What ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ Gets Wrong About Interfaith Families Like Mine

I devoured this book as a kid, but I did not relate to the stressed and confused interfaith child.

I was clearly the original target audience for Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” 

When the novel came out in 1970, I was an interfaith kid heading into puberty. And yes indeed, I found the book transgressive and thrilling, for the frank way it addressed boy crushes, mean girls, trying on your first bra and waiting to get your period. I have a visceral memory of lying on the blue-and-green shag carpet on my bedroom floor, breathlessly turning the pages of this book. So, I was not surprised when it became a beloved and iconic touchstone for generations of preteen girls. 

But did I relate to the novel’s other subplot, about being born to a Jewish father and a Christian mother? Not so much. While I was born to a Jewish father and a Christian mother, I never bought this novel’s storyline about the stress and confusion of being an interfaith kid. It did not align with the reality of my experience. I have surveyed, interviewed and coached hundreds of interfaith family members in the process of writing two books on the topic. I know that many interfaith families have harmonious experiences. In fact, I fear that the popularity of this novel — which is finally coming to the big screen later this month — has added to the myth of the stressed and confused interfaith child. 

To refresh your memory (assuming you also devoured this book as a preteen), while Margaret’s parents each come from different religious backgrounds, they leave it up to their daughter to choose a religion (or none). From the very first chapter, Margaret makes it plain that her favorite family member is her spunky and affectionate Jewish grandmother. In contrast, her Christian grandparents have refused to accept her Jewish father. In fact, Margaret has never even met these Christian grandparents. 

Personally, I adored my Christian grandparents, even though I was being raised “exclusively Jewish.” We traveled to be with them on virtually every school vacation, including at Christmas. And they supported the decision of my parents to raise Jewish children. A generation later, my husband and I chose to raise our children, who are now adults, with both family religions. Have cold and intransigent Christian grandparents like Margaret’s ever existed in real life? Probably. But in my experience, Christian grandparents of interfaith kids tend to either be proud, or at least supportive, or just curious but not mean, about their Jewish or “raised with both” grandchildren.


Jews, Muslims, Sikhs get coronation role as king reaches out

Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Rabbi Nicky Liss won’t be watching King Charles III’s coronation. He’ll be doing something he considers more important: praying for the monarch on the Jewish sabbath.

On Saturday, he will join rabbis across Britain in reading a prayer in English and Hebrew that gives thanks for the new king in the name of the “one God who created us all.”

Liss, the rabbi of Highgate Synagogue in north London, said British Jews appreciated Charles’ pledge to promote the co-existence of all faiths and his record of supporting a multifaith society during his long apprenticeship as heir to the throne.

“When he says he wants to be a defender of faiths, that means the world because our history hasn’t always been so simple and we haven’t always lived freely; we haven’t been able to practice our religion,” Liss told The Associated Press. “But knowing that King Charles acts this way and speaks this way is tremendously comforting.”


When The Moon Unites Muslims, Jews And Christians — Lessons For Abraham’s Children

BUENOS AIRES – These days you may find some of your neighbors savoring an Easter egg or a Matzah flatbread, or others eating nothing at all until past sunset. Customs you may have heard of, but where did they come from?

Yes, three important festivities are coinciding right now for the first time in recent memory, and they involve the major monotheistic faiths that account for half of humanity.

For the Catholics and Protestants it is Easter, which will culminate on Easter Sunday on April 9. The same date will be April 16 for the Orthodox who follow the Julian calendar. This is the most important feast of Christianity. For Jews like myself, Wednesday was the beginning of Passover, commemorating our liberation from slavery in Egypt and the birth of the Jewish nation that gave form to monotheism. It is the oldest festivity of the Western world.

According to tradition, as there was no time to make leavened bread on leaving Egypt, the events are commemorated by eating unleavened bread and food without yeast.

The Muslims are two weeks into Ramadan, the sacred month in which the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It is a month of prayers, of rectification of conduct, reflection and self-analysis, all complemented with a full fast during daylight hours.

Though it is the second year in a row, it is generally very rare for the three faiths to see their holy dates coincide this way. As the Muslim calendar is lunar (having 10 or 11 days less than the solar calendar), Ramadan advances every year by several days, falling in March this year, a little earlier next year and so on. We will have to wait some three decades for this coincidence to recur.

\u200bAn image of a colorful mosque in Duba\u00ef during prayer.

A mosque in Dubaï during prayer.Rumman Amin

Older brothers in faith

We should recall that for centuries until the Vatican II Council of the Roman Church, Easter was used to incite the faithful against the Jews as “Christ killers,” or for a crime of lèse divinité if I may use such a term. Thankfully the Church has banished this discourse and the popes now refer to us as their “older brothers in faith.”


Ramadan, Passover and Easter overlap, highlighting challenges, common ground

On March 29, the kitchen and dining room at Quinsigamond United Methodist Church filled with warmth of friendship, laughter, and Brazilian-style cooking, including canjiquinha, a national dish including grits, pork, and seasonings.

Members of the local Berean Baptist Church, a Portuguese-language church hosting the meal, urged visitors to eat. 

The occasion was the fifth and last night of a weekly interfaith supper and prayer service, “Living Our Discipleship,” organized by the Quinsigamond Village/South Worcester church collaborative. 

Children perform a song after the opening prayer at Quinsigamond United Methodist Church during the 2023 Mid-Week Lenten Series "Living Our Discipleship" on Wednesday March 29, 2023.

Berean Baptist Church members Pamela Lima and Gil Aguiar said their congregation rents space in the Methodist church.“We like to unite the whole community in the name of Jesus Christ,” Aguiar said. “We’ve got the same God, who founded the same faith.”

After supper, the gathering moved to the sanctuary for a Portuguese-language service led by the Berean Baptist Church Pastor Antoniel Neri, with music and English-language translations by church youth. 


Catholic leaders open new church in UAE’s interfaith Abrahamic Family House

Denver, Colo., Feb 21, 2023 / 09:35 am

The three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — now share a common place to worship in the predominantly Muslim United Arab Emirates with the opening of the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi.

Such was the dream of Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb, who in 2019 signed a historic pledge calling for peace and brotherhood between religions and nations. Four years later a synagogue, church, and mosque sit opposite a secular visitor pavilion in an interfaith complex meant to encourage goodwill and understanding.

Representing the pope for the first prayer service at the new St. Francis of Assisi Church was Cardinal Michael L. Fitzgerald, a past president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

“The place of prayer should also be a place of joy, and I hope that this will be true for all of us here present,” Fitzgerald said at the Sunday prayer service at the new church.

Fitzgerald conveyed the pope’s greetings. He said Pope Francis would encourage all those gathered “to continue in the culture of dialogue as our path; to adopt mutual cooperation as our code of conduct; and to endeavor to make reciprocal understanding the constant method of our undertakings.”


Muslim and Non-Muslim Relations Reflections on Some Qur’anic Texts


Humanity lives today in a “global village,” where no people or nation can live in isolation from and indifferent to what goes on elsewhere. Our world is so interdependent and so interrelated that peaceful dialogue has become an imperative. In spite of the general erosion of commitment to “religion,” however interpreted or misinterpreted, religion still plays a pivotal role in shaping people’s attitudes and influencing their behavior. In spite of serious instances of abuse of various religions by some of their claimed followers so as to justify or instigate acts of brutality and bloodshed, there are positive and helpful common themes in these religions. Therefore, peaceful and candid intra-faith and inter-faith dialogues are important tools in working for such goals. This paper is a humble contribution to that dialogue from one perspective within a major world religion that is the professed faith of nearly one fifth of the human race; one that is more misunderstood than any other faith, sometimes, even, by some of its followers. This paper examines the nature and parameters of the normative relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is based mainly on an attempt to understand the Qur’an in its own textual and historical context. To do this, it is necessary to begin with the methodology and assumptions that underpin the paper.


The basic methodology and assumptions of this paper are summed up as follows: As a religious faith, normative Islam is not identical with the actions of its “followers.” Like other religions, followers or claimed followers are imperfect, fallible human beings. There are times when their actions conform, in various degrees, to the normative teachings of their faith. But there are also times when their actions are either independent of or even in violation of such normative teachings.


Get Jews, Muslims and Christians talking and maybe they won’t want to stop

One hundred and forty Jews, Christians and Muslims will sit down together next month to discuss human dignity and how it is exemplified in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Quran for “Peoples of the Book,” the third in a series of interfaith events. This will be the first time Jews are taking part.

The first two events created by the Crosier Fathers and Brothers, a Roman Catholic religious order, and the Sema Foundation, a community service non-profit founded by Turkish Americans, were “Friends of Mary” and “Jesus: Word and Spirit of God,” and focused on theological considerations between Christians and Muslims.

Jewish partners were not included, but organizers said welcoming Jews at some point was a long-held desire.

Rabbi Debbie Stiel of Temple Solel was the first Jewish clergy member to join the group and she felt a warmth from the others right away. Each event had a different configuration of planners, so it was easy for her to enter the group on equal footing without the sense of being late to the game.

“I felt immediately there was a curiosity and an interest from them in learning more about Judaism,” she said. “It felt great to join and do some teaching — as well as some learning.”

Interfaith dialogue is often held up as a good way to engender understanding, tolerance and even friendships. Leonard Swidler, Khalid Duran and Reuven Firestone in their 2007 book, “Trialogue: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Dialogue,” stated its importance even more starkly:

“We human beings today face a stark choice: dialogue or death!”

However, pulling off a meaningful interfaith dialogue event is challenging and can take long periods of detailed planning. Indeed, for this particular series, every event required several months of meetings.

But it was sparked by a simple inchoate desire to make a connection.

In the summer of 2019, Crosier Rev. Bob Rossi shared the iftar, the meal Muslims eat after sunset during Ramadan, at Sema’s community center in Chandler. During dinner, Rossi recognized a need for some kind of formal interfaith dialogue between Catholics and Muslims.


An interfaith discussion on the role of religion in mental health

Religious leaders often try to support the people they serve during challenging times. This supportive role was especially important during the past few years as the nation dealt with a pandemic, social distancing and the loss of more than a million lives.

In a recent discussion sponsored by the Global Religion Journalism Initiative, academics and religious leaders discussed faith-based mental health counseling, including its benefits and limitations.

Natasha Mikles, an assistant professor at Texas State University, moderated the discussion.

Academic panelists included Thema Bryant, a trauma psychologist, ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and professor at Pepperdine University and Rabbi Seth Winberg, senior chaplain at Brandeis Hillel at Brandeis University. Publisher and author David Morris also took part.

Below are some highlights from the discussion. Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Natasha Mikles: Are there times when religion can actually be a source of stress rather than comfort for someone who’s going through a difficult time?

Thema Bryant: Yes, religion can be used for healing and empowerment, and it also can be used to oppress, marginalize and shame. In psychology, there’s something called positive religious coping and negative religious coping. Positive religious coping is believing that God is loving and ultimately wants to help, and that’s associated with positive mental health outcomes. Fundamentally believing that God is harsh and trying to penalize me is associated with more negative religious outcomes, and more negative mental health outcomes.

Seth Winberg: Yes, depending on the person and the circumstances, the faith, traditions and the community that one is living in, faith can certainly be a burden, or a strain, or a source of trauma. But for many people, faith provides a community, a social network, a sense of shared values, a rhythm to life and a common culture that I think is very powerful.


3 scholars gather for a female-led interfaith conference in the NC mountains

Three scholars, a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim, will gather to discuss breath and the way it connects body and soul.

(RNS) — Summers have long been a time for camp meetings and religious revivals, a week of preaching, singing and soul-saving in the great outdoors.

That tradition has faded some over the years, but a form of it still exists on a western North Carolina mountain off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Wildacres, a scenic retreat at an elevation of 3,300 feet, has always combined a bit of rustic Appalachia with a progressive religious streak.

This year it is breaking ground again as its Interfaith Institute, a 40-year-old summer tradition, convenes a three-day meeting beginning Monday (Aug. 1), led entirely by female scholars — a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim.

The Interfaith Institute, which has long been hosted by the Greater Carolinas Association of Rabbis, was initially intended as a summer retreat where rabbis, ministers and priests could learn more about other traditions in a relaxed setting.

Increasingly, it is attracting lay people and this year is scrapping the traditional lecture format for a more relaxed conversational workshop in which scholars interact with participants.

RELATED: Interfaith Trolley offers inspiration and a whirlwind tour of religion in America

Wildacres Retreat, located near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Little Switzerland, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Wildacres Retreat

The theme this year is breath, and the three scholars will explore it beginning with the Genesis creation story where “God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” (The Quran includes two related passages.)

“When we gathered on Zoom to plan it, one participant said, ‘I just want time to catch my breath,’” said Amy Laura Hall, associate professor of Christian ethics at Duke Divinity School and this year’s program director for the Interfaith Institute. “We kept gravitating back toward that as a theme.”


Interfaith summit dreams of America as a potluck, not a battlefield

Hundreds of interfaith campus leaders gathered in Chicago to reimagine America as a potluck, where everyone is welcome — rather than a melting pot.

CHICAGO (RNS) — Amaris DeLeon grew up in a religious home but no longer identifies with any particular faith, calling herself “spiritual but not religious.” But she recognizes that religion can still play a role in bringing people together, especially in times of tension and conflict.

“People are desperate for a place to talk about things like politics where it’s not going to get too aggressive,” said DeLeon, a student at the University of North Florida, where she works with the school’s interfaith office. “Everyone has morals, everyone has these codes of value. And I think there’s so much more similarity than difference. We just have to look for it and be intentional about it.”

DeLeon was one of about 360 students and educators from 90 colleges and universities who gathered in Chicago over the weekend (Aug. 12-14) for Interfaith America’s annual leadership summit. Held in person for the first time in three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was a chance to connect with other interfaith leaders and receive training on how to help students from different backgrounds work together.