1. What is a "Bar Mitzvah and Coming-of-Age Ceremony"?
We honored our interfaith son's transition to adolescence with the essence of the Bar Mitzvah (reading from the Torah and Shabbat prayers), but also included elements drawn from his Christian heritage.
2. What do you mean by "interfaith" son?
We are raising our children with both family religions -- Judaism and Christianity -- in an independent interfaith families community of over 120 families. I am an interfaith child myself.
3. So was it a real Bar Mitzvah, or a Faux Mitzvah?
Nothing about it felt faux to us: our experience was authentic to our interfaith family. The Bar Mitzvah ceremony is a relatively recent ritual, not ancient. Traditionally, every Jewish boy became a Bar Mitzvah ("Son of the Commandment") at age 13, without any fanfare. Our son chanted from the Torah, learned the blessings, and more than fulfilled any technical requirements.
4. Okay, but is your son Jewish?
We have raised him to claim that identity, even while others deny him that right. He only has one Jewish grandparent, my 87-year-old father, who proudly got up to recite blessings before and after my son's Torah reading.
5. Do you care if anyone else considers this Bar Mitzvah "kosher"?
Sigh. We don't mean to be disrespectful, but the rules for what makes up a Bar Mitzvah vary among Jewish communities, as do the rules for who is a Jew. So we're just going to go with our interpretation. We know there are Jewish communities that will accept our children, if they seek acceptance.
6. Why did you create this ceremony?
We believe every child benefits from being celebrated in adolescence. We feel lucky that our children are connected to Judaism, because we think the Bar Mitzvah model is excellent. The child must display their learning and maturity and leadership in the process of this formative experience.
7. Your kid was not educated in a synagogue, so did he just memorize the Torah portion?
Nope. Our interfaith community has a thriving religious education program and we begin Hebrew literacy in kindergarten. This year, my son studied his Torah portion and other prayers with a rabbi and learned the cantillation marks that guide the chanting.
8. Who would officiate at such a ceremony? A Justice of the Peace?
Two rabbis, and a minister. More and more clergy are beginning to acknowledge the possibility that raising children with access to both family religions may be a legitimate pathway. Clergy want to help provide knowledge and guidance to these families.
9. Why did you have to put Christian elements in the ceremony?
My son is not coming-of-age only as a Jew, he is coming-of-age as a whole person, and his whole personhood includes his Christian heritage and family. We felt this needed to be recognized at such an important lifecycle event.
10. What was Christian about the ceremony?
We sang Christian hymns and songs relating to the environmental theme in our son's Torah portion. We had a reading from the gospel of Mark, and a version of the Lord's Prayer. Our rabbi reflected on Jesus as a Jewish teenager, engaging in intellectual debate, questioning his elders.
11. Was your kid motivated by the money and the party and the swag?
We minimized these incentives, as many Jewish families are doing these days. The only "swag" was Fair Trade yarmulkes woven by a non-profit in Guatemala. There was no kid party -- teens had lunch with the family. We made our own music, with all ages performing on guitars and ukuleles. And we encouraged family to give religious gifts, instead of money.
12. Religious gifts -- like what?
He got a tallit, shofar, mezuzot, Kiddush cup. He also received a Bible (both testaments) and Episcopal hymnal.
13. Are you "doing both" because no one in your family cares about religion?
My great-grandfather was a rabbi, my husband's great-grandfather was an Episcopal Bishop, with clergy in every generation since then. If we didn't care, we would have chosen an easier path. Instead, we are going to great lengths to make sure our children get a broad religious education, and have deep spiritual experiences at ceremonies like this one.
14. Does your extended family think this is all distressing or meshuganah (nutty)?
Nope. They look forward to our radically-inclusive celebrations. Family of all persuasions cried with joy at this ceremony.
15. Are you trying to invent a new religion?
On the contrary, we are acknowledging the common ground and intertwined history of Judaism and Christianity, while also honoring the specifics of each religion. If we did not care about the angular differences, we might have chosen a more familiar "third way" such as Unitarianism or secular humanism.
16. But if you pick and choose the songs and readings and rituals, isn't that just making stuff up?
The beauty of creating a ceremony is that every element has specific meaning to us. In our ceremony program, we explain the origin of each prayer or song, to give it context. All religions evolve in this way.
17. Why did you let a Ph.D. student you don't even know come observe such an intimate family moment?
She asked, and we were excited about the fact that academia is finally taking notice of the thriving network of independent communities for interfaith families choosing both religions.
18. Is this good for the Jews?
We think so. Our kids are "one quarter patrilineal" Jews, and logically, maybe we should have just chosen Christianity. Instead, we are filling their minds and souls with love for both religions. Maybe they will turn out to be Jews with a deep appreciation of Christianity. Maybe they will continue to identify as interfaith bridge-builders. Maybe they will become Christians, or Buddhists for that matter, with a deep appreciation of Judaism. We see all of these as good outcomes: for the Jews, for us, for the world.
Follow Susan Katz Miller on Twitter: www.twitter.com/beingboth