To be a Jew who sees a Jew

Necklace with Hebrew word Chai on itI grew up amongst Jews, and I don’t mean only my family. The students in my elementary school were predominantly Jewish, and I hung out with fellow Jews in the neighbourhood and at the Jewish grocery stores and bakeries where we shopped. I even went to synagogue for many years, and I studied all things Jewish right through university. I was immersed in Judaism way back when.

I’m still Jewish, as evidenced by my excellent challah-baking skills (FYI: brioche ≠ challah), but, besides my few local Jewish friends, there aren’t many of us in town. I am largely to blame for my isolation from the small Jewish community here. I do not attend synagogue or visit the local Jewish community centre. I once caught a film at the Jewish Film Festival. There is an annual Jewish film festival here.

I miss being part of a Jewish community sometimes, just like I miss smoked sablefish and blintzes for brunch and my grandmother’s chicken soup at Friday night dinner. So imagine my surprise yesterday when I spotted a member of my tribe entering the grocery store as I was exiting. I spied, with my little eye, a Jew.

How did I know the lass was Jewish? She was wearing a big Chai (pronounce this not like the tea but with a guttural ch) around her neck. This necklace screamed, “I am Jewish.” There aren’t a lot of Chais or Stars of Davids or other Jewish symbols to be found around necks in this city, so I was surprised by the unexpected sighting.

This young woman had her earplugs in and music blaring so she could see my look of surprise, followed by my lips moving, but she had no idea what I said. No, I did not caution her on the permanent damage she was causing her hearing. That was my inside voice. Rather, I said, “Chai!” which kind of sounds like “Hi!” if you, like me, can’t pronouce the guttural ch properly. Chai is not a greeting. It means “life” and is an important symbol amongst our type. Remember Fiddler on the Roof singing “To Life, to life, l’chaim!”? L’chaim commonly precedes a toast (not the kind with bread, but the kind with alcohol).

This young woman, who wondered why a stranger was speaking to her, stopped, took out an earplug, and said, “Excuse me?” I pointed to her necklace and said, “Chai!” (which again probably sounded more like “Hi!”) Then I said, in case she thought I’d said “Hi!” while pointing to her chest, “You have a Chai!” This was code for “You’re Jewish too!”

She smiled with understanding and wished me a Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday), which is how we Jews greet one another this time of year. The day we met, Sukkot, our holiday celebrating the bounty of the harvest, was ending, and another less familiar but no less important festival was soon to begin. We Jews are in full throttle holidaying this time of year.

That woman must have thought I was crazy. I am a little meshuga, as we say. But you already knew that. Meshuga + poor impulse control = Annie. I make no apologies for who I am, even though some days maybe I should.


Saved by the neighbour

two apples with a bowl of honey and honey dipper

All is not lost. My whining and complaining about having no fresh apples for Rosh Hashanah did not fall on deaf ears. My dear neighbour, a virtual fount of knowledge, the information hub in the community, directed me to three fully loaded apple trees at a home in the ‘hood. Because the home is undergoing a renovation, the apples are free for the taking so take I did. I parked slyly in the alley, lurked over to the trees, and filled an empty poop bag with fruit of the tree. What is better than farmers market apples and honey? Fresh-picked apples with honey, of course. We now have what we need to have a happy and sweet year.

Except for the brisket. Brisket is the centrepiece of the Rosh Hashanah meal, at least in my family. Sure, chicken is a reasonable alternative, but chicken is so everyday. Our festive meal calls for something grand, like a big hunk of beef slow roasted in the oven with onions and garlic and a can of cola. The New Year’s meal I remember from my youth always had brisket and carrots tzimmes (that’s cooked carrots doused with yet more honey) and some sort of baked noodles or potatoes and, of course, fresh-baked challah. I also vaguely recall a salad, left largely uneaten, intended to cut through all that fat.

Don’t even talk about dessert. My friend grew up with honey cake, and swears by her recipe, but I’m firmly in the apple-cake camp. If honey cake were made with maple syrup, maybe I’d consider it, but just the thought of honey in a cake makes me. My mom tried to pass a few bakery honey cakes by me as a child but they were boring. A cake baked with nice tart fresh apples, that’s a festive dessert, and the leftovers make a fine breakfast or lunch or snack the next day.

We may have some traditional foods on hand but there will be no brisket tonight since we’re eating alone tonight. Making a brisket for two flexitarians would leave a lot of leftovers. So no brisket but I thought it would be nice to acknowledge the holiday in some way, apples in honey notwithstanding.

J. and I headed off to the supermarket this morning in search of a protein to welcome the New Year, except I hadn’t fully explained the mission to J. We went our separate ways briefly in search of items at opposite ends of the store, and when I returned, there was a package of an indeterminate meat product in our cart. I strained to see what it was. Of course, it was pork chops. J. said, “They’ll taste great with those nice tart apples sautéed on top!”

I may be a mediocre Jew at best but I nixed the pork chops for tonight. If we have any leftover apples, maybe I’ll reconsider tomorrow. I like well-cooked pork, bone in preferred, as much as the next gal. Maybe I shouldn’t have admitted that today of all days. Perhaps one of you synagogue goers could pray for me tonight.

Wishing you a good and sweet year.

So much for fresh-picked apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah

Very run down country home, holes in roof and walls, abandoned

I have an annual ritual before the Jewish New Year. I go to the market the weekend before the holiday and buy the best fresh-picked apples I can find for dipping into honey. This year my favourites, the crispy tart Macs, are in season. I had a busy weekend with few windows of opportunity but I thought Sunday afternoon was clear.

It wasn’t. Remember last year when I thought I’d found the house of my dreams but we who hesitated were lost? Since then, we’ve continued to keep our eyes open to homes in our neighbourhood. We have a very specific set of criteria and a price range, and when a house comes up, we’re checking it out. We are frequent attendees at open houses.

So far, we haven’t had much success. Each home we’ve viewed has been wanting: a bedroom short, yard deficient, run down, overpriced. J. loved one recent listing beyond our price range so much that she rushed out to buy a lottery ticket. She said, as she always does during her semi-annual lottery-ticket purchase, “We’re good people. We deserve to win the lottery, don’t we?” She wasn’t even hoping for the jackpot, just a few hundred thousand dollars to cover us. Guess how that panned out?

Sunday afternoon, smack in the middle of my scheduled apple picking, a home that looked absolutely perfect was open for viewing. The listing said it was the right size at the right price on the right street. Pictures suggested it had a nice yard and a spiffy kitchen and three decent-sized bedrooms. The separate entrance with stairs to the basement would even give it office potential.

(Did I happen to mention I have not one but two clients scheduled this week? Maybe if I worked a little more, J. could stop buying lottery tickets.)

Reluctantly, I set my annual apple buying ritual aside. Off we traipsed to check out the house, showing up at 2 p.m. alongside the realtor. The crowds were eager to enter as he changed his “Coming soon!” sign to “For Sale”. But J. and I weren’t waylaid by his tardiness: we went straight to the backyard first.

Somehow the gorgeous photos didn’t capture the many doggy deposits and the ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts. While we were watching our step, we met the friendly furry depositor, who’d been left at home to greet potential buyers. Had we only known it was a dog-friendly home, we’d have brought Jelly, who would have loved a tour of the home, especially if it involved racing around after the four-legged resident.

I regret to inform you that those gorgeous interior pictures must also have been Photoshopped. The inside of the home was in shambles. Counters were filthy, appliances were dented, blankets were strewn around couches, toothpaste dotted the washroom floor. I could go on, but I’ll spare you. Because I am infection prone, we didn’t linger.

Our look-and-dash left me time to go marketing, but my hopes were so profoundly dashed that I needed the time to mourn. All is not lost, however. Maybe the next house will be perfect, even without Photoshop or a lottery win. They say you gotta kiss a lot of frogs….

Oh the places we’ll go!

Picture of the Western Wall with men praying

Our fall vacation is quickly approaching. We have planned a trip to a far away land, a place we’d talked about going years ago. Then leukemia happened. Leukemia is still happening, but I’m so darn healthy that, in the words of a wise Jewish scholar, “If not now, when?” A self-indulgent vacation is not what he meant; I’m interpreting his words to my own advantage.

There are so many things I, and we, have put off since I got cancer. I ran my old car into the ground before buying a new one. I quit working, only to resume at a leukemic pace. I stopped buying clothes since I didn’t know how long I’d have to wear them. And we’ve travelled with trepidation since I’m utterly uninsurable. Throwing vacation caution to the wind is long overdue, don’t you think?

In late October, we’ll be flying to the Land of Milk and Honey, also now known as the Land of Learned Hematologists. Why all the hematologists? Because we Jews are prone to blood disorders, and who better to study those disorders than Jewish doctors? Were I to get sick while I was there, I’d be in many very good hands. There is some comfort in that.

I lived in Israel my second year of university, but I was so studious that I saw little of the country. Since then, I’ve always wanted to return. Finally I have my chance. J. is not Jewish, but she too loves a freshly fried falafel and a flaky cheese bureka and a fatty sufganiyah. Did you know that in Israel, there are hummuserias that only sell variations on everyone’s favourite ground-chickpea concoction? Somehow I believe the hummus there will taste significantly better than the lame facsimile from the deli. We’ll visit museums and see archaeological sites and maybe even visit a kibbutz while we’re there, but I can’t wait to eat the great food I remember. No wonder Dr. Blood Lite gave us his blessing.

The timing of this vacation involved some negotiation, however. J.’s wedding frenzy ends after Thanksgiving weekend. She wanted to leave promptly thereafter, but I said, “Whoa baby! I can’t skip the annual leukemia walk! How will I get my five-year pin?!”

What event do you anticipate every year? Maybe it’s Christmas with family or the home improvement show or the local jazz festival. I look forward to the annual Light the Night Walk for Leukemia and Lymphoma, which takes place this year on Saturday, October 21. (Save the date.) Not only do I get to commune with like-blooded people, I am surrounded by my own special community of support (that’s you, dear friends).

We are indeed going to Israel, but before we leave, we’re going for a short evening walk. Swanky team costumes (okay, they’re from the dollar store) are available to anyone who’d like to join us. If past years are any indication, hamburgers and hot chocolate will be free, speeches will be moving, and yours truly will provide the baked goods. As in previous years, I will cry many times over the course of the evening. Feel free to join the viewing party.

What’s that you said? They must have named the Wailing Wall after me? I’m not laughing.

The meaning of Easter through the eyes of a Jewish chocoholic

Small children on an Easter egg hunt

A friend was apologizing to me yesterday for not knowing more about Passover and Jewish customs. “Bah humbug,” I responded, “I probably know even less about your customs.” It’s true. Despite my living in a world where Christianity is the predominant religion, I know very little about the real meaning of Easter.

I have managed to familiarize myself with the important non-religious Easter customs, however. I know that children look forward to a grand Easter egg hunt sometime over the weekend. I also know that these same children would be disappointed if the eggs weren’t made of chocolate. I am glad that I did not know, as a child, that Christian children everywhere were hunting for chocolate Easter eggs and I wasn’t invited. This ignorance is due not only to my Jewish heritage but also to growing up in a predominantly Jewish community.

When I examined the true meaning of the Easter egg hunt more deeply, I realized Jewish children do engage in a similar ritual during the Passover Seder. Early in the Seder, a piece of matzah known as the afikomen is hidden for the children to find after the Seder meal. The excitement of finding the afikomen is not without its purpose: the goal is to keep the wee ones awake through the long celebration. That excitement used to keep me up for hours, I’m sure, although I can’t recall my childhood excitement as an adult.

In case you were wondering, afikomen means “dessert” because it is supposed to be eaten after the meal, when it is found. Matzah for dessert! Yummy! Thankfully, at our recent 30-minute Seder, we somehow forgot to end our meal by eating the afikomen. Rather than matzah for dessert, we insteaded suffered through large slices of Kosher-for-Passover lemon cake and flourless chocolate cake.

Compare our two traditions: Jewish children get to look for the afikomen while their Christian friends search for chocolate Easter eggs. Which custom would you prefer? Need I even ask? The searches may be similar but, in this case, the rewards are vastly dissimilar.

Usually, when I write about being Jewish, I try to convince you that our celebrations and rituals are more fun/better/more exciting than yours. I’m not trying to preach or proselytize; I’m just telling it like I see it. Being Jewish is great. One morning of gifts at Christmas vs. eight days of Hanukkah gifts? I rest my case.

But in this instance, I won’t even try to bring you on board (“board” is a Jewish pun, since matzah and cardboard taste remarkably similar, at least to those who have tasted cardboard). If I had a choice, I’d take the chocolate eggs over the matzah anytime. Matzah notwithstanding, I’m still happy to be Jewish, especially during Hanukkah.

If you’ll excuse me, I have to go and put my first-ever batch of hot cross buns in the oven. J. loves hot cross buns, and it is Good Friday. Of course I will not eat any of these leavened baked goods myself because Passover has not yet passed over. Also, I’ve decided to nix the crosses on them because, well, I’m Jewish. I’m substituting Xs instead. Do you think J. will still know what they are?

Homemade batch of hot cross buns

Why are these playoffs different than all other playoffs?

We are on the second day of Passover now, Jews around the world are struggling with GDDTM (that’s “gastric distress due to matzah), and my suffering is just beginning. Tonight the Stanley Cup playoffs kick off and Edmonton Oilers fans province wide will end what they have dubbed the 10-year post-season drought. Try hanging out in the desert for 40 years, Oilers fans, and you’ll appreciate the true meaning of drought.

Tonight, with the help of their key player, Connor McDavid (that’s McJesus to you), the Oilers will start their run at the Cup. Oilers fans will be glued to their television sets to watch the first-round match up, knowing their boys in blue stand a good chance.

Sadly, the Calgary Flames have earned a playoff spot by the skin of their goalie, and their fans do not hold out the same hope. I don’t know hockey, yet I’m anticipating they’ll barely make it through the first round. They’re up against the best in the West and if I were the betting type, I’d be placing my money on the other team. Calgary doesn’t stand a chance. That’s why I have not chosen even one Calgary player in my hockey pool. (Sure, maybe J. chose my players for me since she’s the only true hockey fan in this household, but even if I were choosing for myself, I’d have passed on the Flames.)

The Oilers-Flames rivalry dates back almost as many years as the Jews’ wandering in the desert. That’s why Oilers fans are gloating over their successful season and their playoff prospects, while Flames fans fear the end is near.

Life-sized stuffed Grover in Oilers jersey sitting on couchDid I mention that J. roots for the Oilers and I for the Flames (solely to irritate J., of course)? This won’t be a problem after the first round of playoffs, when I too will be rooting for the one Alberta team still in contention, but tonight I will be outnumbered: J. has invited her Oiler-fan friends to her woman cave to kick off Round 1, and I will be the only one wearing a vibrant red Flames jersey. Even our life-sized Grover is rooting for the Oilers, and Jelly will be doing the same, under coercion. (N.B.: I will not be posting a picture of Jelly in her cute little Oilers t-shirt because I refuse to soften the blow of her disloyalty.)

One of the couples attending has baked a homemade cheesecake adorned with the Oilers’ logo. This same couple made that scrumptious rainbow cheesecake for Pride last September, so I know it will be divine. It looks incredible, don’t you think? However delicious it may be, I’ve been told I don’t get any unless I join the immoral majority. If I really want a slice of cheesecake, I must jump on the blue bandwagon.

I can’t switch allegiances yet, though, because I enjoy being the antagonist. No matter. This cheesecake will not be kosher for Passover, and you know I am too good a Jew to eat of the forbidden fruit. So enjoy your delectable cake but first pass me the matzah, would you? Tonight I must suffer like my ancestors. Bring on the GDDTM.

Cheesecake with Oilers logo on it

Is it time to update the Seder plate?

Seder plate with the 6 traditional items on it

I know, I know, I did not humour you with a post yesterday. Because I had festivities to attend in the evening, I needed a long afternoon nap instead. Today I’ve had to badger J. to complete my entries for this year’s hockey pool. I’ve had a lot on my Seder plate.

Last night, I thoroughly enjoyed the 30-minute Seder, abbreviated out of respect for the short attention spans of the two toddlers present (and me). In no time at all, we managed to hit the highlights, including the Passover story, the 10 plagues (recited in Hebrew so as not to invoke any fear of smiting in the wee ones), and the meaning of the items on the Seder plate. That left us time for a few songs.

Consider the Seder plate the centrepiece of the festive table. On it are 6 traditional items: bitter herbs, bitter greens, another vegetable for dipping, a hard boiled egg, a lamb shank bone (replaced by a doggy Milkbone when the real deal is unavailable), and charoset, a fruit-nut mixture representing the mortar and bricks of our labour. Oh, and there’s matzah and salt water alongside too. Together these items represent the hardship we endured when we were enslaved in Egypt. Let’s say those herbs are bitter for a reason.

Were I to expound on the meaning of each item, you’d think we Jews were a cranky lot, but that’s not true. Sure, we went through tough times, but we have so much to celebrate. Perhaps revamping that downer of a Seder plate would help. Can we fathom some new symbols less reflective of suffering? How about a chocolate egg instead of that boiled one? Seems obvious why kids enjoy Easter more than Passover.

A pile of small coconut macaroonsWe might include something from the coconut food group, since coconut is pivotal in Passover treats. I envision some delicious canned Manishewitz macaroons, so small they can be eaten by the handful. (You’re surprised to learn that Manishewitz produces not only sweet wine but all manner of tasty kosher food? Try the gefilte fish!) Several of these one-bite wonders would look at home on the Seder plate, and they’d be one of the first things I’d crave after years of eating matzah.

Pile of toasted coconut marshmallowsThose pillowy soft toasted-coconut marshmallows would look splendid too. Kosher marshmallows are hard to come by since marshmallows are made with gelatin, an animal byproduct. If the animal isn’t kosher (pigs aren’t, I hear), neither is the gelatin derived from it. But every year, toasted-coconut marshmallows made with kosher gelatin magically appear amongst the Passover foods at the supermarket. For those of you attending a second Seder tonight (I bow out after one), what better gift for the Seder host (other than Manishewitz wine of course)? If you don’t believe me, try one of these scrumptious marshmallow delicacies sometime, and another, and another. The bag will be gone in no time.

To any observant Jews reading this post–after your second Seder ends of course–I mean no offence. I simply believe we Jews are a happy, sometimes chubby, people who appreciate our sweets, and that these treats deserve a place at the Seder. Children (and I) would prefer marshmallows to bitter herbs hands down.

“Let my people eat!”*

Moses in a basket on the riverDid you hear researchers recently reviewed studies of how much babies cry? Who cares? Of course babies cry. They get hungry, they need their diapers changed, they get sick. Since they can’t talk, crying is their way of communicating their discontent.

According to their study, Canadian babies, along with those from Italy and the UK, cry the most. I’d say Canadian babies have more reason to cry than babies from other countries. It’s cold here and the winters are long. Who can stand being cooped up? Canadian babies want to go on more walks but, if it’s not too darn cold, sidewalks aren’t passable to strollers because of the unshovelled snow.

Rumour has it I was quite the crybaby in my infancy, although I don’t know how much I cried compared to the recently determined national average. You’d have to ask my mom. Better yet, I’ll ask her, since she’s a diligent follower of my blog.

Annie: “Hey mom! Did I cry a lot? Was I colicky?”

Mom: [Silence.]

(Turns out my mother is not a diligent blog commenter, so my secret is safe.)

There is one fatal oversight in this research, which makes me wonder why the well-reputed Journal of Pediatrics published it: the researchers studied only infants. I know, I know, it’s the Journal of Pediatrics. Still, what about the country where adults cry the most? Wouldn’t that be more interesting?

People expect babies to cry, but they’re alarmed when adults do. Remember when the ER doctor told me I needed a hospital admission, and I cried because I hate being in hospital? My crying prompted a referral to the social worker because of my apparent emotional instability. From this experience, I learned not to cry in front of doctors.

Then, a few weeks ago, I tripped and fell, bruising both knees. I would have cried but I didn’t want my dear friend M., who was with me at the time, to think I was a baby, so I held it together. I shed a few tears of embarrassment once I was home.

I foresee ample opportunity to cry at the Passover seder on Monday evening. I’ll cry because the Jews were enslaved in Egypt for so many years. I’ll be cry out of fear that baby Moses will not survive his ride down the river in a leaky basket. (Ed. note: He does survive, thank God.) Then I’ll cry because the Jews wandered in the desert for so many years and no one thought to ask for directions.

There will be ample opportunity to cry over the festive meal itself. I’ll cry over the feared consequences of matzah. As an adult, I understand why the fruit plates of my childhood seders always had prunes on them. I’ll cry when I dip my greens in the salt water. Why must our symbolic tears be so salty? Finally, I’ll weep with hunger because the story of Passover is so darn long we won’t eat for hours.

Do you now appreciate why this crying study would be a lot more interesting if adults were the focus? If the Journal of Adulthood would consider revamping the research, I’d gladly be the first participant. Any other cryadults want to join me?


*Ask your favourite Jewish person to explain this joke.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Chrismukkah

Blue and gold Hanukkah sweaterPeople who don’t celebrate Hanukkah sometimes don’t appreciate that this holiday is but a drop in the bucket of Jewish festivals. We’re not commemorating the birth of a saviour or anything momentous like that. It’s more of a David-and-Goliath story, where the Maccabees play the underdog who prevails.

Hanukkah traditions also differ greatly from those of Christmas. There is no such thing as a Hanukkah bush and no gifts arrive via the chimney. We don’t hang Hanukkah wreaths (although an image search reveals a frightening number of them) and Hanukkah stockings don’t hang from the mantle. The ugly Hanukkah sweater is harder to find. We’re even blue and white to your red and green.

Box for a Hanukkah gingerbread houseI’ll admit we Jews bake our share of menorah-shaped sugar cookies this time of year, but few if any gingerbread. I was so flabbergasted a few weeks back when I spied a Hanukkah gingerbread house that I took a picture and sent it to all my Jewish friends. Building a gingerbread house is a Christmas tradition, and not one I’ve envied since childhood.

Our world is consumed by Christmas each year, whether we celebrate or not. To be fair, J. and I do participate in our unreligious way since J. is not Jewish. In December, a few singing Snoopys dressed in Christmas garb magically appear around the house, as well as our beloved Charlie Brown Christmas tree. J. hangs Christmas lights on our house barring a December cold spell. Then she adorns our wholly unChristmassy Christmas tree with a variety of dog ornaments. And of course there’s the annual television viewing of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

Hanukkah wreathBecause the Jewish calendar differs from the usual, the dates of Jewish holidays vary from year to year. This year, Hanukkah happens to start on Christmas Eve and end on New Year’s Day. A true confluence of celebrations! So the question arises: how do we celebrate both holidays at the same time? J. graciously decided that Hanukkah would take precedence this year.

On Christmas Eve, after J. lights up our doggy Christmas tree, we will light the first candle on the menorah. I will sing the blessings while J. hums along. (She’s not yet fluent in Hebrew.) Then we will join dear friends for a lovely Christmas Eve dinner. We will be bringing home-baked challah and a Middle Eastern salad because, well, I’m Jewish.

On Christmas Day, Hanukkah will take centre stage. We’ve planned a small Jewish feast for two in keeping with our Hanukkah celebration. We’re subbing Mediterranean-spiced turkey-zucchini meatballs for roast turkey, latkes for mashed potatoes, and apple sauce for that disgusting canned gelatinous cranberry jelly.

And the presents? Rather than opening all our little gifts in no time on Christmas morning, we will each open one small gift every evening for eight days as we light the menorah, as per the Hanukkah tradition. This way we will extend our celebration. Hanukkah, the holiday that never ends.

I wish you all a happy holiday season. Thanks for following along (tolerating my drivel?) this past year.

P.S. If I’m quieter than usual next week, I may be busy crafting my annual post on New Year’s resolutions. Stay tuned.

Secret Santa, the brainchild of a wise Jewish philosopher?

Button with picture of Jewish philosopher Maimonides with caption: "What would Maimonides do?"

I was thinking about Secret Santa the other day. Not the one who buys you a tacky gift at your company’s Christmas party. Not the one who assembles your longed-for train set in the living room after you go to sleep Christmas Eve (sorry to break it to you, kids, that’s not Santa, it’s your parents, and they ate those cookies too). Not even the one who secretly bought me extra admissions for the gym recently. I’m speaking of the one who supports, whether through gifts or monetary donations, others’ holiday celebrations around the world. Why must the giving be limited to Christmas? Let’s include anyone who helps others at any time of year in our definition.

I had an unexpected encounter with a generous Secret Santa in my midst Monday evening. Secret Santa is a diligent volunteer at Canadian Blood Services who often arrives early to her shift. She is friendly and outgoing and a pleasure to work with. (Open your mind; not all Secret Santas are boys.)

This do-gooder apologized after arriving a few minutes late to her shift that night. She was delayed dropping off two turkeys at a local homeless shelter for their well-attended upcoming Christmas dinner. She had planned to donate just one turkey but because they were on sale, she could afford two.

I don’t know much about Secret Santa, except that she is a young woman starting out in her career. She is married but I do not know what her husband does or even whether he is employed at this time of high joblessness in Calgary. I do know she is a generous, good person, and she needn’t have apologized for being late. She told me: “I am lucky to have so much. This donation was the least I could do.”

This woman is not Jewish, yet I’m wondering whether she knows of Maimonides, a 12th century Jewish philosopher and physician (people had multiple professions back then) who described eight levels of charity. The lowest level is giving unwillingly–makes sense, doesn’t it?–while the highest is helping someone become self-sufficient even before the need arises by, for example, offering a job to someone out of work or teaching someone a means of earning a living.

Secret Santa’s act of generosity falls second from the top: giving anonymously to an unknown recipient, thereby sparing the recipient the shame of needing to ask for help. When she dropped off those turkeys, she did not leave her name, nor did she know who would be eating them. The recipients will not know of the effort she made to procure their protein. I imagine Maimonides would laud her selfless act were he still alive.

I wish I could tell you that, after hearing Secret Santa’s story, I ran out and filled the food bank bin at the grocery store or made an anonymous donation to Calgary’s Jewish Family Services, an agency which serves Jews and non-Jews alike, but alas I did not. I have no excuse for my negligence. Thank goodness I have time yet to make Maimonedes proud. I may not have Secret Santa’s credentials but I’ll come up with something. ‘Tis the season, is it not?