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Many voices give thanks Area religions join in interfaith service

From a Hindu "shloka" to Christian gospel music, people from a variety of religious backgrounds shared how they give thanks during a special interfaith celebration held Monday evening in the Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation.

The event, in its 25th year, has become almost as much of a tradition in Western New York during the Thanksgiving season as cranberries and stuffing with the customary holiday meal.

Monday's service involved about 80 people from the spectrum of religions practiced in Western New York, including Baha'i, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Native American and Sikhism.

"We learn not to fear, but to embrace," said Lana Benatovich, executive director of the National Federation for Just Communities, which organizes the service in conjunction with the Network of Religious Communities.

The celebration allows people "to start the holiday week in a way in which we really understand what Thanksgiving is about," she said.

Representatives of each of the faith groups gave a glimpse of what the Thanksgiving holiday means to them and how they give thanks.

Nasir Khan of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community read a passage from the Quran and explained how thankfulness in Islam is a concept that encompasses deep gratitude and indebtedness to God, but is incomplete if a person isn't also grateful to fellow human beings.

Sarita Bansal of the Hindu Cultural Society of Western New York explained that although Hinduism doesn't set aside a particular day for thanking God, Hindus each morning thank Mother Earth and the sun for providing warmth and light and the clouds for providing water.

"A typical Hindu sees God in everything," said Bansal, and the thanks conclude with a shloka, or special prayer, asking for the Lord to lead the reciter through the day.

The Rev. Regina Reese-Young of Calvary Christian Methodist Episcopal Church sang a few verses of a hymn of thanksgiving that would commonly be heard in an African-American household on Thanksgiving.

Rabbi Ilana Schwartzman of Temple Beth Zion sang a Jewish musical selection.

Al Parker of the Haudenosaunee Seneca-Heron Clan read a poem he wrote for the occasion, called "The Peacemaker."

"Thanksgiving is today and every day for our people," he said.

Later in the service, the Rev. G. Stanford Bratton invited anyone who brought nonperishable food items to bring them to the front of the church.

"Thanksgiving reminds us that the essence of life is what we give," he said.

The Hellenic Orthodox Church will use the food Thursday to provide a Thanksgiving meal for families.


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