Does Tel Aviv University Christmas Market Trample on Jewish Values?
It was recently reported that Jewish students at Tel Aviv University are protesting against a “Christmas Market” event held on December 15 on the university campus.
The Christmas market is part of an ongoing series of multicultural events that Tel Aviv University plans to host throughout the academic year, many in cooperation with embassies from countries around the world.
In a statement, Tel Aviv University said that “the university is proud that hundreds of Israeli and international students who celebrate Christmas study in its setting.”
Student protesters called the Christmas market “Christian reunification.” A student representative added: “After years in which the education system and academia trampled on Jewish values, we are now seeing the next step: the promotion of Christian content.
Reading the reports of this controversy, I couldn’t help but remember a similar turmoil that was stirred up five years ago at another prestigious Israeli university.
In December 2016, at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology – in Haifa, a Christmas tree was displayed in the student center in tribute to the many Christian students of this school.
Campus Rabbi Rabbi Elad Dukov issued a ruling declaring that Jewish students are prohibited from blessing their food or eating in the student center due to the tree’s presence, noting that he saw “no room for leniency in this matter.
Following the move, a number of prominent Zionist religious rabbis took to social media to congratulate Rabbi Dukov for taking a stand against public expressions of Christian faith and culture.
These rabbis, like the students now protesting the Tel Aviv University Christmas market, see public recognition of the Christian faith as dangerous to the Jewish identity of the State of Israel. While concern for the Jewish identity of Israeli society is legitimate, their outrage at these Christian symbols is misplaced.
The Christian community today constitutes about 2% of the population of Israel. Interestingly, it’s also roughly the percentage of Jews in the populations of the United States and Canada, the two countries where I lived before I moved permanently to Israel.
Throughout my years there, I remember seeing Hanukkiah in malls and public spaces on my college campus next to Christmas exhibits, as a sign of gratitude and respect to the Jewish community. It is safe to say that the Christian population did not feel threatened or offended by these Jewish symbols.
This brings us to a larger point. The religious Zionist Jewish community in Israel takes great pride in the rebirth of the Jewish people as an autonomous nation in our ancestral homeland. As a long-standing member of the Zionist religious community, I share this pride. Religious Zionists will often speak with pride of shedding the “diaspora mentality”, the Jewish mentality of exile, in which Jews see themselves as submissive and must constantly defend themselves against threats of assimilation within the dominant culture.
Christmas market at Tel Aviv University threatens the Jewish character of the State of Israel? Oh good? Letting local Christians – citizens of Israel – know that they are recognized and accepted is so scary? The State of Israel has always included and always will include minorities from other nations and faiths. Even the idealized image of the nation of Israel depicted in the Torah does not exclude members of other nations who are not Jews as part of society.
And this is where the irony lies behind the outrage. The fear of assimilation that underlies opposition to these Christian symbols is in fact the pinnacle of the “diaspora mentality”. Are we so insecure about the Jewish identity of Israeli society that public displays respecting minority populations are a threat? I repeat, there is undoubtedly a lot of work to be done to strengthen the Jewishness of Israeli society, but is Christianity really at the heart of this problem?
As of this writing, Christians are being persecuted and attacked in virtually every country in the Middle East except Israel. A growing percentage of the wider Christian world is aware of and grateful to the State of Israel, and rightly so.
Among the non-Jewish citizens of Israel, we know that the Christian population has demonstrated a historic will to live in peace with us on this land as friends and neighbors.
Devout Christians around the world are also known as staunch defenders of our people and our state. If we are to strengthen our presence on this earth and fortify our chances for peace within and with the world around us, there is no better place to start than to treat Christians in Israel with inclusion and respect. .
Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of the Ohr Torah Stone Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC)