Bridging Through The Holiest Time of The Year
This week brings Holy Week, which is officially the craziest week in the year for me and our family! Later this week, I will have the opportunity to reflect about the powerful narrative surrounding the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and how I am called to respond to God’s grace and salvation. And…
Convergence! 2022 also offers a spectacular convergence of holy celebrations! Jews will celebrate Passover beginning Friday, April 15, remembering God’s bringing the Israelites forth from slavery in Egypt “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” Muslims are also celebrating Ramadan, a month of spiritual reflection, self-improvement and heightened devotion and worship, as well as fasting; Ramadan began April 2 and ends May 2. There are more celebrations, among them, Vaisakhi, the Sikh New Year festival, is on April 14 and coming up next week on April 21 is Ridvan, the most important of the Baha’i holy days.
This convergence of holy days is rare and worthy of our hopeful attention. The religious calendars of the various religions do not often sync up this way. While this may be a coincidence, it also seems like an opportunity for grace and intention – a “thin place” where we might encounter God’s healing power. We certainly need healing and peace for our world. I pray this week for wholeness and peace (shalom) for our world and positive change in our human relationships. I invite you to pray with me, or just think a good thought.
The confluence of the major holidays of the three Abrahamic faiths this week seems particularly prophetic and empowering. Why? Well, I am beginning this blog, sharing with you my interfaith journey! I hope to offer you my personal journey to achieve better understanding and trust among these three Abrahamic faiths. I hope you will come with me and offer your own stories of discovery and new learning!
Our Journey to Building Bridges Together. So, what’s my story and why am I on this interfaith journey? Good question. It all starts with our family. My husband and I have been married for almost 43 years. He is a practicing Jew, and I am a practicing Christian. Yep, that’s complicated, but we have loved our blended approach to our two faiths. We raised two wonderful sons, now young adults, as Jews. (That’s a story for another time.) When both our boys were off at college and we were “empty nesters,” we became more involved in our church and synagogue. One day in 2012 we realized that our church and synagogue communities were meeting and learning together, and the bridge between these two very different worlds ran through our home. My husband said, “wouldn’t it be great if this footbridge became a superhighway?” He and I agreed that it was a worthy endeavor to seek to pursue a deepening of our two faith communities’ relationships, heading toward trust and friendship?
We consulted with clergy at both church and synagogue and in 2013 we began offering our homegrown interfaith dialogue programs locally on the mid-Peninsula south of San Francisco. Our “Building Bridges” program was inspired by a Union of Reformed Judaism curriculum called “Open Doors, Open Minds: Synagogues and Churches Studying Together - A Guide for Jewish Christian Dialogue” prepared in collaboration with the Conference of Catholic Bishops. From June 2013 through February 2020, we offered seven interfaith dialogue programs following our program design, all very successful, and serving more than 160 participants. Then COVID shut down all group gatherings, as we all know. But by then we were following a dream well beyond our local efforts.
In fact, in 2018 we had begun imagining a revised program we could make available to faith communities across the United States. We also wanted to expand our dialogue program to include Muslims. We began outreach to Muslims in the Bay Area, and by 2019 we had formed our nonprofit, Building Bridges Together™, with a mission to offer these interfaith dialogue programs, both bi-faith and tri-faith, among faith communities in the three Abrahamic faiths across the United States. To help us with this project, we convened an Interfaith Advisory Board comprised of experienced Christian and Jewish facilitators from our prior Building Bridges programs, along with new friends we had made among the Muslim community.
All of us were excited about the opportunity for interfaith dialogue focused on building relationships, trust and allyship. My husband and I began creating a more robust curriculum that could be delivered in both tri-faith and bi-faith dialogue programs across the United States. Our board member Oktay Erbil provided excellent Muslim content. Our Interfaith Advisory Board gave us feedback and support along the way. After 3 years in development, we began offering our Interfaith Bridges™ programs in March 2022! Please check out our Interfaith Bridges program and interfaith resources at www.buildingbridgestogether.net.
A Crazy Week! As I mentioned above, we are a blended family of Jews and Christians. We celebrate our holidays together and take them seriously! Easter and Passover almost always fall on the same week, so we are usually busy planning for Passover Seder and Easter services and gatherings. This year we are excited to have a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Ramadan too! Sunday April 10 we were honored to attend an Interfaith Iftar dinner celebrating Passover and Ramadan, sponsored by five local organizations [including our trusted partners Congregation Beth Am and Islamic Networks Group, along with Pacifica Institute/BAYCC, JCRC of Silicon Valley, and Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom]. What a fantastic opportunity to rejoice with our Muslim brothers and sisters and learn more about the month-long observance of Ramadan!
But there’s more! On Wednesday April 13 my husband and I will be leading an Interfaith Seder at our local Episcopal Church. This Interfaith Seder will be a learning opportunity for our Christian friends and parishioners about the meaning of Passover to Jews, and to experience the joy and power of celebrating God’s liberation. The next few days continue the blur of events. I will be attending Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services at my church, and then rushing home to prepare for our First Seder meal for Passover on April 15, welcoming family, and friends.
I love our Haggadah, full of symbols of God’s liberation and salvation, and we are so delighted to celebrate this Passover holiday together with family and friends in person after the isolation of COVID over these past long 2 years. Gefilte fish with maror (horseradish!) and a Sephardic/Ashkenazi charoseth that is to die for! What rituals are you observing? I will also attend our church’s Easter Vigil Saturday evening; the Vigil is reportedly the oldest service on the Christian calendar, observed since the 2d century C.E. according to some services. This spiritually moving evening service, where we light the new fire each year, invites Christians to contemplate the empty tomb. Then Sunday April 17 we will be in church together, my husband and I, to mark Easter Day, with joyous choral music, flowers, and a brass quartet. We don’t have much time for much else this week, but we find meaning in celebrating with our faith communities.
The Magic of Shared Meals. In thinking about these three major holidays, I realize that they all focus in part on shared meals. These shared meals allow us to build community and imprint the rituals and memories of sharing these moments with our friends and family over food. The Iftar, the meal celebrating the daily breaking of the Ramadan fast, is a time for joy and family and friends reuniting. The Seder meal is an opportunity to teach about liberation and God’s salvation and to rejoice in the Jews’ survival throughout the next 2,000+ years. Easter is celebrated with Holy Communion commemorating the Last Supper, when Jesus commanded us to love one another. These meals offer powerful symbols of hospitality to our wider community as well as connection with our loved ones and guests.
In the same way our Interfaith Bridges™ program offers six sessions with shared meals where the community learns from one another and finds opportunities to develop deeper trust and authentic relationships with someone of another faith. We believe that community is created around a table with food and laughter. I love the focus on the shared meal! What meals have meant a lot to you?
So now I must go make the Passover chocolate chip cake for the Wednesday Interfaith Seder, and think about my family Seder menu, while planning to make devilled eggs for Sunday’s Easter celebration. This is a rich and meaningful week for me. I trust you are also enjoying your own ways of celebrating these holidays and will share them with me. I value the opportunity to amplify the message of love and inclusion from the teachings of Jesus with the powerful story of God’s liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt and the loving and peaceful messages of charity and devotion found in Ramadan.
I hope you will come with me on this journey of exploration. I will be sharing my experiences, epiphanies, thoughts and struggles, and my work in relationship building and growing friendship among our three Abrahamic faiths. Till next time,
Salome Aleichem, Shalom, God’s Peace.