“They never give me the aisle seat,” came her emphatic frustration as I made my way to seat 13D. This expressive and overtly artistic woman was most definitely flustered by the fact that she was once again seated in the dreaded middle seat on our flight from Colorado Springs to Dallas. Quite the vivacious woman, I didn’t know whether to be annoyed or intrigued. It was only a matter of minutes before the two of us became engrossed in a conversation that would carry us through a three hour flight. I was most definitely intrigued.
“Mozeltov!” she exclaimed, upon my sharing that I was on my way to my brother’s wedding in Boston. I had to ask,
“Are you Jewish?”
I knew it would be a flight to be remembered.
It wasn’t long before I shared that I had been to her country, more than once. She spoke of her experience of “the magic” of the land of Israel, of the way it stirs something deep in her, and the way she was brought to tears the first time she stepped foot in the land. I resonated with her, and shared how even though the land is not part of my ethnic heritage, it is part of my spiritual heritage, and that for me it felt like I was coming home.
I wanted to know what it was like for her, growing up as a Jew in Chicago. She shared stories of then and now. Of her work as an educator, and with diversity awareness in the windy city. It was clear we were about as different as apple pie and flank steak, in more ways than one. Yet, I found myself fascinated by her and knew there was something she had to offer me, and perhaps something I had to offer her.
Then things began to get personal. She commented on what it’s like for her sister, a Jew, to live in Colorado Springs.
For the first time, I was having a “holiday” conversation with someone who it mattered to personally. It became more than a religious-political battle and became about a person. I knew I needed to listen, and not simply listen, but truly hear her.
This was the clincher: she asked me if I had heard about the Christmas walk in the Springs . I actually hadn’t, but that’s beside the point.
What she said next made my heart sad. “Last night , the night of the Christmas walk, was the first night of Hanukkah.” Evidently her sister had put much effort in talking with city officials about the situation, but to no avail.
How arrogant can we be?
Holding a Christmas walk on the first night of a Jewish celebration? Really?
I’m disappointed, Colorado Springs.
I’m embarrassed, Church.
Am I saying that we ought not to have a Christmas walk? No. Am I saying we all ought to celebrate every religion’s holiday? No. In fact there are some holidays [Hanukkah not being one of them] that as a follower of Christ, I would not celebrate; it would be an affront to my Savior. That is not the point here.
I know just enough to be ignorant about Hanukkah, so I began to ask Trudy a few questions. She lit up as she told the story of Hanukkah and of the tiny army of Israel overcoming an army they never should have been able to conquer. She spoke of the Menorah and how you are to light it in a window, symbolizing that Jews are to be a light to the world (woah – love that!). She was quite emphatic about the fact that Hanukkah is not about peace on earth, but about little Israel conquering such a big enemy. She went on to inform me that Christmas is the holiday about peace on earth.
That’s when I was released to share my heart, explaining that Hanukkah isn’t the only celebration misunderstood.
“It’s is true. The angels bid, ‘peace on earth’, yet the peace of Christmas is not about peace on earth [although that will come someday] but peace between God and man.
Peace between God and the human heart is the peace of Christmas.
We went on to talk about how every celebration has core beliefs and embellishments and how the true celebration must be held fast amidst the embellishments.
Before the flight was over I heard stories of her playing guitar and singing songs up and down the hallway with her students when the fine arts program was cut; stories of her grandchild more fascinated with the wrapping paper than the Hanukkah gift; of joys and sorrows, hopes and dreams. Before we knew it the voice informed us that we were beginning our descent into the city of Dallas, Texas. We both pulled out the in-flight magazine to find our connecting gates, collected our things, and said our good-byes; each continuing on with our day.
My heart left our conversation humbled yet smiling, having encountered one of God’s chosen people (Romans 11:26). It was such an honor to hear some of her story and to share a bit of my own.
And so, Trudy, Happy Hanukkah to you. May this be the year you encounter the Light of the World.
 I went ahead and googled the Christmas walk to see what kind of event she was talking about. I couldn’t find any such event listed here in the Springs this week. Nonetheless, having lived here a few years it’s as clear as day the tension between the Church and others here in this city … whether real or perceived. That is more the point of this post.
 Hanukkah started the night we had this conversation, so, again I am unsure exactly when and where and what event this woman was referring to – yet the point still remains that there is tremendous dissonance in our city. And the question remains, what does it look like to truly love our neighbor well?