Why I Refuse to Say 'Happy Holiday'

The Israeli greeting 'Haaaappy Holiday!' is like the title 'Comrade' in the Soviet lexicon and anyone who says it is a party member

Passover seder plate
Dr. Scott M. Lieberman/AP

From March to October, those seven months from Purim to Simhat Torah, Israelis are in the throes of national ecstasy, fed and dictated by the almost unending parade of holidays. The holidays in Israel are always a weapon for disrupting secular routine and ratcheting up nationalism. Democracy sanctifies the priority of the individual and individual identity. The holidays sanctify the nation and national identity.

Between Purim and Simhat Torah, Israelis celebrate no fewer than 13 holidays and commemoration days: Purim, Passover, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Jerusalem Day, Lag B’omer, Shavuot, Tisha B’Av, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simhat Torah. On all those days without exception, the nationalist aspect is the main aspect. During the holidays an Israeli is first and foremost a Jew, part of a nation, ready to sacrifice himself for the nation.

And this year we also have the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War. It goes without saying that Yom Kippur is a kind of remembrance day for the Yom Kippur War, so it’s impossible to maintain a lifestyle in Israel that’s not nationalist. The individual is subject to a relentless nationalist assault on his consciousness, and on holidays nationalism is inextricably entwined with religiosity and blessings to the God of the Jews.

Given that routine is defined as a series of ordinary days, the increased nationalist assault during the holidays ruins routine. That time of year, Israeli everyday life is characterized as festive, nationalist and religious. It essentially wipes out the priority of the individual, secularity and routine.

Of course, these values are also incorporated into the education system from kindergarten. Israeli children learn to read, write, add and subtract along with learning about the holidays. The holidays are the main core subject. Sometimes it seems reading, writing and arithmetic are just the means, while the goal is to study the holidays. Because the holidays create Jews.

The Israeli term “after the holidays,” which means going back to normal after holiday time, means nothing. It’s used to mean the days after the fall litany of holidays after the period between Rosh Hashanah and Simhat Torah. But the truth is, the holiday continuum begins at the end of winter with Purim. So there’s no such thing in Israel as “after the holidays.” Not really. “After the holidays” never comes.

Israeli Jews, motivated by an imagined existential lack of confidence, endlessly celebrate their nationhood. And for people who manage to retain their individual identity despite this assault on their consciousness that began in kindergarten, the atmosphere of holiday after holiday is a suffocating burden. Such people live in alienation and a kind of exile. They’re atheists, liberal and individual, while Israel’s public space is poisoned by nationalism celebrating itself obsessively and automatically.

The holiday dates engraved in the calendar turn the experience into a machine programmed to mark holidays. There’s no spontaneity here. And besides, spontaneity is the dominion of the individual, not the nation or tribe. Everything is enslaved to ritual and ceremony. The holidays are the tyranny of the masses, who have given up their private identities.

The Israeli greeting “Haaaappy Holiday!” is like the title “Comrade” in the Soviet lexicon. Anyone who says “Happy Holiday” in Israel is a party member. I don’t say it. I refuse to say “Happy Holiday.” No, comrade.