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Opinion

Illumination: A Christmas Memory

http://66.225.205.104/CM20081219.mp3

My Dad always said that the couple who understood Christmas best were Jewish. He wasn't talking about Mary and Joseph, but Dave and Elsie Katz. Christmas, 1952 found my parents living in a new suburb east of Cleveland. While Cleveland, Ohio may have been was built by immigrants, it was hardly a melting pot. Each wave of immigrants built their church and a neighborhood around it. Mingling wasn't exactly prohibited, but definitely frowned upon. My parents had just moved from a housing project on the West Side that had been a sort of World War II Veterans' refugee camp. In my parents' case, they sought refuge from my Grandmother's basement apartment that was no place for a couple with a crying baby. By the time they found the brand-new bungalow, they had two little girls, ages five and two. My Grandmother had died earlier that year, and my Father was still in the process of settling her estate. With the pall of her death upon them, at this darkest time of year, in the cold, dripping winter gloom, a visit from St. Nick seemed pretty unlikely. But on Christmas Eve, a big Chrysler pulled into the driveway, and my Father's friend Dave Katz came to the door shouldering a small Christmas tree. His wife, Elsie, smartly dressed as always, followed him up the walk her arms full of decorations and wrapped packages. "But, Dave," my Father exclaimed, "you're Jewish." "So it's a Hanukkah bush!" Mr. Katz may have been wearing Brooks Brothers' most impeccable chalk stripe suit, but as far as my sisters were concerned, he was Father Christmas robed in fur-trimmed red velvet. Finally, Elsie carried in a half ham, beautifully dressed with pineapple slices, cloves and cherries. She had to borrow a neighbor's kitchen to bake it, as she kept kosher, but she wanted my Mother to be able to serve a proper Christmas dinner the next day. As my Mother passed around coffee and the Christmas cookies she baked as their sole indicator of the season, Dave nudged my Dad: "Now, it's bright and shiny in here, the way Christmas should look." "Dave, I cannot tell you how grateful we all are for your generosity, but how does a Jew know so much about Christmas?" Dave gave him a cock-eyed grin, then with his Yiddish accent barely concealed he said: "Catholic, Jew, Hanukkah, Christmas, it's all about light in the darkness, isn't it? Maybe once a year, we all see the light, eh?" Commentator Martha Catt is a financial advisor, and a community columnist for the Charlotte Observer.