By Elizabeth Schindler
I didn’t know there was a synagogue in Spokane until I started dating a Jewish man. I had spent all 23 years of my life in Spokane without knowing that there is a synagogue smack dab in the center of the South Hill. Fast-forward seven years and I’m 30, in an interfaith marriage (incidentally to the same Jewish man), raising an interfaith child, and part of this blossoming interfaith community. To say that a lot has changed in my life is an understatement.
But this post isn’t about me. It isn’t about how much my worldview has shifted and fallen into place these last years. And it isn’t about my childhood and how sheltered it was. This is about the importance of interfaith education, especially for kids. I believe the world can be a better place for all through early interfaith education.
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite
Hatred is learned, and unfortunately there are lots of people in our broader Spokane community practicing, encouraging and teaching hate. From the rise of hate groups in our region to frequent racist and anti-Semitic flyers by the KKK and other white supremacist groups papering downtown and our campuses, Spokane has a growing problem with hate and bigotry. So we need to be doing our utmost to raise children who will push back against those forces. If we can introduce kids to people who are different from them and help them find common ground, then those kids won’t be quick to judge or hate people who are different from themselves.
So, how do we start this process of interfaith education? How do we get to know our neighbors? Perhaps because of my Christian upbringing, I suggest we do as Christ modeled for us. We break bread with them. We listen to them. We learn from them. We welcome them into our homes and places of worship. We accept the hospitality they extend back to us, in their homes and places of worship. And, this is important, we step outside of our comfort zones and meet people where they are.
My husband Neal and I may be raising a middle-class white boy who will grow up with the privilege afforded to that identity. But we’re also raising an interfaith kid who is a descendent of Holocaust survivors. And as parents who have childhood histories of bullying and trauma, we want him to know that even if he can pass as a white Christian, he shouldn’t. Even if someone might not automatically assume that he belongs to a minority group, we want him to lay claim to that interfaith and child-of-survivors identity. And, in whatever form he chooses, ally himself with individuals and people groups who may not always have friends in their corner. It is precisely because we know what it is like not to have an ally at our back that we expect ourselves and our child to be allies for others.
I want my son to have the childhood that I didn’t but now wish that I had. I want him to know not just where our synagogue and church are, but also where the Sikh temple, the Buddhist temple, and the Islamic center are, and what life is like behind those walls. And beyond just visiting places of worship, I want him to be a person who can come alongside people being bullied, whether due to their race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other reason, and help them get the help they need to stop the bullying in its tracks. And I want him to fight against the injustices and hatred that he will undoubtedly see every day. Because it’s not enough simply to be a good person, stay in our own communities, and be kind to others. If we are not actively trying to combat the hate and ignorance in our community, then we are part of the problem.
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
So keep an eye out for a new take on interfaith life here in Spokane. We’re hoping to start introducing FāVS Jr. events in the upcoming year. You can contact me or FāVS’ editor, Tracy Simmons, if you have ideas to share or want to volunteer to help.
Join us for a Coffee Talk forum on “The Future of Interfaith” on Feb. 2 at 10 a.m. at Origin Church, 5115 S. Freya St. Schindler is a panelist.