When I was in Israel, the gift store Happening (on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem was known for its overpriced gifts, funny/shmaltzy posters about Israelis, mylar balloons, crazy greeting cards and postcards, and, of course, being the home of Cowboy Fudge.
But now, according to the Jerusalem Post, Happening is the center of Israel’s own December Dilemma: the Ramat Aviv branch has started selling Christmas trees, not out of an increasing demand from local Christians, but because the native Israelis want them as a winter decoration. The owners were puzzled:
[TV is the devil. A delicious, tempting, addictive devil. Similarly, travel: one should never go anywhere. It can only lead to personal ruin and coveting of other people’s lifestyles. For instance, should one go to California on the premise of attendance at, say, a student conference on Jewish identity, one might be seduced into staying to become part of the deviantly sunny California lifestyle. For example.]
“We weren’t used to so many native Israelis buying the trees. So we began asking them why. Everybody said there was nothing religious about the whole thing. It was just a reason for a party. They got the idea from TV or from trips abroad.”
The owner of the store sells other things: Santas, lights, ornaments, tinsel, etc, but no crosses or “other religious items.”
“What I sell has nothing to do with religion. In Russia we did not celebrate December 25. We only celebrated the New Year. Everyone had trees but no one was religious. The communists forbid religion.”
In an interesting twist, the article highlights the fact that the purveyors of these pines are not religious and moreover, feel the need to justify to themselves and others why they sell these items, which have clear religious significance to anyone in a Christian culture. They sell because there’s a market for it. But they know that what they’re selling isn’t exactly Judaica, and their personal religious practices are often in direct conflict with the type of merchandise that puts the kosher food on their tables.
But it’s all about what the market will bear, I guess:
Lilach Cohen, 31, of Ramat Gan, interrupts to ask the price of a tree. Cohen says she is buying the tree for a Christmas party she is having at her house. “It is just another opportunity to party,” says Cohen, who senses the need to address the religious issue, and adds, “I am secure enough with my faith in God to do something like this. The tree has no religious meaning for me whatsoever.” Cohen said she got the idea for the tree from TV.
Of course, some Israelis also think selling Christmas trees is wrong. And of course, rabbis think it’s idolatry. One Chabad rabbi explains why some Israelis are for, and some are against, the trees:
“Jews who are so distant from Judaism that they do not understand the idolatrous aspect of the Christmas tree do not feel threatened by it. Others, like Brizon, have a deeper understanding of both Judaism and the Christmas tree. They realize that they have reached a point of no return. That a Christmas tree is not just international folklore. It is idolatry. So their [Jewish] soul awakens.”
Given that this article is about trees in Israel, trees that are being cut down for one day a year that isn”t even a holiday for many of Israel’s indigenous citizens, I’m actually surprised that there’s no mention of JNF and their years-long efforts toward reforestation.
So, to close this post without a point other than Loraxian speaking for or against the trees, I give you the Dry Bones blog.
Hat tip to the lovely Annabel Lee.