I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, spending time with your family and friends, eating well and (hopefully) de-stressing some from the go-go-go pace of life. A new year is coming and no doubt some of you are thinking about the resolutions you’ll make….and maybe keep…in 2008.
Christmas in our household now has a special and wonderful tradition. About four or five years ago, my partner, Isabelle, decided to get involved in the Christmas mitzvah at Temple Israel to serve dinner at Tallahassee’s homeless shelter. And I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate Christmas than to help serve up hot meals to people who have no place to call home. Isabelle has since become the point person on this project for the Temple, and thus, I’m secretary-to-the-point person. Often times, I’m the one who collects the food and takes it to the Shelter while Isabelle marshals the troops, and preps the line up for how we’ll prepare the plates. Last Christmas, there was a miscommunication between the Shelter, Temple Israel and Trinity United Methodist Church, and the Methodists ended up gleefully serving both lunch and dinner for the homeless…and Temple Israel had to store the food we’d gathered until its usual fifth Sunday of the month serving slot…which happened to be New Year’s Eve. This year, Isabelle made sure we were the designated Christmas dinner cooks, and did we prepare a feast!
In the last week, several people pulled through to provide a dozen turkeys, green bean casseroles, and cornbread dressing. A vegetarian agreed as he has in the past to come to Temple and help carve up the birds (note: he agreed to this!) Isabelle hustled up desserts not only from Temple members, but also from Au Peche Mignon, one of our fine pastry shops in Tallahassee. And she and another volunteer made a huge pot of turkey gravy to spread over the fixings. I helped cart the food across town to the Shelter, and was given the pleasure of serving up the sweet stuff.
Women and children were the first ones served, and what they had coming must have been a pleasure: a plate piled with big slices of turkey, an ample portion of dressing, casserole and ambrosia…with just enough room for the chocolate and peanut butter cookies tucked into a corner. Then came the men, and the staff was in awe as they watched plate after plate of piping hot food with fancy delicate French desserts get passed out through the window of the kitchen. We were told initially that there were 13 people outside the Shelter needing plates, but word of this bounty must have spread on the street because we kept serving.
“One more plate!”
“We need three more plates!”
By the end of the evening, we estimated we had served more than 200 people. Even as we were leaving, a guy came wandering through the parking lot and caught my eye.
“Is this where they’re serving the turkey dinner?”
“Yeah, go up and knock on the door and see what you can get!”
As Isabelle and I drove off, I spotted another guy around the corner from the Shelter. He had one of the paper plates, and was busily scooping the food onto his fork and into his mouth. We were headed to my mom’s apartment where she had prepared a meal for us. And I thought of these men, women and children who relied on strangers to take care of their needs on this cold and damp night. My dad used to say sometimes during the blessing of our dinner, “And keep us ever mindful of the needs of others”. I am mindful. I know that I am a lucky person to have a home, and food on the table, and I’m always aware that I am just one accident, one small misfortune away from being among those who would have to depend upon the kindness of strangers. So while serving dinner on Christmas night has become the mitzvah of the Jews of Temple Israel, it has also become a mitzvah for me who can’t think of a better way to celebrate the true spirit of this holiday: offering to those in need a feast fit for any King or Queen.