Nope, not how it works

So, my wife really enjoys listening to Matisyahu. I don’t. It’s nothing personal–I’m just not a reggae/house music-type guy. I know that Matisyahu is presently going through a different iteration of his music/identity at the moment, but his stuff generally makes me all hyper and weird-feeling, which is what my wife says about jazz.

I digress.

My wife (“Mrs. Secular Jew in Indianapolis” is too long a descriptor, don’t you think?) recently emailed these lyrics of Matisyahu’s to me, suggesting it might make an interesting blog post. (She’s right about that part, even if I think she’s wrong about Matisyahu’s music. But “de gustibus non est disputandum.”) These lyrics are from Matisyahu’s “Searchin”:

In the Earth, there are so many wonderful treasures.
And if you know where to dig, you will find gold, diamonds, jewelry, all kinds of treasures.
But if you don’t know where to dig, all you will find is rocks and dirt.
A rebbe is the geologist of the soul.
He can show you where to dig, and what to dig for, but the digging you must do yourself.

I looked at this and thought, okay, you’re sending this to me so that I’ll immediately disagree, or what? It’s a very Hasidic approach to things, that “A rebbe is the geologist of the soul/He can show you where to dig, and what to dig for.”

It’s not a Humanistic Jewish approach, and it’s actually in many ways an approach outside the historical norm for Judaism. Or, rather, it’s outside the norms for much of Judaism as it has existed, which has even since before the destruction of the Second Temple set forth the idea that the ability to understand the Torah “is not in heaven.” Deut. 30:12. Maimonides notes that, in the traditional sources, this means that no prophet may be accepted as bringing an innovation. Mishneh Torah Yesodei Hatorah 9:1-4. And this is in keeping with the Talmud’s discussion of Akhnai’s Oven, where Rabbi Eliezer called forth a divine voice (a “bat kol”) to prove his point in a halakhic debate, and such a voice did come forth–yet:

Rabbi Joshua sprang up and said, “It is not in heaven!” What does “It is not in heaven” mean? Said Rabbi Jeremiah, “Since the Torah was already given at Mount Sinai, we give no heed to a heavenly voice.”

b. Bava Metzia 59b.

This is part of what makes Matisyahu’s lyrics here troubling to me–and what made Hasidism so troubling to its opponents. (Naturally, politics played a role, but I’ve somewhat naively, perhaps, come to the conclusion that sometimes we should accept that what people say they mean is what they really mean.) The idea that there must be some intermediary between humans and the divine is very much at tension with many Jewish sources, and indeed with the idea that we should engage in Torah study.

This is all the more interesting to me because, on top of reading for my rabbinical school coursework, I’ve been reading Samuel Heilman’s and Menachem Friedman’s The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson. I remember, way back in the mid-to-late 1990’s when I was a master’s student, wondering along with my graduate advisor what exactly it was that turned an otherwise seemingly very conservative form of Judaism to a conclusion regarding the potential messianic status of a person that was so eerily (from the outside) like where early Christianity ended up.

Heilman’s and Friedman’s book has some of the answer to that, which is to say that they are similar but not nearly identical phenomena. But what is more interesting–and really, much more illuminating–is their discussion of the status of the Rebbe as spiritual mediator, and that the Rebbe (and the Rebbe before him) were in fact more capable of serving their people and addressing intercessory matters after their physical deaths.

Needless to say, this is not a great set of Humanist ideas.

So, my wife got her wish–a blog post on Matisyahu lyrics. But I have to disagree with his lyrics–we are, I think, left to find where to dig and to do the digging ourselves.

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Telling Our Story: A Humanistic Take on Simchat Torah, or, Why I Love the Traditional Torah Reading Cycle

It seems that, at last, we are arriving at the end of the rush of holidays that mark the early Fall for Judaism. Simchat Torah marks the point at which, in the traditional cycle of Torah reading (that is, the version of the cycle set forth by the Babylonian rabbis 1500 years ago), Deuteronomy is concluded and Genesis is begun again.

In the Humanistic Jewish world, we don’t necessarily adhere to the traditional schedule because the Torah is, at bottom, a book for us. An important book, certainly–the founding book for Jewish culture–but a book nonetheless. (In the Birmingham Temple, the founding congregation of the Society for Humanistic Judaism, the Torah is in the synagogue library and not in an ark.) So the traditional cycle isn’t adhered to.

And, actually, the traditional cycle isn’t completely adhered to in many liberal congregations. A number of synagogues have adopted the regular rotation of Torah portions as set forth by Babylonian authorities, but have cut the portions in thirds in a kind of modification of the three-year cycle set forth by the Palestinian rabbis.

Not using the traditional reading cycle makes Simchat Torah a bit different, since, of course, we aren’t necessarily starting the Torah over again. But I really like the idea of following the generally-accepted cycle. Here’s why:

Simchat Torah–and, actually, the entire cycle–give us a chance to predictably encounter and re-encounter the key components of the Jewish past. For modern Jews, the idea of the sacrificial cult is hard; deviating from the traditional cycle allows us to avoid addressing its place in Jewish history.

But the Torah–all of it–is part of the Jewish story. It’s not that we think the entirety of the story is true, but that as the founding document, as a matter of identity I think we have an obligation to engage the Torah. Simchat Torah is the holiday that we, as Humanist Jews, can use to do that each year.

(To be sure, getting stuck with Parshat Vayikra (the beginning of Leviticus, which is a multi-chapter catalog of the various types of the sacrifices and how they are performed for different forms of offerings), is a bummer for a bat/bar mitzvah.)

But the Torah–all of it–is part of the Jewish story. It’s not that we think the entirety of the story is true, but that as the founding document, as a matter of identity I think we have an obligation to engage the Torah. Simchat Torah is the holiday that we, as Humanist Jews, can use to do that each year.

That’s part of why I really enjoy the fact that the Torah includes, in Parshat Bereishit, that kind of boring genealogy. Not because it’s a banner read–it’s not a riveting account of events, unless you’re a Hebrew morphology geek and really want to practice your Pay-Vav/Yod verbs in Qal and Hiphil–but because it’s about telling the everyday story of how humanity progressed (as the Torah understands it) from one generation to the next.

So, as we come down from the intense high of the series of Jewish holidays in the Fall (and Arthur Waskow’s take on why this happens in his “Seasons of Our Joy” is a really interesting read), l hope that you, dear reader, will take some time to re-engage in your story–the easy parts, and, especially, the interesting parts.

Chag sameach!

Member Poaching Part 4: So What Now?

Since first posting about this issue, I’ve discussed some of the problems I see in the American Jewish scene regarding engagement, leadership, membership, education, community models, and the like. Of course, it’s easy to pick nits without actually suggesting solutions.

So here are the ideas I’ve been thinking about.

And of course, hackneyed though this point may be, there is no silver bullet.

Jewish Education

Starting with Jewish education, the current model that exists outside much of non-Orthodox Judaism does not work. For too many children, and for too many families, the supplementary school model (which is what “Hebrew School” is called in more formal educational circles) is a drudgery of grueling sessions learning to make out Hebrew letters and vowels and maybe learning some prayers in order to perform well during a bar or bat mitzvah.

Unless Hebrew just really speaks to a child’s soul, that’s not going to create Jewish engagement.

What will? While I like the idea of social action/community service as a way to shake up the traditional model of education toward bar or bat mitzvah, that isn’t distinctly Jewish. Plenty of high schools require volunteer experience before students can graduate.

So I think it will have to be a mix: social action will have to be tied to sources of Jewish provenance that make sense for the children, the congregations they belong to, and the children’s and parents’ values. And that means bar/bat mitzvah education will be more time-intensive for educators. But it will also be more meaningful and have a better chance of creating meaningful connections between bnai mitzvah and their Jewish identities.

That education will also, for many, focus much less on “learning Hebrew.”

That education will also, for many, focus much less on “learning Hebrew.” I’m not sure that’s as big a problem as we might think, because let’s face it–what supplementary school kids learn now doesn’t exactly match up to really learning Hebrew.

Jewish Organizations

Jewish organizations will also have to change. I think Prof. Wolfson has written a bit that starts down this road in his Relational Judaism, but I don’t think he goes far enough or is willing to really rethink Jewish organizations enough.

Prof. Wolfson is right that Jewish organizations need to do better at reaching out to new potential members. But that’s not really enough–that’s just doing better at marketing. Jewish organizations–synagogue, educational agencies, social service agencies generally–will need to figure out what Jews want and how to deliver on those desires.

The modern Jewish community will, gradually, begin to look like the rest of the American population. We will have more diversity. Jewish community organizations will fail if they do not begin to figure out how to deal with special needs children. They will fail if they do not figure out how to genuinely welcome interfaith families.

Jewish community organizations will fail if they do not begin to figure out how to deal with special needs children. They will fail if they do not figure out how to genuinely welcome interfaith families.

There are no easy paths to these ends. In fact, these will not be ends. Improvement is a process, not a product, and successful improvement will be the result of continuous feedback loops between organizations and community constituents.

Improvement will also be a result of recognizing that stakeholders in the community will not only want to contribute money, but time. Many of Jewish organizations aren’t prepared to handle the DIY ethic shared by so many younger members of the American Jewish world. That, too, will have to change unless Jewish community groups want to alienate large portions of the next generation of Jewish leaders.

The Synagogue

The synagogue will also need to change. I’ve already let on in this series that I think the high-cost, centralized rabbinic model is flawed in many communities, and that we will need to make more training and ordination options available to willing clergy.

But I also think we may see increased decentralization of synagogue-like groups–e.g., havurot–that may benefit from sharing educational work. There are even some larger synagogues that do this–the Indianapolis Jewish community is a somewhat impaired version of this.

Belief

This may be the toughest nut to crack–not because of where I think the typical American Jew sits on the ideological spectrum, but because of what people are willing to admit to in public.

The American Jewish community is interestingly reticent about saying what it thinks. Dissent is muted on a number of issues: Israeli politics, American foreign policy, American domestic policy, and statements of faith. To grow–to be able to encompass the broad range of Jewish viewpoints–we will need to create a more open environment for dialogue.

In particular, I think we need a vocal, growing Humanistic Jewish movement to push the edges of the debate.

This last point is where I think we need vocal smaller movements. In particular, I think we need a vocal, growing Humanistic Jewish movement to push the edges of the debate.

Unfortunately, I think is where those of us in the Humanistic Jewish world will have the greatest difficulty, because what we do–the songs we sing and the language we use–is often very unlike what Jews in the rest of the Jewish world do. We will need to work hard to bridge that gap.

I think it can be done–but we’re going to have to work at it.

I’m ready. Are you?

Are you Yid-ing me?

I would say this is an “only in America” thing, but it’s in the U.K., so…well, whatever.

Apparently, the Tottenham Hotspur soccer club’s fans call their team “yids,” and themselves the “Yid Army.” The explanation is something along the lines of the club’s home being in a traditionally Jewish neighborhood and adopting something of a Jewish identity (albeit by means of a word generally considered to be a slur).

You can read more below, or at Slate, where sportswriter Stephan Fatsis (you’ve heard him on NPR before) has an article and a podcast on this.

I don’t exactly have a comment on this, as much as an observation that this is definitely an interesting phenomenon for those of us interested in Jewish identity and community membership. And it’s definitely interesting from a Humanistic Jewish perspective, given our approach to Jewish identity, which is much more organic than other movements’ approaches. Not that I think members of the “Yid Army” clearly fit into the Jewish people as we would define it over here in the Humanistic Jewish world–but it’s one of those extreme cases that shows how difficult black-letter rules can be.

On writing

Over at Pop Chassid, there’s a new post about why the author writes “badly.”

First, it’s not true–the writing badly part. It’s not true. Pop Chassid writes with an awareness of when “breaking” rules of grammar and usage is an appropriate thing to do. There’s never been a moment when I read a post on Pop Chassid and thought, “Oh, goodness, this is just bloody awful.”

So, Pop Chassid, keep using sentence fragments. And short paragraphs.

And beginning sentences with “and.”

But Pop Chassid’s post gives me (yet another) chance to think about writing a bit. I should say that I think about writing quite a lot. Not because I’m an English teacher, but rather because at my day job I am, for all intents and purposes, a professional writer in an area known for often quite formal, too-stodgy writing.

(And, yes, there are plenty of folks in my field whose writing does make me say, “Oh, goodness, this is bloody awful.”)

Despite that, I try to mix up my writing at work; I use single-sentence paragraphs to provide emphasis or contrast. I start sentences with “and” and “but” and “for” and “because.” I am probably too heavy a user of semicolons and hyphens. And I heart the Oxford comma. Without “scare quotes.”

I try to make sure what I write here is digestible, but I realize that won’t be readily true for every post. That depends on any number of factors: the complexity of the subject, the haste with which a post is written, what time my son woke up that day (for the record: 1 A.M. today), and any number of other things I’m sure I don’t notice.

So, dear readers, if something is impenetrable, feel free to let me know. After all–said with tongue planted firmly in cheek–blogs are only partially about being self-serving instruments of cowardly, anonymous expression!

Write thoughtfully.

“Happy Orthodox”

Pardon the cliche, but, like all nice Jewish boys, I have to make sure I talk to my mother regularly.

The conversation turned to a sort of interdenominational/post-denominational program I’ll be going to in a few months’ time, and Mom said something along the lines of being sure there wouldn’t be Orthodox Jews there. I surprised her by saying that, actually, there would be a decent number of Orthodox folks there.

That sparked a little turn in the conversation where she mentioned that my sister used to ask what it was like being around our great-grandparents, who were Orthodox Jews. Mom said that it was different–her grandmother used to work hard cleaning out garbage cans, etc. (my great-grandparents owned an apartment building in Miami Beach), and she didn’t wear long sleeves.

Afterward, I spent some time thinking about how it is we draw lines regarding not only who is in or out of the Jewish community, but what practices, beliefs, and concepts are in or out. I think the thing that concerns me about where the various forms of Orthodox Judaism are headed is that, for the most part, the drive is toward more consistently strict interpretation and observance.

It’s not that I don’t understand the age and influence of concepts like siyag le-Torah (a fence around the Torah). I do. But it seems to me that the validity of that principle is dependent upon accepting the at-bottom-divinity of both the written and oral Torah.

Why? Because to do otherwise seems too prone to slippage in a system that derives the legitimacy of its behavioral requirements from the divine nature of its source. If you accept a compromise in the authority from which the law derives, you at some point undercut the very authority of the law itself. This fits conceptually with a system that says in one text that certain laws are like mountains suspended by a thread, but which also conceives of itself as engaging in a process of preservation and recovery of what the law was like in its original revelation.

So, looping back to my mother’s characterization of her grandparents as “Happy Orthodox” as opposed to what she sees today, is it simply in the nature of Orthodox Judaism to continue to drive toward a more conservative point? If so, does that mean that one of the major movements in modern Jewish life is simply driving itself to some form of fundamentalism?

For the rest of us, what does it mean to interact with texts that have such a conservative drive to them?

As a Humanistic Jew, I think of those texts as touchstones, necessary components of Jewish history: to be consulted, to be studied and understood, but fundamentally human in origin and thus not authoritative. Different from one another as they are, the texts we have mask dissent and diversity of practice and thought throughout Jewish history. That’s a necessary aspect of reducing things to text, in part because authors and editors are forced on a practical level to decide what things are in or out, and in part because authors and editors have agendas that they serve in creating texts.

That’s not to say that R. Joseph Karo, in developing the Shulchan Arukh, cynically included or excluded positions contrary to his own; I generally don’t doubt that authors believe themselves to be doing what they claim to be doing, so I don’t doubt that R. Karo was genuine in producing a code of what he believed was divinely required of the (at least non-Ashkenazic) Jewish people. But that perspective, well in-line with perspective of prior rabbinic scholars for nearly 1500 years, excluded various other positions and carried with it a particular view about the origins and legitimacy of the laws.

So what, then, to make of those texts? I think the best we can do is to recognize their value and know that we are capable of deciding and acting otherwise based upon what we see and know–and then doing so. To do otherwise is to set aside what has made Judaism what it is–the capability of its people to decide and define it–in favor of Judaism as we find it, which is only what other Jews have already decided.

Penn Jillette on…well…lots of stuff

Salon.com published an interview with Penn Jillette today. Much of it discusses things like Jillette’s attempt to crowdfund a movie, his time on reality shows, etc. But at the end of the interview, the discussion turns to Jillette’s atheism and the reaction of devout Christians to his outspokenness. Jillette noted that, once you eliminate internet cranks and crazy people with death threats, most of the devout Christians with whom he interacted (granted, he says, it’s a self-selecting group) were actually quite loving.

I think there is an important point for humanists to keep in mind–and particularly Humanistic Jews, as we straddle several different worlds.

We can debate, and we can have differences. But, as Greg Epstein notes in his book, Good Without God, we will find fellow-travelers among people who don’t precisely share our beliefs, and it is not helpful to be, in every case, overtly antagonistic in the way Jillette says he was and now regrets.

There’s a way to be humanist without also being a bomb-thrower; in fact, I think fidelity to our humanism requires that of us.

Every Day I Write the Book

So I read about TheTorah.org on Tablet Magazine’s website just now.

On the one hand, I want to be impressed and happy. Really, I do. The idea that modern critical analysis of the Tanakh might finally be bubbling its way through more than just the more secular-academic inclined pieces of the “orthodox” Jewish world is exciting.

But, as the article points out (though in slightly saltier language), talking ain’t doing.

Will this be just talk? Or will this have practical, “normative” results? If the effect of this is to have verbal acknowledgement that the Tanakh has been people all along, but we see no changes in “orthodox” practice and belief, then I’m concerned that it’s empty talk.

The article’s discussion of David Weiss Halivni’s work is, I think, a point to consider. Halivni was a professor for quite a long time at JTS–until JTS decided to ordain women. Why was that the dividing line if the Oral and Written Law are the results of human understanding?

Clearly, of course, I’m not going to agree that there is divine inspiration in our tradition’s core canon; I’m a humanist Jew, after all. But it’s not unreasonable to expect to see change along with the adoption of a new approach, and I think the proof will have to be in the pudding.

Sukkot, the Abstract, and the Autistic Child

So, the year rolls on, and Sukkot starts at the end of the week. As an apartment dweller, and a not traditionally-observant Jew, Sukkot is an interesting holiday. Put on top of that parenting an autistic child, and this is a real puzzle.

I’ve mentioned in a prior post that the existing community structures for Jewish education just don’t work for our family. This is partially because we are members of the Society for Humanistic Judaism and are not members of a synagogue locally (there’s no affiliated congregation here…yet), in part because for various reasons we don’t wish to avail ourselves of the community’s Bureau of Jewish Education, and in part because there just aren’t community resources that can do Jewish education for our son given how his autism…er…expresses itself.

So that puts his Jewish education on our shoulders. One of the big problems with trying to educate a lot of autistic children is that abstractions and discussion of things not present can be very difficult. In some ways, a child with autism can be the most absolute skeptic. So, he knows Shabbat and learned a bit of Havdalah this past weekend: candles are always a big draw for him. And even the abstract idea of resting on Shabbat makes sense–after all, he doesn’t go to school (though he does sometimes have therapy on Saturday), and Daddy doesn’t go to work.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? I’m still working those out. It doesn’t help that he won’t eat challah or honey. He likes apples from time to time. But Yom Kippur? That’s a tough nut to crack.

So, too, Sukkot. We’re not going to build a sukkah, in part because we don’t own our home, in part because I’m straight-up bad with building things (I’ve actually broken a porcelain toilet by over-tightening a bolt while attempting to replace a seal–BTW, cracked porcelain = SHARP!!!!), and in part because with work, taking care of our son, and taking care of my wife’s parents, we wouldn’t have time to get a sukkah built.

And even so, suppose I built a sukkah, or we visited one. What, exactly, is the explanation that sticks for him? “Sukkot is like Shabbat, but sometimes it’s not on Fridays, and it’s about when the Bible says the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. But really, it’s a harvest holiday. And also, here’s a hut that the Israelites didn’t really sit in. Because, historically, probably not.”

We have had a little success teaching Hebrew: he knows Shalom and Shabbat Shalom, of course; we learned Shavua Tov last week during Havdalah; and we’ve learned apple (tapuach), orange (tapuz), and pear (agas). I tried watermelon (abatiach), but he wasn’t paying attention anymore.

Here’s what he knows about the Israelites: they are vegetables. Joshua is a cucumber. David is a little asparagus, and Goliath is a big pickle. Abraham is a grape. (I am now going to stop linking to VeggieTales videos.) So is Jacob. Joseph is a cucumber–the same one as Joshua. Moses is a cucumber, too–the one as Joseph and Joshua. Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar are both the same zucchini; his henchman is always a small, Latino gourd. Oh, and God has something to do with all this, but of course it’s a Christian version of God.

Why, yes, I do kick myself for introducing him to VeggieTales, though to be fair, I wasn’t thinking too hard about the theological fallout of that when I did so. He was two, after all.

We’re working on it.

If you asked me fourteen years ago, when I was starting graduate school in religious studies, whether I would be doing child education in Judaism, I would have laughed at you.

Boy was I stupid.

Yom Kippur – Say What You Mean

One of the things that, when I was in a more “mainstream” movement Jewish setting, frustrated me was the language of prayer. What I mean by that is the translations in most of the “liberal” are also themselves quite, erm, liberal vis-a-vis the original Hebrew; once I actually learned Hebrew, the highly artistic-ish English translations of say, Siddur Sim Shalom became very, very suspect because they are really not accurate.

Last night, I thought I would take a look at the (it’s the old one from 1972) Conservative mahzor on my bookcase (prosaically titled “Mahzor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur” in English, and Mahzor L’Yamim Noraim” in Hebrew) to see if I could find anything interesting/inspiring/appropriate for setting a course on thoughts for Yom Kippur. After taking a quick spin though the Kol Nidre prayer and not really finding great inspiration there (it is, after all, a preemptive mulligan on vows for the coming year–nice, legal stuff), I went to the beginning of the Yom Kippur evening service.

Boy, did I find something. But, as is so often the case, it’s not what I hoped it would be. It was something way, way better.

After setting forth Deuteronomy 30:15 & 19 in Hebrew with a pretty decent English translation on the opposite page, we get this gem (my translation from the Hebrew):

Master of the Universe, Merciful and Forgiving Father whose right hand is extended to accept those who return, I have conducted myself according to the will of my inclination toward evil; I have rejected the good and chosen the bad. And not only have I not sanctified my limbs, but I have also made them unclean.

I will admit, it’s a rough translation, not great in the details and not artfully done (it’s early and my son is running around jabbering about VeggieTales). It is, however, something the Conservative mahzor is not; basically literal. The English on the facing page of the mahzor doesn’t even attempt a literal translation, instead including paraphrases like “Is there a person anywhere altogether righteous…? I am but flesh and blood, often yielding to temptation,” and “The struggle is ceaseless, the choice is ours.” (Mazhor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, p. 347)

The next few paragraphs all begin the same way: “barata bi”–“You [God] have created in me” various characteristics–a mind and heart to contemplate the good and to discern holy things, eyes that can see the universe’s beauty, etc. Several of them conclude similarly, too: “oi li ki”–woe unto me, for “I have followed my eyes and made them impure,” or “I have made my ears too impure to hear words of prayer.”

The English? “I have been created with eyes” or “ears” or “a mind,” but always passive, deemphasizing the clearly active voice of the underlying Hebrew. And the conclusion does not include the “woe unto me,” but rather says, “Often I squander God’s gift and look without seeing,” or “hear without listening.” (p. 347)

The problem–and it’s like this throughout the mahzor–is that the English is gussied up, sanitized a bit, and presented as if what we’re saying in Hebrew is what we’re saying in English. (Yes, it’s the older mahzor. Guess what? The Conservative movement’s approach hasn’t really changed much on translation over the last few decades.)

It is not. And if you care about the integrity of public liturgy–whether you want to call it prayer, shared ritual, or something else–that’s a problem. It’s a problem that the mainstream liberal Jewish movements don’t really deal with well, because they live in a strange world where the “sancta” of Judaism (Mordechai Kaplan’s terms) are largely preserved and retained in use, put into the mouth of the average congregant (or at least recited on her or his behalf), and yet are clearly not what the leadership of those movements understand their members as willing to affirm or have affirmed for them.

Yet on the High Holidays, when synagogue attendance quadruples (or more!), those most important of days in the calendar, shouldn’t we say what we mean? And for those of us who will or have taken leadership roles, shouldn’t we provide our fellow Jews with the ability to say what they mean?

This is a hard thing, without question, because it presents us with a challenge: how much do we preserve? What do we set aside? How do we do so in a way that respects a wide range of beliefs? And how do we do so for ourselves?

I think the place to start is by acting for ourselves. And so that is what I plan to do this year. As we move through the calendar, I will try to use or craft language that reflects what I actually think.

I recognize that this will be a challenge for me. It already has been, and we’re not through Yom Kippur yet. I still find awkward–because they are unfamiliar–the blessings for Shabbat and Havdalah that are in the Society for Humanistic Judaism materials. But I can’t in good conscience recite the traditional blessings, because I don’t believe in a god that directly created the universe or acts in history; and that is so regardless of how comfortable or nostalgic I find the traditional texts.

I am comforted, however, by a reminder that this isn’t the first time I have had to adjust to the new. In that timely way they have, Tablet Magazine published an article this week, “Learning Judaism as a Native Language Requires More Than Synagogue Once a Year.” It reminded me that I learned to play guitar awkwardly, at first, but became more natural over time. So, too, with Hebrew (and I’m still learning there). So, too, with the traditional prayers I know so well.

So, too, will this be. And it will be an adventure.

I’ll keep you posted. Hopefully, you will have or have had an easy fast, if you fasted. I wish my Jewish readers all the best in the coming year. (To my non-Jewish readers, too, but you’re likely not so preoccupied by Yom Kippur.)

And now, here in Indianapolis, the sky is a clear blue, the temperature is wonderful, and after this morning, we will be headed out to be in the world a bit to cap off the High Holidays.

L’shanah tovah u’metukah.