A Jewish advisee once told me his connection to his faith came foremost through food. No matter where he roams, the food upon the Shabbat table looks and tastes the same. He knows he has found his community whether or not he has previously eaten with the particular people.
I thought of him as I watched my husband mull the wine in advance of our annual neighborhood bash. One of the neighbors asked about the house drink. That would be my British husband’s aromatic brew. It is the common cup of our community’s gathering.
Some will hold a chalice during Hanukkah. Others will celebrate Christmas with a sip from a communion cup. Each steps into our kitchen to affirm commitment to a community born not of blood or of belief but from proximity. We watch out for one another’s progeny, pets, plants, and post. If one falls ill the others rise to fill the gaps s/he leaves in our little world until the crisis has passed.
This year that little world expanded in an unexpected way. We had too much. Twice as much to be exact. In a fit of Midwestern fear about under-feeding, we ordered two of everything when we needed one. The only fear greater than that of running-out is of waste. No church or synagogue would take my call or my food on Sunday morning. The YMCA, however, greeted me and my platters with great glee. 177 hungry men we drinkers from the common cup have never seen but belong nonetheless to our community dined from our communal platter last Sunday lunchtime. That shared feast, which crossed all boundaries – religion, race, class, and so much more, meant more.
We expect to share a feast with friends and family. We should expect to share with the strangers in our midst. Sunday, I found how difficult it can be to find those whose pain we wish away. I never saw a face. I take on trust that our communal bounty fed anonymous bodies and souls. Although unnamed and unseen, they remain with me, and I hope with you, throughout the holidays.