Va’ahavtem et ha-ger: You shall love the stranger.
It was the first night of Chanukah. We'd stopped at the liquor store to buy a bottle of wine. I waited in the car with the girls, staying warm and giggling at how delicious the latkes smelled, resisting reaching into the back to steal one. And then I saw her. She looked to be about 75 years old and she stood on the corner in a light blue parka holding a neatly written sign: Disabled. Homeless. Gas. Food. Money. I saw a walker and an oxygen tank. I signed deeply, deeply enough to get the girls' attention. "What, Mama?" Then they all looked out the window and saw the lady.
"What does her sign say?"
One of them read it aloud and we sat there.
I unlocked the door.
"Mama, what are you doing?"
"I'm giving the lady some latkes." I wrapped up two potato and two apple latkes in some foil. And then I remembered I had a little bit of money in my wallet. I reached back into the car and took out a $5 bill.
"Hi," I said as I tried to approach with respect. She looked up at me as I offered her the foil wrapped package. "It's just some potato pancakes, and here's five dollars."
She smiled. "Thanks, I love potato pancakes."
"Please tell me you have somewhere warm to sleep tonight," I asked her. The temperatures in Colorado have been below zero for the past two weeks. She assured me she'd already called her sister. She thanked me and I wished her well.
We had no room in the car and our family was waiting.
As we drove away, I broke down. All the tears I'd been holding back all day, just came forward. I told Jack we had to do something; that I couldn't bare the idea of that lady being on the street in the cold. I got on my phone and called the local shelter, but their warming center wouldn't be open for another hour. I called the Boulder Homeless Shelter and cried on the phone as a sweet woman tried to figure out how to get this woman to some warm shelter. She finally suggested I call the police and they'd come and get her without making her feel like a criminal. I called the police and told them about this lady. The dispatcher told me it could be someone who makes her living doing this, but when I told her the woman's location and that she had a walker and an oxygen tank, she promised to send a car and see if they could help.
We got to our family gathering and had a beautiful, embracing evening. Presents, lighting the candles, five varieties of latkes, soup and homemade sufganiyot. Playing dreidel and lots of laughter. Everything I remember my first night's of Chanukah always being. And everything I want my children's first nights of Chanukah to be.
As we were driving back home and approached Longmont, we came to a red light. I turned to Jack and asked, "Can we see if she's still there?"
Without blinking an eye, he moved into the left lane and started driving in that direction. The girls woke from their car-drive-home sleeping and asked, "Are we going to see if the lady is still there?"
We crossed Main Street, then Hover, turning right. Turned left into the King Soopers parking center and toward the liquor store. None of us said a word.
She was gone.
I took Jack's hand and he turned the car toward home.
"The lady is somewhere warm?"
Yes, my darlings. The lady is somewhere warm.