Santa Claus and Judah Macabee join forces in TA 'end of year' fair

Malls and shopping centers throughout the country are using Christmas symbols to lure consumers.

fireworks tel aviv 248.88 (photo credit: )
fireworks tel aviv 248.88
(photo credit: )
Santa Clauses, Christmas trees and reindeer are nowhere near as ubiquitous as Hanukka candles here during this holiday season, but they are definitely making inroads. As more Israelis spend time abroad and the million immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many of whom are not Jewish, make their presence felt, malls and shopping centers throughout the country are using Christmas symbols to lure consumers. Christmas symbols are no longer relegated solely to Arab Christian cities such as Nazareth and Bethlehem or to the Russian-language press and television. Nor are the country's foreign workers - the Filipinos, the Romanians and the Sudanese - the only target market. Perhaps the most blatant example is a major fair slated to begin Tuesday in Tel Aviv's Nahalat Binyamin neighborhood at a huge mansion called Beit Amudim. Billed as an end-of-the-year sale "in the style of many large cities throughout the world," the fair will market clothing, food, wine, toys and various gifts. A mishmash of Jewish and Christian symbols - Judah Macabee and Santa Claus, Christmas trees and hanukkiot - will greet shoppers. "The idea is to start a tradition here in Israel like Europe and America," said Na'ama Salomon, who is producing the event. "As the nights get longer you find among cultures of the world a holiday of lights. We Israelis can decide to ignore the world or we can embrace other cultures along with our own. "I think a lot of people here want more openness. You see the same sort of thing with Jews in America who decide to decorate a Hanukka bush." But not everyone is happy with the proliferation of Christmas paraphernalia on the streets of Israel. "It is a symptom of a galutiut [exile] mentality," said Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Ya'acov Ariel, who said he had noticed Christmas trees prominently displayed in his town's public places. "The Russians are the ones who brought this Christian culture with them. And Israelis who have lost touch with their Jewish ties are attracted to it. "This is part of a wider phenomenon that includes the rise in popularity of American-style TV shows like Big Brother and the adoption of Christian morality that teaches turning the other cheek in Sderot and Ashkelon," Ariel said. Ariel pointed out that Christian-inspired anti-Semitism often peaked around Christmas time, when Jews were accused of killing Jesus. "There is something masochistic about Jews celebrating Christmas, a day singled out by Christians for pogroms," Ariel declared. However, Dana Ra'anan, a clothing designer who will be selling her goods at the Tel Aviv fair, said that for her Christmas arouses positive feelings of nostalgia for New York, where she lived for several years. "Celebrating Christmas here in Tel Aviv will make me feel that I can bring the positive aspects of that holiday back home," she said. Ra'anan, who described herself as secular, said that she celebrated all the Jewish holidays as cultural events, devoid of religious meaning, and the same was true for Christmas. "These are holidays that bring together friends and family and transmit their own special atmosphere. Christmas reminds me of snow and lights and a general warm feeling," she said. Tamir Peled, the owner of the Marzipan Museum, whose products are under the kashrut supervision of the Lower Galilee Rabbinate, said that this Christmas there has been a sharp rise in demand from Jewish Israelis for marzipan in Christmas shapes, such as Santa Claus. "In the past all our requests were for Jewish symbols like Magen David, shofars, apples in honey and the tablets of the Ten Commandments," said Peled. "But recently Israelis who have lived abroad or who are influenced by American TV want to celebrate Christmas. "So far we have not gotten any orders to make marzipan crosses. But maybe that will happen, too." Peled said that Israelis want to celebrate Christmas because they do not want to feel culturally isolated from the rest of the world. "Celebrating only Hanukka set us apart, makes us different. People don't want to feel that way. They want to be part of world," she said. Still, for many Israelis, Santa Claus, Christmas trees and other Christian symbolism is still taboo, according to Gadi Margolit, CEO of Trio, an advertising firm affiliated with Adler, Chomsky PR, that specializes in marketing to three Israeli minority populations: Arabs, Russian-speakers and haredim. "For immigrants from the FSU, a society with a strongly anti-religious culture, the New Year has as a totally secular, national character," said Margolit. "Retailers such as Home Center or Supersol might advertise New Year sales in the Russian-language press and TV," he said. "But you will not find any religiously charged Christian symbols like Santa Claus or Christmas trees, even in campaigns directed at a Russian-language audience. "Inside the major retail chains or in public places where both Russians and Israelis are exposed you will not see any Christmas themes," Margolit added. "Retail management does not want it and consumers don't identify with it."