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Can Jews celebrate New Year?

Members of Jewish communities in the West often criticized Jews from former Soviet countries for decorating fir trees for New Year, mistakenly believing that they are celebrating Christian holidays.

In his article on the religious website Kipa, Rabbi Eldad Zamir explained that this tradition has nothing to do with St. Sylvester’s Day, which in Catholic countries falls on 31 December. Pope Sylvester was known for his harsh treatment of Jews.

“People from CIS countries never used this name, and only a few of them had heard of it before repatriation to Israel,” the rabbi noted.

According to him, repatriates are celebrating a secular holiday which was popular with citizens of the atheist Soviet Union because it did not have any communist associations.

In its turn, in the USA the tradition of decorating fir trees is connected with Christmas, which Jews do not celebrate, and so Russian-speaking Jews are also criticized, The Tablet writes.

Using the example of a family of repatriates from the USSR, the magazine dispels this misconception, explaining that Russian-speaking Jews decorate Christmas trees as a tribute to the secular traditions of their homeland.

Regina Blekh’s family emigrated from Moscow to New York in the 1980s. Regina recalls that the New Year was a holiday which all Soviet children waited for impatiently, regardless of their nationality.


In Brooklyn, Regina was sent to a yeshiva, where she could receive Jewish education that was not available in Moscow. Regina learnt about the holidays of the Jewish calendar such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but the tradition of decorating fir trees became a source of potential conflict with her religious friends and classmates.

“I didn’t even understand that there was any connection between Christmas and decorating fir trees. For me it was a New Year tradition. I’ve always celebrated this important holiday. At the same time, I instinctively realized that it was something forbidden,” Regina says.

Nevertheless, many immigrants continue the tradition of decorating fir trees and celebrating New Year.
In Israel, the Jewish national fund provides citizens with New Year trees. Although the trees used are Arizona cypresses, which were chosen because of their resemblance to fir trees. The fund provides cypresses to Christian parishioners, churches, monasteries, foreign embassies, foreign journalists accredited in Israel, and anyone else who wants them.

Read more: izrus.co.il и tabletmag.com

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