High Holy Days: Now With Great Poetry

Posted September 19, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: holidays in interfaith families, interfaith books, Judaism

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Two blog posts this week hinted at the struggle many interfaith families, and many Jewish families, have with the intimidating length and inaccessibility of traditional High Holiday services. In The Forward‘s interfaith advice column, I responded to a woman who feared these services would alienate her interfaith husband from Judaism. And over at Kveller, a mother admitted she was not going to require her children to attend services, even though they are an otherwise deeply-engaged Jewish family. One response to such questioning has been to blame those who are disaffected: if you only knew more Hebrew, and more Torah, (if only you hadn’t intermarried), you wouldn’t be fidgeting at the three-hour mark. And in the other corner, we have Rabbi Rami Shapiro (a self-defined Holy Rascal), explaining why he avoids the “medieval worldview” of conventional High Holiday services himself, calling them unfulfilling. He says he would rather go take a contemplative walk in the woods.

Meanwhile, many of the most progressive Jewish communities have been working to create services that will honor tradition, while also breathing new life into Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (as well as all the rest of the days in the Jewish calendar). One of those visionaries is Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, an accomplished poet and Jewish Renewal rabbi often known by her blogging moniker, The Velveteen Rabbi. This year, Rabbi Rachel has published (with Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser) a gorgeous new Machzor (the prayerbook specifically for the High Holidays). Days of Awe inspires with new translations, lively illustrations, and poetry that avoids platitudes. Along with her own marvelous poems, she includes poems from Yehuda Amichai, Leonard Cohen, Marie Howe, David Lehman, Alicia Ostriker, Omar Khayyam, Phillip Schultz, Hannah Szenes, Herman Taube, and Rumi. The translations and interpretations come from rabbis including Shlomo Carlebach, Jill Hammer, Burt Jacobson, Marcia Prager, Rami Shapiro, David Shneyer, Hannah Tiferet Siegel, and the much-beloved Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of Jewish Renewal.

In addition to infusing the services with carefully curated poetry and translations, this prayerbook invites and welcomes all (interfaith, disaffected, seeking) by explaining the sense and structure of the services. For instance, the repetition of the Kaddish through the services can seem bewildering and stultifying. Rabbi Rachel stops to explain that the Kaddish acts as a door to mark the transition to each new section of the service, and her Machzor illustrates this concept with a series of lovely photographs of different doors inserted with each recurrence of the Kaddish.

One poem from Days of Awe holds perfectly the tension between the desire to return to ancient communal prayer, and the desire to renew with a walk in the woods instead. Do both. (Ah, bothness…the favorite theme of all interfaith children). In the moving and elegiac poem “For I will consider your dog Molly,” by David Lehman, the poet takes us from a Rosh Hashanah morning service, in which he mourns his father and is comforted by “Hebrew melodies,” to an afternoon ramble with a companion and her dog to perform the traditional Tashlich ritual of throwing sins into the water. This poem, a narrative with characters and unexpected moments of humor and pain (and echoes of Ulysses), has nothing in common with some of the bland, cheesy verses that seem to end up in prayerbooks edited by committees.

As a small child in New England, the highlight of Rosh Hashanah for me was indeed the family tradition of afternoon apple-picking, not the long hours of services, though eventually I did grow to love the services too. With Days of Awe as a prayerbook, more families, interfaith and otherwise, will be able to both return and renew. Rabbi Rachel writes, “Take risks. Try new things. (Try old things!)” I expect Days of Awe will become the standard prayerbook in many Jewish Renewal communities, and, I hope, exert an influence throughout the increasingly diverse and complex Jewish world.

 

High Holidays with an Interfaith Community: 2014 Edition

Posted September 17, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: holidays in interfaith families, interfaith community, Judaism

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Fall Maple Leaves, photo Susan Katz Miller

Each year, I have taken to posting a set of links to Jewish High Holiday (or High Holy Day) services designed by and for interfaith families. Of course, many such families now feel welcome and included at progressive services in Jewish communities around the country. But there is still something different, and deeply moving for many of us, about gathering with an intentionally interfaith community. Of course, you don’t have to be in an interfaith family to attend these radically inclusive services. At our services in Washington DC, for instance, you will find curious people of other religions who aren’t even married to Jews, and entirely Jewish families just looking for accessible High Holidays. All are welcome!

The very first High Holiday services designed by and for interfaith families took place in Manhattan in the 1980s, and those services continue today. Now, families from the Interfaith Community chapters in Manhattan, Long Island, Westchester, Orange/Bergen/Rockland Counties, Danbury, Connecticut, and Boston gather to celebrate together, both at their own events, and with local Jewish communities.

In Chicago, Jewish and Catholic families have been teaching children both religions since 1993. In downtown Chicago, families from the Interfaith Family School and the Jewish Catholic Couples Dialogue Group, and suburban interfaith families from the Interfaith Union and Union School for Interfaith Families gather together at local synagogues for the High Holy Days.

And in Washington DC, my own community, the Interfaith Families Project provides a set of five traditional, progressive High Holy Day services (plus a break fast). The services are specifically designed by and for interfaith families, will be led once again by our rabbi, Rabbi Harold White, who is the retired chaplain of Georgetown University.

Each fall provides a new chance to connect with other interfaith families, to begin religious education for your children, to discover or rediscover the beauty of the Jewish holidays. As the days grow shorter–return, renew, rejoice in the many options for interfaith families.

7 Ways for Interfaith Families to Find Community

Posted September 11, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: holidays in interfaith families, Interfaith children, interfaith community, Interfaith Identity, Interfaith in the News, Interfaith marriage, Unitarian-Universalism

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This year, I posted my annual roundup of communities that welcome interfaith families over on my Huffington Post blog, in order to reach more interfaith families looking for comfortable spiritual or religious or secular homes. I hope you’ll take a look. It includes mention of Jewish, Humanistic Jewish, Ethical Society, Unitarian-Univeralist and interfaith family communities…

CHELSEA CLINTON MARC

Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky are about to become interfaith parents. And as interfaith parents, they are about to face an ongoing series of decisions about the religious affiliation and education of their interfaith children. This time of year, with the nip of autumn in the air to remind us of the passage of time, and the Jewish High Holidays fast approaching (September 24th and October 3rd), many interfaith families are making the annual decision on whether to affiliate with a church, a synagogue, or neither. Or both…  Click here to continue

Jewish and Muslim: Interfaith Children in Israel

Posted September 2, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: Interfaith Children Speak Out, Interfaith Identity, Interfaith in the News, Interfaith marriage, Interfaith relations, Islam, Judaism, Muslim Jewish Interfaith

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Olive Branches, photo by Martha Legg Katz

Olive Branches, photo by Martha Legg Katz

One of the reasons I wrote Being Both was to encourage more adult interfaith children to speak out about their own experiences, positive and negative. Too often, the discourse on interfaith marriage has been dominated by people speculating and worrying about the experiences of interfaith children, rather than listening to the voices of those who actually grew up in interfaith families.

So I was very glad to read a story in Haaretz this weekend about Jewish and Muslim interfaith families in Israel. The reporter actually interviewed not only parents, but at least two children from these families (ages 10 and 19) about their experiences and identities. The article adds to the small but important collection of stories told by interfaith children about their own lives in the 21st century (including the fifty interfaith children I surveyed for Being Both).

I appreciate the reporter and Haaretz for acknowledging that these intact interfaith families exist, for giving them space to tell their own stories, and for allowing them to describe both the challenges and the benefits of being intercultural, interfaith families. In the article, 10-year-old Nour says “I’m half-Jewish, half-Arab, and I’m not ashamed of it.” This is a strong statement from a very young person, given the history of conflict in the region. (And putting aside for a moment the fact that Arab is a language-group and ethnicity, not a religion, and that there are Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Arabic-speakers).

The article does have a certain amount of language derived from traditional anti-intermarriage discourse, including the idea that identity questions “plague” interfaith children “for life.” For the interfaith families in this article, I would argue that part of the stress clearly derives not from celebrating two religions, but from living in a war zone in which the parents are expected to identify with opposite camps. It is hard to keep straight the religious, cultural, ethnic, tribal, and national issues at play in this context. For instance, the reporter writes that one family observes “the holidays of both religions except…Independence Day.” Israeli Independence Day is not a  Jewish holiday, it is a national holiday, even if some Jewish communities in the US choose to celebrate it.

But despite the complexity of this story, it is hard to ignore the voices of young people testifying to the benefits of growing up interfaith. We have young Nour, age 10, declaring that she “felt at home everywhere.” Reading her words, she does not sound plagued. She explains the issue here very succinctly, as she describes friends who gossip about her interfaith status: “I’d prefer to leave my parents the way they are, but it’s easier for friends when parents have the same religion.” In other words, she is comfortable with her interfaith family: the confusion, as I have so often written, is in the eye of the beholders.

In this article, an Israeli advocate for interfaith families, Irit Rosenblum, frets that sometimes these children choose a single religious identity in adulthood, and this can lead to a “break with one parent.” My point of view is that this break occurs only when parents cannot accept the reality that children, all children, whether interfaith or monofaith, can and will grow up to make their own religious choices. But Rosenblum also observes that some of these children lead “happy lives, content with both cultures,” and that while parents may struggle, “these children are more open to dialogue and cultural receptivity, and they can more easily cross cultural divides.” It is heartening to observe that even in Jewish and Muslim interfaith families, even in the fraught atmosphere of Israel at the end of a very long summer, the idea that growing up in an interfaith family can have benefits as well as challenges can no longer be pushed aside or ignored.

 

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press. You can also pre-order the paperback now.

In Faith and In Doubt: Secular/Religious “Interfaith” Families

Posted August 27, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: interfaith books, Interfaith children, Interfaith marriage

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McGowan cover

My review of a new book by Dale McGowan, In Faith and In Doubt, the first book on secular/religious mixed marriages, just went up on my Huffington Post blog. No matter what you believe, or what you practice, I think you will find this book useful in negotiating family dynamics with respect and compassion.

 

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press. You can also pre-order the paperback now.

 

 

“Conversation With Interfaith Family Pioneer”

Posted August 27, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: interfaith books, Interfaith children, Interfaith Identity, Interfaith marriage

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Being Both book

Ken Chitwood describes himself as a “theologian without borders,” interested in “the contextualization of doctrines & practices across religious boundaries, physical borders, & cultural barriers.” Needless to say, that’s my kind of theologian. Ken is both an academic in religious studies, and an experienced religion newswriter. This somewhat rare combination informed an unusually long and thoughtful interview about interfaith families and Being Both, published on Ken’s Houston Chronicle blog, Sacred Duty, this week. For those who don’t follow me on twitter (@beingboth) or Facebook, I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss this interview. Click the link here:

What’s it like ‘being both?’ A conversation with interfaith family pioneer, author, Susan Katz Miller

 

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press. You can also pre-order the paperback now.

 

Interfaith Education for All: A Review of Being Both

Posted August 21, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: Christianity, Interfaith Identity, Judaism

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Faith Seeker Kids

In my public speaking, I often point out that interfaith children need interfaith education, but also, when you think about it, all children need multifaith education in order to become more effective bridge-builders and peacemakers. In the UK, government-funded schools are required to provide multifaith education for all children. Here in the US, we take a very different approach: because of the separation of church and state, religion is rarely taught in public schools. I understand the benefits of this separation, but as a side effect, American kids don’t learn much about religion, beyond whatever they learn at their own church (or synagogue, mosque, temple, etc.).

Some religious communities do understand the importance of interfaith education. The most widespread network in the US for teaching the beliefs and practices of world religions is probably Unitarian-Universalism. It’s not a coincidence that my publisher, Beacon Press, is a UU press. Beacon had the chutzpah to publish Being Both, in part I think because they understood interfaith education as a peace and social justice issue (for UU kids, for interfaith kids, for all kids).

Since Being Both was published, I’ve heard from many individual educators and clergy-members who are working to deliver interfaith education through new, innovative models. For instance, coming from a Jewish background, and inspired in part by her interfaith marriage, Lauren Zinn has created Religion Inside Out, drawing on multiple religious traditions, for “spiritually conscious youth in a global culture.” (She also wrote a great review of Being Both, reflecting on the importance of interfaith education.)

And coming from a Christian background, Vicki Garlock has developed another multifaith education program called Faith Seeker Kids, with the goal of “helping churches and families bring interfaith education to life.” The program is rooted in the Christian Bible, but incorporates stories and rituals from many world religions. The intention is to raise children who are “unafraid to explore their relationship to the Divine, unafraid to question their own viewpoints, unafraid to explore other ancient texts and faith practices, unafraid to grow.”

On her blog this week, Vicki posted a lovely review of Being Both, calling it “a great mix of personal experience, stories, quotes, and factual information.” I hope you’ll read her review by clicking this link:

Book Review: Being Both by Susan Katz Miller

 

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press. You can also pre-order the paperback now.


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