ROCKLAND, Maine — Sally Landsburg, a member of the Adas Yoshuron Synagogue, doesn’t celebrate the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25, but she does celebrate giving — and food. For 21 years the Rockland synagogue has prepared Christmas dinner at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on White Street.
“It’s more about feeding people, which is something Jewish people do a lot of,” Landsburg said, laughing. “I really love having something to do today and getting into the spirit of giving. I love doing it.”
According to Landsburg, who has been helping with the dinners for 20 years or so, the holiday meal tends to bring in all types of people.
“It brings in people who have no families, people who are alone, older people, people who don’t have a lot. People are just happy to see each other,” she said.
The food is donated by local restaurants and people who belong to the synagogue or the church.
Dozens of volunteers staffed a cramped kitchen Saturday afternoon.
Steve Cohen had turkey up to his elbows by noontime.
“I know they needed help today,” Cohen said as he carved his fourth bird of the day.
This is his eighth year helping.
“I don’t have a family, all the kids are gone, so I do this for the good feeling,” he said.
Many of the 100 or so people who filled St. Peter’s on Saturday had similar reasons for joining the feast. Susan Morang and her two friends joined in to eat. The women all live alone and decided they wanted to socialize during the holiday.
“Our families don’t seem to get together anymore, so we came here,” she said as she sat at a table waiting for dinner to be served. “We all live alone. It’s hard to get together with anyone these days.”
Morang’s father passed away in the past year. She used to celebrate with him.
“I had a tradition for 57 years,” she said. “Now it’s gone. I think that’s the case with a lot of people here.”
The tables are arranged in a U shape under high, wood beam ceilings in the church. At the table parallel to Morang’s, Jackie Freitas sat as volunteers brought out soups and appetizers. Freitas has been coming to St. Peter’s Christmas dinner for about five years.
“Both my parents died,” she said. “So it’s all different.”
Freitas said that although she is generally shy, she likes the camaraderie inside the church on the holiday.
“I like that the synagogue does it. I think it’s important to mingle in all sorts of ways,” she said, pointing to a “coexist” pin she was wearing. “Christmas is so commercialized. This feels less commercialized. It’s just people helping each other.”
In addition to the meal, attendees are encouraged to bring home extra food, including bagels, bread, sandwiches and muffins that sat next to grocery bags waiting to be taken.
In addition to its yearly Christmas meal, the synagogue hosts one free meal each month and another on Easter.