A pair of hands (the author's) holding a shofar (the author's) - a ram's horn hollowed out and used as a trumpet on some Jewish holidays.

Humanistic High Holiday Celebration in Indianapolis

Big news, I think. (I’ll admit to bias and a little self-promotion.)


My hands and my shofar! Photo by Paul D’Andrea.

The very first organized, community-accessible Humanistic Jewish High Holidays celebration for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will be conducted on September 15, 2015 in Indianapolis! We’ll be in the auditorium of the Nora Branch Library at 8625 North Guilford Avenue, and the celebration will run from 6:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.

There will be no charge–no tickets needed, all may attend, and kids are welcome. We’ll have some music, some talk, challah, apples and honey–and of course, the shofar! (Though you’ll probably have to endure my shofar stylings. You’ve been warned.)

Details/RSVP (nice but not necessary) at EventBriteMeetup.com and Facebook. (These links may require registration.)

Photograph of Francesco Hayez's painting, "The Destruction of the Second Temple"

Tisha B’Av and Secular Humanistic Judaism

Photograph of Francesco Hayez's painting,

Francesco Hayez’s “The Destruction of the Second Temple”; from Wikimedia Commons

This year, Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, begins on the evening of July 25.

The core concern of Tisha B’Av is not merely commemorating the Temples’ destructions; it is beseeching Yahweh to restore the Temple through, for example, the recitation of the book of Lamentations, which focuses on the sinfulness of Israel and asks for restoration:

Cause us to return, O Yahweh,
To you, and we shall return;
Renew our days, as of old. (Lam. 5:21)

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A Quiet Spell

It’s been busy here of late. As I observed to some of my Facebook peeps, that article on dues really stirred up the pot, leading me to conclude that people are either 1) really interested in what I have to say, or 2) really just don’t want to pay synagogue membership dues!

It’s going to be a bit quiet for the next few weeks, however. I have two–two!–trips to Farmington Hills, Michigan (home of the Birmingham Temple) in the next few weeks, including one for a week-long class. Prep for that will be occupying good portions of my time.

In the period between those two trips, I’m lecturing on commercial law on negotiable instruments and payment system for graduate public accountancy students. Reviving all of that material in my brain, preparing slides and group exercises, etc., will take up lots of mental energy. And while I’m certain there are many things I could write about that you’d be interested in, I’m absolutely sure you would not be interested in anomalous endorsements and Federal Reserve regulations on funds availability and check processing. (Okay, well, I know one of you would be, but that person works in banking already.)

All of which is a long way of saying that things will be sedate around here for a few weeks, unless something really grabs my attention.

Never fear, however. As the Austrian Oak would say, “I’ll be back.”

A stack of $100 bills, bundled together with a strip of paper.

Due You Feel Like I Due

In a few weeks’ (two? three? it’s close) time, I’ll be in Michigan for another week-long, in-residence course with IISHJ for the rabbinical program (this in addition to the numerous regular, weekly live interactive sessions, etc.). This one is on congregational leadership, so it covers things like organizational dynamics, roles of the rabbi and other leaders, etc.

A stack of $100 bills, bundled together with a strip of paper.

Bills, bills, bill. From 401kcalculator.org.

It also addresses synagogue membership and dues models. This is an issue that gets a lot of attention and a lot of press–not the least of which is a result of the negative feelings of many about the notion of dues payment to begin with. I’ve written about this before, and I’m obviously far from the only one to have done so. I claim no particularly special insight on this topic.

But something about the discussion concerns me, and it’s the overlap of reading a book on alternative dues models, seeing yesterday a Kveller article making “The Case for Pay-What-You-Can Synagogue Dues,” and reading various other items that prompted me to express the concern.

It is this: synagogues and synagogue-supporting think tanks are latching onto changing dues structures in response to financial pressures associated with reduced membership, on the thinking that much of the reduction in membership is related to dues structures. No doubt some of this is true; some synagogues have seen a rebound in membership numbers and in dues-derived revenue after leaving the fixed-price dues structure and adopting a different model.

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Who’s a Jew? Maybe you!

I’m still working on another post that I think says things that need saying about a fundamental tension in modern liberal Judaisms. But I’m taking a moment here to put down a marker on a different issue–Jewish identity.

A post by Elad Nehorai at Hevria, entitled “On Loving Jews Who Aren’t Jews,” is making the rounds and provoking considerable anger. (Elad Nehorai also blogs as Pop Chassid.) Hevria’s “About” page includes the following:

We are a group devoted to spreading the idea of positive creation in a spiritual context. We want to make this world beautiful. And we want you to join us.

This statement has proven itself to be a little ironic in the last few days as Nehorai’s “On Loving Jews Who Aren’t Jews” has made its rounds.


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All–just a quick note, given my (relative) silence. I’ve not forgotten you! I have five half-finished posts, none of which I’m especially happy with. I think it’s because there’s a core tension that I need to address in a dedicated blog post, and I need just a bit more time to formulate it.

On top of that, I’ve been busy reading for an upcoming seminar, prepping (already) for some High Holidays-related things, doing some of the initial work for building a Humanistic Jewish community of some kind here, and teaching a law class–all on top of my usual work and family commitments.

So it will be a little quiet around here for a week or two. But I’ll be back sooner rather than later.

If You’re Going to Use the Text, Use the Whole Text

In late July/early August, I’ll be in Farmington Hills, Michigan, at the Birmingham Temple for an IISHJ rabbinical program course on congregational management. One of the books rabbinical students have been assigned to read is Hal Lewis’s From Sanctuary to Boardroom, which is a kind of survey of leadership approaches with a Jewish…bent? Tilt? I’m not sure quite yet.

I’m not especially pleased with the book. And since part of what displeases me locks into this week’s regular Torah reading, well…blog post!!! Or as Christoph Waltz’s Nazi says in a negotiation with American soldiers in “Inglourious Basterds,” “Ooooooh, that’s a bingo!!!”

So, what’s my problem? One might think it ironic for a humanistic Jew, but it comes down to fidelity to the text.

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We Made It!

We made it to Humanistic Jew, Jr.’s eleventh birthday!

I thought I’d have something profound here, but really, I don’t. We made it without another trip to the hospital or another huge emergency. Heck, I had to wake him up this morning, he was so mellow. His big acknowledgement of his birthday today? “Ten is over. First day of eleven!”

HJJ is scheduled to have the following: ice cream cake today at lunch, birthday cake tomorrow night at home with his Bubbe and Zayde and Tante and a few others, and more cake on Saturday evening at dinner out with his Bubbe and Zayde and Tante and still more others.

And, of course, presents. Because birthday!

How Do You Do Shabbat?

The Jewish Daily Forward has an article, “The Change-the-World Shabbat Dinner,” by Abigail Pogrebin about new approaches to community service in the Jewish community–with a special focus on how some of those community servants spend Shabbat. Before writing this article, Pogrebin spoke at some length with Rabbi Adam Chalom, dean of IISHJ (where I’m a rabbinical student) and congregational rabbi for Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in the Chicago area.

Pogrebin’s conversations with Rabbi Chalom heavily inform her exploration of how the Avodah Jewish Service Corps members celebrate Shabbat. The article is well worth the read, and gives great insights into how and why secular and Humanistic Jews continue to celebrate Shabbat and understand our Jewish identities.