The Tri-Faith Initiative not only provides opportunities for the adults of Temple Israel and its interfaith partners, but for their children as well. Adults generally have preconceptions and prejudices about religions other than their own that they have to fight against, and perhaps the best way to ensure success of the initiative is to ensure those religious barriers are never erected in the first place.
That’s what Kimberly Fretz, a deacon in the Episcopal community, has been trying to do with her InterPlay group, a small subset of Tri-Faith families with grade-school age children who come together once a month to talk and learn, through books and games and activities, about the differences and the similarities between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is Fretz’s hope that the children will become friends, and remain friends as they grow up.
“Because they are such good friends,” Fretz said, “they’ve learned they don’t have to argue, that they can discuss” any differences between them.
Fretz had the idea of a Tri-Faith children’s group almost immediately after arriving in Omaha from Dallas about four and a half years ago.
“One of the first things we saw in the newspaper was the Abraham’s Tent event,” Fretz said.
After attending the interfaith dialogue, Fretz approached Tri-Faith Executive Director Nancy Kirk about utilizing her seminary training to create a children’s group.
“I never thought I would be able to use them where we were living,” Fretz said. “Who knew Omaha was such a hotbed of Abrahamic religions?”
Fretz estimates there are about 10-12 kids, from first grade through fifth, who attend the monthly group regularly. Older, middle school-age children who wanted to keep coming to the meetings after reaching sixth grade attend a group newly formed this year, called CommUnity, led by Theresa Newell.
“These are discerning, perceptive, articulate little people,” Fretz said. “It’s a really tight-knit little group.”
Temple Israel Religious School teacher Natasha Kraft and her son Alex have been enjoying the InterPlay community for three years.
“It’s a way to get the children involved [in Tri-Faith],” Kraft said. “It breaks down the walls and the barriers. If you know somebody, you’re less likely to hate them. To hate somebody just based on their religion or skin color or their hair color or if their toenails are longer than yours is just stupid. … If you raise [children] … not afraid of another culture or another religion, you break down those walls and those barriers.”
In addition to the children forming a bond, the parents have also become much closer than they thought they would.
“It’s geared toward to the kids, but we’ve formed a family,” Kraft said. “One day Alex had a conflict, Boy Scouts, I think, so he couldn’t go, but I went to InterPlay, because I wanted to socialize with the other parents. It was Iftar, the breaking of the Muslim fast. It was a great educational and learning opportunity.”
Kimberly Fretz found herself surprised that the adults have formed such a close group.
“I never thought or realized I was creating a two-group organization,” Fretz said. “The first year, parents walked around each other carefully,” but they eventually became friends.
“[InterPlay isn’t] a lecture, it’s not a book, it’s people who are living their faith,” Fretz said.
A big part of all the faiths is the idea of social justice, what Reform Judaism calls “tikkun olam,” or “repairing the world.” InterPlay helps the children understand that there are those less fortunate than them around the world and engages them in action by working with Kids Against Hunger, a non-profit organization that packages and sends food aid to starving families in developing countries and in the United States.
“InterPlay is really compassion oriented,” Fretz said. “The kids have to raise enough money to pay for the materials, to earn the money themselves, not just ask their parents for twenty-five dollars.”
Once they raise the money, the InterPlay children pack the food materials themselves and help send it on its way.
Last year, InterPlay sent food to 90 children in an orphanage in Sierra Leone.
“That was their favorite thing to do that year,” Fretz said. “There has to be a purpose to InterPlay. It can’t be just hanging around together.”
For his part, fifth-grader Alex Kraft has enjoyed attending the InterPlay meetings.
“I do like going,” Alex said. “I learn a lot about different religions there, like Muslims. It’s really fun and there are a lot of different activities. Like, one time, we went to a Muslim center. I would recommend it to other kids.”
InterPlay and CommUnity meet for an hour once a month. For more information about InterPlay, families can contact Natasha Kraft at 402-991-0702 or Kraftyer@yahoo.com, or Kimberly Fretz, at 402-339-4007 or InterPlayOmaha@gmail.com.