Taoseños from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds will gather to light Chanukah candles and reflect on the meaning of peace together again this year. The 16th annual interfaith Peace Chanukah ceremony features candlelight, song, prayer and contemplation from a variety of faith traditions. Everyone is welcome to participate in this public event.
Peace Chanukah takes place Wednesday (Dec. 13) from 5:30-7 p.m. at St. James Episcopal Church, 208 Camino de Santiago.
The event is free, but donations of non-perishable food are appreciated and will be distributed to The Shared Table, St. James Food Pantry and Taos Coalition to End Homelessness. In addition, those attending are encouraged to bring their own Chanukah menorahs (chanukiah) if they have them; candles will be provided. Also, bring reading glasses to read the program and song sheets which will be handed out.
“The idea of interfaith gathering and praying for peace has great relevance in the whole world, and particularly in Taos because we have a very diverse community and people are interested in cooperating and working together,” said Bette Myerson, who has been a driving force behind Peace Chanukah for many years.
Peace Chanukah is jointly sponsored by the Taos Jewish Center, St. James Episcopal Church and Bnai Shalom Chavurah, a Jewish friendship group. “It’s a cooperative effort,” Myerson said. She explained that St. James Episcopal Church provides the space, chairs and sound system. Bnai Shalom Chavurah supplies volunteer help and the Taos Jewish Center offers publicity, organization, decorations and volunteers.
The program for this year includes welcoming words and songs and a retelling of the Chanukah story by incoming Taos Jewish Center President Neal Friedman. This will be followed by the lighting of the Chanukah candles and messages of shared peace and light by representatives of various faith groups.
This year’s speakers include Father Mike Olsen (St. James Episcopal Church), Mirabai Starr (Interspiritual Movement), Dottie Butler (Clearlight Quaker Fellowship), Albino Lujan (Taos Pueblo), Professor Martínez “Marty” Hewlett (Roman Catholic), Heyam Khweis (Muslim) and Julie Tato (Taos Mountain Sangha, Buddhist).
Asked why he believes celebrating an interfaith Peace Chanukah is important to the Taos Jewish community, Friedman responded, “As Jews in Taos, we are a distinct minority who have come here with many different interpretations of what it means to be a Jew. Interacting and having meaningful dialogue with other cultures and religions is a powerful tool to help each person and group understand themselves and others better. All major faiths have a basic belief in domestic and world peace. Using the story of Chanukah to promote this dialogue about peace is an important undertaking that the Taos Jewish Center is proud to be a part of.”
Friedman commented that in his retelling of the Chanukah story he will focus “on the dichotomy of a holiday that celebrates one of the first documented successful guerrilla wars with the universal desire for peace.”
“The great Spanish Jewish physician and philosopher, Moses Maimonides, has written about this dichotomy and I will use his interpretation of the story of Chanukah to explain the holiday’s lessons for establishing both domestic peace and world peace,” Friedman noted. “I will try to relate this to the common desires and aims for peace in the other great religions of the world.”
Hewlett was born into a Roman Catholic family and describes himself as a life-professed lay Dominican, a lay member of the Order of Preachers. He has participated as a speaker in previous Peace Chanukah celebrations and comments, “It is a glorious time to be with members from every part of the Taos faith community and celebrate together the season of peace.”
“The Christmas message is ‘Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All,’” Hewlett pointed out. “At its heart, Christianity is a religion of love – love for God and love for our neighbor. This is what brings about the message of peace.”
“While my path is important for me, I don’t for a minute believe that it is the only path. It is important to gather as an inter-religious community to share the common message of peace and to realize that that there are many roads we travel to arrive at the same destination,” Hewlett said.
Heyam Khweis has also attended past Peace Chanukah celebrations as an invited speaker. She addressed why she thinks this is an important event. “People always tend to gather with other people who share the same culture, as well as the same religion. With our busy life styles, it is hard to find the time to reach out to different people of certain cultures or faiths. Provided that, it’s nice to have the Taos Jewish Center setting a date for all of the faiths to meet, even though it’s annually. During interfaith gatherings people share ideas about their faiths and cultures. They join together in unison with the intention of spreading love and acceptance.”
Asked about her religion’s teachings on peace, Khweis said that the root of the word “Islam” is “Salam” which means peace in Arabic. She added that one of the names for God that is written in the Quran is “Al-Salam” which means “the peaceful.”
“According to numerous Sheikhs, peace is the main goal of Islam,” Khweis commented.
Interspersed with the speakers, and concluding the evening will be songs of peace led by Elizabeth Calvert, Julie Greer, Cindy Grossman, Jean Kenin, Roberta Lerman, Anna Mae Patterson, Liz Kelner, Sidney Bender and Jim Ludden. Song sheets will be provided so all in attendance can follow along.
For more information, call (575) 758-2790.