Bi-religious afterschool program.

I received a video of a former YU student teaching a class in Judaism in an after school program that teaches both Judaism and Christianity. The program describes itself as follows:

The Interfaith Community’s bi-religious curriculum, simultaneously taught by a Christian educator and a Jewish one…In 2010, a two-year class for teenagers was launched in the Westchester and Orange/Rockland chapters that caters to children from 12 to 14 years old. It helps them grapple with identity questions specific to that age, regarding who they are and who they want to become. The program educators, however, stress that no decision needs to be made, that identity is something that builds over time and that it can change at any time.

I am not sure what to make of it. The program started at Trinity day school (Upper West Side) that has at least half of its students with at least one Jewish parent. This class was in Rockland. In general, the word among sociologists of the Jewish community is that zip code is destiny. In Bergen or Brooklyn counties, most Jews marry other Jews and when they intermarry the likelihood is that the kids will consider themselves Jewish. It is actually upwardly mobile for many Christians to marry Jews here in NJ and gain Jewish family life. On the other hand, traditional Jews in the certain parts of the south or west will intermarry and not raise their kids as Jewish. So I can have sympathy for this here in the East coast where even a secular Jew who intermarried and sent his or her kids to Trinity, will likely produce Jews. But what of Portland? Sante Fe? Watch the video.

Interfaith Classes at the Orange/Rockland Chapter of the Interfaith Community from Being Interfaith on Vimeo.

Judaism and Christianity are not seen as opposites anymore. I know people who kasher their kitchen for Passover and also celebrate Easter. It is a world of multiple identities—racial, religious, ethnic. Nothing contradicts. Even Hebrew schools which officially can’t welcome interfaith children because of Halakha (Jewish law), have started applying a “ ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.” As long as the rabbis are not informed that the child is being raised in two religions, they can teach, and hopefully attract, this growing population. When we first started working on this 25 years ago, there was a tremendous amount of resistance,” “Most clergy would say you simply could not do this, this will confuse the children and it’s bad for the marriage – they just could not begin to conceptualize it.”

The Interfaith Community first started in 1987 with informal gatherings of about 20 families whose children attended the Trinity School in New York. By 2011, it counted nearly 150 families as members. Its activities include high holiday celebrations. “Our goal is not to replace the church and synagogue, but to provide a safe space for families who might feel uncomfortable or intimidated in those places,” said Sheila Gordon, co-founder and director of the organization. For more info- see here.

From their blog “on Being Both”

1. Give children permission to explore and connect with all sides of their heritage.

2. Avoid setting up an expectation that the child will “choose” an identity someday.

3. Understand that those who are not born into bothness, even those who are intermarried, may never fully appreciate the idea of being both.

4. Insist on the joy of being both. In the face of skepticism…Communicate to your children that they represent hope for the future, bridges of peace and understanding, crucial new connections across rigid, deteriorating barriers.

5. Seek and develop communities that share your bothness.

5 responses to “Bi-religious afterschool program.

  1. Santa Fe, eh? We’re on the map!

    Big challenge out here. Many of the intermarriages are with Jewish husbands, so ‘producing Jewish children’ isn’t available as an out to finesse the issues. Even a governor (chieftan) of Acoma pueblo, Solomon Bibo, was Jewish. (Married to the chief’s granddaughter. Sounds like a bad Jewish joke.)

    On the other hand, we just try to teach Torah openly and honestly; but without going out of the way to emphasize things that will just widen the rift between congregations in the Jewish community. As I see it, we have a big task just trying to create or restore some respect for Torah and tradition; and that requires that we be prepared to flex a bit and learn with whomever in the Jewish community wants it. As for the non-Jewish community, we don’t reach out to them; but we do respond positively to requests to speak to community groups of different sorts.

    Let’s face it. You have to start by recognizing who your neighbors are before thinking about how to learn Torah with them.

    Personally, I think the whole interfaith community approach lacks integrity; but one would have to assume a particular integrity to each individual religion in order to say it is being violated.

    It seems to me that the project you’ve portrayed here just blurs the distinctions. That, I believe, violates the integrity of each religious culture. The parents, of course, were not thinking that way when they got married and started families. Maybe, by hook or crook, the children will get some more clarity because of these meetings? But only if the distinctions are preserved and presented. From what you’re saying, that isn’t what happens.

    I thinking other signs of this trend are the Jewish Outreach Institute, and that intermarriage columnist (at the Forward?).

  2. I appreciate your open-minded post on interfaith families educating their children in both Judaism and Christianity, and the communities evolving to support those families. In particular, I am glad you found my blog,, and quoted my five suggestions for raising happy interfaith children.

    I want to point out, however, that although I find NY’s Interfaith Community inspiring as the first group of its kind, and I have shared many deep conversation with Interfaith Community founder Sheila Gordon over many years, my blog is not affiliated with the Interfaith Community. I am an adult interfaith child, raising my interfaith children in Washington DC’s Interfaith Families Project (, a group that also teaches children both religions, but which evolved separately from NY’s group. Such groups have arisen in several different cities, independently, and with slightly different structures and strategies.

    Susan Katz Miller

  3. Mrs. Miller’s comment and blog posts are interesting – but I think she avoids the notion that these a *religious* cultures we’re talking about. What people *believe* is at the core of these cultures; not just the outlines and narratives. The recent post on Easter and Jesus is a case in point. If her report there is fairly complete, then she told the *story* of Jesus in brief; but said nothing about what believers in Christianity think about, believe about Jesus and how that shapes their lives. That isn’t teaching an understanding of religion – that’s more akin to cultural anthropology. We see of course, the same thing, in the way American Jews commonly remove the religious notions from Jewish holidays and learning. A holiday becomes a mere historical commemoration, devoid of any religious content or message. That isn’t practicing or teaching the religion anymore. No matter which religion it is. Beliefs and what they bring about are the core issues of any religious discussion.

    That is what I meant about removing the integrity of the religious cultures involved. Neither Judaism nor Christianity is being taught. This is something brand new, really. If it continues, then in a few generations it may acquire a name all its own.

  4. Rabbi Scher,

    I would point out that it was not me telling the story of Jesus in that post, but another interfaith parent, who reported the conversation to me, so I cannot tell you what else was said in that particular conversation.

    I will tell you that, as in many Jewish congregations, the members of our interfaith families community range from secular humanists, to agnostics, to spiritual “believers,” to mystics. So the balance of what is important to any particular set of parents, in terms of history/practice/belief, varies greatly. The parents are the most important teachers of the child, and we do not dictate how parents teach their children. However, parents who join our group (in contrast to secular humanist groups) have to be open to introducing their children to the idea of G-d, since this belief is central to both religions.

    We do not shy away from delving into the beliefs of both Judaism and Christianity, and encouraging children to think about and develop beliefs, nor do we dictate what those beliefs should be. For instance, in our Coming of Age class, teenagers wrestle with questions including “What is G-d?” “Why do bad things happen?” and “Is there an afterlife?”

  5. Pingback: Bi-Religious Eucation, or: How to Teach No Faith At All « Rabbi Arie Folger’s Blog

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