Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas in West Jerusalem

Our family has established our own Jewish tradition for Christmas, inspired by my childhood in west Jerusalem in the early sixties.

We are the outsiders, looking in.

We take a walk on Christmas Day, beginning in the late afternoon. As the sun goes down, the Christmas lights go up. Front lawns twinkling, colored lights on trees placed by windows, and an occasional neighbor who’d gone Santa-wild with bobbing reindeer on the roof and illuminated giant Mr. & Mrs. Claus waving mechanically. We come home, chilly but jolly, to hot chocolate and the calm harbor of our Jewish home.

No, I didn’t have any of these winter lights displays in my childhood. If fact, west Jerusalem streets, pre-1967, didn’t have a single overt sign of Christmas. The Jewish part of the city, then cut-off from its older parts, had neither church bells nor a whiff of a hint of any but the Jewish Holidays.

My mother was a member of the local YMCA. We treated it as a health club and a good place to park me, the daughter of a single working mother, for summer camps. Its Christian character was so subtle that you’d blink and miss it.

But one Christmas day, when I was seven, my mother decided we’d take the bus and go to the YMCA on King David Street to see the Christmas tree in their lobby. The YMCA had the only Christmas tree in town. She felt I should at least know much of the world was experiencing something that day.

There is nothing like the first time of something. My first glimpse of the towering green pine, a real tree in the corner of an indoor space, all adorned with twinkling colored lights, was the stuff imprinting memories are made of.

It was so beautifully exotic.

To this day, my viewing of others’ holiday decorations has the same intriguing and fabulous effect on me. It isn’t mine, it is of the other, and it is lovely.

I have no wish to bring it into our own living room. I like being an outsider looking in. I like that you wish to share it by putting the light so it is visible to us.

Merry Christmas, friends.


  1. Hi Mirka,
    What a nice tradition! My does of Christmas was eating lunch at a lovely French restaurant yesterday with the nicest possible holiday music in the background. But in terms of taking the walk and looking in, we realized yesterday that between Sunset Blvd. and our house, which is almost a mile up, not a single twinkly light! No Santas! Nothing! So on with our tradition of going to a movie with whichever of our kids is in town, and my husband's brothers, followed by the universally-embraced Chinese restaurant meal. Have a wonderful day!

  2. Thank you, Mirka. I never *saw* the Western tradition of putting the tree inside the house until I came to the US, and it was, like you say, wonderfully exotic! Many of our Hindu friends celebrate the season with a tree.

    I'd love to make a pilgrimage to the Holy land. Today, we made a reading of salvation history before opening presents and it's so wonderful to see that thread of the promised child. The tension is incredible. Wonderful Author, our Lord!

    May the blessings of Christmas be with you now and always.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Mirka. I'm glad the Christmas season brings you and your family some joy also.

  4. Beautiful photo! And how neat, a King David Street! Thanks for sharing your memory. Being in Korea, especially in our smaller city, has opened my eyes to a different perspective, as this town doesn't decorate much. I hope you had a restful day. Enjoy winter break!