Interfaith Teens: Not Dazed or Confused

photo Susan Katz MillerOn Yom Kippur, I watched my 15-year-old daughter stand up before our interfaith community and lead the Jewish call to prayer: “Barchu et adonai hamvorach…”  She learned this chant for her interfaith coming of age ceremony when she was thirteen. But I wasn’t sure if she would ever have the opportunity to lead the prayer again, or whether the melody would stick in her mind. Some of us who were raised as Jews, let alone those like my daughter raised as interfaith children, rarely use our Bar or Bat Mitzvah education in the ensuing years or decades.

Seeing her stride up to the front of the sanctuary, hearing her voice ring out with such assurance surprised and thrilled me. I had not anticipated this moment, because our Yom Kippur service is designed and lead by our interfaith teen group, and being teens, they don’t necessarily keep parents in the loop. All I knew was that while I was busy in the half-hour before the service began, setting up the tables of challah and egg salad for the meal to break our fast, she was making last-minute decisions with the other teens about who would lead which part of the service.

Religious leaders have an infuriating tendency to posit, without reference to any current objective research, that interfaith children raised with dual religions will turn out lost, apathetic, ignorant, confused. In fact, there is no current objective research. All we have are anecdotes. So I offer my own. At our Yom Kippur service, I did not see confused. I saw a teenage boy confident enough to get up and talk about repentance and prayer and charity. I saw a teenage girl confident enough to get up and give a spontaneous, touching and entertaining Yom Kippur reflection. I saw my own daughter made stronger by a day of fasting:  I saw her as an adult endowed with spiritual insight and the gift of leadership.

I wish every clergy member, of every religion, could come and observe our  teens leading the Yom Kippur service each year. They are the ultimate proof that children raised with substantive education about two religions, in a caring community, with access to spiritual experience, seem to be turning out fine. Fine indeed.

4 Replies to “Interfaith Teens: Not Dazed or Confused”

  1. It was a fantastic, beautiful service led by our teen group. I couldn’t agree more that these kids don’t seem confused at all, but rather pretty clear thinkers.

  2. It’s wonderful that IFFP and similar groups are actively finding ways to teach, share, and open the doors to these kids and their families to experience the goodness, richness, and lessons in both Christianity and Judaism. For those of us who grew up in interfaith homes with nowhere to go, it can be confusing: having a Jewish last name but not going to temple or knowing much about Judaism (then having people say “well, you’re not really Jewish” because your father is the Jewish one); going to churches where anyone – Jews, Christians from other denominations, not to mention people of other faiths – are deemed to be going to a hot and fiery place; having people assume that you are an atheist because you neither go to temple nor church. IFFP provides a home for families that don’t fit the mold, and provides an education to the kids and the parents that equips them to know, understand, and appreciate their roots as they grow into the adults they will become. It also does not demand of children that they choose one parent’s traditions while rejecting the other parent’s heritage and beliefs. Not a bad thing. . .

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