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

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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

Don’t stop thinkin’ about tomorrow

This article, on MyJewishLearning.com, has an interesting premise: the Pew survey (there it is again!) shows that most American Jews–even those that believe in God–are basically not observant, but nevertheless proudly identify as Jewish. The author, Joshua Ratner, suggests that it’s always kind of been like this, and maybe we should embrace that by focusing more on training a cadre of leaders and less on the kinds of outreach programming that has, so far, not been all that successful in getting the “Jew on the street” seriously attendant to Judaism as a religious life-system.

On the one hand, I sort of agree with this, because it’s true of many other groups–the interests of the group are often best advanced by leaders as opposed to trying to bring the whole group into a leadership role for itself. There are many reasons for this.

On the other hand, I worry that Ratner gives up a bit too easily because his focus is on Jewish religion (which he likely means as belief in and service of the divine). He, as other authors, sort of nod at the “cultural Jew”–Ratner actually says, “whatever that means.” If we’re getting people to engage–whether they engage in a theistic or non-theistic version of Judaism–we’re doing part of the job of being Jewish leaders and helping to perpetuate Jewish identity and Judaism in all its forms.

No, I don’t think you’ll drag people into Judaism as religion (as defined above). But you’ll get people into Judaism writ large–and that’s a good thing.

You people with the hand-wringing!

Excuse me a moment, I have to go grab my soapbox.

(Clattering in the closet, drags out a box and plops it unceremoniously in the public square)

As you likely know by now, the Pew Research Center released the results of a major study of Jewish affiliation and identity. As you also likely know by now, thanks to the New York Times, the sky is falling.

Yeah, guess what I think? The voices in The Times are wrong. Their sky is falling. Our sky is not.

I particularly love this line: “a significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish — resulting in rapid assimilation that is sweeping through every branch of Judaism except the Orthodox.”

Yet the same Jews who are “assimilating” are also largely proud to be Jewish, according to the poll. And they’re strongly attached to the State of Israel. These aren’t self-hating Jews.

I think the poll shows something important: Jews outside the “Orthodox” world have largely decoupled their Jewish identities from traditional modes of Jewish religion. Those modes don’t always mean that people believe; that definition is what happens when your concept of religion is dictated by being part of a mostly Christian, largely Protestant culture (as is true of the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe).

Rather, “cultural” Jews are becoming more the norm, and those Jews are comfortable having families that are much more diverse than those of their grandparents’ generations. This has happened despite all the hemming and hawing over the last forty years about shrinking Jewish communities.

So what are we to make of the problem of assimilation? The approach of the Humanistic Jewish world is to say that one of the great flaws of Jewish attempts at engagement is that we continue to impose the various halakhic norms–modified or not–upon Jewish identity. So we’ll find Reform rabbis that won’t perform intermarriages, for example, despite the position of the CCAR that intermarriage is permissible and that a child with one Jewish parent–either parent–is Jewish.

Look: if you welcome people in with one hand, and smack them away with the other, they’re going to leave. And when every Jewish institution behaves this way, you’re going to make a whole lot of people leave.

However proud they are of being Jewish, people know not to return to places at which they aren’t wanted.

In some ways, I’m one of those people. But I’m also one of those people who is so attached to a Jewish identity that, ultimately, I’m putting in work to create institutions and environments where the people smacked away can come and be welcomed; it’s why I’m a Humanist Jew working to build places that actively welcome blended families and individuals who are Jewish but don’t necessarily do Jewish the way our heavily Ashkenazic modern institutions think about doing and being Jewish.

I think existing Jewish institutions will continue to shrink–and may ultimately simply fail–if they continue to behave as they have for the last forty years.

The current generation of large donors will die out. Will the next generation be large enough and concerned enough with the older institutions to support them? I’m not sure.

Jane Eisner of The Forward is right: ““This should serve as a wake-up call for all of us as Jews,” she said, “to think about what kind of community we’re going to be able to sustain if we have so much assimilation.””

Let’s see what happens when we don’t push people away.