Archive for the ‘Interfaith Identity’ category

A Response to the Pew Poll on “Favorite Religions”

July 17, 2014

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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.

Women, Religion, and Interfaith Families

June 10, 2014

Why have most founders of interfaith family communities been women? Historically, how has the male domination of religious institutions affected interfaith couples? And does the idea that an interfaith child must be defined by the religion of the mother (in Judaism) or the father (in Islam) make any sense given the reality of families with one parent, with two fathers, with two mothers, or with non-binary gendered parents?

These are a few of the questions I explore in a new essay written for Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, as part of their project on “Women, Religion and the Family.” More than a dozen thought-provoking essays and interviews are posted on the Berkeley Center website, by Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Protestant women writers. The project (which is co-sponsored by the World Faiths Development Dialogue) was designed “With the goal of building a knowledge base and promoting dialogue” by asking “a group of scholars, activists, faith and community leaders, and development practitioners to produce an original series of ‘think pieces’,” on the intersection of these topics, in order to “generate questions, explore curious topics, and suggest further study.”

It is worth sampling the diverse perspectives in these essays, and joining in the discussion on twitter with the hashtag #FaithFem.

 

Video: An Interfaith Boy, an Interfaith Community

May 27, 2014

 

When my mother, an interfaith families pioneer, watched this video, she said, “Well Sue, you don’t need to go out on speaking tours anymore–just have everyone watch this video instead.” I think she was kidding. I mean I hope so. But she has a point, because this charming and thoughtful credo, in the voice and words of a 13-year-old, makes the case for interfaith education, in under five minutes. So please do watch “The Interfaith Musings of Raphael B.”

I have known Raphael since he was a small boy with deep questions: questions that drove his parents to seek out an interfaith community. This spring, Raphael completed eighth grade, and the Coming of Age curriculum at the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington (IFFP). As part of that program, he spent a year reflecting on his interfaith education with psychologist Dan Griffin, his official mentor from the IFFP community. One result was this thought-provoking video, first screened at our group Coming of Age ceremony earlier this month. (And Rapha, thanks for the shout-out to my book, Being Both!).

So if you are worried that interfaith children raised with both religions will end up confused or disengaged, you could read my book for reassurance. Or, you could spend five minutes listening to Raphael as he describes how he feels, right now, about being an interfaith kid in an interfaith community.

 

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

 

Listen, Include, Engage: Progress for Interfaith Families

May 4, 2014

 

My parents, interfaith family pioneers, still kicking and strumming at 83 and 89

My parents, interfaith family pioneers, still kicking and strumming at 83 and 89

 

A couple of years back, the venerable Jewish Daily Forward published a blogpost in the form of a letter attacking my family for celebrating Christmas. I waited several days before responding. Meanwhile, readers and bloggers rushed in to decry the “snide” “condescending” “offensive” “anti-interfaith family” tone of the original post. One wrote that it “paints a scary picture for interfaith families in the Jewish community.”

But in the six months since the publication of Being Both, I have witnessed a different picture emerging. I have been honored to give talks sponsored by synagogues, Hillels, Jewish Community Centers, and a group of rabbis. I was invited onto an interfaith family task force by my local Jewish Federation. And The Forward chose my beloved rabbi, Harold M. White, the Jewish Spiritual leader of my interfaith families community, when I nominated him as one of the most inspiring rabbis in America for 2014.

Granted, progress comes in fits and starts. Sometimes a leader from a synagogue discussion group calls asking me to speak: these congregants are worried about intermarried children and grandchildren who are often “doing nothing.” They wonder if “doing both” might not be a richer experience for their grandchildren, and a better bet for Jewish continuity. Whenever I receive one of these invitations, I have to ask if they have checked with the rabbi. More than once, I have received a call back from a frustrated and embarrassed congregant dis-inviting me, and explaining that the rabbi sees my mission as counter to the mission of institutional Judaism.

And yet, everywhere I do speak, I see the religious landscape shifting, with extended families and religious institutions far more willing now to support interfaith couples and children, even when they must “share” them with another religion. And that means that interfaith families have many more good options for finding community than they did a generation ago, whether that community is Jewish, Christian, Unitarian-Universalist, secular humanist, or (like my own Interfaith Families Project) intentionally interfaith.

Just this spring, I realized once again how far we have all come when The Forward, the same media outlet that published that scathing letter addressed to me two years ago, asked me to join the roster of experts for their new interfaith relationship advice column, The Seesaw. The expert panel includes an Orthodox Jew living in Israel, a Christian spouse, and Rabbi James Ponet (Chelsea Clinton’s rabbi). I am the only panel member raising children with any formal religious education beyond Judaism.

If I were to design my own roster of experts to give advice to interfaith families, I would of course choose people raising children on many different religious and non-religious pathways. But given the chance to represent something other than the “you must raise kids exclusively Jewish” perspective,  I said yes. The comment section on The Seesaw is at times filled with sarcasm and intolerance, and at least one of my fellow respondents regularly despairs over my responses. But over all, I enjoy seeing how the respondents reflect diverse Jewish viewpoints, often displaying a deep sensitivity to the nuances and complexity of interfaith family life.

I advocate for the Jewish community (and all religious communities) to engage with, rather than exclude, parents who expose their children to more than one family religion. Given that Pew Research has found that 25% of intermarried Jews are raising children with more than one religion, the logic of including rather than spurning these families seems very compelling to me, even when viewed through the lens of preserving Jewish institutions. And this spring, I see a flowering of support for the idea of providing Jewish content to all families who want it, creating meaningful Jewish experiences for them, and allowing children to grow Jewish roots, even if they are putting down roots in more than one family tradition.

I celebrated my birthday this week, in my childhood home, with my pioneering interfaith parents (who are 83 and almost 90). It seemed like a fitting moment to look back on an exhilarating six months of public interfaith conversations. If you are in the Washington DC area, I hope you will join me for my final interfaith talk of the season, at the MLK branch of the DC public library this Wednesday at 7:30pm.

And if you haven’t been able to get to a live Being Both talk, you can watch two new videos. One is a webinar posted by Religions for Peace USA, in which I chat with Aaron Stauffer of Religions for Peace USA, and adult interfaith child Samantha Gonzalez-Block. The other is a video of an event at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University, in which I appeared with Georgetown’s Erika Seamon, author of the excellent academic book, Interfaith Marriage in America. Erika’s history of interfaith marriage at the beginning of the program is fascinating, and don’t miss our lively Q&A with students and faculty at the end.

I already have plans for talks in Chicago and New York next fall. Let me know if your community wants to be included in either of those visits, or if you want to host a talk elsewhere in the country. I look forward to a conversation that will continue with all of you, growing deeper and wider and more complex, next year, and into the years ahead.

 

 

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: Aimee Helen’s Southern-Style Charoset Recipe

April 11, 2014

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.


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