It's a family joke of ours. "Christmas? What is this thing of which you speak?" It would be an exaggeration to say that there are no signs of Christmas in Israel today. There are, but it is on a scale something like the signs you would see of Chinese New Year in an American city. If you're in the right neighborhood, you'll see it. Elsewhere, it is no more than a rumor.
We entered Jerusalem today and took a moment to view her from Mount Scopus before driving down into the heart of the city. Yes, we saw some Christmas lights over the wall of the Old City as we passed the Christian Quarter, but down on Ben Yehuda Street where we had dinner it was just another bustling and busy night in the city.
This is the first time my wife and I have been in Jerusalem in sixteen years, since before our children were born. It was a treat to show them the apartment building where we lived, the streets where I walked to school every day, and the restaurants where we went on special occasions. Jerusalem is "Ir HaKodesh," the Holy City, but it is also a place where my wife and I have many good memories, both sacred and profane. It's good to be back home.
Jerusalem is the last stop on our trip, but we will be here for another eight days. The main focus of our stay will be the the celebration of my niece as a bat mitzvah on Thursday morning. She will read from Torah at Robinson's Arch, part of the Davidson Center on the southern wall of the Temple Mount.
This has become a popular choice in recent years for non-orthodox families who wish to celebrate a bar or bat mitzvah at a holy site in Israel where men and women can worship together and where women can read from Torah. That is not an option at the Kotel, the Western Wall, because it is controlled by the Orthodox Rabbinate and they enforce their standards of Jewish practice on everyone, regardless of the individual's practices or affiliations.
It is a small reminder, but a sometimes painful one, that even in this country where Judaism is the dominant culture—where it is in the air we breathe—there is a narrow view of what kind of Judaism is "the right kind." At times, it can make me feel that my Judaism is less welcomed by some in this country than a Christmas tree in Zion Square. Ah, well.
It will not stop us from rejoicing. We are in Jerusalem, Ir HaKodesh! Our joy increases with the celebration of a young woman coming into her own as a daughter of our tradition in the heart of our people. What could be wrong on such an occasion!