THE MELDING

THE MELDING

From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

The Melding

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

Rumi

My husband and I came from different religious backgrounds— mine Christian, his Jewish—and moreover, we were both fiery and determined individuals. Consequently, our first few years together tested our ability to respect and combine our two religious traditions with love and understanding. I remember raising the subject of a Christmas tree the first December after our marriage.

“Christmas tree?” LeRoy exclaimed incredulously. “Listen, there are two things I won’t do. Buying a ham is one of them. Buying a Christmas tree is the other.”

“If I can grate my knuckles while making potato latkes and clean up drippy candles at Chanukah, you can suffer through a Christmas tree!” I snapped back.

“No way,” he retorted. “Remember last month? Whom do I meet at the grocery store when I have nothing but a ham in my cart? The rabbi. If we went shopping for a Christmas tree together, the whole synagogue would probably pass by on a bus while I was loading it into the trunk! Forget it!”

Naturally, we got a tree. A big, beautiful, feathery spruce that claimed half the living room in our tiny apartment. Or, as LeRoy scornfully referred to it in front of our Jewish friends, a “moldy-green matzo ball with colored lights.” However, despite LeRoy’s professed antagonism, when Christmas morning arrived, I noticed that the number of gifts beneath the tree had doubled—and the tags they bore were written in LeRoy’s hand.

By the time our daughter Erica was born, we had faced and solved many of the problems of an interfaith marriage and agreed to combine our heritages in an effort to provide the best for our children. By the time Shauna arrived three years later, we had settled into a way of life that was comfortable for both of us, although a bit unusual. Holly around the menorah. Chicken soup, matzo balls with oregano, and potato latkes for Christmas dinner. Merry Chanukah. Fa-la-la-la. Happy Christmas. Shalom.We were discovering that peace means the same in any language.

At holiday time, our home was decorated with a potpourri of blue-and-white streamers, menorah lights, Advent calendars and a crèche. Our friends from both traditions joined in the spirit. A Christian neighbor brought us a glass mobile made of multiple Stars of David from the Holy Land. Our Jewish friends made and gave us many ornaments for the tree.

I became adept at reciting Hebrew prayers and explained Chanukah to both girls’ classes every year. When LeRoy bought me a beautiful homemade guitar one Christmas, the first thing I taught myself to play and sing was a Jewish folk song. Dressed in a blue velvet shirt with buttons from Israel and a matching yarmulke (the skullcap worn by Jewish men at religious functions) that I had made him, LeRoy learned to warble off-key versions of the better-known carols.

One year, my husband brought home a little blue wooden Star of David. “This is for your tree,” he stated crisply. “Iwant it to be the first ornament hung every year.”

“I’ll see to it personally, General,” I quickly assured him, and from then on, it adorned the top of our tree.

One disconcerted Christian friend asked me, “Don’t you feel hypocritical placing a Star of David on the top of your Christmas tree?”

“No,” I replied and meant it. “Jesus was Jewish. And there was a star shining high over a stable. Remember?”

By this time, Chanukah had become almost as much a symbol of freedom and light to me as Christmas. And Christmas had become increasingly meaningful as the birthday of one so special that he gave light and freedom to everyone. As people of all races and religions gathered in our home, we found that their differences enriched our lives. The holidays seemed to become even more joyous.

Then, not long after we had celebrated our eleventh wedding anniversary, my forty-two-year-old husband suffered three heart attacks within two months. On December 17, our daughters and I crowded onto his narrow hospital bed in the intensive care unit to sing Chanukah and Christmas songs. The next night, the first night of Chanukah, I was driving to a friend’s house where Erica and Shauna would kindle the first Chanukah lights. Suddenly, in my mind, I saw a dazzling burst of light, and then the image of a smiling, healthy LeRoy. When we reached our friend’s house, I learned that at sundown, LeRoy had leaned over and whispered, “Shalom, shalom” to his rabbi, who was seated by his hospital bed. Then LeRoy’s soul had departed this earth.

The following evening, friends and relatives arrived at our home to sit shivah, the Jewish period of mourning. In the lights provided by the silver menorah’s candles and the twinkling Christmas tree, Jewish men in yarmulkes and prayer shawls bowed their heads and opened worn copies of the Old Testament. The doorbell rang. I opened the door and found members of Erica’s fourth-grade class assembled there. As they began to sing “Silent Night,” my daughters rushed to stand beside me in the doorway. I gathered Shauna and Erica into my arms. Behind us, we could hear the comforting Hebrew words chanted by men LeRoy had loved. In front of us, Erica’s schoolmates sang the ancient carol in their clear, childish voices. The love radiating from these two traditions gave sudden, special meaning to LeRoy’s and my marriage. In that one moment, my grief fell away, and I felt LeRoy’s presence.

“Shalom, my love,” I whispered.

“Sleep in heavenly peace,” the children sang sweetly and triumphantly.

“Daddy’s with God now, isn’t he?” Shauna asked.

“Yes,” I told her firmly. “Whatever road he took to get there, he’s certainly with God.”

Twenty Chanukahs and twenty Christmases have come and gone since that night, but the love that fused our hearts and lives remains vibrant in our home. Every December, the prayers of Chanukah as well as of Christmas still echo through the house, and the green holly encircles the silver menorah on the windowsill. The little blue Star of David still takes its lofty place as the first ornament placed on the Christmas tree, shining from on high—as did the star above that stable in Bethlehem so long ago—to proclaim peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Isabel Bearman Bucher

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