Blending Jewish and Non-Jewish Holidays – Can it be done?
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Blending Jewish and Non-Jewish Holidays – Can it be done?

The AJT interviewed a few local Reform leaders who deal with these questions several times throughout the year and asked if they had any words of wisdom for interfaith families.

  • Rabbi Bradley G. Levenberg, Temple Sinai.
    Rabbi Bradley G. Levenberg, Temple Sinai.
  • Cantor Nancy Kassel, Temple Beth Tikvah.
    Cantor Nancy Kassel, Temple Beth Tikvah.
  • Rabbi Rachael Miller
    Rabbi Rachael Miller
  • Senior Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, Temple Kol Emeth
    Senior Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, Temple Kol Emeth
  • Passover holiday staple items seen in Jewish homes everywhere this time of year.
    Passover holiday staple items seen in Jewish homes everywhere this time of year.
  • Passover holiday staple items seen in Jewish homes everywhere this time of year.
    Passover holiday staple items seen in Jewish homes everywhere this time of year.

As Passover and the Christian holiday, Easter, draws near, those who are in a relationship or family that honors more than one tradition, are faced with how to do that. Navigating this can be difficult for some families, especially those with younger children.

Although this is a topic for all holidays, there are a few holidays that standout and cause the most challenges. The AJT interviewed a few local Reform leaders who deal with these questions several times throughout the year and asked if they had any words of wisdom for interfaith families.

Senior Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, Temple Kol Emeth

Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, senior rabbi at Temple Kol Emeth said, “When thinking about being Jewish during the Passover or Easter season it is important to know that while there are many differences between the two holidays, there are also commonalities we should keep in mind.”

Sernovitz provided several items to consider when navigating a Christian through Passover for the first time:
• Both Judaism, in the Torah, and Christianity, from the First Council of Nicaea in 325, determined that their respective holidays would fall around the same time.
• They are both spring holidays which bring us renewal and hope and, in our world, both of which are essential to our survival in such an uncertain time.
• Both teach that while there will be difficult times in our lives, faith can get us through it. This is an important concept for not just children to learn, but for adults to understand as well.
• Both are family-based holidays where we come together for a meal and to celebrate the importance of family.
• There are common foods around both holidays: On Passover, eggs are on the seder plate while Easter Eggs are hidden. These Easter eggs are just like the afikomen that are supposed to be hidden and found as well.
• Easter baskets are given with chocolate eggs and other treats. This is more like Purim where we give bags of treats to others in gratitude to our survival and in an effort to help those in need.

“However, the big difference between the two is that Passover is a holiday about freedom from oppression and slavery with God’s miracles while Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus and that through him others have been given life. The theme is indeed similar, that there is hope and life after the difficulties in our lives occur, but there are major theological differences that are present, and these tend to be the line in the sand between Christianity and Judaism,” added Sernovitz.

Rabbi Bradley G. Levenberg, Temple Sinai.

Rabbi Bradley G. Levenberg at Temple Sinai said, “I have generally found that people can celebrate a holiday that is not their own. In fact, I think that when we join with others to celebrate moments that are important to them, we are doing what we should do when we are at our best: revel in the joy experienced by others.

So, for the non-Jewish partner who is attending a Passover Seder, my advice is to lean in and get a sense as to why that moment is important to your partner. Similarly, for the Jewish partner joining a loved one in the celebration of Easter, try to see it through their eyes. You’ll learn more about each other and have a great time doing so.”

Cantor Nancy Kassel of Temple Beth Tikvah sees the occasion as a learning experience and one that can bring joy. “The upcoming holidays of Passover and Easter do not have to be viewed as a ‘spring dilemma’. Consider the many welcoming aspects of the Passover seder during which the asking of questions is highly valued and encouraged from all participants.”

Cantor Nancy Kassel, Temple Beth Tikvah.

She then added, “The levity of some musical settings to parts of the Seder are quite joyous and accessible. I highly recommend searching online for contemporary musical settings of the Haggadah texts, check-out The Maccabeats and Six13, Kosher-for-Passover recipes, desserts are always fun. There are Haggadot created with interfaith families in mind. The food, stories, questions, music and bringing together of family and friends are the things that open the door to a shared Passover experience of people of different faiths.”

Rabbi R. Klein Miller, from Temple Emanu-El reminds us that there is not always an easy answer, and that every situation can be different. “I believe there isn’t an appropriate and helpful answer that can be given in a few sentences or even paragraphs. Navigating questions like these is best accomplished by you and your partner sitting down with your rabbi. Rabbis are trained to have these conversations. Our doors are open.”

Rabbi Rachael Miller

Rabbi Sernovitz shared a story about an experience he had: “About a year ago, I was attending a virtual interfaith clergy meeting in Marietta. After the keynote speaker had finished his remarks, the convener of the meeting mentioned to all that we should stay on to discuss our Easter plans. Due to difficulty of planning holiday celebrations during COVID, each faith leader had different policies, and some were observing in person and others in a virtual arena.

“When it came to my turn, the convener of the meeting said, ‘Rabbi Larry, what are your Easter plans?” I replied with a big smile and tongue in cheek that, ‘We would be having an Easter egg hunt on the front lawn of the synagogue, and all would be invited.’ The convener then replied, “I believe I just put my foot in my mouth, didn’t I.” This comment began a beautiful friendship, one in which we have been able to learn from one another and support each other in our sacred work.”

As you can see, there are many ways to approach this ongoing topic as interfaith families continue to find their way to what works best for their families. Going to your rabbi is the perfect first step.

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