If you’ve visited the Hanukkah series from our Christmas series and want to jump back to the 7 stories of Christmas, click here.
“What else can we do to build bridges?”
That’s the question that peace activist Brenda Rosenberg asks herself every day –- and, from our perspective here at ReadTheSpirit, that alone is an inspiring personal story to hear on the eve of Hanukkah.
We’ll tell you more about Brenda’s work –- but, first, a word about Hanukkah:
The Festival of Lights starts at sundown Tuesday evening. It’s considered a minor celebration in the Jewish calendar, but it has taken on much greater significance in the 20th Century for a couple of reasons:
One reason is practical: Hanukkah sometimes is lifted up as a Jewish alternative to the Christmas season –- a time for Jewish children to receive year-end gifts and a time for neighbors and co-workers to exchange year-end holiday greetings in a religiously diverse way. Retailers have jumped onto the diversity bandwagon in recent years, as we all can see this time of year.
It’s the second reason that’s more important to us: Hanukkah is a celebration of religious liberty and the freedom to fully proclaim one’s religious identity in the world. The story from more than 2,000 years ago, in a nutshell, is that Judaism was threatened with extinction by a ruthless ruler. This ruler was forcefully replacing Jewish religious practices and culture with Greek-inspired culture. Judaism itself was endangered.
Finally, a brave band of Jewish loyalists reclaimed the temple in Jerusalem and re-lit the temple lights. Not only was this a heroic moment for religious freedom –- but, as Christians and Muslims, if the story of Hanukkah had not unfolded, then we wouldn’t have had an environment for Jesus to emerge eventually -– as a savior for Christians and as a great prophet for Muslims.
So, as Christians and Muslims, we’ve actually got a tiny share in this traditional Jewish celebration, as well.
AND, hopefully, whatever our faith may be, we all can agree that the world is a better place when we are free to express ourselves religiously. That’s the basic message celebrated in this holiday season today.
It was true thousands of years ago. And it’s profoundly true now.
That brings us back to Brenda Rosenberg’s story, because all of Brenda’s work is focused on shaping our various religious expressions to build stronger communities, not to destroy them.
Her latest idea –- which she developed with the Michigan Chapter of the American Jewish Committee –- is shaping up as a tremendous pilot program that could be picked up by communities all across the U.S. and, potentially, around the world.
It’s called Building Bridges Through Books.
Now, as the founding Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I have to say: I know! I know! That sounds like our motto at ReadTheSpirit — building bridges through books!
But, Brenda has a fresh approach to this idea. She has raised money to purchase sets of books (she refers to this as “a small Jewish library”) that she presents to Muslim leaders who welcome this addition to their congregational libraries.
This is a natural bridge to build -– because Islam has a rich tradition in the literary arts. Islamic book design and calligraphy always rank among the world’s cultural treasures in any complete overview of world history. Even if we are not Muslim ourselves, we collectively have Muslim scholars to thank, some centuries ago, for preserving major portions of our human knowledge in books about about math, science, geography and other disciplines.
So, building a bridge by giving Jewish books to a people steeped in the rich heritage of the literary arts –- well, it’s a brilliant connection to make.
This isn’t the only thing Brenda does –- and this is another reason that she represents an important spark of light in the interfaith realm.
“The reason that I ask myself that question about building bridges every single day is this: There’s never one answer to bringing peace and understanding into our world,” Brenda told me in an interview about her book program.
“People’s hearts are opened in different ways,” she said. “Some people find it very easy to do service projects together like building for Habitat for Humanity or feeding the hungry. Other people like to study together and find their real connections through scholarship. Other people connect through the arts. Others like to talk face to face with another person.
“Not too many people want to do all of those things. So, we need to find lots of different strategies to connect people.”
And these libraries of Jewish books –- just waiting there on the shelves of Muslim centers for people to thumb through the books and learn about Judaism at their own pace –- is a great new strategy.
If you want to see this collection of books, we have gathered most of the titles in our online bookstore. Here’s how to browse that area of our store: CLICK on the book covers (above) and you’ll jump to the Jewish Library within our store.
ALSO –- Throughout this week, as Hanukkah starts, we’ll be celebrating Jewish faith and culture. Later this month, we’ll be celebrating Christmas on ReadTheSpirit, as well.
And -– in January –- do not miss our special month-long series –- and our first book published by ReadTheSpirit — in the 1st Annual National Interfaith Heroes Month! It’s January 1 through 31, 2008, and you won’t want to miss this historic observance!
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AND — STARTING TUESDAY EVENING …