New ideologies, theories, concepts and religions outside of one’s own can sometimes be a hard, or even impossible, pill to swallow. Yet, for the Jewish community of Greensboro, new ideologies are a topic on which to grow closer together. On Thursday, Feb. 7, the Jewish Federation of Greensboro gathered together to discuss interfaith relationships within their community in order to become an even stronger inclusive and welcoming community.
So, what exactly is interfaith? Despite the many couples globally that decide to marry or build relationships with people who have the same religious affiliation as them, others have found love with individuals of different religious backgrounds.
The Jewish Federations night of interfaith was sponsored by the Women’s philanthropy collective. Dana Schleien, the president of the collective, stated, “I think when you are in an interfaith relationship, it’s a really important act of understanding, and you are like emissaries for everyone else to act with open hearts and open minds. That’s what this night is all about.”
To kick off the night, an interfaith couple, Ashley and Ron Garcia, were introduced to discuss their experiences in their interfaith relationship. Ashley Garcia, wife, mother and child of a Jewish family informed the audience that she was raised Jewish but her father converted, which made interfaith normal to her. Ashley said she was a granddaughter to Holocaust survivors, but Santa also came to her house every year.
Ron Garcia shared his Catholic background, and stated that he attended a Roman Catholic high school which had only one Jewish person. This was his first big interaction with an interfaith community he’d encountered before college. When the couple first met, Ashley was very upfront about wanting to keep her Jewish identity very strong, and Ron was very supportive.
The couple decided to have a Jewish wedding, and now have children that attend Jewish day school. Ashley assured the audience that Ron’s family had been very supportive, and was even overjoyed about them having a Jewish wedding.
Although their children practice Judaism, Ashley informed everyone that her kids have also managed to welcome and celebrate all of the traditions of her husband’s family, such as Christmas and Easter.
The couple shared that it wasn’t until they moved to Greensboro that they truly started to immerse themselves into the Jewish community. They sent their kids to Benay, and Ashley was able to travel to Israel where she met other interfaith couples.
The couple also traveled together to Cuba, and were amongst other Jewish and interfaith couples. They stated that “Most of the time you feel you’re in this whole other world by yourself but you are not.” Ashley and Ron then said they have had an amazing experience, and feel that the Jewish Greensboro community is so welcoming, inclusive and understanding.
Dana Schleien, who is not in an interfaith relationship, said, “I feel like we’ve been missing out on a lot of you, and you are a really important part of our community- [as] are the bridge builders. You are the people on the frontlines, and you have much to say and much to teach us about being a more welcoming and inclusive community.”
During group discussions, Dana shared the interfaith work that the federation does for other communities, which included Jewish family services working with the city of Greensboro during the recent government shutdown.
Jewish Family Services contributed to the new emergency relief fund, which was intended to help federal workers with rent and mortgages. The organization has also worked with airport officials contributing certificates and local churches to meet the greater demand. Dana added that the Jewish community is commanded to perform “Mitzvah”, which are acts of kindness.
Jewish people are also taught “Tikkun Olam” translating to “repair the world.” The Jewish Federation of Greensboro is doing just that by meeting the demands of local and international communities, and by providing human services. Dana Shleien closed the discussion by stating that “we are all living on this planet to make the world a better place.”