learning, Jewish values, and practice.
In addition to the core Achvat Amim program of volunteering and learning, this track provides an opportunity for halachically rooted Jewish living and spiritual practice, as well as rigorous and reflective Jewish learning, as a foundation upon which to engage with issues of the conflict, justice work and human rights.
Find out more: achvatamim.org/ruchani
- Volunteer doing grassroots work with leading Israeli human rights organizations
- Live in Jerusalem, a city of diversity, conflict, and beauty
- Build Jewish community and shape a collective culture
- Develop leadership and community organizing skills by taking responsibility for Tikkun Olam on the ground Learn Hebrew and Arabic
- Make lifelong connections with Israelis, Palestinians and people from all over the world
To learn more about this program you can contact:
Daniel Roth, director
- Main Subject: Volunteer Programs
- Coexistence, International Humanitarian Work, Israel/Middle Eastern Studies, Leadership, Social Action / Volunteering
- 5 Months
- Havatzelet- Hashomer Hatzair
- Program appears on grant application as:
- Solidarity of Nations - Achvat Amim
- Program Contact Information:
- Judith Wolffberg Dank
- (p):972 3 695 6575
- Program Dates:
- September 04,2017 - January 30,2018, JERUSALEM, $8500 Apply to this program
- February 06,2018 - July 02,2018, JERUSALEM, $8500 Apply to this program