Passover: Aimee Helen’s Southern-Style Charoset Recipe

Posted April 11, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: Interfaith Identity

From the archives: Originally posted on March 24, 2010. Happy Passover, all!

In the late 19th century, my great-grandfather Emanuel Michael Rosenfelder left Bavaria and became a circuit-riding rabbi, serving Jewish traders and merchants along the Mississippi River, in Natchez, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans. When he registered to vote in 1876 in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, the clerk, obviously unfamiliar with Jewish theology, recorded Rabbi Rosenfelder’s profession as “Minister of the Gospel.” In New Orleans, he met and married my great-grandmother, a teenager who had been living in a Jewish orphanage after her parents died in a Yellow Fever epidemic. Fleeing the threat of tropical illness, the Rosenfelders journeyed north up the river and settled in Louisville, Kentucky. My grandmother was born and raised there, one of eight children, and they gave her a Southern francophone name, Aimee Helen.

In preparing for the Passover Seder next week, I turned to Grandma’s charoset recipe, written out for me in her shaky handwriting on a translucent scrap of onion-skin paper. The typical Ashkenazic (European Jewish) recipe for charoset is a mix of chopped apples, almonds, cinnamon and sweet kosher wine, and in many families, the big debate is whether to include raisins. Meanwhile, the Sephardim (Jews from Spain, Portugal and the Middle East) make charoset with desert fruits including dates, figs, pistachios and pine nuts. Charoset, served on matzah as part of the ritual Passover meal, is meant to represent either the mortar used by Jewish slaves when building the pyramids, or the sensual foods mentioned in the Song of Songs.

But Aimee Helen Rosenfelder Katz’s charoset reflects the sojourn of her family  in the Deep South, surprising us with oranges, bananas and pecans. I grew up on this charoset at Passover each year, and I love the tart sparkle of the oranges, the smoothness of the bananas, the sweet pecans. She was a bit of a southern belle, my Jewish grandma, with very proper manners, and a private girls’ school education. But she was also an intellectual role model, with a French degree from the University of Louisville, and graduate studies at Barnard. During Word War I, she taught French to American soldiers heading off to fight in Europe.

Someday, her first great-grandchild, my daughter Aimee Helen, will inherit the charoset recipe, a tangible reminder of the uniquely American story of her Jewish ancestors. At the Passover Seder, we are commanded to explain the religious significance of each of the seemingly incongruous objects arranged around the Seder plate: the egg, the roasted shank bone, the parsley, the horseradish… In the same way, I feel commanded to explain to my children the significance of each disparate family tradition, each story, each character on the colorful plate representing their heritage. Given the complexity and depth and resonance of the stories from our Jewish family, I cannot imagine raising my children solely as Christians. But neither can I imagine ignoring everything else on their family plate.

Aimee Helen’s Southern-Style Charoset

3 peeled and grated apples

2 peeled and grated oranges

2  chopped bananas

1 squeezed half-lemon

1 cup chopped toasted pecans

½ cup chopped raisins (optional)

½ tsp cinnamon

1 tbs sweet kosher wine

Sugar to taste

Mix all ingredients and give it some time for the flavors to mix and deepen. It only gets better the next day. Aimee Helen noted, “I prefer pecans, but almonds if you prefer.”

 

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press.

Being Both: Interfaith Cross-Country Tour

Posted April 4, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: Interfaith Identity

California Poppies

I spent most of March traveling and speaking and having amazing conversations around Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family. In California, I found these translucent red, orange and yellow poppies imitating the overlapping and intersecting circles on the cover of my book!

Lafayette College, Being Both

The month started out with a full day with the students, faculty and staff of Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. I facilitated a Brown Bag lunch discussion on Interfaith Dating to a packed room of students, and gave an evening lecture on Being Both, in the lovely Kirby Hall of Civil Rights. The visit was co-sponsored by the Office of Religious & Spiritual Life, Friends of Skillman Library, Hillel, Newman Association, and the Interfaith Council. College Chaplain Alex Hendrickson remarked on the pent-up demand on campus for talking about interfaith relationships, interfaith families, and complex religious identity. I loved seeing all of these groups in conversation with each other: this will be my model for campus visits going forward.

My next talk, at the historic Bush-Holley House in Cos Cob, Connecticut, was also sponsored by a collaboration–in this case, the Jewish Book Council Authors Network, the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Greenwich, and Jewish Family Services of Greenwich. I am very encouraged to see organizations with religious affiliations support the idea that it is important to understand families who are raising interfaith children in both family religions.

That theme of engagement continued in California, where I spoke at historic Temple Emanu-El in San Jose, in a panel discussion with authors Rabbi Michal Woll and Jon Sweeney, co-sponsored by the Jewish Book Council, the JCC of Silicon Valley, and interfaithfamily.com. It was wonderful to see old friends from the Bay Area interfaith families communities there, including Oscar Rosenbloom, who wrote the Interfaith Responsive Reading used by my interfaith families community at our gatherings.

IMG_1570 - Version 2

The next night, both family and friends turned out at the lovely Book Passage in Marin, one of the liveliest bookstores in America, in terms of the number of top authors who read there. It was great to be hosted by our dear friend, noted Marin author Julia Flynn Siler. And my brother and his wife, the chefs of Panevino Food for Wine in Napa Valley, came down to hear my talk and brought their incredible breadsticks for all to share.

Next, I zipped down to the Claremont School of Theology, and spoke to a class of Christian, Jewish and Muslim seminarians (who bought a big stack of my books). Our conversation helped to convince me that I want to get to every seminary in America, because every chaplain and clergy member needs to be prepared to support interfaith families. Understanding the shifting religious landscape in America, including families who span religions, is going to be critical in this century for pastoral counselors, and for family and marriage therapists.

Finally, last night, I was honored to speak at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, alongside Georgetown’s Erika Seamon, author of what I think is the most important book ever written on interfaith marriage in American history. Georgetown’s Melody Fox Ahmed moderated our discussion, which included faculty and students from all over the globe.

Two Interfaith Family Books

Coming up, I’ll be speaking at the University of Virginia, and then at the the MLK branch of the DC Public Library on May 7th. Contact me now to set up events for the fall: I would love to speak at your professional conference, synagogue, church, community center, university, college, seminary, library or bookstore. I feel like we are just at the beginning of a great, national conversation on religious flexibility and fluidity, religion and spirituality, the religious “nones” and religious institutions, and the role of inter-religious families in interfaith dialogue.

 

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press.

Passover: Three Generations of Interfaith Family

Posted April 3, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: Interfaith Identity

Passover and Easter are fast approaching, and I am still immersed in speaking and traveling in support of my book, Being Both. So I am reposting some essays from the archives. This one dates from the spring of 2010. Enjoy!

 

Our spring break starts today, and my two teens are genuinely ecstatic anticipating our annual family gathering in Florida. Every year, my parents reserve beachside condos, have a rental piano delivered, and invite all four of their children, the spouses, and seven grandchildren for a weeklong family swim, gab and jam session. If we’re lucky, and this year we are, we get to celebrate both Passover and Easter together. For the Seder, all of my mother’s family, her sister and children and grandchildren, join us. My father will lead the Seder with Haggadot shipped down each year in a box full of beach towels.

As in many families, we go around the table, each person reading the next Haggadah passage in turn. We clap along when we sing Dayenu. We fill the cup and open the door for Elijah. We sing Had Gadya, the allegorical cumulative Aramaic song about the water that quenched the fire that beat the stick, and recite all the Who Knows One? riddles in a single breath.

It is neither the longest nor the shortest Seder in the world, nor is it particularly progressive, though I have introduced an orange to the Seder plate, as a reminder of those who have been excluded. I suppose it is a fairly typical Reform Seder in America. The funny thing is, my father is the only one at the table, of the twenty or more family members, who is “100% Jewish by blood.”  The rest of us are a family tapestry of three-quarter Jews, half-Jews, quarter-Jews, Jews-at-heart, Jewannabes, agnostics, atheists, secular and practicing Catholics, and other assorted Christians. What we have in common, besides our family ties, is a high degree of familiarity and comfort with this central Jewish ritual meal, built up over the the fifty years of the happy marriage of my interfaith parents. As far as I’m concerned, everyone at the table is part of the interfaith spectrum, part of my tribe.

My father, the patriarch at 86, has spent fifty years teaching all of us the art of the Passover meal, tending this motley flock, quietly spreading, by example, his understanding and joy in Jewish practice. He has succeeded, to the point where my young French-Canadian-Italian-German-Irish-Scottish-English cousin, who does not have one drop of “Jewish blood,” whatever that is, but who grew up celebrating Passover with my family each year, went off to college, and, too far from home to join us, tried calling her campus Hillel to see if she could have Seder with them. The answer was no. Which reminds me of the time I was rejected from a Seder table for being a patrilineal half-Jew. But that’s another story.

And so I return to my recurrent (some would say obsessive) themes. Interfaith families can be close and happy and successful. Interfaith families can be “good for the Jews” in that they educate both interfaith children and extended Christian family about Judaism. But also, many Jewish institutions still exclude rather than welcome, even at Passover, when it is traditional to “welcome the stranger.” And this exclusion drives some of us to seek out the network of independent interfaith family communities in which to raise our children.

I am troubled, as are many others, by the concluding Seder words ”next year in Jerusalem.” Most of my interfaith tribe rebels against the idea of an Israeli state that promulgates exclusion based on religious identification. So no matter what my mouth says,  my brain will probably be thinking, ”next year with my family, in Florida again, please.” For Passover, there’s no place I’d rather be.

 

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press.

Being Both: Catch the Interfaith Tour in PA, CT, CA, VA, DC

Posted February 26, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: interfaith books, Interfaith Children Speak Out, Interfaith marriage, Interfaith relations

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Susan Katz Miller at Politics & Prose, StephanieWilliamsImages

Susan Katz Miller at Politics & Prose, StephanieWilliamsImages

The Being Both book tour is ramping up again, just in time for Passover and Easter. You can help by forwarding this post to friends and family near Easton PA, Greenwich CT, Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Charlottesville VA and Washington DC.

First up will be Lafayette College in Easton, PA on March 6th. I’ll be giving a new talk tailored for college campuses, drawing on interviews with college students from interfaith families, and emphasizing the extraordinary religious complexity, fluidity and flexibility in this generation. I will also advocate for young people from interfaith families to take leadership roles in interfaith dialogue and activism on campus. Facebook event page here. I’m currently booking college campus speaking engagements (as well as church, synagogue, and library talks) for next fall, when the paperback of Being Both should come out, so contact me now if you are interested.

Next, I am excited to be speaking at the historic Bush-Holley House in Cos Cob, CT on March 13th, for an Interfaith Conversation with a wine and cheese reception, sponsored by the Greenwich JCC, Jewish Family Services of Greenwich, and the Jewish Book Council. Required reservation and RSVP here.

Then, California here I come. First stop will be at the Silicon Valley JCC on March 19th, for an event titled, “Two Religions, One Family, a Million Questions.” I’ll be appearing with authors Rabbi Michal Woll and Jon Sweeney (a Jewish and Catholic couple). Please purchase tickets here. This event, and the Greenwich event, are part of my year as a Jewish Book Council Network Author.

The next night, join me at the “Bay Area’s Liveliest Bookstore,” the marvelous Book Passage in Marin County, at March 20th at 7pm, followed by wine and cheese. Facebook event page here. This is my only appearance on this trip in the Bay Area, but I hope to return next year. Contact me if you want to schedule an event for the next California trip!

After northern California, I will nip down to LA to visit a certain beloved college student, and also to visit classes at Claremont School of Theology. (Contact me if you want to sponsor another event in LA between March 22nd and March 26th.)

Later in the spring, I’m planning events at the Berkeley Center at Georgetown University on April 3rd, at the University of Virginia on April 9th, and at the MLK branch of the DC Public Library on May 7th. Stay tuned for more…

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press.

Being Both: Notes from an Interfaith Book Tour

Posted February 21, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: Interfaith Identity

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StephanieWilliamsImages

I am being being both these days: both encouraged and challenged by readers and audiences since the launch of Being Both last fall. Here are some brief highlights:

In October, a packed house celebrated the book launch at the magical Washington DC bookstore, Politics & Prose. I was touched that David Cohen, husband of the late Politics & Prose founder Carla Cohen, chose to introduce me. David called Being Both a “very important book,” noting that he’d done “a lot of introductions” and that Being Both garnered the second-biggest applause. (The most was for Civil Rights icon Congressman John Lewis!). You can listen to an audio recording of the event here.

Politics & Prose

StephanieWilliamsImages

A few days later, I got off the train at Penn Station and promptly received an email from my agent Rob Weisbach saying that the New York Times was about to publish my Op-Ed. At that moment, I was on my way to give a book talk at the Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side. After thanking old Newsweek colleagues, college friends, and family for coming out to the bookstore, I dashed out to respond to the New York Times fact-checker and editor. Late that night, I was roaming Broadway, looking for a copy shop to fax my contract and tax forms by the midnight deadline. As a result, I completely missed watching my beloved Red Sox win the final game of the World Series. At least I was able to grab a slice of pizza. It was a New York moment.

Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble, Upper West Side

That Op-Ed became the most emailed piece on the New York Times website for the next day and a half. In the comment section, both angry atheists and scandalized theists posted critiques, while interfaith families poured out their own stories. After 613 comments, the website administrator closed the comment section. Of course, I am aware that Jewish law is traditionally based on the 613 mitzvot, or commandments. Call me a mystic, but I don’t think the fact that there are 613 comments on my Op-Ed could possibly be a coincidence. I just don’t know if the secret message was meant as a subtle chide, or a salute. It’s a book tour mystery!

Next up was my hometown Boston, for three appearances, and a visit to the WBUR studios to tape an interview for NPR’s Here & Now with Robin Young. The interview aired over Thanksgiving weekend, and I ended up listening to it at a rest stop on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on the way home from Thanksgiving with my extended interfaith family.

My Beacon Press team

My Beacon Press team

In Boston, I had the joy of being able to celebrate the book launch with my parents, now 89 and 83–stars of the memoir chapter of my book. While staying with them at my childhood home outside Boston, I went through old photo albums and began brainstorming for my video book trailer.

Back in Washington, NPR’s Diane Rehm Show fulfilled one of my dreams by inviting me to be a guest on the show. In the last four months, Being Both has also been featured on an irreverent Slate podcast, in the Utne Reader, Time, the Forward, and Andrew Sullivan’s blog The Dish. (For a full list of reviews and features, go to http://www.susankatzmiller.com/press/.) The book is now in its second printing, so if you bought a copy in the fall, hang on to your first edition!

I am well aware that not everyone approves of the idea of educating children in both family religions. I receive hate mail. Debate over the book has been fraught and fiery at times, and I plan to write more on that soon. But for now, I want once again to thank all of you who have supported my work over the years–readers, friends, family—but also, and especially, those who have asked hard questions and pushed me to better explain my interfaith world and the interfaith world of the 21st century, at each stop on this exhilarating book tour.

Politics & Prose

StephanieWilliamsImages

For more photos, take the full photo tour at http://www.susankatzmiller.com/book-tour-photos/.  And for a full schedule of spring appearances, go to  http://www.susankatzmiller.com/events/. Book now for fall book talks!

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press.

Rabbi to Lead a Unitarian-Universalist Congregation

Posted February 11, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: interfaith community, Interfaith relations, Judaism, Unitarian-Universalism

Tags: , , , , , ,
Rabbi Chava Bahle

Rabbi Chava Bahle (Photo: Beryl Striewski)

Recently, a Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation in northern Michigan selected Rabbi Chava Bahle to serve as their new leader. While other rabbis have worked in UU congregations before, this is apparently the first time a rabbi will lead a UU community. I knew that Rabbi Chava has been on the forefront of clergy working with interfaith families. And as the Jewish author of a book from a UU publisher (Beacon Press) I was particularly interested in hearing about Rabbi Chava’s journey so far, and her thoughts on leading a UU community.

1.    I know your selection did not come out of the blue. Tell us about your history with this particular UU congregation.

For both the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Grand Traverse (UUCGT) and for me, this was a relationship-based process. They were not seeking a rabbi “in general.” I have lived in northern Michigan for just over 20 years. Rev. Emmy Lou Belcher, the UUCGT’s first minister, is my dear friend. I got to know her community and its deep commitment to social justice and interfaith welcoming.  I would often “guest preach” when Rev. Belcher and her successors were away or on vacation. The local Jewish congregation I founded and the UUCGT often worked side by side on issues of social justice. Over the 20 years of guest preaching and partnering in social justice work, the UUCGT and I formed an ongoing bond with each other.

I was contacted some months ago by the Ministerial Search Committee, and we spent time discussing the meaning of this possibility – a non-Unitarian Universalist, and a rabbi no less, serving a congregation with a strong UU identity. I also spoke in discernment with other UU leaders, and with several rabbinic colleagues during that time – exploring the meaning of this from Jewish and UU points of view.

Once we felt we had talked through the implications and reached a place of joy, the public process began! A Candidating Week is announced – preaching two successive Sundays and many (many, many) meetings with committees, the board, constituent groups and individuals the week in between. In our case, we offered extra opportunities to ask questions, since this is, to say the least, an unusual candidacy. The process allowed for discerning conversation on both our parts. After the second Sunday of preaching, I left the building, and the membership voted by secret ballot. My candidacy was affirmed with just over 96% of the community saying “yes”!

2.     On the morning of your selection, you used some metaphors from Jewish texts in describing this historic moment. Tell us about that.

My Candidating Week began on Martin Luther King Day weekend, the start of the 30 Days of Love, the period between MLK Day and Valentine’s Day, when UUs around the world celebrate “standing on the side of love,” a campaign supporting LGBTQ people and families, economic and racial justice, immigration reform and other calls for a more equitable society for all people. One of Dr. King’s central metaphors was the story of the Israelites’ journey from Egypt, through the wilderness to the Promised Land.  The Exodus metaphor of a passage into new territory –the unknown – a journey that requires courage and vision spoke to me for the day of our decision. I wove texts of Exodus with midrashic texts to ask four questions: How do we ordinary people awaken hope, faith and courage, and are we ready to take a bold step even if we cannot yet know what will happen, or if the waters will part for us? How do we hold a focus on the positive core of who we have been and are yet to be? How do we with love and kindness move past the idea of creating an “other”? And can we cultivate a deep sense of joy while doing the work of repairing the world?  Because of the tzitzit [fringes] on my prayer shawl I titled the sermon “Religion on the Fringe.”

3. What do you find most inspiring about UU principles and practices?

The seven core principles of Unitarian Universalism speak deeply to my heart – beginning with the inherent worth and dignity of each person, creating a just and equitable society based on that worth, and recognizing the interconnected web of life of which we are a part (both the human family and our planet home) – these ideals are a shared starting point for the repair of the world. Seeing ideals in action at the UUCGT is a great inspiration.  Further, having visited other UU congregations, I have always felt a warm welcome as a stranger walking through the door.  The most often mentioned commandment in Torah is “you shall not wrong the stranger.”  Put in positive terms, this means we aspire to a place where there is no “other” – UU congregations do this incredibly well. Additionally the spirit of inquiry and intellect are profoundly inspiring to me.

4. How do you see your background and preparation as a rabbi as leading up to your work in a UU congregation?

Let’s go back to the journey metaphor. I was raised in a strongly Jewish-identified home with every part of our lives infused with Yiddishkeit, from Shabbes to tzedakah, holidays to tikkun olam.  I was raised Reform where I learned commitment to the prophetic vision of social justice and the place of the intellect in Jewish engagement.  I studied for a year at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College where I learned to think deeply about the whole of evolving Jewish civilization and where I chanced to meet Reb Zalman. From there I studied at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism where I learned to broaden the scope of my Jewish thinking and reading and – above all – to create a culture of welcome, egalitarianism and true interfaith honoring. I received a private smicha from a bet din of rabbis across denominations and finally found my home in Jewish Renewal, where I received a second smicha from the Aleph Alliance for Jewish Renewal’s Smicha Program. Later I was ordained as a Maggid (Jewish inspirational preacher and story teller) in the lineage of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, by Reb Yitzchak Buxbaum; I fell in love with the warmth of Chassidut and the power of story.  Learning never ends.

I have been deeply inspired by teachers from other traditions as well – Buddhist, Hindu and Christian teachings have touched my heart and soul, and these are also part of the fabric of my rabbinate.

From prophetic social justice vision, deep spirituality and a culture of welcome – all this finds a loving home in Jewish Renewal. The OHALAH Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal, our professional association, is a trans-denominational group of rabbis, cantors and rabbinic pastors committed to exploring and renewing Jewish spirit, klal Yisrael (community) and tikkun olam. My choice to serve this UU congregation is not everyone’s cup of tea, but even where my Renewal colleagues question, it has been done in a spirit of true inquiry and respect.

I believe my journey – like the Jewish journey through many lands and epochs – holds it integrity through roots and wings: a seeking heart. This aspect of seeking and friendly inquiry, and our shared 20 year history, is a great fit for this UU congregation.

5. What do you see as the convergences, common ground, and distinctions between UU and forms of progressive Judaism such as Jewish Renewal? And how will you honor or navigate the synergies and points of difference in your work?

I see common ground in a set of core values, the love of learning, and eagerness to heal to the world, ‘though we have come to these from different points of origin. The UUCGT loves exploring world wisdom, celebrates music and powerful story telling, works for social justice, and many seem drawn to grappling with ideas of spirituality. Also there is a sense of joy! Here I can support and lead the community.

I feel cautious about the idea of convergence.  They will remain, and I support them in, being a strongly identified UU community and part of the UUA. I remain strongly committed to Judaism and Jewish Renewal. Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal rather than a creedal tradition. In this context, having a congregation’s spiritual leader from a different background can be a great strength. It is the work of the spiritual leader of the congregation to inspire, engage, and call upon the congregants to explore and develop their own beliefs and help motivate them to live their values. I can do that from my own strong base as a rabbi.

For the years that I have preached and taught here and in other non-Jewish settings, the navigation comes from the heart, from having integrity and also respect and openness to one another. Exactly what that will look like as this relationship progresses, we will determine together through shared learning, discernment, experimentation and honest conversation.  There is no road map to follow. We step into this journey with the strengths of where we have been and the full faith of co-creating the community going forward.

6. Tell us a little bit about your work with interfaith Jewish and Catholic couples in Chicago. Did that work prepare you for working in a UU context? And do you plan to continue that work?

The Chicago Interfaith Family School (the-family-school.org) was founded 20 years ago by two visionary leaders, Rabbi Allen Secher and Fr. John Cusick.  Out of their deep friendship and shared experience of working with interfaith couples, and the strong desire of those families to raise children in both the Catholic and Jewish traditions, they assisted a small group of couples in creating the Family School.  As co-clergy with Fr. John, Fr. Tom Hurley and emeritus Reb Allen, I am incredibly proud to serve that community.  I do plan to continue my relationship with Family School, although my travel to Chicago will be reduced.

In truth the Family School is a different model than the one here at the UUCGT.  The Family School is committed to raising children, and supporting families, who are “both/and” – deeply committed specifically to Jewish and Catholic heritages, life cycles and education.  While Unitarian Universalism shares the idea of bringing people from distinct cultures together, each congregation draws upon these and other traditions to create its own unique Unitarian Universalist identity.

For years and with great regularity, I have been teaching and preaching in both Jewish and non-Jewish contexts. This has been the real preparation for becoming the Rabbi of the UUCGT.  I have learned grounding in my own tradition, and a sensitivity to the use of language, context and knowledge about traditions that differ from my own.  I think this will serve my new congregation well.

7. How do you answer those who are saying that rabbis should be serving the Jewish people?

I am so glad you asked this. In part, I agree. Where we disagree is about (a) whether all rabbis should focus on only Jewish people and (b) what it means to serve the Jewish people.  I have long been a servant for people of all backgrounds – that is part of my vocation. By being in the world, trying to be the best, most loving exemplar I can be to all people, I believe I am fulfilling my mission as a rabbi and by extension serving the well-being and fate of the Jewish people by building loving bridges. In my heart I believe this calling is my basheret [meant to be].  It is not every rabbi’s call to sojourn in this way, and that is healthy: diversity is necessary in every living system. As Reb Zalman might say, the liver shouldn’t be trying to convince the heart to be a liver. We all have a function in creating a vibrant system. I am excited and delighted to serve this new community.

8. The religious press in America is filled with stories about rise in the religious “nones,” and the decline in affiliation with traditional religious institutions. And yet, your selection has galvanized one UU community and apparently already created a surge in membership there. Do you see your work with this UU community as a unique set of circumstances that may never occur elsewhere, or as an inspiration for the interfaith future?

Time will tell on this important question. I don’t foresee there being a big run of rabbis to UU pulpits! I am delighted that the local community is seeing membership growth before I even start next fall, because it says that a UU congregation with a committed spiritual leader has great potential, even in a rural area like northern Michigan.

The implication for the so-called “nones” – a term I reject because it does not aptly name the positive longing I see in them – is that it is possible to make a place in spiritual community that speaks to their hearts and minds, asks of them commitment to friendly exploration and allows room for a range of answers in a shared congregational experience.

My experience with interfaith families, questioning spiritual seekers and others is that the calling of the heart for belonging, peace, harmony and love, and the desire of the mind for inquiry, seeking truth and making sense of the world, require community.  While there is much we can do on our own, the human desire for community, for shared experience, for fellow travelers on the way, is powerful and necessary.

I think this relationship has the potential to model how a community can be an “incubator” for love, peace and justice in the world across boundaries.

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press.

Note: A version of this post ran on Huffington Post.

Being Both: The Interfaith Book Trailer

Posted January 23, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: Christianity, interfaith books, Interfaith children, Interfaith films, Interfaith marriage, Judaism

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Over winter break, I returned to my childhood home outside Boston, surrounded this time of year by deep snow and deer and wild turkeys. I love to go through the old photos stored in a window seat there, and ask my parents to tell and retell our family stories. This year, I took some of those photos and made them into a book trailer (a short video), in order to illustrate the memoir chapter of Being Both. If you watch closely, you will notice that I wore my mother’s wedding dress. And if you listen closely, you will hear my father at the piano. I hope you enjoy these minutes (less than two actually) of interfaith family history, and will pass it on to friends.

Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family by Susan Katz Miller, available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press.


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