Kol Nidre… at Old St. Patrick’s Church?

Mark2It was a Sunday Mass at Old St. Pat’s. The city’s oldest public building (it survived the Chicago Fire), this downtown Chicago Roman Catholic Church has a 160-year history of hospitality, welcoming generations of immigrants from Ireland and elsewhere. Today its diverse parishioners come from over 200 zip codes. And for almost 30 years, Old St. Pat’s has welcomed interfaith families.

As always, worship began with the penitential rite, a shared meditative moment of confession. But this time, the music heard was Kol Nidre.

In two days, it would be the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when this haunting melody would touch Jews around the world. Rabbi Ari Moffic joined Father Pat McGrath to offer a blessing. She introduced the meaning of Kol Nidre as she invited 800 people to share the moment together. “It was profoundly spiritual,” she reflected. “For Catholics, it was a deeply meaningful way to experience that penitential part of the Mass. And for interfaith families, they could interweave these parts of their lives and their heritages through this music that’s part of their hearts and souls.”

We captured this remarkable event in our newest Leaps of Faiths video. This project is a true “Leap” for us – we’re creating a documentary about interfaith families, the choices they make, and their hopes for their kids and their spiritual lives together. Our film will respect any choice a family makes regarding their home and religious life, while taking a closer look at what happens for those who decide to “do both.” Over a generation, we’ve seen they can raise children who grow up far from confused; indeed many often develop deep connections to one or both faith traditions. St. Pat’s has become a spiritual home to many of them: a Catholic community where Judaism is valued and honored, liturgically and educationally. Much of our footage is from the Chicago Interfaith Family School, hosted by St. Pat’s and run by interfaith families whose children grow though grades K-8 learning both faiths, taught by their parents.

Another arc of our story is what happens when clergy regularly co-officiate. Father John Cusick and Rabbi Chava Bahle led the first Kol Nidre experience at Old St. Pat’s a few years ago. For many years at St. Pat’s, under the leadership of Pastors Jack Wall and Tom Hurley, and at some Chicago area synagogues, rabbis and priests have often stood side-by-side. They have led worship experiences and celebrated sacraments and rites of passage. As they make interfaith families feel welcome, they also enhance these experiences for Jews and Christians together, breaking down divisions in polarized times. As one parishioner said after praying to the melody of Kol Nidre, “The way the world is going, this is what we need. Seeing this it gives me a little bit more hope.”

We hear her voice in the video, along with clergy, interfaith parents and kids, reflecting about the experience. “There is a fear that if a family wants to raise children with a dual faith identity that their children will be confused about an authentic Jewish expression,” says Rabbi Moffic. “Interfaith education programs like the Family School and worship experiences like this show that these families want Judaism in their lives in real ways and seek it out. It’s incumbent upon Jewish leaders to support and foster that.”

These are the kinds of questions we’ll raise in the film. We hope you’ll enjoy this video and the others here on our website – please share them with friends. If you like our facebook page, or subscribe to our youtube channel, you’ll get word of new videos as we release them. And if you would consider donating to help make the dream of this project a reality, we would love to add your name to our growing list of supporters. In this season of Thanksgiving, we are profoundly grateful for all the support we have received, and look forward to telling the kinds of stories so many of us share.

A Priest and a Rabbi Walk into a Conversation

Rabbi Evan Moffic
Rabbi Evan Moffic
Fr. Tom Hurley
Fr. Tom Hurley

The Leaps of Faiths video, “Crossing Boundaries” is about how interfaith couples can talk about theological differences, especially how they see Jesus. Rabbi Evan Moffic of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, IL wrote a book on the Jewishness of Jesus, and he recently joined Father Tom Hurley, Pastor of Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago, to continue the dialogue with parents at the Chicago Interfaith Family School

RABBI MOFFIC: When we talk about religious differences, we have to be able to respond not out of fear, but out of embrace, respect and humility. We should be comfortable enough in our own faith to honor the faith of somebody else. Of course, marriage has that element of compromise and respect in every aspect of life, but in terms of religion it’s a very powerful message for the world.

FATHER HURLEY: Being authentic and respecting another person’s faith doesn’t diminish our own; in fact, it enhances our own. For interfaith couples where both people are committed to their faiths, this is where the interesting conversations happen. As for humility, as I read the Gospels, Jesus was calling people to a different way of life – not about being in your face about religion.

RABBI MOFFIC:  Jesus lived a Jewish life. He followed the commandments; he observed the Sabbath and Passover. As far as the divinity of Jesus, there are ways to have that discussion as well, especially when we see religious language as metaphor. Words like “Lord,” “Savior” and “Messiah” have come to us in translation, but God is bigger than any human language can truly describe. You take a word like “shekhinah” which in Hebrew means “the in-dwelling presence of God in our lives,” and it’s easy to see connections to the ways Christians talk about the Holy Spirit.

FATHER HURLEY: With Pentecost you can see so clearly its roots in Judaism with Shavuot. Or in John’s Gospel, the description of Jesus breathing on the disciples. Some would compare that to Adam and Eve – the metaphor of God breathing life into all of us so we can do that for one another. That’s part of the Holy Spirit, too.

RABBI MOFFIC: For Jews, talking about Jesus has been difficult because of centuries of Anti-Semitism, which still exists in too many places today. But we are blessed to live in a time and place where healing is possible. We are the generations since Vatican II, and there’s been greater openness between Jewish and Protestant communities as well.

FATHER HURLEY: And we’re blessed at this time and in history with a Pope who lives and breathes that sense of humility every day as he calls Catholics and Jews to work together for peace. When I was ordained, I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be as deeply involved in interfaith work, and I’m blessed to do it. I believe more firmly than ever that there are many ways into the mystery of God.

At the end a young woman said, “My husband and I feel very grateful for this discussion and this community. We are expecting our first child and we both hold strong convictions to our faiths. This is helping us communicate with one another about it, and face it rather than avoid it.  It will enhance our own strength as parents.”

That’s one of the reasons we’re making Leaps of Faiths, and we thank all who are supporting us with donations, subscribing to our channel, liking and sharing us.  Together we can show that love and acceptance are stronger than judgement and rejection.

Why Leaps of Faiths?

David and Steve photoIt’s a Leap for us, too.

We’re David Kovacs (Producer-Writer) and Steve Ordower (Producer-Director).  Along with Jared Sirota (Editor), we’re in interfaith marriages and members of the Family School in Chicago, where parents and their kids teach and learn about Judaism and Catholicism.  After we started taping and editing some very compelling moments we thought, “There’s a documentary here.”

But it’s a story that’s bigger than the Family School alone. At its heart, it’s about couples… wrestling with all kinds of decisions whenever they fall in love, think about marriage, and wonder if their differences (religious and possibly also cultural, racial, or gender-based) should hold them back.

Those of us who are further along on the journey have all been there.  We heard the dire warnings that our marriages were more likely to fail.  We wondered about raising kids primarily in one faith, or should we try to do both?

We’ve seen possibilities on all the different paths, and how joyous the outcomes can be.  We’ve seen how looking at the world through different religious lenses heightens understanding – not just between faiths, but also between partners.  And we’ve seen how the dialogue can break down walls of old misunderstandings to build bridges of new possibilities.

Most importantly, we don’t believe the conventional wisdom is necessarily true.  Interfaith marriages – however the family system evolves – absolutely can work.

We were excited about the compelling videos we’d already produced – but how could we build on them?  We approached WTTW – PBS here in Chicago – and things ramped up when they said they would air the program if we could produce it.  Where to start?  We figured it would cost us at least $3,000 to create the trailer and website you see here, and we had already put in our own money and time so far.

We turned for help from our Family School community – current and alumni families.  Their response was amazing.  In less than three weeks, 32 families and individuals had contributed over $3500.  Folks volunteered their time to help with legal, graphic design, marketing ideas and more. Sarah Patt, a Family School graduate and high school junior shot some beautiful video footage that enhanced what we were shooting professionally. We plunged in – met even more people and interviewed them – and the result is what you see here.

The trailer is just a sample of what we have to share, and we look forward to posting new videos on many dimensions of interfaith life regularly on this site as we welcome many more folks to support this project.

Our goal is to help people know that if they – or a friend or family member — want to take their own Leap of Faith, there’s a lot of support out there to help them.  We are so grateful for all the people who have joined us so far and we can’t wait to see what’s next in this exciting journey – stay tuned!