- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dee Bryant has spent the past 57 years commemorating a traditional Christmas with the congregation of Wesley United Methodist Church in Northwest.

But this year, the 80-year-old church administrator is trying a new season’s greeting: Happy Hanukkah.

“I know very little about Hanukkah,” said Mrs. Bryant, a Wesley parishioner since 1948 and one of several planning to attend a local Jewish group’s Hanukkah event held at the church tonight. “It should be an interesting learning experience for me.”

The Jewish community Kehila Chadasha — which means “New Community” in Hebrew — will celebrate Hanukkah with a program at the church featuring the traditional lighting of the menorahs, songs and prayers.

The group was formed in the 1970s by eight families wanting to celebrate the Jewish religious experience and also provide an opportunity for members to explore their beliefs within the community.

Now consisting of nearly 100 families, the member-directed group has rented space for its program at Wesley before, and decided to invite the Methodist congregation this year out of gratitude for their hospitality.

“It just seemed to make sense,” said Rabbi David Shneyer, 58, the group’s leader. “Anything we do in this day and age to share traditions with other faith communities is another way of creating greater understanding and ultimately a more peaceful society.”

Hanukkah is the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights. The festival officially begins tonight at sundown, and commemorates the rededication of the Jewish Temple following the Maccabean revolt against Syrian occupiers in ancient times.

The Rev. Whit Hutchison , pastor of Wesley for the past five years, said opening the church’s facility for other religious groups is an important part of the Christian faith and the Christmas season.

About five members of the church’s relatively small congregation are expected to attend the Hanukkah celebration.

“It shouldn’t be strange,” said Mr. Hutchison, 53. “As a Christian congregation, we’re very willing to respond to opportunities to extend the welcome of our facilities to people of other faith traditions.”

That openness and sharing ethic is echoed in both groups’ religious philosophies.

Wesley’s diverse congregation is starting a ministry to local Hispanic residents next year.

Kehila Chadasha, which intentionally keeps its membership small to foster a more intimate environment, takes a “non-dogmatic” approach in teaching the tradition of Judaism.

The group also has participated with followers of Islam in events surrounding the holy month of Ramadan.

“It is one of the warmest, most inclusive communities that I have in my life,” said Michael Allen, 48, a civil rights lawyer and former Catholic who has not converted to Judaism but is a member of the group. “We have sown a lot of good will across faiths over 30 years.”

The Jewish group also is tying its penchant for social activism into the holiday.

Among the celebration’s most well-known traditions is the lighting of the menorah, which commemorates how an ancient lamp stayed lit for eight days even though it had only enough oil to burn for one.

In that vein, members have spearheaded an effort urging families to swap standard household light bulbs for energy-saving fluorescent bulbs.

So far, 49 Kehila Chadasha families have pledged to use 282 fluorescent bulbs. Some of the lights will be distributed at tonight’s program.

And in the same spirit of cooperation — whether ecumenical or economical — Mr. Hutchison said he hopes to propose a similar plan to his congregation.

“We don’t see world religions as in competition,” he said. “We have more in common than the differences.”

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