In the Jewish tradition, 18 is a special number. It represents the Hebrew word for life - pronounced "hi" with a guttural "h," and usually transliterated as "chai." This year, then, is a particularly significant one for Taos' longtime tradition of an interfaith Peace Chanukah celebration. It marks the 18th time that people of all faith traditions have gathered together to light Chanukah candles and share words of peace in our small town.
In the Jewish tradition, 18 is a special number. It represents the Hebrew word for life - pronounced "hi" with a guttural "h," and usually transliterated as "chai." The two Hebrew letters that make up chai are the het (the "h" sound) and the yud (the "i" sound). In Hebrew, each letter corresponds to its own number - the het corresponds to 8 and the yud corresponds to 10. The sum of both letters is 18.
This year, then, is a particularly significant one for Taos' longtime tradition of an interfaith Peace Chanukah celebration. It marks the 18th time that people of all faith traditions have gathered together to light Chanukah candles and share words of peace in our small town.
This year's interfaith Peace Chanukah takes place Sunday (Dec. 29), 5:30-7 p.m., at St. James Episcopal Church, 208 Camino de Santiago. Sponsored by B'nai Shalom Havurah, Taos Jewish Center and St. James Episcopal Church, this event welcomes all people. Those who have a chanukiah (a Chanukah menorah) may bring one or several; candles will be provided at the event. It is also recommended that you bring a pillow to sit on.
Bette Myerson, current treasurer for B'nai Shalom Havurah, has been the main force behind Peace Chanukah in Taos for many years. While Peace Chanukah was started on the East Coast and Midwest in 2001, she says it came to Taos in 2002 with Carmi Plaut.
For the first several years Peace Chanukah was held at the Taos Jewish Center, on Gusdorf Road. When that space was outgrown, the celebration moved to St. James Episcopal Church's parish hall, where it was held for several years. Once again, the crowd outgrew the space, and last year the event was moved to the St. James' sanctuary, where it will be held again this year.
Myerson says, "St. James has been a wonderful home and very generous to the Jewish community since day one, for which we are very, very grateful."
Asked why she thinks Peace Chanukah has taken such a strong hold in Taos, Myerson responds: "There's a great commitment here to interfaith things, a great commitment to peace. There are a lot of people here interested in bringing people together and working together and understanding each other and these are all values that are embraced by Peace Chanukah."
This year's Peace Chanukah program features a retelling of the Chanukah story by Rabbi Judith HaLevy of the Taos Jewish Center, songs and lighting of the Chanukah candles and words of peace and light by invited speakers. These include Charles Fawns (Unitarian), Mirabai Starr (Interspiritual), Heyam Khweis (Islam), Dottie Butler (Quaker), Pastor Cheri Lyon (Methodist), Albino Lujan (Taos Pueblo), Jeff Breau (Hinduism) and Sean Murphy (Buddhism).
Myerson asks each speaker to talk for two to three minutes about peace from the perspective of their faith group, using any words of inspiration that they choose. Butler and Fawns are two of the speakers who have participated in Peace Chanukah multiple times.
Butler is a Quaker and a member of the Santa Fe Meeting who attends the Clearlight Friends (under the care of the Santa Fe Meeting). She says, "I participate in Peace Chanukah to join with others to pray in unison for peace. Maybe if we all join together our prayers for peace will heard. More importantly, if we listen in solidarity as others pray, we lift their prayers up and make room for peace."
Fawns and his wife, Marsha, founded the Unitarian Congregation in Taos in 2004 and have been active as facilitators and leaders for the congregation ever since.
"Our Unitarian Universalist congregation has been a participant [of Peace Chanukah] for many years. The values of Peace Chanukah in promoting peace and particularly in fostering understanding and tolerance in our Taos community reflect the principles of our faith both locally and nationally," says Fawns.
He continues, "It is important for our Taos community to come together and share in the understanding of each other and to know that there are others out there who share our values even if they come from different faith backgrounds."
Chanukah (or Hanukkah) is an eight-day Jewish holiday which begins each year on the 25th day of the month of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar. On the Gregorian calendar for 2019, Chanukah begins the evening of Dec. 22. Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after it was taken back by the Jewish people through the Maccabean Revolt during ancient times. It is celebrated with the lighting of candles in a nine-branched menorah, more specifically called a chanukiah. This year, Peace Chanukah falls on the eighth night of Chanukah.
Although admission is free, donations of nonperishable food items accepted for The Shared Table, the St. James Food Pantry and Taos Coalition to End Homelessness. For more information, call (575) 758-2790.
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