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.

Ten Reasons Couples Join Interfaith Family Communities

Posted August 11, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: Interfaith children, interfaith community, Interfaith Identity, Interfaith marriage

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Protestant and Jewish parents and grandparents at my son's Bar Mitzvah. Photo stephaniewilliamsimages

Protestant and Jewish grandparents hand down the Torah at an interfaith Bar Mitzvah. Photo stephaniewilliamsimages

 

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Michelle Boorstein reports on Washington DC synagogues “trying to make room for interfaith couples.” Note the use of the word “trying” here. The article does chronicle significant progress in the Jewish community in welcoming interfaith families, and that is cause for celebration. But it also recounts poignant stories of families trying to connect to Judaism and facing restrictions, limitations, and exclusions. Such restrictions help to explain why a growing number of interfaith families (including 25% of intermarried Jews nationally, according to Pew Research) now choose to raise children with both family religions, rather than choosing one religion.

Below, I list ten of the many reasons couples join interfaith family communities, instead of, or in addition to, synagogues. These reasons are drawn directly from the Post‘s article.  Of course, there are also many positive reasons families choose an interfaith community, including support from both a rabbi and a minister (or priest), literacy for children in both religious languages, and being part of a community in which neither spouse feels like a guest. For a deeper understanding of why interfaith families choose interfaith communities, I recommend reading Being Both.

I argue that excluding families who want to stay connected to Judaism does not help Judaism, and it certainly does not help interfaith families. Here is a list of ten ways that Jewish communities continue to alienate interfaith families:

  1. Even Reform rabbinical schools do not accept students in interfaith relationships.
  2. Conservative rabbis are not allowed to attend, or witness, interfaith weddings.
  3. Many Reform rabbis still refuse to officiate at interfaith weddings.
  4. Some rabbis refuse to co-officiate (at weddings, baby welcomings, coming of age ceremonies, funerals) with Christian (or Hindu, or any other) clergy.
  5. Some rabbis require a couple to promise to raise exclusively Jewish children.
  6. Some rabbis will perform same-sex marriages but not interfaith marriages.
  7. Reform Judaism stands by a resolution advising synagogues to refuse Jewish education to children if they are being formally educated in a second religion.
  8. Many synagogues have restrictions on membership for spouses who are not Jewish.
  9. Many synagogues have restrictions on how a spouse from another religion can participate in life cycle ceremonies.
  10. A special prayer for an interfaith couple, or for a parent or grandparent from another religion, is an improvement over complete exclusion. However, for some families, separate but unequal is still a problem.

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

 

Interfaith Children Speak Out: #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies

Posted July 23, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: Interfaith children, Interfaith Children Speak Out, Interfaith marriage, Muslim Jewish Interfaith

Tags: , , ,

In order to write Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, I interviewed Jewish and Christian, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Christian, and Buddhist/Jewish/Christian families. This week, I was thrilled to see Jewish and Muslim adult interfaith children emerging on twitter–coming out, as it were, and speaking out about how love can prevail, even in a context fraught with geopolitical tension and violence.

In response to the current crisis in Israel and Palestine, two students in New York, Abraham Gutman (Jewish, Israeli) and Dania Darwish (Muslim) created the twitter hashtag #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies. It is true that many Israeli Jews are also Arabs, and that Palestinians may be Muslim or Christian, but the message is clear nonetheless.

I see Gutman as a peacemaker inspired by his own interfaith family experience. He recently posted an essay about the struggle to find a rabbi to officiate at his marriage to a Christian. For me, this is another example of someone from an interfaith family becoming an interfaith bridge-builder. A more prominent example is Chelsea Clinton, a co-ounder of the Of Many Institute for Multifaith Leadership at NYU. In describing her interfaith activism, she told Time, “With all candor, because my husband is Jewish and I’m Christian, and we’re both practicing, it’s something that’s quite close to home.”

Below, interfaith children testify in their own words on Twitter…

Tweeted by Abraham Gutman @abgutman

Jasmin is Israeli, Osama is Palestinian. They are a happy family!

Embedded image permalink

@abgutman whatever we suffer, hate makes it worse. #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies

Tweeted by Nicole L Shevloff ‏@NicoleLeyla

My Muslim Mother married my Jewish Father, I grew up in a household of Laughter & Love!

A Response to the Pew Poll on “Favorite Religions”

Posted July 17, 2014 by Susan Katz Miller
Categories: Interfaith Identity

HuffPost Logo

This week, Pew Research released a poll in which they asked people to rate how “warm” or “cold” they feel about various religions. I wrote a response, from the perspective of someone in an interfaith family, over on HuffPost today. If you have a chance, post a comment over there:

I’m an interfaith child, raising interfaith children. As part of a three-generation interfaith family, I am the product of American pluralism. Celebrating more than one religion does not make me feel alienated or apathetic. Instead, it inspires me, and many of the interfaith children I interviewed for my book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, to explore and appreciate the histories and cultures and practices and theologies of multiple religions.

Yesterday, Pew Research released a new study on how Americans feel about different religious groups. It seemed self-evident that most people had the “warmest” feelings about their own religion. But what about those of us who claim more than one religion? (To read the rest at Huffington Post Religion, click here…)

 

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


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