We spend so much time defining Humanistic Judaism that we often forget to ask “why?” Why do we flock to this belief system? What keeps us coming back?
City Congregation member Paul Golin was named executive director of the Society for Humanistic Judaism in the Fall of 2016. He spent a large portion of his first year leading the organization travelling throughout communities, meeting with local congregations, and speaking with hundreds of secular Jews and religious leaders. His goal? To figure out how Humanistic Judaism improves, benefits, and enriches its members lives. Every response he received eventually fell into six broad categories, listed below.
- Identity – “It’s just who I am.” For many of us who connect to Jewish culture, history, holidays, and traditions but not to religious theology, it was an ah-ha moment to learn we can keep the best parts of Judaism while openly celebrating our secular and humanistic beliefs. It helps us identify where we stand in Jewish history and in the current Jewish communal landscape.
- Inclusion – “My whole family can participate even though we’re not all Jewish.” A strong Jewish cultural identity is not threatened by celebrating other cultures as well. Ours is the only denomination with zero barriers for interfaith/intercultural households. We strive to incorporate and honor the full diversity of today’s families, including multiracial, LGBTQ, neurodiverse, single-parent, individual, and all other household configurations.
- Meaning – “It makes me feel good.” Marking lifecycle events, celebrating Jewish holidays, practicing rituals that connect us to our history and tradition, can all add meaning to our lives. Music moves us. Connecting to the bigger picture helps put our own individual challenges into perspective. Doing all of it with beautiful words that we actually believe when we say them: priceless.
- Learning – “I don’t have to leave science and reason at the door.” The search for truth is an ideal in our movement. Many folks I spoke with were still profoundly impacted by the intellectual genius of our founder, Rabbi Sherwin Wine, even ten years after his death. The Secular Humanistic Judaism clergy he trained, and who went on to train more clergy and leaders, inherited his vision of an honest Judaism, embracing of the search for truth even if that truth may discomfort us. It informs our approach to adult education, how we educate our children Jewishly, and our innovative cultural bar and bat mitzvah programs.
- Advocacy – “We stand up for what we believe.” A huge swath of American Jewry shares our worldview, with little to no voice within the organized Jewish community, so speaking openly in pluralistic Jewish settings about what we do and do not believe is central to our mission. Within the larger society, non-theistic viewpoints are often denigrated, and we are uniquely positioned to take both a Jewish and secular approach to the issues we care about most, such as the separation of church and state.
- Community – “I simply enjoy being with these people.” There is a benefit to being part of a Jewish community, beyond doing Jewish just with friends and family. To share joy at times of celebration and to find comfort during times of sorrow. Coming together with like-minded people toward a collective purpose is an enriching experience that we hope to offer to many more individuals and families in 2018.
Do these reasons reflect your attraction to Humanistic Judaism? Did we miss anything? Let us know!
To read more from Paul Golin, or to stay caught up with the Society for Humanistic Judaism, visit their website.