May 30, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Ho Ho Home Is Where the Heart Is

Let’s face it. We got the short end of the stick in the Chanukah holiday music department. “I have a little Dreidel” cannot even show its face around “Let It Snow.” And “ Dreidel” knows it. The bar is set pretty low when the Chanukah music station plays “Fiddler on the Roof” as their Jewish holiday music repertoire. I guess how many times can a radio station play Adam Sandler’s latest Chanukah hits from 2013. So, Tevyeh it is.

I kind of felt more complacent about our holiday music deficiency living in Israel because, well, it’s Israel. But on my recent trip back to New York and New Jersey, I was reminded of our holiday music shortcomings every time I stepped into a mall or store or just basically stepped foot outside my hotel room. I forgot just how Christmassy it gets. And I’ll admit, I really, really loved it. For the first day. And then I was completely over it. Like if I saw a reindeer I might run it down, kind of over it. OK, I would never actually hurt a reindeer; I’m Canadian and we practically worship the moose. But you get where I’m going with this.

It’s kind of surreal really because I have lived most of my life in the red and green, twinkle lights and mistletoe, magical world, that only after six years of not being a part of it did I realize: I really wasn’t a part of it. This was my first trip of many back to the States since making aliya where I really understood what it felt like to be a stranger in a strange land. And as beautiful as the tree was in Times Square, and as magical as Dear Evan Hansen is on Broadway, or as gushy it is to watch the skaters at Rockefeller Center, bundled in cable knit and wooly mittens drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows and having a picturesque Norman Rockwell moment, I just felt kind of lost and misplaced. Like I was one of the skaters’ mittens dropped on the side of the rink. Or the little dusty menorah on the shelf at Marshall’s completely overshadowed by piles of wreaths and lights. (Poor thing, we had a little heart-to-heart.)

From the giant Santa on top of Garden State Plaza to Hallmark Christmas television shows playing every single blessed night (you know the one: girl leaves small town and becomes big executive, girl visits small hometown during Christmas, girl meets old high school boyfriend, girl realizes everything she really wanted was in her old hometown, girl marries boy and leaves uptown for small town, roll credits, rinse and repeat). Honestly, I think the only thing that would make those shows better would be to watch with some spiked eggnog. Or a peppermint latte (don’t even get me started on that magical elixir). Seriously though, the person behind Christmas marketing is a freaking genius. Tip of the Santa hat to you, sir or ma’am.

As strange as it is to walk around New York City this time of year after being somewhat off this holiday grid for so long, it is also still quite magical. The city is a sea of sparkle and spectacular that it’s really hard not to feel something. The air is electric. There is a warm cinnamon-y vibe and it’s pretty contagious. When you stop and peel back the layers you can see the truth behind the season, the holiday message of peace and goodwill, of love and family, of sharing and spreading joy and light. It is something our tribe is very familiar with. It’s our people’s anthem.

When I landed back in Israel I walked through our beautiful airport sparse from holiday decor and not a Christmas song to be heard. But then I spotted it. Tucked into the corner of one large room, a 3-foot decorated Christmas tree. It was surrounded by Jerusalem stone, a group of Israeli soldiers and an oversized silver mezuzah. And it sat there looking a bit overshadowed. And I looked at the tree. And the tree looked back at me and I whispered, “I know just how you feel.”

By Esti Rosen Snukal


Esti Rosen Snukal made aliya six years ago with her family from Teaneck to Chashmonaim. Esti volunteers at The Lone Soldier Center in Jerusalem and is a contributor for The Jewish Link, documenting life as a new olah. Follow Esti on Facebook or on Instagram @ Esti1818. Esti can be reached at [email protected].

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