December 24, 2002

JERUSALEM (AP)-- Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau on Tuesday urged Jews in Israel not to celebrate Christmas or New Year's Day, warning that such observances threatened the identity of the Jewish state.

Lau encouraged Christian Israeli Arabs, foreign workers and immigrants to mark the holidays but told Jewish families not to ``be swept into keeping a way of life that is not their own, while obliterated and losing their self-respect.''

In recent years, small numbers of Israeli Jews have begun celebrating Christmas, putting up lights in shops and even trees in homes. The trend began with the influx of thousands of Christians - many of them married to Jews - in the early 1990s as part of a wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union.

The festivities have grown since fighting with the Palestinians broke out two years ago and Christian foreign workers replaced their Palestinian counterparts in jobs.

Israel has also undergone a type of cultural globalization--expressed in a desire among many Israelis to take part in what they view as a world holiday.

This week Israeli radios have occasionally played Christmas songs like ``Jingle Bells'' and ``I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas.''Israel's national radio station even played ``Silent Night,'' a carol about the birth of the baby Jesus.

Such expressions grate on the nerves of many Jews in Israel, particularly Lau.

``Why should we have anything to do with Christmas or New Year's Eve, in the shade of the Christmas tree?!'' Lau asked in a statement issued Tuesday, Christmas Eve.

Such celebrations ``hurt and insult, sadden and frustrate ... we never imagined that even in our independent country of the Jewish nation, foreign cultures would threaten our identity as a people and a nation.''

New Year's Eve is an even bigger hit among young people in Israel, with every disco, bar and many cafes throwing big bashes.

Israeli police earlier this month confiscated large shipments of cocaine and LSD that they said were destined for drug dealers ahead of New Year's Eve parties.

About 18 percent of the 6.6 million Israelis are Arabs, but very few of them are Christian.

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