Mike Bruesewitz: Celebrating the holidays in Israel

Passing out the gifts to the other Americans on the team.

Dor Kedmi/Mike Bruesewitz

My first Christmas abroad was a little different then I’d expected. I have been told — and experienced for myself — that oftentimes the buildup and anticipation of things is more exciting than the event itself. For me, as I have gotten older, this notion could not be any truer for Christmas (and other things), but since mother is going to read this, for her sake, I will spare the details. Here in Israel, they do not have snow, they do not decorate the streets and there is no 25 Days of Christmas on ABC Family channel constantly being played in the background. There is no mad rush at shopping malls. Outside of the junk email I’ve received, December has gone by pretty quickly and with very little notice that Christmas really even happened. We sat in the locker room on the 22nd and all the Americans on our team, myself included, discussed how we finally noticed that Christmas was upon us and the only reason the conversation came up was due to a party the team was hosting for us.

On the eve of Saint Nick’s arrival we practiced and then went and enjoyed the company of both our team and organization at an Irish pub called Dublin. They had a tree with fake presents underneath, Christmas lights hanging all around the bar with cut-outs of stockings and candy canes, and a terrible selection of holiday music. Our menu was strictly bar food and consisted of chicken wings, fries, kabobs and a burger with actual cheese on it. Despite this very nontraditional holiday meal I was in quite a cheerful mood because it was Christmas Eve and even though I really wanted to spend it with my family back home, I was with people I truly liked and it was much better than spending the holiday alone. It also helped that there was a Santa suit available which I made full use of the entire night – let’s just say Tim Allen had nothing on me.

After our party I was feeling like a little culture would be good for my life, and even though we are not the most religious family, I figured, how often would I be in the birthplace of Christmas on the eve of Christmas? So I decided to attend a midnight mass in the Christian sector of the Old City.

I picked up my Israeli agent Uri, who wore a green trench coat and looked exactly like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family. We showed up at the Church to find several people standing outside. It seemed that the midnight mass was canceled which was a little disappointing because it would have been a great experience. Nonetheless I decided to take the opportunity to explore the Old City and reconnect with my "Jewish" roots. I even took a picture with a yarmulke in front of the Western Wall.

Photo Gallery

After my most holy experience, Uri and I decided to share a bowl of sugar, take several shots of brown liquor, play with AR15s, and peel and dress several of the stray cats that inhabit the streets of Jerusalem.

Christmas Day brought a little more holiday cheer. I was invited to dinner by my teammate Adam, who has a family that is half-Christian and half-Jewish. His mother is from Germany, so when I walked into their house I felt right at home.

There was a beautiful tree decorated with lights, ornaments and chocolate. The smell of turkey and mashed potatoes instantly brought a big smile and the feeling of the holidays to me. There was a large family gathering and Adam’s parents reminded me of home. His mother had a very quick wit about her and his father told terribly awesome jokes. I must say that is the thing I miss most being over here — the family atmosphere we had at our holidays. But at Adam’s I was able to get just enough to wash away some of my holiday loneliness.

I will say this was a very tough time for me, but thanks to technology and the help of my teammates, this Christmas was still a success. I really wanted to be with my family but circumstances didn’t allow that. I have a feeling this won’t be the last time I view Christmas through the virtual world of Skype, but this is the path that I chose and I must say I am happy at the job I am doing.

(Note: This is the second entry for Mike Bruesweitz’s Imported Bru blog. You can find the archive of stories and photo galleries here.)