On Friend’s Day, Honoring an interfaith friendship.

There are holidays for everything—National Hug Your Cat Day is June 4; National Ice Cream Day is July 1; and World Emoji Day is July 17. While I certainly love my cat, Goose, eat my share of ice cream and appreciate a good emoji as much as the next gal, I am also happy that there’s a day to honor friendship—June 8, national friends day.

I’d like to tell you about a friend who has impacted my life in an unexpected way.

By Steph Black

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I met Elysia, now almost two years ago, in Elementary Hebrew I. Neither of us spoke a word of Hebrew and I switched into the class late. What we didn’t know is that our reasons for joining the class in the first place were going to solidify and enrich our friendship in ways that neither of us could have predicted.  

We didn’t get to really know each other until the next semester when we began interning for The David Project (TDP), a pro-Israel nonprofit aimed at creating and maintaining meaningful relationships with diverse student groups on college campuses. This was the first semester that TDP would have four interns working on campus. Though she and I would be working together, we would be engaging very different communities. I would be focusing on connecting the women’s and feminist communities; Elysia would be working with the Christian community, her own community.

I love interfaith work. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that it made me nervous that a devout Christian was espousing Zionism and Judaism to other Christians. What was her end goal? I knew very, very little about Christianity and worried that her goal was that of other Evangelists I had read about: attempting to convert me and others. As I learned, I was way (way) off base.

Elysia’s story couldn’t have been farther from that. It’s a little embarrassing to admit that I had that notion in the first place. You see, Elysia is a Jewish studies major. At the time, she explained that she felt compelled to bridge the gap between Jews and Christians and reconnect two faiths she cared so much about. She focused her work with the David Project on doing just that.

But even though it was our job description to make connections and dig deeper, it took over a year for us to finally—and truly—connect with each other. 

By chance, Elysia ran into me at a coffee shop on campus. I had just returned from an educational discussion on progressive mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) practice. Upon telling her this, she disclosed that wanting to understand the origins of baptism had led her to explore the origins of mikveh. This revelation, that we both were eager to better understand our faiths, lead to a conversation I hope to never forget. 

She explained that having grown up and spent her adult life as a Christian, she began to question the origins of her faith. Where did these rituals she was practicing come from? Why did they come about? What is their significance today? She shared with me her search for meaning through prayer, reflection, and journaling. For me, someone who had only decided to practice the faith of my birth a few years ago, her insights into this exploration have shaped me deeply. Her approaches, the way she takes in and listens to new information, and her ability to appreciate the nuances of Judaism and Christianity have profoundly influenced how I want to approach Jewish learning and exploration of my world.

Though her and I have only recently become this close, I am so excited for the next years in our lives, learning, growing, and exploring our faiths together, as we continue our respective paths.