(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 three-cornered road sign, with a black question mark in the middle and a red border around the edges of the sign.

The Blog Awakens

It’s been a while since I posted! It has been busy around here: between regular work, days off from work running around with Humanistic Jew, Jr., prepping for the two classes I teach at a local university, leading a Hanukkah celebration, being a rabbinical student, co-editing Humanistic Judaism, and trying to generally spend time with my family, I just haven’t had a ton of time to write.

And then, as I was falling asleep last night or waking up this morning (it’s all a blur), I thought of this goofy idea for a blog post. And so, without further ado:

I’ve not mentioned it on the blog, but I’m a big Star Wars fan. I don’t do cosplay (dressing up as characters), go to conventions, etc., but in many other respects, you know, yeah, I’m a fan. (I’m even officiating a Star Wars-themed wedding in March of this year. Can you say that your work required you to read comic books?!)

(SPOILER ALERT for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and the “Star Wars: Vader Down” comics from Marvel)

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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.

Blintzes - crepes filled with cheese and other items - in a frying pan.

A Shavuot Hand-Down

Today is day…wait, I’m not supposed to tell you what day it is in the counting of the omer, the sheafs of grain that were traditionally counted in the lead up from Passover to Shavuot. At least, if you ask, I’m not supposed to give you the precise answer. Though I could give you the answer for yesterday, so that you could do the math from there.

And I’m sure there’s an app for that.

In any case, since we’re fast approach Shavuot, it’s time for a quick look at Shavuot for Humanistic Jews.

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See This

I’m tempted to do no more than link to an article, because it’s almost a case of res ipsa loquitur–the thing speaking for itself. But I think it’s important to talk about this issue a little more: making your own Haggadah.

The prompt for this post? This article at Tablet Magazine. (The link will open in a new window.)

Take a close look at that Haggadah. What do you see in its language?

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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.

Garbled Graggers – Purim and Inclusion #JDAM15

I promised earlier that I would come back to Purim with a focus on inclusion–it is, after all, still Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Among the communally celebrated holidays, Purim may pose some of the very toughest challenges for inclusion. I’m going to try to put on my thinking hat here to look at what the challenges are to an inclusive Purim celebration. My purpose in this is not to suggest that every problem can be solved for every person in every place and at every time. Rather, I want to put in one place thoughts on how the traditional ways in which we celebrate Purim can work exclusion, and to prompt thought about how we might overcome some of those problems.

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