More than a week ago, my rabbinic colleague Ed Klein died at his home in Queens New York. I knew Ed and his passing is a great loss to the humanist community. He was a wonderful man.
Two-and-half years ago I visited Rabbi Ed’s congregation in Queens to talk about one of my books, the Humanist Prayer Omnibus. Since the room was filled with atheists, I was taken to task about my terminological choices – we all love good debates about terminology. Prayer was deemed to be a religious term, and no one was buying my attempts at re-appropriating the word as a poetic expression of communal aspirations. Ed was the soul of civility, trying to find terminological compromise, praising my work so I wouldn’t feel attacked, and helping me navigate my way among a group of strangers. In our exchanges after my talk, he would always compliment me on my poetry, which meant so much to someone like me, who has generally worked in obscurity. He was a mensch.
Ed taught me what truly brings people together, our common values, our shared sense of humanity. We so often focus on what divides us, when it is often quite superficial. We Jewish humanists share a value system with other liberal Jewish denominations, and how we relate to our cultural heritage is similar. Some among us are more tied to the text as a source of tradition, some of us less. But generally speaking, among liberal Jews there is a recognition (sometimes tacit) that our values are not those reflected in the ancient texts. The Hebrew Bible, the Mishna, the Talmud, are all great justifiers, and we can find in them what we wish, but we do not live by what it says in this literary treasury in any literal sense. What Ed showed us is how we tether the texts to the values we all share, to what makes us human.
We will all miss you Ed, Zecher Tzaddik Livracha.
Rabbi Tzemah Yoreh