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Lighting a candle for two traditions

By: Megan Wood The Press Tribune
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If you thought celebrating Hanukkah (which began Friday) and Christmas means double the presents, you’d be wrong. That is one of the biggest misconceptions people have when Samantha Stone tells people that she was raised celebrating both holidays. “We don’t exchange gifts for Hanukkah,” Stone said. “It’s more about the prayers and the blessings of the holiday. To me it’s not about presents.” For as long as Stone can remember, December has always meant two things; celebrating Hanukkah with her father and his family and celebrating Christmas with her mother. “Even though I’m Catholic, I still light the candles and say the blessings,” said Sherita Cox, Stone’s mother. “I’ve always been in love with the Jewish faith and their traditions and now it’s also out of support for my daughter and her faith.” Although Stone was born to a Jewish father and raised celebrating many of the Jewish holidays, she never truly felt connected to the traditions or rituals until recently. “I didn’t have much of an understanding of Judaism so I couldn’t connect to it like my family could,” Stone said. “I didn’t really identify myself as Jewish or Christian and I didn’t feel like I could identify with either of the communities.” Celebrating both holidays was more a matter of practicality for Stone than a religious tradition or ceremony. Hanukkah, Stone said, is not one of the more prominent holidays in the Jewish faith but has only gained prominence due to its proximity to Christmas. And Christmas in Stone’s eyes isn’t focused around a religion but instead was more of an American tradition. “To me it’s always been just a time to celebrate with my family and exchange gifts,” Stone said. It wasn’t until college at New York University that Stone said she began to identify with one faith over another and really began to find her niche as a young Jewish woman. A friend invited Stone to join her at the campus Hillel house, a Jewish student organization that provides a sense of community and religious guidance on college campuses, and Stone said it was there that she began to feel a sense of identity. “Slowly but surely I was going to Hillel every week and this whole other side of Judaism that I never knew for the previous 20 years of my life just opened up,” Stone said. “I felt a sense of community and belonging and I started to connect with it.” After several meetings and long discussions with a rabbi, Stone said she felt she had finally found her identity and converted to Judaism last March. “I was so proud of her, and I supported her 100 percent,” Cox said. “I’m glad that we gave her the opportunity to experience both religions because I’d like to think that helped her to make her decision.” Cox said she realizes that some would argue raising a child to celebrate both holidays would be too confusing, but Cox maintained that she wanted her daughter to have the opportunity to choose the faith she wanted to follow. “Eventually there comes a time to satisfy that sense of spirit and make religion important,” said Temple Or Rishon Rabbi Alan Rabishaw. “It will become confusing and even though there are family ties, you can’t really be both. At one point religion becomes important and you have to find what speaks to you and run with it.” Although Stone has fully converted to Judaism, she hasn’t given up celebrating Christmas not because of the presents, or the tradition, but because of her mother. “Not participating in Christmas would hurt my mother more profoundly than anything,” Stone said. “It’s always been a part of my childhood and it’s my time to be with my mom. I would never give that up.”