For interfaith families sharing Judaism and Christianity, spring is busy with holidays. From Christianity, we have Mardi Gras, Lent, Easter. From Judaism, we have Purim, Passover and Shavuot. When I tell folks we are celebrating any of these holidays with our independent interfaith community, I often get questions like, “How is interfaith Purim different from regular (Jewish) Purim?”
And the answer is: it isn’t, at least not in terms of the celebration, the rituals, the liturgy. The point of our interfaith community is not to change the traditions, or merge them, or create a third religion. Rather, the intent is to give our children the deepest experience of these rituals we possibly can, while remaining radically inclusive of who gets to participate, and how.
So next Sunday, our Purim celebration will look and sound and taste like any other Purim celebration. That means our Rabbi will read the Biblical story of Queen Esther, an intermarried Jewish heroine in ancient Persia, as our third-graders act out the “Purim shpil.” Families will bring in boxes of pasta to shake as groggers (noisemakers), to drown out the name of Hamen, the villain in the story. And then we will donate the pasta to the Manna Food Center–last year we donated 50 pounds of the stuff.
As in any Jewish community, kids (and some adults) will dress up as Queen Esther, or other characters from the Bible, or as random pop culture idols. If I have the guts (ha ha) I will wear my belly dancing costume, just to get into the vaguely Middle Eastern spirit. We will create traditional Purim carnival booths with pie-throwing, eating donuts dangled on strings, and frolicking under a parachute with the toddlers. We will have a silent auction, and a children’s used book exchange. We will nosh on home-made hamentaschen. And we will end the celebration with Israeli folk dancing.
So how is this interfaith? Why not just go to a Purim celebration at a synagogue?
The difference lies only in who is hosting, who will be there, and how they feel about each other. In our interfaith community, we make no assumptions and no demands about anyone’s ancestry, or beliefs, or commitment, or religious intent in raising children. The point of our celebration is not to persuade, or influence any family’s religious decisions. The purpose is to share the joy and specificity of Jewish ritual with all families who want to share in it. And to provide a place to celebrate and educate and pass on traditions, free from institutional pressures or expectations, however subtle, about raising exclusively Jewish children.
Journalist Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2013), and The Interfaith Family Journal (2019). Follow her on twitter @susankatzmiller.