Professor Joe Goldblatt
Once upon a time, many years ago, I heard loud shouts coming from the living room in our small home in Dallas, Texas. My mother shouted “Fire! Fire!” as she watched the dry leaves of our live Christmas tree starting to spark because they were too close to our burning Chanukah candles.
On the final night of Chanukah Jewish people kindle eight candles to remind us of the miracle that happened three thousand years ago when the ancient temple’s everlasting lamp was nearly extinguished by invaders who wished to harm the Jews. These eight candles represent the number of days it took to collect and return with the oil to keep the ever lasting light burning bright. When the Jewish tribe left to collect the oil there was only enough oil remaining for three of four days. When they returned, the light was burning bright and this miracle gave birth to the festival of chanukah.
Papa rushed into the living room with a pitcher of water and uncermoniously tossed doused the flaming tree branches he announced to to mama “Well, you have just witnessed another miracle, the burning bush as been extinguished!” I was too young to appreciate his humour, however, mama laughed and we were all relieved that our Jewish family would live to see Christmas arrive in a few days time.
Our family was blended tightly together by our strong faith values. Although my mother’s mum was born to Jewish parents in Germany, her father was Catholic and she attended catholic schools. My father’s parents were first generation American immigrants from the Jewish shtetls of Eastern Europe. Annually we celebrated both Christmas and Chanukah, seamlessley and spiritually.
I suppose this was my first experience with interfaith relations. When I became a teenager, my father arranged for my sister and I to give weekly speeches in local Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Catholic churches so that other teenagers would better understand that the values of the Jewish people were similar to theirs and toghether that we could promote understanding, tolerance, compassion and love.
In the past year, my fellow Edinburgh Interfaith Association trustees have worked diligently to strengthen and promote these values to many others. Now, more than ever before in our lifetimes, we must work together as people of faith and also those of no faith to restore and tighten the bonds of civil society by seeking opportunities to work together to help others.
Therefore, it is my festive season wish for you, that we never allow the light of the festive season to diminish. Rather, we work together to produce new miracles every day by finding new opportunities to promote kindness, compassion and mutual respect for one another.
After all, once upon a time, many years, my father discovered a miracle in our midst during the festive season when two faiths lived together in peace and harmony. May we all experience many more miracles through interfaith now and in the future.
Happy festive season and stay well.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is the Treasurer of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association and co – host of the weekly pod cast Interfaith Insights. https://www.facebook.com/EIFA.page/videos/interfaith-insights/543181686346970/ He is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University.