A novel and somewhat controversial event took place on Saturday evening when the Bayit Yehudi Youth Wing held a Novi God party in Petah Tikva.
Novi God is Russian for “new year,” and has traditionally been celebrated in the states of the former Soviet Union. It is also often celebrated by Israeli citizens who emigrated from that region, but is largely viewed as a non-Jewish celebration and is typically disdained in Orthodox circles, since some symbols of Christmas, such Christmas trees, have also been associated with the celebration.
But two members of the religious Bayit Yehudi party – who are immigrants from the region and hold positions in the political movement – decided to break the taboo this year and put on a party.
The event was held at the Gula culture and leisure center in Petah Tikva, and included a performance by well-known stand-up comic Giora Zinger, who is himself from the Soviet immigrant community.
Also on offer were mulled wine; a musical performance by Simple Light – a religious musician from the immigrant community; and a championship competition of Durak – a popular card game in countries of the former-Soviet Union.
“Novi God is a civil and family holiday which was suppressed for years and celebrated in Russia by Jews who were looking for a social and family meeting point,” said Idit Druyan, a spokeswoman for the Bayit Yehudi party and one of the organizers of the event.
“Russian culture is very rich, and the second generation of Russian immigrants are interested in combining it as part of Israeli culture,” she said. “Novi God is considered something not to be touched amongst the national-religious establishment in Israel, and the time has come to break down the walls of ignorance on this issue. The event is pioneering and a sign of the beginning of a change of consciousness – and I hope it will become a tradition.”
Yonatan Dobov, chairman of the Bayit Yehudi Youth Wing and a fellow organizer, also pointed out that Novi God is not a Christian or religious holiday, but rather a cultural and family festival that has become deeply entrenched within Russian culture, including among Soviet immigrants to Israel.
“While other holidays from other communities have found their place of honor within the Israeli calendar, the rich Jewish-Russian culture has not merited this same status,” said Dobov.
“There was an immigration of more than a million people who have made their mark in Israel, and their unique contribution should not be ignored, nor [should] the rich culture and the customs they brought with them,” he said. “There is no prohibition in Jewish law of celebrating Novi God, since it is a civil and family holiday – and that’s how we want to mark it.”
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