Humanistic Judaism is turning 50. Not only has the movement established itself as more than just a passing fad, it has reached an age at which its members have the perspective to reflect and re-evaluate. It’s a good time for each affiliated Congregation to explore its history. Each member of each Congregation has the opportunity to recall how he or she first found Humanistic Judaism and the local Congregation.
We can ask ourselves, “Why did I join? Are the reasons I joined still relevant? Is it worth it?”
In the face of the effort it takes to grow a Jewish identity in a predominantly Christian world, my wife’s parents used to say, “Being Jewish is hard.” If being Jewish is hard, being a Humanistic Jew in a predominantly theistic country is harder. Add the commitment that a co-op such as our Congregation requires, and you might think being a member of CHJ is impossible.
Actually, it’s quite liberating. First, we embrace non-Jewish partners. Everyone in the family can celebrate the family’s Jewish identity fully. At our Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, every proud parent, brother, sister, uncle, cousin, family friend and loving next-door neighbor is encouraged to participate in readings and speeches from and alongside the Torah. Humanistic Judaism is an exercise in inclusiveness.
Second, we leave it to each individual to determine his relationship with a higher power, if any. Members of the other four branches of Judaism devote much time to paying communal homage to a higher power. As Humanistic Jews, we are liberated to focus our full attention on our fellow human beings.
This attention takes the form of social action, which is perfectly aligned with the Jewish values of ‘tzedakah’ and ‘tikkum olam’, shared by all branches of Judaism. When other Jews must pray, however, we can deliver food daily to those who are hungry in our community. We can give regular rides to another member of our Congregation who has been incapacitated by an injury. We can lend a sympathetic ear or a sense of humor to someone in need of companionship. These acts of elevating the dignity of all human beings is our Humanistic Jewish practice, and it feels empowering and liberating for all involved. We can put the pieces of this fractured world back together, one at a time.
Finally, as a co-operative, CHJ frees us to take the Congregation in any direction we see fit. All members produce as well as consume. We organize and run the events; we write the curriculum for our own education and that of our children; we write the services for our holiday celebrations; we declare affiliations and philosophies. To decide on the direction these activities take, we must reflect.
I invite you to join me in reflecting on 50 years of Humanistic Judaism and where we want to take our Congregation in Fairfield County in 5775.