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.

Why secular humanistic Judaism?

Traditionally Judaism is defined as a set of theistic beliefs: belief in the existence of a supreme being who rules and regulates the universe, our planet and humanity.

But it would be a mistake to argue that Judaism equals the religious beliefs of Jews. First, because Jewish beliefs were and are different, even mutually contradictory; and second, because religion was and is just one aspect of Jewish existence. Today for many Jews it is not even that. Judaism, then, is everything that the Jewish people in their very long history have produced.

The close identification of religion with peoplehood began to wane with the rise of secularized nationalism during the Age of Enlightenment. Consciously or not, Jews increasingly ceased to observe their religious traditions and customs, and ceased to believe in a God who was concerned about whether they ate their salami with cheese.

Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, more and more Jews, particularly those living in western European countries who were urban, and were impacted by both the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Reason, began to alter their self-definition of what it meant to be Jewish. They equated Judaism not with religion, but with a culture, a way of life. The advent of socialism and then of Zionism added to the number of secular Jews.

Secular Jews come in different shapes and forms: nonreligious Zionists, nonreligious Yiddishists and those who don’t identify with either but are acculturated to the host society where they are quite at home with their culture yet also feel their Jewishness quite strongly and wish to identify with Jewish matters and causes. Secular Jews seek an interpretation of Jewish civilization that accords with their own preferences and beliefs.

Secular can be defined most simply as “nonreligious.” If you believe that the idea of a God is irrelevant to your life – either because you do not believe in a God, or because you think that even if a God exists, he (or she) is not the kind of being that controls the universe and your own life – then you are a secularist.

A humanist can be defined as someone who believes in the centrality, inviolability and the sacredness of human life and human integrity. There can be religious humanism because people who believe in a godhead may still see human life as inviolable and may view human integrity as a supreme value. However, if human life and human integrity are the central values, they must be independent of a God; otherwise it is God who is the central thing, not the human personality. The logic of humanism is not religious.

For secularists, then, humanism means that we believe there is no God out there to take the responsibility for our lives off our shoulders. The moral values propounded by the Jewish religion are not the result of divine intervention in human affairs, but were conceived and pronounced by humans much like ourselves. Our attitude toward ourselves and the world around us is one in which the human being is the center of our endeavors, in the sense that it is we ourselves who are responsible for our actions and welfare, for the welfare of others and, indeed, to whatever extent possible, for the welfare of the planet.

Secular humanistic Jews view Judaism as the evolving culture and civilization of a world people. It allows many interpretations of the Jewish experience. What unites Jews is an active identification with the history and fate of the Jewish people.

Compiled from the writings of Yehuda Bauer as they appear in the introduction of Judaism in a Secular Age (Milan Press 1995)

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services for secular Jewish humanists

Even if you never studied Jewish history, you cannot escape it if you celebrate Jewish holidays. Many Jewish traditions that have survived today in our historic memory originated as religious rituals. A cornerstone of Humanistic Judaism is to keep Jewish culture alive and vital. In doing so, we observe the Jewish holidays in a meaningful, but non-theistic fashion.

You are invited to join with us in the observance of the Jewish “High Holidays.”

Rosh Hashanah

This year we are delighted to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with the able assistance of Rhea B. Seagull, a member of the Humanistic Jewish Havurah, who will lead our Rosh Hashanah celebration. Ms. Seagull is a Secular Humanistic Leader, certified by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. Our celebration will impart the history and modern significance of Rosh Hashanah and will provide a meaningful launch for the 10 days of reflection, renewal of purpose and new beginnings that follow this holiday.

The noon ceremony takes place Monday, October 3 at Vi at Bentley Village, 850 Retreat Drive, Naples (west side of US 41, south of Bonita Beach Road and north of Old 41 Road), and will be followed by lunch. The cost is $25. A check payable to HJH and mailed to S. Barth, 3613 Woodlake Drive, Bonita Springs, FL 34134, will secure your reservation. Please include your name, phone number and email address with your payment. Reservations must be received by September 29.

Yom Kippur

On Wednesday, October 12 at 5:30 p.m. the Havurah will gather to commemorate Yom Kippur with a Nizkor memorial ceremony followed by break-the-fast. Historically, Yom Kippur is a time of awe and reverence, a Day of Repentance, when human beings seek divine forgiveness for sin. Yom Kippur has a different significance for Humanistic Jews. It climaxes the self-examination begun on Rosh Hashanah. Humanistic Jews make Yom Kippur a time of self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others.

The traditional Yizkor (memorial) prayer begins Yizkor Elohim nishmat (“May God remember the soul of...”). Nizkor (“Let us remember...”) is a more meaningful concept for Humanistic Jews. A Nizkor service affirms that human beings preserve the memory of the dead.

This event will also be held at Vi at Bentley Village. The cost is $32. Reservations for the meal, payable by check to HJH, should be mailed to Maraline Rane, 6955 Carlisle Court D-219, Naples, FL 34109. Include your name, phone number and email address with your payment. Reservations must be received by October 7. Please note the different mailing address for this reservation.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur go together. Next to Shabbat, they became the most important holidays of the Hebrew calendar. For secular humanists the High Holidays are a necessary time to reflect on the relationship of the universe to human need and human desire. Evolution has equipped us with a set of wants to which the rest of nature is generally indifferent. Only through the use of human intelligence can we tame our environment, making it less terrifying and more conducive to human happiness. Exploding stars and galactic circuits may be beyond our control. But cancer and floods are natural enemies that we may someday conquer.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur open our Jewish year with the most important message of Jewish history. Human dignity is not the gift of destiny. It is human achievement, requiring courage and human self-reliance. If we seek to reconcile ourselves with anybody, we reconcile ourselves with the men and women who share our struggle and who offer us the only realistic support we can expect. 

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.”

The meaning of Humanism

Humanism has meant many things: “It may be the reasonable balance of life that the early Humanists discovered in the Greeks; it may be merely the study of the humanities or polite letters; it may be the freedom from religiosity and the vivid interest in all sides of life of a Queen Elizabeth or a Benjamin Franklin; or it may be the responsiveness to all human passions of a Shakespeare or a Goethe; or it may be a philosophy of which man is the center and sanction.” (Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, New York: Macmillan, 1937, Vol. IV, p. 541)

The philosophy of Humanism represents a specific and forthright view of the universe, the nature of man, and the treatment of human problems. It is a many-faceted philosophy, congenial to the modern age, yet fully aware of the lessons of history. In his book The Philosophy of Humanism, (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., fifth edition, 1965, pp. 12-14) Corliss Lamont, a 20th century writer, teacher and Humanist philosopher, described ten central propositions in the Humanist philosophy.

First, “Humanism believes in a naturalistic attitude toward the universe that considers all forms of the supernatural as myth; and that regards Nature as the totality of being and as a constantly changing system of matter and energy which exists independently of any mind or consciousness.”

Second, “Humanism, drawing especially upon the laws and facts of science, believes that man is an evolutionary product of the Nature of which he is part; that his mind is indivisibly conjoined with the functioning of his brain; and that as an inseparable unity of body and personality he can have no conscious survival after death.”

Third, “Humanism, having its ultimate faith in man, believes that human beings possess the power or potentiality of solving their own problems, through reliance primarily upon reason and scientific method applied with courage and vision.”

Fourth, “Humanism. . .believes that human beings, while conditioned by the past, possess genuine freedom of creative choice and action, and are within certain objective limits, the masters of their own destiny.”

Fifth, “Humanism believes in an ethics or morality that grounds all human values in this-earthly experiences and relationships and that holds as its highest goal the this-worldly happiness, freedom and progress – economic, cultural and ethical – of all humankind irrespective of nation, race or religion.”

Sixth, “Humanism believes that the individual attains the good life by harmoniously combining personal satisfactions and continuous self-development with significant work and other activities that contribute to the welfare of the community.”

Seventh, “Humanism believes in the widest possible development of art and the awareness of beauty, including the appreciation of Nature’s loveliness and splendor, so that the aesthetic experience may become a pervasive reality in the life of a person.”

Eighth, “Humanism believes in a far-reaching social program that stands for the establishment throughout the world of democracy, peace, and a high standard of living on the foundations of a flourishing economic order, both national and international.”

Ninth, “Humanism believes in the complete social implementation of reason and scientific method; and thereby in the use of democratic procedures, including full freedom of expression and civil liberties, throughout all areas of economic, political and cultural life.”

Tenth, “Humanism, in accordance with the scientific method, believes in the unending questioning of basic assumptions and convictions, including its own. Humanism is not a new dogma, but is a developing philosophy ever open to experimental testing, newly discovered facts and more rigorous reasoning.”

Imposing Lamont’s ten points upon our Jewish heritage and culture creates Humanistic Judaism.

Our topic in May: The Holocaust / Yom HaShoah

On Friday, May 6, the Humanistic Jewish Havurah hosts Ida Margolis, President of GenShoah SWFL, who will speak after our Shabbat dinner. GenShoah is open not only to children of Holocaust survivors (the Second Generation), but to all those who are interested in GenShoah’s mission: Preservation of the history and memories of the Holocaust, promotion of Holocaust education and human rights, connection of members of the Second Generation with one another, and support of the Holocaust Museum & Education Center of Southwest Florida.

Our potluck Shabbat begins with appetizers at 5:00 p.m. at the Pelican Marsh Community Center, 1504 Pelican Marsh Blvd., Naples. A $10 per person charge enables us to cover the costs for this event. To attend, contact Dena Sklaroff at 239.591.0101 to determine what to bring for the dinner.

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan (a date chosen by the Israeli government), is an important commemoration for Humanistic Jews.

This day commemorates the systematic murder of six million Jews by Nazi Germany during World War II and the destruction of their culture, the most devastating assault ever experienced by the Jewish people. There have been many genocides in human history, but none as methodical and ruthless as the Nazi extermination of the Jews.

Humanistic Jews dedicate their observance of Yom HaShoah to the murdered six million, lighting candles in their memory, and honoring the courage of all who suffered and resisted. Some secularists prefer to commemorate the Holocaust on April 19, the date of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, one of the most dramatic examples of Jewish resistance. A band of several thousand Jews, unwilling to passively accept deportation and extermination, fought back for weeks in the face of certain death. Their martyrdom was an act of heroic defiance.

Not only does the Holocaust raise the issues of human evil and human responsibility, it also dramatized the question of divine justice. This Holocaust was not inevitable. It was the result of Hitler’s madness. Half of Ashkenazic Judaism was destroyed. The Yiddish-speaking ethnic Jewish nation in Poland and Eastern Europe disappeared. The tragedy was the greatest tragedy of Jewish history, a loss so great that the numbers of the victims defy comprehension. How could a good God allow six million innocent victims to die if he had the power to intervene?

The Holocaust is painful testimony to the difficulties that the theistic/rabbinic view of Jewish history presents. The concept that the Jewish people is a “Chosen People” giving witness to the existence and power of a just and loving God, is difficult to sustain in the face of the Holocaust.

On the contrary, the Holocaust serves as witness to the absence of a just and loving providence governing the affairs of humanity. There are physical laws of nature. But they are indifferent to the welfare of men and women. In the end, the only power available to resist human cruelty is human power. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was not a manifestation of divine intervention. It was a sign of human determination to defend human dignity, even in the face of a merciless “destiny.”

Therefore, the Holocaust can be viewed as the ultimate testimony to the absence of a divine plan. Belief in a just God controlling a well-ordered world is impossible in the face of such implacable horror and brutality. The most appropriate response to the Holocaust is to intensify the quest for human dignity, which can provide meaning and order in a chaotic, uncaring universe.

Humanistic Jewish Havurah celebrates Carl Sagan and Passover

On Friday, April 1, the Humanistic Jewish Havurah celebrates Shabbat with a potluck dinner in the Pelican Marsh Community Room (1504 Pelican Marsh Blvd., Naples) starting at 5:30 p.m. After dinner, Carl Sagan’s New York Times bestseller, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, will be discussed.

Because of his adherence to humanist principles, Carl Sagan has been chosen as “Humanist of the Year” by the Society for Humanistic Judaism. Early in this book, Sagan writes, “Scripture is said to be divinely inspired – a phrase with many meanings. But what if it’s simply made up by fallible humans? It is certainly conceivable that doctrines and ethics that may have worked fairly well in patriarchal or patristic or medieval times might be thoroughly invalid in the very different world we inhabit today.”

To attend, contact Dena Sklaroff at 239.591.0101, and find out what to bring to the dinner. A $10 per person charge enables us to cover the costs of this event.

On Saturday, April 23 at the Bonita Bay Club (26660 Club Drive, Bonita Springs), beginning promptly at 5:00 p.m., we invite you, your family and friends to attend our Seder. We celebrate by the reading our Humanist Haggadah followed by a traditional Passover menu.

Completing the reservation form, available on our website, www.hjhswfl.org, and mailing it with proper payment, will secure your seat at the Seder table. The cost is $67 per person. Contact Dena Sklaroff for further information.

Picking up on Sagan’s premise, the Exodus tale everyone believed and celebrated at traditional Seders is now seen differently. Archeological surveys failed to uncover any possibility that there had been Israelite slaves in Egypt who fled in mass and later invaded the land of Canaan (Israel). In fact, evidence strongly suggests that the Israelites were actually natives of that land. Today some believe the Torah’s story was created as an allegory about how Egypt had dominated and exploited the people of Canaan. Ultimately, regional upheavals led to great changes including Egypt’s withdrawal from Canaan and the emergence of the Israelite nation. We have growing confirmation that this occurred beginning in the thirteenth century B.C.E.

These surprising revelations about the entirely fictitious nature of the story are quite new. Previously, even those who rejected the supernatural parts of the story accepted its underlying narrative of Israelite bondage in Egypt. With the knowledge that the Exodus story is a complete invention, how can we possibly go on telling it? We might begin by examining the inner core of the narrative and putting our emphasis there.

The Exodus story reminds us that every human being desires to live freely and with dignity. Modern people understand that release from formal servitude in 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. Moses issues laws in the name of a divine authority and this neither provides for individual liberty nor allows public challenge. Conformity, humility and obedience are the 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 own paths to meaning and happiness?

These are some of the questions that are raised when the Exodus story is told.

“Immigration: Important Issues to Consider”

On Sunday, March 20 at 2:00 p.m. in the David G. Willens Community Room of the Jewish Federation of Collier County (2500 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Suite 2201, Naples), the Humanistic Jewish Havurah is pleased to present an informative forum on a major issue facing our economy, our public policy and our conscience, “Immigration: Important Issues to Consider.”

Our guest speakers will be Kristina O’Hern, Immigration Assistance Program Specialist for Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) in Immokalee, and her colleague, Grey Torrico, a community organizer and law student who is dedicated to addressing the issues of immigration and detention in Florida and nationally. This program will reveal information about a topic that is often mentioned in political discourse locally, nationally and internationally, but rarely reported on accurately and in depth by the news media. They will discuss the current climate around immigration and what you can do to support and defend immigrants living in Florida.

Immigrants are helping to grow the U.S. economy everywhere, but our inefficient visa system denies Florida the agricultural labor necessary to keep up with growing demand for produce, forcing a shift to imported fruits and vegetables. In order to build and expand our own economy, we need immigrants who fill labor shortages on America’s farms, who start businesses that employ U.S. workers, and who develop the cutting-edge products that make America the world’s preeminent innovation hub.

The share of foreign-born students in universities’ STEM graduate programs is much higher than the share of foreign-born people that make up our population and higher than the number of graduate STEM students who are citizens. Yet because of our immigration policies many of these foreign graduates face significant obstacles to settling in the US., even when they prove they can add real economic value.

While there is the issue of immigrants within our borders, there is also the refugee situation to consider.

Recently, the Society for Humanistic Judaism issued a resolution joining the majority of our Jewish community (as represented by organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, National Council of Jewish Women, Union for Reformed Judaism, and Jewish Council for Public Affairs) in supporting the call for Congress to support the U.S. refugee resettlement program for the millions of Syrian refugees who have been forced to flee conflict in the Middle East.

“Recognizing the enormous humanitarian crisis unfolding, and our particular responsibility as Jews whose entire historical perspective includes our people wandering from shore to shore in search of refuge, we condemn efforts to suspend the program or explicitly exclude Muslims because of fears of terrorism. We believe the legitimate security concerns can be mitigated by the extensive vetting process refugees undergo before being admitted to the United States. We cannot let fear, however palpable, overcome our humanistic obligations to provide security to millions of innocent people who have been forced to start their lives again and who only wish to provide a future for themselves and their children.” (www.shj.org/resolutions)

Humanistic Judaism embraces a human-centered philosophy that combines rational thinking with a deep connection to the Jewish people and Jewish culture. Humanistic Judaism integrates the celebration of Jewish identity with the belief that using human reason and human power is the best vehicle for improving the world. In order to make intelligent decisions and form knowledgeable opinions, Humanists obtain their knowledge by seeking to understand the facts and accepting the reality of a situation. In our search for truth about immigrants and refugees, we must open our minds to understanding the myriad facets of each situation. 

Humanistic Jewish Havurah hosts Rabbi-in-Residence

The Humanistic Jewish Havurah of Southwest Florida is looking forward to the visit of Rabbi Miriam Jerris, Society for Humanistic Judaism Rabbi, who will be visiting our area the weekend of February 19-21.

Shabbat

Rabbi Jerris will be participating in our Humanistic Jewish Shabbat celebration Friday evening at the Pelican Marsh Community Center. This is a potluck event. The charge, $10 per person, covers our expenses. To attend, contact Dean Sklaroff at 239.591.0101, as she coordinates what each participant should bring.

South Regional Lee County Public Library discussion

On Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m., Rabbi Jerris will be at the South Regional Lee County Public Library (21100 Three Oaks Parkway, Estero) to explain and discuss Humanistic Judaism to anyone interested in learning more about our movement.

Are you uncomfortable in a traditional temple or synagogue? Do services seem somehow disconnected from your beliefs or how you live your life? Did you abandon the belief in a personal deity years ago? In spite of being pretty secular, do you find yourself drawn to things Jewish? Would you like to congregate with other Jews who feel the same about their Jewish identity? Many suffer from the disability of not feeling legitimately Jewish. Others do not even know that another option exists. Rabbi Jerris has been involved in Humanistic Judaism for more than 40 years and is adept at explaining the humanistic option that serves the needs of people who have these concerns.

Secular Humanistic Judaism is a viable alternative to the existing theistic varieties that dominate the American scene. It may be your alternative and Saturday afternoon will be an opportunity to meet face to face with Rabbi Jerris to learn more. If you would like to attend, call 239.495.8484.

Community meeting

Then on Sunday at 2:00 p.m., the Havurah meets in the David G. Willens Community Room of the Jewish Federation of Collier County (2500 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Suite 2201, Naples). Rabbi Jerris will talk about “Living an Authentic Jewish Life.” What is the value of Jewish identity in a secular world? Can you be a part of the Jewish community and question some of the basic premises of Rabbinic Judaism? What if you question the notion of an omnipotent, omnipresent deity? Do you feel hypocritical saying the words at a traditional Shabbat or holiday service? Rabbi Jerris will explain how secular Humanistic Judaism provides a way to participate in Jewish communal celebration while “saying what we believe and believing what we say.” The rabbi will reflect on the reasons she feels that Humanistic Judaism enables her to be both a Jew and a Humanist simultaneously. Dena Sklaroff (denas27@aol.com or 239.591.0101) is accepting reservations for this event.

Most secular and humanistic Jews have never bothered to deal with the philosophic and historic foundations of their commitment. Judaism is no single religion or philosophy of life. It embraces a spectrum of alternatives that find significance and value in Jewish identity. A secular approach to Judaism is an important alternative among Jewish people throughout the world.

A basic tenet of Humanistic Judaism is that our power resides within each of us. No matter what we say we believe, it’s what we do that counts.

Jewish identity needs to find some way to express itself that does not violate other values that are equally important, or more important. It needs to promote personal integrity. It needs to present a realistic version of Jewish history and to incorporate it into Jewish celebration.