No Time Like the Holidays to Let Differing Beliefs Unite Us

I don't expect more than a handful of people to recognize the colorful glass piece adorning the frame of my home's front door. It's not there to make a statement to others but to serve as a blessing for all who enter as well as a reminder of my heritage. The lovely blue glass container holds a small roll of parchment on which is written the traditional Jewish prayer that begins, "Shema Yisrael." For those in the know, this mezuzah reveals that those who live in the house are Jewish.

There are a lot who are not in the know, particularly at this holiday season. For several weeks, an elderly man would limp to my front door every week and slip a card through my mail slot. Each week the card was the same: On the front were the words, "A love letter from Jesus." Inside were lines of scripture. Just as he likely didn't understand the significance of my mezuzah, I didn't understand the meaning of the letter.

One Saturday, when the sun was unusually bright and warm, I was weeding in my front yard as the man approached with his missive. I intercepted him on my front walk and declined the card. "I'm Jewish," I informed him as kindly as I could. His response: "Then you need this more than anyone." A bit taken aback, I smiled and said, "I've got another plan." And he said, "I hope you like burning in hell." He turned and limped away.

It didn't exactly make my day, but I wasn't surprised either. I have spent half my life devising polite ways of turning away those who proselytize about their religion. I've often wondered if evangelists receive a free toaster for each Jew they convert. And do they really believe that one pamphlet, one conversation through my screen door is going to persuade me to abandon the religion I've embraced since first memory? Why is it so important that I do so anyway? You won't find me hovering in the aisles of CVS determined to convert shampoo-shoppers to Jews. My mezuzah is the size of a finger. I wouldn't dream of installing a six-foot neon version on my lawn with a hologram of Moses. It hasn't always been easy growing up Jewish in a decidedly Christian world, but I'm fine with it.

Which brings us to Christmas. I like Christmas -- the songs, the lights, the sense of anticipation. I admire the glowing trees in my neighbors' homes and smile at mall Santas. And when people ask, "Are you ready for Christmas?" I generally respond, "Can't wait." Why call out people by saying I don't celebrate?

The holidays are the perfect time to embrace the diversity of our nation and our world. How and who we worship shouldn't be challenges to others but a way to remember that we can co-exist with differing beliefs. You don't need to convert me to remind me that your beliefs are deep and strong. And in the same way I admire your Christmas lights, perhaps you could see the beauty in my little electric Menorah glowing in my front window.

There is so much strife, distrust, violence and conflict this holiday season from one end of the planet to the other. Maybe for the last days of 2014 we can resolve to respect each other, resist our instincts to dominate and change others, and share a common belief in peace as Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, Buddhists. We have to start somewhere. Happy Holidays!