Celebrating December 25
The answer to your question is: “Yes, of course we had Chinese food!” The Kosher Chinese take-out was bustling and I heard a call from the back that they had run out of vegetable lo mein and General Tzo’s chicken. Luckily, I had called my order in two days earlier. And yes, we saw a movie too.
Before these traditional Jewish ways of celebrating Christmas, however, my family participated in a newer tradition. It is one that I hope catches on. We volunteered our time. At lunchtime, we visited a nearby nursing home where we transported residents to physical therapy and to a music program. I fed lunch to residents in a dining room where they were short-staffed. As I fed them lunch, I sang to the residents and responded to their questions and reminiscences. Even if they were confused, I found a way to honor their communication. One of our friends and her seven year old daughter played many games of Checkers and Gin Rummy. I am certain that our acts of kindness made a difference in the days of these elderly nursing home residents.
It occurs to me, however, that the most important recipients of our chesed might have been the staff. Everywhere we went in the building, we asked the staff, “Do you celebrate Christmas? Thank you for your work today.” We were asked why we had come to the nursing home, and our answer of coming to help on a day that was someone else’s holiday was met with delight.
I was thinking about my experience at the end of the day (yes, pleasantly full of vegetable lo mein!) and found an article in The Forward written by our good friend Rabbi Jesse Olitzky, one of the rabbis at the Jacksonville Jewish Center in Florida. Most of us remember Rabbi Olitzky as one of our treasured rabbinic interns here at the OJC. Rabbi Olitzky wrote: “Instead of taking the day off because others are celebrating their holiday, make it a day of meaning, a day of doing good, and a day committed to repairing the world. . . Before you take advantage of a day off, make it a day on by helping others.”
I add just one more thought to Rabbi Olitzky’s wisdom: Don’t wait for next December 25 before you find a way to repair just a small corner of the world. Many of our congregants volunteer in beautiful, quiet ways: reading to a person who is blind, visiting with a congregant in a rehabilitation center, clowning around in hospitals, sorting clothing and home goods at People to People. If you need ideas on how to participate in acts of Chesed, contact me at Rabbi.Drill@theojc.org. I’ll be proud to put you in contact with our Chesed Committee, Helping Hands or one of the many worthwhile organizations and institutions here in Rockland County. Make it a secular New Year’s Resolution to volunteer your time and skills! You won’t believe how good it feels!