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.