Four essays from local clergy

Thoughts for the Season

Thu, 12/24/2020 - 5:45pm

History of Hanukkah

The Talmud (Rabbinical discussion of laws) says:

“Our rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of [the beginning of] the eight days of Hanukkah, on which lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils in it, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed over them and defeated them, they searched and found only one bottle of oil sealed by the High Priest. It contained only enough for one day’s lighting. Yet a miracle was brought about with it, and they lit [with that oil] for eight days. The following year they were established as a festival, with Hallel [psalms of praise] and Thanksgiving. (Shabbat 21b)

The Rabbis never agreed unless there was a consensus. The earliest found Books of Maccabees were written in Greek and were controversial among the Rabbis [teachers] because when the later interpretations came along they were under Roman control and had lost a revolt against the Romans, including having the Second Temple being almost destroyed by the Romans. Instead of celebrating the earlier reclaiming of Judea by the Maccabees, the Rabbis emphasized the miracle of a small container of oil found in the Temple and instead of lasting for the expected one day it lasted for eight days. The light of Chanukah [Hanukkah] came to represent freedom and peace.

Interestingly, the two Books of Maccabees became part of the Christian canon as part of the “Old Testament” because it is thought that many of the Hellenized Greekspeaking Jews of Alexandria became Christians. Alexandria was an important center for scholars in the early Roman period.

It is traditional to at least give gelt (money) on Hanukkah and it usually coincides with Christmas so in America the gift giving includes giving gifts to tzedakah (doing good in sight of g-d).

Whatever tradition you follow, I wish you freedom and peace.

Peace, Pax Vobiscum, Shalom Aleikem and Salaam Alekem,

— Cantor Elliot Taubman


A Christmas Message for 2020

Mary’s “yes” did not get her fame and fortune and a free ride to eternity! 

Mary’s “yes” got her Jesus! It got her scandal, defamation, fear, and sorrow. She was an unmarried, pregnant teenager in a small town. Oh, how tongues wag and rumors roam in a small town. And even when Joseph took her as his wife, the hard times were just beginning. Her “yes” gave birth to her son in a stable; a vicious, vengeful king who wanted her son murdered; turned the three into refugees crossing the border into Egypt; landing finally in another small, backward town called Nazareth where eking out a living was a daily struggle. Mary’s “yes” got her a son she was not able to protect from scandal, defamation, life threats, criminal charges and death by crucifixion. She even had to bury her boy in a borrowed grave. Mary’s “yes” to God was never going to be a cakewalk. Yet, this woman magnifies the Lord. She exemplifies the best among us. She is acclaimed by every nation, this little woman from the hicks. How did she do it?

Mary’s “yes” is her unconditional belief and trust in God. “I don’t understand it. I do not know why it has to be so. Your will be done as You want me to do it.” Her son mirrored her example, “not my will but Yours be done.”

And therein is the Christmas message and meaning: like Jesus, Mary and Joseph, our “yes” must be unconditional Faith and Trust in God, especially when we do not know the why and the wherefore. “Your will be done in me as it is in heaven.” Amen! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

— Rev. Joseph Protano St. Andrew Catholic Church


A symbol of our community spirit

Our Christmas Tree stands as a symbol of community spirit.

The holidays just wouldn’t be the same without Christmas trees. As we have done every holiday season for the past 20 years or so, a great group of volunteers gathered once more at Harbor Church to erect and decorate the Community Christmas Tree. Another dedicated team builds the beautiful Lobster Pot Tree on Water Street. The Community Tree on the hill is sturdy; it has a tubular steel frame. It stands firmly planted with thick, braided metal cables and fourfoot stakes anchoring it to the ground. Yet despite all this, one night about a week ago winds gusting to 70 mph knocked it right over. A day later, the same faithful crew of people got together again, repaired the damage, and put the tree back up. We adapted, we responded, and we prevailed. That is what Block Islanders do; we weather the storm. Like a sailboat in a gale, we may get ‘knocked down’, but we always get back up. We are self-reliant and we take care of our own. Like a good blue-water boat, we have both the ballast and the buoyancy to ‘right’ ourselves. Like our Christmas tree, we always survive the storm.

2020 has been a year of storms; storms that have assailed our health, our society, our economy, and our spirits. These storms may have shaken us to our core, but they haven’t stopped us. We have pressed on with renewed determination and grit. We have persevered by our faith in God and our commitment to one another. We have jealously safe-guarded our island’s well-being and vitality. In the spirit of the season, we have cared for each other and provided for those in need. Even though we couldn’t gather for the tree lighting this year, Santa Claus showed up right on time to light the tree, and to leave candy canes underneath it for our children. Many of us viewed the tree-lighting virtually, and every time we drive through town we see both trees shining their light through these dark times. In a difficult year, we have sustained important traditions. We have also found new, creative and different ways to celebrate this holiday season. Whatever the New Year brings, we will rise to meet these challenges together as well!

Well done, Block Island. Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to all!

— Pastor Peter Preiser Harbor Church


For unto us a child is born, Unto us a Son is given…

In February of 2017, Olivia O’Brien sang a song titled “Empty.” Basically, what she was saying in the song was how life and life events had left her feeling empty. Unfortunately, some of the lyrics are too vulgar to repeat in this Christmas letter. But I believe her song gained popularity because it expressed how many people feel as they try hard, but mess up.

The words of the refrain are:

But I’m empty inside, yeah, I’m empty inside
And I don’t wanna live, but I’m too scared to die
Yeah I’m empty inside, I just don’t feel alive
And I don’t wanna live, but I’m too scared to die

Sadly, there are so many who relate to this song because it touches their spirits and souls. So, I would like to share a story that I once heard in the hopes that those who are feeling empty may have the emptiness filled. It is a story about a young woman named Mary, and her encounter with God. It begins with Anne, Mary’s mother, sending her to the temple where the Holy of Holies resides so that she, Mary, could ask God the question, “Who am I likened to?” God responded, “You are likened to Me.” Mary then said, “But who are you?’ and God said, “I am the One who fills all emptiness.”

It was over two thousand years ago, that ‘the One who fills all emptiness,’ entered this world and filled the earth with his presence. “For unto us a child is born, Unto us a Son is given,” and his name was Emmanuel, the very ‘One who fills all emptiness.’ With his earthly life he showed us the face of God so to fill our spirits and souls, with hope and love. He filled them with his presence so that we may never feel empty again but - we need to be open to receive that life giving presence.

Once again, we will be celebrating our Redeemer’s birth. It will be a time of gift giving and receiving. I invite you to receive God’s gift, let ‘the One who fills all emptiness’ fill your life. In return give a gift back to God — bring the message of hope into this world by bringing ‘the One who fills all emptiness’ into the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially those who feel empty inside.

For when we are filled with ‘the one who fills all emptiness,’ we bring that fullness with us wherever we live, move and have our being.

Wishing you an abundance of blessings in this coming year.

— Rev. Eletha Buote-Greig Vicar, St. Ann’s By-the-Sea