Jewish Humanism

Last month’s column cited Corliss Lamont’s book, The Philosophy of Humanism. This book was used by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the founder of Humanistic Judaism, while teaching a class I attended as a new congregant of Rabbi Wine’s Birmingham temple.

This month I propose to explain Jewish Humanism in Rabbi Wine’s words written for the Introduction to his Guide to Humanistic Judaism, obtainable from the Society for Humanistic Judaism at www.shj.org, and received when one becomes a member of the Humanistic Jewish Havurah of Southwest Florida.

“Are we Humanistic Jews or Jewish humanists? That question appeared very early in our development and remains persistent. We have two powerful connections – one Jewish and the other humanistic. Which is primary? Or are they both of equal significance?

People who join our movement have minds of their own. They do not easily fit into formulas that we may choose to create. Most people who join want to find a way to live their lives Jewishly with integrity. Others who enter our movement enjoy Jewish culture but the message of humanism is what motivates them to stay. Both groups are legitimate parts of our movement.

Frequently people who are members of humanist groups will challenge me. They want to know why our communities have this parochial interest in Jewish culture when they should be promoting a universal humanism. They claim that our Jewish loyalty diminishes or is incompatible with humanism.

From the beginning we have been Humanistic Jews, rooted in the history and culture of the Jewish people. Our humanism has always been enhanced by our Jewish connection, because the message of Jewish experience is that we cannot rely on the kindness of the fates. Most of us are humanists because the memories of Jewish history are ‘in our bones.’ The rabbinic establishment told us that we are the Chosen People. But our memories tell us that we are the victims of a cruel destiny. If the Jewish people survived, it was only because of human self-reliance, courage and cooperation. Our survival is a tribute to people power.

We are part of the Jewish world. Even when other Jews do not share our philosophy of life, they share our culture – and we share the social fate to which all Jews are subjected when society is in turmoil. Judaism has evolved over many centuries and provides us with roots and with a distinctive place in human culture.

Most cultures and religions accommodated different philosophies of life. Christianity, even though it did not begin as a nation, has roots in the Greco-Roman world, which embraced and molded its teachings. In many ways it has its own culture, independent of any specific ideology. In modern times, the battle over the Enlightenment has splintered the church into many ideological factions. Like Judaism, it has become a culture with great ideological diversity.

The main divide in religion today is between the humanists, who explicitly embrace the Enlightenment, and the fundamentalists, who reject it. In the middle lie the overwhelming majority of adherents who linger in the limbo of confusion and ambivalence, paying lip service to old creeds they have ceased to believe in and feeling apprehensive about change. Humanistic Christians find it easier to talk to Humanistic Jews than to fundamentalist Christians. Humanistic Jews find it easier to talk to humanistic Christians than to converse with Orthodox Jews.

Most humanists who choose [religious] affiliation will be Humanistic Jews or humanistic Christians or humanistic Buddhists. Some will choose groups with strong ideologies but shallow cultural roots. Jewish humanists may be comfortable there. But we have chosen to be Humanistic Jews.”

Celebrating our first decade in Southwest Florida

Humanistic Judaism was founded in 1963 by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, a rabbi trained in Reform Judaism, and a group of Detroit Jews wanting to create a new community where their Jewish identity and heritage could be maintained and celebrated in conformity with their secular beliefs.

In 1969, emerging Humanistic Jewish communities, springing up throughout North America, created the Society for Humanistic Judaism (SHJ) as its national organization. Currently there are 30 communities in North America, the most northerly in Toronto, Canada, the most southerly here in Southwest Florida, and from coast to coast across the United States. We have become the fifth branch of Judaism.

Foreseeing the necessity to train leaders for this modern philosophy, in 1985 Rabbi Wine and other scholars formed the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism (IISHJ) at a meeting in Jerusalem. The Institute maintains a campus in Israel and in North America. Since its inception, the North American Section has ordained over 40 leaders/madrikhim/vegvazers and rabbis.

Many years later, Rabbi Dan Friedman, a colleague of Rabbi Wine, spoke to the Naples-Marco Section of the National Council of Jewish Women. Attending this event and perceiving the positive audience reaction to Rabbi Friedman’s description of how he came to be a Humanistic Rabbi, I stood up during the Q&A and offered to take the names of those who would like to explore the idea of having such a community here.

Starting with those names, support from Miriam Jerris, SHJ’s rabbi, and members of the Sarasota Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, we organized in 2008 and became a 501(c)(3) organization. Soon we affiliated with SHJ. Also crucial to our strong beginning was the encouragement we received from David Willens, then Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Collier County, his assistant, Melissa Keel, and Ted Epstein, editor of the Federation Star.

It’s been 10 years since the Humanistic Jewish Havurah of Southwest Florida was formed. We attract unaffiliated secular Jews who now find kinship with like-minded people. We represent a growing segment of Jews who are Jews either by birth or by choice, who believe that:

·       Judaism is the historic culture of the Jewish people and religion is only one part of that culture

·       Jewish identity is best preserved in a free, pluralistic environment

·       People possess the power and responsibility to shape their own lives independent of supernatural authority

·       Ethics and morality should serve human needs, and choices should be based upon consideration of the consequences of actions rather than pre-ordained rules or commandments

·       Jewish history, like all history, is a human saga, a testament to the significance of human power and human responsibility. Biblical and other traditional texts are products of human activity and are best understood through archaeology and other scientific analysis.

·       The freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being

On the first Friday of each month we gather to celebrate Shabbat. We celebrate Jewish holidays for the lessons of humanism they each represent. Yom Kippur climaxes the self-examination begun on Rosh Hashanah and is a time of self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others. As this holiday ends, we conduct a Nizkor (“Let us remember”) ceremony to affirm that human beings preserve the memory of those who have died. Chanukah extols courage. Passover is a time to celebrate the modern, as well as the ancient quest for freedom alongside a celebration of spring renewal and rebirth.

We offer a program with Humanistic Jewish values to the community on the third Sunday during the winter months.

If you are attracted to our philosophy, a membership form is available at www.hjhswfl.org.

What does it take to become a Humanistic Jew?

10 characteristics of temperament that reinforce a humanistic commitment

As the Humanistic Jewish Havurah of Southwest Florida completes its tenth year of activity, it’s appropriate to revisit the subject matter of an article published at the end of that first season. Its message, authored by Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, founder of Humanistic Judaism, remains important a decade later.
He began, “It would be helpful to both searchers and prospects to know which people would be most comfortable with Humanistic Judaism.”
1. Cultural Attachments
If you enjoy being Jewish and like the cultural side of Jewish life – if you enjoy Jewish music, dance, poetry and humor, but are generally bored with theological discussions and praying – you are on your way.
2. Desire for Integrity
If you are bothered by saying things out loud in public services that you really do not believe – if sentimental traditional music cannot compensate for the discomfort of pretending to believe what you do not believe – you are on your way.
3. Consistency
If religious ‘schizophrenia’ bothers you, that familiar strategy of segregating religious attachments away from the other beliefs that guide your daily behavior – if you want the commonsense of normal existence to apply to the moral and ritual decisions of Jewish life – then you are moving in a humanistic direction.
4. Pragmatism
If you believe that people do not exist to serve rules but that rules exist to serve people – if you believe that the living do not exist to serve the ‘needs’ of the dead, but the past exists to serve the needs of the present – then you are moving in a humanistic direction.
5. Self-reliance
If you want to be the master of your own life – if you resent being told what to do without reasonable explanations, even when the commands seem to come with divine credentials – you are picking up momentum.
6. Openness
If new ideas do not frighten you – if changing familiar routines gives you a sense of excitement and pleasure – if viewing the Jewish experience from a totally new perspective does not make you dizzy – then you are picking up momentum.
7. Adventure
If you believe that the present has as much right as the past to be creative – if you feel that designing new celebrations is just as important as preserving old ones – if you are convinced that Jewish survival needs the flexibility to take risks – then you are almost there.
8. Universalism
If you believe that Jewish culture is one of the many good cultures – if you feel that the Jewish heritage does not need to be superior to be valuable – if you are convinced that we have as much to learn from other people as they have to learn from us – then you are almost there.
9. Courage
If you have no need to always be a part of the crowd – if standing up for conviction is more important than receiving approval of everybody – then you have probably arrived.
10. Sense of Humor
If you sense that the world is a ‘little bit crazy,’ that the agenda of the universe does not easily fit the needs and hopes of individual men and women – if you accept the fact that we often get what we do not deserve – if you maintain that the creation of a good world is up to us, and not to destiny – then you should probably face up to the fact that you are a Humanistic Jew.
So, do you identify as a Humanistic Jew? If so, the Humanistic Jewish Havurah welcomes you into our community.
© The Jewish Humanist, vol. 24, no. 1, August 1986

Significant topic for consideration on Yom HaShoah

On Sunday afternoon, April 15, the Humanistic Jewish Havurah of Southwest Florida will commemorate Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) with a program featuring Paul R. Bartrop, PhD, Professor of History, at Florida Gulf Coast University. His topic is “Not Accepting Refugees: The Evian Conference of 1938 and its Relevance Today.”

At 1:30 p.m. we gather for coffee ’n chat before the lecture begins promptly at 2:00 p.m. in the David G. Willens Community Room of the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples, 2500 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Suite 2201, Naples. Due to the limited capacity of this venue, we request that you contact Dena Sklaroff at 239.591.0101 or denas27@aol.com to make your reservation.

This event will be most extraordinary. The content of Dr. Bartrop’s address is based on his recent book on the subject, which is the first major study of this conference. It will be the first time this talk will be presented in Southwest Florida. Dr. Bartrop could not have chosen a better audience than a community of Humanistic Jews seeking better understanding of our Jewish history as related to the Holocaust. The public is invited to share in this experience.

The Evian conference on refugees from Nazism has long been identified as a “lost opportunity” – a failed initiative to save the Jews of Europe from the Nazi menace. However, as Paul Bartrop explains, this critique is based on the erroneous premise that the conference was intended to rescue the Jews in the first place. Rather, he argues, the conference was completely successful in what it set out to achieve: to discuss the refugee problem without committing any nation to concrete action or a departure from its existing position. In this presentation, he will show that the refugee conference was always intended to be window dressing onto which humanitarian agencies and Jewish communities placed too many hopes – hopes that, by design, were never going to be realized.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum describes the conference on its website: “The Nazis aimed to make Germany judenrein (cleansed of Jews) by making life so difficult for them that they would be forced to leave the country. By 1939 about 150,000 German Jews, one in four, had already fled the country. After Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, however, an additional 185,000 Jews were brought under Nazi rule. Many Jews were unable to find countries willing to take them in.”

Even though news of the violent pogroms of November 1938 was widely reported, Americans remained reluctant to welcome Jewish refugees. In the midst of the Great Depression, many Americans believed that refugees would compete with them for jobs and overburden social programs set up to assist the needy.

In the summer of 1938, delegates from 32 countries met at the French resort of Evian. President Roosevelt chose not to send a high-level official, such as the secretary of state to Evian. Instead, Myron C. Taylor, a businessman and close friend of Roosevelt’s, represented the U.S. at the conference. During the nine-day meeting, delegate after delegate rose to express sympathy for the refugees. But most countries, including the United States and Britain, offered excuses for not letting in more refugees.

Responding to Evian, the German government was able to state with great pleasure how “astounding” it was that foreign countries criticized Germany for their treatment of Jews, but none of them wanted to open the doors to them when “the opportunity offered.”

The current migrant crisis is Europe’s worst since World War II – and the struggle to find places for migrants and refugees bears great similarity with that earlier crisis.

Memories of Seders past – experiencing Seders present

As in years past, the Humanistic Jewish Havurah of Southwest Florida celebrates its Passover Seder at Bonita Bay Club, 26660 Club Drive, Bonita Springs. On Saturday, March 31, the event will start promptly at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the public. A traditional Passover menu will include gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, choice of chicken or brisket, dessert, beverage and more. Vegetarian plates are available. The cost is $85 per person including gratuity. The charge for a child under 13 is $35.

Reservations may be made by mailing a check payable to “HJH” to Joan Weinstein, Naples Walk, 15191 Cedarwood Lane, Apt. 2505, Naples, FL 34110. Be sure to indicate your choice of entree with your payment. Reservations must be received by March 25. Further information is available at www.hjhswfl.org or by calling Dena Sklaroff at 239.591.0101.

I asked several friends the question, “Why do you want to attend a Seder when you don’t generally observe Shabbat, seldom attend services on the High Holidays, and only give Chanukah and other Jewish holidays cursory, if any, attention?” Maybe this question also applies to you as a reader of this article.

The consistent answer I received from everyone was related to memories of Seders they experienced as children and continued as they raised their own families. But, we may also retain childhood memories of Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Chanukah and Purim while no longer being so strongly motivated to continue observing these holidays. So, I probed further, asking, “What makes the Seder so special?”

The response from nearly everyone was being together as a family, having fun with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents – singing songs, searching for the afikoman, good food, the story in the Haggadah, but mostly being together with family.

Many with whom I spoke remember that the Seder was lengthy and tedious. Some remember the prayers were too long and too many. Some remember having to sit at the “kids’ table.” One person reported drinking wine and getting sick!

The inference, although not openly expressed, is their experience was also about being Jewish. Not one person spoke of Thanksgiving, Christmas or other family holidays having the same import. The Seder is a very positive Jewish experience shared by everyone.

Their Haggadahs may have varied from the Maxwell House Coffee version to one that was more traditional to the family, or even a creative version to hold the interest of the children. The important element I observed is that no matter the memories, the Seder remains a positive way to maintain our Jewish identity.

Now we find ourselves living in Southwest Florida, miles apart from family, still wanting to have that wonderful Seder experience. Our friends are our family. Doing something Jewish is important. And so, the Humanistic Jewish Havurah Seder has become a very popular event. We gather to continue celebrating Passover with all the trimmings, but without the distasteful long readings, the prayers that do not have significance for secular Jews, and without rituals that carry no import.

Our Humanist Haggadah is current, includes songs, and speaks not only to the legendary tale of the exodus, but also includes the story of the modern Jewish exodus. Chef Richard Brumm is noted for his exquisite preparation and presentation of the beautiful Seder meal that is then served by the able Bonita Bay Club staff.

Humanistic Judaism is a non-theistic movement in which cultural Jews and their families, whether born Jewish or not, can affirm, celebrate and enrich their Jewish identity and values consistent with their philosophy of life.

We welcome you to join us this Passover for a truly meaningful celebration.

The real story of Jonathan Pollard

The complicated story of Jonathan Pollard will be our topic of discussion on Sunday afternoon, February 18 in the David G. Willens Community Room of the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples, 2500 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Suite 2201, Naples. We start with Coffee ’n Chat at 1:30 p.m. before speaker Tom Eastwood takes the podium promptly at 2:00 p.m. To RSVP, contact Dena Sklaroff at denas27@aol.com or 239.591.0101. The public is encouraged to join to share in our exploration of this controversial Jewish character.

Mr. Eastwood began his law enforcement career with the U.S. Treasury’s Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms before transferring as a special agent, and later as an executive with the Department of Defense where for 15 years he conducted and led counterintelligence, security and criminal investigations. He was trained by and worked on joint investigations with many agencies including ATF, CIA, DEA, DoJ, FBI, IRS, Secret Service, and U.S. military and foreign intelligence agencies. At his retirement, he was serving as Director of the IRS in Michigan, and had previously served in this position in Milwaukee, Louisville and Fargo. In his current career, Eastwood bills himself as lecturer, consultant and “Edutainer.” Locally, he has lectured at FGCU, Renaissance, Shell Point and for the Bonita Bay Community Association, to great acclaim.

Jonathan Jay Pollard (born August 7, 1954) is a former intelligence analyst for the United States government. In 1987, as part of a plea agreement, Pollard pleaded guilty to spying for and providing top-secret classified information to Israel. He was sentenced to life in prison for violations of the Espionage Act.

Pollard is the only American who has received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally of the U.S. He was released on November 20, 2015, in accordance with federal guidelines in place at the time of his sentencing. Pollard’s parole terms were upheld on appeal after he served 30 years of a life sentence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked President Donald Trump to allow Jonathan Pollard to immigrate to Israel, but at the time of his arrest, Israel maintained that Pollard worked for an unauthorized rogue operation, a position they maintained for more than ten years.

The prevailing conception is he was a U.S. citizen who received a life sentence for spying for Israel and giving away sensitive American intelligence. Tom Eastwood will address the facts behind this highly debated and political case. Was Pollard motivated by love for Israel and its security or was his aim more sinister – greed? Also, did he spy only for Israel? Mr. Eastwood will also discuss other Mossad operations (Eichmann, the “Hangman of Riga,” assassinations) and Israeli intelligence organizations.

The complicated issue now is whether Pollard should be allowed to leave the country to live in Israel, or remain in the U.S. and live under the terms of his tethered parole? As American Jews, where do our allegiances lie? As Humanists we are compelled to look at the facts to discover both sides of the question.

We believe reason is the best method for the discovery of truth. And then, can reason prevail? Like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, on the one hand, this. On the other hand, that. It’s not always easy to reach a proper conclusion. But then, what is the proper conclusion?

Reason requires a special discipline. When sufficient facts are available, strong convictions are possible. When facts are meager or unavailable, uncertainty follows. Reasonable people often say, “I don’t know.”

The use of reason, a distinctly human capacity, enables human beings to be most fully human.

A look at anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

Are you interested in hearing an intelligent voice from the Muslim community address the prejudice and racist chaos going on in America? Samar Jarrah, a Kuwait-born Palestinian-American, will be our presenter at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 21 in the David G. Willens Community Room at the Federation office. To make your reservation, contact Dena Sklaroff at denas27@aol.com or 239.591.0101.

Samar lived in Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan before moving to the U.S. in 1989. She worked as a TV editor and reporter in Jordan. She holds a master’s degree in International Relations and served as a political science instructor at the University of South Florida Tampa. Currently, Samar co-hosts a weekly live radio show called “True Talk” on WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa. The show addresses Arab Muslim issues.

If one were to take a course on world religions, one would expect to learn about the differences among religions, but sometimes the most important differences can be found within a religious tradition. There are no more than 15 million Jews in the world, yet this small group contains tremendous diversity. Differences of religious observance divide ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews – for example, in the adherence to kosher dietary laws.

Often people are aware of the differences within their own groups but assume other groups to be homogeneous. This, unfortunately, seems to be true of the way many Americans perceive Muslims. If we think about the diversity among 15 million Jews worldwide, or among more than 300 million people of Christian heritage in North America, how much more diversity is found among the one billion Muslims around the world? A glance at diversity of the Muslim world reveals that in the United States, about 35% are South Asian, 33% are Middle Eastern and 25% are African American. There are also significant numbers of converts to Islam from diverse ethnic traditions.

There are also similarities between Judaism and Islam and, of course, all good people. Amir Hussain, professor in the Department of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University, at a 2007 Colloquium titled “Jews and the Muslim World: Solving the Puzzle” held at the Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills, Michigan, described three things: “First is the love of learning. Second is the idea of social justice, and third is the notion of exile, a theme that runs throughout the Jewish tradition.” Muslims who have immigrated to the United States and Canada, often to escape oppression, are modern-day exiles.

Currently, Muslims in America are experiencing Islamophobia. Though nothing like the Holocaust, it bears a remarkable similarity to the anti-Semitism Jews experienced throughout their long history. We remember what it was like being persecuted as a foreign ethnic religious minority. As Jews we could understand the issues facing Blacks who were discriminated against, and now Muslims are seeking that same understanding from us. The question to consider is whether as Americans we are ready to stand with Muslims during their plight?

But Muslims in America are not alone. There is the growing trend of hating all minorities, especially Muslims and Jews. As a community that knows prejudice and racism, might we be able to unite and help other communities? Is this the time for Americans to think outside the narrow prism of the Arab-Israeli conflict and unite as a community with Muslims to help other minorities like Hispanics, refugees and new immigrants?

As Jewish humanists we believe the freedom and dignity of the Jewish people must go hand in hand with the freedom and dignity of every human being.

Chanukah, oh Chanukah, a time for reinvention

By Paula Creed with Rabbi Jeffrey Falick

The Humanistic Jewish Havurah invites you to celebrate Chanukah at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 16 in the Fireside Room of the Bonita Bay Club. Make your reservation by mailing a check payable to “HJH” in the amount of $40 per person to Joan Weinstein, 15191 Cedarwood Lane, Apt. 2505, Naples, FL 34110. Reservations must be received by Monday, December 11. You are encouraged to bring your menorah. Candles will be provided.

* * *

Would it matter if you discovered that the Chanukah “miracle of the oil” was a legend invented hundreds of years after Jews began to celebrate the holiday? For Humanistic Jews it matters a great deal because knowing the origins of our holidays helps us see how they evolved and why, liberating us to make them our own.

In mid-second century B.C.E. Israel, Greek influences had led many Jews – particularly the well-educated and powerful – to embrace a more cosmopolitan Hellenized way of life. Backed by Seleucid Greek rulers, they even gained control of the Temple. Meanwhile, the more traditionally-minded fumed at what they perceived as disobedience of God. When the Greek emperor Antiochus IV backed the Hellenizers, imposing anti-religious laws, war broke out.

The Maccabees won and established their own kingdom. To mark their triumph, they declared an eight-day celebration beginning on 25 Kislev, a date that conveniently falls near the time of the winter solstice. Solstice festivals to encourage the return of the sun by lighting fires were widespread in that region. These rituals gave a small sense of control to those who lived at the mercy of a capricious natural world.

Though the Maccabees saw themselves as anti-assimilationists par excellence, they were not immune from outside influences or ignorant of festivals of light. The book of II Maccabees claims that the new rulers declared an eight-day festival as a delayed celebration of the fall holiday of Sukkot which they failed to commemorate during the war. They also had in mind Solomon’s dedication of the original Temple during Sukkot. But one other element of Sukkot may have tipped the scales because, alongside the sukkah and other familiar Sukkot traditions, ancient Sukkot observances also featured torchlight ceremonies. So, was the Maccabees’ invention of Chanukah an attempt to devise their own winter solstice festival?

Whatever their self-proclaimed reasons for inventing Chanukah, two things are clear: 1) The holiday is as closely timed to the winter solstice as a lunar calendar will allow, and 2) there is not a single mention of the “miracle of oil” in any contemporaneous account of the war and its aftermath.

That little addition to the Maccabee tale is first mentioned hundreds of years later by Talmudic Rabbis who sought to re-position the Maccabee victory as entirely dependent upon God. This, they hoped, would tamp down on any future plans for zealous uprisings, something they knew would be disastrous for the Jews.

For Humanistic Jews, the Maccabees’ invention of the holiday and the later Rabbis’ willingness to invent a new “reason for the season” serve as reminders that every Jewish tradition is both human created and open to re-evaluation and re-definition.

In the centuries to come, Zionists would position the Maccabees as heroes of Jewish self-determination. In America, rabbis emphasized its themes of religious liberty, resonant in the “land of the free.” Meanwhile, American Jewry – inspired by Christmas just as surely as the Maccabees were by Greek and solstice traditions – decorated and exchanged gifts like their Christian neighbors.

For Humanistic Jews, this flexibility of interpretation reminds us that there have always been multiple voices in Judaism; that it is a living tradition we ourselves create and continuously re-fashion for our own needs.

Membership in the Humanistic Jewish Havurah of SW Florida

This month the Humanistic Jewish Havurah begins its annual membership drive. As current members renew their membership for another year, we are reaching out to others who have attended our holiday celebrations, enjoyed attending our Sunday afternoon meetings, read this column, and share an affinity with our Humanistic Jewish philosophy. Now is the time to support us with your membership as well.

Annual dues, reasonably set at $85 per person, can be paid by writing a check, payable to HJH, and mailed to our treasurer, Joan Weinstein, 15191 Cedarwood Lane, Apt. 2505, Naples, FL 34110. Dues also cover one’s membership in the Society for Humanistic Judaism (www.shj.org), our national organization.

A question often asked is, “Why do Humanistic Jews need any organized congregation, community or havurah? Why can’t Humanistic Jews exist separate and independent of one another?”

Before addressing this question, it is necessary to explain what is meant by these terms. A congregation, community or havurah is a group of people working together for a common goal. The goal in our case is the affirmation of our philosophy. Our havurah does not have a physical structure, nor do we have a professional leader or paid staff. Our Humanistic Jewish Havurah is a group of welcoming people who together strive to embrace the Humanistic Jewish philosophy.

We recognize a trait that is crucial to the very nature of human beings. We are social creatures. Only through interactions with others do we grow, learn and even exist. It is essential for people to have the opportunity to share ideas with one another. As Humanistic Jews, we need to interact with others, share our ideas, and expose ourselves to new ideas. Therefore, it is necessary for us to have a format for our interactions, a community where we can express our religious philosophy and our way of life, a community where together we can share and create a humanistic atmosphere and can grow more strongly as Humanistic Jews.

Our havurah reflects an aspect of our Jewish identity. We, as Humanistic Jews, understand that to be Jewish is to be part of an extended family. One way of affirming this identity is to create a community in which similar-thinking folks have an opportunity to meet one another, a place in which we can become more aware of relationship and to extend family. It allows us the opportunity to share our life-cycle events, holidays and special moments, not as individuals, but as a family with shared concerns and shared joys.

One unifying belief is the affirmation of human independence of supernatural or other external authorities and, therefore, our right and responsibility to determine for ourselves the purpose and course of our life. Open any Jewish prayer book at random and you will find this fundamental humanistic principle denied and its opposite affirmed. This inconsistency between official synagogue ideology and what we really believe accounts for the indifference or hostility that many feel toward organized Jewish religion.

An organization such as ours is essential for Humanistic Judaism. Our religious beliefs and lifestyles will never be validated, or put into practice in conventional synagogues or temples. If we exist separately or “in the closet,” our voices will never be heard. It is necessary to together create a community that fulfills our needs; places where we can celebrate life-cycle events and holidays and still feel comfortable and honest.

Humanistic Judaism provides an alternative that many disillusioned people find most inviting and acceptable. Please join the Humanistic Jewish Havurah to realize your true “beliefs.”

Society for Humanistic Judaism calls for increased government action against hate crimes

Humanism is a philosophy of life that emphasizes the importance of human power and human achievement. Thus, humanists believe the chief power for dealing with human problems is human power.

To this end the Ethical Concerns Committee of the Society for Humanistic Judaism, a committee of the umbrella organization of secular humanistic communities in North America, recently acted to address the rise of hate crimes, bombastic racial and ethnic orotundity, and public demonstrations that have recently been the center of public attention.

A resolution released February 22, 2017, states as follows:

“The Society for Humanistic Judaism condemns the rising hate crimes and malicious rhetoric, which have plagued the United States since the 2016 presidential election, against immigrants, Muslims, Jews and other minority groups. Whether it is the burning of mosques, bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers, vandalism to places of worship, children chanting “build that wall” to taunt their peers, Islamophobia, the elevation of white nationalism, or anti-immigrant sentiment and policies, the president as the leader of the nation must not only regularly and forcefully decry all hate crimes and rhetoric but also identify ways for this administration to actively counter hate crimes.

Remaining inactive against the rise in hate, whether from the far-left or far-right, is dangerous to the fundamental values that we as Secular Humanistic Jews hold dear. It was unacceptable – and we fear purposely provocative – to issue a White House statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that did not mention the Jewish people. Jews were targeted for extermination to a degree that was epic in its scope, horror and inhumanity, and to which the word “Holocaust” was specifically applied as a translation of “Shoah,” the Hebrew word for the Nazi genocide of the Jews. It was especially abhorrent when journalists merely ask whether the nation’s leader will condemn the rise in anti-Semitism and the response was to ridicule the journalist, ignore or deflect the question, and/or respond that he personally is not anti-Semitic rather than using the opportunity to educate our citizens.

One statement against anti-Semitism after an unprecedented fourth round of multiple bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers nationwide will not erase over a year of demonizing minority populations for the U.S.’s perceived woes. Now that the campaign is over, we call on this administration to end the scapegoating of minorities and acknowledge that what “makes America great” is not based on any person’s religion, color, or nation of origin. Hate must never be a political tool in a democracy. Democracies thrive on empathy, honesty, evidence and knowledge. Accordingly, the Society for Humanistic Judaism joins other Jewish groups in urging the president to continually and aggressively condemn the rising growth of hate that is flourishing under his administration, and implement actions and policies to reverse the trend.”

Today this statement could be augmented to include a more forthright declaration regarding the demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. Along these same lines it would seem the president deserves the crticism he has received from many fronts for not dealing more honesty and forthrightly in condemnation of neo-Nazi and white supremacist demonstrators who have been emboldened by political speech-making during the presidential campaign and at subsequent political rallies.

Humanistic Judaism, one of the five denominations of Judaism, combines the Jewish values of loving-kindness (Gemilut Chassadim), charity (Tzedakah), and making the world a better place (Tikkun Olam), with the recognition that the responsibility for putting them in practice lies in human hands. The Humanistic Jewish Havurah of Southwest Florida is an affiliate of Society for Humanistic Judaism.

Yom Kippur commemoration for secular humanistic Jews

You are invited to attend the Humanistic Jewish Havurah Yom Kippur commemoration on Saturday, September 30 beginning at 5:00 p.m. in the East Clubhouse of Vi at Bentley Village. The evening will begin with a short Nizkor, a ceremony to preserve our memory of the dead. Nizkor (“Let us remember”) is a meaningful observance adopted by secular humanistic Jews to carry on the traditional observance that ends Yom Kippur.

Immediately following this observance, a delicious break-the-fast will be served. The cost to participate in this event is $30 per person payable to “HJH” and mailed to Maraline Rane, 6955 Carlisle Court, D-219, Naples, FL 34109. Reservations must be received by Monday, September 25.

For many Jews, the High Holidays are the two times during the year when they feel compelled to do something Jewish. Secular Jews had trouble with the High Holidays from the beginning. As festivals of national liberation, Passover and Chanukah could easily be purified of supernatural connections. As nature holidays, Sukkot and Shavuot could, with little effort, be connected to the seasons and to all the secular responses they aroused.

But Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as they had evolved in the Judaism of the rabbis, seemed inseparable from supernaturalist tradition. There was no seasonal happening they pointed to. Both holidays were fraught with ideas of divine power and judgment, sin and repentance. Early Jewish secularists discarded these holidays as hard-core traditionalism and irrelevant to the new secular nationalism.

Today, secular humanistic Jews incorporate the High Holidays into their Jewish observance, recognizing that their continuing hold is too strong to be ignored. But why do these holidays remain so compelling for Jewish humanists?

The Enlightenment and Emancipation undermined the old belief framework of the High Holidays and removed some of the dread. Divine recordkeeping, supernatural rewards and punishments, and the value of appeasement ceremonies seemed less credible than before. Kol Nidre, with its dismissal of the binding character of promises, became a moral problem. Long confessions and breast-beating appeared unseemly. Even fasting developed a bad reputation, offending “rational” people who found no ethical value in self-inflicted suffering.

Humanistic dimensions appear throughout the traditional observance of the Days of Awe, despite the heavy emphasis on divine justice and divine mercy. Guilt leads to self-reflection and self-evaluation. Resolutions to improve behavior in the coming year are made. People seek out friends and neighbors to ask for forgiveness for past wrongdoings and to effect reconciliation.

While many secular Jews find the High Holidays too religious for their tastes, Humanistic Judaism realizes that these holidays have special significance. If human judgment replaces divine judgment, and if human power becomes the alternative to divine power, then Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur become perfect vehicles for celebrating a humanistic philosophy of life. It is appropriate for Jews at the time of the Jewish New Year to reflect on the moral quality of their behavior and to make decisions to improve it.

Introspection and goal setting are traditional. They are also humanistic.

Humanistic Judaism offers a positive voice about the Jewish present. The contemporary society of secular study, individual freedom, and sexual equality is morally better than societies that spawned the Torah and the Talmud. There is no need for reverent nostalgia and sentimental guilt.

We offer more future and less past. The scientific spirit refuses to worship the past and to imagine that the greatest wisdom was uttered 3,000 years ago. We must invent behavior to serve human needs – not make human lifestyles fit rigid, outdated behavior.

Authority, freedom, ethics and reason

Authority

One of the fundamental questions asked and answered by all religions and philosophies is: “Where does ultimate authority over the individual person reside?” The distinctively humanistic answer is that ultimate authority resides in the individual person. Although one may delegate power to properly structured secular or religious functionaries, no external power – religious or secular, human or divine – may legitimately usurp that authority.

One of the most prominent characteristics of Jewish history is the vulnerability of Jews, in all times and places, at the hands of authority. Lacking political sovereignty, living typically as a minority within larger societies, and dispersed among the nations of the world, Jews found that to be Jewish meant to be subject to the favor or hostility of external power. Repeatedly, they learned a painful lesson: Do not trust your fortune to authority. At one moment, it might promise safety and prosperity; in the next it might deliver violence and destruction. While sacred texts taught that divine authority is benevolent and reliable, daily experience demonstrated that authority (whether divine or secular) was fickle, dangerous and, ultimately, deadly.

Thus, humanism and Jewish experience confirm one another. Both demonstrate that 1) there is no authority in the universe, human or divine, that may rightfully impose its power on human beings; and 2) every person owns himself or herself and possesses the right to determine the purpose and course of his or her life.

Freedom

An essential value of Humanistic Judaism is freedom, which follows directly from the humanistic principle of self-ownership. In the absence of belief in an authority who created human beings and who, therefore, has the right and the power to determine what they must be and do, and in the absence of an authoritative document (such as a sacred text) that lists people’s duties and responsibilities, each person is free to set the purpose and course of his or her own life.

Freedom is a prerequisite to exercise one’s rational faculty. Human beings cannot be forced to think, nor can the results of thinking be coerced. Reason demands freedom.

The limits of freedom are defined by the equivalent liberty possessed inherently by all human beings. One’s freedom to act ends when it impedes that of others.

Ethics

Humanistic Jews embrace a wide range of ethical perspectives and moral philosophies: from libertarian to utilitarian, from individualist to communitarian.

The central ethical message of libertarian humanism is: You are responsible for yourself, including the immediate and long-range consequences of your freely chosen behavior upon yourself and others.

Utilitarian or communitarian humanists agree that personal autonomy is important, but of equal or greater importance is the development and use of one’s talents for the benefit of oneself and others, i.e., the importance of the survival of the human community to which all individuals belong.

While the conclusions reached by one Humanistic Jew may differ from those reached by others, all are committed to rational, free inquiry as the most effective and appropriate means for the discovery of ethical truth.

Reason

For Humanistic Jews, reason is the best method for the discovery of truth.

Reason is a tool for solving problems. Problems are a function of the human desires for survival and happiness. The desires for survival and happiness are tied up with the powerful emotions of fear, anger, love and guilt.

Reason, by appealing to the observed consequences of behavior, helps to create a proper balance among these emotions. Rational people never become hostage to any single emotion. The use of reason, a distinctively human capacity, enables human beings to be most fully human.

Humanistic Judaism and tradition

For many Jews, Judaism is identified with the literature of the Bible, the Talmud and the Siddur.

Despite its fame and antiquity, this official literature of traditional Judaism is inappropriate as an ideological basis of humanistic Judaism. Humanistic Judaism does not seek to legitimize its norms and recommend behavior by finding proof texts in the Torah and the Talmud. In trying to determine the place of traditional literature in a humanistic approach to Jewish identity, we need to affirm certain realities.

Jewish identity does not depend on using the tradition. Jewishness is an ethnic identity, not an ideological one. No adherence to any ideas or documents makes a Jew a Jew. A Jew who does not believe in the value and truth of the Torah is equally as Jewish as one who does.

The endorsement of the past is unnecessary. We do not have to agree with our ancestors to have ideas that are valid and Jewishly significant.

The people of the past are entitled to their integrity. The literature of the past is more interesting if we allow the authors of the past to say what they think than if we force them to say what we think. An ethical approach to textual criticism allows people to mean what they say, even if their ideas are embarrassing. The language of tradition is not obscure. It is refreshingly plain and direct. We have a moral obligation to respect that directness.

God is not removable from traditional literature. The authors of the Bible, the Talmud and the Siddur had a deep belief in a supernatural father-figure who governs the world with justice. To the authors of tradition, the worship of God was supremely important. Modern Jews who are uncomfortable with this intense conviction should face up to it when they deal with traditional texts. The distinction between ritual and ethics did not exist. Ceremony guaranteed the life of the community.

Traditional ideas vary from period to period. The official literature of our tradition includes documents from four periods in Jewish history: the tribal, the royal, the priestly and the rabbinic. In each period the prevailing ideas of the ruling elite were distinctly different from those that came before and after. Kings did not agree with priests; and priests did not agree with rabbis. There has been continuous change of beliefs throughout Jewish history. A static view of the tradition is a distortion.

There are many motivations for ethical behavior. The major motivation for good behavior in the Bible and the Talmud is the authority of God and the rewards and punishments He administers. But that does not mean that divine favor was the only motivation. Many of the moral ideals in traditional literature, which we find ethically acceptable because they conform to our conscience and our reason, were also reasonable when they were first enunciated.

What really happened is as much tradition as what the authorities of the past thought happened. The Torah was written over a period of five hundred years by different authors. Jewish life was molded not only by what people thought happened but also by what really happened. Living before an official Torah was an important part of the ancient Jewish experience and in no way diminished Jewish identity. It provided for a richness of options that could never be fully suppressed.

The tradition is morally uneven. Humanistic Jews neither love nor hate “the tradition.” They love some, like some, deplore some of it, and view the rest with historic interest.

We must neither revere tradition nor ignore it. We must understand it and use it carefully.

From an article by Rabbi Sherwin Wine published in Humanistic Judaism Autumn, 1987, Vol. XV, No. IV, pp. 8-10.

"Walk on Water" – let’s go to the movies

An award-winning Israeli film will be on the program for the Sunday, May 14 meeting of the Humanistic Jewish Havurah of Southwest Florida. We’ll gather at 1:30 p.m. for “coffee ’n chat” before the film starts at 2:00 p.m. sharp.

The event takes place in the Federation’s David G. Willens Community Room, 2500 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Suite 2201, Naples. Contact Dena Sklaroff to make your reservation at denas27@aol.com or 239.591.0101.

Walk on Water is about Eyal, an Israeli intelligence agent, a member of the Mossad who performs the duties of a detective, and a professional killer. He is assigned to act as a tour guide for a young German man who is visiting his sister in an Israeli kibbutz. The German siblings’ grandfather was a Nazi believed to have escaped to Argentina, and the Mossad is trying to track him down to kill him.

American film critic Daniel Garrett writes: “Walk on Water is a film that offers pleasure and insight, including the pleasure of insight, as it explores family, politics – the relationship between Germans and Israeli Jews, and the possibilities for friendship, love and sex. Its characters are made believable by their moods and their thoughts, whether it is cheer or bitterness that they feel. What does the present owe the past, and how much must the personal yield to the political? How can honesty and hope coexist? Walk on Water offers images of Istanbul, Israel and Germany that alone make the film worth seeing. More than seventy locations in Israel and Germany were filmed in less than a month.”

“Walking on water” brings up an apparition of Jesus walking on water. This tale has become a metaphor when referring to an impossible task. The phrase is widely used to refer to the performance of extraordinary undertakings, as in the titles of books that aim to show individuals how to break through their personal limitations and achieve dramatic success.

From a scientific perspective, an act of walking on water would be anomalous because it doesn’t fit with what we know to be possible. In the film, when Eyal and the young German are near the Sea of Galilee, the young German walks on the edge of a log over and into the water. Eyal tells him that he can’t actually walk on water, and the German replies that he thinks if someone is pure enough and practices enough he can walk on water, a childlike thought. At the end of the film this thought is revisited.

Our ethics are rarely descriptions of what we are. More often they are proscriptions against what we might become – and they call us back after we have strayed, providing direction.

From the beginning of human self-awareness, men and women have been struggling with the question, “How should I behave?” When it comes to human behavior, we tend to be very judgmental. We have a whole set of encouraging words to support certain behavior – “right,” “fair,” just” “moral.” We have a whole set of intimidating words to condemn other behavior – “wrong,” “unfair,” “unjust” “immoral.”

Faith handles ought as easily as it handles is, while humanist thought on is and ought is complicated. The tension between reality and desire is often far apart. The world does not always correspond to the world we want. Values are different from facts, but both are judged. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are right. Some are wrong.

A discussion following the film will provide ample opportunity to consider these questions.

At Passover, the battle was with Egyptians; currently the enemy is ISIS

The Humanistic Jewish Havurah invites you, your family and friends to join us for our Passover Seder beginning promptly at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 11 at the Bonita Bay Club, 26660 Club Drive, Bonita Springs. We celebrate by reading our Humanist Haggadah followed by a traditional Passover menu. A reservation form is available on our website (www.hjhswfl.org) to be completed and mailed with your payment to secure a seat at this event. The cost is $75 per person; $25 for children under 13. Contact Dena Sklaroff for further information at 239.591.0101.

The Exodus story reminds us that every human being desires to live freely and with dignity. Modern people understand that release from formal servitude is not the same as true freedom. In the traditional story, the Hebrews pass from one authoritarian situation into another. Moses is no less dictatorial than Pharaoh, although his dictatorship is less offensive because he is Jewish. Moses issues laws in the name of a divine authority. This neither provides for individual liberty nor allows public challenge. Conformity, humility and obedience are virtues of the theocratic system.

Passover presents us with an opportunity to explore evolving ideas of freedom. What constitutes true freedom in our day? How can we balance it with responsibility? How might we work to bring liberty to the millions of people who do not enjoy the right to pursue their won paths to meaning and happiness?

These are some of the questions that we might ask on this night of questions. They do not require our Passover story to be true, but they are raised when our story is told.

Today a different enemy concerns us. ISIS threatens the liberties of many in the Middle East, but has also become a threat in Africa, Europe and even appears to influence some in the United States.

On Sunday afternoon, April 23, the Havurah hosts Thomas L. Eastwood, who will speak about “A Strategy for Defeating ISIS.” We meet in the David G. Willens Community Room at the Jewish Federation of Collier County office, 2500 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Suite 2201, Naples. We will begin with “coffee ’n chat” at 1:30 p.m. with the program starting promptly at 2:00 p.m.

To attend this event, it is necessary to make a reservation with Dena Sklaroff at denas27@aol.com or 239.591.0101.

Mr. Eastwood began his law enforcement career with the U.S. Treasury’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms before transferring as a special agent, and later as an executive with the Department of Defense, where for 15 years he conducted and led counterintelligence, security and criminal investigations. He was trained by and worked on joint investigations with many agencies including ATF, CIA, DEA, DoJ, FBI, IRS, Secret Service, and U.S. military and foreign intelligence agencies. At his retirement, he was serving as Director of the IRS in Michigan, and had previously served in this position in Milwaukee, Louisville and Fargo. In his current career, Eastwood bills himself as lecturer, consultant and “Edutainer.” Locally, he has lectured at FGCU, Renaissance, Shell Point, and for the Bonita Bay Community Association, to great acclaim.

ISIS is a serious national and international threat that requires everyone to seek expert information. Our speaker claims to have no political agenda, but rather seeks to give us a clear understanding of ISIS, analyze past strategies, and then give us a clearer understanding of what may the best means for defeating this menace.

First a visitor, Rabbi Jerris; then a Judaic scholar, Ellaine Rosen

We are fortunate to have two exciting events on our calendar in March.

On Sunday morning, March 19, Miriam Jerris, Rabbi for the Society for Humanistic Judaism, will participate with a panel of local rabbis discussing “The Future of Judaism” at the Jewish Community Day of Learning sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Collier County’s Community Relations Committee. Details for registration appear elsewhere in this newspaper.

Secular Humanistic Judaism, which embraces pluralism, has an important role to play in Jewish continuity. No single belief system or lifestyle can win the allegiance of all Jews. Jewish history is witness to the positive force of diversity. Where diversity and personal freedom exist, there is more Jewish creativity and more opportunity for Jews to find their place within the Jewish people.

A free and open society presents many dilemmas for Jews, but a free and open society breaks down barriers between ethnic and religious groups and mixes people, eliminating old identities and forging new ones. Above all, it creates the “autonomous” individual who refuses to be dictated to by any group. It is apparent most Jews relish this freedom and openness.

As revealed in a recent Pew survey, most Jews do not believe one needs to be “religious” to be Jewish. Younger Jews identify as cultural, and their everyday behavior is strongly secular. The secularization process will continue and expand because it provides personal power, prosperity and options that traditional religious observance cannot create.

Secular Humanistic Judaism serves the Jewish needs of people who want to be Jewish in a fashion meaningful to current times while striving to treat all people with dignity to which they are entitled. Things change so fast we cannot know what will happen in 10 or 20 years, but we can take the energy we devote to useless anxiety over Jewish survival and turn it into guiding Jews to live productive, ethical and culturally Jewish lives in a free society.

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On Sunday, March 26, the Havurah hosts Judaic scholar Ellaine Rosen, who has chosen the title “Witness to Goodness” for her presentation that afternoon. We gather in the David G. Willens Community Room at the Federation office (2500 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Suite 2201, Naples) at 1:30 p.m. for “coffee and chat” before the meeting begins promptly at 2:00 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made by contacting Dena Sklaroff at 239.591.0101 or denas27@aol.com.

For secular Humanistic Jews, the most reliable power available to resist human cruelty is human power. Rosen’s research has revealed many examples of efforts that would substantiate this conviction.

The Holocaust is not only a story of victims, perpetrators and collaborators; it is also a story of heroes and heroines – both Jews and Gentiles. Some of the heroic exploits and inventive means by which these brave men and women saved tens of thousands of Jewish lives will be discussed.

Both diplomats and ordinary citizens risked their lives and those of their families to save Jews. Some of their stories have been well chronicled but others are not so well known. Movies and books have told some stories of Jewish and Gentile heroes of the Holocaust, but there are many fascinating little-known incidents and miraculous events which our speaker will reveal.

The participation in, or resistance to, the Final Solution by various nations is also a fascinating but poorly understood chapter in the history of the Holocaust. Some nations willingly surrendered their Jews while others stood up to the Nazis.

Overhanging all these stories is the ultimate question: Would you have had the courage to do what these people did?

Islamophobia and anti-Semitism: exploring the plight of today's refugees through the lens of yesterday's refugees

On Sunday afternoon, February 19, the Humanistic Jewish Havurah presents a provocative meeting discussing the interconnectedness of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, and how those attitudes relate to the plight of today’s refugees. Our speaker will be Hava L. Holzhauer, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Florida Regional Director. ADL is deeply committed to fighting anti-Semitism and protecting the rights of all Americans.

The event will be held in the David G. Willens Community Room of the Jewish Federation of Collier County (2500 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Suite 2201, Naples), starting with “coffee and chat” at 1:30 p.m., and commencement of the meeting promptly at 2:00 p.m. Reservations are required. RSVP to Dena Sklaroff at 239.591.0101 or denas27@aol.com.

Since the advent of Zionism, the Arab and Muslim worlds have become fascinations in Jewish life. And since September 11, 2001, the world of Islam has become an obsession in American life. Similarly, Jews and Americans take center stage in the Muslim perception of evil – often referring to Israel as the “Little Satan” and to America as the “Great Satan.” The demonization of the Jew in Muslim propaganda during the past several decades echoes the strident hatred of German fascist leaders before and during World War II.

For most of the past fourteen hundred years, the fate of the Jews in the Islamic world had been kinder than their fate in the Christian world. Jews were not loved in Islamic countries, but they were not demonized either. They were often granted “dhimmi” status – a “protected person” who could be an asset to the community, provided they paid their “jizya tax.” In Spain and in many other places, Jews and Muslims established alliances of convenience which lasted for centuries.

Rather, it was in the Christian world where Jews were most demonized. The militancy of the Crusades and the persistent hostility to the banking and commercial activities of the Jews encouraged intense hatred. It was in the Christian world that Jews became racial pariahs, the stereotypes of which would later be appropriated for modern anti-Semitism.

Zionism was one response to this hostility. But the advent of Zionism, with its goal of creating a Jewish state in its historic homeland, was an affront for many Muslims. Most Muslims saw the arriving Zionists as the last invasion of European colonists. In fact, to this day most Muslims refer to Israel’s 1948 War of Independence as the “Nakbah” – or “Great Catastrophe.” Later, the Israeli victory in the Six-Day War was a tremendous humiliation for the Muslim world. And after 1967, anti-Semitism became an important ingredient of Muslim propaganda and politics.

The Jewish response to this clash of civilizations has often been fear and contempt – fear of Muslim numbers and power, and contempt for the ignorance that allows anti-Semitism to flourish and for the governments that continue to educate their youth with these lies. For some, fear and contempt have united into hatred – which has too often been expressed through Islamophobia.

Today, the world faces the worst refugee crisis since World War II. More than 65 million people have been displaced, a significant portion of which are fleeing for their lives as they escape war in Syria. But anti-immigrant rhetoric has stoked fears and led some to argue that it is simply too dangerous to accept refugees into the United States – with no deference to the fact that applying for asylum under “refugee status” is the single most difficult way there is to enter our country.

Americans once shamefully turned their backs on Jews desperate to find safety and asylum. We must all remember that we were strangers once too.

Religious freedom in changing times

On Sunday, January 15, Rev. Tony Fisher will discuss the ramifications of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in the light of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and the prospect of the newly-elected Trump Administration appointment to the bench. There is much to contemplate. At 1:30 p.m. we will enjoy a short “coffee and chat” prior to the beginning of the program at 2:00 p.m.

The public is invited to attend this timely program. Reservations are being accepted by Dena Sklaroff at 239.591.0101 or denas27@aol.com.

After a successful 35-year career in educational publishing, where he served most recently as CEO for a successful Boston area development house, Tony changed course and went back to school to earn his Masters of Divinity at Andover Newton Theological School and was ordained into the Unitarian Universalist ministry in 2014. A lifelong Unitarian Universalist, Rev Fisher sees his faith tradition as living on the boundary between the sacred and the secular, the faithful and the skeptic, the believer and the doubter. Religious freedom is thus both at the core of this tradition and essential for its existence.

We cannot assume that the buttresses of law and precedent will hold firm. Acts of intolerance have risen since the election and we can only expect that well-supported attacks on religious freedom will continue as well. Issues of governmental entanglement with religion have undergone a considerable shift over the last few decades. The religious right has created a new definition of religious liberty that now includes the rights of corporations to withhold birth control in insurance plans and threatens to discriminate against same-sex couples. And this is just the tip of an iceberg of demands that also includes the degradation of science education, the “war” on Christmas, prayer in school and much more.

Chanukah: Its Humanist value

The Humanistic Jewish Havurah celebrates Chanukah on Wednesday, December 28 with fun activities and a traditional holiday meal at Vasari Country Club. Reservations will be secured upon receipt of your check in the amount of $45 per person, made payable to HJH, and mailed to Joan Weinstein, 15191 Cedarwood Lane, Apt. 2505, Naples, FL 34110 prior to December 1. Consider bringing a gift of comfortable clothing to be distributed to seniors in need of assistance or a monetary contribution to be donated to JFCS. For more information, contact Dena Sklaroff at 239.591.0101.

Any objective study of Chanukah reveals two things. First, the origin of this holiday predates the Maccabean revolution, stemming instead from a seasonal rite marking the winter solstice. Second, Chanukah was never a major event in the Jewish liturgical year. It became such an event only in response to the persuasive and pervasive aspects of the Christian solstice festival of Christmas.

Chanukah has been bolstered and buttressed in an attempt to keep Jews from the temptations of the Christmas celebrations, but no holiday can long survive simply as a countermeasure to assimilation. If a holiday is to command respect and observance, it must articulate meaningful values and offer one a forum for an authentic encounter with one’s history and reality.

Chanukah does both.

There are three levels to the understanding and the celebration of Chanukah: as a festival of nature, as a reminder of our shared history, and as an affirmation of universal human values.

The pre-Israelite peoples who marked the winter solstice did so out of fear that the sun, which was at its farthest point from the earth, would not return and that the earth would not yield her bounty. Such a celebration speaks of a people living at the mercy of a wanton nature and the supposed supernatural powers that rule her.

Today we find ourselves in a far more sophisticated relationship with both the planet and the universe. We have uncovered the laws of nature using our human ingenuity, also a natural phenomenon. For us, then, Chanukah cannot simply be a solstice holiday. Yet it can be a recognition of the marvels of the natural universe and our place in it.

The second level of Chanukah is that of historical remembrance and the retelling of the Chanukah story. Our identity as Jews cannot rest solely on present circumstances. Our roots are deep and thousands of years old. If we are to retain and transmit a sense of Jewish identity, we must recall and retell the tales of our people. By sharing the exciting saga of the Jewish revolt against the Hellenizers, we remind ourselves and each other of the importance of heroes and the grandeur of the Jewish spirit.

Naturalism and storytelling, however, are not enough to ensure the survival of Chanukah among modern Jews. This festival also articulates relevant values.

The story of the Maccabees is a story of human courage, integrity and hope. The success of their revolution is rooted in the people’s desire for religious, political and economic freedom; their desire to choose their future for themselves. This they accomplished not by pious pleas or tearful entreaties but by decisive action, expert planning and sheer guts.

The modern Jew must also take the future into his or her own hands. We must choose for ourselves how we shall live, and we must act on that choice courageously without loss of integrity or hope.

Expressing Jewish identity in a secular age

The truth of the matter is that no common set of theological beliefs unites all Jews. Many have no theological beliefs. Many openly denounce religion. Many espouse atheism. But their Jewish identity remains intact. Jews are proud to claim Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan as members of the tribe.

Many secular Jews like to refer to themselves as cultural Jews. By that description, they mean to suggest that while they no longer have any attachment to rabbinic theology, they do have a sentimental connection with Jewish holidays, Jewish music, Jewish food and Jewish symbols.

In reality, most Jews have become part of a culture that is not uniquely Jewish. Western culture, as a consumer culture with many options, allows for cultural attachments. American Jews can choose Passover and Hebrew classes, but they can also choose Chinese food, yoga and French lessons.

For those Jews who see their Jewishness as something positive but who do not see any real connection between Jewish identity and their own personal philosophy of life, maintaining two separate compartments will be quite enough. They will do their Jewishness in conventional institutions and their personal commitments elsewhere.

One might question the value of this compartmentalized identity. Does it represent integrity? The old Judaism finds theological value in Jewish identity. The new Judaism finds humanistic value in Jewish identity. For those Jews who are not traditional, who want to integrate their Jewish identity with their personal convictions, the challenge is important. If you are one of these Jews, perhaps Humanistic Judaism is for you.

A Humanistic Jew demands a new view of Jewish history. Humanistic Judaism is a departure from the traditional way of describing what Jews feel and believe. It requires the ability to make a distinction between experience and indoctrination, between reality and official ideology. It focuses less on theological ideas and worship practices, and more on the actual skills that Jews develop for their own survival.

Jewish identity is also attached to Jewish memory. Jewish memory contains an encyclopedia of reasons for agnosticism, skepticism and human striving. The theistic tradition of the Jewish establishment, so in conflict with the Jewish experience, makes the humanistic message all the more vivid. Being Jewish with an authentic and realistic attachment to Jewish history is a way of reinforcing a humanistic approach to life, a way of strengthening our awareness of the importance of reason and dignity.

The Humanistic Jewish Havurah of SW Florida offers adult education, a setting for the shared celebration of holidays, a voice for the philosophy of Humanistic Judaism, and the fellowship of other humanistic Jews. Involvement in our community makes a significant difference in the lives of our members. We strive to sustain our members in a supportive, caring environment that enables all to affirm and celebrate their Jewish identity – our connection to the Jewish people, past, present and future. In addition to providing group identification, membership in this Humanistic Jewish community affords the opportunity to cultivate warm personal relationships with like-minded folks.

Our activities include observing Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Chanukah, Yom HaShoah and Passover. The Chanukah party will be celebrated Wednesday, December 28 with a candle lighting ceremony and latke dinner. During season we host a public meeting of interest to Humanistic Jews one Sunday each month.

At this the time of year members are asked to renew their memberships and new members are encouraged to join. Dues are $85 per person and includes membership in our national organization, The Society for Humanistic Judaism (www.shj.org). For membership information, call Dena Sklaroff at 239.591.0101.