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125http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2012/12/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---12_14_2012
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 12_14_2012
12/13/2012 10:03 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
December 14, 2012

 

Chanukah ends on Sunday evening following the last candle that’s kindled on Saturday night. Then we wait. Christmas is coming. As Jewish families, we don’t avoid Christmas as if it were forbidden to us. Rather, Jewish families in America have long had a role in Christmas. In Joshua Plaut’s recent book A Kosher Christmas he points out the Jews in America have participated in the season in a variety of ways.

                Many years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for assimilated Jewish families to have a Christmas tree. Some of you know this and some of you remember it in your homes. It happened because the tree became a cultural symbol. Families who had one demonstrated their affiliation with the community in ways that weren’t religious. But, as Jewish families grew more secure and their children were learning more Hebrew, attending Jewish summer camps, and relating to Israel more meaningfully, the tree became a stumbling block to complete Jewish immersion. Today, some Jewish families still have trees at home for various reasons, but far fewer than in the past.

                On Christmas, Jews also go to the movies and eat Chinese food. Some say that Jews and Chinese food have been connected forever, but it’s not true. The Jewish year is 5773 and the Chinese year is 4709. This means that Jews waited 1064 years before they could even begin to imagine enjoying Chinese food. It’s an old joke. But, look around the theater and the restaurant this year. You’ll see friends from synagogues all over the city.

                But, the finest way for Jews to participate on Christmas day is to do a mitzvah. When Lisa and I were newlyweds, we used to volunteer at the local hospital to hold babies in the NICU. One year, I was invited to hold a Down Syndrome baby the nurse told us was very fussy. No one and nothing could quiet the baby. Not yet a father myself, I sat in the chair as the nurse put the baby in my arms while she moved the wires and tubes that dangled from the baby’s tiny arms and hands. I sat as quietly as I could. I relaxed my hands, my arms, my body, and my breath. Eventually, the baby relaxed, too. Quiet. She slept. Every beep and bump in the NICU threatened to wake her, but she slept soundly. The nurse returned and was stunned to see the baby finally at rest. When Lisa and I finished our shift, we traded stories about the babies we held and we talked about the family we would have in the future.

                Every year, Lisa and I aim to do a mitzvah for caregivers in the city. This year is no exception. Congregation Beth Israel members volunteer all over the city including at hospitals, The Ronald McDonald House, The Beacon, and others. This year, Lisa and I will be at Ronald McDonald House with Laurie and Alan Selzer and friends to cook breakfast and serve families who are in residence there. It will be my pleasure to wish residents a Merry Christmas and fill their plates with a hot breakfast. Let me urge you, before or after the movie and Chinese dinner, and in place of the tree, to do a mitzvah so Christian caregivers, families and friends can be at home or attend church on their holy day.

                I’m grateful that we can claim for ourselves what is ours while enabling our neighbors to claim what is theirs. And, this Friday night at 6:30pm, in the sanctuary, we’ll celebrate Chanukah with a fabulous musical service, we’ll light the Maltz Menorah, we’ll welcome and bless Cantor Dan Mutlu and Nina Faia’s new baby daughter, and your whole clergy team will sing and play your favorite Chanukah songs.

                From my family to yours, Happy Chanukah and Shabbat Shalom.

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