(Tapping) Testing. Sibilants.

Is this thing on?

Hey! I’m back! Again.

Seriously, I’ve been very, very busy. Sorry about that, but job, other job, editing, weddings (including officiating a Star Wars-themed wedding!)–I’m a busy person.

I came across something on Tablet that I thought was interesting. Mark Oppenheimer, who has written at some length on religious issues, particularly on Judaism and on the secular movement’s apparent issues with sexism, has a review of the late Edgar Bronfman’s book, Why Be Jewish?. The review is interesting in its way–it compares Bronfman’s book with two others bearing the same title, one by Meir Kahane and the other by David Wolpe. I suppose if you were looking for a study of the “Why should I be Jewish?” genre it would be a good place to start. (Spoiler: there really aren’t any books in this genre that I would give to someone who asked, “Why be Jewish?,” and I get the sense Oppenheimer wouldn’t, either.)

But what I found particularly useful is Oppenheimer’s characterization of what it means to be a Jew–that it’s a sort of family status.

But the Jew, as opposed to the Jewish person, is simply a member of this family that was, according to Kahane, chosen by God and given the Torah at Sinai—the family that, according to Bronfman, somehow kept its identity over millennia and developed a rich heritage worth perpetuating. Neither understanding of my family story satisfies me perfectly, but I think they are onto something. They’re mishpochah. Not Jewish, but fellow Jews.

What Bronfman feared, Oppenheimer suggests, was that Jews would become “Jew-ish” rather than “Jewish”: someone who is a Jew and is perhaps peripherally associated with the family, but not involved in or with it.

It strikes me that there’s something to this family analogy that I like better than others.

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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.)

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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.)

Meetup Mania!

Hey, guess what!? There are Humanistic Jews in Indianapolis Meetup and Facebook pages! They’re still works in progress, but an initial get-together for coffee is planned for June 7 at 10:45 a.m. If you’re in the area, come out and maybe we’ll meet! (You can RSVP for the meetup on either website.) The ultimate goal will, hopefully, be a durable community for cultural, secular, and humanistic Jews and their families in Indianapolis.

Meetup Page: http://www.meetup.com/Humanistic-Jews-in-Indianapolis/

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/HumanistJewsIndy

A Few Seder Updates

We’re fast approaching Passover–it starts a bit before sunset this Friday, April 3. (If you’re concerned about precise times, there are plenty of places to check. I use the Crowded Road Shabbat Shalom app on my iPhone and iPad, but there are other choices.)

It’s not too Late to Roll Your Own

Don’t have a Hagaddah of your own? If you’re a traditional-text type of person–or have a lot of free time right now to edit something to make it humanistic–maybe visit Sefaria and check out their Haggadah. They’ve got the whole traditional text online, ready for you to pick some or all of its parts, create source sheets, etc.

I’m rolling our Haggadah for this year, because I’ve got lots of challenges to address. First, my goal is to keep things short because Secular Jew, Jr., is tough to engage in this kind of environment. Yes, of course, the Seder is a great sensory experience. But when the sensory experiences aren’t ones that work for your autistic child, you’ve got to make the experience as low-stress as possible in hopes that some of the story makes it in and so that we can be flexible and respond to any demonstrated interests, and that means leaving things a bit more fluid.

Second, I want to start from this prepared text to make a couple of different, interesting formats that we can come back to over the years with short supplements, and maybe mix up the pattern of the Seder a bit each year. At the moment, I’m thinking of doing an infographic format, a “board game” format, and maybe a “Cards Against Humanity”-type format to allow some flexibility and graphic interest. I imagine I’ll make some of this available online at some point, but this year is a dry run of the first stab at a text and reflections. I’ve mentioned this idea before. I’m really focused on keeping things relatively flexible so that as everyone changes around the table each year, we can make the experience interesting and meaningful each year. I don’t imagine having a permanently fixed text in a specific order in each respect, though some of the steps along the way will be the same (which maybe undoes some of the notion of seder, which in Hebrew means “order”).

I imagine after this is all over, I’ll debrief with Mrs. Secular Jew and Secular Jew’s Sister (we’re all about uncreative pseudonyms around here!) and tell you what did or didn’t work.

Remember to Take Your Supplements

If you already have a fixed text, Seder supplements can help keep things fresh. There are two I would draw your attention to. One–again, probably better for those who aren’t strictly humanist in orientation, but its god language is really quite minimal–is from Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, and is called the Black Lives Matter Haggadah (this goes to a Google Doc). So for those with a strong social justice orientation, you might want to consider this as your supplement this year. (I know one of the contributors to this personally–hi, Sarah!)

Another option is from Rabbi Jeffrey Falick (his blog is The Atheist Rabbi) at the Birmingham Temple for Humanistic Judaism in Farmington Hills, MI. His Passover greeting for this year is here, and he provides a link to a Google Doc that is a more “what does the archaeology tell us”-focused approach to the Maggid (story-telling) part of the Seder. (I also know Jeff, so, hi, Jeff!)

This Year in Indianapolis; Next Year, too, I Bet

In case you’re wondering what the menu is, I’ve only got three things determined:

  1. Alton Brown’s no-pot pot roast from his show, Good Eats
  2. Matzo ball soup with chicken and mandlen (you know, those little soup nuts)
  3. Kosher-for-Passover chocolate truffles with hazelnut or cappuccino filling

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure we need more, but I’ll probably feel guilty and make some kind of vegetable in addition to all the stuff that goes with the Seder. Though for my money, a bowl of haroset really ought to have me covered without any of this other stuff.

And I’d invite you to our Seder, but since I couldn’t guarantee what you’d find, maybe you’d be best to drop a line if you plan on trying to find us. (Also, we’re only doing second night Seder on Saturday, and we’re not kosher. And, of course, it’s a humanistic set of texts, so if you’re observant I promise you will not be yotzei if you come to our Seder.) I know, kol dikhfin yeitei v’yeikhol (“let all who are hungry come and eat”) and all that; but really, I’m not sure we’re your best bet.

If we don’t “see” each other before then, Hag Pesah Sameah to you and yours.

A photograph of Shmura Matzo - matzo baked specifically to stringent Jewish legal guidelines

A Passover Panoply

Passover is fast approaching. Last week I left you some links to posts on the blog that were on Passover-related themes. Today, let’s take a look at some Passover resources for the humanist and secularist Jewish set.

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Slouching Towards Passover

Wait, that should be reclining. Well, then.

We are less than a month away from Passover. Sometimes people say a holiday is “so early this year” or “so late this year,” and rabbis often joke that really, the holiday is right on time.

Nevertheless, Passover seems so early this year. It isn’t, really–it’s not uncommon for the holiday to start in March–but so much of the year feels as though it’s run by in a rush. (I really need to put more reminders into my calendar. A rabbinical student shouldn’t feel so darned surprised by a holiday–especially since I attended a model Seder at Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation near Chicago during my Jewish Education seminar at IISHJ earlier this week.)

I’ll do a roundup of secular, cultural, and humanistic Jewish resources on Passover next week, but I’d be nothing if not extra lazy if I didn’t post links to prior Passover-themed posts on the blog. So, in the spirit of reduced laziness–whether slouching or reclining–here goes:

  • In There Are No Four Children and A Simple Kind of Man, I questioned the use of the Four Children as a way to categorize individuals with disabilities, or simply characterize as “bad” those who pose questions in ways we find uncomfortable.
  • In It’s a Trap!, I suggested that the Torah’s telling of the story of Joseph might be a sign that we need to take a harder look at how we use biblical texts and stories of our past to understand our own place in the world and in Jewish history. (It also has a Star Wars-themed animated GIF, if that’s a draw for you.)
  • In Leavening, I talked about the problems posed by long Passover Seders and the ever-expanding text of the Haggadah in light of the somewhat oral original conception of the Seder.
  • In Pass(ed)over, I talked about the flexibility afforded by Secular Humanistic Judaism in making a Passover that makes sense for each child.

I’ll post more next week, as Passover (which starts at sunset on April 3 this year) is soon to begin.

“The Forward” Considered Harmful?

(This is a rant. I’m not overly concerned if you don’t agree with its conclusions. But sometimes, enough is enough.)

Way back when I was doing software development, I read an article (really a letter) by computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra called “Go To Statement Considered Harmful.” Lots of software developers read it, because it’s about a basic bit of programming technique. And because I think The Forward has continued to make the same error, over and over, and does so at the risk of harming individual lives and the broader health of the Jewish community, consider this my Dijkstra moment.

I’ve lamented before the apparent backwardness of The Forward. Once in a while, The Forward does something that gives just a little hint of promise, like starting its Seesaw column. And then it takes steps back.

Oops, it did it again. Continue reading