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I open my front door and the rich perfume of pine needles fills my nose. I step in, close the door behind me, and smile at the familiar scene. To my left sits the Christmas tree, covered in various decorations, ranging from tiny tin stars to felted angels. On the very top of the tree rests a golden Star of David. I turn away and continue through the rest of the house. I walk through the kitchen and greet my father, who is momentarily distracted by what he calls “his gift with the art of latke making.” I laugh and sneak a bite of the delicious potato pancake before proceeding to the back room, where my mother is sitting on the floor surrounded by festive Christmas wrapping paper along with an assortment of handmade gifts. Although the holiday season is my favorite time of year, it doesn’t come without its conflicts.
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This overlapping of two different traditions was something that many in my extended family didn’t understand. My mother’s side of the family consists of strict Mormons and traditional Salvadorians, while my father’s family is Jewish. Neither side agreed with my parents’ decision to teach me that it was okay to celebrate both holidays. As a young child, I was oblivious to the tension, but as I grew older, I became aware that these two traditions which I held so close had clear differences. I began to study the two, and the more I learned, the more I realized how different the belief systems were. That distinct separation upset me greatly, yet I knew that somewhere between them, there had to exist some common ground.
I soon learned that the common ground was community service. Every holiday season, my mother and I go down to the local shelter to volunteer by serving meals and wrapping presents. One particular year, both sides of the family came down for the holiday. My mother and I were scheduled to work at the shelter on the upcoming weekend, and when I shared that with my family, both sides were thrilled that I was participating in the community. My aunt told me about the important role that community service played in Mormonism, and my Jewish uncle chimed in that “mitzvah” was an essential aspect of his faith as well. I went down to the shelter that day with a new perspective, knowing that I had finally found a link between the two sides of my heritage.
Ever since that holiday season, involving myself in the community has become more than just a way of helping others. Every time I go down to the shelter, volunteer at an AIDS walk, or collect items for donation, I am reminded of the bond that my service has created among two religions that are so different in all other regards. Community service represents a union within my family, but also between me and those whom I help. Since that point, the pull that I have always had toward helping those less fortunate than myself has only become stronger. As I move toward the future, I know that I will end up in an environment where I can incorporate that service into my career.
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I open the front door and am relieved to smell the familiar scent of pine in the air. I gaze around my living room to see the comforting decorations of mixed cultures. I walk through the kitchen and the smell of potato latkes fills the air, but no one is in sight. I continue toward the back room, passing by the paper menorah on the wall. I open the door and am greeted by the smiling faces of my whole family. I sit down to fill my empty stomach with the holiday dinner, closely pressed up against the same aunt and uncle who changed my life so many years ago.
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