The braid is a potent symbol, and we Jews tend to use it often.
Shabbat begins with the braid on the challah and ends with the braid on the havdalah candle; in between we weave together observing and remembering. Separate strands combine to make one lovely interwoven whole.
We also have many new years; the warming green hope of spring on the first of Nissan, the waning of the summer’s searing heat on the first of Elul, and the personal and communal challenges of Rosh Hashanah. The trees even have their very own new year, which this year falls on January 16.
And, of course, we have the secular new year.
There is much wisdom in being able to celebrate a new year in the depths of winter, just as the terribly short days have begun slowly to lengthen, just as it seems maybe a possibility that there will be sun and the sky might turn blue again.
And we can braid the joy and light of this new year, the one we share with the culture that surrounds us, into the others that we celebrate as well.
More braiding happened this year on December 25. Joshua Nelson, the black Jewish gospel singer, performed at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, way down at Manhattan’s southern tip. His life is a braid, and his music is a glorious manifestation of it.
No one at the concert ignored the outside world. It was Christmas. That was why the auditorium could be packed on a Wednesday afternoon, not with retirees and parents of small children, but with a cross-section of the Jewish community. And the music that Joshua Nelson sings, the clothing that he wears when he performs, and the style that he embodies come directly from the black community. But the words are Jewish words, mostly in Hebrew, and his talk between songs was entirely and intensely Jewish.
We are privileged to be able to braid our worlds together as we do, with the Jewish part and the American part curling around each other. They do not mix – they stay separate strands, with the space between them vitally important – but they combine and dance.