I was thinking about my ‘new’ ministry at TAK. It is a ministry that has not gotten off the ground, a ministry that I am struggling to define. The ministry is called Chag Sameach and the goal is to make the holidays…bigger, more special…memorable. Every thought I have along these lines lead me to home and family. You see the holidays, whether feasts of the Lord or national holidays, are all about family.
Growing up as a NY Italian American, I remember Sunday dinners at my Aunt Connie’s house. My family lived downstairs from her, in the family home that consisted of two apartments. I remember waking up to smells of her gravy cooking on the stove. (For those of you not from NY, that would be ‘sauce’.) I remember going to church, knowing that later people that I didn’t really know, but was related to, would be coming up her stairs and squeezing in her tiny kitchen with the rest of us, as we gathered for Sunday dinner and family time. There would be hugging and kissing, cheek pinching and head rubbing, laughter and shouting and fist pounding – all various forms of the family sharing their lives with each other. That was every Sunday.
The holidays were simply an expansion on that theme. We would each celebrate with our own family unit then come together as a whole for more hugging, kissing, cheek pinching, laughter, shouting, and fist pounding. Everyone would be dressed up, the table would be loaded with food, and my aunt’s tiny apartment would be overflowing with people. Some came for the whole meal, but many came for dessert and conversation late into the night. While the memories fade, the feeling they leave behind remains.
When we moved to Florida, I was devastated. There was no more Sunday dinners, no more holiday hoopla. It was all very quiet and sedate. It was just the five of us with our memories of the past, trying to forge our way through new traditions, new ways to celebrate the holidays in what I felt was exile.
As I grew and had children of my own, the holidays became more of what I remembered, though on a smaller scale. And here I am, trying to figure out how to make the holidays memorable. For me, it all comes back to family. And so it is for the Jewish people.
I wrote before how I was impressed at a rally for peace, how the Jewish people are all connected as family and they know it. What affects one member of the family affects them all.
But what if you don’t have family? That is where community comes in. But does it have to be the entire community all the time? Wouldn’t it be better to have intimacy with parts of the community, and then come together as a whole?
I’ve been thinking about my time leading a group called ‘Prime Living’ at Calvary Chapel Ft Lauderdale with over 300 participants. It was like overseeing a small church! Yet the success of this ministry was something God birthed.
It started out as small groups meeting in homes for a meal once a month. Then God gave me the idea to gather the groups once a month in my home. The camaraderie was great. So good, in fact, that people wanted to meet more often. So we would meet once a month for dinner at a restaurant.
Things were going so well that we started meeting once a month at the church campus. Then there were special outings – like going to the movies or bowling. And when it came time for the holidays? Those who didn’t have family would gather at one or more houses to celebrate together. It grew into a cohesive community that prayed together and shared each other’s burdens.
I look at the Orthodox Jewish community and see much of the same thing. They live near each other. They have their own families meal times on Shabbat, then come together as the larger community. The holidays are important – as individual families and as the larger family of Jacob. They celebrate together, they pray together, and they share each other’s burdens. Someone from our Connections group continues to point out that when someone in the Orthodox community falls on hard times, the community rallies around them and helps get them back on their feet.
So looking at how to make the holidays more memorable at TAK, I see that we have to help it start in the home. We have to help families learn how to celebrate the holidays, maybe by having those that know how invite those that do not.
During this Chanukah season, I keep coming back to the knowledge that it all starts with the Sabbath, the Covenant, and the family sitting down for a clean meal untainted by idolatry. These are the very things the Greeks tried so hard to destroy. The very things the Maccabees fought so hard to keep.
When we get the Sabbath right, we put our lives in proper priority – God first, then family, then everything else. That is what will stick in our memory years from now. That is what gives strength in hard times. That is what the feasts – all the feasts – are about: God and family.
Holidays swing in one of two directions. Either you are up to your eyes in people and activities, or you feel like you’re the only person who isn’t. It’s why depression (but not suicide attempts) increases during December.
I have to admit that I feel a twinge every evening during Chanukah when I hear my wife and daughter saying the blessings before lighting the candles and they haven’t invited me to join them. Granted, they’re Jewish and they relate to me as a Christian, so maybe they see me as fundamentally incompatible with their celebration.
Of course, I’m fundamentally incompatible with Christmas as well. Our house is the only one on the block that doesn’t have a ton of brilliant holiday lights adorning every conceivable space.
I have to take the last two weeks of December off from work to burn down some vacation time. I’m glad I have a freelance project I need to catch up on.
On the bright side, I get to babysit my two grandkids for a few hours tonight.
I saw the photos on Facebook. They are real cuties!
I can’t speak to your household, but I think about how the Jewish people are called to be light to the world and you are part of that ‘world’. I know you guys have worked things out the way you have, but did you ever ask to join them?
I’ve been on both sides of the holiday activity/non-activity. Having raised 6 children, then involved with a booming ministry to singles the size of a small church, I suddenly found myself alone on the holidays several years ago. Last night we had a gathering at my house, and this was a topic of discussion because most of the people there were single – some with grown children out of state. I shared how I’ve finally come to a place where I realize the holidays are all about God, and while it’s so much richer with family or friends, I need to be okay if it’s just me and God. It doesn’t help when there’s a lot of activity around you, or you see it on Facebook. Those twinges are there. I guess my life is so busy this time of year – my job is in retail – that a quiet day of just me and God and maybe a good book or THE Good Book, sounds like a little piece of heaven. But I hear you loud and clear.
Glad you have something to keep you focused on things outside yourself. It certainly does help. And grandkids are the BEST at bringing joy to the heart, are they not? 🙂
Actually, our last night of Chanukah celebration was pretty good. There were a few tense moments (whenever a “critical mass” of relatives are in close proximity, there always are) but all in all, it was enjoyable, especially the part involving kids and food.
As I reflect back on last night, I’m reminded of those gatherings (for one reason or another) in years past when I experienced good family interactions, warm company, and again, good food. I think it’s the little ones that make it.
My daughter helped our grandson recite the blessing of lighting the Chanukah lights in Hebrew (she knows Hebrew and doesn’t use transliterations). Of course, being 6 years old and not normally exposed to such stuff, his pronunciation was pretty “off” and I doubt he understood the significance, but if we can have him go through these traditions and rituals year after year, maybe, eventually, he will become curious about his paternal family’s Judaism to want to pursue some of it himself.
Granted, that’s a long shot, but I think it’s worth it.
Food and children, whether your own, your grandchildren, or someone else’s always makes a day special.
Like your grandson, I don’t think any of us know the significance of what we are doing for the Lord. But as you said, with time it starts to sink in. And isn’t that what the feasts are all about? The repetition for the next generation?
Praying for you and yours, James.