Q: Thank you, Rabbi Gellman. I think your message was "over the top." [God Squad, Dec. 24-25, 2022] I was particularly interested in your providing the lyrics for "The Carol of the Bells." I didn't realize that it was written by a Ukrainian, as my wife is Ukrainian, and we have a Ukrainian flag flying from our house these days. We have tried to support Ukrainian relief efforts as much as possible and can always thank God we are not living there and enduring the horror of war. — M, Kenosha, Wisconsin
A: Thanks, M. Christmas is connected to gratitude for American freedom in ways that are rarely, if ever, mentioned. The cozy Christmas feelings evoked by store windows and holiday music are impossible when one is being shelled by Russian rockets. Pray for the Ukrainian people that next year they can sing "Carol of the Bells" in a quiet and free Ukraine.)
Q: "The Carol of the Bells" is my holiday ring tone; it was always my daughter's favorite ring tone. I lost her in 2019. I hope your Christmas was reflective as you prayed for Father Tom, and I prayed for my daughter, and I prayed in thanks for the Christmas miracle bestowed upon my best friend's family. I hope your Hanukkah was peaceful. — J, Great Neck
A: My dear J, may God comfort you on your loss and may God receive the soul of your beloved daughter in Heaven among the holy and the pure. I am touched by your kind words. That you would think of others at this time of your own grief speaks to the depths of your compassion. God bless you.
Q: Today's "Christmas Card from a Rabbi" in The Gainesville Sun was incredibly inspiring! … I have friends who are Jewish, and I wish them Happy Hanukkah on the first day. They in turn wish me a merry Christmas later on. It is almost like a "bridge across the great divide" that is happening in our country. It is a (very) small way to embrace each other and each other's beliefs. I sincerely wish more would respect the other's beliefs, whether religious or political, and still remain friends, like you and Father Tommy. Instead there is too much animosity and "if you aren't on my side, then you are the enemy." But as long as we have just one person holding a candle for peace and understanding, whether that is a Hanukkah candle or Christmas candle, then the world will be a better place … Happy Hanukkah, merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, or just plain happy to you! — G, Gainesville, Florida
A: Thank you, G, for your kind words. The God Squad was Tommy's idea and it perfectly reflected his generosity of spirit. He said to me often that what we were doing was simply, "Giving people permission to look across the fence." I do not understand the origins and the fuel for the divisions that are tearing us apart. The truth is I do not care. What I do care about is reminding everyone that we know enough about how we are different and not enough yet about how we are all the same. I miss Tommy immensely, but I am dedicated to carrying on his vision and his love.
Q: Thank you for that beautiful write-up in today's Newsday about Christmas and Father Hartman. I am Catholic and my best friend is Jewish, and we always share each other's holidays and special religious views. I have become very knowledgeable about Judaism over the years, thanks to him. We always talk about our views on God and our spiritual beliefs. I can only hope we have such a long and lasting friendship as you and Father Hartman. Wherever you are today, I hope you are enjoying yourself and that Father Hartman is looking down at you beaming with pride on such a beautiful article. Thank you. — V, Long Island
A: Thanks, V. You are proof of what Tommy and I discovered in our travels together for more than 20 years and that is the inspiring fact that the world is filled with many little God Squads that do not receive the publicity that we received for our friendship. I lift up for praise and prayers the God Squad you created with your friend. I will send you a God Squad badge and directions for the secret God Squad handshake! God bless you.