Holidays in an Interfaith Setting
December is a joyful time for many Americans—and not just those celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday or cultural event. Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day, many African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, and cultures across the world celebrate the Winter Solstice. Beyond the religious, cultural, and spiritual aspects of these celebrations, for many people, holidays are rituals of connection providing us the opportunity to take a break and spend time with loved ones while doing activities that bring us closer together.
The United States, known for its religious diversity, emphasizes the importance of coexistence. Yet, it’s important to acknowledge conflicts stemming from religious intolerance, often born out of fear and ignorance. Our nation is rich in many cultural and religious traditions, and celebrations focusing on specific groups have grown and become more popular in the last twenty years. While we are more explicit about our recognition of various groups and ethnic differences, most of us are aware of the recent charges by some commentators that Christmas has been secularized and marginalized in pursuit of multiculturalism. Learning about and understanding various holidays throughout the year, such as Rosh Hashanah, Passover, and Ramadan, promotes religious literacy and respect for differences, fosters cultural inclusivity, and deepens our understanding of our friends, neighbors, community, and the world.
Join us as our three speakers share their holiday traditions – Jewish, Christian, and Muslim – highlighting both the similarities and distinctions among these celebrations. This program aims to foster an atmosphere of unity and joy, emphasizing the significance of connection and mutual understanding.
Afternoon refreshments will be available, along with friendship and conversation across the tables. There will be an opportunity for Q&A and dialogue throughout the program.
Maria Cressler is the Executive Director of Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center and has served in this role since September 2009. She received a B.A. in Sociology from Georgia State University and a Master of Theological Studies and Certificate in Spiritual Direction from Spring Hill College. Prior to Ignatius House, she served in pastoral and parish roles leading programs such as prison ministry, Emmaus, Cursillo, Rite of Chrisitian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), and JustFaith. These experiences continue to shape her deep desire to help others encounter God. Believing deeply that none are to be excluded from God’s love, Maria expanded the ministries of Ignatius House to include Hispanic retreats, teen and young adult retreats, the Ignatian Spirituality Project serving the homeless, and other efforts to help people of all lifestyles know they are children of God. Maria and her husband, John, minister together at married-couples’ retreats and interfaith events.
Tracie Bernstein is a highly skilled facilitator with extensive experience in team building, mediation, and visioning. Drawing from profound Jewish wisdom, Tracie has trained educators and clergy nationwide and facilitated staff retreats and leadership trainings using personal engagement and collaboration. In 2020, she founded Nourishing the Soul Workshops, sharing her 30 years of experience in developing and sharing programs that enable individuals to access meaningful Jewish experiences. She previously served as the Assistant Director of Israel Programs for Young Judaea and as the Marketing Director for the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Later, she joined Moving Traditions, where she trained facilitators to launch the award-winning Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing program across the United States. After studying and working in Israel, Tracie partnered with Rabbi Aryeh Ben David to help spearhead the transformative Ayeka program, which engages American Jewish Adults in soulful education. Tracie holds degrees from Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. She resides in Atlanta with her husband, Rabbi Michael Bernstein, and their children.
Dr. Zehra Ozturk earned her PhD in Early and Elementary Education from Georgia State University. Prior to her doctoral studies, she dedicated a decade to teaching across Ohio, California, and Georgia. Presently, she serves as the Data Evaluation Facilitator at the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy. Driven by an unwavering commitment to education, she strives to foster a robust and effective ecosystem that nurtures the holistic development of all children in Georgia. As a Turkish-American, Dr. Ozturk actively participates as a speaker in various interfaith programs in Atlanta. She firmly believes in the transformative power of constructive dialogue and embraces challenging conversations as integral to fostering mutual understanding and unity within the community. Outside of her professional engagement, she enjoys reading a diverse array of literature and immersing herself in the great outdoors. She is happily married with four kids.