Thoughts with Richard Bleil
The other day, I was in my favorite little pet store where the employee that has the most gorgeous eyes I have ever seen no long works when I stumbled into a conversation with a couple other employees. Over the holidays, they often put out items in a basket that you can buy for the local animal shelter, which I often do. When you buy such an item, they will put your pet’s name on a paper Christmas Tree or a Star of David for display in their window. I don’t bother. After all, MY Star can’t read.
Walking up to the cashier, she was having a conversation with another employee. I happened to have caught just the tail end, where they were trying to think of whether or not either of them knew anybody who celebrated Hanukkah, the celebration of which ends today if indeed this posts according to schedule (and Happy Hanukkah to all of my readers who DO celebrate). I felt the need to point out that, basically, the question they’re asking is if either of them has any Jewish friends, of which I have many.
For those who don’t know, Hanukkah is the celebration of the miracle of the oil. Surrounded by Roman troops in a mountaintop fortress, a small band of Jewish people had just enough oil to light their lamps for one night, but this oil actually lasted for eight nights. This, they decided, had to be a miracle from God to keep their nights lit. As such, Hanukkah begins, well, tonight as of the writing of this blog (curiously enough) and ends on the eighth night. Each night gifts are exchanged (as compared with one night for Christmas, not that it’s a contest) and another candle is lit in the menorah to represent another night that the oil lasted in the lamps.
Personally, I am not Jewish, nor do I identify as Christian although I was raised in a Methodist house. We celebrated Christmas, and it was always a joy to invite my friend Mitch to our Christmas dinner as, being Jewish, he was always curiously available almost like it was just another day for him. One of the funniest memories was when he was going through my Christmas Stocking (it was as much a learning experience for him as it was for me when I was invited to his house for religious celebrations) and found the chocolate coins my mother always bought. She always saw them as great stocking stuffers (and they were), chocolate coins wrapped in gold colored foil. As it turns out, this is called “Chocolate Geld” (“Chocolate Gold” in case it wasn’t obvious enough) and is the traditional gift for one of the nights of Hanukkah. All along, we had a touch of Jewish Tradition in our Christmas celebrations and had no idea!
I believe that one way that we can understand other cultures is through their holy scripts. This is why, next to my Bible (which of course includes the proverbial “Old Testament”), I have the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu), Kora ‘an (Muslim), Tao te Ching and Iching (Taoism), and books on Buddhism (Buddha is to the Hindu faith as Jesus is to the Jewish faith). So of course, I had the opportunity to talk a wee bit about the Jewish faith to these two employees who apparently had simply not had any exposure.
No, not a lecture, and not preaching. That’s not how I operate. I prefer planting seeds of thought, giving ideas for people to consider without pushing. I don’t want to convert anybody (why would I since I’m basically agnostic?) but I love making people curious and wanting to learn more. So, I spoke a little bit about my Jewish friends. Before leaving, not only did I buy a bag of dog food for the shelter, but I also paid for the items the woman behind me had since she had to put up with listening to my spiel. I declined the name, and suggested that they give the receipt to the other woman in case something went wrong with one of her purchases. I left saying “l’chaim” (which translates to “to life”). As I was leaving, I heard the woman behind the counter ask the customer whose items I had purchased if she wanted the tree or star instead. Honestly, I was rather honored to consider that they probably assumed that I was Jewish. To my Jewish friends (and all of my readers are my friends), happy Hanukkah and l’chaim!