Remembering Herbert Herman on Yom Kippur

Herbert Herman, an original member of the Humanistic Jewish Havurah of Southwest Florida, passed away on June 12. He leaves his wife Dr. Suzanne Hammersberg Herman, sons Dr. Clifford Herman and David Herman, stepson Grant Hammersberg and six grandchildren.

We especially remember him at the time of the High Holidays because Herbert played an important role in the first Humanistic Jewish commemorations of Yom Kippur in Southwest Florida. At that time, a young Humanistic Jewish Rabbi, Jeffrey Falick, traveled to Naples from Miami to lead our services, but only after Herbert was able to acquire an appropriate venue for this momentous event.

The following year, we had no rabbi to lead our ceremony, but Herbert came forward and created the Nizkor (“Let us remember”) service, a ceremony used by Humanistic Jews at the close of our Yom Kippur commemoration. A Nizkor service affirms that human beings preserve the memory of the dead. Thus, at the approach of Yom Kippur, we have a lasting memory of Herbert Herman’s contribution to the Humanistic Jewish community in SW Florida.

For Humanistic Jews, Rosh Hashanah is a time of renewal, reflection and new beginnings. Additionally, Humanistic Jews interpret this holiday as a time for self-judgment and as an affirmation of human power and human dignity. It is a time to consider the possibilities for change, for improvement, for happiness, that human beings can create for themselves. Rosh Hashanah marks a turning point, a separation between what was and what will be.

Yom Kippur climaxes the self-examination begun on Rosh Hashanah. It is a time of self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others.

Herbert Herman identified himself as a secular Humanistic Jew long before I met him. He had had an opportunity to meet and hear Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the founder of our movement, and was thoroughly impressed with the unique philosophy espoused by Rabbi Wine. Herbert immediately affiliated with the Society for Humanistic Judaism, our national organization, even though there was no organized Humanistic Jewish community in all South Florida. When the Humanistic Jewish Havurah was in its formation, Herbert was delighted to become an important supporting player at its birth.

What made Herbert the epitome of a secular humanistic Jew?

Most important was his belief in the value of every human being. He sought the best for all in society and to foster the best in every person with whom he came into contact. I, as well as others, were the recipients of his praise and his encouragement to reach higher and achieve to the best of our ability.

He maintained an unshakable belief in the human potential. As he clearly asserted in a letter to the editor of the Naples Daily News earlier this year, “I assumed that individuals are rational beings who can think intelligently and who will act wisely when they know the evidence.”

Herbert recognized that mortality is an unavoidable and final event. Life is valuable because it does not go on forever. Happiness is an urgent matter because it will not be available after we die. To accept this truth is to live courageously and generously even in the face of one’s personal tragedies.

To recognize one’s mortality is not to admit defeat but to acknowledge the necessity of finding in this world and in this life all possible purpose and meaning rather than to await fulfillment in the hereafter. It is to understand the nature of humankind which possesses a capability for independence, power, freedom and, hence, dignity.

Humans are masters of their destiny, but not forever.