Tag Archives: santa claus

I Love Santa

I love Santa. As a boy growing up, my mom would dress me in my “Sunday Best” and take me to Macy’s to sit on the big guy’s lap and tell him about all the stuff I was supposed to get. This lovely tradition stopped when I started checking each Santa to see if the beard was real. The presents and the love however did not cease. Even way back then, Santa was an American experience that I enjoyed and fondly remember.

The Santa Claus experience was not rooted in my maternal line of Orthodox and Conservative Jewish generations preceding my mother. On my father’s side however, my Grandmother, a Southern Baptist, embraced Christmas and helped to push the borders of Judaism in our world.

My Grandma was a lady, full of grace in every sense of the words. She was elegant, kind, sweet, devoted and deeply loving. My grandfather and she fell in love while he was on the road as a traveling salesman staying in my great-grandmother’s boarding house in Dallas, TX (a wonderful story unto itself). They eventually returned with a child in tow to the Orthodox world of the Jewish Bronx. But Grandma never converted.   Grandpa once remarked that he would never ask that of her, and for reasons of her own, she never did. Grandma did however fully support the raising of a Jewish family and I remember her actively participating in every holiday and ritual, even including supporting the State of Israel. I recall her standing with me at my Bar Mitzvah, lighting the Chanukiah and making latkes, and so many more experiences too numerous to mention. She could not have been more involved or a more important part of my Jewish identity and upbringing even though she remained a Southern Baptist.

As a way to honor my Grandma, we celebrated Christmas. It was a time that the Levin family gathered together to share a family meal and exchange presents. In actuality, the kids received the presents. I remember sitting in Grandma’s living room in the apartment on Schenk Avenue surrounded by wrapped boxes impatiently waiting for my turn to open them up; we opened gifts one at a time according to age, so that each child would savor the experience. We usually came to this celebration wearing the new cowboy boots and cowboy shirt with the snap buttons that Grandma had already bought each of us, a nod to our Dallas heritage. My mom struggled for years with the Christmas tree, but eventually she learned to embrace it. These childhood experiences were ones of love and warmth that remain in my heart.

My experience of Christmas is not religiously Christian. It is however deeply beautiful and meaningful and incorporates some of the best values religion has to offer. It has enriched my life and filled me with wonderful memories of people I hold dear. It has helped to shape me into the person and rabbi I am today. My concern is that I am able to share the wonderful blessings that I enjoyed with others.*

* A few of my colleagues are engaged in a conversation about the topic of Santa and Christmas in the public domain.  These were my thoughts on the matter.

What is prayer? Lessons from Channah

Why do we pray?

The Haftarah portion for today is taken from the Book of Samuel.  This is the story of a barren woman, Channah,  one of two wives of a man named Elkanah.  Elkanah loves Channah and tries to show her affection.  But this is insufficient for Channah and she goes to Shiloh to pray for a son who she would dedicate to God’s service.

What is it to Pray?

Is it asking for something?

God I want a pony.

I have a vision akin to sitting on the lap of a giant Santa Claus asking for stuff-

A new iPhone, maybe a new Audi convertible or

if you like cooking gadgets as I do,

a new Vitamix 7500.

Stuff that makes us feel good on the surface- But this is a rather pediatric view of how God fits into our lives.

 

A more sophisticated version of prayer is to seek connection;

to reach out,  wishing someone you love will be healthy,

that the distance we often feel from another person will be bridged

and we are reconciled.

Prayer is to admit a feeling of emptiness or a void and a yearning for it to be filled.

Channah’s story is fascinating.  She yearns for a child.  The void is in her life is both spiritual and physical.  Her husband, clueless, as many of us are, tries to assuage her with baubles.  He even lavishes attention on her.  But none of this can penetrate beyond the surface and is essentially meaningless to Channah. She turns to prayer.

 

Prayer is actually difficult, it is uncomfortable because it requires of us to be vulnerable.

We must bare our soul- to God and to ourselves.

We must look into the mirror, as it were,

and see that in the cold harsh light of reality,

the reflection we see is not as beautiful or perfect as we pretend.

That new vitamix is a great toy, but if I do not have someone to cook for

it is just another expensive gadget collecting dust on the countertop.

 

So Channah prays a fervent prayer.  And as if to emphasize the point, our great prophet Eli mistakes this woman for a drunkard and harshly rebukes her.

But the prayer Channah prays gives her strength,

she becomes resolute enough, comfortable enough in her own skin, not to accept the scorn of the Prophet and speak in his presence explaining herself.  It turns Eli’s heart.

 

Prayer is powerful it can be awesome and even frightening.

Do we have the courage and inner strength

to look honestly inside ourselves and see truth,

our unvarnished reality with its shortcomings and desires unfulfilled?

It is hard and scary,

but if we are willing to try,

the results can be extraordinary.

And now we read the story of Channah.