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Asking the clergy: Celebrating a holiday of another faith

This week's clergy all share space at the Brookville Multifaith Campus. The center began as a Protestant Dutch Reformed Church in America congregation in 1732. The Rev. Vicky Eastland says it changed from a strongly Dutch ethnic congregation to an English-speaking church around the time of the Civil War.

Fast forward to the present and "we now are a place of religious diversity," Eastland says of the church that is home to Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations. It also hosts the Interfaith Community of Long Island, which is an organization of interfaith couples, all of whom are Christian and Jewish, who wish to raise their children with an understanding of both faiths.

The clergy meet regularly to learn from each other. The most recent was a Thanksgiving service where clergy taught from each other's Scriptures.


The Rev. Vicky Eastland, Brookville Reformed Church:

We need to not be so afraid of offending someone that we don't try at all. First, we need to put ourselves in the position of being students and let someone of the other faith be our teacher. People respect those who put forth an effort to learn. Even if you get it wrong, it is better to have grown from the experience.

Five years ago, my husband and I adopted an adolescent from India. He is 16 now. A few years ago, we began celebrating Diwali, which is the Hindu Festival of Light. What is wonderful about celebrating another faith's holidays is it helps us grow, not only in our understanding of another, but in our own faith. We don't fully understand everything about Diwali, but we are on a journey with our son.

Taking an interest in someone else's holidays builds bridges of friendship, understanding and aids in our own growth. It has expanded my understanding of God in a larger context than it would have by just studying my own faith traditions.


Rabbi Stuart A. Paris, New Synagogue of Long Island, Brookville:

In Judaism, the most important thing is to get ready. For example, we prepare for Shabbat the entire week. The answer to the question is a six-step process.

Open your heart and mind to learn about the possibility of another path.

Move into the intent to learn and let go of the intent to be right.

Study and learn the story and history of the holiday; knowledge overcomes fear, prejudice and resistance.

Enjoy the experience. We use a mantra that helps with this: never instead, always in addition. It is based on the principle that there are many paths to the one truth, that truth being God.

Remain open and unconditional.

Look for the commonality with your birth tradition: i.e. love and all the positive emotions of faith.

When you participate in another's traditions and holiday, do what is comfortable. For example, if you are not Christian, you need not take the sacrament. You want to be respectful, but you also want to be true to yourself.

Jesus studied with Hillel, who taught the following: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?"

What that means is to look to the joy and love in that tradition that links it to your own tradition.


Sultan Abdulhameed, Muslim scholar and facilitator of the Muslim Reform Movement Organization, Brookville:

If members of the family are of different faiths, you should observe both holidays. For example, if one is Jewish and one is Catholic, you should respectfully observe both Hanukkah and Christmas at this time of year.

From the Muslim point of view, for example, we believe Jesus Christ is a prophet of God and revere Mary also as the mother of Jesus Christ. Christmas is a holiday we respect. If you visit a Christian home or a church at this time of year, you should respect the person's home or the congregation. There doesn't have to be a Christmas tree up or a menorah for you to show respect.

Also, it is absolutely appropriate to express your ignorance of the holiday and ask questions. Most Muslims are delighted to share information about their faith and welcome the inquiry.

If you attend a mosque during a holy day, I don't think you would find any mosque that would prevent you from participating. If you are unsure, before service begins, ask whether it is acceptable. You may participate in prayers. But, please don't talk or ask questions during prayers. Unless you are told differently, expect to participate fully in services.

As for whether you should say "merry Christmas" or other greetings, yes, if a person is Christian, say "merry Christmas." If the person is Jewish, say "happy Hanukkah" and so on. This is a respectful way to address the person.

What is important is your attitude and demeanor toward the other faith. Go in with the attitude that you will participate and learn as much as you can, and you should be welcomed.

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