Picture a land without Yule lights, wreaths, reindeer

Imagine a land without Christmas.

You wake up on Dec. 25 and there is no Christmas music on the radio or TV — not even a mention of the holiday.

You go to the shopping district and there are no Christmas trees or lights blinking above.

Better yet, the entire month has passed with nary a mention of the Christian holiday. And none of your neighbors has wreaths, blinking lights or reindeer images atop their homes.

This land has no December dilemma. Your children are not confronted with two holidays and confused over whether they should celebrate one or both.

Where is this land? Hopefully you already have guessed. It's Israel.

My visit there last month, which continued over Christmas, was a conscious reminder of what a Jewish homeland is all about, especially at this time of year.

Even the celebration of Chanukah is done Jewishly. Unlike American Jews, Israelis don't turn Chanukah into a Jewish Christmas.

Israeli kids don't compete with non-Jews for the big presents Santa is supposed to deliver. Israeli families don't feel the need to put Chanukah decorations all over their homes as if to compete with Christian families.

The brachot are said and the chanukiot are lit each night. Most children receive some small gifts. But the country doesn't shut down like America does, almost holding its breath and waiting for the jolly fellow to arrive. There are no days off from work in December. Chanukah comes and goes, making its religious statement without bringing life to a virtual standstill.

For a brief few weeks while I was in the Holy Land, I forgot what it was like back home. I forgot about the deluge of Christmas music and talk on television and radio. I forgot about the reminders of how many shopping days were left.

I was spared the life of Christian America.

If only our Jewish children could experience this as well. If Jews lived with other Jews, there wouldn't be "Chanukah bushes" in Jewish homes. There wouldn't be lights strung over the garages of Jewish families.

And maybe, even more importantly, there wouldn't be intermarriage.

But let's be realistic. Few American Jews — myself included — are ready to make the commitment of moving to Israel and making aliyah.

At the same time, we could all help promote our families' Jewish commitment by going to Israel and seeing firsthand what it's like to live among other Jews.

It's understandable why so many Israeli Jews don't consider themselves religious. They don't have to go to synagogue to live a Jewish life. Just living in Israel is enough. The history, the culture and the general lifestyle ensures that a non-observant Israeli will thrive Jewishly and go on to raise another Jewish family.

While we may not be able to immerse our families in daily Israeli life, we certainly could and should give them a taste of it.

What's wrong with American Jews that less than 20 percent have ever visited Israel? Don't they understand what they are missing? More importantly, don't they understand what they are denying their children?

How dare we question why intermarriage is skyrocketing when so many of us have never exposed our children to Israel?

Of course there is no guarantee that a short visit to Israel will prevent an intermarriage. But it sure won't hurt giving it a try.

Year in and year out we talk to teenagers who visit Israel and come home feeling their lives have been changed. Maybe we need to send them a second and third time to keep that change alive and to continue reminding them of what a Jewish life is all about.

A Jewish parent who hasn't sent a child to Israel should truly feel embarrassed. It isn't a question of money. Federations, the Koret Foundation and the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education are all there to help a family that is truly in need.

There is no excuse for not putting your teenager on a plane to live a real Jewish life if only for a few weeks.

As American Jews, we prayed, we fought and we contributed hard-earned dollars all to make a Jewish homeland a reality 50 years ago.

We have done much to help Israel grow. Now, a half century later, it's time to let Israel help us, our families, and most importantly, our children, grow.

Make sure that you and especially your kids visit Israel in its 50th year. A couple of weeks away from Christian America may be just what you all need.