Sunday, December 13, 2009

3rd candle: What if the world were a Hanukiyah or maybe a salad?

The 8 blogs of Chanukah. Each night a new blog from the community of Congregation B'nai Israel.

Tonight, the third blog of Chanukah is brought to you by Andrea Rudolph.  Andrea is a member of B'nai Israel.  She is a regular at Friday night services, playing clarinet in the B'nai Israel band, and often playing solo instrument at other services.  Andrea is also a composer, as you'll learn from her blog tonight.  Among her many projects and talents, Andrea is teaching a course at B'nai Israel, beginning January 4th, The Holiness of Wholeness: Exploring God and Ourselves, about the attributes of the soul.  She also co-leads Chantsformationsa Jewish mantra chanting and meditation hour each month at the Soma Center for Well-Being, with Rabbi Gurevitz.  Her husband, Mike, is the leader of the B'nai Israel band.  They have two children, Benjamin and Jacob.

When my boys were in elementary school, one of the highlights of December was their winter concert.  My younger son played trombone in the band and my older son played violin in the orchestra.  Even more than seeing my own children on stage, I loved hearing the fifth grade choir sing their hearts out.  I was taken by the vision of eighty - ten and eleven year olds inspiring peace and holiday cheer with their voices, choreography and spirit.  “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me”, the children crooned while images of people from around the world flashed on a screen behind them.  Tears always fall from my eyes when I see and hear children singing about peace.  Seeing them united in song and celebration gives me hope for our world and opens my heart. 

A few years ago, motivated by the vision of young people united by music, I wrote a Chanukah song called Nine Candles.  It started with this image of a Hanukiyah (the Chanukah menorah): 

What if the world was a Hanukiyah,
Red and green,
Blue and white?

What if each candle
Spread warmth and light,
Joy and peace,
Banished anger and spite?

What would the world be like if we saw ourselves linked together – distinct yet united with a common purpose to shed more light in the world?  There’s a human flaw of ego that believes that peace will come by convincing others to believe as we believe.  But that belief is based on the assumption that differences prevent us from achieving a greater purpose.   But there are many experiences that teach us otherwise.

Years ago, I worked with a woman who challenged my understanding of unity and the “melting pot” myth we hold so dear in our country.  Mary was a brilliant, energetic executive director of an agency that worked with refugees and immigrants.  She had a passion for justice that took her from Haiti to Macedonia to the State Capitol in the 1990’s.  When I first met Mary, I couldn’t quite figure out her ethnicity.  (Why we so often have a need to “figure someone out” is another conversation but in this case I learned a lesson which changed my perspective forever.)  After working with Mary for a few weeks, I found myself attending a meeting with her.  As we walked back to the office after the meeting, we explored the subject of immigrant integration and assimilation to American culture.  My initial belief (at that time) was that the more cultures interacted and even intermarried, the more likely it would be for peace to prevail on earth.  “Wouldn’t peace be more likely if the boundaries of separation between countries, cultures, people and religions blurred?”, I wondered out loud. 

Mary presented me with an image:  “Imagine you were making a beautiful salad.  You put the lettuce in a large bowl.  Then you add cucumbers and carrots, celery and tomatoes.  You mix in some red onion and croutons for more flavor, spice and crunch.  Then you make a nice dressing, pour it on top and toss…..Now imagine if I told you take that same salad and put it in a blender, what would your salad look like now? How would it taste?”  I remember stopping mid-stride on a Boston sidewalk to let it sink in.  Then she looked at me and said, “My mother is a white Irish American woman, my father was Filipino.  They met during the war years ago.  Each of those pieces of who I am makes up my own salad.  By diluting, denying or blending any culture for the sake of assimilation, we lose the rich, crispy, color and taste of that “salad”.  That’s not the kind of world I want to live in.”

Many years later, I can look back on that conversation and see how it has impacted my perspective on diversity and creating bridges of understanding.  I have learned that it is indeed the uniqueness of each person that inspires and connects us to the whole of humanity.  Our power to influence peace and change in the world is most effective when we both shine our own light and admire someone else’s.  Standing proudly next to someone else linked by the common goal of humanity  (just as the candles in the Hanukiyah stand next to one another in remembrance of the miracle of Chanukah), we can learn to live fully with joy, purpose and compassion.   Who determines joy, purpose and compassion?  It rests with each of us to discern which vegetable we are in that salad, or which color candle in that Hanukiyah.  

In the words of Martha Graham,
There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.
May you always stand ready and proud to shine your unique light into the world, adding to the beauty and magnificence of all creation.  Many blessings for a season filled with light, peace and compassion. 

Listen to Andrea's song, 'Nine Candles' below:

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