Santa Was a Mensch

This was a short piece my wife, Melissa Crabbe, and I co-authored back in early 2008, just a few months after our newly adopted kids had arrived.

Saint-Nick

It’s based on actual events. A version of this story appeared that year in Jewish Currents magazine. Melissa and I wrote the piece together even though it is in first person singular in my voice. 

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I remember the first time I was in the mall in early December with our newly adopted children, Hunter and Clarice, ages 5 and 7. After years in foster care, they had come to us eight months earlier. Overnight they went from never having known any Jews to becoming a rabbi’s kids. And though they had already come to think of our synagogue as a second home, there were still things from their former life that they found comforting, things my wife and I hadn’t quite decided how to handle. Like mall Santa.

The kids spotted him as we walked past the cinema. Suddenly I was a rabbi whose kids wanted to sit on Santa’s lap.

We had already talked to them about how we don’t celebrate Christmas, and they had seemingly accepted that. They were intrigued by “Hanukkah Harry” who, we said, brought Jewish kids Hanukkah gifts and belonged to the same union as Santa.

“How does he get the presents to all the kids at Hanukkah?” my daughter had asked.
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Our Sukkah without Walls

This year our sukkah is unkosher. It has no walls.

According to traditional Jewish law, a sukkah is supposed to have walls – four of them, actually, though one of them can be the side of a house if it’s been built up against a house. The walls can be made out of any material, but they have to be strong enough to withstand some wind without falling down.

Our sukkah has no walls because, in the midst of many challenges, we didn’t get around to putting them up. But that’s not the only reason. I confess that my wife and I also kind of like the way the sukkah looks and feels inside this way. A sukkah without walls is an appropriate religious symbol for our family.

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Our sukkah this year. As you can see, despite the Oregon Ducks’ train wreck of a loss last week, we continue to welcome them symbolically into our sukkah.

Our nuclear family consists of four people and two dogs. It’s me, a liberal rabbi; Melissa, my spouse, who was my intermarried partner for part of the time I was a rabbinical student, before she converted; and Clarice and Hunter, neither of whom was born Jewish, and both of whom were old enough at the time of the adoption to have the right to decide whether or not to become Jewish. So far, they haven’t, at least not formally. On a day to day basis they alternate between identifying Jewishly and not. So, while neither of our kids identify with another religion, because, at least halakhically (according to Jewish law), they’re not Jewish, we are what gets referred to as an interfaith family.

For me, our sukkah without walls symbolizes Melissa’s and my core value of openness to welcoming the stranger deeply into our home and life. There’s a framework, a structure to our sukkah, as well as a roof made of foliage, and a lulav and an etrog too. Anyone who knows what a sukkah is who saw ours would know that it is a sukkah, or someone’s good try at erecting a proper sukkah. But our sukkah, perhaps inspired by Abraham and Sarah’s tent, is literally open on all sides. Like a sukkah with the traditionally prescribed walls that won’t fall down in a gust of wind, our “open architecture” sukkah also can withstand a gust of wind, but it accomplishes that feat not by resisting the movement of the air with sturdy barriers; rather, the changing winds blow right on through. (Metaphor now fully expressed, and possibly even overdone…)
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What if those warning labels on cigarette cartons…

…which are much more clear and direct in other countries, by the way, also appeared on the teenage boys who go out on dates with our daughter?smoking kills

I’m imagining the guy showing up at our door, and around the mid-section of his shirt, there would be a rectangular box with a white background and bold black letters saying: Jerrod drives recklessly, or Anton Disrespects Women.

Just a thought.