Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D., Spiritual Leader, SL Jewish Congregation
If it is December, it must be the time of Hanukkah and Christmas. Each year, interfaith couples agonize whether the celebration of these holidays are religious adventures or commercial enterprises. There is a tugging at the heart strings because respect for one another’s faith is the foundation of the commitment made as vows were said and families were joined. And each year, articles are written about celebrations, identifications, to ensure that the spiritual aspect of the season is not a cause for concern.
Couples of different faiths discuss this with me as they prepare to fulfill their pledge to one another. Sometimes there are anxieties which surface because of outside influences. It is a time of “light,” whether the lights on the tree or the glow from the candles on the Menorah. After all, it is also a time of darkness. The days are short. The nights are long. It is cold, and the harshness of winter is fast approaching. Life withers; the life of trees and flowers and people. We sleep, as does nature. It is the darkest time of the year.
The one brightness that illuminates our lives is the breath of love. We have searched for the person who makes us whole. The greatest glory is in knowing we have found the one. This is the essence of love and is the thread that helps us learn from one another and respect one another which, in turn, translates into tolerance for belief and faith. This is what this season is all about.
Hanukkah is a time of dedication (as the word implies), and Christmas is a time of renewal. They are synonymous, because renewal gives us the opportunity to rededicate ourselves to each other and the celebrations of life. The light of the Hanukkah candles and the brightness of the star as described in the Christmas story enable us to use these beacons toward an understanding of each other.
We cannot recapture the past. But we can use it to ensure the future. Religious understanding leads to religious freedom and is the clarion call for all people throughout history. Every grasp at religious freedom has had as its foundation the spark from the season of lights. That part of history may be no more, but the flicker of its meaning is within us by what we do and who we are, as well as the appreciation of our individuality.
This time of the year is also a time of connection—to our beliefs—the togetherness—to building a viable relationship. Commitment to each other is the affirmation of love and respect. It is the completion of oneness, because love knows no religion but rather the faith in God, the faith in each other.
Yes, it is December and rather than agonizing, I encourage couples of different faiths to focus on relationships and dreams and visions of continuity. It isn’t easy. There can be anguish on the part of family and friends. But the path to a successful relationship is still respect. Respect is the glue that keeps a relationship strong and lasting.