I find myself fighting back tears as I write these words shortly after the conclusion of our Chanukah observance and just a few days before Christmas. Why the wetness in my eyes?
One of the reasons must be that I remain in mourning with those in Newtown.
There are additional reasons however, for the surge that occurred in my tear ducts. These reasons, reside deep within my soul, framed with childhood memories that I hope will provide some context for my thoughts. I am a Southern Jew, a native Atlantan. Many of us, especially those raised as Reform Jews, grew up with at least some measure of Christmas presence in our homes. (Remember, Driving Miss Daisy ?) I remember sitting in Santa’s lap. I remember when I was four, staring at a tiny Christmas tree no more than 3 to 4 inches tall sitting on the coffee table in our apartment. And I can remember on Christmas Eve that year asking my mother and father how could Santa enter into our apartment since we had no chimney! They promised me they would leave our apartment door unlocked so I could go to sleep knowing Santa could get in!
That was the last Christmas I had my mother in my life, for she was buried on an icy Christmas Eve the next year, after a six-month battle with breast cancer. I did not attend her funeral. The year was 1943, my dad and my family were trying to shield me and did not tell me that my mother had died. When I went to look for her on the morning of December 23rd, my father told me that she had been taken to the hospital and was too sick for me to visit her.
One of my uncles had married an incredibly sweet and lovely Christian, my Aunt Pearl. I spent that Christmas Eve and weekend at their home. I can still see their tall, beautiful tree, surrounded by presents for my cousin and me. Later, after I realized my mother had died, I remember Aunt Pearl holding me with such tenderness. I can still feel the warmth of her embrace.
How fortunate I consider myself to not only have been able to observe Hanukkah throughout the years but also to taste the beauty of the Christmas season every year at my Aunt Pearl’s home. I had the beauty and wonder of both holidays. Memories of wonderful Hanukkah parties and every Jewish holiday at my Aunt Ida’s home and memories of great Christmas dinners at the home of my Aunt Pearl’s parents.
We may wear different labels as Christian and Jew, but we have a common heart, a heart that has been placed within each of us by our Creator, so whether we stand admiring a Christmas tree in our home, or we stand in front of a Hanukkah menorah lighting candles, we are standing, I believe, in the presence of the one God that created us all.
My tears have returned, and I rejoice in the blessings of my childhood.