Reflections on Living an Interfaith Life

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​​We’re more than halfway through Passover, and everyone is tired of matzo. Can’t we have pizza for dinner? Dinner rolls with our chicken? Pasta? Pleeeeeease. 

We have always been an interfaith family. We didn’t attend religious services but we observed and celebrated all of the major holidays of both Catholicism and Judaism. That was how I was raised Jewish – following the traditions, participating in the observances, eating the holiday food. We’ve always had a Christmas tree in my married life. We are so blended that when I converted to Catholicism, my daughter assumed that my husband was the Jewish one since we’re both faiths and I was Catholic.

People blend their interfaith families in a myriad of ways. For me, I try to find a way to blend without overshadowing or ignoring either. I also don’t usually like to combine them. For example, I don’t like Jewish related ornaments on Christmas trees. I think that keeping the holiday traditions distinctive is better for our kids to appreciate both equally. We still celebrate Chanukah on Christmas if it falls that way. We will light the Chanukah candles and decorate the tree on the same day if timing demands it.

If we were spending Easter with my mother-in-law, I would not object to the kids eating bread or her special Peeps bunny cake. They deserved their special time with their grandmother during her special holiday.

I dread looking at the calendar to see when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall because my son’s birthday is in October and there’s a chance I will have to choose between fasting and praying and celebrating my son’s birthday. (My son wins every time. One thing about both the Jewish and Catholic faiths is that family is a priority.)

This year, Passover began right in the middle of the Triduum. From Holy Thursday through Easter, I spend about 11 and a half  hours at church between the prayer services, parish dinner, masses, and the Easter Vigil. It is exhausting, but I love it. Right before that, my son was in the hospital, and our oven wasn’t working.

I did not even mention Passover until after Easter dinner*. Yes, we missed the first three nights, but Monday morning, bright and early, we were a bread free house. I realize it’s not kosher, but it’s kosher style, and they still get the dietary restrictions as well as the stories and the celebration of freedom from Egyptian slavery. They also love latkes, which I make more during the abundance of potatoes for Passover than for Chanukah. This year I made fried chicken tenders using crushed matzo in place of the bread crumbs. I had never done that before and it was well received. I believe we have a new tradition.

After the huge windstorm we had yesterday, we’ve had no power since about 12:30am, and won’t be getting it back until later tonight, or so I’m told. That means we will probably need to eat out, which means I probably won’t restrict their food choices. I can always make the matzo lasagna tomorrow night. Obviously, grocery shopping is also postponed.

The most important aspect of sharing a house with multiple religions is respect. Our two faiths are equal in importance and in worth. They are valued with the same respect and reverence. My time at church is important to me, and my family understands and accepts that. My time making latkes is also valuable and important to me.

We light Yartzeit candles for my parents and now for my mother-in-law, who wasn’t Jewish. I know she wouldn’t mind. We also have mass said for her.

I would love to hear from any readers who juggle this very issue of interfaith or multi-faith within your families. I think we do a good job, but it’s good to give acknowledgment to others who are doing a good job as well as getting ideas on other things we can do differently or better.

I hope your Easter is a blessed one and Chag Sameach for your Passover.

What other holidays do you celebrate (they don’t necessarily have to be at this time of the year)?

[*My husband jiggled the heating element for the oven, and so we were able to have turkey dinner for Easter.]

Blending the Holidays

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​In talking about how we balance an interfaith family, I’ve mentioned how I like to keep Christmas and Chanukah as their own holidays. Usually, the calendar cooperates by keeping them separate. The same goes for Passover and Easter. Usually, I can juggle Passover’s restrictions with Easter’s celebrations. When we would go to my mother-in-law’s for Easter, I tried to allow my kids to enjoy Grandma’s holiday her way without making our Jewish traditions …, well, restrictive.

For a long while, I bought all the new kosher for Passover cereal, pancakes, muffins, and the rest. It cost a fortune and we usually had several boxes of things leftover. By the time the next Passover rolled around again, they had passed their expiration dates.

This year, all I bought was a large box of matzo, Temp-Tee cream cheese, matzo ball soup mix, potato pancake mix, and macaroons. Oh, and gefilte fish.

The blending of the two holidays has been a bit more complicated since my baptism. I try to give both their significant place in our family.

Both promise death from life.

In our Exodus from Egypt, we began with the Ten Plagues, the angel of death and the first born. After forty years of wandering in the desert, we found new life over the Jordan in Canaan.

Easter begins with forty days in the desert, death by crucifixion, and life everlasting.

The kids see matzo and bunnies, chocolate and latkes. They get more latkes during Passover than Chanukah.

This year sees a lot of compromises. My church has a community dinner on Holy Thursday to commemorate the Last Supper, held before the Mass of the Last Supper of the Lord, the first day of the Triduum. It’s always lasagna. We will join my church and share the Holy Thursday meal with the other parishioners before Mass in spite of it being Passover.

I don’t know how it translates religiously, but in according both holidays proper observances, I think it brings the long held traditions to my kids. I never went to temple (kids weren’t really allowed), but I remember Seders and presents lined up for Chanukah. Lighting candles. Somewhere I still have my childhood Haggadah, dogeared and torn in places; colored and drawn on, and every year, read from cover to cover.

I remember Elijah’s wine glass sitting on our radiator with the front door open to let him in. This was unusual for my mother – her doors were always closed and locked, but not on Passover. There’s always a space for Elijah.

And by the same token, there’s always a space for learning, understanding, and sharing our traditions with each other.

A Spiritual Marathon

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​I had expected to be able to post throughout this week, but unfortunately this is probably the busiest week of Lent for me. Until next week that is. As I mentioned to my priest last night, it’s all good busy, but this morning I was beyond exhausted. I stayed in bed an extra hour until my headache subsided, and now I’m slowly getting ready for today.

As part of my Lenten journey this year, in going to the desert figuratively, and finding my own wilderness, I have taken on many spiritual projects that are dear to me. It was fortunate that my local retreat center had so many sessions and experiences to choose from.

I have been keeping a Lenten journal since Ash Wednesday, and I have been loving it. From the feel of the pen gliding across the paper to the beautiful green Celtic designed journal itself, it has given me a feeling of purpose that I will try to continue, although not daily, throughout the spring and summer, and perhaps convert it to an Advent journal later in the year. Continue reading

A Call to Claim Each Other

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Today marks the end of the the Week of Christian Unity. As called upon in Peter, “to proclaim the mighty works of the one who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light,” we can join together under the ecumenical banner of Christian unity.

From that joining we can move to the other faiths we have common-ness with as well as those we have no commonality with.

Interfaith and acceptance isn’t changing one’s beliefs, but including everyone regardless of their religion or non-religion as I’ve expanded the thought, and whatever else separates us.. 

Recently I attended a gathering sponsored by the Interfaith Community in my local area. It was described as “moving  beyond  tolerance,  and  beyond  coexistence,  to  affirmation,  acceptance,  mutual  support  and cooperation  among  peoples  of  faith  …  literally  to  claim  each  other as sisters and  brothers  of  G-d.” While this was faith-based, that is no reason to think that non-faith people or faith groups not mentioned by name are excluded from this type of conversation.

The presenters included a Rev. B, Rabbi K, and Imam G. In addition to their religious titles and education, the rabbi and the imam are also professors at a local college and hold degrees in religious studies. In the audience were several people I had seen before at workshops and retreats including our Bishop Emeritus, who championed interfaith cooperation and acceptance (including with the Jewish faith when it was an unpopular position to hold) in his thirty-seven years as Bishop.

The next thing I should mention is that this gathering/lecture had not been planned in the two months prior to the date. It became apparent that this type of gathering and discussion was needed with the onslaught of anti-Muslim rhetoric that is becoming prevalent in our country today as well as the tremendous rise of anti-semitism across this country and globally.

This will serve as my thoughts interspersed with my summation of the gathering and a paraphrasing of what was said by many in attendance. The only statements that are verbatim will appear within quotation marks.

I’ll begin where the Reverend began:

Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump for President. We chuckled and eye rolled, but we were stopped cold when we were reminded of another disenfranchised group courted in the same way as Palin/Trump that gave rise to someone we all remember – Hitler. Megalomaniac. Demagogue. This was not hyperbole; or ironic. This was very serious. This was something to think about.

An austere beginning, and then he (followed by the Rabbi) continued with this quotation:

“Silence is sometimes betrayal.” – Martin Luther King

We cannot sit idly by and hope that it gets better, or that someone else will stand up for what is right; to speak out for someone else.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
– Martin Niemoller

Martin Niemoller was a Lutheran Pastor who spent eight years in a Nazi concentration camp. Some of his statements prior to that can be problematic, but he never shirked from discussing them or the changes in his views formed by the turning point of having survived the concentration camps.

If we’re not standing together, we stand apart in fear. We’re all concerned for me, but “I want them to stand with me or I’ll be standing alone.” [Rabbi K]

We must remember that we are all individuals, and individuals are approachable. We can’t dismiss a whole group of people, and that includes the ones we don’t agree with; even Fox News.

We must acknowledge that everyone has a conscience; a heart; mind; they are individuals.

It can be challenging to be a person of faith. It can also be challenging to be an American. It is also challenging to be a person who doesn’t have religious faith in this increasingly divisive to those who are different.

With the Patriot Act, we decided it was okay to profile, to strip individuals of their rights. Whenever we’re reminded of Japanese internment camps or McCarthyism, we’re told that we’ve moved beyond that bias.

But have we?

We must remember that our social – political – economical interests are all intertwined. Our destinies are intertwined on a global level. The world is too small to be isolationists; or imperialists.

We need to look for an interfaith, grassroots, educational movement of inclusivity.

Looking at the middle East, it’s imperative to remember that context is paramount. The Middle East is a land bridge on the way to Europe. Without it being home to the three major religions in the world, it would still be a land in strife. The political division by Europeans didn’t help matters in much the same way that the partitioning of Africa has come to a similar head in recent years.

Since admittedly, most of us have less knowledge of Islam and Muslims, it might be important to hear some unbiased facts about the Muslim faith and the Koran.

The Koran is 1400 years old and as I mentioned context is paramount. It has its governing and foundational verses. There is an academic and literary process to analyze and interpret the Koran. There is a freedom to choose, a G-d given free will that contributes to the analysis of the Koran.

The first thing to know is that Muslims have an understanding of the people of the book – those people who are “receiving of the Word/Scriptures from G-d.” [Imam G] This includes all Jews and Christians. The Torah came first, then the Gospels, and then the Koran.

Any “bigoted dialogue of other faiths, such things are in completely contradictive with foundational verses in the Koran.” [Imam G]

Whoever believes in G-d – Jews, Christians, anyone, be happy in this life and in the next.

We’ve followed a mixed path, but we have a common G-d. We have shared foods. We believe in marriage and building families.

Warfare is “never based on religious difference.” It is a last resort “for the protection of human rights and justice.” [Imam G]

All three of the Abrahamic faiths believe in salvation, families and marriage, and the protection of our places of worship.

Looking at the Pillars of Islam, where is jihad mentioned? Does Islam equal jihad? It does not. It’s not even in the top ten of the pillars.

Education is where it begins to bring us together and refuse to let us be separated. We need to heed the call to claim others, to protect others because if we don’t eventually we’ll be someone else’s other.

Postscript: This morning as I was finishing up the editing, I came across this Washington Post article discussing how a college student of the Muslim faith continues amid anti-Muslim rhetoric and the pressure to “fit in” as an American from both inside and outside her family.