For the first time in my life, I wasn't in the United States for Christmas.
Yes, I know, I'm Jewish, who cares, it's Christmas. But when you spend your entire life in a Midwestern classic Christmas setting, there are aspects that surround the holiday that are so normative -- they're like breathing. The lights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes. They're all simply a part of my life. My genetics are bound to crave the smell of fireplaces, the site of lined and beaded lights, the taste of warm apple cider and holiday cookies.
I'll be Jewish for the rest of my life, but there will always be certain pangs of sadness at this time of year. And I don't feel guilty about it because the way I grew up, Christmas was about trees and presents and food and visiting Silver Dollar City* (where, for years, my aunt and grandmother worked) and dipping candles and eating s'mores. It was about driving around as a family looking at the city bedecked in holiday lights. It was presents, snow, and the knowledge that this is what everyone everywhere just does.
I was in Tel Aviv last night at the Google Tel Aviv Campus for an event (which was awesome), and on my way back I hopped the Jerusalem light rail for a few stops and got off at Mahane Yehuda (that's the shuk, the giant outdoor market). At that hour, the shuk was quiet and filled with cars and trucks dropping off or picking up late-night deliveries. A few shops were still open and closing, and a few people were using the walkway as a quick bypass to get from Agrippas to Yafo.
About halfway through the shuk, I experienced something beautiful. I closed my eyes, breathed in, and the corners of my mouth curled up in a smile. I was transported to Silver Dollar City, the smell of cookies and s'mores, constantly kindled fires, fresh wax from candle dipping, and the crisp, cold air. For probably 10 seconds, I got my piece of childhood, my piece of December in the United States, in the Ozarks.
More and more, I understand the role HaShem plays in our everyday lives. The things we don't realize but experience in fleeting moments of absolute awareness with all of our senses. Those are the moments when HaShem reaches down to provide us a comfort that we might not even know we need. It was a gift. A 10-second gift.
I think it will get me through until next year. In fact, I know it will.
To read some past posts on my Christmas-time experience ... check out these posts from 2009 and 2007 (which is a particularly emotional post).
*This place has changed so much since the days I went there and purchased American Girl cards, watched glass being blown, got tin-type photos made, and enjoyed the simplicity of a rickety train ride (where, of course, robbers would take over the train, Old West style). Now it's all water rides and fancy things. I haven't been there since 1996, and I'm guessing I'll never go back. Some things are better left to memory, aren't they?
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