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Glazer: Celebrating faith and blended holidays

POSTED: November 22, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Ruth Parsons is not a lady one can easily say no to. She called out of the blue one day to ask if I would speak at the ecumenical Thanksgiving Day program she was organizing at Lanier Village Estates, a retirement community in North Hall County.

She wanted me to discuss Judaism and its approach to aging and the elderly. Someone had mentioned my name when she made inquiries about finding someone Jewish to cover that portion of the program.

I was happy to help out. That is, until she mentioned the other participants. Representing other religions were reverends and doctors, a father and an iman, all formally trained and ready to speak knowledgeably about their assigned topic. I, however, have only one real credential: I’m a Jewish mother.

I tried to recruit Shalom b’Harim’s rabbi, Mitch Cohen, but he couldn’t be in town that day. Then I did what any good Jewish mother would do. I guilted my daughter into doing it for me.

Rachel has the credentials. She’s a 2011 Bronfman Fellow, one of the highest honors bestowed on a Jewish high school student. She’s the founder and president of the University of North Georgia’s Interfaith Alliance, designed to foster goodwill and understanding among the different faiths on campus. She’s also an awesome public speaker with skills honed through years of debate tournaments and oratory competitions.

And she’s a good daughter. She agreed without hesitation.

Ms. Parsons’ organizational skills were obvious from the minute we pulled up to the gate. We were waived through to the clubhouse where someone stood waiting to direct us to a parking spot and then escort us into a building that was both elegant and welcoming. Ms. Parsons was a little dynamo in a gold brocade jacket.

We were first treated to lunch. Rachel noted that it was vegetarian, a thoughtful accommodation to the various religions’ dietary restrictions.

Our table was gloriously diverse. There was a Baptist minister, representatives of the B’ahai Faith community, the director of Atlanta’s Buddhist Sambhala Center, Rachel and me. For a group that, on first glance, had little in common, we certainly found a lot to talk about.

The program itself was a triumph. The myriad topics, built around the encompassing title of “For This We Give Thanks,” covered family, forgiveness, friendship, nature, health and love. As each speaker addressed a topic through the lens of their particular beliefs, I found myself infused with a feeling of comfortable unity.

The common, uniting thread was compassion. I thought of the bins of food drive groceries and Toys for Tots donations I had spotted in the clubhouse foyer.

I thought of Ruth Parsons, who had dedicated untold hours organizing the assembly. I’m convinced that she and others like her — the room mothers, hospital auxiliary volunteers, drama mamas, neighborhood cookout organizers, Sunday School teachers, all the folks who step up and do the things that need to be done and inspire others to help — are the glue that holds our community together. They are, each and every one, a treasure.

I was reminded of a passage in a column Rachel once wrote for The Times dealing with religion in the schools. It read, “My friends who lead a weekly Bible study group before school often invite me eat muffins and study with them. If everyone sat down for breakfast to discuss topics they didn’t understand, perhaps the world would be a better place.”

Amen to that.

It was a wonderful way to kick off the holiday season. Next week comes Thanksgiving and a concurrent Hanukkah. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence

The two holidays won’t converge again until the year 79811. Thanksgivukkah 2013 (or 5774 on the Jewish calendar) will give the Glazers a rare opportunity to celebrate Hanukkah together as a family rather than via packages and cards mailed to distant parts of the country. We’ll also serve our latkes with cranberry sauce along with the traditional sour cream. And maybe I’ll add a buckle to my husband’s yarmulke.

So this coming week, let’s give thanks for all we’ve been given which, in turn, makes it possible for us to share with others. In the spirit of both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, let’s celebrate blessings, survival and religious freedom.

Gut Yontiff, y’all.

Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.


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