Cici and Marcus Dixon came to dinner. Marcus is a Methodist minister. His wife, Cici, is the one to whom we’re connected. She was a member of the administrative staff when my husband, Zvi, taught at the Interdenominational Theological Center. The ITC is a predominantly African-American postgraduate seminary whose students come from a wide spectrum of Christian faiths.
We used to have a lot of Zvi’s students at our Friday night Shabbat table when our daughters lived at home. That’s how Rachel and Sara were treated to experiences most Jewish kids don’t get.
Zvi’s students, hailing from diverse backgrounds, told us hair-raising and hilarious personal anecdotes that opened our eyes and hearts and made us think. The most interesting part for me was that, over the 25 years of dinners, each of these future clergy was eager to tell us the exact place and time at which G-d called them. We were spellbound by these deeply religious women and men.
Some of Zvi’s former students and colleagues remain in touch with him, and Cici is one of them. Even though Zvi and she were friends, neither Cici nor her husband had visited us. When we received a Rosh Hashanah call from Cici, we were determined to rectify that situation.
Marcus, a minister in a church south of the airport, and Cici, a dynamo in many humanitarian causes, are busy people. The only time they could come to us was on a Friday night, and, after much back and forth, we agreed on a date.
We knew we would call Marcus “pastor,” but we weren’t sure about Cici. She told us we could call her Cecelia, but most of her congregants call her “first lady.” With her smart black dress, silver jewelry, knowing eyes and winning smile, she’s well-suited for the White House. We soon learned that she also has the smarts and guts for the role.
Marcus, named after Marcus Aurelius (not Marcus Garvey), was a college scholar/athlete, then served in Vietnam before completing his ordination. He is soft-spoken, tall and dignified.
As the evening progressed, we relaxed and laughed at the similarities between our Ashkenazi Orthodox synagogue and their African-American Methodist church. Every congregation, it seems, has similar leaders and board members, similar financial quandaries, similar congregant crises, similar youth dilemmas, and similar lifecycle joys and sorrows.
The meal had lasted more than two hours when we started talking about our families. The Dixons have five children. Two of their daughters are with them while they get their graduate degrees, and, as a result, six of their grandchildren live with them.
Just for fun, I asked if their grandchildren have any responsibilities in their 10-person household.
“What do you mean ‘responsibilities’?” Cici asked.
“I mean chores.”
“Well, when we left the house tonight, two grandsons were cleaning the baseboards in the living room.”
I gulped. “How about the kitchen?”
“Fortunately, one of our granddaughters loves to cook. She’s 13. The others help her, do the dishes, sweep, mop. I’m in charge on Sunday.”
“Laundry?” I stammered.
“The kids,” Cici said. “If everybody didn’t pitch in, I couldn’t do everything I need to do.”
“Like?” Zvi asked.
Marcus answered: “There are neighborhood people who need us. Cici’s wonderful in a crisis, and the youth love her.”
“Do your grandchildren have time for themselves?”
“Sure, it’s time management. Believe me, we always have a lot of fun. As long as they keep bringing home the A’s and do their chores, they can do whatever they want. Everybody plays sports and takes music lessons. They also help my mother, who’s going blind.”
I had to ask, “Do they resent all that responsibility?”
Cici just looked at me. It was a stupid question.
The dinner that started at 6:30 ended at 11:30 when we realized that we were all doing more yawning than talking.
The Jewish classic Pirke Avot (Sayings of the Sages) knows all about the Dixons and how Zvi and I should react to them: “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.”
The sages can say that again.