Back to School: Dual-Faith Religious Education

Interfaith Families Project--"stained glass" made in Sunday School

Tomorrow our community of over 100 interfaith families will picnic together for the kickoff of the school year. In our Sunday School, children learn about both Judaism and Christianity. It is a radical concept, but one that is spreading to new cities each year as more and more interfaith families choose to educate their children about both religions.

My children have attended this program since kindergarten, and they are now 15 and 12. When my daughter graduated from Sunday School at the end of 8th grade, she chose to keep coming with us on Sundays and became a teacher’s helper in the kindergarten class.

Many adults grew up hating Sunday School. Our community strives to make the experience as interactive and multi-sensory as possible, using storytelling, music, art and field trips. My daughter helps the kindergartners learn songs they will encounter in synagogues and churches—the roving music teacher comes into the class with a guitar to sing “It’s a Tree of Life” as well as “This Little Light of Mine.”

My daughter helps the children with craft projects: maybe constructing a tzedakah (charity) box to put coins in. Or decorating a cloth matzoh or challah cover with fabric markers. Or making “stained glass” with translucent gels on plexiglass. In fourth grade, after learning about the Christian story of the loaves and the fishes, her class used real fish to make Japanese fishprints on T-shirts.

My son, at 12, is just entering the two-year Coming of Age program. Last year, his classes included Hebrew literacy as well as a historical and theological survey of the Jewish and Christian denominations. They went on field trips to a local Reform Shabbat service, a Jewish museum, a Quaker meeting, and a Catholic mass. Each student presented reports on different denominations. My son chose to study the Mennonites, one of the religions in his complex personal ancestry. He also thrilled his classmates in his presentation on Chasidic Judaism by showing a youtube video of rapper Matisyahu and analyzing some of his lyrics.

As my son enters the two-year Coming of Age process, we will help him to decide how he wants to mark his passage into adulthood. We know he will participate in our group Coming of Age ceremony at the end of those two years. He could also have an individual ceremony, as his sister did. Will it be labeled a Bar Mitzvah? Will he read from the Torah? Does he want a Christian confirmation? Or will it be an integrated Jewish and Christian ceremony? Does he have to choose now, at the brink of 13? Does he have to choose later? Does he have to choose? To follow the story, follow the blog!

4 Replies to “Back to School: Dual-Faith Religious Education”

  1. This is interesting – and it is radical. I guess my big question is: Does learning two different traditions cancel the meaning of both? Does it dilute both? Is there any reason to live by one tradition if what you end up with is a kind of homogeneous spirituality? (not that there’s anything wrong with that – I’ve done the Unitarian Universalist scene) I could see how it would simply be useful to understand both religions, because of the way they’ve shaped the culture – it’s good to know where cultural assumptions and the underlying ethos comes from. But what does it mean as a religious person?

  2. I don’t see why learning both would “cancel the meaning of both.” We don’t homogenize the two. We teach what is part of one, and what is part of the other, and what is shared since the two are closely linked, both historically and theologically. For the difference between this and Universalism, see my post on that topic.

    But you raise an excellent question–can one be “deeply religious” in two religions simultaneously? Some “JuBus” (Jews who practice Buddhism) would say yes. Are we more comfortable with that combination because Judaism and Buddhism are NOT close sibling religions?

  3. Good point. Buddhism has never been a threat to the existence of Judaism or Jewish survival. I am a little twitchy about Christianity, mainly due to exposure to Christian anti-Jewish bigotry. When my children come home with stories like a classmate said “The Jews killed Jesus” I feel nervous. You might appreciate the book “Getting to the Heart of Interfaith” which I thought was phenomenal. Or you might not. The issue between Judaism and Christianity seems to be Jesus. Jews don’t believe God can incarnate, and the Messiah (if any) must fulfill a very specific job description. Christians believe Jesus an incarnation of God and the Messiah. These appear to be mutually exclusive beliefs. How do you reconcile them? Or do you just not bother to try? Do you feel all religion is metaphor? I suppose I believe religion is a tool or path to God, which should not itself be confused with the goal of becoming closer to God. All paths are equal if they work. How do you define spirituality?

  4. Big decisions facing you and your son! I look forward to hearing how it goes. As an interfaith child (although my mother would deny it) and a single parent of a son who wants to celebrate EVERYTHING I enjoy learning from your perspective.

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