Biff America: Breaking bread with Semitics and sharing a Christmas story
I heard a wonderful Christmas story last Sunday at a Hanukkah party.
Elke, one of my Jewish friends, once summed up the origins of most of their holidays as “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.” The Hanukkah story is no exception. After being oppressed and persecuted by the Syrians, the tribe of Moses prevailed.
How Hanukkah Came to Be
In olden days (about 200 years before Christ) the Syrians had two hobbies — making that flat, tasteless Syrian bread and messing with the Hebrews. Syria was ruled by a guy named Antiochus (he supposedly was known for his bluster and bad hair). He despised anyone who wasn’t of his race and creed and persecuted those of the Jewish faith.
Finally, fearing religious extinction, a band of renegades led by Judah the Hammer formed an ad hoc army in defiance. Antiochus was ticked off. He was heard to say, “I’m ticked off: First, I have to eat flat bread, and now those pesky Jews are defying me. I think I’ll have my army kill them.” (I’m paraphrasing here.)
Antiochus would be the first to learn what the world has come to discover. Pound for pound, the Jews are the toughest, meanest, baddest fighters on the planet — kind of like Ronda Rousey, only pious. They defeated the larger army and drove the Syrians out of the zip code.
Not long after that, sometime in late December, they marched into Jerusalem to take back the Holy Temple. The Sacred Temple had been vandalized and defiled by the Romans; it looked worse than a condo after spring break.
After cleaning it up, they rededicated the Temple on or near the day now celebrated as Hanukkah. Before they could complete the dedication, they had to light the sacred lantern, but there was only enough holy oil to burn for one day. They lit the lantern and sent out for more oil.
Traffic being heavy over the holiday season, the guy they sent didn’t return for eight days. Due to a godly miracle, a one-day supply of oil burned for eight. Those eight days are signified by the eight days of Hanukkah and the menorah (candleholder). As a payback to the Jewish children, who are forced to eat gefilte fish, many receive a present for each day of the holiday.
Modern-Day Christmas Story
Much of the Hanukkah story I knew, as I used to date a lot of Jewish girls while in high school. Some members of the tribe who attended the First Night Party last Sunday filled in the rest. But one of them also shared a modern-day Christmas story — one that took place only a few hours earlier.
He is a waiter at a local restaurant. His first table was a young couple, well dressed, quiet and slightly aloof. As luck would have it (or not) seated next to them was a family, not so well dressed, a little loud, all wearing Santa hats.
The family wasn’t obnoxiously loud but just having fun and being a little silly. The waiter worried that the family was disturbing the yuppies.
Certainly, he wanted all to enjoy their meals, but also (my guess), he was concerned about his tip.
The young couple ate fast and asked for their check before the family even had finished their meals. They picked up their bill and headed into the bar and asked for the manager. Sensing trouble, the waiter followed to hopefully make peace and save his gratuity.
Once out of earshot of the family, the couple said they enjoyed their meal but had to head to the airport. They wanted to pay their bill but also pay for the meal of the family. They left a huge tip and left.
I realize that the waiter’s story of a couple’s kindness certainly cannot rival the history and mystery of Hanukkah nor the beautiful story of Mary Joseph and the Christ child.
But during these troubling times when acrimony, distrust and condemnation bleeds over from the crazy few to gain a foothold in our national dialogue, I’ll take my affirmations wherever possible.
Take time to Look for the Good
This country is a melting pot, where a couple of gentiles like my mate and I can break bread with a pack of Semitics and share latkes, whisky and a Christmas story. We have more in common than that which divides us. It is the politicians, pundits and holy men who are served by keeping us in fear and distrust. Personally, I’m not buying into it. I’ll look for the good, expect the best and try to sit next to that rich couple who pays for other people’s food.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul: The Backcountry Years” is available at backcountrymagazine.com/store.