Togetherness Binds Interfaith Holidays

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The Brand family | Photo provided

The holiday of Passover is upon us — and with that comes family traditions passed down (or passed over?) from generation to generation.

But some families may make new traditions this year, as Passover overlaps with another, albeit not Jewish, important holiday: Easter.

Families that celebrate both holidays will face their own opportunities and challenges as they coordinate the holiday weekend with rituals, such as meals — food is important in any religion — that come with their own customs.

InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia held a program a few weeks ago in which interfaith couples and families discussed some issues as far as how the Easter meal will affect the Jewish contingent of the family keeping Passover. Many saw the confluence as an opportunity to maybe make some adjustments.

“I heard so many wonderful, warm stories of people making a special cheesecake for Easter that doesn’t have crust so that Jewish relatives can eat it,” said Rabbi Robyn Frisch, director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia. “Or making their recipes work — maybe instead of having a ham for Easter having something that would be more comfortable for those who are Jewish who are participating in their Easter meal that are part of their family.

“It can really be a time to maybe make a little bit of a change to what you would typically do, but still do it in a way that feels authentic and embracing,” she said.

However, food isn’t the only component of the holidays. There’s always that particular emphasis on just being with family.

“Like Christmas and Chanukah, for most of the people we work with we find that spending time with family, often around meals, is a really big part of their holiday celebration,” Frisch said. “For most of them, it wasn’t about attending synagogue or attending church but it was about being together and celebrating.”

That togetherness also presents an educational opportunity for both sides to learn more about the holidays and their significance.

“To me, one of the wonderful things about a seder is that it’s all about questions,” Frisch noted, “and hopefully not just the questions in the haggadah, but ones that your participants bring to the table. It’s a wonderful opportunity to educate family members who did not grow up Jewish about the holiday, to teach them about the holiday, for them to ask their own questions.”

She noted that when people join her seder table who haven’t previously celebrated Passover, they may ask questions she hasn’t thought of before, which allows her to appreciate the holiday through someone else’s eyes.

“I can only imagine that’s true for Christian families who celebrate Easter,” she added, “if they have a Jewish relative or partner or one of their family members who’s with them at their celebration who can ask questions, that hopefully it helps them see their holiday with fresh eyes as well.”

She encourages interfaith families and partners to use the weekend as a chance to learn more about each other’s religions and customs, and more about what the holiday means to them not just religiously, but also personally.

“You can be with someone and maybe not partake in all of their food for the holiday, but still partake in the togetherness and the experience,” she said.

Monique Brand will travel with her husband Michael and 10-year-old daughter Serena to be with both sides of the family for the holidays, just as they would even if the two didn’t fall on the same weekend.

“It’s more about the gathering of family this year,” said Brand, who was raised Catholic. Her husband is Jewish.

They will aim to make one of the seders with her husband’s family and then travel out near Pittsburgh to Belle Vernon for Easter at her cousin’s new house.

For them, it’s less about the religious aspect — they’re “religious-lite,” she quipped — and more about embracing each other’s tight-knit families and being together.

They don’t usually go to church on Easter for instance, she said, but rather just observe the holiday with her family.

“It’s enriching because we enjoy all of our family, both sides. So I love that, I love the holidays,” she enthused. “We just try to cover all the bases.”

For their daughter especially, observing both holidays — just as they do for Chanukah and Christmas, for which they have a “winter tree” instead of a Christmas tree — gives her an understanding of different religions, though Brand noted she is being raised Jewish.

For Brand, underlying it all is the notion of respect for each other’s backgrounds.

“It’s lovely to appreciate different religions,” she said. “Both of us are kind of mellow as far as the religious part — I’m not a devout Catholic, he’s a Reconstructionist so he’s pretty open-minded, too — so it was pretty easy for us, and we both respect each other’s religions.”

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