By Ariana KramerA Jew, a Muslim and a Hindu walk into a church.No, this is not the beginning of a joke. It is the start of Peace Chanukah, an interfaith gathering that has become a winter tradition …
A Jew, a Muslim and a Hindu walk into a church.
No, this is not the beginning of a joke. It is the start of Peace Chanukah, an interfaith gathering that has become a winter tradition in Taos. Now, in its 17th year, Peace Chanukah gathers representatives from various faith traditions under one roof to share wisdom, reflect on peace, sing songs and light candles.
This year, Peace Chanukah takes place Wednesday (Dec. 5) from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at St. James Episcopal Church, 208 Camino de Santiago. All are invited to attend. Admission is free. Donations of nonperishable foods will be collected at the door and distributed to The Shared Table, the St. James Food Pantry and Taos Coalition to End Homelessness. People are also welcome to bring their own Chanukah menorah for the candlelighting. Candles will be provided.
Peace Chanukah organizer Bette Myerson said this year it has felt different to organize the interfaith event.
"In particular, this year, with so many horrible things happening all over the world, attacks on people of all sorts, attacks on Jews in synagogues, attacks on people in bars and schools and mosques and everywhere else," Myerson emphasized, "it's so important that people support each other and learn to know each other better and help each other."
Myerson said this year's event will take place in the St. James sanctuary, instead of the reception room where it has been given in the past. Each year the event has grown in size, and last year's event used every folding chair that the church had available, Myerson noted. She encourages people to bring their own cushions for sitting on the wooden pews of the sanctuary.
"I think 120 or 150 or 200 people getting together and singing songs and saying prayers and expressing concern for each other helps to create an atmosphere of goodness and kindness, which we need more of. I don't think it's useless … In our little village of Taos we have to remind each other that we're a community, and we support each other and we care about each other," Myerson said.
The Peace Chanukah program includes a welcome by Taos Jewish Center President Neal Friedman, Father Michael Olsen of St. James Episcopal Church and Bette Myerson of Bnai Shalom Havurah, representing the three organizations who sponsor Peace Chanukah.
The story of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah is retold with the lighting of many menorahs (chanukkiah), songs are sung and messages of peace are shared by speakers representing various wisdom traditions. This year's speakers are Mya Coursey from the Unitarian Congregation of Taos, Jim Gilroy representing Roman Catholicism, Heyam Khweis speaking on Islam, Punya Upadhyaya from Taos' Hindu temple Neem Karoli Baba Ashram, Interfaith minister Rev. Susan Varon of Unity of Taos, Richard Rubin, who will read from the Tao Te Ching "The Way of Peace," Julie Tato from Taos Mountain Sangha, who represents the Buddhist tradition. Olsen will speak from the Episcopalian perspective, and Marie Martinez of Taos Pueblo will speak.
Myerson stresses that everyone is welcome to attend the Peace Chanukah gathering. Handouts make it easy for people to follow along with the singing if they wish.
"You certainly don't have to be any kind of religious background, or associated with any kind of spiritual group to participate in this event," Myerson said. "The messages people will be speaking are of faith, and hope and love. The idea of goodness and kindness is not just related to religion. It's something that lots of people can believe in. … We have lots of people who come who are not associated with religions … Everyone is welcome."
"This is about community. This is about our Taos community and spreading love and kindness and support to each other and everyone in our midst," Myerson said.
Chanukah is an eight-day Jewish holiday that begins every year on the 25thday of the month of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar. On the Gregorian calendar for 2018, Chanukah begins the evening of Dec. 2 and concludes on the evening of Dec. 10. Chanukah is celebrated with the lighting of candles in a nine-branched menorah, more specifically called a chanukkiah. This year, Peace Chanukah falls on the fourth night of Chanukah.
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