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Jewish Journal

Doing Chinese Food and Mitzvahs

by David Finnigan

December 25, 2003 | 7:00 pm

Christmas Day found some Southern California Jews volunteering at social service agencies, some working and still others marking the holiday with a Jewish tradition -- eating Chinese food and going to movies.

Conservative Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, said that Jews volunteering to work the holiday for Christian co-workers, especially at emergency service agencies, "was a fairly common mitzvah that Jewish people did when I was growing up in Chicago."

"Lots of my parents' friends routinely spent Christmas doing a job for a Christian so that that person could celebrate his holiday," Diamond said, noting that today "we find fewer examples of this."

The rabbi and his family, though, planned to continue the holiday tradition by serving meals to the poor at Pasadena's Union Station, which he said attracts many Jewish volunteers.

"There are fewer jobs on Christmas that people can do," he explained, "such as volunteer at a hospital [due to] insurance regulations, privacy of patients."

Twenty years ago at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, so many Jewish nurses and doctors worked the Christmas shifts that "we used to call it 'The Jew Crew,'" said Carol Rozner R.N., the hospital's emergency department manager, who attends Valley Beth Shalom. "Now, it's not that way. I could probably count on my hands the number of Jewish nurses I know."

However, Rozner's Christmas Day plans were to take her three teenagers to the hospital to meet a needy family that the St. Joseph staff adopted for the holidays. "I'm going to let them see how other people live," she said.

Not so for her husband, Charles, a broadcast engineer at KTTV Channel 11, who planned to show up for work as usual. Greg Laemmle, vice president of the family-run Laemmle Theaters, also anticipated going to the office on the holiday, "because it's quiet, and I can get a lot of work done."

The Sinai Temple young leadership group, ATID,  renamed Christmas "Mitzvah Day." The group made plans for about 100 volunteers to fan out Christmas morning to Santa Monica, West Los Angeles and downtown. The group scheduled a variety of activities, including beach cleanup, feeding homeless children and visiting Christians in nursing homes.

For Leslie Klieger, ATID director and an East Coast transplant, being Jewish on Christmas Day in Los Angeles is a little easier, because Los Angeles' normally balmy weather does not lend itself to the winter wonderland fantasies often tied to Dec. 25.

"Christmas in Los Angeles is much easier to deal with in general, because it doesn't feel as Christmasy here," she said. "You're not as inundated here with the decorations and the stores and the music. You don't feel that intense 'Everybody's Christian' feeling."

And as if to underscore that point, ATID members planned to gather after they concluded their activities and partake of some Chinese food and take in a movie.

Why Chinese food on Christmas?

Diamond explained, "There's some strange, mystical connection we have to Chinese food."  

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