Archive for the ‘Interfaith Identity’ category

A Subset of Millennials from Interfaith Families, Part II

October 21, 2015

Millennial Children of Intermarriage

Yesterday, I published a first response from colleagues Sheila Gordon and Ben Arenstein to a survey of millennials from interfaith families who applied to Birthright (the free trip to Israel for young people with at least one Jewish parent). Today, having returned from the Parliament of the World’s Religions and read the report myself, I’m following up with some additional thoughts.

  1. The problem with the funding. As I mentioned yesterday, this study was funded by Birthright and a second Jewish foundation. I am puzzled when academics conduct studies with external funding and do not address this bias in the study. My own study of teens and young adults from interfaith families, the first study of children raised with formal interfaith education, received no external funding.
  2. The problem with the title. The survey at the heart of “Millennial Children of Intermarriage,” was drawn exclusively from people who applied to Birthright. So this was not a “comprehensive assessment” (as claimed). It did not include people who claim a “Jewish and…” identity rather than an exclusively Jewish identity and thus did not apply to Birthright because they assumed they would be rejected. (Read Being Both for an example of a millennial being rejected from Birthright because he refused to disavow his interfaith identity). The study also did not include millennials from interfaith families who are deeply engaged with Judaism but who are not interested in a trip designed to increase Jewish “in-marriage.” And it did not include millennials from interfaith families who are deeply engaged with Judaism but who are not interested in a trip that presents the Israeli but not the Palestinian perspective, or not interested in a trip that fails to address the challenges of being an interfaith family in Israel. (Another problem with the report title is that many millennials find the term intermarriage–as opposed to interfaith marriage–to be creepy. But that’s a sidebar conversation).
  3. Another problem with the respondents. In addition to the survey, the authors interviewed a smaller group of millennials from outside the Birthright applicant pool. But they recruited them through Jewish organizations (such as Moishe House), so again, this was a skewed sample, not at all representative of all “millennial children of intermarriage.”
  4. The problem with the desired outcomes. This study measured indicators of “Jewish engagement” including “wanting to marry someone Jewish.” As the report itself documents, many of us find this indicator offensive, as children of successful interfaith marriages. The growing numbers of rabbinical students from interfaith families or with interfaith partners should put this idea to rest–the idea that you have to be “in-married” to be of value to the Jewish community or raise children who will dedicate themselves to Judaism.
  5. Glad to be discovered. Despite the limits and biases inherent in the study, the growing presence of “my people” became clear in this study–people who want interfaith education for their interfaith children, and people who claim the benefits of complex religious identities. One respondent who claimed the adjective “multicultural” stated, “It makes me a little more open minded, but I think open-mindedness is not a value that’s always accepted or appreciated.” Overall, fully half of the adult children of interfaith families, even in this skewed sample, grew up attending Christian religious services at least a few times per year. And celebration of home-based Christmas was widespread. The authors note, “Home observance of holidays from multiple faith traditions did not seem to confuse these children of intermarriage.” Some 17 percent of the interfaith children in this sample were told that they were both Jewish and another religion, and another 18 percent were told that their religious identity was their choice to make. (I have a hard time believing that these were not overlapping categories, but this is part of the problem with either/or binary thinking and surveys). If the researchers are interested in understanding our complexities more deeply, I assume they will read Being Both. We are also awaiting a forthcoming Pew study on complex religious identities.
  6. Results of the campaign against interfaith marriage. One respondent explains, “I think there’s an assumption that if you identify as Jewish you obviously want to marry a Jew. I’m going to marry whoever I marry!” The report documents the fact that those with “Jewish experiences” including Birthright are less likely to be married. I call this the “Uncle Leon” effect, named for one of my many beloved Jewish relatives who never married, and thus never had children, because of pressure to avoid marrying a Christian. I fail to see how dying single, as my Uncle Leon did, is good for Jewish continuity.

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover, paperback and eBook from Beacon Press.

Another Form of Interfaith: A Christian From a Jewish Family

August 4, 2015

Sarahbeth Caplin

Jewish identities are diverse. Christian identities are diverse. And, interfaith identities are diverse. I often write about the idea that every child, no matter which religious label and education parents give them, grows up to choose their own beliefs, practices and affiliations. Today, guest blogger Sarahbeth Caplin recounts her journey, from a Jewish childhood to her conversion to evangelical Christianity, and her sense of being interfaith.–SKM

No one, not even myself, can figure out where my fascination with religion came from: I wasn’t raised in a religious family, and I certainly wasn’t raised within any Christian tradition. I don’t know what my Jewish parents thought about my early fascination with saints and martyrdom; surely it wasn’t normal, at an age when most girls I knew were into reading The Babysitter’s Club and Boxcar Children series. As an adult, it’s clear to me that God had a firm grip on my life. The question is which God.

My fascination with Christianity, particularly the idea of a god in human form, led to inevitable conversion. I spent many years trying to shoehorn my new Christian beliefs into a Jewish identity while trying to ignore the dramatic differences between the two faiths: evangelical Christianity places heavy emphasis on an afterlife, which is not a top priority in Judaism. Some Christians define sin as a state of being, while Jews view sin as an action only. And that’s just the beginning.

Messianic Judaism was a loophole I thought I found in college that would allow me to “be both,” but it quickly proved to be another branch of Christianity, albeit with some Hebrew and Jewish worship garb tossed in. I was treated like as much of a novelty in those congregations for being a Jew by blood, as I was in elementary school for being the only Jewish kid in a school full of Christians. Most disturbingly, the sermons and discussion groups centered on “outreach” and emphasized Jesus “fulfilling” the Old Law, and that never sat well with me.

If I’m being honest with myself, another huge appeal Christianity had for me, besides the Incarnation, was something that Jews in my home town lacked: community. There is no shortage of churches where I’m from, but only one synagogue: a building that used to be, incidentally, a church. I was Bat Mitzvahed there before the crosses in the stained glass windows were replaced. You could say my conversion was almost prophetic.

If I’m being even more honest with myself, I feel more like “me” wearing Hebrew jewelry than I ever have with a cross. I cannot fluently speak the language that many evangelical Christians use – phrases like “Born again,” “Time in the Word,” “Washed in the blood,” etc. But my ears can’t help but perk up whenever I hear the expressions my mother and grandmother use: kvetching, chutzpah, mitzvah, oy vey. My cupboards are filled with coffee mugs labeled “Jewish penicillin” and other Yiddish-isms instead of Bible verses with cutesy floral designs. I feel a more instant connection with other Jews than I ever do when I meet a Christian, because there are so few of us. Clearly, there is more to being Jewish than a set of beliefs, and even those are not uniform among Jews (though to be fair, beliefs aren’t uniform among all Christians, either).

I now fully accept the reality that Judaism and Christianity are two very different faiths. A Jewish identity, however, is something a bit more fluid, something I have room to work with. No matter what I believe, my childhood of lighting Hanukkah candles and having Shabbos dinners cannot be erased. My strong sense of tikkun olam cannot be denied, particularly when I hear of missions groups choosing to send bibles overseas to tsunami victims instead of food or water. These are just a few of the things that make up my still-Jewish identity.

My biggest problem, however, is figuring out the best way to explain it to people. I am constantly paranoid about killing a chance for meaningful conversation because someone might not be able to accept my interfaith self. Those people are not my friends, but rejection and accusations of hypocrisy and even apostasy still hurt.

It’s actually something of a comfort for me to remember that everyone is considered an apostate to someone. For instance, I know there are Christians who won’t consider me a “true Christian” because I support gay rights. At some point, one must own who one is and where one has been, no matter how contradictory. Life journeys, particularly religious ones, are deeply personal. If there’s anything I’ve learned from being interfaith, it’s not to condemn a person for having beliefs I might find distasteful in some way. Diversity thrives when the journey behind the belief is respected, even if we disagree with the beliefs themselves.

Sarahbeth Caplin is a stay-at-home author, blogger, editor, and freelancer in northern Colorado with a degree in English Literature from Kent State University and an MFA in progress at Colorado State. Her first book, Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter, is a memoir of her religious journey. Follow her blog at http://www.sbethcaplin.com.

Immersion: Interfaith Families and Unitarian Universalism

June 29, 2015
Mount Hood, Oregon

Dramatic arrival in Portland for the UUA General Assembly

Technically, I am not a Unitarian-Universalist (UU), but I spend a lot of time interacting with and thinking about UUs. I sometimes claim the labels of UU wannabe, fauxnitarian, or UU ally. In part, this feels like fate, because I was born on Beacon Hill, the birthplace of American UUism. And my book, Being Both, was published by Beacon Press, the venerable yet feisty publishing house founded by Unitarians in 1854. Theologically, I am both a unitarian (I see the mystery some call God as one, not as a trinity), and a universalist (I don’t believe anyone is going to hell). And the intentional interfaith families communities I chronicle share most if not all of the UU principles. (Check out “So Why Aren’t You a Unitarian?”).

But both my appreciation of, and education in, the UUniverse reached a new level this week when I had the tremendous honor of speaking about interfaith families at the Sophia Fahs Lecture at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly (UUAGA), in Portland, Oregon. With more than 4000 UUs at the UUAGA, I spent many hours engaged with thoughtful UU leaders and educators and clergy, both in the Professional Development workshop for Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA), and at my lecture, and in coffee shop conversations.

It was a great joy to finally meet some of my favorite intellectual and spiritual colleagues and fellow disruptors from the UU twitterverse. And it was an ecstatic moment to get to celebrate the Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage for all, in a community of thousands of people who worked hard for this decision, most recently through the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, a campaign with great resonance for interfaith families.

All week in Portland, I gathered perspectives and stories from UU leaders who also live in interfaith families. We talked about both the synergies and the challenges of being an interfaith family in the UU world, or in any specific religious community. Here are some of the take-aways so far:

1. Unitarian Univeralism has long provided a welcoming spiritual home for interfaith families, often in times and places where no one else would welcome them, for which we are all profoundly grateful.

2. Individual UU congregations vary greatly in the degree to which they use Christian frameworks and language. Those that emphasize words and concepts including church, ministry, and mission, create higher barriers for interfaith families who might be interested in Unitarian Universalism.

3. To a certain extent, even committed UUs who come from Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or Pagan or secular humanist backgrounds still sometimes see UUism as Protestant in its esthetics and form, even while it emphasizes “radical hospitality.” And at times, they can feel like guests of this hospitality, rather than hosts.

4. There is a (creative) tension between the desire to affirm the unifying importance of specific UU identity, and the desire to affirm the role of interfaith families in UU communities and the complexity of interfaith identities.

5. As an advocate, I strive to help all interfaith children, in any and every community, to feel positive about interfaithness as an enriching rather than a problematic component of identity. This means I encourage any and all religious communities to draw on the knowledge and interfaith dialogue skills of the interfaith families in their midst, rather than politely ignoring interfaith heritage.

6. Unitarian Universalism has been on the forefront of inclusion for people of all genders, all sexual orientations, all abilities, all races, all cultures. And drawing on wisdom of many religions is explicit in the UU principles.

7. Extending this history of radical inclusion to explicitly affirm the experience of interfaith families inside and outside of UU communities helps to ensure that these families feel that they are part of the creative energy at the core of UUism, and not simply at the periphery.

This week, together with UU leaders from across the country, we talked about specific strategies for appreciating interfaith families as a resource and inspiration. I am deeply grateful that Unitarian Universalists thought this topic was so important that they brought me to Portland to engage in this conversation. And I look forward to continuing this work in collaboration with UU colleagues.

UU banners, UUAGA Portland 2015

UU congregational banners, UUAGA Portland 2015

New Pew Data on Interfaith Marriage. And Coming Soon, on Interfaith Identities

May 13, 2015

Pew 2014 Intermarriage chart

For as long as I have been writing about interfaith families, for decades now, it has been hard to get good data on the overall increase in interfaith marriage in America. This week, Pew Research released the most comprehensive report on religion in America since their 2007 report. The new report, America’s Changing Religious Landscape, and much of the subsequent news reporting, focused on two angles: the rise of the “religious nones,” and the interlinking shift away from traditional forms of Christianity.

But of course, my first response was to comb through the report, looking for signs of those us who live in the complex, fluid, flexible, interfaith world. Pew began describing that world in a very good 2009 report on multiple religious practitioners (people celebrating more than one religion). And after speaking to one of the researchers today, I have exciting news to share on upcoming research on those raised with, or practicing, more than one religion.

“Interfaith Marriage Commonplace” –Pew Research, 2015

But first, let’s look at the important data on interfaith families in the new report. The researchers write that “people who have gotten married since 2000 are about twice as likely to be in religious intermarriages as are people who got married before 1960.” They found 28 percent of Americans living in an interfaith marriage or partnership (when we consider Protestants as one religion). That rises to 33 percent if we consider evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, and historically black Protestant denominations, as separate religious groups.

For those in partnerships, rather than marriages, Pew found that interfaith relationships are much more common, at about 49 percent. And they are more common in younger generations. Overall, 19 percent of people married prior to 1960 reported that they were in an interfaith marriage, as compared to 39 percent of those married after 2010. (Although the researchers note that the low percentage of pre-1960 interfaith marriages may be skewed by the fact that those who divorced, or those who converted and now have one faith in the marriage, were not counted as interfaith marriages).

Here are some additional findings on interfaith families from the study:

  • The apparent rise of interfaith marriage is driven “in large part” by marriages between Christians and religiously unaffiliated spouses. Fully 18% of people surveyed who have gotten married since 2010 are in marriages between a Christian and a religiously unaffiliated spouse.
  • Buddhists are the most likely in this study to be in a mixed-faith relationship, at 61%.
  • The least likely in this study to be in an interfaith relationship were Hindus (9%), Mormons (18%) and Muslims (21%).
  • The interfaith marriage or partnership rates were 25% for Catholics, 35% for Jews, and 41% for mainline Protestants.

What About Interfaith Identity and Multiple Religious Belonging?

In this study, Pew asked respondents for the religion in which they had been raised, present religion, and the religion of the partner or spouse. So of course my first question was (as it is for every study of religious identity), “Could respondents claim more than one religion for their upbringing, or for their current identity (or the identity of their spouse)?”

The answer to my question was not obvious in over 200 pages of report and appendices. So I contacted Pew, and ended up in conversation with the very helpful sociologist Besheer Mohamed, a Research Associate who worked on the report. I learned a lot about how this survey recorded and classified people raised in, or currently claiming, more than one religion. The answers were intriguing.

First, the researchers did write down the verbatim responses of those practicing or raised in more than one religion, although less than one percent identified themselves this way. Mohamed agreed with me that some people who practice or were raised in more than one religion might not have identified themselves that way in the survey. After a lifetime of being faced with “only pick one box” religion surveys, we really do need specific permission in order to claim more than one religion. We need to hear, “You may choose one or more religions,” before it occurs to us that this is finally an option. I know those who practice more than one religion, who will self-identified as “nothing in particular,” or “agnostic,” or just pick one religion, when the reality is that they claim two.

In this initial report, although Pew did record them, the existence of these double-religious or multiple-religious practitioners was hidden. Because those claiming two religions including any form of Christianity, were counted by Pew in the “other Christians” category. So whether Jewish and Catholic, or Buddhist and Methodist, they were coded as Christian. This is a dramatic example of the Christian lens through which we see all discourse on American religion.

Even stranger, those who claimed two religions not including any form of Christianity, for instance Jewish and Buddhist, were counted in the “other world religions” category. This category was designed for single-faith practitioners including Sikhs, Baha’is, Jains, Rastafarians, Zoroastrians, Confucians and Druze. It does seem an unlikely place to park the many people I know who are Jewish Buddhists, or Buddhist Hindus.

To add to the complexity, the study had a separate category for “other faiths,” which Pew somehow distinguished from “other world religions.” The “other faiths,” included Unitarian-Universalists (UUs), those who practice Native American religions, and Pagans. But it’s not clear to me whether a Pagan UU (and there are plenty) was also coded under “other faiths,” or coded under “other world religions” because they claimed two non-Christian religions.

The excellent news is that Pew did get much more detailed data on people raised with or identifying with more than one religion. And a report on these folks (my interfaith people!) will be forthcoming from Pew, before the end of 2015. As interfaith relationships continue to become more common, interest will continue to grow in the relationship between interfaith relationships, the growth of the religious nones, and the new ways in which people are engaging (and disengaging) with traditional religious practices and institutions.

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover, paperback and eBook from Beacon Press.

Growing Interfaith Family Communities: Atlanta and Beyond

April 21, 2015
Charlottesville Mosaic, photo Susan Katz Miller

Not a melting pot, but a mosaic…

Last week, we launched the Network of Interfaith Families Groups (NIFG), a facebook group to connect families celebrating both religions. The object was to help these families to find each other, and to chat with leadership from the established groups. For the cover of the group page, I used my photo of a mosaic sun. As interfaith families, we are not melting pots or smoothies, whisked or whirled together, but intricate and careful juxtapositions of many vibrant elements of practice and belief and text and history, creating something whole and beautiful.

So far, the NIFG project is a success. We connected five families from Atlanta, and they have already formed their own facebook group. And news of the Network is rippling out. In an uploaded file of people willing to be contacted in new regions, you can now find a point person for Atlanta, Los Angeles, Nashville, Raleigh NC, Richmond VA (Christian/Jewish), Richmond VA (Christian/Muslim), San Francisco, Seattle, St. Paul, western MA, Wheaton IL, and the north woods of Wisconsin. So if you’re living in any of those places, or know someone who is and might benefit from meeting other families “doing both,” join us on facebook.

To be honest, for years I have been talking about creating an independent national organization for interfaith families raising children with interfaith education, but publishing Being Both took precedence. Meanwhile, every week, I would hear from families that needed to find each other. Finally, I realized I could make this happen, quickly, on facebook. (The idea is the legacy of the former Dovetail organization, which used to have an electronic bulletin board for interfaith families to find each other, before the facebook era). I still plan to help create a more formal organization. Among other things, we need to have a national conference, so that we can support and learn from each other, in person. But in the meantime, we can use social media and the DIY (Do It Yourself) spirit to reach more families who plan to give their interfaith kids an interfaith education, and want to find community. I remain convinced that most human beings need community. And that all human beings would benefit from more interfaith education.

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover, paperback and eBook from Beacon Press.

Interfaith Families, The Today Show, The Back Story

April 9, 2015

Today Show, Sue Hoda Ben Kathie A week before Easter and Passover, out of the blue, I got an email from a Today Show producer. She was interested in putting together a segment on interfaith families celebrating both family religions, as part of a week-long series on faith. Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb would host the segment. I agreed to go on the show, of course. Over the next few days, we spent hours discussing my interfaith family and the research I did for my book. And at her request, I scanned and sent in old family photos for possible use during the segment.

As the day approached, the producer suggested I put aside my habitual black wardrobe, get in the spirit, and wear some springtime colors. So I spent an afternoon at Nordstrom’s and Macy’s, dashing the hopes of multiple salespeople who wanted to be able to say they had “styled” me for the appearance. I was urged to buy an $845 St. John dress I knew I would never wear again. I tried on numerous pastel spring dresses, all of which made me feel like an Easter egg. In the end, I came home empty-handed, and wore a dress already sitting in my closet.

Just two days before I was due to take the Acela to New York, the producer was looking at the great Bar Mitzvah photos of my son Ben (taken by my friend Stephanie Williams of @stephaniewilliamsimages). She picked up the phone and called to ask if Ben could be on the show too. He’s in the spring of his senior year, and missing a day of school didn’t seem like the end of the world, so I said yes. Actually, since he’s 18, I said the producer should ask him, which she did. Ben has led a successful indie band (Ladle Fight) for years, so I knew he would be poised and confident. Which he was.

Ben Miller, Bar Mitzvah

One of the photos that flashed on the screen during the segment. All four members of the Miller family. @stephaniewilliamimages

For the next 24-hours, we put aside the stress of choosing a college, and went off on a surreal New York adventure. We have always had family in New York, so we never had a reason to stay in a hotel in the city, let alone a hotel one block from Rockefeller Plaza. We checked into our tiny room, and wandered in the night through throngs of spring break tourists at the Plaza, under trees strung with fairy lights. We admired Paul Manship’s 1934 gleaming bronze sculpture of Prometheus, hovering over the skating rink, and the flags of the nations lining the Plaza.

In the morning, we left the hotel early for more exploration of the art deco facades on the block. 30 Rockefeller Plaza was already mobbed by 30 Rock fans wielding selfie-sticks. As we approached the Today Show studios, we stopped in a souvenir swag emporium called the NBC Experience Store, with stuffed peacock logos, and mugs and T-shirts from The Today Show, Seinfeld, and The Office. I realized Ben and most people under the age of 25 have no idea which shows are on NBC. They watch them all online. I waxed nostalgic about the primitive era when there were basically only three channels on three distinct networks, and felt old. Rockefeller PlazaOutside the Today Show studios, tourists were standing and waving at the barricade outside the plate-glass windows, screened by black cloth that allows the cameras to film the onlookers outside the set, while those on the street can only dimly make out the live broadcast activity inside. We walked past them, into the great hall of 10 Rockefeller Plaza, dominated by murals of the History of Transportation, painted in 1946 as a tribute to Eastern Airlines, the original tenant. Then we glided down a great curved staircase in the center of the hall to the Today Show’s main green room (the hospitality suite where guests wait).

10 Rockefeller Plaza, History of Transportation mural

1946 mural at 10 Rockefeller Plaza.

The green room was overrun with a rainbow of small children in Easter outfits, accompanied by a flock of anxious stage parents trying to keep the children from melting down. A Christian rock band passed through, and then a woman with turquoise hair and an entourage. “That’s somebody,” murmured my son. “She looks familiar.” In fact, it was actress and former teen idol Hilary Duff. In the adjacent make-up room, Ben and I sat next to each other, simultaneously getting foundation applied to our faces. Next, in a tiny wardrobe room, a motherly wardrobe consultant ran a lint-roller over us, and gave me advice on whether or not to wear the scarf I had brought as a concession to the spring colors theme. The verdict was yes, and she tucked it around my neck for me.

Today Show, fuzzy green room selfie

Fuzzy green room selfie with iconic Today Show sunrise logo.

Back in the green room, we met up with Trish Epstein and her daughter Hannah, a local family joining us for our segment. They belong to the Interfaith Community (IFC), the New York area community that is parallel to our Interfaith Families Project in DC. The children in Easter dress were herded out for their segment, and we continued to wait. In the kitchenette, someone had provided some extravagantly gorgeous spring flower cupcakes, but I didn’t want to risk spoiling my make-up by eating one.

Spring cupcakes

Now wishing I had eaten one of these.

When it was almost time for our segment, we went to a smaller green room adjacent to the set, where we met a handsome young man in a shirt and tie, who turned out to be the guy inside the Easter bunny suit for the segment with the kids. I have no idea what he does for the rest of the year, but I thought it would be funny to ask if I could take his photo with Ben. Ben was only slightly mortified by this. We watched the monitors as Kathie Lee and Hoda interviewed Hilary Duff about how she dyed her hair turquoise because she wanted to look like a mermaid.

When our turn arrived, we crossed the main set, where small children were still wandering beneath some fake cherry blossom trees, collecting Easter eggs. On a second set, six stools were set up, for Kathie Lee, Hoda, and the four guests in our segment. The hosts came in and hugged and kissed everyone, and we started an easy banter about interfaith families while waiting for the segment to begin. Kathie Lee talked about being born Kathryn Epstein, about her Jewish grandfather, and about celebrating Passover seders with her interfaith family. At age 12 she became an evangelical Christian. All of us, whether we’re from interfaith families or mono-faith families, grow up and make our own religious and spiritual choices. We talked about how the world has gotten easier for interfaith families as we become more common. I said we represent Team Love. Kathie Lee and Hoda liked that idea. And then, the cameras began rolling. Click this link to watch:

http://www.today.com/offsite/today/57201875

The four minutes flew by, and while I didn’t get to say everything I should have said, I think the four of us clearly represented the idea, still novel in much of America, that interfaith families can raise kids with both family religions without screwing them up. When they turned the cameras off, everyone hugged and kissed again, and our producer got a shot of us with the hosts. As I was walking off the set, a cameraman stopped me to say that he had grown up with a Jewish mother in a Catholic neighborhood, and that being part of an interfaith family is not always so easy. And this is true. I wanted to hear more of his story, but someone else was shooing me along so that they could move on with the show.

On the grand staircase in the lobby on the way out, Ben walked past Hilary Duff and said, “You do look like a mermaid.” Apparently, she said “Thank you.” I’m glad he inherited Judaism, Christianity, and chutzpah. This extraordinary day together, as fellow adult interfaith children and equals on some level, seemed to mark a transitional moment in our family. A few minutes later, a town car provided by NBC whisked us back to Penn Station, and we each boarded a different Acela train, heading in opposite directions.

Town Car

The getaway car.

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover, paperback and eBook from Beacon Press.

Passover, Good Friday, and Easter: When Interfaith Holidays Converge

March 30, 2015

This year, I am fielding calls from reporters wanting to know how we handle the dilemma of Passover starting on Good Friday. I know that, especially for young couples just starting their interfaith journey, this convergence of important holidays may create stress. Say, for instance, your in-laws are expecting you for a raucous Passover seder featuring four glasses of wine and glazed brisket: this could be an alienating experience if you are also commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus and avoiding meat on the solemn Friday of Holy Week.

As interfaith families become the norm in our culture, rather than the exception, all of us must learn to empathize, to see our own practices through the eyes of the “other.” And as each interfaith couple learns to listen deeply and to support one another, I can imagine that serving salmon, rather than brisket, might be a reasonable accommodation in some families this year. Note that I am very pleased to report that chicken broth is apparently acceptable for those fasting from meat, so matzoh ball soup is “kosher” for interfaith families even on Good Friday!

Of course, it’s important for this kind of welcoming and respect to work both ways. So when our interfaith families community has an Easter gathering on Sunday, we follow it with the traditional pancake breakfast, but also fry up matzoh brie (matzah in scrambled egg), on separate grills, for those keeping kosher for Passover (pancakes have leavening, so they are not allowed during Passover).

I have to admit that rather than adapting our seder menu, our family is doing what an awful lot of American families are doing these days with all sorts of holidays: moving the date of our celebration. Somehow, this does not seem sacrilegious, since many of us attend multiple seders each year anyway, often spread out over weeks. Our community interfaith seder was last week, before everyone started leaving town for the school spring break to have Easter and Passover with family. Other themed seders such as women’s seders, or social justice seders, are often held well ahead of Passover week for the same reason. And families and friends may schedule multiple seders throughout Passover week, in order to celebrate with more than one group.

My interfaith clan won’t have our seder this year until later in the week, because being together is more important than the precise day we celebrate, and because we want to respect the climax of the Christian liturgical year. Moving our seder will allow for a proper and separate day of celebrating Easter, since our extended interfaith crew includes both practicing Catholics (who will go to an Easter service) and small children (who will want to eat chocolate and dye eggs). Part of respecting the differences between our two familial religions involves giving each holiday proper space to breathe, and avoiding blending them together. But I suspect that inevitably this year, some of us will spend Easter making matzoh balls.

After years of blogging around the cycle of Jewish and Christian holidays, I thought I would provide a round-up of links to my past posts on Passover and Easter in interfaith families. For culinary musings, you can read about my Grandma’s southern-style charoset with bananas, oranges and pecans, about the “Easter” recipes in her 19th-century German Jewish cookbook, and about what to do with leftover matzoh, jelly bean, and Peeps. And on Joan Nathan’s blog, alongside her terrific flourless chocolate cake recipe, you can read my tips for making the Passover seder more accessible for both Jewish and interfaith guests.

To address the “Spring Dilemma” head on–-the theological harmonics and feedback produced by the proximity of Easter and Passover, read about how one father talked to his young interfaith daughter about the story of Jesus, about my experience of Easter as a mystery and a metaphor, and about being Jewish at a sunrise Easter service.

And for more about how my motley interfaith clan celebrates, you can read about it in this post, and in my infamous “Interfaith Easter, Oy!” essay from Huffington Post (with 240 passionate comments).

However you celebrate, wherever you are, I hope you have time to slow down this holiday weekend, to take in the rebirth of spring, to appreciate the old people and the babies and the tender teenagers gathered round, as we partake in these ancient rituals together.

(NOTE: a version of this post ran in 2010, when Passover and Good Friday also converged).

Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family is available now in hardcover, paperback and eBook from Beacon Press.


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