December – Simply COEXIST

Polegnyn Nemeara

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[Initial intro paragraph removed. See why here]

Since we at TarValon.Net feel the first step in being tolerant of one another is knowing more about each other, the Servant of All Team felt it important to have summaries of each belief system/ideology [eta: as outlined by the Coexist logo]. To do so in an organized manner, we're going in the order of probably the most recognizable call for tolerance, the COEXIST bumper sticker. Additionally, instead of the SoA Team regurgitating information found online, we've invited more informed members of the community to post each summary.

The original COEXIST design began as a piece of artwork created by a Polish graphic designer, Piotr Mlodozeniec, in 2000 for a “Coexistence” themed contest. While Mlodozeniec’s creation didn’t win, it was allowed to be on tour with other entries to the same contest and garnered additional exposure. The design was subsequently adapted for graffiti, worn by famous musicians, and infamous status was acquired.

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Since the original artwork, Coexist, LLP has expanded the design to incorporate various additional belief systems and ideologies. The organization’s founder, Dr. Tarek Elgawhary, realized all major world religions were encouraging the same general thing and inspiration from Mlodozeniec’s design was used. The meaning has also expanded: being flexible when it comes to solving larger, challenging issues alongside people who have completely different and often conflicting perspectives. But instead of simply remaining a conversation piece, the Dr. Elgawhary decided to find a way to use his personal interest in world religions to help in a tangible way. Hence organization's monetization of the infamous bumper sticker and direct involvement in conflict resolution on a larger scale.

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Several variations of the COEXIST bumper sticker can be seen these days. Meaning has continued to evolve and morph into whatever the person wants it to mean, ranging from faith to gender equality to the overall peace movement.

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Sources: ”The History Behind The ‘Coexist’ Logo On Your Bumper Sticker”, https://www.urbo.com/content/the-history-behind-the-coexist-logo-on-your-bumper-sticker/; “An Interview with Dr. Tarek Elgawhary the President of the Coexist Foundation”, https://www.melissallarena.com/s1e2-tarek-elgawhary/.

Please know the use of the COEXIST sticker for this focus month simply serves as a framework for opening discussion about only a handful of faiths and ideologies. By using the COEXIST bumper sticker, we are not saying those listed are the only worldviews that exist
:)
There will be an eighth opportunity for you to summarize worldviews not included in the bumper sticker at the end of the month

Since each summary will be posted fairly quickly during an incredibly busy month for so many, links to specific topics within this thread will be included below for easy reference:

Want to discuss a particular topic more? Threads in the opt-in Spirituality & Religion forum will be linked for in-depth discussion and additional questions. Contact your usergroup admin for opt-in access to this forum if so desired.

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Want to help in some way? TarValon.Net does not specifically endorse COEXIST. However, one thing COEXIST might agree with is to help your community by learning more about another's perspective and actively showing empathy toward it. Here are links to a few ways to get involved:
 
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Polegnyn Nemeara

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The first summary is about Islam and written by @Lyndo Shiranui (With permission, I'm simply posting on his behalf):

Lyndo Shiranui said:
The word ''Islam'' means ''Submission to the will of God'' but it also means peace, security and well-being by the word's root ''salema''. The believers of Islam are called ''Muslims''. Their prophet is Muhammad and they believe that Muhammad was the last prophet. Muslims are monotheistic, therefore only believe in one God, named Allah. They believe that Allah sent many prophets, and they respect them all; including Adam, Abraham, David, Noah, Moses and Jesus. The main difference between Islam and Christianity is that Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet of God, and indeed Mary was virgin and gave birth to Jesus and that is the miracle of Allah, but it does not make Jesus his son. Muslims' holy book is called ''The Qur'an''. To be a Muslim, one must believe in six things: Belief in God, Beliefe in Angels, Belief in Scriptures, Belief in the Messengers (Prophets), Belief in the Last Day and Belief in Predestination. As said before, Belief in Messengers include all the Prophets. Belief in Scriptures doesn't necessarily mean that Muslims need to believe all religions' scriptures, but it does mean that indeed all of those scriptures that came before the Qur'an were God's words and although Muslims believe that the scriptures before the Qur'an were changed in time so they aren't original words of God anymore they should still respect them.

Five pillars of Islam:
1. Profession of faith (shahada): ''There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God".
2. Prayer (salat): Muslims pray five times a day. They can pray everywhere, but praying at the mosques are encouraged.
3. Alms (zakat): Muslims give 2.6% of their worth of possessions to the poors once a year. Possession doesn't include necessary things to live. It includes the luxury and money (money must be savings).
4. Fasting (sawm): Muslims fast for thirty days during Ramadan. They start fasting at the beginning of the sunrise and end it after the sunset. They do not eat or drink anything during fasting and they avoid all the sinful acts.
5. Pilgrimage (hajj): A pilgrimage to Kaaba in Mecca at least once during a person’s lifetime if the person is rich enough to be able to go.

Peace and War:
Islam forbids violance and calls it 'haram'. Violance is only allowed against ''kafirs'' and against people who harms innocents knowingly and willingly. The word ''kafir'' is one of the most misunderstood words in the Qur'an. Kafir doesn't mean ''non-believer'', it means that ''the one who opens war against Allah and his believers''. The word ''jihad'' means ''struggle'', and Muslims believe it refers to internal and external efforts to defend their faith, that includes; jihad with one’s internal self to measure life keeps with Islam; jihad to make society better supported by the teachings of Islam, opening schools and mosques; and finally, military jihad to defend Islam and its believers against aggressors.

''And We have not sent you, (O Muhammad), except as a mercy to the worlds." [21:107]

"Fight for the cause of God, those who fight you, but do not transgress (do not break the ethics/laws of war), for God does not love the transgressors." [2:190]

''To you be your Religion, and to me mine.'' [109:6]

''The believers are those who spend in charity during ease and hardship and who restrain their anger and pardon the people, for Allah loves the doers of good.'' [3:134]

Fun information:
Muslims love the animals and the nature. Hunting for fun is haram, as cutting a tree without a purpose also is. Prophet Muhammad loved the cats the most, this is why Muslims are extra nice to cats.

Post your questions below! Want to discuss Islam more after December 3rd? Visit "Ask a Muslim" in the Spirituality & Religion forum for in-depth discussion and additional questions. Contact your usergroup admin for access to this opt-in forum.
 
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Ty al'Djinn

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The second summary is about Peace, and is written by myself, from a Quaker perspective concerning the Peace Testimony.

TW: some discussion of violence, including sexual violence

Quakers are a rather diverse group that don't have much, if anything, in the way of doctrine- we are an Orthopraxic religion that places value upon how you behave rather than how you profess your belief. The original Quakers believed that clergy was unnecessary and that all people are equal in the light of God, and that this was a good reason to have unstructured meetings instead of services. This is often called "unprogrammed" worship. Unprogrammed worship generally consists of sitting in silence, listening instead of speaking- listening to the inner light, That of God in each person. Some branches of modern Quakerism have gone back to greater organization and evolved more towards traditional Christianity, but they still have the core of Quaker beliefs in common with unprogrammed Quakers. These are called Testimonies, because they are not really orthodoxies- they are lived, rather than simply believed. If you do not live in this way, it is entirely possible others will no longer call you a Quaker.

These have been summarized since the 90's as the SPICES- Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship. This post is written by me, an unprogrammed Quaker, about my personal understanding of the Peace Testimony.

Peace is complicated, and the testimony I have grappled with the most by far.

When some people say they want "Peace on Earth", we are talking about an end to war. But what is a given war because of? Pride? Resources? Lust for power? Freedom from oppressions or destruction of yourself, your way of life? Are these things justifiable reasons to start a war? Is it acceptable to defend yourself in war? Each Quaker answers these questions for themselves, and usually the answer is a resounding No, you should not proliferate violence in any capacity.

When some people say they want "an end to violence", they are talking about interpersonal violence, most often. They want an end to domestic violence, to active shooters, to fights in bars, to gang violence, to sexual violence. But how do we end these things? It has been true since the beginning that the only way to keep someone in the heat of a moment from doing something is to use force or diplomacy- and there is a lot of truth to the chestnut that war is diplomacy continued by other means.

So, in some ways, all violence can be seen as a failure of diplomacy, or of society. Domestic violence is caused by social conditioning, but also by poverty, by addiction, and by a lack of emotional and mental healthcare. Active shooters have unknown causes in the United States, because we are not allowed to study the causes of gun violence using government apparatus or government funding. But surely, there are failures of society and of diplomacy somewhere in the pasts of these troubled individuals that are preventable. And easy access to firearms enables them. Why not tackle the entire continuum that enables this violence? Bar fights are almost always failures of diplomacy. Gang violence is a failure of policy, a failure of social care, and a failure of diplomacy. Sexual violence could also be considered to be a failure of society, though less often a failure of diplomacy. So it is often used as a reductionist scapegoat in trying to "catch" a Quaker saying they won't be pacifistic in a given situation. I am sure in all of these you can see how the other SPICES, especially Community, Stewardship, and Equality could help reduce violence.

Because almost every form of violence is preventable, part of the Peace testimony for many is committing to reduce those causes of violence first, as a way to reduce violence overall. Peace IS Stewardship. Living a life of Simplicity IS part of living a Peaceful life. Fighting for Equality aids the cause of Peace. Strong Communities reduce violence. The SPICES, and living a life of benefit to your fellow man, is one that requires interplay between these efforts.

If we return to the sexual violence example, it will help illustrate the point. There is a particular question popular on Reddit, Tumblr, and other social media aimed at Quakers, usually asked of a man, but it can be asked of anyone.
"If you come home and your wife and daughters are tied up and being raped, or you are being raped, wouldn't you fight back? Would you kill them?"
The way this question is framed usually presumes there is no possibility of escape: no possibility of having prevented it in the first place by running away, or having a dog, or a home security system, or another deterrent. No possibility of talking them out of it, or of having interfered in whatever development caused the desire for violence in the first place. It is simply meant to put a person in the worst position that someone with little world experience but a desire to shock could imagine, and then asking if violence could be the answer -now-, in -this situation-. That is, though, an individual question. For me, I wouldn't know until I arrived in that situation. I do not believe I would take a life out of anger, but I would defend myself or my family as necessarily. I am, right now, closest to what might be termed a "Martial Pacifist". I do not believe that there is ever a good reason to begin conflict or initiate violence, and I believe there are many opportunities to avoid fighting that should be utilized before anything else, up to and including running away. But if given no other choice, if put in that situation where I cannot run, I may see violence as an acceptable response, if I could not simply weather the storm.

I am happy to have a discussion on this with anyone who would like to, but suffice it to say that framing something in this way takes away the agency of the people in the situation, and confines them to playing out bit parts.

Testimonies, especially the Peace Testimony, are referred to as "Living". We are called by the inner light of God to follow that guiding moral light and conduct ourselves to the best of our moral understanding and ability. Life and testimonies though, are complicated. Can we say we are living the Peace Testimony if we are not doing everything we can to end violence in our own communities? To break cycles of violence? To end hunger?

My personal thought is that when it comes to pacifism and the Peace Testimony, not taking a life is easy. It's the bare minimum. If you ever find yourself in a position where the decisions are to take a life or die yourself, many Quakers will die, and hope that they can make enough of a difference in their death to redeem the one whose hand took that life. I am personally not there yet, because I have always felt more akin to a protector. If I live, I might be able to save more with my life than with my death.

So, my personal expression of the Peace Testimony is more about doing everything I can to proactively prevent violence. To be a bridgebuilder. To be a peacemaker. And then, in the last extreme, to be a bulwark. To put myself in between others and violence. Perhaps, in the right circumstance, to respond with force in the defense of another- but likely not in defense of myself.

There is an apocryphal story where George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, and William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, had a conversation where Will asked Fox if he needed to lay down his sword. As the story goes, Penn carried one everywhere, and was familiar with its use. Fox told Penn that he could "Carry his sword while he may."

Now, some Quakers dislike that as a dismissal of what we should be doing- it's the easy way out and says that we can still be violent if we can't manage to put down our sword- but I like to see it as an allegory for our journey along the peaceful path, instead. I was a violent young man in my youth, and I have no interest in that now. I have laid down my sword.

On an individual moment basis, I might only pick it up in defense of another. Only a great evil, not preventable or destroyable except by strength of arms, could make me take it up again for more than a momentary need. There is a reason some Quakers left their meetings to liberate Nazi occupied territory as rumors of what was going on reached America. That though, was a personal choice that caused them to no longer be recognized as a Quaker. To be violent, to commit violence, is to forget that there is that of God in each person, and that we owe that spark of the divine in each person the same respect we give ourselves and our most cherished loved ones.

Defense of others, while noble, is not likely to be the right path for someone who can live the Peace Testimony. After all, in the wake of WWII, the Friend's Foreign Service Committee, a group of Quakers, was allowed everywhere by all sides during the reconstruction and aftermath, because they were trusted to be nonviolent. They took bread and supplies wherever they could, and while living memory is fading, there are still some who remember Quakers with gratefulness because of that. It made an impact. I think, personally, it made a much greater impact than another person with a gun. Peace and love make greater impacts than violence.

For me personally, it is anger and hatred that are the enemy. I think if we can do our best to love each and every person we meet, and, as Quakers say, see the light of God in every person, we are better able to prevent violence. And if it is to be visited upon us, then it is visited upon us by a child of God. The Dalai Lama once said that if someone were threatening your life and physical force were required to stop them, it was acceptable to use force to stop them- but to do it without hatred in your heart. I think that is perhaps, the most important thing of all. Live with Love, not hate. Regardless of what you feel you must do moment to moment, do it with love in your heart, and you will not be likely to go wrong.

In that vein, an overlooked part of Peace that many could stand to hear and meditate on a little more, is that of peace with yourself. In many ways, anxiety and bad thoughts are violence upon yourself. If there is something wrong with your brain you can't help that, but you can always help how you respond. At first, it is difficult- but it gets easier with time. Violence perpetrated upon our own souls out of a sense of helplessness, despair, or unworthiness are how many of the acts of violence that we try and stop elsewhere are begun. So, we should also work to cultivate an inner peace, and an inner light that provides us with emotional and mental health and stability, so that we can then provide a hand up to those who need it.

If your thoughts are always in turmoil, and you cannot make a decision, you are not at peace. If you cannot listen to others, if you instead listen to reply, you are not cultivating peace in a conversation. You are trying to force your thoughts upon another- a lesser sin of violence, to be sure, but it is certainly not peaceful. Emotional Intelligence and Self Awareness are core to the Peace Testimony.

Living the Peace testimony is difficult, and explaining it is complicated, as all the Testimonies of Quakers are individual- but it is always worth it to do both.

I hope that this may help illustrate one Quaker's views on our Testimony.

If you would like to discuss this further, or Quakerism in general, please feel free to do so below or in the thread linked here!
 
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Arella Mathara

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The third summary of this series is from me :pleased-1:

What is atheism?
When defining atheism it is easiest to start with the etymology of the word atheism. Its roots are from the Greek atheos, a- meaning 'without' and theos 'god'. So what does this mean? Atheism is not a belief system but a lack of belief in gods (from several sources). This definition fits very well with my personal brand of atheism, aka my definition of the term. As an atheist I have never believed in the existence of a higher being, I believe that life on Earth is a happy coincidence rooted in billions of years of evolution and happenstance.

Atheism as a life stance
Some argue that atheism is a life stance while others believe strongly that it is not. The way I see it, atheism is not a life stance as it lacks some of the requirements to be seen as such. A person’s life stance is their relation with what they accept as being of ultimate importance. It involves the presuppositions and theories upon which such a stance could be made, a belief system, and a commitment to potentially working it out in one's life. This is not compatible with what we discussed above; atheism is not a belief system, but a lack of one. In Norway, at least, humanism is a popular philosophy with a lot of followers. While atheism is not a life stance, humanism is a life stance where atheism is a part. I think this is one of the reasons for the confusion surrounding this. One can incorporate atheism into a life stance without stopping there, a lack of a belief in gods does not mean you cannot believe in other things. Atheism on its own however cannot be seen as a life stance.

Misconceptions about atheism
Throughout history atheism has been seen as a lack of a belief in "the right gods". An early example of this is the trial against Socrates. He was accused of being an atheist, which he was not, as argued by Plato in his defence speech. In many societies atheism has been seen as the lack of belief in the gods commonly embraced by the society at large. Socrates did indeed have a religion but did not follow the religion of the city gods of Athens. This made him an atheist in the eyes of his peers, and since atheism was a capital crime, he was sentenced to death.

Even today many confuse the terms atheism and agnostic. As we've already stated, an atheist does not believe in the existence of gods. An agnostic on the other hand believes that nothing can be known about the existence or nature of a god, this knowledge is beyond human comprehension. The main difference between the two is the last bit which is significant. As an atheist I don't believe there is a possibility a deity exists while an agnostic believes there is. I could go into more detail about misconceptions (and prejudice) concerning atheism but I am gonna stop here.


Sources
Most of the above are solely based on my own belief system, or rather lack thereof, but I have also looked up other sources for ideas on what to include, and for definitions.

American Atheists: https://www.atheists.org/
Great Norwegian Encyclopedia: https://snl.no/ateisme
Great Norwegian Encyclopedia: https://snl.no/livssyn

Do you have any questions for me? You can post them below until the next contributor posts, or ask them here whenever :pleased-1:
 

Sela Narian

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Hi all! I'm here to post a summary about Judaism. First though, I want to address one thing that may give you insight on actual coexistence, from the perspective of a minority group member:

With so many, it's easy to see why December is a special time of year for the entire world, religious or secular depending on your personal belief system.

So I totally respect all that was said above at a general level (okay, okay, truth? I don't actually respect it, as you'll soon see, though I do respect the person who said it and simply believe they aren't aware of the context inherent in the statement that I'm about to dive the hell into). This isn't me calling anyone out, but I'm going to answer to this line specifically, as honestly as I can. And you may not like what I have to say.

December isn't a special time of the year for Jews. December isn't part of the Jewish calendar. Sometimes Chanukah is in November instead. We go by our own lunar calendar and that dictates when it takes place. And in any case, the majority of Jewish people, when asked about the most important Jewish holidays, probably wouldn't list Chanukah in the top three or four (unless they're 100% secular and never learned about the other holidays, and just know about Chanukah from what non-Jews know and assume about it).

Chanukah may be fifth or sixth most important. Much more important are Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Pesach (Passover). And I would personally list Simchat Torah and Tisha b'Av before I'd ever get around to Chanukah after all that. One might also argue Shabbat is more important than Chanukah, and Shabbat happens every week. Possibly Shabbat is more important than everything except Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. And I'd consider Purim before Chanukah as well, simply because Purim is the best holiday ever. There are no disagreements allowed on this objective fact based completely on my extreme happiness every Purim during childhood, as well as the amazing Purim parties I've been to over the years as an adult. So yeah, I'd say Chanukah is about the ninth most important holiday on the Jewish calendar.

Let's be clear: December is a special time of the year for the 'entire world'—more western civilization than anything else—because Christmas happens then and Christianity is the mainstream religion across western civilization. And so many people have no idea that some of us couldn't give a **** about it. In Israel, where I live, the post offices and banks are open on 25 December. That's all it is, except for the Christians living in Israel, who make up about 2% of our population. This year, it will just be another Sunday, which is a workday in Israel. I could go out and associate with a hundred people and not one would mention Christmas, and the majority wouldn't even remember it was happening that day.

You could ask all 7 million Jewish Israelis individually and you won't find a single one who would agree with you that December/winter time is a holiday season. The holiday seasons are in spring and fall. Obviously!

I'd sincerely like you to consider all this when you think about telling anyone you're not 100% certain celebrates Christmas "happy holidays" as you speak with them during the Christmas season. To be frank, I'd rather be told Merry Christmas because at least then it's honest about not actually being inclusive, rather than the aggressively shiny faux-inclusivity of "Happy Holidays", which no one should be able to object to, right? Right??

What you're doing there is pushing your own observance onto someone who may not find it relevant, which is deeply othering and tiresome, especially because we're usually not allowed to call people out on this. Because that's being a 'grinch' etc. That's robbing people of happiness and cheer. What a downer. Why wouldn't we want more happiness and cheer in our lives, after all?

Because that happiness and cheer doesn't actually see us. It sees assumptions of who we are and what we want. Some Jews may have a great time during the Christmas season, especially if they're more secular. None of us speak for the others. But what I do know, and what I've seen in Jewish spaces, is the acknowledgement that we truly aren't allowed to provide our honest perspective on this without giving offense. So I'm risking offense and saying it anyway, because it's important to me that it be seen, even if you ignore it after.

Here's a story I don't often share outside of Jewish spaces: When I was in high school, I asked my mom why everyone around us celebrates this Christmas holiday and expects us to be included, when the very nature of Judaism is that we're different and separate in our observance. And we don't actually want to be like anyone else, when we're already ourselves, which is awesome, in every sense of the concept. And when Chanukah is based on a war fought specifically to protest against the forced assimilation of Jews into Greek/Seleucid society. Our people fought a war and died and suffered to give us the right to protect our observations and reject others' religious and social practices. That's what Chanukah is about: refusing to assimilate with mainstream religious or secular observance.

The miracle of the eight days of light are from Jews searching the holy temple after the Greek army had smashed every single pot of oil, specifically so Jews couldn't light the daily menorah that showcased the day of the week during prayers. There were seven branches, one for each day. It took about a week to process more olive oil from scratch. Finally, in a remote part of the temple, they found a tiny bottle with enough sealed oil left to light the menorah for one day. And by a miracle, that light lasted eight days instead: just enough time to process more olive oil and light the menorah as needed every day thereafter.

The story told about dreidels, possibly apocryphal, is that the Greeks would patrol through the Jewish areas and try to catch them studying Torah so they could be punished. They would rush to hide their scrolls and start spinning the dreidel instead. All they were doing was playing a harmless gambling game; nothing to see here. (And y'all: I can make bank at dreidel. I taught my non-Jewish schoolmates in elementary school and earned allllll the stickers and erasers from them, to the point where my teacher reported it to my mother as a concern, and my mother was not at all concerned).

Anyway. My mother. I asked her why everyone expects us to celebrate with them when we don't celebrate that holiday, and when Chanukah is pretty irrelevant to them and only a minor holiday to us that everyone inflates into a huge frickin deal, because (again) Christmas and the misguided wish to be inclusive in ways that aren't actually inclusive, when it comes right down to it.

My mother told me: "Suzanne. You need to give the Christians their Christmas season. Just give up on it. They get sick if you don't let them have their Christmas season exactly as they want it, or if you question the celebration in any way, or their wish to include you in it, or the inappropriateness of it, or the hypocrisy of it. They literally become ill and dejected and so sad and desperate for us to join them, to prove how much they're including us. Just resign yourself that it'll always be this way and there's not anything we can do about it."

Except there was. I moved to Israel over a decade later, though this certainly wasn't the only reason, or even a major one. But it was one of them. Problem solved, for the most part. Except we still have the internets. And now Christmas is eeeeverywhere. And I'm gonna let you have it. But I'm not going to resign myself that there's nothing I can do about it. It's a different world from the 1990s when I asked my mother this question. Maybe some people will actually listen now. Maybe others will be offended. I'm okay with either because I really don't care. :)

So! Judaism, son. Let's talk about it. :D

In general, Jewish people are raised to question things and to speak up on things decisively. Every week on Shabbat, we hear d'varei torah. A d'var torah is a biblical-based lecture—a Jewish sermon of sorts—on the week's torah portion or haftara portion. The haftara is the part of the (Jewish) bible that isn't the five books of Moses. So we're talking Prophets, Judges, etc. Every week we have a torah portion and a haftara portion. Every year at Simchat Torah, we conclude the annual cycle and start the whole thing over again. The torah part goes in order, from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The haftara part jumps around, often matching a suitable passage with the corresponding torah portion, thematically.

My own bat mitzvah had the Deuteronomy portion where the sh'ma was recited, which is one of our most important prayers: "Hear O Israel: The Lord is our God. The Lord is one." It's supposed to be the last thing we say before we die. There's a lot I could say about that prayer but I'll leave that for another time (feel free to ask). And my haftara portion was in Isaiah, and I still have it mostly memorized and can chant the Hebrew at the drop of a hat, complete with accurate tropes (musical notations).

Anyway. Anyway. Every Shabbat, we hear at least one d'var torah. Often many. This is something we may hear from a rabbi or another congregational leader, but anyone can give a d'var torah. I've given them. It's very popular for young teenagers who've just had their bar or bat mitzvah to give them. They give their first at their bar/bat mitzvah and thereafter they're part of the Jewish community as an adult who can read from the torah and give d'varei torah at any time, with authority and confidence. They're encouraged to think on the passage and write the speech themselves.

Think about what the torah portion is saying. What the rabbis say about it. What other rabbis say about it, disagreeing with the first. Find the questions. Disagree with all the rabbis. Figure out what YOU believe. Discuss. See what others think after you give your d'var torah. Question them. Let them question you. See who really understands the text at a deep level. Discover what else you need to learn to give the best d'var torah possible and raise the best questions and really motivate people to think and to understand.

Let Torah guide you and inspire you in every particular of your life. It's all relevant. There's always a parallel to be found. We are taught that the Torah has everything in it, from every moment of time, and one must only look to find the relevance. And then you talk about it. You support what you believe. You see what others believe.

Belief should not be blind faith. You should know. You should question. You should search until you've seen all the angles, year after year of examining the same portion, the same commentary, always coming into it with fresh eyes and new twists to explain to your family, to your congregation, to anyone who will listen.

There's always more discussion to be had. More examination. Another year of the cycle when this portion comes around again. A new d'var torah to write, and many new ones to listen to. A new perspective. A new way to see this passage and how it brings impact to your life and to the world. That is what is valuable in Judaism: ideas and understanding and how it all relates to Torah learning. Is it any wonder our people have become one of the most educated and lauded minority groups on the planet (when we're not being targeted and hated, which is its own bushel of conversations)? We are taught from a young age that we must listen and learn and question and debate. We must analyze. We must draw correlations. We must argue if we are to find the truth as we understand it. It's the basis of our culture.

I'm sure people were expecting me to speak more about ritualized holiday practices and all the superficial things that are observable to the outsider. But I'm not going to do that in this post. I'm telling you what's important to me in Judaism, and what Judaism is actually about at a deeply rooted level. It's about knowledge and history and struggle. It's about never being satisfied you have all the answers. It's about always trying to find a new angle to an old and holy story.

It's about life and the blueprint for living. It's about speaking up and it's about listening and it's about striving always to learn more, and more, and more. Because that is what gets you closer to the divine. Everything else is details and debatable and based on personal traditions of families and denominations and ethnic origins. But I can't think of a single religious sect in Judaism, a single denomination or ethnic origin, where the above description is not incredibly relevant.

Feel free to speak up if you disagree with me, but come ready to share your own perspective and to defend it. That's what we're all here for.

-------
Want to discuss Judaism more after December 15th? Visit "Ask a Jew" [https://www.tarvalon.net/index.php?threads/ask-a-jew.45542/] in the Spirituality & Religion forum for in-depth discussion and additional questions.

Contact your usergroup admin [https://www.tarvalon.net/index.php?threads/list-of-official-emails.52245/] for opt-in access to this forum.
 
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Lyndo Shiranui

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I just want to add that December isn't a special month for Muslims either. Sela, that was great. :pleased-1:
 

Delara Morellin

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I am making a habit of saying this but again, thank you Sela! There's always been something that's made my bones itch a little about the blanket use of "happy holidays" in December but I couldn't quite figure out what it was.

Also, I was lucky enough to be invited to a Purim party when I was at uni and I don't think I've ever recovered from the amount of those stuffed triangle cookies that I ate that day :laugh:
 

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Thank you to everyone who has posted so far. Thank you for all the work you put into this, Sela.

I was always taught that it was inclusive to say “Happy Holidays” and I never really thought much about that. Thank you for getting me to think about that some more. I really like what you wrote about how important asking questions and searching for knowledge is in Judaism. The importance of not just accepting something based on blind faith. That’s something many Christians could take to heart I think…
 

Sela Narian

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I get how many use 'happy holidays' in good faith and a wish to be inclusive; I thought it may be useful to share how it comes across to me (and obviously, I can only say what it's like for me). It always seemed like Christmas celebrators were cobbling together every excuse in the book to get me involved in their holiday. As said, Chanukah is ninth most important on my personal list of Jewish holidays.

It's like if someone insisted we can all celebrate our holidays together and for them it was the most special thing of the year and for you it was like...Arbor Day. And they're like, yeah man, Arbor Day!!! Tell me about it! What do you all do for Arbor Day? We want to learn from you, too! This is a celebration for everyone! And you're like, okay. Sure. Arbor Day. It's a nice holiday. Who doesn't like trees? Trees are pretty. But for serious why are you focusing so hard on Arbor Day because it's creeping me out.

Might I suspect you don't actually want to take the time to understand what's most important about my religion and instead want a convenient way to loop me into celebrating your holiday at the same time as you? And you're zoning in on Arbor Day because it's around that time. And a century or two later my people are joining in and giving gifts on Arbor Day because they feel left out when they see you giving gifts to your family, even though Arbor Day is valuable all on its own, with its own traditions, and should be respected for itself. But now you see we give gifts on Arbor Day and you're like, yeah!! That's right; Arbor Day is so similar to our big day!

But it's only become that way over time because of assimilation and people in my society modeling people in yours. Because there will always be people who want to feel included, and everyone likes gifts. Who'd turn that away? But you start to see how watered down your holiday has become and how secular and how much less meaning it has when you allow non-Jews to ascribe their own meaning to it. And that's very sad. And I think we've come to a point in our history where it's become (almost) okay to say it's not respectful to the actual meaning and history of Chanukah and the actual state of Jewish observance. It's just this time when all of a sudden people rush to make sure they're being inclusive by grabbing onto the nearest Jewish thing and saying YEAH THIS TOO, ADD IT TO THE MENU, without really understanding what they're doing and what the impact may be to Jews. And how much it reveals about their ignorance of Jewish priorities for holidays and practices.
 

Veluene al'Myr

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It was very interesting to read about the way 'Happy Holidays' can be taken. For me it was something that was seen as a safe way not to assume what religion someone was and knowing here in Australia we all have days off during that time it translated either to mean happy summer holidays for non-religious people, or happy christmas, or happy summers solstice and so on... I think from now on if I know the person's spiritual path I will definitely make a point to adjust my words instead of using a blanket term. However, for those that I am unfamiliar with I am not sure what should be said instead, something I will need to muse over.
 

Nymala Ingasy

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Thank you to everyone who has posted so far. Thank you for all the work you put into this, Sela.

I was always taught that it was inclusive to say “Happy Holidays” and I never really thought much about that. Thank you for getting me to think about that some more. I really like what you wrote about how important asking questions and searching for knowledge is in Judaism. The importance of not just accepting something based on blind faith. That’s something many Christians could take to heart I think…

Hi there, token Jew #2 just wanting to add my two zuzim here. (My Jew cents?)

When I was in college, I took a class called "Judaism and Christianity After the Holocaust." One of the ideas stressed in the class was just this, that Christians needed to do more to question their own faith and ideas. Christians are taught to blindly accept and obey and not always to read the New Testament for themselves as we are taught to read and question the Torah (as Sela beautifully wrote). When you realize that the Jewish idea of Heaven is to sit around and argue the Torah with Hashem Himself, you start to understand how much it is ingrained in us to do.

Now, I agree with Sela on many of her points. Hannukah by religious standards is nowhere near as important a holiday for us as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur or Simchat Torah would be. It has become important because of our immigration to the New World and become more important because many see it as a "Jewish Christmas" when it is not. In fact, something Suz didn't write is that most Jewish kids didn't get gifts at Hannukah until they saw their gentile friends and neighbors getting them for Christmas. Normally, you would get money (or gelt in Yiddish). This has come down to us and been made anew in the form of chocolate coins in the yellow mesh baggies that Jewish kids often get given at this time of year. She is also right in saying that this holiday is all about our refusal to assimilate into the larger culture of the ancient Greeks who had conquered Israel. The Maccabees were fighting for us to be able to preserve our religion and way of life. The part of the story that wasn't told in Sela's post was that the reason why there was no oil. The Greeks had taken over our Temple in Jerusalem and had been using it as a temple to their own gods, therefore making it impure (major no-no to sacrifice pigs in a Jewish Temple). They had also broken the seals on all of the kashered oil for the menorah, thus making them unclean and unusable. The miracle was that the single found unbroken jar of oil lasted for eight nights, enough time to make and purify more oil. That is why we eat foods that are cooked in oil (latkes or sufganiyot) and that is why we light a hannukiah (or menorah) in remembrance of that miracle AND of our fight to maintain our own identity. This isn't to say that Hannukah's not important. It is, for the story of our fight, our victory over the Greeks and the miracle of the oil. However, many other of our holidays deal with our struggle for survival against a larger power and our victories. Hannukah's important, but it isn't the MOST important the way Christmas is for Christians. You're comparing apples to a VERY VERY large orange and they're not the same. At all. For me, Hannukah has become a refuge of a sort. It is a way for me to shelter myself from the constant barrage from November to January that Christmas has become. In recent years, I've found myself getting angrier and angrier each December. It's simply because it's this time of year that I feel the most left out. To me, Hannukah has become a way to immerse myself in my own culture and my own faith and has become a shield against the carols blasting at full volume, the false cheer and the enforced "Norman Rockwell, 1955" that Christmas is.

Quick story, when I worked at Nielsen, there were two people on another team who were aggressively trying to "save my soul," shall we say. They'd leave religious tracts for me and try to corner me and "talk to me." I ignored it most of the time. At the holidays, decorations were limited to snowmen, Santas and reindeers because of past issues on their part. One Christmas, my team lead came to me and said he wanted to put up a tree for our team. His "bright idea" was to have me bring in "my ornaments" and that would somehow become "inclusive" of Hannukah. When I tried to educate him and advise him that Jews don't put up trees and don't have ornaments, he totally dismissed me and ignored what I was trying to say. Shrugging, I went to the store, got gift tags with Stars of David and Menorahs on them and glued them back to back to bring in. The two people on the other team complained, saying they were religious symbols. So, in response, I made them take down all their mangers, all of their "Jesus is the reason for the season" signs, etc. That to me is a perfect example of ignorance and being made to feel like "the other" at this time of year.

(Sorry, work finished and I didn't have a chance to finish my post. Here's the rest)

Personally, I would rather be wished "Happy Holidays" than "Merry Christmas." I know, I know, two Jews, ten opinions, but hear me out. I would rather that you acknowledge that there are other holidays and traditions besides Christmas. At least it shows that you are MAKING THE EFFORT to try and understand. If you merely say "Merry Christmas," you're assuming that for me rather than asking. Far too many don't bother or get butthurt that there might be something else out there. That's what this whole "war on Christmas" is about. It's about people who'd rather stick their fingers in their ears and ignore the fact that there are many people of many faiths out there. I remember when Target attempted to acknowledge Hannukah, Kwanza and other holidays that were happening in December. The collective BUTTHURT that it resulted in meant that the following year, any other tradition in December was miraculously gone and we were back to Christmas only again. It is utterly infuriating to find that anything to do with Hannukah is placed in the back, at the back of a shelf where nobody can find it OR not there at all. It diminishes me and reminds me that I am "the other" in American society. I would rather that you ask and learn and understand than just assume for me. It diminishes my people, my faith, and my traditions while utterly steamrolling everything else flat and making it seem unimportant. We've fought for too long and way too hard for our own existence for that to happen. Of course, in Israel and in other parts of the world, it's different, this is based wholly on my experiences here and in the States.

So what's the takeaway here? Jews have a long, rich, storied history. Our roots stretch back over 4000 years (that we know of). We have a culture that is our own and like nobody else's. We're more than just a token "X" in "Coexist" and we're more than just a token acknowledgement at this time of year, which for us is a minor holiday on our calendar. Get to know us, ask honest questions. Trust me, we will answer. We have plenty of holidays, food, and traditions to share with you...especially food. See us for who we are, unique among the nations, and not just "oh yeah, you have a thing too." And with that, I yield back. I will be in the "Ask a Jew" sessions if you want to come chat.

Rak L'Shalom
 
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Blythe Alawdin

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Thank you for your perspective on "Happy Holidays" being said and how it comes off to you. I had never thought about it before beyond using it as a blanket term around this time since I don't know who does and doesn't celebrate Christmas. I'm grateful for this view because I would never want anyone to think I was trying to force them into the Christmas celebration by saying it and I had never considered it might come off that way before and now I can be more mindful of that
 
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I dislike the Capitalism and Commercialisation of Christmas, diluting the meaning in order to be "inclusive" when people of other faiths have their own traditions and holidays and don't water them down to accomodate other faiths (and rightfully so, they have their own traditions and should strive to keep them).

I don't use the term happy holidays at all, I always say Merry Christmas - because Christmas is a Christian holiday. I would take no offence if a Muslim wished me a Happy Eid or a Jew wished me a happy Hanukah. I would feel blessed and probably wish them a great one back in return.
 

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I dislike the Capitalism and Commercialisation of Christmas, diluting the meaning in order to be "inclusive" when people of other faiths have their own traditions and holidays and don't water them down to accomodate other faiths (and rightfully so, they have their own traditions and should strive to keep them).

I don't use the term happy holidays at all, I always say Merry Christmas - because Christmas is a Christian holiday. I would take no offence if a Muslim wished me a Happy Eid or a Jew wished me a happy Hanukah. I would feel blessed and probably wish them a great one back in return.

That's missing the point of my post. If you say "Merry Christmas" to me, I always say "and to you as well," rather than wishing my own holiday on you. The obverse is that when I have said "Happy Holidays" in the past, I can't tell you the number of people who have snarled back "It's MERRY CHRISTMAS!" Either way, anything other than Christmas is utterly ignored and dismissed.
 

Nymala Ingasy

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Me too, but it contributes to my anger at this time of year just a little more.
 

Cahalan Sothron

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The obverse is that when I have said "Happy Holidays" in the past, I can't tell you the number of people who have snarled back "It's MERRY CHRISTMAS!" Either way, anything other than Christmas is utterly ignored and dismissed.

I'll be honest: I say Happy Holidays where I live a lot just to be a troll :cheeseeni:
 
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