Growing up Jewish, I never imagined I would be nourished by the care and deep friendship of a minister.
And I know hundreds of other Jews who can make that same statement, because Reverend Julia Jarvis has been, in partnership with our rabbis, the Spiritual Leader of the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington . We are a bunch of very lucky Jews, married to a bunch of very lucky Christians, because we have had more than two decades of support from Julia.
How do we love her? Let me count the ways.
- Her childhood as a Southern Baptist in the south, though she left the evangelical world behind, brought us someone with southern warmth and with unabashed passion for seeking the divine everywhere, and in everyone.
- Her adult formation in the most progressive streams of mainline Protestantism brought us the ability to see a Christianity forged in and entirely devoted to social justice.
- Her years in the practice and study of the Buddhism of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama brought us gatherings that went beyond the Jewish/Christian binary, marked by contemplative silence and ringing bowls.
- Her love of music (and the celestial harmonies of her twin daughters Jeanne and Lauren) inspired a high standard of musicianship from our talented membership.
- Her enthusiasm in the years that she and I traveled together to early Dovetail interfaith family conferences meant she helped weave relationships with interfaith family community leaders across the country. Nationally, she represented what being clergy to a vital and thriving interfaith families community could look like.
- Her participation in the frontlines of DC protest, from the Sanctuary movement to the Reverend William Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign, inspired us to take up Civil Rights icon Abraham Joshua Heschel’s practice of praying with our feet.
- Her exquisite empathy for all beings, human and animal, inspired all of us to be there for each other–to check in with those who were grieving or struggling, to bring the casseroles, to give the hugs.
- Her willingness to dance in gatherings, to sing along with eyes closed, to laugh her full-throated laugh, to be in the moment, inspired our unselfconscious joy in community.
- Her co-officiation at hundreds of interfaith weddings, baby namings, coming of age ceremonies, and funerals, created a template and liturgies for honoring all of our religious ancestries in these liminal moments.
- Her legendary personal and professional partnership with IFFP’s longtime rabbi, the beloved Harold White, and her care for him in his final years, modeled the highest form of platonic love between a religious Christian and a religious Jew.
This year, IFFP celebrates our 25th anniversary. This community, my community, is still thriving thanks in large part to Julia–still unique, still evolving as a project, still very much needed in the world. At Julia’s last gathering with IFFP yesterday, there were over 125 squares in the zoom gallery. They represented hundreds of interfaith families from across the country paying tribute to her, and to all that she has done to help make this a vital and innovative community, a beacon of light to the world. They included Jews who feel they can still claim Judaism because of Julia, Christians who feel they can still claim Christianity because of Julia, and interfaith kids who love their identities as interfaith kids because of Julia.
We go on, always now in the footsteps of our first minister, my first minister, with her favorite refrain from the book of Micah singing in our ears:
“To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.”
Journalist Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and The Interfaith Family Journal (2019). Follow her on twitter @susankatzmiller.