Thursday, December 25, 2008

Chanukah, Christmas and Kwaanza to come

With all of the holidays that have begun and will continue to be celebrated over the course of the next several days, family and friends should enjoy quality time with one another. It is at the core of all such holidays and, aside from renewing the ties between loved ones, we should view this as a time for reflection. We should reflect on the past year with its many ups and downs as well as to speculate on the hope and promise of the next year with its many challenges. Today has been a day of reflection as I have enjoyed a festive meal with one family enjoying Christmas, while also being observant of the Chanukah holiday. I thought about the change that one year has brought to my synagogue at morning services, vibrant and alive with a family from outside of our community. Their many members are preparing to celebrate the Bat Mitzvah this weekend of a 12-year-old girl who wants to make a difference and combine the usual festivities with a week of work, repair and remediation at various locations across town. I saw women parading with one of five Torah scrolls donated to the synagogue over the last year and a half. I also heard guitar music in the middle of a service being played by none other than the dynamic new rabbi at Beth Israel, Uri Topolosky. The changes there have propelled Congregation Beth Israel into the forefront of recovery from Hurricane Katrina and Rabbi Topolosky has added another feather into He has overseen the koshering of a world famous New Orleans landmark. He has made Cafe du Monde kosher! Yes, as of a few weeks ago, the famous cafe au lait and beignets (square donuts) served to millions of tourists and enjoyed in the homes of countless others in mixes and gift boxes are now kosher. Rabbi Topolosky, in concert with the Louisiana Kashrut Committee, worked on the process for the past year. For some, it is nothing less than another miracle at Chanukah.
For Rabbi Topolosky it is all in another day's work. He and his lovely wife Dahlia and their two small sons are also awaiting the arrival of another miracle in another few months. This will be their first native-born New Orleanian and everyone is hoping their home will be filled with the joyous sounds of a healthy newborn by the time next Chanukah arrives. It has occurred to me that I have been back in New Orleans longer than my time away in Cleveland following the flooding that came after Hurricane Katrina. There has been much that has transpired since my arrival in April of last year, most of it very good and productive. We have experienced losses of close friends and family and yet we marched forward, knowing that births, special events and new wonders have also made the journey pleasant. Just two weeks ago the city was reveling from the splendor of a rare one- to five-inch snowfall. In Cleveland such a sprinkling of snow might occur in a blink of an eye, but here it was a cause for celebration. With temperatures hovering just below or slightly above freezing in Cleveland, it is hard for many of my friends to conceive that I celebrated yesterday in short sleeves and 82-degree weather. Unlike Cleveland's snow banks and slippery sidewalks, the metropolitan New Orleans area was dry throughout the day with sunny skies. It is a major difference between the two cities, but I must admit that I do miss an occasional incursion of snowflakes, if nothing else than to mark the seasons more prominently. While I did not have a White Christmas, it was the people with whom I shared it that ensured me of a very warm day, indeed.

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