Israel warms up to New Year's, Soviet-style

By Daniel Estrin

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 30 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

The store is also well stocked with vodka bearing labels like Kremlin and Russian Standard, hundreds of pounds of red caviar, a Russian delicacy, and — to the chagrin of many Israelis — pork, which is not kosher.

Store manager Alexey Spitsin, who is from Uzbekistan, says many Israeli customers objected to the Novy God decorations when he began working there 13 years ago, but this year only a few complained.

While many immigrants celebrate at home, Israel's most successful Soviet emigres will be throwing the most expensive Novy God party in the country's history — an opulent display of the oligarch-style wealth some quickly attained here and in the Old Country.

The Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel on the Mediterranean seashore will be transformed into a Russian winter wonderland, with a wet bar carved of ice and faux snow fluttering from the ceiling. Partygoers will bid on works of art flown in from around the world. Some are expected to fetch millions.

The 300 Russian-speaking invitees include local politicians and businesspeople, and Jewish VIPs from Russia and Georgia flying in for the party on private jets.

One man is on the blacklist: Grandpa Frost. The hotel won't allow him in since he'd threaten its kosher certification.

Party organizer Yulia Mohrik said she reached a tasteful compromise: Grandpa Frost will ride around the hotel's perimeter in a horse-drawn carriage — shipped in from Buckingham Palace, no less — and will wave to the guests through the windows.

While the country's rabbis are reluctant to embrace the holiday, Israeli politicians have begun to endorse it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended his first official Novy God greetings last year. He did it again this year, over the objections of some in his office who are still uncomfortable with the holiday.

Adding to some Israelis' skepticism is the fact that though nearly all Soviet immigrants are related to Jews, about 300,000 of them are not Jewish according to religious law — meaning their mothers are not Jewish.

But Soviet-born immigrants insist they belong.

"The attitude is, 'I'm already here. I've planted roots, I have a job, I have kids,'" said Russian-born Buman. "Twenty years ago, it was an issue. Today it's not."

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