What is a holiday feeling? To people born, raised and living in the same country all their lives, the emotions and rituals associated with each holiday, whether anticipated or dreaded, are part of the flow of the year and to a certain degree obvious. However, to expatriates, foreign residents, and other culturally confused people, there is no obvious emotional connection.
I was raised Jewish and have lived in Israel for 25 years. Yet, my manner of experiencing the national and religious holidays of Israel is different from Sabras.
I grew up in an atheist Jewish house. To explain that apparent contradiction, my parents did not practice or believe in Judaism, but insisted on building my Jewish awareness through a minimal Jewish education, active identification with being Jewish, and basic holiday rituals, specifically Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Pesach. Therefore, at least for those three holy days, I experienced their rhythm. Granted, fasting on Yom Kippur meant only not eating, not as in Israel where it means not eating and drinking. As for the rest of the Jewish holidays, they mean nothing to me, including the joy of Purim, the ecstasy of Shevuot, or the mourning of Tisha b’Av. These days are emotionally ordinary days, not special days as they are for religious Jews.
In terms of national holidays, I did not grow up here. Israeli is going through its week-long catharsis consisting of the Holocaust Memorial Day, Memorial Day for fallen soldiers, and Independence Day. As my mother was in Europe during the war and lost her father, among others, the first does have meaning, even if I am slightly ambivalent about the endless run of depressing movies and documentaries. In terms of the Memorial Day for soldiers, I did not serve in the military. Moreover, I have never known anybody who died in a war. My father was wounded twice in World War II, but luckily came home safe and sound. So, I have no one to remember on this day. It is a heavy day in terms of the national feeling, but without specific thoughts for me. Tomorrow is Independence Day in Israel. The feeling of wonder and excitement of being a country that characterized this holiday in the early years of the country is gradually disappearing. Instead, almost every Israeli takes part in a mass feeding frenzy of barbecued meat. That reminds me of July 4, without the Boston Pops and Soussa marches of course. So, I can relate to the national experience.
As I once said to my parents, I have the privilege of being able to live in three different societies (US, France, and Israel) without belonging 100% to any of them. In terms of holidays, being socially confused makes you an outsider on holidays. It is a bit like being an only child: not a tragedy but a situation. I just have a different holiday feeling.