Category Archives: interfaith

A note from Rabbi Rachel before Christmas

6a00d8341c019953ef0154373d08be970c-800wiDear friends,

One of the interesting asymmetries of being a minority religious culture is that while members of the dominant religious tradition often have little awareness of our festivals, we can’t help being aware of theirs. At no other time of year is this more true than now, as we approach Christmas.

Across the breadth of our community, we respond in many ways to this omnipresent holiday.

Some of us may enjoy Christmas although it is not our holiday. We may admire our neighbors’ Christmas lights, appreciate the festive beauty of each household’s unique decorations, enjoy classic Christmas movies, and delight vicariously in the pleasure our Christian friends and neighbors take in their festival of light and hope.

Some of us may find Christmas overwhelming because it is not our holiday. We may feel excluded from public displays of Christmas celebration; the day and its trappings may evoke entrenched feelings of isolation and “otherness.” For those of us who associate Christmas with uncomfortable memories of being an outsider, or communal memories of antisemitism, this can be a challenging season. We may resent the way mainstream American culture ignores the reality that not everyone celebrates this holiday, or may struggle with the message that everyone is “supposed” to be happy at this time of year.

Some of us may enjoy Christmas because it is a festival we share with loved ones. Our community includes many Jews by choice (many of whom still have Christian family), and many families of dual heritage (who likewise have Christian family, as well as Jewish family). For those of us in such families, this holiday may offer a time to connect with loved ones across a variety of traditions.

Some of us may experience December 25 as a secular midwinter holiday of gift-giving and cheer having little or nothing to do with Jesus. Others may experience its customs as as a thinly-camouflaged variation on pagan winter solstice festivities. (Did you know that in ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated on December 25? It was called the festival of sol invictus, the birthday of the unconquered sun.)

Some of us may take Christmas as an opportunity to serve others. I have known many Jewish doctors, nurses, and chaplains who choose to engage in pastoral work on Christmas so that our Christian colleagues can take the day off. Others may choose to work in soup kitchens or homeless shelters so that all who are in need will be cared-for and fed on this day and all days.

And some of us — single-heritage households and dual-heritage households alike — may engage in the age-old Jewish custom of eating Chinese food and going to the movies! (Okay, that one wasn’t handed down to Moses on Sinai, though we’ve been doing it since the late 1800s.)

Whatever your week may hold, a blessing:

May we experience light in this season of darkness.

May renewed awareness of Jesus as a Jewish teacher open for us new ways of relating to our neighbors’ commemoration of his birth.

And may we emerge into the secular new year ready to enjoy the increasing daylight!

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

CBI Co-Presents An Event On Israeli-Palestinian Coexistence

Congregation Beth Israel, The First Congregational Church of Williamstown,
the Williams College Jewish Association and Jewish Federation of the Berkshires present

Jen Marlowe

Co-Author With Sami Al-Jundi of

The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey

From Prisoner to Peacemaker

Sunday October 14, 2012, 8pm
Reading, Q-and-A, Booksigning
Fellowship Hall, First Cong. Church,
206 Main Street, Williamstown

Monday October 15, 2012, 7pm
Book Discussion With Author
Congregation Beth Israel,
53 Lois Street, North Adams

Free and open to the public; all are welcome!

“The Hour of Sunlight fills an important void in our understanding of entrenched international conflicts by detailing the rare process whereby an extraordinary person develops deep empathy and compassion for an enemy, and then goes one step further to work on the ground to advance peace. “ —Peter Weinberger, United States Institute of Peace

And Reb Rachel adds: “This is an exciting opportunity for members of our community to hear a perspective on Israel and Palestine which we don’t usually encounter. I found Jen and Sami’s book to be eye-opening and thought-provoking. It isn’t always comfortable to read, but I think it’s an ultimately inspiring story of how one Palestinian man moved from radicalism to compassion and a deep desire for coexistence and peace.”

Announcing the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Youth Group

Dear friends,

I’m writing to let you know about a new initiative which is happening in northern Berkshire county — the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Youth Group.

We are a small community and it can be difficult to muster enough critical mass to have a really active youth group. It turns out that many area churches are in a similar position. A group of local clergy (including me) has been meeting for a few months to brainstorm ideas for a joint youth group which we could do together.

This group is explicitly inter-faith and is open to kids of all faiths (and none.) There will be no proselytizing, period. The group is designed to be a safe space where kids in grades 7-12 can come together, discuss issues of faith and doubt, learn about one anothers’ traditions, do meaningful community service work, form friendships, and generally be part of a supportive community.

The launch party will be held at St. Elizabeth’s of Hungary in North Adams at 6pm on Sunday, February 12. There will be some icebreakers and then a chance for kids to brainstorm together about what they want this youth group to be and do — while parents are hanging out together in a different room, doing their own learning and talking about what they hope this group might provide. We’re hoping to have an interfaith seder at CBI in April as the youth group’s second event.  A flyer is attached.

I hope that some CBI kids will choose to participate! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me. And if your child is interested in attending, please call Pat Kriss at 413-664-0386 to let her know.

If you’d like to learn more, you can download the flyer for the launch party: InterfaithYouthGroupFlyer

Thanks and take care,

Reb Rachel