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Susan Katz Miller

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Raising My Interfaith Children With Hope: 10 Years After 9/11

Posted: 09/07/11 05:29 PM ET

Ten years ago, on 9/11, I walked home from the corner after putting my daughter on the school bus, turned on the television, watched a plane hit the second tower, realized I was watching an act of terror and not an accident, and then turned off the television, trying to shield my preschool son from the devastating images.

A decade later, both my children are teenagers, young people who have grown up with the constant threat of terror, and under the weight of seemingly endless war. In a year, my daughter will leave for college. I have done what I could, over these ten years, to preserve in my children a sense of hope and a yearning for unity. I have tried to help them rise above the long shadows of that terrible day: the fear, the paranoia, the racial and religious hatred.

My efforts at optimism have been bolstered and inspired by two communities. The first is the city we chose for our home: multiracial, multiethnic, multireligious. In our public schools, my children met African-American, Central American, African, Asian, Arab, evangelical, Muslim, Coptic, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Adventist, Jewish, Quaker and secular-humanist students. They know the Muslim children in headscarves fasting for Ramadan, and the atheist child who jumps up and shouts "Under Science!" each time they come to the phrase "Under God" in the pledge. I stubbornly insist on seeing our community, not as a fragile utopian bubble destined to evanesce or pop, but as a hardy model for the future.

The other community that helps us to preserve hope is the Interfaith Families Project of Washington D.C., where my children went through Sunday School with over 100 other children from interfaith families. This community seeks not to replace or undermine traditional religious institutions, but to support families who want to fully educate their children about both Judaism and Christianity, two religions bound by love, as well as checkered history. During this formative decade, my children have met almost weekly to sing, and reflect, and discuss how both Christian and Jewish values impel us, as an interfaith family, to love across boundaries, and insist on radical inclusivity. Freed by their interfaith education from any possibility of religious exceptionalism (the idea that one religion holds the unique truth), my children are prepared now to go out into the world as religious translators, to facilitate the communication required to bring peace.

In the days after 9/11, folksinger-activists Pat Humphries and Sandy Opatow (known together as Emma's Revolution) wrote an ardent prayer in the form of a meditative chant: "Peace, Salaam, Shalom." At the first peace rally in New York City after the towers fell, some ten thousand people sang this chant for hours as they wound through the streets of the city.

A few years later, Pat and Sandy, an interfaith couple themselves, led our assembled Jewish and Christian and Muslim friends and extended families in singing "Peace, Salaam, Shalom" as part of my daughter's interfaith Bat Mitzvah and Coming of Age ceremony. These words represent the essence of the interfaith education my children take with them as they go out into the world. They represent the 9/11 legacy I have tried to create for my children: the desire to prevent violence through deeper understanding.

 

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