Hyacinths and daffodils are splashing new color through suburbia, signaling the approach of Passover and Easter. For those of us dedicated to educating interfaith children about both holidays, this is the moment for some complex but essential conversations. Today, I was reading in my son’s Bar Mitzvah study guide that in 1976, the Central Conference of American Rabbis issued a policy statement on Jewish traditions, in which it states that Reform Jews (like me) are called on “to exercise their individual autonomy, choosing and creating on the basis of commitment and knowledge.” And that’s exactly what I feel I’m doing in raising interfaith children, and educating them about both family religions.
But what does this education look like on a day to day basis? And in the Easter season, how do we, as interfaith parents, approach the topic of Jesus? This week, another parent in our independent interfaith families community shared with me a recent conversation he had with his daughter, and agreed that I could share it with you. How do these conversations happen in your own family?
Today after Sunday school Myka and I bicycled to the Woodside Deli in Silver Spring. Over grilled cheese and a Greek salad we had our most extensive theological discussion to date.
For those who don’t know, I’m co-teaching Myka’s first grade class at the Interfaith Families Project. This morning we told the story of the 12-year-old Jesus coming to the temple and impressing the rabbis and other elders with his knowledge and questions. Except for the Christmas story and a couple parables told by an unnamed “teacher,” we haven’t focused much on Jesus yet. So as we started eating, I asked Myka if her classmates understood where Jesus fit in in relation to Abraham and Sarah and Judaism. She said she thought some of them did but a lot were confused. I asked if she wanted to know more about the Jesus story, and she did.
For the next 30 minutes I laid out as objectively as I could the story of Jesus. She said she understood that Jesus was a Jew. I told her about how he had been raised in the Jewish tradition but that he also disagreed with some of the teachings in the temple at that time. I told her about Jesus finding his disciples, including the fishermen – “I will make you fishers of men” – about his traveling around the countryside and saying good things for three years. I told her about the Romans and the governor where Jesus lived and how the government grew concerned about this man with such a following. White donkey. Palm branches. Barabbas. We covered a lot of ground.
Then I told her where all this had come from, what the Gospels were and when they were written. I told her that, because there were no tape or video recorders back then, and because those books had been written so many years after Jesus died, it’s not clear how much in them is true.
“Why would people write something that wasn’t true?”
Sharp kid. I said some people think parts of them were written to blame the Jews for bad things, including killing Jesus. I said we clearly know that much is wrong. The Romans killed Jesus.
Then I told her the story about Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection. I told her about the women finding the stone rolled away, about Mary Magdalene and how Jesus said to her, “Don’t you see that it is me?” I told her how he showed his nail holes to “doubting” Thomas.
“I think Jesus after he died was kind of scary.”
I had to agree to that. I finished up with the story of the Ascension.
Then I said that it’s because of this story about Jesus coming back to life that we celebrate Easter, and that Easter Sunday is the day that Jesus supposedly rose from the dead.
Myka was immediately stunned. “Then what about the Easter Bunny and chocolate and eggs? They’ve got nothing to do with Easter!!”
I said that was true, except probably for the part about the egg. We then briefly touched on the seder and its origins, and about Christianity borrowing from Judaism.
On the bike ride back home I said the Easter Bunny was kind of like Santa Clause — both Easter and Christmas are supposedly about Jesus, but neither the Easter Bunny nor Santa has anything to do with them. I asked Myka if she wondered how it got started that we have the Easter Bunny and Santa.
After a second she answered, “They were waiting in the non-human category for a job to open up.”