A celebration of peace, love and understanding

For 29 years, the Ashland Interfaith Thanksgiving has been a joyful, high-spirited time when people clap, hug and sing praises of a dozen faiths before heading off to kitchens to peel potatoes, stuff turkeys and greet family and friends.

This Thanksgiving, a high point was Rabbi David Zaslow strumming his guitar and singing a song containing the words "shalom" and the Arabic "salaam" — each meaning "peace" — as some 300 people sang praises of the just-achieved cease-fire between Arab and Jew in Gaza.

Two of the hundreds of commandments in Judaism, Zaslow said, are to love your neighbor as you love yourself and to love the divine with all your heart mind and soul — both when things are easy and when they're challenging, "then they turn to peace, which turns to joy, then to love."

The theme of the event at First United Methodist Church was "Loving Each Other" — a 1960s style Love-In" — and many dressed in tie-dye and beads, with Laurelia Durocher and David Gabriel leading a rousing "All You Need is Love," from the Beatles and "The Age of Aquarius" from the musical "Hair."

After each five-minute presentation from a different faith, the presenter lit a candle from a large candle and the audience chanted "We honor the (individual) faith" and gave the peace sign — but, in a novel gesture, extending the parted fingers and joining them in one, signifying, we are one, explained the host, Rev. Ruth Kirby of the Church of Religious Science.

With a nod to the perpetual Mideast Crisis, Zaslow sang lines of a Beatles classic, "Life is very short / and there's no time / for fussing and fighting my friend. ' I have always thought / that it's a crime, / so I will ask you once again ..." Instead of singing "try to see it my way," he segued into chants of shalom.

Buddhist teacher Barbara Casey called on people to expand awareness to everyone in the room and world and to "be happy, light and free" while Christian Rev. Dorita Borgerson of the Methodist Church, used a hand puppet to bring out the inner child and remind us that "it's easy to love people who are like us" but the real work is "responding to hate with love."

Howard and Rebecca Cintron Osvold of the Baha'i faith said that love is the secret of how God created the world, "uniting God and man to ensure the progress of each soul (and) it is the unique power that unfailingly binds us together."

Khalil Mark Elliott of Ashland Sufi Heart Circle led a song calling on the name of God and wishing, "Peace to All, Love to All, Life to All."

Hula dancers honored the Creator of "this Earth we live on" and Deonesea La Fey called on the audience to feel the connection to the Earth, which is the Goddess, to feel the air coming in as they breath and sending out love as they exhale — and to feel the water of the earth flowing in their bodies and emerging as "one drop of love, like a stream to the ocean."

Decked out in tie-dye and "love glasses," Taoist and musician Gene Burnett joked, "I'm going to go out on a limb and say I'm pro-love ... and it doesn't matter what your belief is, only whether it shows as more love and respect for your neighbor."

After everyone sang "c'mon people / smile on your brother / everybody get together / try to love one another / right now" (from "Get Together," a 60s Youngbloods hit), the celebration ended with everyone holding hands in a giant circle and calling out the names of scores of faiths as yet unmentioned — with one person shouting out, "gerbil!"

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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