Victor Friedman likes to joke. He’s just fulfilling the Jewish prophecy, he said, by eating Chinese food and watching a movie on Christmas Day.
“It’s been that way since I was a little kid,” he said.
He put down a pencil and notebook filled with names from his congregation and looked out over a white-clothed table full of steaming, silver trays. Dragon Garden in Scotia caters this event at Congregation Gates of Heaven, the oldest Jewish congregation in Schenectady. It’s quite aptly titled the “5th annual Chinese Buffet and Movie.”
“The family comes in and cooks all this food, just for us,” Friedman said, chuckling. “Wonton soup, sweet and sour soup, beef and broccoli, sweet and sour chicken, pork lo — no, wait, not pork — vegetable lo mein, and other traditional Chinese food.”
More families filed into the temple, and Friedman crossed the names off his list. His wife walked over to tell him they needed more chairs. Turnout is better than he expected, he said with a smile.
About 35 people attended the event, which began as a Christmas Day gathering for the community’s Jewish residents who might not have much else to do on a day when most places are closed, sharing conversation over Chinese food and the movie “Brave.”
“From a brotherhood standpoint, it’s important for us to do anything as a part of the congregational family,” said Friedman. “And it’s important to me, because it’s a chance for people to get together who otherwise might have to sit home with very few other alternatives to do today. Just because we don’t celebrate Christmas, this still gives us a chance for us to enjoy our congregational family.”
Harvey and Sheila Randall catch up with the people they don’t see as often as they’d like. Chinese food and a movie was a tradition for the couple well before the temple started hosting the buffet, they said.
In fact, it’s the Niskayuna couple’s favorite pastime.
“We’re from New York,” said Harvey Randall, 80, “and in New York City on Christmas for Jewish people, there’s only two things you can do: You can go to a movie and you can to go a Chinese restaurant. They’re the only places that are open.”
Even Nedick’s, the 1950s New York City equivalent of McDonald’s, was closed on Christmas day, he lamented.
“So we grew up in that environment and are continuing the tradition,” he said with a grin, before grabbing a plate and lining up for food.