How do I explain what it feels like being in a Jewish country? I am an American through and through, but I am an American Jew, which means I’ve lived my life as a minority in a majority Christian country. Thankfully, although antisemitism is a persistent reality and increasingly so right now, I have rarely experienced it personally. Nonetheless, I am almost always aware that my holidays, religious practices, and family background are not the norm in America. I remember how hard it was to explain to my young children with Christmas envy why we couldn’t have a Christmas tree and why Santa would not be coming to our house. I remember when I was a doctoral student and missed two consecutive weekly sessions of a seminal course because of Passover and the professor said he had had lots of Jewish students and none of them had to miss classes for Passover. I write all this to help explain how amazing it feels to be a Jew in the majority in Israel.
On Fridays, everyone says goodbye with Shabbat shalom wishing sabbath peace to all. It never fails to touch me. As a family, we’ve never gone out on Friday nights, which sometimes wasn’t easy for us or our kids. Friday night Shabbat dinner has always been sacrosanct for our family. In Israel, that’s the norm. Just about everyone, religious or not, spends Friday evening with family. Tomorrow, we go to Haifa and my cousin’s children and grandchildren will be there for dinner and they are secular Jews. Shabbat dinner with family is simply part of the fabric of life here.
Today is Purim, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the triumph of the Jews over antisemitism perpetrated by Haman in Shushan Persia. It’s all in the scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther), but as we joke, it can summed up as a classic Jewish holiday- they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat. Purim is a joyous holiday- a bit like Halloween on steroids in terms of costumes and gifts of food and celebration. Chuck and I went to a crowded, joyful synagogue last night to hear the megillah read and today we walked all over the city, soaking up the Purim scene in Tel Aviv. Everyone is out celebrating and parading in costume. Here are some pictures to give you a sense of what it’s been like.
Of course living here for six weeks means we can mostly ignore the horrible politics, the ever present threat of war, and the high cost of living here. That allows us to bask in the wonderful feeling of being at home, as Jews in the land of Israel. I’ll take it. Happy Purim to you all!