Interfaith families deal with Pesach and Easter

Interfaith families deal with Pesach and Easter

Jews who marry out may still cling to Pesach and the foods that come with it. Christians who marry Jews may enjoy a seder but still want to attend church on Easter.

This Sunday at 1 p.m., the rejuvenated outreach committee of Temple Emeth in Teaneck will try to help interfaith families figure it all out at its first "Bagels and Chat," presenting "The Challenges of Passover and Easter for Interfaith Families." Rabbi Stephen Sirbu and Dru Greenwood, director of synagogue renewal for UJA Federation of New York, will lead the discussion.

"Easter is the major religious story of Christianity," said Greenwood, a Temple Emeth member, in an interview. In its solemnity and introspection, and because it’s centered more on church service than home ritual, it feels more like the Jewish High Holy Days than like Pesach; Pesach, with its fuller, and largely home-based, sensory load of special foods, music, and decorations, is closer in feel to Christmas.

"Easter is still … a religious celebration which hasn’t made its way into the culture in the same way Christmas has, as an American holiday," said Greenwood. At Easter, the person of Jesus "as the Christ, the savior…is right out there, right out front," posing many problems for Jews in a position of celebrating or possibly celebrating it. "Easter is very religiously potent."

Such holiday situations force interfaith couples to focus "on what’s meaningful for them," on how to maintain their own integrity while still honoring their extended families.

Vicky Farhi of Hackensack, a former regional outreach director of the Union for Reform Judaism who was on the temple’s board for 1′ years, counts herself among the lucky ones. When she converted to Judaism 19 years ago, several years after her marriage, her parents were extremely supportive, she told the Standard, right down to the smallest arrangements for her Jewish wedding. Her mother told her, "If you’re going to do it, do it well."

But not everyone is as lucky, Farhi said, and not everything can happen overnight. "Seder is such a deeply rooted tradition for families," she said. Imagine what it’s like to be a convert making a seder with no such tradition behind you. That’s when synagogue seders come in especially handy.

Farhi, together with her husband and twin sons, have Easter and Christmas dinners with her parents, out of a respect for them that "I consider to be Torah." When Easter and Pesach coincide, her mother puts matzah on the table and has Farhi pick up dessert at a kosher bakery.

Food isn’t the only issue, however. The historic relationship between Easter and Pesach is "that it encouraged pogroms," said Farhi. "Knowing that in the back of your head can be an uncomfortable place to be."

The "evangelical trappings" of all Christian holidays bother the temple’s outreach chair, David Zatz of Teaneck, whose very brief childhood Jewish education was Orthodox. Zatz is married to a Presbyterian woman, an elder in her church; they’re raising their two children — ages 9 and 4 — as Jews, and, he said in an interview, plan to explain to them at age 13 that they’ll have to convert to make it legal.

Zatz said the main challenges of Easter and Passover involve either food or extended family or both. He cited the kind of issue "only Reform Jews can have": How does a Jew explain going to her in-laws for Easter dinner and eating the ham but not the buns, because it’s Passover?

The outreach committee is not only for interfaith families but also for all those who are "rusty on religion," he said. Within a year, it hopes to host monthly discussions.

"The Reform movement has been pushing outreach" for ‘0 years, said Sirbu in an interview. About 50 of the 430 member families at the temple are interfaith, according to the current data, but Sirbu, noting that the database is being updated, said that figure is low.

All are welcome to the free program. For more information, call the temple office at (’01) 833-13”.

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