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Archive for the ‘identity’ tag

My Neighbor’s Faith: Trouble Praying

Nancy Fuchs Kreimer is the Director of the Department of Multifaith Studies and Initiatives at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College where she is Associate Professor of Religious Studies.

by Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer
from the Huffington Post

“I envy you Jews,” said the young German as he poured my morning coffee.

The year was 1980. I was the guest of a graduate student at Heidelberg University. My stay in his home was part of a month-long trip through Germany with Jews and Christians engaged in “post-Holocaust interfaith dialogue.”

My host’s statement surprised and bewildered me. I was just beginning my dissertation on the topic of anti-Judaism in Protestant “Old Testament” theology and I thought I knew a lot about the relationship between Jews and Christians. In fact, I was planning to devote my career to helping Christians see their complicity in the suffering of the Jews and to transcend the flaws in their theology. I could understand my host feeling sorry for us Jews. I could understand him apologizing to us. But I could not understand him envying us.

“Why in the world would you envy Jews?” I asked.

His reply changed my life.

“I envy you because it is easier for you to pray. You see, we young Germans carry the weight of what our parents and grandparents did — or did not do — during the war. It is hard for us to talk to God. We feel a little embarrassed.” Although the conversation took place 30 years ago, I can conjure it up in an instant: the earnestness in my fellow student’s voice, the clarity in his blue eyes.

I had thought, until then, that it was we Jews, the victims, who had trouble praying! There was something about the way he said it — perhaps the phrase “a little embarrassed” — that made it feel completely genuine. This conversation clarified for me my core belief, a very useful thing to discover at the age of 27. After that morning, I possessed an orienting idea, a place to check in regularly to see if my plans were aligned with what I believed.

I believe that we should live our lives so that our children won’t be “a little embarrassed” if they want to pray. Until that morning, I thought that meant being a good daughter, a compassionate friend and a dutiful citizen. But now I saw something new: taking responsibility for the group from which I derive my identity, the group whose actions will lead my children to be proud or embarrassed before God. For me, that group was and is the Jewish people.

The immediate result of this revelation was that I changed my dissertation topic. Rather than looking at problematic Christian texts, I would study problematic Jewish writings. I would investigate the ways in which my own tradition misunderstands others rather than point a finger at the others for misunderstanding us.

Click here to read the full article

RavelUnravel: the Community Mosaic Video Project

RavelUnravel Trailer

Watch the RavelUnravel Trailer

by Beth Katz
Project Interfaith

“Wait, you’re a Muslim? But you’re not even brown!” This question inspired RavelUnravel, Project Interfaith’s interactive, multimedia project launching this spring about the diversity of religious and spiritual identities that make up our communities and world.

Emina, a participant in Project Interfaith’s 2010 Interfaith Youth Service Project, faced this reaction from a fellow college student as she prepared to log her first video blog entry. But instead of lashing out at someone’s ignorant comment, she used the experience as an opportunity to explain her identity as a Muslim and the diversity within Islam.

We at Project Interfaith were struck by this as we watched. We thought, “What if we could give more people the chance to define and share their religious or spiritual identity in their own words and confront the misconceptions they face because of this?” Thus, RavelUnravel was born.

We started by putting a call out for volunteers to serve as interviewers for this project and ultimately chose 35 individuals, ranging in age from 20 to 80 years old and belonging to 14 different religious or spiritual identities and multiple ethnicities.  Our goal was to have the interviewers armed with handheld, cordless Flip camcorders capture 150 videos of community members of diverse beliefs and cultures in the Omaha, Nebraska metropolitan area answering the same set of questions:

  • What is your religious or spiritual identity and why do you identify as such?
  • What is a stereotype that impacts you based on your religious or spiritual identity?
  • How welcoming do you find our community to be to follow your religious or spiritual path?
  • Is there anything else you would like us to know about you and your religion or belief system?


The RavelUnravel site will include:

  • 720+ video interviews collected from residents in the Omaha metropolitan area;
  • an interactive comments forum;
  • four downloadable discussion guides (one each to use with high school students, college students, community groups, and in the workplace);
  • links to credible, educational resources on religious and cultural diversity; and
  • information about other Project Interfaith programs and resources.

Users also may:

  • make a video answering the four interview questions using their web or cell cameras and upload these videos to the site;
  • create and share on the site and through social media a customized collection of their favorite viewed videos;
  • engage in discussions using the online forums and discussion guides;  and
  • view a randomly-selected video by using the site’s “shuffle” function.

To ensure we got a diverse cross-section of the community, we reached out to religious and spiritual communities, community groups, businesses, non-profit organizations, and colleges, inviting them to host an interview team for a morning or afternoon.  We also welcomed community members to drop in at the Project Interfaith office to be interviewed.

The response blew us away.

We ended up having so many people that wanted to be interviewed for this project that we had to extend the interview period from September 2010 to March 2011 — instead of ending in December 2010 as originally planned.

We now have over 720 video interviews, representing a wide array of theistic and non-theistic religious and spiritual identities including Agnostic, Atheist, Secular Humanist, Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jehovah’s Witness, Jewish, Latter-day Saints, Muslim, Native American, Orthodox Christian, Protestant Christian, Roman Catholic, Seeker, Seventh Day Adventist, Sikh, Spiritual, Unitarian, Wiccan, and other identities.

These videos, along with a host of educational resources, will be featured on a new interactive website we are currently building at

In the name RavelUnravel, we’re exploring the tapestry of religious and spiritual identities that make up our communities and world and the complexities of how we construct and deconstruct identity.  We hope this site puts a human face on religious and spiritual diversity and exposes the tremendous variety of beliefs and practices within religious and spiritual identity groups — thereby transforming the way users understand, learn and talk about identity, spirituality, religion and culture.

We are planning to launch the site this April, so stay tuned!

Click here to watch the RavelUnravel Trailer 


Interfaith Tips: Telling Our Stories

by Yaira Robinson from State of Formation

Going to the park, to work, to the grocery store or pretty much anywhere today is venturing out into a religiously pluralistic setting. In all of those places, there are bound to be people who profess different religious beliefs than you do, or who profess no beliefs at all. In many of these settings, we keep quiet about our religious views so as not to offend or distance ourselves from others. I wonder, though, if this leaves us saying nothing real at all, and sometimes increases the distance between us rather than bringing us together in actual relationship.

Engaging in interfaith work takes this everyday religious pluralism to a whole new level. For this work, there are no roadmaps, no graduate certification programs, no experts; there are just individual people trying the best they can to forge new paths of partnership and mutual understanding. Because of the interfaith environmental justice work in which I’ve participated for the last three years, I’ve thought a lot about how to be an individual person of particular faith in an intensely and intentionally religiously pluralistic setting. Below are some things I’ve learned; perhaps they are also applicable for your local park or workplace, or for late-night interfaith conversations with your neighborhood grocery clerk (and if you try that, I’d love to hear how the conversation goes).

1. Share your religious story (in a respectful, non-proselytizing kind of way). When you share your story with others, it helps them feel comfortable sharing their stories with you.

2. Know your religious story. In order to share your religious story, you first have to have one. Whatever your religious (or non-religious) tradition is, know it and live it. For me, this means being an active member of my synagogue and engaging in regular study, practice and prayer.

Click here to read the full article

The Crisis of Religious Conversion


From HuffingtonPost,

I converted to Judaism 25 years ago. Under a Sukkah, as I recall, because it was — wait for it — Sukkot. For you gentiles, that’s a Jewish autumnal harvest celebration. It’s kinda cool.

A day earlier I had been rolled around in the surf near Santa Barbara (where I then lived) and barely said my conversion prayers between waves. My temple didn’t have a mikvah. Sucked for me but I have to give my rabbi kudos for not laughing as I was tossed in the waves. He let me emerge with my dignity and new Jewish identity intact.

The day following my conversion, I was married. Which is why I converted. Because my then fiancé was a (very) semi-observant Jew (you know the drill: Yom Kippur, Chanukah and the occasional bris) and he wanted to be married under a Chupah. The very first Jewish wedding I ever went to was my own. It was nothing like Fiddler on the Roof and I want to go on record with that complaint. Also, there were knishes served at the reception.

Twenty-five years, two kids and a divorce later, I’m still Jewish. Or am I? I no longer live in a Jewish household. Or do I?

Believe me, I was a typical zealous convert. My kids both went to Jewish preschool, sang to Hebrew tapes in the car, went to religious school and learned about their history and forefathers and culture. And my son had a bar mitzvah. My daughter, interestingly, declined.

I knew more about Judaism than most of my in-laws. I vociferously insisted on living a Jewish lifestyle to my very assimilated in-laws, who oddly cared VERY much that my then husband marry a Jew but didn’t actually do much in the way of observance outside of a chaotic, sped up Seder every year. I insisted my parents not give my kids Christmas presents. I hectored my heretofore unaccepting Jewish in-laws about being more Jewish. I must have been intolerable.

Suffice to say that I did such a great job making my children Jewishly identified that each year when St. Patrick’s day rolled around, my kids stared at me blankly when I reminded them that they were also Irish. They still do. Have you seen your mother? I tell them.

After the divorce, I was adrift. Guess I’m not Jewish anymore. And I’ll be honest, that very first holiday season I bought a huge Christmas tree and decorated the hell out of it. I enjoyed the pine smell and the grandeur of its blinking lights. I enjoyed the freedom I suddenly felt to drink egg nog, hang candy canes and sing “The Little Drummer Boy” once more!

But it didn’t take long for me to again feel adrift. Especially when my ex remarried a Jewish woman. A real Jewish woman. All of my insecurities came flooding back. I remembered all those times when I was so much younger and newly converted and I felt like an imposter at synagogue. I felt that all eyes on me because I don’t look Jewish. And before anyone says oh come on, Jews come in all colors and stripes — no, seriously, I don’t look Jewish. I am Irish and Scottish and save for the brogue, that’s the deal with me physically.

So what was I to do? Do I light a menorah? Put up a mezuzah? If I go to temple without my kids or Jewish husband, am I an imposter? Am I Jewish or did that get revoked?

A few months ago, a friend who was living and working in Jerusalem invited me to go visit. Israel, are you crazy?! It’s dangerous! But when a friend died suddenly, I rethought it. Why the hell not live my life to the fullest! Plus, my friend added a side trip to Egypt. Egypt, baby, Egypt! The Middle East!

Click here to read the full article.

July 3rd, 2010 at 6:00 am