Purim and Religious Freedom

Franc Kavcic’s “Esther Before Ahasuerus”

We’re coming quickly to Purim. Yay, noisemakers and parties and costumes and drinking ad lo yada (until you can’t tell the difference between blessed be Mordecai and cursed by Haman), right!?

As an introvert, Purim as a big party is pretty hard for me to get into. I’m thinking about wearing a suit and saying I’m dressed like a rabbi. (Get it?!) But Esther, the book many communities read on Purim and which almost all communities at least talk about during the holiday, is an interesting read. (There’s always some way to make lemonade from lemons!)

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On the Bladensburg Peace Cross #HonorThemAll

(I delivered this text as a speech in front of the steps of the US Supreme Court on February 27, 2019.)

Video recording of the speech on February 27, 2019, in front of the US Supreme Court building in Washington, DC

I’m Jeremy Kridel. I’m the rabbi at Machar, The Washington Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism, and I’m here representing the Society for Humanistic Judaism.

A friend of mine told me that when she first came to Maryland, nearly forty years ago, she saw the Bladensburg Peace Cross. And she thought, “Wow, these folks must be really religious around here.”

That says an awful lot about this case, doesn’t it?

The Peace Cross sits on public land, looming forty feet tall, in the middle of the road. Its backers claim that it’s just a generic symbol, neutral, non-religious.

As secular humanistic Jews, we beg to differ.

When we see a forty-foot cross standing in the center of town, as secular Jews, we know from our ancestors’ lives what that cross means. It sends a crystal-clear message: we are Christians here. And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll be a Christian, too.

Does that sound inclusive to you?

But we are just supposed to forget all of that. Otherwise, they’ll call us names. Only last Friday, George Will called us “cranky, persnickety, hair-splitting secularists.”

We think our government should support memorials that truly stand for all who gave their lives. Is that persnickety? Hair-splitting?

For Jews, a cross has often meant, “You’re not one of us, and we’re coming for you.” That’s what it meant in Eastern Europe, and when the KKK lit it on fire.

Is that persnickety? Is that hair-splitting?

How can a cross represent all war dead equally? More than two thousand Jewish soldiers are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, only a few miles away. Were they buried under crosses, or Stars of David?

A cross erases the bravery and sacrifice of any soldier who isn’t or wasn’t a Christian.

And the Bladensburg Peace Cross is worse. It erases non-Christian soldiers’ bravery not only symbolically, but actually. It lists 49 soldiers. It left off three who happen to be Jewish. Let’s remember the ones the Bladensburg Cross kept off — the ones the government would still leave off by leaving the cross in place.

Let’s remember Sgt. Isaac Morris, Lt. Merrill Rosenfeld, and Pvt. Zadoc Morton Katz, Jewish soldiers who died for our country and were left off the Bladensburg Peace Cross.

The Peace Cross is not an inclusive, neutral monument. It’s a monument to Christian memory. No Jews need have applied.

And so, my deepest of non-apologies to you, George Will. There’s no hairsplitting here.

A cross on public land cannot represent every soldier. That is a betrayal.

The cross is a betrayal of the memories and the sacrifices of every soldier who went to war not because of the cross, but despite it.

A cross in the middle of the road is a betrayal what they fought for: true freedom of belief.

To truly honor our soldiers’ memories, we need a symbol that speaks for them all, and that excludes none of them.

Say it so the Justices can hear it: Honor. Them. All.

Thank you.

Two Days in One

Today is Yom Ha’atzma’ut – Israel’s Independence Day. It is also Openly Secular Day.

So, you know, it’s a pretty big day for a Secular Humanistic Jew.

You can be Jewish and something else. Need evidence? Me, and many others. There’s a thriving, formalized Secular Humanistic Jewish movement in the United States and in Eretz Yisrael.

Secular Jewishness. It’s a thing–even in Israel, where many secular Jews worry that the vision of Hatikva (the Israeli national anthem) of being a free people in the land, is threatened by the ever-expanding authority of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

From April Rosenblum’s “Offers We Couldn’t Refuse,” in the May-June ’09 issue of Jewish Currents:

He had worked for years with an organization founded by a secular Jewish radical, and was inspired politically by Emma Goldman and other prominent secular Jews of the early 20th century, yet when I remarked that his lack of religion was no reason to question his Jewishness, it was something of a revelation to him.

Among Israeli secular Jews whom we can celebrate this Yom Ha’atzma’ut? David Ben-Gurion. Moshe Dayan. Golda Meir. Yitzhak Rabin. Amos Oz. Yehuda Amichai. A.B. Yehoshua. Shulamit Aloni.

You can be secular and Jewish, and claim both proudly.

I do.

The Society for Humanistic Judaism is a partner organization in Openly Secular Day. You can learn more about the Society for Humanistic Judaism here: http://www.shj.org.

You can learn more about the Israeli movement here (assuming you read Hebrew; I’m not sure I’d go around trusting Google Translate): http://israelijudaism.org.il.

You can learn more about Openly Secular Day here: http://www.openlysecularday.org.

The Forward’s Issues with Secular Jews

I sometimes feel as though I could keep the blog filled with articles playing media critic to The Forward.

My latest thing? This article, a kind of interview cum review cum puff piece on David Brooks and his latest book. (And while we’re at it, I’m not over the moon about The Forward’s new logo and on-computer site design–lots of wasted white space and hidden navigation–but whatever.)

Jane Eisner, The Forward’s editor, interviewed David Brooks about his latest book, which is a series of personality profiles on different aspects of building good character. Eisner appears genuinely puzzled that the “liberals’ conservative” of the New York Times, who is Jewish and has a child in the IDF, didn’t remember that it was Passover and that Eisner might not be eating bagels. Brooks reacted with genuine embarrassment when Eisner pointed out why she would not eat a bagel.

In her article, Eisner appears genuinely perplexed that there are no Jewish persons profiled in Brooks’s book, and wonders at why Brooks’s work often reflects no apparent Jewishness at all. Brooks, she notes, is purposefully private about his own faith.

All the while, Eisner tells us that she and Brooks talked about the new book within a strongly Jewish frame of reference: Adam 1 and Adam 2, concepts set forth by none other than “the Rav,” Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in his book (initially an article in Tradition), The Lonely Man of Faith.

So, what gives?

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What’s New? Sunday Assembly in Indianapolis, That’s What!

Live in Indianapolis? Maybe you live nearby? Come to next week’s Sunday Assembly, from Sunday Assembly Indianapolis, on March 8, 2015 at 10:30 a.m. in the Big Car Show Room at 3739 Lafayette Blvd., near 38th Street and Lafayette Blvd.

Why? Well, other than the good stuff that comes from being with other people, I’ll be speaking on “New Perspectives in Secularism” to explore how one can believe in good, even when you might not believe in a god, and how that works in community with others.

Come out, sing songs, listen, think, and come out for lunch afterward. All are welcome!

You can learn more about the fast-growing Sunday Assembly organization; its slogan is “Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More.” Sunday Assembly is new to Indianapolis–March 8th will be the third monthly assembly to date–but the group has already been doing volunteer work in the community, and has a new volunteer opportunity coming up later this month.