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Celebrate Tu B’Shevat January 30th

Tree of Life Paper CutTU B’SHEVAT – Festival of Trees

(tu-bi-shvat) Tu Bi’Shevat (literally the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat) has a long history. Some scholars believe that in its most ancient form, the holiday celebrated the Near Eastern goddess Asherah (also known as Astarte or Ishtar), whose symbol was a tree. Asherah was a popular fertility deity and consort of the Canaanite God El. Asherahs are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, though they are not described in detail, and were likely symbols, poles, or wooden objects made from trees.

During the Temple period (until 70 CE), farmers of fruit were taxed in the form of tithes. Tu Bi’Shevat was likely a tax collection day for fruit, whereupon it was agreed that the tax year would begin and end. Tu Bi’Shevat become the “new year for trees.” It is unknown whether other festivities accompanied the tithing. After the destruction of the Temple (70 CE), when tithing was no longer possible, little is known of how the day was recognized, except that in Ashkenazi synagogues special Psalms were added to the liturgy. The idea that Tu Bi’Shevat was something more than a simple legal requirement, that it marks the end of the heavy rain season in the land of Israel when the sap starts to rise in the trees and the earth begins its slow emergence from deep winter, may account for why the festival stayed in existence among the Jewish people.

It was during the flourishing era of Jewish mysticism, around the 16th century, that Tu Bi’Shevat re-emerged as a more popular and meaningful festival, first among Sephardi Jews. Mystical significance was attributed to ideas of the rebirth of the natural world in spring, and the Tu Bi’Shevat seder, a service of ingesting symbolic foods around a festive meal, was created. The symbolic cups of wine and food are associated with the mystical worlds of creation and the human personality types. (See below.) The festival gained popularity and spread throughout the Sephardi world and eventually became part of Ashkenazi custom as well.

Since the rise of Zionism and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Tu Bi’Shevat also has come to be associated with planting trees in Israel. Like the mystical rebirth of earth celebrated in the most ancient roots of the holiday, Tu Bi’Shevat is now associated with the birth of the Jewish state. Most recently, as awareness of the environment has become a more pressing concern for many people, Tu Bi’Shevat has become a “Jewish Arbor Day,” a day on which we recognize our ethical obligations to care for the planet and its inhabitants. The theme of a new year for trees, a time of recognizing our connection to the earth, is a popular Tu Bi’Shevat theme today.

All these themes — fertility, trees, rebirth and renewal, obligation to heal the world, earth-awareness and the interconnected web of life — are included in the seder, just as on Passover all the symbols have many layers of meaning created from the most ancient times to the present. Tu Bi’Shevat is a wonderful family holiday on which to gather, sing, dance, eat and celebrate the earth and our connection to it.

Secular Humanistic Rabbis Ordained

For IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Rabbi Adam Chalom, Dean, IISHJ, (847) 602-4500, achalom@iishj.org

Secular Rabbis and Jewish Leaders Ordained

Farmington Hills, Michigan, November 10th, 2017: The International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism (IISHJ) celebrated the graduation of 3 new Leaders and ordained 2 new rabbis this past Friday at The Birmingham Temple Congregation for Humanistic Judaism. An honorary ordination of a recently deceased Rabbinic student was also observed.

The newest leaders, known as Madrikhim/ot in Hebrew and Vegvayzer in Yiddish, are Jamie Ireland (San Francisco Bay Area), Mary Raskin (Portland, OR), and Jeffrey Schensnol (Phoenix, AZ). They joined over 60 other leaders certified since the founding of the IISHJ in 1985. Rabbi Joysa Winter (Philadelphia) and Rabbi Jeremy Kridel (Washington DC) are the newest of the almost 50 Secular Humanistic Jewish Rabbis ordained worldwide to date. These leaders and clergy are tasked with shepherding the movement into the future.

Especially moving was the posthumous ordination of David J. Steiner as honorary rabbi. The certificate was accepted by his son Itamar who shared how much it would have meant to his father. Steiner was a polymath with skills as varied as cow midwifery and documentary filmmaking. The next evening, his award-winning documentary film, “Saving Barbara Sizemore,” was screened in tribute.

The ordination ceremony took place the Birmingham Temple, the flagship congregation of the over 50-year-old Secular Humanistic Jewish movement, as well as numerous current leaders of the movement from around the U.S. and the world.

Luminaries in the audience included Rabbi Miriam Jerris, Rabbi of the Society for Humanistic Judaism (SHJ); Richard Logan, President of the SHJ; Paul Golin, Executive Director of the SHJ; Rabbi Adam Chalom, Dean – North America of the IISHJ, Rabbi Sivan Maas, Dean-Israel of Tmura-IISHJ; Jay Cohen, President of the IISHJ; Terry Waslow, Executive Director of the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations (CSJO), and Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, Rabbi of the Birmingham Temple.

Secular Humanistic Judaism and the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism

Secular Humanistic Judaism is a cultural Jewish identity lived through a human-focused non-theistic philosophy of life. Secular Humanistic Jews believe that Judaism is the evolving civilization of the Jewish people, created, lived and recreated in response to the needs and beliefs of each generation. In our days, we believe in the power of people to understand their world and to influence it for the better. We celebrate human freedom and responsibility for our choices and actions. And we know that if justice is to exist in our world, we must create it together.

The International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism is the intellectual and educational arm of the Secular Humanistic Jewish Movement. The Institute presents and promotes the philosophy of Secular Humanistic Judaism by exploring Jewish cultural identity through academic inquiry and by training Leaders and Rabbis of the movement in North America and in Israel. Information about the Institute and its programs is available at its website, http://www.iishj.org, or by contacting info@iishj.org or 847-777-6907.

Rabbis Ordained

(From left to right, Madrikha Mary Raskin, Madrich Jeffrey Schesnol, Rabbi Jeremy Kridel, Rabbi Joysa Winter, Rabbi Adam Chalom, Rabbi Sivan Maas, Madrikha Jamie Ireland, Rabbi Miriam Jerris)

For more information, contact, Rabbi Adam Chalom, achalom@iishj.org, 847-602-4500.

What Kind of Judaism is Right for You? Take the Quiz!

Passover 3Judaism is the broad History, Tradition, and Culture of the Jewish People.
Within that broad scope, there are many Expressions

What Kind of Judaism, is Right for You?
Take the Quiz!

1. Judaism is best defined as:
A. Just a religion
B. The evolving Culture and experience of a People, in which religion is one part.

2. The best way to pursue the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, to repair the world, is to:
A. Pray harder. God will fix it.
B. Work with people through human reason, sciemce, empathy, and wisdom.

3. In serving LGBTQ Jews, interfaith/intercultural mixed marriages, Jews of mixed descent, and other diverse identities, the Jewish community should:
A. Privilege one type of household over another.
B. Provide full and equal access to all who seek meaning, including rabbinic officiation at weddings and other lifestyle events.

4. How many of these statements do you agree with!
A. None, or almost none of them.
B. All, or almost all of them!

___ I prefer to say what I believe and believe what I say.

___ I choose to celebrate Jewish holidays like Passover because it brings meaning to my life and enjoyment to my family, not because I’m obligated to by divine commandment.

___ We can honor the many diverse aspects of our familiy’s identity, including our Jewish heritage, equally.

___ While the Torah can provide great wisdom and meaning, it also contains many statements that are ethically problematic.

___ I would accept as Jewish anyone of Jewish descent or any person who declares themselves to be a Jew, and who identifies with the history, ethical values, culture, civilization, community, and fate of the Jewish people.

Welcome to Humanistic Judaism!

If you answered “B” to all or most of the questions, your Jewish approach aligns with Secular Humanistic Judaism. Welcome! We encourage you to explore and get connected.

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Click Here to Get Started!

 

A Humanistic Yom Kippur

yom-kippur-holiday

What is Yom Kippur?
Yom Kippur occurs 10 days after Rosh Hashana. For Humanistic Jews, Yom Kippur is a time of continued reflection, a time to examine human behavior. History has taught human beings to rely on themselves for creating change in our society. Yom Kippur, for Humanistic Jews, is the culmination of our examination of our behavior begun on Rosh Hashana. It is a time to reflect on the moral quality of our values and actions.

Adapting the form of our meditations to the content of our message, Humanistic Jews make Yom Kippur a celebration of inner strength and a time of self-forgiveness.

Introspection and goal setting are traditional behaviors on the High Holidays. There are three key elements to the Humanistic and rabbinic liturgies for Yom Kippur: teshuva, tefilla, and tzedaka.

Teshuva is a Hebrew word, usually translated as “repentance,” but which actually means return. For Humanistic Jews, teshuva is the action of returning to our values and ideals, renewing our commitment to the highest standards of our ethics.

Tefilla is traditionally translated as “prayer,” but comes from a word that means self-reflection. For Humanistic Jews, tefilla directs us toward self-evaluation.

Tzedaka usually signifies “charity,” but the deeper meaning conveys what kind of human beings we wish to be: tzadikim, or people who embody the highest ideals of the Jewish people.

Teshuva, tefilla, and tzedaka – meaning a return to our ideals, self-reflection, and putting our ethics into action – are the cornerstones of the Humanistic celebration of Yom Kippur.

Kol Nidre is often sung at a Humanistic Yom Kippur evening celebration. For Humanistic Jews, as for other Jews, Kol Nidre serves as a reminder of our humanness, our fallibility, our menschlichkeit (humanity), and our connection to all peoples.

Many Humanistic Jewish communities hold a memorial service on Yom Kippur, often called a Nizkor (“we will remember”) Service. This offers each of us a time to remember our traditions and our connections to our ancestors. It reinforces the belief that it is through our actions that our loved ones and our heritage will be remembered and preserved.

Our Yom Kippur service often concludes with the sounding of the shofar one final time, as an expression of our hopes and commitment for the coming year. This occurs between the Yom Kippur service and the memorial or after the memorial service.

For a schedule of Yom Kippur services in SHJ communities, follow this link.

Family & Community Observances
yom-kippur2One of the traditional activities of Yom Kippur is the reading of the story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale or big fish after defying God. This story can teach us about the ability of individuals and communities to create change in themselves and about the importance of tzedaka. We must keep in mind that the Book of Jonah is a theistic document. Creative plays and stories, however, can be built around the original story line and be fun and interesting for children.

Yom Kippur is traditionally a fast day. Some Humanistic Jews fast, some do not. In either case, the action of fasting can certainly be used metaphorically to raise consciousness about the problem of hunger. We can use Yom Kippur to teach our children about responsibility to the hungry by collecting food for a food bank or visiting and volunteering at a food kitchen. Many local opportunities exist for such social action. While some communities may not wish to do this on Yom Kippur itself, we can use the holiday to teach about tzedaka and social action and plant the seeds for a host of charitable activities throughout the year.

Teaching children about death is not easy, and some education can be done in the Yom Kippur memorial service with children. Lighting candles for our family members or for our ancestors can be included in a young persons’ service. You can also speak with children about what we remember about our loved ones, how they touched our lives, and how they will always be part of our lives as long as we remember them.

Yom Kippur is also a good time to teach children about making and keeping promises. Encourage children to listen to and understand the Kol Nidre service, and let them participate creatively in interpreting the service by creating writings and drawings about their commitments and promises.

Themes of Humanistic Yom Kippur Observances
yom-kippur3Again, the humanistic possibilities for this holiday are endless. The solemnity of the day and the serious nature of our observances, provide an opportunity for all of us – adults and children – to begin a year of participating in the behaviors we value. The holiday offers us the opportunity to ask forgiveness from ourselves and those we have wronged and to vow to be active, involved, caring people – mentshes – in the coming year. It is a time for remembrance, a time to look at what we carry with us from those who are gone and think about how we want to act in the coming year. Use this time to make group resolutions about the upcoming year, which can be re-examined the next year, or for children to write short paragraphs on their commitment to Humanistic Jewish values.

Among the themes our Yom Kippur observance embodies are:

Self-reflection
Forgiveness
Remembering our past
Honoring our ancestors
Personal change
Teshuva: return (to values, ideals)
Tefilla: personal reflection
Tzedaka: charity and putting values into action

After Yom Kippur, The Sukkah!

Yes, we have the solemnity of Yom Kippur still to go, and we will have a quiet meditative observance on Friday the 29th at Will & Glyn’s home at 7:00 PM.

Then, After Yom Kippur, the Sukkah!  We’ll have a festive “Sukkah Raising” for anyone who wishes to take part in the fun on Sunday, october 1st, from 1:00 – 3:00 PM, rain or shine! Refreshments will be served.

Sukkah at Dayenu
Sukkah in 2015

Our first Sukkah at RavenOak was on the side deck, which later became a roofed over screen porch.  That year several seminarians from the School of Theology came over to help with the raising.  Apparently the school administration felt that was not a helpful part of their “formation process,” so, no more seminarians! Last year we were delighted to have two youngsters – Elise and Lucas Carlson help out.  This past May they and their parents went back home to Prague.  So who will help with the Sukkah raising this year?  Will it be you?  Or will we do it by ourselves this year? ~ Will & Glyn

Sukkah last year, on the Good Earth:

What Is A Sukkah?

The Festival of Sukkot begins on Tishri 15, the fifth day after Yom Kippur. It is quite a drastic transition, from one of the most solemn holidays in our year to one of the most joyous. Sukkot is so unreservedly joyful that it is commonly referred to in Jewish tradition as Z’man Simchateinu Z’mn Simchateinu (in Hebrew), the Season of our Rejoicing.

Sukkot is the last of the Shalosh R’galim (three pilgrimage festivals). Like Passover and Shavu’ot, Sukkot has a dual significance: religious and agricultural. In religious teaching, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Agriculturally, Sukkot is a harvest festival and is sometimes referred to as Chag Ha-Asif Chag Ha-Asif (in Hebrew), the Festival of Ingathering. In Humanistic Judaism, we emphasize the traditional, agricultural origin.

The word “Sukkot” means “booths,” and refers to the temporary dwellings that we are commanded to live in during this holiday in memory of the period of wandering. The Hebrew pronunciation of Sukkot is “Sue COAT,” but is often pronounced as in Yiddish, to rhyme with “BOOK us.” The name of the holiday is frequently translated “Feast of Tabernacles,” which, like many translations of Jewish terms, isn’t very useful. This translation is particularly misleading, because the word “tabernacle” in the Bible refers to the portable Sanctuary in the desert, a precursor to the Temple, called in Hebrew “mishkan.” The Hebrew word “sukkah” (plural: “sukkot”) refers to the temporary booths that people lived in, not to the Tabernacle.

Building a Sukkah

You will dwell in booths for seven days; all natives of Israel shall dwell in booths. -Leviticus 23:42
In honor of the holiday’s religious origins, we are commanded to dwell in temporary shelters, as our ancestors did in the wilderness. The temporary shelter is referred to as a sukkah (which is the singular form of the plural word “sukkot”). Like the word sukkot, it can be pronounced like Sue-KAH, or to rhyme with Book-a.

The sukkah is great fun for the children. Building the sukkah each year satisfies the common childhood fantasy of building a fort, and dwelling in the sukkah satisfies a child’s desire to camp out in the backyard. The commandment to “dwell” in a sukkah can be fulfilled by simply eating all of one’s meals there; however, if the weather, climate, and one’s health permit, one should spend as much time in the sukkah as possible, including sleeping in it.

Building a Sukkahsukkah

A sukkah must have three or four, but at least at least two and a half walls covered with a material that will not blow away in the wind. Why two and a half walls? Look at the letters in the word “sukkah” (see the Hebrew letters above): one letter has four sides, one has three sides and one has two and a half sides. The “walls” of the sukkah do not have to be solid; canvas covering tied or nailed down is acceptable and quite common in the United States. A sukkah may be any size, so long as it is large enough for you to fulfill the commandment of dwelling in it. The roof of the sukkah must be made of material referred to as sekhakh (literally, covering). To fulfill the commandment, sekhakh must be something that grew from the ground and was cut off, such as tree branches, corn stalks, bamboo reeds, sticks, or two-by-fours.  Sekhakh must be placed sparsely enough that rain can get in, and preferably sparsely enough that the stars can be seen, but not so sparsely that more than ten inches is open at any point or that there is more light than shade. The sekhakh must be put on last. Note: You may put a water-proof cover over the top of the sukkah when it is raining to protect the contents of the sukkah, but you cannot use it as a sukkah while it is covered and you must remove the cover to fulfill the purpose of dwelling in a sukkah!

You can buy do-it-yourself sukkah from various sources online, or you can build your own.

It is common practice, and highly commendable, to decorate the sukkah. In the northeastern United States, Jews commonly hang dried squash and corn in the sukkah to decorate it, because these vegetables are readily available at that time for the American holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving. Many families hang artwork drawn by the children on the walls. Building and decorating a sukkah is a fun family project, much like decorating the Christmas tree is for Christians.

So, if you’re not busy building your own Sukkah on October 1st, come on over and help us build ours!

Yom Kippur Observance

yom-kippur-holiday

The People of the Mountain will hold a small, Humanistic Yom Kippur observance on Friday Evening, September 29th, at 7:00 PM, at the home of Will & Glyn. For directions and RSVP:  humanisticjewishsewanee@gmail.com

The observance will include:

  • Lighting of the Nizkor (Remembrance) Candle. Many Humanistic Jewish communities hold a memorial service on Yom Kippur, often called a Nizkor (“we will remember”) Service. This offers each of us a time to remember our traditions and our connections to our ancestors. It reinforces the belief that it is through our actions that our loved ones and our heritage will be remembered and preserved.
  • Recitation of a Humanist Mourners’ Kaddish.
  • Candle Lighting and Offering of Challah. Yom Kippur is traditionally a fast day. Some Humanistic Jews fast, some do not. The sharing of simple bread is a way of committing to the ideal of “living simply, so that some may simply live.”
  • Readings from the Tale of Jonah. One of the traditional activities of Yom Kippur is the reading of the story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale or big fish after defying God. This story can teach us about the ability of individuals and communities to create change in themselves and about the importance of tzedaka. We must keep in mind that the Biblical Book of Jonah is a theistic document, but the morality tale is much older.
  • The Kol Nidre, and Vows for the Coming Year. Kol Nidre is often sung at a Humanistic Yom Kippur evening celebration. For Humanistic Jews, as for other Jews, Kol Nidre serves as a reminder of our humanness, our fallibility, our menschlichkeit (humanity), and our connection to all peoples
  • Sounding of the Shofar.

Themes of Humanistic Yom Kippur Observances

yom-kippur3The humanistic possibilities for this holiday are endless. The solemnity of the day and the serious nature of our observances, provide an opportunity for all of us – adults and children – to begin a year of participating in the behaviors we value. The holiday offers us the opportunity to ask forgiveness from ourselves and those we have wronged and to vow to be active, involved, caring people – mentshes – in the coming year. It is a time for remembrance, a time to look at what we carry with us from those who are gone and think about how we want to act in the coming year. Use this time to make group resolutions about the upcoming year, which can be re-examined the next year, or for children to write short paragraphs on their commitment to Humanistic Jewish values.

Among the themes our Yom Kippur observance embodies are:

  • Self-reflection
  • Forgiveness
  • Remembering our past
  • Honoring our ancestors
  • Personal change
  • Teshuva: return  (to values, ideals)
  • Tefilla: personal reflection
  • Tzedaka: charity and putting values into action

Yom Kippur Wish

Blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashana

Why Do We Blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashana?

Rosh-Hashanah-shofar

For every five Jews there are ten reasons for blowing the Shofar on Erev Rosh Hashana. The Orthodox have their reasons, the Conservatives have their reasons, the Reformed have their reasons, the Reconstructionists have their reasons. Everyone has their reasons! For Humanistic Judaism, Rosh Hashana is a time of looking backwards and looking forwards. Backwards at the year we have just finished, forward at the new year to come. A good time for reflection. A good time for commitment. And so there are a few reasons why we Humanistic Jews blow the Shofar on Rosh Hashana.

1. Because our Ancestors blew the Shofar on Rosh Hashana!

The attitude of “We’ve always done it that way!” is not always helpful, we know. Clinging to the past can be a problem, if it gets us stuck there and prevents us from enjoying the present or moving into the future. But “Tradition” is not all bad! It helps us remember who we are, where we came from, and the generations who lived and died in this world so that we might also live and die, and pass on a heritage to generations yet to come.

In the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra – and He spoke), our Ancestors proclaimed:

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, saying:
In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation. Ye shall do no manner of servile work; and ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto the LORD.

and in the Book of Numbers (Bamidbar – in the Wilderness):

And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have a holy convocation: ye shall do no manner of servile work; it is a day of blowing the horn unto you

You want the chapter and verse for these proclamations? Better you should look it up yourself!

As our ancestors did before us, so we do, and so shall our children shall do after us. It is a way of remembering that we are Jews, and proclaiming that memory to the ages.

2. It is our Annual Alarm Clock!

From the end of the High Holidays to their beginning, we go through all the rest of the year about our business of living. And we do not always remember the important things. Especially, we may grow lax in the three principles of Rosh Hashana: Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah.

Teshuvah (Returning): A return to our true selves, an honest self-evaluation of the life we have lived during the past year.

Tefillah (Repentance): Being honest about our ethical failures, what can we do in the year ahead to improve?

Tzedakah (Charitable Giving): Giving of ourselves to others in need is a moral obligation, and by offering hope and healing to others, we ourselves become better persons.

Of course we intend to practice Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah every day of the year! But, sometimes we forget, sometimes we fall asleep. The Shofar is our alarm clock.

3. It Makes a lot of Noise!

The ending of the old year is a time of celebration! And what is a celebration without a lot of Noise? On The fourth of July we shoot off fireworks. On Decmeber 31, the civil New Year, we blow horns and employ noisemakers of all kinds. On Erev Rosh Hashana, we blow the Ram’s Horn! For our ancient Ancestors, back before our Jewish ones, all this noise on New Year’s Eve had another important purpose: to scare away any evil spirits that might slip into the world through the crack between the old year and the new. Could this be helpful today? Who knows? It couldn’t hurt!

4. It Honors the King!

Okay, today most of us do not have a king. But our Ancestors did. And whenever the King showed up, trumpets were blown. Today we blow the Shofar to honor what is regal in every human being!

5. The Primal Scream!

Some people say the Shofar sounds like a primal scream out of the depths of time. And they are right. It is the scream of humanity born of fear, hope, rage, joy – the eternal cry for meaning in this universe where we find ourselves.

You know, we could go on and on. Doubtless you know many other good reasons for blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashana, from announcing dinner is served, to reminding our neighbors there are Jews in the neighborhood, to simply “that’s what my family (or my congregation) always did.”

But most of all, it is to proclaim L’Shana Tovah: For A Good Year, a Sweet Year, a Year of Joy and Hope!

~ Walter William Melnyk
Rosh Hashana 5778