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Asking the Clergy: A faithful response to dissent at holiday gatherings

From letft, Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen of Village

From letft, Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen of Village Chabad at Stony Brook, the Rev. Randolph Jon Geminder of St. Mary's Episcopal Church, and Mahmood Kauser of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Credit: Chanie Cohen; Randolph Geminder; Mahmood Kauser

Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and other upcoming holidays can bring together people of opposing mindsets, potentially turning a pleasant communal meal into a forum for debate. This week’s clergy discuss ways to keep the peace at gatherings of family and friends.

Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen

Village Chabad Stony Brook

There is a time and place for everything, and a family holiday gathering is the place and time to look for things that unite us, not divide us, in a safe zone free of politics. If need be, this should be mentioned while inviting guests to the gathering.

If a conversation comes up that will bring conflict, one should quickly say, "I would rather not discuss this now, let’s enjoy our time together instead."

The Tzemach Tzedek, the 3rd Chabad Rebbe, once asked, "Why is it that when a child gets upset at you, they can promise never to talk to you again, even say, ‘I hate you,’ and two minutes later they are your best friends. An adult, on the other hand, can get into an argument with someone and say, ‘I’ll never talk to you again,’ and not allow this person to be invited to his grandson’s bar mitzvah two decades later."

The Tzemach Tzedek says it’s because a child would rather be happy than right, and an adult sometimes would rather be right than happy.

This holiday season let’s choose to be happy and united.

The Rev. Randolph Jon Geminder

Rector, St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Amityville

One of my favorite opening versicles at Morning Prayer comes from the Bible’s Book of Habakkuk: "The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him." (Habakkuk 2:20)

It reminds us that there are indeed times for holy restraint, and a gathering at our Holy Seasons is certainly one of those times. Holiday memories are the ones that seem to last the longest, so it behooves us to do our very best to keep those occasions focused upon love and acceptance, rather than dominance over others and self-directed pride.

At one of our many joyous Thanksgiving dinners at the home of my beloved late organist and his family, I will always remember how I admired his table greeting before I said grace — "I love you all. Please no politics at this table." It really made a difference at a very politically charged time.

May strife and stress be absent from our precious holy day gatherings, making room for respectful love for one another, and gratitude to our loving Lord.

Mahmood Kauser

Imam, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community with mosques in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Amityville

Before Islam, Arabia was engulfed in tribalism, leaving every city, town and neighborhood divided. With no central government, people grew hostile and intolerant.

Eventually, Prophet Muhammad transformed the entire Arabian Peninsula, uniting them under many fundamental truths, such as the duty of the government to provide security and freedom of conscience, the rights of women to decide their own destinies, and wealth equality that looked beyond race and religion. After establishing this framework of justice, strikingly similar to the U.S. Constitution hundreds of years later, the Holy Prophet Muhammad often declared, according to the Hadith, a collection of his sayings, "difference of opinion in my nation is a mercy."

He acknowledged that once the world agrees on a unity of purpose, then the methods of achieving that purpose can and should differ. Therefore, as we enjoy the holidays with our loved ones, it is imperative to accept the fundamental pursuits of equality, peace and unity that we all hold so dearly.

At the same time, however, we can feel free to share differing views through dialogue and discourse at the dinner table, in a civil, respectful way, without judgments.

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