Autumn is a season for ingathering and for harvest. I enjoy seeing fall leaves and pumpkins appear as September weeks pass by. The large Harvest Moon rises, and the days grow cooler with crisp air coming in the mornings and evenings. Even here in California we start marking the days as “sweater weather.”
In the Jewish tradition the month of September is full of holy days — Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are followed by Sukkot, which marks the end of harvest season. In our Episcopal tradition, October makes its presence known with Blessing of the Animals on Saint Francis Day, followed by the Feast Days of Saint Luke and James of Jerusalem in the third week of the month. Before too long we will see All Saints Day arrive at the beginning of November.
I was sitting at a coffee house with my daughter Jacqueline during her October midterms at UCSB. After a fast and furious catch up on all past events and things significant, she was busy working at her laptop. We sat in silence drinking our respectivebeverages, hers a coffee with nitro and mine an African Sunrise herbal tea with nonfat milk. Both very telling of our freedom.
As I looked at my daughter across the small square table, I remember my own time at college, long hours crafting term papers, and a continual need to press forward to finish the assigned reading for the day. All that academic work that seemed to have no end in sight. Jackie was glad that I came to visit, perhaps for only a brief time as far as the clock was concerned, but for familial support, a joy transfusion into the arm. As parents know, young adults can lean into and appreciate parents taking on themantle of responsibility, even if it is only for a minute.
As she worked, I cast my gaze across the coffee shop, watching an employee walk to the display table and nonchalantly placefive round, well-packaged loaves of challah bread into a trash bag. Once all five loaves were in the bag, the worker made her way to the back of the kitchen. I careened myself to the side of the table to see if she was going to do what I really thought she was going to do — throw those beautiful loaves into a trash bin.
I knew they were beautiful loaves because I noticed them just fifteen minutes prior when I had arrived at the café. I admired them and meant to mention them to Jacqueline. I contemplated even buying a loaf. While my girls were growing up, I oftenmade challah, the Jewish festival yeast bread. Though I may not thoroughly observe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in my faith tradition, I try to be mindful of those in our community who celebrate their high holy days. I knew that the challah bread being sold in this kosher coffeehouse had been made available for Jewish customers wanting to bring home a loaf.
I had just read the Rev. Marek Zabriskie’s latest Bible Challenge book, The Social Justice Bible Challenge, and was reminded of Leviticus 19:22. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.”
I walked up to the café counter and asked the barista if the display loaves were thrown away. He responded, “Yes, the date ofexpiration has just passed.” Not wanting to get in a wrangle right then and there about how those loaves might have fed hungry people living nearby or having to acknowledge the standard rebuttal regarding food handling laws, I sat down wondering if there couldn’t be a better way of handling the throwing out of packaged food. I thought about all the homeless people living inSanta Barbara, Goleta, and Costa Mesa who might have liked to have had a slice of challah, which is rich in egg, milk, and butter.
In 2003 when I lived in a missionary dorm in Melbourne, Australia, the main house bell rang whenever the local bakery delivered a donation. Day-old bread would be spread out on a countertop for the missionaries and seminarians to have their fill. Like manna from heaven, we deeply enjoyed this gracious gift, not caring that it was a bit dry or unpackaged. It was just there; it was free, and it helped supplement our tight budgets.
I will have more conversations in the future about these five beautiful challah loaves. It reminds me of the story of five loaves and two fishes. How far can a small amount of food go to feed hungry people?
Several years ago, when I was in Trader Joes during this same season of Autumn, I bought a loaf of challah bread. A woman passed by me with her shopping cart. She too had a loaf of challah bread. She looked at me with a smile and said, “Shana Tova”and I replied, smiling, “Shana Tova.”
L’shana tova tikatevu, “May you be written in the Book of Life for a good year.”