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.