That Pesky Shehecheyanu!

A while back, I was struggling with a humanistic replacement for the traditional shehecheyanu blessing that celebrates doing something for the first time–the first day of a holiday, etc. I encountered the same problem at Hanukkah again in December, and I needn’t have done so.

Because I had forgotten completely about the problem having been fixed in April last year! (Why “having been fixed” rather than I fixed it? You’ll have to keep reading to find out.)

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

A Convenient Jew

I don’t do politics here, but I do worry about Jewish identity here. I put that disclaimer in

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

Shmura Matzo – Creative Commons Licensed Image

because I’m going to talk about a political person, but not a political issue.

I encountered someone’s opinion on Bernie Sanders’s perceived authenticity as a Jew that, frankly, has me uncomfortable–not for its political content, but for its take on what it means to be Jewish.

On a Facebook post on a friend’s wall, a friend of this friend said that Sanders always seemed to be a “convenient Jew.”

This critique, for some reason, just struck home with me. I mean, it’s a logical fallacy wrapped in a larger one: whether he was or was not correct isn’t affected by the sort of Jew he is (that’s the “big” logical fallacy–an ad hominem argument), but there’s also the suggestion that Sanders isn’t Jewish enough (that’s a “no true Scotsman” fallacy). It’s that second one–that maybe Sanders isn’t Jewish enough–that struck me.

What exactly does that mean?

I think, picking away at the paint on the statement, what we’re really talking about is something like this: Sanders’s statements on Israel (the comment was in response to an article on Sanders’s statements on fatalities in Gaza) aren’t…something (?) or something enough (?)…and so Sanders’s Jewishness is a thing that’s convenient to trot out when it serves his purposes, but otherwise is not important to him.

That definition makes it so that Jewish identity’s primary arbiter is not the sum of one’s attachments and actions. It’s…something else. A demand that a Jew in public life be loud and proud about her or his identity? I’m not sure.

But ignoring the whole person’s attachments and actions with respect to Jewish life is a problem.

Secular Humanistic Judaism has long held to the following definition:

In response to the destructive definition of a Jew now proclaimed by some Orthodox authorities, and in the name of the historic experience of the Jewish people, we, therefore, affirm that a Jew is a person of Jewish descent or any person who declares himself or herself to be a Jew and who identifies with the history, ethical values, culture, civilization, community, and fate of the Jewish people.

See http://www.shj.org/humanistic-jewish-life/issues-and-resolutions/who-is/

If you meet this? You’re good with me. And we ought to be opening the gates wide, mindful that it will soon be Passover: “All who are hungry ― come and eat. All who lack ― come celebrate Passover.”

All the rest is commentary.

And if this makes me an INconvenient Jew? Well, I’m good with that, too.

(Also: I’ll mod the living beeswax out of your political comments on this post. I’m not having a political discussion here. To paraphrase Lesley Gore (also Jewish!), it’s my bloggy and I’ll mod if I want to.)

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.

Leavening

So, finally, I’m jumping on the “Jewish bloggers blogging about Pesach” bandwagon.

I know, I know–I’m late to the party. I can live with that. I’ve always been a bit of an outlier and, in the spirit of the festival, mah nishtanah.

And, like many, I’ve been seeing or receiving the various Haggadah supplements that are going around. I’m going to be a bit of a contrarian about Haggadahs for a moment. Specifically, I’m going to complain about text.

As in so many other things, Judaism has largely developed to have a “fixed” text for the Seder. A script, with stage directions. Many of these are important, of course–if you don’t know the Kiddush, you need the text, assuming that doing the Kiddush “right” is something you want to do.

But what if it isn’t? Or, put another way: should it be?

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Jewish Disability Awareness Month

Did you know that it’s Jewish Disability Awareness Month? It’s also North American Inclusion Month.

(Also, did you know that JDAM stands for both Jewish Disability Awareness Month and Joint Direct Attack Munition, which is a kit that upgrades ordinary bombs into smart bombs? Lots of odd trivia today.) Continue reading

Priorities

I think I have previously mentioned that embracing Humanistic Judaism has freed me to really embrace Jewish culture. But I still carry baggage from my prior Jewish life: growing up in a Conservative synagogue where my family’s membership was actually motivated by ideological choices, studying at one point to be ready to attend JTS as a rabbinical student, and being a rules-based kind of person all combine together to make me still pretty traditional in orientation toward Jewish practice.

Becoming a rabbinical student at IISHJ has already helped me grapple with some of these issues. I imagine I’ll remain personally rather traditional on some things, or will at least try to create middle ground. Wearing a kippah, tallit, and every once in a very, very blue moon, tefillin, all still feel rather naturally part of my Jewish identity. So do the traditional melodies from the prayer services and niggunim.

What has never felt all that important, however, is the High Holidays and “the Sukkot bundle” (Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah). Continue reading

Pass(ed)over

So this morning I had a moment of stark realization. My son has never attended a real Passover seder.

We’ve given ourselves some passes on this; a seder is long and difficult for adults to sit through, let alone children, and a kid with autism and non-stop chattiness…well, a seder just didn’t seem like a great fit.

Then I realized that Humanistic Judaism is perfect for constructing a meaningful Passover experience for a special needs child, because we don’t consider ourselves bound to the rules.

(I know, I know, I promised a series on a Pitch for Humanistic Judaism, and I’ll get back to that, though in a way this post will be a great pitch in itself.) Continue reading