Strange to hear my post framed that way but I've discovered that as my contact with pastors, priests and parishioners of other faiths continues and grows I gain a deeper sense of my own Jewish spirituality. Last night (Christmas Eve), my family and I headed down to the Dolores Street Mission at Father Scott Santarosa's invitation. They have a Christmas Eve dinner for their 60 homeless men and Scott thought we might appreciate the experience. He was right. One woman and her family take responsibility for the whole dinner. Patti runs a home day care and is a resident of the community and for twelve years she has been calling upon her neighbors to help her cook and serve the food for this Christmas dinner. It was a traditional Latino spread with moles, Mexican punch (non-alcoholic), and all kinds of other dishes. The guests were mostly Latino and deeply appreciative of the food. Padre Scott opened with a prayer and asked me to offer an English/Spanish version of the Motzi before the meal. We served the men and sat at the tables with them to eat. They sang, rapped, told a few jokes -- all in Spanish so we understood little. The vast majority of the men were itinerant workers, few had the appearance of homeless people, many if not all were undocumented immigrants.
We were surprised to run into Mike Gagerman and his wife Cynthia Sanchez and their infant daughter. Cynthia runs the Social Service center at the church called Proyecto Pastoral. She brought her family to share Christmas Eve with the homeless of Dolores Mission as well as some of the staff who work at the center. Mike, a screenwriter, grew up at the Temple, his father is a past president. There were many places they could be besides this basement cafeteria, but clearly Cynthia's commitment to her work runs deep and Mike is at her side.
Watching the hostess Patti and her family give of their Christmas Eve to feed the homeless, listening to Father Scott's prayer (translated by another priest for us), watching the men show their profound appreciation for the meal and the coats that were handed out touched us all deeply. My daughter, Ellie, said: "I'm really glad we came. This was a special night."
As we left, we noticed that Father Scott had "disappeared". Looking for him, we found him sitting in the stairway with a homeless man who appeared to be troubled and more down on his luck than the others. Sitting there in the unlit, cold stairway, Scott was clearly counseling a wounded soul. Father Scott grew up in Sacramento in a comfortable middle class family. The pictures in his office show married siblings who are of a different world than the one where he has chosen to devote his life. Seeing him give of himself so generously with love and caring to these men who are at the fringes of society is inspiring. It doesn't take long to see the love he feels for them and to be taken in by his warmth and quiet charisma. As we got in the car, my wife said: "He's on our list for next Passover!" Watching Scott open his heart to so many, it will be our honor to open our home to welcome him to our seder. And, I believe that he'll elevate our seder by his presence just as he did for our souls this past Christmas Eve.