Historically, Jews had it tough in Russia – and I won’t even go into the whole forging of the infamous Protocols thing. Conspiracy theories aside – was it Czar ruling the country – or Stalin, Jews had it bad, pogroms (violent mobs) during Romanov dynasty were followed by purges after the WWII (that’s – immediately after the Holocaust.)
It’s the Holiday season though and i really don’t want to dwell on such subjects, in case you wonder how did this amazing story of the Jews in Russia end – you can read the unbelievable grand final in The New York Time’s article from June 17, 2010.
Fast forward some forty two years since Yosef Mendelevich and his friends failed in their attempt to hijack their way out of tyranny – Judaism is blooming in Russia, there are synagogues and affiliates of all major Jewish streams, while local Kabbalah center is among the most attended in the world. Actually, without having precise data – i’d say that Moscow’s KC is the biggest and most populous one outside Israel and US; i used to study in London’s KC which was leading European center at the time – and despite all the wonders i witnessed there, myself i was beyond moved when i went to the local one; students are so numerous and their devotion to the wisdom of Kabbalah so strong, that for days after an event or class i would feel like in seventh heaven.
Recently, biggest Jewish museum in Europe was opened in Maryina Rosca – in a 50$ million facility (1) and Shimon Peres (himself of Russian Jewish origin), who arrived for the opening, was received not only with the protocol due to a foreign head of state, but also – as the talk of the city goes -with special attention, as he is said to be one of the leaders admired by President Putin.
More or less one month after the historical visit, in awful cold, i am desperately searching Moscow’s malls for … a Hannukah bush decorations!
Yes, I’ve been doing all the kabbalistic connections, i even ate the traditional (greasy &fattening ) foods on the first night… yet, something was missing for my festive mood to be complete and Feng Shui decorations – as much as they improve the chi - are not quite the same thing.
Mine – and that of other Jews who grew up during communism – has nothing to do with Christmas, as it’s usually presumed; we grew up without any kind of religious observance, so it’s not about attachment to the nativity scenes and Santa Claus, it’s way deeper than that. You see, during communism – the New Year was the only free of ideology holiday, the only one where there weren’t boring to death speeches and commemorations, there weren’t obligatory attendances of memorials and participation in recitals, typical of all other holidays of the time; the New Year was a personal holiday, spent with friends and family, usually by watching some movie classics and feasting on traditional foods like Olivier salad.
Those were usually one of the fondest childhood memories – and after our respective countries fell apart together with the old system – that was the only Holiday that remained, while an entire calendar was cancelled and erased.
In Yugoslavia, the National Day was November 29th, The Day of the Republic, and it used to be a major holiday; since the old country was finished in tears and blood, the holiday is, of course, non existent… The thing is that humans are the creatures of habit and if you lived some 20+ years with an idea, whether that idea was good or bad, i assure you that you too would get used to it.
And it’s not about the old country either – it’s about the fact that everything we knew, the life as we knew it with it system of values, its money, foods, clothing brands… all of it, disappeared in the blink of an eye…
I get irked when Russian Jews get bashed for celebrating the NY – as if that is some kind of self-hating act; it’s not, it’s merely the reaffirmation, on a personal level, that except belonging to nations, eras and other categories which by default tend to annul our individuality, we do have some kind of personal, genetic memory which makes us – if not much more than, then at least different from a mere grain of sand, carried back and forth by the various winds of changes.
Back in 1983, US educator E.D. Hirsch coined the term Cultural Literacy - familiarity with and understanding of a dominant culture; simultaneously, yet independently a researcher in Russia, Y.N. Karaulov defined what constituted the so-called ‘secondary linguistic personality’, ie. the diaspora-like mentality which students of foreign languages develop; in third millennium we are speaking of CQ – cultural intelligence which comes down to ‘attitudes of respect for other nations’ talents and traditions, of fascination with the variety of other worlds, readiness to revise one’s own prejudices, and of adjustment to local tasks and circumstances.’ (P. Kuin was speaking of succeeding in multinational companies, but it’s a basic formula relevant for any cross-cultural experience.)
History of humanity is basically history of adaptation – and, speaking of other than genetic change – there is a pattern to it which never seizes to amaze me; when facing tectonic changes in paradigms, humans ( known for their hatred of change), tend to simply rename things.
Origins of Christmas can be tracked back to Pagan Saturnalia; to ease the new religious paradigm on Romans, early Christians worked on transforming vicious Saturnalia traditions such as human sacrifice into innocent snacking on the Ginger man and December 25th, Saturnalia’s concluding day, was named as Jesus’ birthday.
The real date is more likely to be June 17th though – astrologists claim that the star which three kings are said to have followed, was most likely a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, so close together that they shone as a single ‘beacon of light’ which appeared suddenly; more so, the conjunction was pinpointed as having appeared in the constellation of Leo, to the exact date of June 17 in the year 2BC.
The commies had snatched the symbolism from Christians – and had turned it into the NY – I’ve mentioned in the previous entry - Santa Claus had become Uncle Frost and had received a granddaughter, Snegurochka…
Not that any of it matters – or that it changes in anyway the spirit of the Holiday, it does not, but the truth is that since it’s dawn – overall humanity gets quite excited around this time of the year and for some reason it usually has to do with a tree, overeating and overspending.
Anyway it is, like it or not, politically correct or not – it’s Holiday Season, folks!
Whether you are celebrating Hannukah or Christmas, Kwanzaa, Yule, Festivus or the New Year, i wish you best of the moods and most joyous times!
Happy Hannukah! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!