December’s meetup was filled with wisdom, knowledge, and “meeting people on a heart level” with our speakers Riyana Zafira Razalee and Rabbi Marjorie Berman. This was the first Mixed Space meetup that highlighted interfaith experiences and mixed religious identities. We discussed the history of faith systems and how our varying constructs of language and time shape our view of the world. We went over the multitude of winter holidays happening across different religions and cultures. Lastly, we learned methods of making interfaith relationships work healthily, as well as how we can and are already welcoming a globalized relationship to faith.
TMS founder Lili Stiefel and our champion emcee Ariel Bastida warmly welcomed and introduced our speakers to an audience who zoomed-in from across the globe. Ancestral land acknowledgements were recognized and presenting identities were affirmed. Our hosts established, as always, our community guidelines so that everyone knew our best practices for engaging dialogue and how we all can feel optimally welcomed and included so as to freely express ourselves in a safe mixed space.
Rabbi Marjorie Berman (she/her/hers) is a Spiritual Director at the Reconstructionist Seminary and teaches at Society Hill Synagogue in Philadelphia. Rabbi Marjorie studied Comparative Religion at Earlham College, and in 2003, she graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Her passions include interfaith work, counseling, and bringing life to Jewish texts, history, and ritual where she incorporates artistic and meditative elements into her teaching and worship-leading.
Rabbi Marjorie began by laying the groundwork of how all religions are made up of stories, sacred and treasured, that have an underlying literary architecture. Stories are composed of languages whose building blocks are words, and depending on which language we use to tell these stories, and how those languages function, changes the way we interpret and tell each story. For example, the Hebrew language is context based while the English language is vocabulary based, so the amount of words and the structure of words in each of these languages is very different. These linguistic and narrative constructs shape how we view, experience, and move through the world. The stories we fashion are active and carry great weight; we must create them with responsibility, ethics, inclusivity, and peace.
Beyond language, she further explained how our interpretations and experiences of time differ. Time is a construct created by humans and therefore has both linearity, non-linearity, and cyclicity, resulting in multiple varieties of calendar systems: solar calendars, lunar-solar calendars, and lunar calendars, respective to various faith systems. The way that these time systems operate cause a “sliding effect” and fluidity in when celebrations are commenced and experienced. Some religious holidays occur at the same time each year, while some religious holidays move around more based on their own respective calendar systems.
Rabbi Marjorie went on to preview the different religious holidays that fall around this time of year in Earth’s Northern hemisphere, when the days are darkest. She pointed out the common motif in many religious celebrations around the solstice which is the metaphor of light, warmth, goodwill, cheer, and acts of kindness and service.
Rabbi Marjorie noted that “making meaning out of multiple stories at once” is something that has caused discomfort and historical violence, but it can also be the very thing that saves us. Being of mixed ancestry and/or religious identity or affiliation creates both complexity and opportunity, conflict and friction as well as enlightenment and growth.
Being mixed during this time of year can be emotionally exhausting for many reasons. Considering the ways language and time function through various religions, as well as the history and political nature of religion, people can find themselves vulnerable to harassment and dominance from majority cultures. This can cause discrepancy and uneasiness, especially in those of us who hold multiple religious identities at once or within our families and friends. This is why conversations like this one are so important.
“When you have a mixed background and infuse narratives you can no longer make someone an ‘other.’ We can make meaning out of our lives,” Marjorie notes.