Archive for the ‘Interfaith Identity’ category

Jewish and Muslim: Interfaith Children in Israel

September 2, 2014
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.

“Conversation With Interfaith Family Pioneer”

August 27, 2014

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

August 21, 2014

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

August 11, 2014

 

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.

 

A Response to the Pew Poll on “Favorite Religions”

July 17, 2014

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.

Interfaith Ramadan: Jewish and Christian Meets Muslim

July 3, 2014
Beads I collected in Senegal, Mauritania and Mali.      Photo: Susan Katz Miller

Beads collected in Senegal, Mauritania, Mali and Benin. Photo: Susan Katz Miller

One of the great joys of writing Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family has been the opportunity to develop relationships with interfaith activists who are Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, and more. While acknowledging our differences, we tend to share a belief that love can prevail over hate, and that life is richer and fuller with all of us in conversation, and working together.

My personal response to the continuing religious violence in the world is to transcend boundaries with love. As someone with a Jewish (and interfaith) identity, I seek out the progressive and feminist Muslim community in particular, mainly through the miracle of Twitter. Some of my favorite Muslim interfaith activists on Twitter include @ImtheQ, @MuslimahMontage, @MelodyFoxAhmed, @HindMakki, @NajeebaSyeed, @HiddenHeartFilm, @ChrisMusForum, @IslamicChaplain, @PearlBLawrence, @Ingrid Mattson, @EbooPatel, and @SaritaAgerman.

This is the month of Ramadan, and many of these interfaith activists have created great projects (including #RamadanReads and @TheBigIftar) to complement the introspection and community-building of this period of fasting. Sarah Ager (@SaritaAgerman), is a preacher’s kid and a convert to Islam who describes herself as a “postmodern Anglo-Muslim” and writes a blog called “A Hotchpotch Hijabi in Italy.” For Ramadan, she publishes an entire month’s worth of reflections from Muslims, and everyone else, on Ramadan, in a project called #InterfaithRamadan, and then tweets it out under @InterfaithRam.

Sarah had noticed some of my blog posts on my positive experiences with Islam (perhaps here, here, or here), and invited me to write a piece for #InterfaithRamadan this year. I started with a scene from my book, and then had a new epiphany about how growing up in an interfaith family prepared me to encounter those with other religions. Sarah also inspired me to go around my house, photographing some of my beloved objects from Senegal, for this post. Here’s the start to the essay…jump to her blog to read the rest:

I moved to Dakar, Senegal, just three days after getting married in 1987. When our plane landed on the other side of the Atlantic, I stepped into a new role as a Jewish girl from an interfaith family, married to a Protestant working for a Catholic organization, in a predominantly Muslim country.

Growing up in a small New England town, everyone I knew seemed to fall neatly into one of two religious boxes labeled Christian (the religious majority) or Jewish (the tiny religious minority). But on a deeper level, as the child of an interfaith marriage, this strict binary always felt forced. I knew that the religious world, and my own identity, had to be more complex…read the rest 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.

 

 

A Rabbi for Interfaith Families, for UUs, for All of Us

June 25, 2014

A few months ago, I had the honor of interviewing Rabbi Chava Bahle about her historic selection as a rabbi to lead a Unitarian-Universalist (UU) community. We talked about her background as one of the handful of rabbis working directly with an interfaith families community raising children in both family religions. For almost ten years, she has been the rabbi at Chicago’s Interfaith Family School.

Now you can watch Rabbi Chava tell her story at a recent TEDx talk in Traverse City, Michigan. She describes this moment in history as a spiritual paradigm shift, when we begin to look around and see “us” rather than “them.” In listening to her funny, moving and inspiring talk, it is easy to imagine why a UU community took a leap of faith and hired a rabbi to lead them. In her TEDx talk, Rabbi Chava describes what she sees as the importance of the Catholic and Jewish families in Chicago as “game-changers.” Embedded in her talk is the excellent video created by the Family School for their 20th anniversary this year, in which you hear interfaith parents, Catholic and Jewish clergy, and young people raised with both religions, talking about the benefits of interfaith education.

For Being Both:Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, I interviewed Chicago clergy, parents, and young adults from the Family School. I am looking forward to visiting Chicago in the fall, to celebrate the release of the paperback edition of my Beacon Press book with the groundbreaking community there. In the meantime, it is thrilling to me to have one of the clergy members most closely associated with the interfaith families movement telling her own story, and testifying to a public audience about all that is compelling about raising children with both family religions. I look forward to more clergy, parents, and young people who are part of this paradigm shift, those creating and supporting and growing up in interfaith family communities, bearing witness to the movement we have created.


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