My new book, Zen Dogs and other Woofs, is now available at www.Amazon.com
Here is one essay from my book, Zen Dogs:
A Christian Learns from a Jewish Community
Printed in the Daily Star, Oneonta, New York, 2014
The human proclivity to classify coffee as rich, dark, light, bitter, smooth, also classifies religion: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, the list goes on. Moreover, within each of those denominations we find factions: orthodox, modern, non-denominational, even inter-denominational.
Aside from the dirty laundry of religion that gets aired frequently—as it should—we can look into the face of faith and discover many layers, giving it a depth that shows no end.
With faith, not agenda, at the helm, the future of religion shows adaptability. At the time of this writing, First Baptist Church in Oneonta is continuing its mission locally and throughout the world in a new church building.
Established in 1834, First Baptist Church served faith from the corner of Chestnut and Academy streets for eighty years. “We moved 30 yards away, to a smaller place at 73 Chestnut Street,” said Philip, a church deacon at First Baptist Church. “Our tradition of focusing on a spiritual mission, along with making the building available to the community will continue with the time and resources we have today.”
The larger original edifice is currently in the process of being sold to Chabad of Oneonta, a Jewish organization. Once the legal process is complete, the building will again be a vibrant part of faith. As for symbols of sacredness, Philip said, “First Baptist members selected items and brought them to the new edifice.”
More interested in sharing spirituality than symbols, he added, “First Baptist Church welcomes people of all faith. Church services are at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, with a concurrent Sunday School.”
The art of embracing people of many faiths is also seen in the Chabad organization, which welcome interested minds no matter what their background.
As for the Chabad, it’s managed by husband and wife team, Rabbi Meir and Fraidy, who both depict an orthodox appearance, along with respect for a diverse range of how Jewish laws are observed. “We don’t cater to any group. We are all God created, to be loved and cared for,” said Rabbi Meir. “The Chabad Center has a unique founding principle that all persons offer something good and that all can be leaders.”
Accommodating the Jewish Student population, Chabad Oneonta adjusts to the college schedule. It began nearly three years ago when the couple and their children moved to Oneonta from Brooklyn, New York. College students have found family away from family at the Chabad Center.
“We have three young children and have fully invested ourselves in the center,” said Rabbi Meir. “The number of visitors to the center has grown so dramatically, it was natural to find and work with First Baptist Church members to purchase the historic building.”
Rabbi Meir, 28-years old, came with a background in Yeshiva education, “It was discussion style learning,” he said. “As I got older, studies became intense and focused on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah study.”
Meir grew up in the Midwest and attended rabbinical schooling in Canada and New Jersey. He brought to Oneonta a compelling, upfront, alive, attitude. “The students know I’ll open the door if they knock at 2 in the morning,” said Meir.
The students also know they can contact the Rabbi and his wife through Facebook. “We use technology for good. We are not separate from the world but make the distinction between heaven and earth with the goal to infuse spirituality into earthliness,” said Meir.
Resounding in the Chabad newsletter is a quote from Maimonides (Jewish philosopher, 1135 – 1204): “One good thought, one kind word, one good deed, can change the world.”
The term Chabad covers a wide definition today, from a philosophy to an organization. In mid-20th century, Menachem M. Schneerson, the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe turned Chabad into a dynamic and geographically diverse religious movement in Jewish life. “We don’t need to lessen our religious convictions in the modern world,” said Meir. “We encourage participation in good deeds and observance of God’s commandments.”
When non-Jews think of Jewish traditions, Hanukkah comes to mind. But, “Hanukkah is a minor festivity,” said Fraidy, raised in a home grounded in the Chabad philosophy. “Hanukkah is misunderstood because it falls near Christmas, which is an important holiday for Christians.”
The major holy days on the Jewish Calendar are: the Sabbath, Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), Passover, Shavuot (The Festival of Weeks) and Sukkot (The Festival of Booths).