Passover with People of the Mountain

humanist-haggadahPassover, which begins on the evening preceding the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, is the great spring celebration of the Jewish people. Passover began as a nature holiday, celebrating new life. In the priestly and rabbinic traditions, it became a commemoration of the biblical exodus and the escape from slavery in ancient Egypt. This familiar tale, contained in the traditional Haggada, is retold each year at the seder, the Passover celebration.

Humanistic Jews view the biblical Exodus story as one of the most powerful myths of the Jewish people, a tale that relates the courage and determination of a people fleeing slavery for freedom. Humanistic Judaism views Passover as a time to celebrate the modern, as well as the ancient, quest for freedom. A Humanist Haggada includes both the legendary tale of the exodus from Egypt and the modern Jewish exodus stories, as well as the themes of the holiday’s origin. Passover is also a celebration of human dignity and of the freedom that makes dignity possible.

Passover 3Humanistic Passover Celebration
Humanistic Jews question the traditional explanations of Pesakh. There is no evidence that the Exodus occurred or that the Hebrew people were in Egypt in the numbers described. The traditional Haggada includes an anthropomorphic, active, ethnocentric God and the passive deliverance by God of the Hebrews. There are few, if any, women in the traditional Passover story, and there are no daughters while four sons are described. A secular Passover relates a nontheistic tale. Humanistic Jews celebrate the actions people take to improve their own lives. A cultural Passover recognizes gender equality and the value of inclusivity so that both girls and boys, men and women feel connected to their history.

So what is meant by a Humanistic Passover celebration? For one thing, Humanistic Jews continue the tradition of telling the Exodus story, but they accept that it is a story, not history. Humanistic Jews also talk about the possible history behind the story, perhaps a small slave escape that grew in the retelling. The Humanistic Passover celebration emphasizes the themes of human freedom and dignity, the power of human beings to change their destiny, and the power of hope. Humanistic Jews recognize the power and value of many episodes in Jewish history, not only ancient times. Passover thus becomes a celebration of the many times and events when people have left their homes for a new life, honoring the human dignity and courage required by their actions.

Events of the twentieth century record the courage of millions of Jews who left the land of their birth to escape persecution and seek freedom in Palestine and the land of Israel. Passover recognizes the struggles of millions of people to overcome oppression to achieve freedom and equality. Telling the story of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe to America, perhaps the largest Jewish Exodus ever, is a powerful part of a Humanistic Passover. Even more significant, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against the Nazis in 1943 began on the first night of Passover; including a commemoration of this struggle provides a meaningful true story of a people’s fight for dignity, using their own power to control their destinies. The departure of Refuseniks from the former Soviet Union for Israel and America, the successes of the labor, Civil Rights and women’s movements in the twentieth century – all of these find a place in the Humanistic Haggada.

A Humanist Passover celebration is a celebration of human courage and human power, of the quest for human dignity and equality. This is what makes it one of the most meaningful and enduring Jewish holidays today.

Passover 1The Seder
The celebration of Passover lasts seven days. It begins with the seder, a gathering of family and friends for a holiday meal, at home or in your community or congregation, during which the Exodus tale is told. Seder literally means “order,” as in the “order of events” at the Passover dinner. Most celebrations reflect the ancient and traditional celebration of the holiday, while adding new meanings for today. Most Jews who participate in a seder retell the ancient stories and share the rich symbols of the holiday. Humanistic Jews add modern stories of human struggles and connect these with current issues and concerns.

To the listing of the 10 ancient plagues, a Humanist seder might add modern plagues that we are battling today. The ancient tale becomes the non-theistic story of a people’s quest for freedom, providing a symbol for later struggles for freedom. The Humanist seder becomes a celebration of human effort and achievements, a statement of what we can do to improve our world.

passover-usaTo the symbols on the traditional seder plate (haroset), bitter herbs (maror), roasted egg (beytsa), parsley (karpas), and lamb shankbone (pesakh), a modern seder plate might include:

An orange, representing the historical marginalization of women, lesbians, and gay men. It also suggests the fruitfulness of all Jews who contribute to Judaism.

A potato, symbolizing the exodus of Ethiopian Jews from oppression to freedom, from famine to plenty, and recognizing the suffering and starvation of those in concentration camps during the Holocaust.

A beet as a substitute for the lamb shankbone for a vegetarian seder.

Humanistic Jews often add a cup of water for Miriam (who, legend says, traveled with a well of healing waters throughout the desert journey of the Hebrew people) next to the cup of wine for Elijah.

The singing of Dayenu (“it would be enough”) for Humanistic Jews might become Lo Dayenu (“it would not be enough”), changing the message from one of satisfaction to a statement that there is still more for us to do.

The retelling of our modern struggles for freedom from oppression contribute to make Passover a more meaningful and powerful celebration for Humanistic Jews.

Gefilte Fish

Gefilte FishThe Manischewitz folks sell over 1.5 million jars of gefilte fish internationally each year – almost one jar for every ten Jews in the world. “gefilte” fish is literally “stuffed” fish. Originally a food of the poor, the idea was to clean the whole fish, remove everything, add spices and fillers to the chopped meat, and stuff it back into the fish skin. Behold! A BIGGER fish!

On a scale of 1 to 10, nobody ever gives gefilte fish  2 through 9!

Purim 2018

Cancelled Due to Lack of Response

PURIM WITH PEOPLE OF THE MOUNTAIN!purim_p_10__62466-1453301131-1280-1280

One nice thing about being small and informal –  You can juggle the calendar around a bit if you have to!  Purim this year is on the 28th, the middle of the week.  So we’re doing Purim a few days early this year, on Saturday, the 24th.

Join us for our Purim Party at Sue’s Home in Clifftops (address on request when you RSVP)

From 4:00 to 6:00 PM we’ll be sharing the Four Blessings of Purim:

1. Sharing Food with one another
2. Giving to the Poor
3. Hearing the Esther Megillah
4. Participating in a Purim Party

(There are other interesting traditions, such as drinking until you can’t tell the differenceesther-haman between Mordacai and Haman, but this will be a Family Party, so the most we’ll do is sip some wine!)

We’ll have masks and *graggers. Will has written a contemporary and kid friendly version of the Purim Scroll to read, and we’ll have some fun Purim songs to sing that you may never have heard connected to Purim before.

Please bring a tray of light snacks to share. Sweets are traditional, such as hamantaschen and other cookies. But it’s okay to bring healthy stuff if you like. We’ll supply wine and soft drinks, but feel free to bring your own as well.

hamantaschThis is a party for all ages, and you don’t have to be a member of People of the Mountain to join us! If you have friends who you’d like to invite, please do! Just give us a number by Friday, the 27th.

See you there!

* Graggers = Jewish Noisemakers

For Holocaust Remembrance Day

A Reminder, for International Holocaust Remembrance Day
January 27, the 73rd Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

auschwitz ramp
On the Arrival Ramp at Auschwitz, Minutes from Death

We Are Almost Gone

Released at last
from the dark cattle cars,
the nightmare past
we hoped. Ours,
a futile grope for ended dreams.
The sun is bright,
the blue sky hurts our eyes,
and dark smoke, still beyond our sight,
where horror down a narrow pathway lies.
Look at us! The almost dead.
You cannot hear the muffled cries,
the silent miseries of dread.
The few short minutes left
before the gas, bereft, bereft
of hope. Our waning minutes pass
without time; eternity already lies
before us: blue skies,
and keening chorus.

© 27 June 2017 Walter William Melnyk
All Rights Reserved.

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


Contact: Rabbi Adam Chalom, Dean, IISHJ, (847) 602-4500,

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,, or by contacting 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,, 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.


Click Here to Get Started!