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The Tree of Life

Tree of LifeI was looking for a way to portray visually my philosophy of life . . .

Another beautiful piece of paper-cut Judaica from my good friend Kim Phillips at Hebrica Judaica & Miscillanica here in Monteagle. She did it on commission froma design I came up with – The Tree of Life, rooted in Chesed (steadfast love), grown in the spirit of Dayenu (it is enough for us), is crowned in Shalom (wholeness and peace.) 


See more of Kim’s work at hebrica.com

Or order your own beautiful Tree of Life HERE

 

Elul: The Month of Jewish Secular Humanism

Preparing for the High Holidays: How Do You Elul?

Elul ShofarRosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are two of the most well-known days of the Jewish year. Much less famous is the month that precedes them, Elul, which is also considered a time of asking for forgiveness — though unlike the traditional High Holiday liturgy of repentance to God, Elul is when we ask forgiveness directly from the people in our lives who we’ve wronged.

For this reason, David Steiner suggested that Elul, which beings on August 21 this year, is “The Month of Jewish Secular Humanism.” He wrote:

While I appreciate that the Jewish calendar has a ten-day period set aside for personal accounting, I prefer the 29 days set aside for peace between hu/man and her fellow hu/man. This is the month…when we assign ourselves the task of making peace with the people in our lives. One might even say that since Elul precedes Tishrei [the month beginning with Rosh Hashanah], and 29 days are greater than 10, that Judaism puts greater significance on peace among people…. In other words, these are the days that Judaism has set aside for secular humanism, and our efforts — whether we believe in an immanent god or not — should be focused on humanity.

An activist and filmmaker, David Steiner was also studying to become a rabbi at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism when his life was tragically cut short this past December. The coming holiday season without him will no doubt be extremely difficult for his family and to those of us in the movement who knew and loved him.

We take some solace knowing that David’s ideas live on through his films and writing. And we hope that all of us remembering lost loved ones during the High Holidays can draw strength from being part of something larger than ourselves: a community of people that care for one another.

If you do not yet have a place to experience Humanistic High Holiday services, please click here to see times and locations where they are being offered in the U.S. and Canada.

Or join People of the Mountain for our Rosh Hashana celebration.  See details elsewhere on this site.

This year, Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Wednesday, September 20th.

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’AV

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.

CONTACT US!

A Brief Humanistic Observance for a Shavuot Picnic

shavuot

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.

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.