Dispelling the darkness
Faith leaders discuss coinciding observances
EASTON — It’s just a small gesture, really. A tiny flame atop a pillar of wax in same cases, a flick of a switch in others.
But those small gestures, multiplied, carry the freight of centuries of meaning and miracles — of the fulfillment of history, of the struggle for freedom, of the yearning for lasting peace.
Today marks the confluence of two great religious celebrations: the first day of Hanukkah for Jews and the first Sunday of Advent for Christians.
In Easton, those two faith traditions coincide on Sunday, Dec. 2. Rabbi Peter Hyman of Temple B’nai Israel and the Rev. James Nash of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church met recently to share cof fee and friendship as they talked about the history and meaning of the religious seasons.
The two men work from their houses of worship on opposite sides of the Easton Parkway in south Easton. Hyman jokes that if the small Mid-Shore Muslim community builds a mosque, he’d like to see it on the lot for sale next to the synagogue.
It’s this kind of camaraderie that characterizes the discussion about lighting candles against the darkness.
Hyman said it’s the job of clergy to explain the meaning of the religious seasons even as Wall Street uses images of Christmas trees, Jewish menorahs and Kwanzaa kinaras to sell products.
“It’s my job to explain to the members of Temple B’nai Israel, and whoever else comes, that Hanukkah is really the holiday of religious freedom,” Hyman said. “It focuses on major issues that we wrestle with today.
“The story of the Maccabees is both interesting but historically informative,” Hyman said. Jewish history and ideals are exemplified in “the struggle of — not just the Maccabees for the Jews — but the whole notion of totalitarianism versus universalism.”
“If you analyze the literature from that time, the Greek Syrians, while they presented a notion of universalism, it wasn’t. It was, ‘You do it our way and everything’s fine. If you don’t, then you have trouble.’ That’s totalitarianism,” Hyman said. “And the whole notion of religious freedom conflicts with that. That’s as modern a reality as we can have.”
“Advent is more theological, but it is about the defeat of darkness,” Nash said.
The interval between the Jesus’ first advent and his second coming, or advent, means that there’s “there’s plenty of darkness out there,” Nash said. “Darkness has been defeated in the death and resurrection of Christ, that’s true, but (the Christian faith) is about bringing about the kingdom (of God). It’s about making that happen, and we’re still a part of that. These moments help us be reinvigorated to do that.”
“When we do work to bring about the kingdom, then we do need to be concerned about the poor and the less fortunate and those who are under totalitarian control and those who are silenced because their opinion doesn’t matter,” Nash said.
“And that’s what we’re trying to preach on weekends,” Nash said. “We’re not trying to preach a feelgood Gospel. It’s hard sometimes here.”
Hyman agreed. “It’s a blessing and a curse,” he said. “We’re fortunate to live in a community that’s embracing and welcoming, supportive, involved, so it may be inappropriate or unnecessary to do fire-and-brimstone sermons.”
“It’s really about getting the message across in a way that people can hear it,” Nash said.
Following two recent wellattended interfaith services at the synagogue, Hyman and the congregation will hold a community Chanukah menorah lighting service on Thursday, Dec. 6 (see related article). Nash plans to attend.
“The more Father Nash and myself and other colleagues can be welcoming to the general community, the more we can demystify who we are and what we do, the more we can show the similarities that are housed by our distinctiveness, the better off we are,” Hyman said.
“I love that. I’m going to steal that,” said Nash, smiling, as Hyman responded, “Please do.”
“On the outside, we’re distinct — we have different ways of seeing the world, different ways of getting there. But when the rubber hits the road, we’re much more similar,” Nash said.
One of those commonalities was expressed in illuminated calligraphed Hebrew scripture of Proverbs 3:18 given by Nash to Hyman when the new Temple was dedicated.
Unbeknownst to Nash, he gave Hyman, an accomplished calligrapher, the same Hebrew scripture that is carved in the front of the wooden bimah, or platform from which the Torah is read.
Proverbs 3:18 states “(Wisdom) is a tree of life to those who grasp her, and whoever holds on to her is happy.”
“I thought, how cool,” Hyman said.
“You should have seen the look on his face,” Nash said. “I thought, it’s nice but it’s not that nice. I mean, it’s not gold or anything — it kind of gave me chills.”
“He’s a real mensch,” Hyman said.
The menorah celebrating the Jewish Festival of Lights is illuminated by members of the community in during Hanukkah 2017 at the former home of Temple B’nai Israel in Easton.
Rabbi Peter Hyman, right, of Temple B’nai Israel, reads the illuminated and calligraphed Hebrew scripture the Rev. James Nash of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church gave his neighbor and friend when the new synagogue was dedicated.
Pat and Mike Vazzana light a candle for the first of the four Sundays of Advent at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Easton.
Having just returned from Israel, the Rev. James Nash of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, left, discusses his trip and surveys the portico of the new Temple B’nai Israel with Rabbi Peter Hyman, who was a rabbinical student there 45 years ago.