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A big part of my job is working on the interfaith program between my school, The Davis Academy, and a local Catholic school called Marist. It’s also one of the most interesting and energizing parts of my school responsibilities. Months of planning go into each meeting, which starts in 7th grade with an introductory program, continues with a second learning meeting the fall of 8th grade, and culminates in service learning together in the winter. In fact, this is not my first post about Interfaith learning. In fact, you can read about our volunteering (and snow) day from last January here.
Our most recent event was the 2nd in the cycle – the kids met in the spring at Davis, and we have a chance to do more learning together, this time at Marist in November. In the midst of a crazy fall, there were oases of awesome – meeting with the Marist partners to plan a really great program for our students. Last year’s Sukkot-based programming wasn’t going to work (but oh, how I wanted them to stand in a rectangle around a football field once more, arms around each other, building their own Interfaith sukkat shalom, shelter of peace…), but Thanksgiving was coming soon and that gave us plenty of material.
My partner at Marist, a teacher named Mrs. Justus, is one of those teachers who is just filled with ideas and excitement. I am forever toting a Diet Coke, and she’s like a Mentos candy – once we start talking about Interfaith, the ideas are overflowing. In one meeting, we discovered the commonalities between Birkat HaMazon (the grace after meals) and Eucharist, which is the Mass ceremony, where the host – the unleavened communion wafer – and wine are consumed by Catholic worshippers. We talked about the language used in worship, and looped in idea for a translation activity. I went home with Missalettes, which are like Catholic Siddurim, or prayer books. I loved them.
When we arrived at Marist, we had quite the day planned. Icebreakers were planned and enjoyed, and our students tentatively started to re-mingle, having only met for a single school day last April. They did a blessing activity based on MadLibs (which throws back to my first job out of college – in publishing!), finding similarities between Christian, Catholic, and Jewish blessings for before and after eating food. Students volunteered to open and close our shared lunch in their cafeteria, and then we continued with a translation activity.
Shema Yisrael is the foundational prayer of Judaism. Quoted directly from Deuteronomy 6:4, this text is also the basis for Jesus’s teachings. Marist students memorize it in their 7th grade religion class. Davis students recite it regularly in school from their very first year. Students read multiple translations – from the Jewish Publication Society’s to the Christian Good News Translation, and wrote their own translations. In the end, we constructed this prayer with words submitted by different groups. Groups sent up all sorts of words, such as calling God “Homie G to the D” (I’m barely paraphrasing) and “Allah”, and calling for attention in Latin!
And then, one group sent up “Trinity” for “Adonai” – the name for God. We’d asked them to have consensus in their group, making sure that all students were comfortable with the words they chose. Hearing the Shema translated, stating that the “Trinity is One” was a powerful moment. To the students, I said, “That is not the usual response a Judaics teacher expects.” That was our interfaith programming all in one moment. The understanding of different ideas of God, the acceptance that one person’s Trinity doesn’t line up with your single, formless God, the sharing of these ideas in a non-threatening environment.
After these activities, we learned so much about Catholicism – where another Interfaith partner, Mrs. Calabrese, briefly addressed the concept of the Trinity, and the inherent mystery of having a God who is one and also split into three – and then shared a prayer service.
We gave thanks that we were able to experience this amazing interfaith learning activity, and look forward to having more moments of gratitude and shared understanding.
Pronounced: shuh-MAH or SHMAH, Alternate Spellings: Sh’ma, Shma, Origin: Hebrew, the central prayer of Judaism, proclaiming God is one.