Transcripts

Washingtonians Bridge The Gap Between Jewish, Christian Traditions

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Now, of course, blending different traditions can be a challenge. And this next story deals with interfaith marriages between Jews and Christians. The most recent statistics from the University of Miami show that about 40 percent of married Jews in our region have partners from outside their faith. And that's where the Interfaith Families Project comes in. It's a community of more than 100 families with one Christian partner and one Jewish partner. It was started nearly two decades ago by four women looking for help, as they raised interfaith children. Emily Berman headed to Kensington, Md. for the Project's weekly gathering, to see how these two traditions are taught and practiced side by side.

MS. EMILY BERMAN

00:00:43
When Mary Elizabeth Cisneros and Michael Rosenman decided to get married, no one raised any objections about the fact that they come from different faiths.

MS. MARY ELIZABETH CISNEROS

00:00:52
But as soon as we started talking about children or raising the children, what we kept hearing from friends and family was you can't do both. They'll be confused. It doesn't work. It's not possible.

BERMAN

00:01:02
Mary Beth was raised Catholic and she wasn't just going to give that up. And Michael is a Jew, which wasn't just his religion, he says, but his culture.

CISNEROS

00:01:11
And we just weren't comfortable choosing one.

BERMAN

00:01:14
But as their kids got older they realized they'd have to figure something out pretty fast.

CISNEROS

00:01:19
We just wanted to give them a basis because bad things are going to happen and for me, when those bad things happened, having my faith to fall back on was a great tool.

BERMAN

00:01:29
So they decided their household would be both Jewish and Christian.

CISNEROS

00:01:34
But until we found this community, we didn’t know how we were going to do it.

BERMAN

00:01:42
The Interfaith Families Project begins each Sunday with a service. This week the theme of the service is Hanukkah.

BERMAN

00:01:51
The gathering is led by a rabbi, a minister of the United Church of Christ and members of the community. The service is different each week, but one thing you'll always here is the Shammah, which is in Hebrew and affirms the Jewish belief in one God.

BERMAN

00:02:06
You'll also hear the Lord's Prayer, one of the central prayers of Christianity. After the service the kids and adults split off. Adults have a group discussion and the kids go to Sunday School classes.

MR. NATHANIEL ROSENBERG

00:02:20
I'm Nathaniel Rosenberg (sp?), ten years old. My mom is Roman Catholic and my dad is a Jew.

BERMAN

00:02:29
Nathaniel's been a member since he was three months old. He says, though the classes do clearly define the differences between the religions, they spend much more time talking about the similarities.

ROSENBERG

00:02:40
There's always light. And different people perform miracles. And they both have one God.

BERMAN

00:02:48
Nathaniel says he loves learning about both religions and for now he doesn't feel any pressure to choose just one.

ROSENBERG

00:02:54
And that's more presents and everything. So it's all fun.

RABBI HAROLD WHITE

00:02:58
And what we're doing would not necessarily work everywhere.

BERMAN

00:03:01
Rabbi Harold White is the group's Jewish spiritual leader.

WHITE

00:03:05
For example, it would not work well in a small town where intermarriage is almost unknown. But Washington is a very interesting place because we have lots of hybrids here.

BERMAN

00:03:18
Rabbi White's counterpart, Reverend Julia Jarvis says from the beginning there's been one big challenge in practicing both Judaism and Christianity, how to talk about Jesus.

REV. JULIA JARVIS

00:03:29
I mean we used to say that Jesus was the elephant under the huppah, you know, and that no one really wanted to talk about because it was--that's hard.

BERMAN

00:03:38
Because Christianity believes Jesus to be the son of God and Judaism does not. Reverend Jarvis and Rabbi White frame the conversation in a way that they could all feel comfortable with, Jesus as a historical figure.

JARVIS

00:03:52
He was born a Jew and he lived as a Jew and he died as a Jew. And, in fact, the first people to follow Jesus were all Jews.

BERMAN

00:04:01
Talking about Jesus, for some couples, has been their common ground. Matt McGrath and his wife Randi Field have been part of the group for nearly two decades.

MS. RANDI FIELD

00:04:10
I'm 100 percent Jewish, but I now have a connection to Jesus. And I have tremendous respect for Jesus, which before IFFP I didn't have that. I had no knowledge of the historical Jesus.

MR. MATT MCGRATH

00:04:23
I'm 100 percent Christian, but my appreciation for the roots of Christianity is profound.

BERMAN

00:04:30
Sunday classes wrap up just before noon and three-year-old Alana Kliner (sp?) runs over to her parents, holding a sticky art project.

MISS ALANA KLINER

00:04:38
I glued the candles on this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE

00:04:43
What is it Alana?

KLINER

00:04:44
It's menorah.

FEMALE

00:04:48
Yeah.

BERMAN

00:04:48
This week the focus is Hanukkah, but next week the fifth graders will put on a nativity play. Mixing traditions can be a little overwhelming, says Rabbi White. But for an interfaith couple the upside is huge.

WHITE

00:05:01
I think we've made many of our Jewish partners more Jewish and many of our Christian partners more Christian.

BERMAN

00:05:09
And as for the kids, Rabbi White says, the goal is to teach the history, the prayers and the culture and leave the big decisions up to them. I'm Emily Berman.

SHEIR

00:05:19
If you are part of a family that's working to blend two different faiths, we'd love to hear from you. You can reach us at metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

00:05:46
Up next, the story behind one of D.C.'s most bling-tastic, over-the-top, holiday displays.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE

00:05:53
Straight out, I tell them I'm from Panama. So they wanted to show me the house with the lights. So at first I was like, huh. The house with the lights. As soon as we pulled up, I was like, wow, it's the house with the lights.

SHEIR

00:06:03
It's coming your way on "Metro Connection," on WAMU 88.5.
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