This year, the first night of Passover for Jews overlaps with the Christian remembrance of Good Friday, posing a challenge to many interfaith couples: How do we teach our kids about religion?
It’s a question that’s becoming increasingly relevant to American families, as more couples marry partners outside of their faith. Not only are people -- and Jews in particular -- finding love across religious lines, they’re also choosing to maintain whatever religious traditions they brought into the marriage, more so than ever before.
But can you teach children about Passover and Easter without losing the essence of what makes each religion so unique?
Patty and David Kovacs, an interfaith couple from Chicago, are convinced that you can. Having raised a son and a daughter together, they speak from experience.
Patty was raised Catholic, while David comes from a Jewish family. In 1993, the Kovacses joined a few other Jewish-Catholic families in their neighborhood to create the Chicago Interfaith Family School. The group meets two Sundays every month, offering a space where children and adults can learn about Judaism and Christianity.
One of the most important parts of raising an interfaith family is making time for religion, the Kovacses said. Parents should try to find local churches and temples that are accepting of interfaith families, and should make an effort to participate in Passover Seders and Easter services.
“Adults look at these holidays from the head down, but kids look at it from the heart up,” Patty told The Huffington Post. “What they’ll remember years from now is that this was a time to be with grandparents, cousins or family by choice. It was a time of sharing food and stories.”
Another important factor is communication. Before deciding which grandparents’ house to go to for Passover Seder or a Good Friday meal, parents should talk to each other openly and honestly about how they want to present the two holidays to their children.
“The challenge for the adults is to wrestle with their own traditions anew,” said Patty. “That takes reflection. How do I wrestle with Easter in a new adult way that goes beyond the eggs and the Easter hats and the bunnies? How do I make these symbols in the Seder contemporary and relevant to me?”
Dr. Sheila Gordon, founding president of the Interfaith Community, a New York-based educational organization, said that this year’s overlapping holy days are a good opportunity for interfaith families to emphasize what makes the stories of Passover and Easter so similar. Both of these holidays, she said, are about hope, redemption, suffering and kindness toward others.
But Gordon advised against mixing the two holidays together.
“Don't let the celebration morph into an Easter bunny eating matzah!” Gordon told HuffPost in an email. “Mention similarities, of course, but do activities at distinctly different times, and/or in different spaces, with different ambiance, sights or sounds.”
HuffPost Religion worked with Gordon and the Kovacses to put together a list of activities for interfaith families to do during Good Friday and Passover. The aim is to help children develop a rich spiritual life.
“Kids will be amazingly prolific and profound,” Patty said. “The more you can process with them, the better, so they don’t see these as chocolate holidays and times that are shallow. So they can understand there’s depth to these practices.”
1. Make Your Own DIY Seder Plate -- And Find Connections
This activity will teach children about the traditions and symbols associated with the Passover Seder. Parents can return to the DIY plates on Easter Sunday, or even several weeks later, to help children understand the similarities between the two holidays. Keep the stories separate, but search for the spiritual links.
“The hope is the same in Judaism and Catholicism,” Patty said. “It’s a journey from suffering and death into new life.”
1. Find a DIY Seder plate that your children will be interested in making (and one that’s easy for you to set up). The felt plate in the picture above was designed by Rita Brownstein, who runs the blog Design Megillah. She has instructions for the project here. HuffPost Parents has collected 15 great Seder plate crafts here. You can use the final creations during Passover on Friday night. We have an interactive guide to the Seder plate here.
2. A few days later, bring the children back to their special Seder plates. Ask them to find connections between the symbols present in Easter and those found in Passover. Make sure to keep the discussion age-appropriate. Patty pointed out these examples, but she’s sure kids can find plenty more:
- The lamb on the Seder plate is also found in the Easter story -- through Jesus, whom Christians see as the lamb of God.
- The bitter herbs on the Seder plate can remind children of the bitter wine that was given to Jesus on the cross.
- The egg on the Seder plate is also used in the Christian story. Eggs hold the seeds of new life.
- What do you see that is broken in the world? What are the things that bring people pain?
- What can we do within our own lives to heal the brokenness we see?
2. Read A Passover Story Together
Passover is a great time for interfaith families to emphasize the commitment to social justice that binds all religions together. According to the American Jewish World Service, an international human rights organization, Judaism “offers an expansive landscape from which themes of social justice and global citizenship emerge.”
The AJWS has put together a slew of resources for families celebrating Passover. For young children, we recommend reading their short storybook When the Storm Came to Plink. The story can be read at the Seder, right before drinking a cup of wine or grape juice.
The authors of Plink write:
We cannot only respond to disasters immediately after they happen, but we must support communities in their long-term efforts to recover and rebuild. Indeed, the Passover story itself contains this message -- liberation from the trauma of oppression was not achieved in the single moment of the Exodus but rather unfolded gradually over 40 years in the desert and continues to unfold for us personally throughout our lives.
- Why didn’t the people of Plink have any water?
- How do you feel when you share something with your friends?
3. Good Friday Reflections
Good Friday was full of fear and confusion for Jesus’ disciples. Gordon tells us that interfaith parents can make a connection between the Christian holiday and the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
“There can sober reflection on the previous year, all while never losing sight of the redemption and renewal that are coming soon,” Gordon told HuffPost.
1. Print, cut and color this image of a palm leaf, leaving the back blank. Everyone participating in the activity (parents included!) should have at least two palms.
2. On the back of one palm leaf, write down one sorrow. It can be a regret or apology from the past year. On the other leaf, write down one promise of how you can act or think differently in the year to come.
3. Punch a hole at the bottom and string the family’s leaves together, as a reminder that in sorrow and in hope, the family is connected.
4. Hang the palm leaves in your home.
- What are some things that make you sorrowful or sad?
- What would need to happen for you to feel happy again?
- What gives you hope?
4. Hunting For Sweet Things
This activity offers a spiritual twist on the traditional Easter egg hunt, adapted from the Kovacses’ interfaith activity book The God We Share.
The Kovacses write:
For many interfaith couples, the Easter holiday is the one that presents intellectual problems and gut responses. This apprehension can get in the way of feeling comfortable about teaching about this holiday. We as adults often get hung up on the literal vs. the spiritual version of this most sacred Christian story. However, perhaps the hang-up comes when we focus on Jesus alone as the one getting a new life, and not who also gets a powerfully renewed life in the story: the disciples of Jesus (and by association all other followers of Jesus).
1. Have the students color in a picture of a large Easter egg. At the top, write: “I’m Hatching A Plan For A Better World... See What Treasures I Have Found!”
2. Fill small plastic Easter eggs with “sweet words,” one word per egg. These are special treasures for building a renewed and better world: laughter, joy, peace, love, care, forgiveness, hope, honesty, helping, kindness, manners, gratitude, happiness, excitement, friendship, welcoming, healing, listening, apology, family, community and sharing. (Feel free to add more. Use clip art or other pictures to illustrate the words where possible.)
3. Hide the eggs around the room and let the kids start searching!
4 . When all the eggs are found, gather the kids together and let them open the eggs. Have them repeat the words after you.
5. The kids can glue the words onto their egg sheets (see step 1) and hang the sheets in their rooms.
- What was your favorite sweet word to find? Why?
- Can you think of a time that you felt that special word strongly?
- Can you think of a time something you did made another person feel that way?