Congregation Emanuel serves up well-being on Christmas

Amber Norman, with kids Jadah Riley, Brenden Riley, Riley Norman, Jaxen Norman and Ryker Norman. (Harvey L. Silver/CEHV)

Researchers say altruism, community connection and shared meals contribute to longevity. If so, a healthy dose of well-being was this year’s gift to guests and volunteers alike at 2018’s Second Annual Christmas Feast, a Congregation Emanuel of the Hudson Valley and Family of Woodstock partnership, held at the Albany Avenue temple in Kingston. 

Two hundred and thirty guests who otherwise would not have had a special Christmas meal dined on holiday fare such as roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry and applesauce, smoked salmon, rice and beans, vegan baked ziti, string beans, sweet potatoes, roasted potatoes, corn and bread and rolls. There was also a dessert table loaded with apple and pumpkin pies, fresh fruit and Christmas cookies. Synagogue members and local businesses donated food and funds for hundreds of meals. People’s Place gave dozens of presents for children, bestowed by none other than Santa Claus. Congregants contributed Christmas gifts for the adults, everything from silver earrings to socks to gift cards. Two local bands volunteering their time, Cantor Bob Cohen and the HV Jubilee and Saints of Swing, got the crowd in the packed social hall moving and grooving to the beat. And since no public transportation is available on Christmas and a number of guests needed rides, members of the Old Dutch Church and New Progressive Baptist Church, among other volunteers, pitched in to transport folks to the feast and then back home.

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Karen Wilder, a longtime member of the synagogue and one of nearly 100 volunteers participating in this year’s feast, didn’t require a science study to know that volunteering would be to her benefit. “This is what I do,” she said, adding that her brother died two months ago and she was giving back to the community in his honor. “During the holidays people are in need. This is rewarding for me.”

One woman tucked into her dinner with gusto but asked that her name not be used out of embarrassment that people might suspect she was in financial distress. 

A happy new tradition was in the making for Donna Martin and Evan Benvenisti of Lake Katrine. On Christmas morning of last year, Evan had asked Donna to marry him, and to celebrate their engagement they braved the 2017 Christmas snowfall to attend Congregation Emanuel’s first Christmas feast. This year, back to Congregation Emanuel they came.

“This was the nicest Christmas,” said Joseph Williams, 51. “I used to work as head of maintenance at the Clinton Avenue Church and they used to do [a community dinner on] Thanksgiving and Christmas, but now it’s not how it was before, so it’s a good thing [the temple is] doing.  I am alone, so I appreciate… a dinner on Christmas. The food was lovely. I saw people I talk to on the streets. I will come next year. I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Gary Naccarato, 59, said the feast was “one of the most uplifting things that has happened to me on Christmas. The food was delicious. I’m a big salmon fan and the salmon was to die for. They also gave me a plate to go. Honestly,” he said, “and it’s fine that my name be used, I’m honest about these things, if I had sat in my room alone at the hotel on Christmas, I probably would have had suicidal thoughts and taken three or four Xanax and ended up in the hospital. I walked away with a bellyful of food and my spirits uplifted.”

Other contributors to the event included Boice’s Dairy (milk), Bread Alone (bread/rolls), Cake Box (pies), Clinton Ave. United Methodist Church (turkeys, apple juice, and cranberry sauce), Deising’s (baked goods), Health & Nutrition (sweet potatoes), Meredith’s (baked goods), Mother Earth (pies), Steve and Jeanne Niemis  (smoked salmon and turkey gravy), Riviera (potatoes and sweets), Stone Pony (hot boxes), Stone Soup (stuffing) and UlsterCorps (turkeys, squash, and applesauce).

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