All I want for Christmas…

Where to begin!?! So, I have decided that this year is going to be my year of exploration, of myself, of my faith, and of other faiths. Afterall, what better place to learn and grow than in the Land of Israel. I have learned much more about myself since i have been here, and much more about my religion, both in my classes and in my experiences on the street, living in a “Jewish State.” I learned about Greek Jewry on a tip to Greece during Hannukah which seemed very fitting. So, I thought I shoudl continue this learning with a Christmas adventure. Ideally, I would have gone to Bethlehem for Christmas, however, with the rise in Palestinian violence and other security issues, and the fact that I am in school, this was not an option. A group of friends and I decided to do the next best thing, Christmas mass in Jerusalem’s old city. Last night, at 10pm I met iwth a group of cantorial and rabbinical students from HUC and JTS and began our journey!

Initially we were going to go to the Scottish Church in Jerusalem, a Presbyterian church where the service was in english, and there would be caroling throughout the evening. We began there, but at some point, a smaller group of us decided to make the trek to the Old City and see what was happening there! We arrived in the old City around 10:30pm, and began to figure out a plan. we tried the Chuch of the Holy Sepluchre, but it was closed, not their Christmas. Our next stop was the Dormition Abbey, a wonderful German Catholic (?) church in the old city. We had heard much about the church, the wardrobe of the priests, the monks, the beautiful chapel, i could go on. We found our way as we followed the masses of others going to Mass! =). We arrived and were lucky to be some of the first to be let into the Abbey, so we were able to get a space standing behind the last row of chairs. In our wait for the mass to begin (at midnight!) we took in the sights and talked with others who came to Mass. Mass began at midnight, with a beautiful ceremony, the monks walked in with the various instruments, books and ornaments for the service. The service because with a ritual involving incense which smelled divine, and much German. The service was set to go for 2 hours, and after about 45 minutes and an hour and a half of standing, we needed to go! I had school today!

So, my impressions. First of all, I felt as though it might be rude to invade or observe another religion’s holy day. I’m not sure how I would feel if a large group of non-Jews came to watch/take up space during our holy days. But, I was assured earlier in the evening that Mass in Jerusalem is actualyl a mostly Jewish/Israeli event. That is to say that only 2% of Israel’s population is Christian, and so, the majority of hte people who go to Mass are Jews or others who are there to observe and learn. The Churches open their doors to us, and welcome the opporutnity for an educational experience. The music, liturgy (although i didn’t understand it) and mood were very moving. The sermon, which was handed out in English focused on peace, and the need to live together in harmony, respecting each other.

For my first Midnight Mass, I was impressed, moved and welcomed! Merry Christmas to All, and to All a GOOD NIGHT!!

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