A gift of shared celebration

I have a strange tale to tell.

It starts at White Sands. White Sands is not a home solely for retired Presbyterians anymore. The effort at White Sands is to become more interfaith (“non-denominational” means Christians only, but of different denominations - while “interfaith” includes all faiths.)So when the eighth day of Chanukah was upon us, my husband Herman and I decided to include the whole community into our menorah-lighting ceremony.We put up a couple of announcements and more than 70 people showed up. Herman spoke about Chanukah not competing with Christmas: One is the birth of a religion, the other celebrates a military victory of significance. Twenty-three hundred years ago, after three years of fighting, the Maccabees were able to drive the Syrians out of Israel and reclaim the Temple in Jerusalem. The miracle that is being celebrated is that a tiny jug of oil, enough to last one day, burned for eight days in the Temple. So to honor that victory, Jews light a candle every day for eight days.Following this tradition, we lit the candles, reciting the blessings in Hebrew and in translation and thanked everyone for coming to share in this tradition and in our heritage.The strange tale is what unfolded afterwards.We had invited a few residents who are either Jewish or are in a mixed marriage to stay for dinner. What happened next is that a number of people came forth and said they had a Jewish grandmother or grandfather, a Jewish son or daughter-in-law, a Jewish grandchild. One family had a daughter who was divorced from a Jewish husband, another had a Jewish niece that had converted. All these people started talking about their connections to Judaism - no matter how removed. We ended up with 20 people in our small, private dining room and could have included 10 more had there been room.The morning after, more people came out of the woodwork, talking about name changes due to wars and more Jewish relatives. The list was growing.What was happening? It was roots on one hand, and it was something else - permission to reveal a Jewish connection which at one time, not so long ago, might not have been as acceptable. In the Germany of the ‘30s and early ‘40s this could have been a death sentence. But now, in an atmosphere of acceptance and even celebration, people allowed themselves to speak of those Jewish relatives.According to Scott LaFee, San Diego Union-Tribune (Dec. 13, 2007), kin selection is the evolutionary mechanism that increases the odds that shared genes will be transmitted to future generations, and as human populations have expanded, kin selection has grown from immediate family, to clan, to tribe, to more distant blood relations and to marriage-acquired relatives.Reflecting on the evening, it is wondrous indeed how lighting the menorah candles permitted a different kind of light to shine, for some of shared heritages, for others of inclusiveness. Long ago in Jerusalem, a small amount of oil expanded to last for eight days; this year in La Jolla, a small gesture expanded to make many people kinAnd so Chanukah has ended, Christmas ends now and Kwanza begins, I wish everyone a year of good health, happiness, peace and shared celebrations throughout the year.