Ode: 340 pounds of peaches, Jews and Chinese food
Like a lot of Jews on Christmas Day, my family congregated at the movies and Chinese restaurants.
It became a time-honored tradition to gather around and argue about the merits of watching Gremlins versus the latest rendition of A Christmas Carol. And then we’d argue some more about where we’d go to get our Kung Pao chicken and egg rolls.
Somewhere in there, of course, we had to celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah, too. We’d light the menorah and say a special prayer. My two brothers and I would spin dreidels and eat deep-fried foods. We always had sufganiyot and latkes—deep-fried jelly doughnut and potato pancakes—served with brisket.
This was like a religious experience. All that sizzling oil was supposed to remind us of the miracle of Hanukkah and how the menorah stayed lit for eight days and eight nights.
After growing up in the housing projects of New York in the 1970’s, I left for the mountains of the West and converted to Christianity, putting the days of deep-fried latkes and jelly doughnuts behind me. And I began searching for a new holiday tradition.
I decided that, when I had kids, we would dedicate this special season to service.
So every year, I took my five kids to serve meals at the local shelters on Christmas Eve. And my kids hated it. They didn’t want to be with me and a bunch of homeless people around the holidays. They wanted to be with their friends.
But I wouldn’t give up on this holiday tradition. In fact, I tried to keep the spirit of service going year-round.
When we moved to southern Oregon, we got involved with an organization called the Gleaners. Half of the fruits and vegetables we picked went back to shelters and food pantries. The other half, we could keep. So, every Saturday during the growing season, we would go out to the orchard and pick sweet-smelling pears, plums and peaches. Again, my kids hated this.
They complained, rather loudly, when we picked 340 pounds of peaches one year. The weight turned our family’s Honda Accord into a low-rider. That was just half the work.
The other half involved me hunting through thrift stores to find canning jars of all shapes and sizes, and then, as a family, we’d can the fruits and vegetables to share with our friends.
My children finally found an appreciation for these weekends in the orchard once they got to see the fruits of their labor. When we went to serve a Salvation Army dinner, most of the food stuffs came from the Gleaners.
Little by little, they began to understand the need for and the impact of helping others. Now that they have children of their own, they’re continuing the tradition and taking their families to serve meals at their local homeless shelters on Christmas Eve.
I must admit, though, we still go to the movies and out for Chinese food every Christmas.
Ode is a storytelling series where community members tell true stories on stage to promote positive impact through empathy. It’s produced by Siouxland Public Media.
We’ll be hosting Ode’s 2nd Anniversary Show on Friday, February 2.