Taos Aglow

Faith-based tradition in Taos: Peace Chanukah

The lighting of menorahs, prayers, songs of peace, and guest speakers of various faiths

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“Peace on Earth” is not merely a string of words.

For people who have attended past Peace Chanukah celebrations in Taos, they know what the galvanizing power of hoping and praying for peace in an all-inclusive atmosphere really feels like.

This 17th annual inspirational gathering of many faiths takes place at St. James Episcopal Church, 208 Camino de Santiago, Taos on Dec. 5 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Due to growing numbers over the years, the service will be held in the church sanctuary. People are encouraged to bring cushions and a menorah.

The event features the lighting of menorahs, prayers, songs of peace and guest speakers of various faiths.

This year’s guest speakers include Father Mike Olsen of St. James Church; Muslim Heyam Khweis; Jim Gilroy of the Roman Catholic faith; Mya Coursey from the Unitarian Congregation of Taos; and Susan Varon, and interfaith minister from Unity of Taos. Unconfirmed as of press time, but expected to participate is a representative from Taos Pueblo, and the Hindu and Buddhist communities.

The celebration of Chanukah (the “c” is silent) commemorates a miracle that Jews believe occurred in the Holy Temple: Upon their return to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after defeating Hellenist Syrians — who made it illegal for Jews to worship — the Jews found only enough oil to light the temple’s menorah for one day. Inexplicably, the menorah stayed aflame for eight days and nights, giving them enough time to find more oil to keep the fire lit.

Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in the second century B.C. The word itself means “dedication” in Hebrew, and traditionally Chanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar, which is normally in November or December.

This holiday rich in culture is also known as the Festival of Lights, hence the importance and symbolism of the menorahs and candles.

Taos’ special celebration of Chanukah was born from the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks. The first Peace Chanukah was held on the East Coast in 2001, said organizer Bette Meyerson. It brought people from all religions together to celebrate peace and the lights of the season in wake of the attacks. In attendance was a Taos Jewish community member who brought the idea back to Taos. With a country and world that seems to become more violent and more at odds every day, the event has continued in Taos every year since.

No admittance fee, but nonperishable food donations for The Shared Table, Taos Coalition for Homelessness and the St. James Food Pantry is appreciated. The event is sponsored by B’nai Shalom Havurah, the Taos Jewish Center and St. James Church. Call (575) 758-8615 or visit taosjewishcenter.org.

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