For the last few years a fella in Egypt and I have been corresponding. Our correspondence began by accident. There isn't much to it. Just a note and a joke now and again.

It was very difficult at first. He harbored a great hatred for Jews and westerners in general. I kept trying to take a high road; writing about spirituality and caring for all people, questioning why he would despise later generations for the perceived ugly deeds of the forefathers.

We laid bare our souls about the King David Hotel (he lost a relative in the bombing in 1939). I researched and we discussed the history and circumstance surrounding the event. We discussed the British for several letters.

Israel was next. There was no way I would or could defend Sharon but I sent him tales of individuals bridging the political gaps between them. I begged him not to send me photos of mutilated children.

We commiserated over the horrible falling American bombs in Iraq. We took opposite views on Afghanistan. We wrote honestly. Often I wondered why and how I would continue to explain that all people are related and, underneath it all, brothers; that the deeds of government and pulpit do not necessarily represent the wishes, desires, and hopes of the populace. I wrote that he and I were not so different in spite of our differences.

He sent me a Christmas card this year. I thanked him for thinking of me, wished him happy holidays and reminded him that I am not a Christian. His reply is worth everything. I quote it below.

"got u. i send xmas greetings to all my friends around the globe and i dont care if they are Christians or non Christians; it's you who taught me so! xmas is the most Celebrated thing in the world! Tough luck for non like you and I; I still love it. Have funnnn>>"

The world is, it seems, enlightened one soul at a time. I feel more gratified and pleased than I have in, at least, a long time. I feel very humble but very proud. Thought for Today

I had a health issue a few years back, and it really made my faith real," he said, referring to a bout with cancer. "It made me think, the things that the Lord would want done, let's do. His heart is with the downtrodden, so let's help them."
--Sam Brownback, the very conservative senator from Kansas who is actively involved in humanitarian causes abroad, cited in a very positive piece by Nicholas Kristof, liberal op-ed columnist for The New York Times.

Jesse the Jew

I have a legal problem, so I hired a litigator. Ours was a phone/fax/e-mail relationship, so it wasn't until our first court date that I learned he wears a yarmulke and is Orthodox.

He is also a Republican. (You can guess why: Bush writes Israel a blank check.) Stupidly, I made a bet on the election. And lost. And forgot all about it.

Last week, I had to go to his office. And he reminded me. What could I say? I put on the yarmulke and the tallis and tefilin and repeated the prayers--I was, for a few minutes, the Jew that my lawyer wanted me to be.

Once upon a time, I went to see--and be seen by--Rebbe Schneerson. Nothing happened. But this simple act--the putting-on of the apparatus of prayer--had a power I couldn't quite parse. "Interesting, but I'm still really a Buddhist," I told my lawyer.

"That just makes you a better Jew," he said.

A reasonable place for me to be in this season. And a realistic place from which to wish all of you "the holy or the broken Hallelujah."


The Uptowns are snowbound in an exurb of Cincinnati. Happily, I adore Mrs. Uptown's sister and husband and their kids. And I was thrilled to spend the pre-snow day in the rented Ford Taurus, driving from Starbucks to Blockbuster, listening to local FM radio.

My habit in Strange Cities is to listen with one finger on the SCAN button. That is, I hear one complete sentence, hit SCAN, see what they're saying on the next station. It's a way of co-creating the programming. And it often produces a giggle.

Not here, kids. Is it just Ohio, or has America been captured--even on FM--- by Christian radio? It's not just the sermons on every other channel ("Everyone hates sin, except when they're sinning"). It's the music. My favorites: the one about the mother of Christ ("Oh, Mary, did you know your son would walk on water?") and the woman who has "a sticker for the U.S. Marines on the bumper of my SUV."

Hope the snow clears soon. I'm ready for more stuff that's too good for us in the Blue States.

A Liberal Guide for Surviving Christmas When Your Folks Are Not

Some of Kerry Madden's suggestions: