“We call it the December Dilemma,” stated Rabbi Peter Levy of Etz Hayim Synagogue in Derry regarding the Jewish celebration of Chanukah.
He explained that a lot of people don’t quite know what to do about Chanukah, and that it was actually a relatively small holiday in the Jewish faith.
He went on to say that because it often takes place around the same time frame as Christmas each year, Chanukah has come under the same “Hallmark Footprint”, the commercialization that many dread for Christmas year after year.
He quoted the Torah, a passage where Abraham was in his tent, and three strangers had appeared before him. He said that Abraham needed to lift his eyes to see what was in front of him.
“We need to lift our eyes to see what these holidays are about,” Rabbi Levy said. “Instead of worrying who has a tree and who has a Menorah.”
Although according to Rabbi Levy, sometimes the sight of the two together can help lift the eyes to something wonderful.
Rabbi Levy recalled one of the synagogue children telling him about her, her sister, and her father’s Menorah, and her mother’s Christmas tree in their home.
“Isn’t that beautiful?” Rabbi Levy smiled.
Of Etz Hayim’s 75 families, several are interfaith. The synagogue strives to be inclusive in all its services, translating into English and encouraging non-Jewish parents to be a part of their children’s Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, the Jewish commemoration of entering spiritual maturity for young men at age 13 and young women at age 12.
The synagogue’s name comes from the combination of the Hebrew word Etz, meaning tree, and Hayim, meaning life. He said that it was also the name for their Torah scroll, which is also the first five books of the Bible in the Christian faith.
According to Rabbi Levy, Etz Hayim was formed in 1991 by a group of people who wanted to form a community that could not be found in larger temples or synagogues.
“It can be hard (for other synagogues) to be as community-oriented, just by sheer size,” Rabbi Levy said. He said that in the future he would love to see more people joining them, while still maintaining a personal connection with all members.
The synagogue has services on all Jewish holidays. This year they will have a potluck supper and Shabbat Chanukah service on Friday, December 30th.
Twice a month the synagogue and their neighbor congregation, the Church of the Transfiguration, host “Elijah’s Table”, an evening for anyone, regardless of faith, to come and enjoy a free, hot meal. The meal is held at they synagogue on the third Sunday of each month, and at the Church of the Transfiguration on the second Sunday every month.
The two congregations also hold an “interfaith thanksgiving” each year, taking turns hosting every other year. When Etz Hayim hosts, the Church of the Transfiguration’s Reverend will preach, and likewise when the Church of the Transfiguration hosts, Etz Hayim’s Rabbi will preach. This year, Reverend Ray Bonin of the Church of the Transfiguration delivered a sermon at Etz Hayim, with a light reception following the service.
Regular services are held 7:15 Friday night and 9:30 on Saturday morning.
“All are welcome, no strings attached.” Rabbi Levy said. “Join us, worship with us, and celebrate with us.”
Those who would like to learn more about Etz Hayim Synagogue may visit their website at www.etzhayim.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (603) 432-0004.