I would love to go home for the holiday— back to 168th street and Nelson Avenue in the Bronx. To the Noonan Plaza, an amazing art deco building with gardens, a pond, swans, a waterfall, a cedar bridge spanning its narrows and a lighthouse to guide the swans and the rest of us safely home. I kid you not. This was where I lived my first 16 years. Clearly, I have not gotten over it — but home isn’t there anymore.
Holidays then were magic. And we celebrated all of them. When we celebrated Passover, we celebrated Easter. When we celebrated Hanukkah, we celebrated Christmas. I never thought to question it. For us it was normal.
For Passover we held a Seder in the foyer of our apartment where we opened our ebony side table to seat eight people. Crowded but cozy. My dad made the best matzo brie. Better than French toast. Enough sugar on it to cause a diabetic coma. I’ve tried for the past 50 years to replicate it with no success.
On Easter Sunday I wore a new coat, and a hat that looked like a bonnet, pale gray with blue braided trim. We decorated Easter eggs. We snacked on solid chocolate bunnies, wrapped in glowing golden foil. We ate enough jelly beans to keep the dentist busy for months.
When I was seven, a week before Christmas we snuck a small tree past my grandmother and into my room where it stood bedecked with colored lights and tinsel, We exchanged gifts, we did it all, and it all seemed all right.
My aunt, the Christian Scientist, who coached me in speech, manners, shopping, (both wholesale and retail) and taught me to never use the word “hate,” wrapped Christmas gifts with jewel tone metallic paper in which we could see our reflections. What went on inside those boxes was equally fabulous but who cared.
You may think this was confusing. It wasn’t. It expanded my world. It gave me a sense that we were part of a spiritual/cultural continuum that allowed me to dream inclusively, and to play the game of life with very few limits. It gave me a feeling of warmth and love, of sharing, and spirit that held my life together when it seemed like it was falling apart.
When kids at the Sacred Heart School across the street, told me I had killed Jesus, I knew they were wrong. They had to be. I was here on Nelson Avenue since the day I was born. So were my parents — we would never have done such a thing.
The way we were then no longer seems odd or unusual. Families and neighborhoods are mixed .We think and live globally. A friend’s son made his bar mitzvah in Israel last week. His mother is Christian, his father Jewish. They too celebrate beyond their borders and boundaries.
It’s all connected and it’s all okay. I knew that for sure when I first discovered the Last Supper was a Seder. It blew my mind. It’s time that people get that into their consciousness. The rest is a piece of cake. Or matzo. Your choice. Or mine.
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