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A Multicultural Passover, a Solemn Easter, and a Celebration of Spring

Originally published August 4, 2006. Republished March 31, 2011.

Although I am part of an intercultural household, Passover has remained a distinctly Jewish holiday in our family. My Jewish son from a previous marriage and his not-born Jewish wife are happy to celebrate a Humanistic Passover with me, as is my non-Jewish husband and my Jewish daughter. My husband's children and grandchildren live a couple of hundred miles away and have never been able to be with us for Passover.

When my daughter married a Humanistic rabbi, we (my husband and I and my son and his family) all began celebrating the holidays with his family. My son-in-law's mother has a very eclectic gathering for Passover. At her seder, we read the Four Questions in five languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, French, Spanish and English. The French and Spanish versions are recited by native speakers, both non-Jews — my first real experience of a multi-cultural Passover. This experience is an example of the truly intercultural world in which we live.

My husband, who was born Catholic but identifies as a humanist, uses the Easter holiday to remember his deceased family members. Our Easter celebration consists of the two of us visiting to the cemetery and putting flowers on the graves of his parents, sister, and best friend.

In my work as a Humanistic rabbi, I have found that when Jewish-Christian couples are faced with two holidays at the same time of year that have different theological messages and stories, it is helpful to find commonalities between the holidays that can bring the couples and families closer together.

The spring season gives us all the opportunity to celebrate the rebirth of the earth. We look forward to, with great anticipation, the sprouting of flowers, the appearance of new leaves on trees, the greening of grass, and the birth of new chicks and lambs. Although this could easily lead to a superficial celebration of the holiday, it can just as easily lead to a stronger connection to the common roots of our ancestors and the natural environment in which we live. Even more importantly, it could lead to a profound appreciation and gratitude for the cycles of life and the new hope that this season brings.

Beyond the themes of nature, rebirth, and celebration of new life, there are strong spiritual themes in each of the holidays of Passover and Easter--themes that intercultural families can embrace and integrate into their lives. The Exodus story of liberation and freedom is a compelling and universal message. “Avadim Hayinu” (For once we were slaves in Egypt) is a call to all Jews and our message to all humanity that the freedom of all peoples must be protected and advocated. Whether Jewish by birth or family association, this message of liberation and the responsibility to protect the rights of others is one that can bind intercultural and interfaith families and call them to a common purpose.

The message of Easter follows a similar theme. Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and the redemption of all the faithful occurs through his suffering and death. A Catholic priest with whom I regularly co-officiate maintains that the modern Catholic Church ought not to be about the suffering of Jesus, but rather his resurrection and the message of redemption that the resurrection represents. Again, regardless of theology, an intercultural family can take this powerful Easter message and use the season to reflect on the role and responsibility of each individual in redeeming the world, this world, here and now, today.

As is my practice, I see challenge as opportunity, and the spring festivals give us a profound possibility to create meaningful and modern responses to the ancient and rich heritages from which we as intermarried families have sprung.

The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." A language, literally meaning "Jewish," once widely used by Ashkenazi communities. It is influenced by German, Hebrew and Slavic languages, and is written with the Hebrew alphabet. It is comparable to the language of many Sephardi communities, Ladino. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals.
Rabbi Miriam Jerris

Rabbi Miriam Jerris is the rabbi of the Society for Humanistic Judaism and the president of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis. She has been supporting intermarried couples and their families for more than 22 years. Jerris has been married to her Humanist, born-Catholic husband for more than 16 years. Contact her at miriamjerris@shj.org or through her website theweddingconnection.net.

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