God-Optional Judaism

A newly revised book of “Alternatives for Cultural Jews,” by Secular Humanistic Rabbi Judith Seid.

“God-Optional Judaism” is a wonderful, chock-full respource for families and individuals who want to find their place in the Jewish world without necessarily believing in God.  Funny, accessible, and open-minded, the book touches on key elements of Jewish history and philosophy, all of the major holidays (food recipes included!), and contemporary issue of intermarriage, education, conversion, feelings towards Israel, and spirituality.

Available through Jewish Currents:

Judaism God Optional



Tisha B’Av is July 22nd


Tisha B AvTisha B’Av is the ninth day of the month of Av, which falls during the month of July or August. This day of mourning and fasting traditionally commemorates national calamities, such as the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem (by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. and by the Roman general Vespasian in 70 C.E.), the fall of Bar Kokhba’s fortress in 138 C.E., and the Spanish expulsion of Jews in 1492. Some scholars believe the origins of the holiday lie in primitive people’s fear of the scorching sun at the height of the summer.

Traditional observance of Tisha B’Av focuses on fasting, prayer, reading the Book of Lamentations, and observing prohibitions against certain activities such as getting a haircut, wearing freshly pressed clothing, drinking alcohol, and, in some communities, eating meat.

Humanistic Jews do not observe Tisha B’Av by looking forward to the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem. Rather, they use this time for reflection and to affirm the power of human connection in times of need and tragedy.

The picture above is of the burning of the Olomouc Synagogue on March 15, 1939, in the first months of the Holocaust.  Observe Tisha B’Av this year with a remembrance of the plight of European Jews in World War II.  Resolve to engage in Tikkun Olam, Repairing of the World, to insure that such horror is never forgotten, and will never happen again.

A Community for Secular Jews

Do you identify as Jewish but consider yourself non-religious?

Secular Humanistic Jews are interested in Jewish history and culture and in celebrating the traditional holidays and observing the rites of passage in a non-theistic way.

000hj2People of the Mountain – Am HaHar – is a small local Humanistic Jewish group in the Sewanee/Monteagle area. We meet together to celebrate the Jewish holidays, offer occasional educational opportunities (such as Challah baking) and support each other in living out our Jewish heritage. We are associated with the Society for Humanistic Judaism. You can find out more about us on our website, http://www.amhahar.com .

Perhaps we can be a home for you.


A Brief Humanistic Observance for a Shavuot Picnic


Shavuot literally means “weeks,” so named because the festival is exactly seven weeks (plus one day) from the second night of Passover. It is also called Festival of First Fruits, Hag HaBikkurim, Pentecost, and the Feast of Weeks. This feast, one of three pilgrimage festivals – the other two are Sukkot and Passover – marked the end of the barley and beginning of the wheat harvest. In ancient times, it was probably a midsummer festival taken over from the Canaanite

We rejoice in this blessed time of Shavuot.
                 May everyone have a bountiful harvest.

(The Candles are lit.)
Barukh ha-or ba-olam
Barukh ha-or ba-adam
Barukh ha-or ba-shavuot

                Radiant is the light in the world
               Radiant is the light within people
              Radiant is the light of Shavuot

B’rukhim hamotziim lehem min haaretz.

    Blessed are those who bring forth bread from the earth.

Shavuot is a minor, ancient pilgrimage festival that marked the harvest of barley. Shavuot literally means “weeks,” so named because the festival is exactly seven weeks (plus one day) from the second night of Passover. It is also called Festival of First Fruits, Hag HaBikkurim, Pentecost, and the Feast of Weeks. This feast, one of three pilgrimage festivals – the other two are Sukkot and Passover – marked the end of the barley and beginning of the wheat harvest. In ancient times, it was probably a midsummer festival taken over from the Canaanites.

On this festival in Temple times, according to the book of Leviticus, two loaves (shetei halehem) were “waved before the Lord.” These had to be offered only from the best new wheat, from produce grown that year in Israel. Shavuot was associated with the bringing of the bikkurim, “the first ripe fruits,” to the Temple of Jerusalem.

In rabbinic times, a radical transformation of the festival took place. Based on the verse from the book of Exodus: “In the third month after the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai,” the festival became the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. In the traditional liturgy, Shavuot is zeman mattan torateinu (“the time of the giving of our Torah”). The ancient agricultural feasts were recreated into festivals marking the anniversary of significant legendary events in the life of the people. Both Passover and Sukkot are connected with the Exodus as well.

Unlike Passover and Sukkot, Shavuot has just a few special rituals. In modern Israel, some kibbutzim have tried to revive some of the harvest ceremonies. In the synagogue, it is customary to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot. It is customary in some congregations to decorate the synagogue with plants and flowers. It is also customary to eat dairy products in the home on Shavuot. In some communities triangular pancakes stuffed with meat or cheese are eaten because the Hebrew Bible has three parts (Torah, Prophets, and Writings).

Pavel’s Violin is now Available

Pavel’s Violin is now available on Amazon

All Proceeds go to the US Holocaust Museum.

Pavel Cover FrontList Price: $24.95
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
466 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1539335221 (CreateSpace-Assigned)
ISBN-10: 1539335224
BISAC: Fiction / Historical / General
From 1942 – 1945, Paul (Pavel, in Czech) was a prisoner in the Terezin and Auschwitz concentration camps. He survived the camps, and the final Death March from Auschwitz. Pavel had been a violinist before the war, and after his escape his brother found a “not so new but nice” violin for Pavel to play. Pavel lost many members of his family in the camps, but a few survived. A descendent of one of those survivors inherited the violin and, many years later, became my violin teacher. This is how I came to play “Pavel’s Violin.” The violin itself is a beautiful Jakob Stainer model, built perhaps in the mid-1800s. In the novel, it is made by Stainer in 1670, and we trace its journey from Stainer’s home in Absam, Austria, to the Prince-Bishop’s Palace in Kromeriz, Moravia, to the Jewish community in the Moravian countryside, to the great synagogue at Olomouc, to Terezin, then Auschwitz, and finally to the Carpathian Mountain, where it finally becomes “Pavel’s Violin.” Along the way, the Violin is a metaphor for the human condition: our joys, fears, sorrows, hatred, loves, and our hope for a good future.

“Pavel’s Violin” is a work of historical fiction, a genre peculiar enough to be seriously misunderstood. Historical fiction is not literal history that has been fictionalized to the point that its details are not reliable news accounts of what happened. It is fiction inspired by historical events in order to convey truths which are deeper than literal. Historical fiction, at its best, serves as a metaphor that can draw a reader into a story as a first hand participant, rather than as a consumer of facts. This is what I have tried to do with the story of “Pavel’s Violin.” I hope you will not just learn about what happened, but that you will become part of the story, yourself. That you will stand beside Jakob atop Kartellerjochl, with Pavel in a cattle car transport on its way to Auschwitz, with Nurse Ilse and her children as Zyklon B pellets fall among them in the gas chamber. And more. I hope you will not only hear the Violin, but will experience the playing of it. The sound of its music under your left ear. The vibrations of the wood upon your chin and shoulder. Most of all, I hope you, too, will realize the compulsion of the story, and the obligation to recount it, in your own way, to others.

A Humanistic Yom HaShoah

Our celebration on April 23 at 6:30 PM

Yom Hashoah

The Day of the Holocaust
and the Heroism

April 23-24, 2017

Am HaHar
People of the Mountain
Sewanee, Tennessee

Yom HaShoah v’Hagevurah

I. Yahrzeit Candle

On this most solemn of occasions, we open our hearts, minds, and souls, as we remember the six million, the indifference, and the evil. May we be present for one another for healing, light, and love to soothe and ease our pain, as we commemorate the horrors that were committed not long ago.

May we forever remember the stories we hear. As tales of the atrocities are shared, as we re-encounter the unthinkable, may these memories be strengthened and never fade, in the hope that those who remember the mistakes of the past will not repeat them.

We say “never again” and we dedicate ourselves to this principle, to the idea that justice does not allow persecution, that genocide shall not be repeated, and that vigilance is the responsibility of freedom, at all costs, that these horrors remain but memories.

Above all, may shalom—wholeness and peace—be in our midst, now and forever.

Light the Yahrzeit Candle

Each person may offer memories of Loved Ones
Names may be written on slips of paper and placed under the Yahrzeit Candle

II. Kiddish Cup

We raise this cup of wine mindful of all it took for us to receive it.
The sun and soil and rain, gifts of Nature
The efforts and vision of our fellow human beings
Together bringing forth the Fruit of the Vine, the Cup of Life

B’rukheem ha-adamah
Ha-shemesh, V’Ha-geshem
Asher yotzrim p’ree ha-gafen

We rejoice in the earth,
the sun, and the rain,
which produces the fruit of the vine.
Rabbi Miriam Jerris

All drink from the Kiddish Cup, saying


III. Readings and Music
Readings from “Pavel’s Violin” by Will Melnyk
Violin Music by Lucie Carlson

1. Chapter 26: “In The ruts of the Herd” pp. 10-14
2. Chapter 29: “Touching the Dead” pp. 4-7
3. Chapter 32: “Whatever It Takes” pp. 12-16
4. Chapter 33: “The Wind In The Lyre” pp. 8-13

IV. A Humanistic Kaddish

Yit-gad-dal v’-yit-kad-dash sh’-la-ma b’a-l’ma.
Niv-ra sh’-la-ma khee-r’-oo-ta-na v’-nam-leekh mal-khoo-tay B’khie-yay-khon oo-v’-yo-maykhon oo-v’-khie-yay d’-khol bayt yis-ra-el
Ba-ah-ga-la oo-vee-z’-man ka-reev. v’-eem-roo, shalom.
Y’-hay sh’-la-ma rab-ba m’-va-raykh l’-a-lam oo-l’-al-may al-mie-ya.
Yit-ba-rakh v’-yish-ta-bakh yit-pa-ar v’-yit-ro-mam v’-yit-nas-say v’-yit-ha-dar v’-yit-ah-le
V’-yit-hal-lal sh’-la-ma b’-al-ma b’-reekh hoo. L’-ay-la min kol bir-kha-ta v’-shee-ra-ta toosh-b’-kha-ta
V’-ne-he-ma-ta da-a-mee-ran b’-alma v-ee-m’-roo sha-lom.
Y’-hay sh’-la-ma rab-ba v’-hie-yeem A-lay-noo v’-al kol yis-ra-el v’-eem-roo sha-lom
Na-a-se sha-lom ba-o-lam a-lay-noo v’-al kol yis-ra-el v’-eem-roo sha-lom.

Wonderful is peace in the world. Let us create a peaceful world and let us establish its kingdom now and in the future. May peace come to bless our lives. May we always continue to honor peace in the world even though no praise can equal the importance of its reality. May peace and life prevail for us and for all Israel. Let us work to create peace here on earth for all people. And let us say, Shalom.
Rabbi Sherwin Wine