This year marks the 15th year that Taos has celebrated peace across cultures and faiths through its interfaith Peace Chanukah celebration. By lighting candles, singing songs and listening to words of peace from the world’s great religious traditions, Taoseños have brought warmth to one another in this dark, cold winter season.
Peace Chanukah is an open event to which everyone is welcome. It centers around the lighting of the Chanukah menorah (chanukiah), but expands to include the voices of many faith traditions, with representatives from Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taos Pueblo, Christianity and Judaism. People of any spiritual tradition – or no tradition – are equally welcome to this event, stresses Bette Myerson of B’nai Shalom Havurah, a local Jewish friendship group. Myerson has been the driving force behind Peace Chanukah for many years.
This year, Peace Chanukah takes place Wednesday (Dec. 28) from 5:30-7 p.m. at St. James Episcopal Church, 208 Camino de Santiago.
While admission is free, donations of non-perishable food items will be collected at the door and distributed to the Shared Table, the Taos Coalition to End Homelessness and the St. James Food Pantry. Participants are encouraged to bring their own chanukiah to light if they have one; candles will be provided.
The program begins with song, a welcome by the organizers and a retelling of the Chanukah story by Rabbi Paul Citrin. This is followed by traditional Chanukah blessings and the lighting of dozens of chanukiah, which are placed around the perimeter of the room.
After the candle lighting “are messages of shared peace and light from different faith representatives,” said Myerson, explaining that the purpose of this is “so that we get a perspective from many different people in our community and it becomes much more universal.”
“It isn’t just about Chanukah,” Myerson continued. “It’s about light and hope and peace and goodwill towards all people.”
Interspersed among the different talks and ceremonies will be songs. These will be headed up by song leaders. Lyrics will be provided to all participants so that everyone can sing together. One of the songs is “Peace Prayer,” which is by Taos composer Joanne Forman.
Speakers include Marie Martinez (Taos Pueblo), Heyam Khweis (Muslim), the Rev. Mike Olsen (St. James Episcopal Church), Deacon Jerry Quintana (Our Lady of Guadalupe Church), Anandi Giroy (Neem Karoli Baba Ashram), the Rev. Jill Cline (interfaith minister), the Rev. Chuck Doughty (Unitarian Congregation of Taos) and Sean Murphy (Zen Buddhist Community).
Myerson noted that this year’s program is shorter than in recent years to ensure a 7 p.m. end time.
“People are very excited about this ceremony, and people are very happy to participate and join us in terms of the speakers and the leaders of the different parts of the service,” Myers said. “It’s hard to choose among the many people who want to participate, there are so many, which is certainly very heartwarming.”
Reflecting on the importance of interfaith gatherings like Peace Chanukah, Myerson said, “I think we should celebrate the things we have in common rather than our differences and support and appreciate each other – and that’s the most important thing we can do. So, I’m delighted that we have this tradition here in Taos.”
“We are hoping other events like this at other times of the year will begin to happen. There’s some talk about that,” Myerson said. She mentioned Renewable Taos as one local group that recently hosted an interfaith event. In 2015, Renewable Taos sponsored a panel titled “Rising to the Call: Faith Responses to the Climate Crisis.” Myerson is hopeful that there is growing interest among different groups in Taos in having dialogues across spiritual traditions and cultural perspectives.
When asked to comment on why an interfaith gathering is important for this time of year, Myerson responded, “In the winter, people think about light, the light returning after the solstice. It’s the darkest time of the year. At this time of year, we have Christmas, Chanukah, solstice, Kwanzaa, so it’s a natural thing for interfaith gatherings to happen around this season. A lot of these holidays way back when were related to the seasons and the earth and the climate and then they changed and became associated with historical events, like Chanukah celebrates a historical event and Christmas celebrates a historical event.”
“This is a good time to gather and celebrate the light returning and celebrate each other in our traditions – the many things we have in common – love of peace, justice, equality, compassion, generosity and kindness,” Myerson commented.
Peace Chanukah is jointly sponsored by B’nai Shalom Havurah, the Taos Jewish Center and St. James Episcopal Church.
For more information, call (575) 758-2790.