Written by Ivy Wong & Jenny Sun
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
At Tzu Chi USA’s Mid-Atlantic regional branch, it’s always been a wonderful tradition to hold a special interfaith blessing event on Thanksgiving. This year, due to the continued spread of COVID-19, however, volunteers have made some changes to the way we pray. Indeed, with so much fear and uncertainty, the strength and hope offered through the unity of diverse religions is especially important. This Interfaith Dialogue which encompasses Judaism, Christianity, Catholicism, and Buddhism upholds the power of love through heartfelt prayer for the world, and for the hope that we will soon see an end to the pandemic.
The interfaith blessings for Thanksgiving were initially planned to be held at the Tzu Chi USA branch office in New Jersey. Nevertheless, with the pandemic still ongoing, everyone soon agreed that this year’s event should be held online in the hopes that the Thanksgiving prayers can be held at the New Jersey branch next year. This year, individuals from each of the religious groups recorded their blessings separately. Even though the participants of the interfaith prayer could not express their heartfelt words in the presence of one another, their love could certainly still be felt.
Cantor Kenneth Feibush serves as Cantor of Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, NJ, and sang melodious hymns to welcome everyone to the blessing. Cedar Grove Mayor Kerry Peterson gave a warm and emotional speech to all by the fireplace. Traditionally, Thanksgiving is a holiday characterized by family gatherings, gratitude, blessings, and care, and representatives from Tzu Chi were deeply grateful for the opportunity to join their hearts with their global family again.
Representatives from Tzu Chi led the first prayer from the Mid-Atlantic Region branch, a volunteer named Wayne Chang beginning the blessing with a video of Dharma Master Cheng Yen. In the video, Master Cheng Yen encouraged everyone to persevere and uphold four beneficial practices — pray, increase blessings, cherish everything, and control desires. Tzu Chi volunteers implemented the four practices during the pandemic by gathering good thoughts and prayers every day, delivering PPE to medical professionals, police departments, and senior homes, and also distributed food and daily essentials from the food pantry at Tzu Chi’s Mid-Atlantic branch to those in need. Although the pandemic continues to affect daily life, the love and care of Tzu Chi volunteers endures.
Representatives from local Christian and Catholic churches offered prayers and blessings as well, and the Saint Catherine of Siena School prepared a video of their second to fifth-grade students to offer their blessings through song. The students’ kind, virtual messages gave attendees hope for future generations.
The behind-the-scenes coordination and planning of this event was graciously undertaken by Jewish interfaith dialogue attendees. Cantor Kenneth Feibush worked on videos of blessings from the city, various religious groups, and also encouraged more people to join the online event, the number of virtual attendees skyrocketing from 100 to more than 500 people from diverse religious groups.
Even through the current health crisis and additional disasters that have rocked the globe, the power of gentle love and mutual care persists, and Tzu Chi volunteers hope to empower those who struggle with compassion and relief.