By David Kovacs
25 years ago – around the time when IFFP started — my wife Patty and I joined with 6 other families in Chicago to do something some people thought was totally crazy… start an interfaith Sunday School. And we soon asked ourselves, were we?
It wasn’t easy at first. We wondered if it would even get off the ground. We had a wonderful church that offered to host us… and encouraging clergy cheering us on. But none of us were professionally religious folks. Would we ever agree on what to teach our kids — and how would we teach it? It felt at times like we were stuck or spinning our wheels.
But lucky us. We had met Joan Hawxhurst and Mary and Ned Rosenbaum – we read a newsletter called Dovetail, and we realized we weren’t alone. We met some of the IFFP folks and Reverend Julia and Sue Katz Miller then Sheila Gordon and the Interfaith Community in NYC… and so encouraged, we got a little further along on our journey, and realized we weren’t crazy at all – and in fact, great things were happening, here, there and everywhere…
It feels like we’ve been in a parallel universe ever since. We’ve watched IFFP grow, and you’ve watched us do the same, and we’ve all cheered each other on. Last year the Family School in Chicago graduated our 18th class… l’chaim! Our first graduates are now in their early 30s. Some have had or are having kids of their own. And we’ve heard that — in far off places – they’re a little wistful – they wish they could have for their kids what we’ve all had together… a special kind of community who could talk in different religious languages, who could wrestle and learn and who would grow up alongside each other, each charting different, but connected pathways.
Over the years we got emails… interfaith families in small towns and big cities ask us for advice about how to do this for their kids. They want to honor each other’s traditions — and in the words of the Sh’ma, “teach those traditions diligently to their children.”
Patty, my wife, has written a curriculum and some textbooks, and so we answer by saying, “Sure, we can send you materials.” But when they say they want to teach their kids at home, we kind of smile and suggest they might want to re-think that whole homeschool thing. Sure, the parents may have deep connections to their faiths, and love each other a lot. The kids may be game for the adventure too.
But something will be missing. They wouldn’t have a community. They wouldn’t have wonderful clergy like Reverend Julia and Reverend Beth… They wouldn’t meet other parents who are like-minded souls, who draw strength from each other in all kinds of unexpected ways. Their kids wouldn’t have other kids who all get it — that their moms and dads share two faiths too. And when someone challenges them, asking “How can you do that?” They understand that two visions of one spiritual world are perfectly normal.
And to all the kids who are here today… in our schools in Chicago, we thought that we as parents would teach our kids about religion. What we found is that our kids were teaching us about how cool it can be when you have two ways to look at the world. They showed us that real love of family and friends knows no divide. Hopefully the world you’ll grow up in will be that much better – and a little less narrow – or stiff-necked, as God says to Moses — because you’ve learned all along to stretch and see things from both sides.
So, when Rev. Julia kindly invited me to offer a reflection, I thought I’d simply offer a blessing to this community from ours – a brocha (blessing) of thankfulness that we all have each other. We are not alone. And when we come together, we realize we were never crazy at all. We share a lot. We found each other. And we truly are a blessing to each other.
Those were the words Pope John Paul II said in his message in Poland in 1993 on the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: “As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing to the world. This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to be first a blessing to each other.”
Of course, there’s a lot of wisdom in our scriptures about it…
From the Book of Ecclesiastes…
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”
We’ve all had the experience of falling down. What matters most is that we’ve helped each other up. How lucky we are!
And of course, in our world when we quote the Hebrew Testament, the New Testament is never far behind, right?
From the Gospel according to Matthew… “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
There are many more than two or three here, so this is truly a sacred space. And on Sunday mornings in Chicago and New York, there are two or three hundred of us and more. So we are making a sacred world, filling it with hope, healing, and love.
And when there is love, there is God among us.
So on behalf of all of us in Chicago — blessings to this community.
Y’varech’cha adonai v’yishm’recha. May God bless you and keep you.
Ya’eir adonai panav eilecha vihuneka. May God’s light shine upon you
and grant you graciousness.
Yisa adonai panav eilecha v’yaseim l’cha shalom. May God’s presence always be with you, and may God grant you shalom: peace.
BONUS: Check out this podcast that David recorded with his co-director and producer, Steve Ordower, about the film and their journey to make it.