I interviewed Leonard Grossman, the immediate past president of the OPRF Community of Congregations today. Following are some things he said about ecumenical relationships.
— I am in a true interfaith marriage. My wife grew up Reform and I grew up Conservative [Jewish].
–When I was eight years old I had to take two buses to get from my neighborhood to Hebrew school. I would get beat up after school and rolled in the mud because I was Jewish. I’ve never hid my Judaism.
–I learned not to exclude people because I would then automatically exclude myself.
–When I was in college in Dekalb, friends asked me to go with them to a Christmas Eve service. Except for a couple years when I was out of the country, I’ve gone every year since then. It’s not that I’m celebrating Christmas. I’m joining in the joy in celebrating their holiday. It was the same thing back in grade school when I helped decorate the Christmas tree. I didn’t want one in my house. I know a lot of interfaith couples who have one, but I’m not comfortable with that. My father joked that when he was in school and they had to sing “yes, Jesus loves me,” he would sing “yes, Jesus loves meat.” I never pretended to be a Christian when I went to services on Christmas Eve. I would stand when the congregation stood, but I wouldn’t kneel. I’d leave some words out of the songs.
–But if I would have to say I believe everything in the Jewish prayer book I’d be in trouble.
–I’m conservative in liturgy and beyond reform in theology.
–Judaism doesn’t depend on theology so much. Its more based on liturgy and ritual and ethical behavior. Sometimes when you ask Jews “do you believe in God or what do you believe” the question doesn’t even compute.
— You can’t reason yourself into faith.
–We don’t try to do interfaith prayer [at the Community of Congregations Thanksgiving Service].
–I think it’s terribly important that we get to know each other and learn to work together with the recognition that we are different. We can bring up what is common in our faiths in terms of ethical base.
— I don’t ever want to pretend all religions are the same, in a mushy mushy interfaith way that says there’s no difference. Each of our religions is the best. You don’t gain by getting a sander out and pretending we’re all the same.
— Isaiah is read every Christmas Eve in churches but it has an entirely different meaning when it is read in the synagogue.