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 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.

Early Passover Seder Planned


Community Passover Seder April 1 (Yes, Early)

People of the Mountain – Am HaHar

Saturday, April 1  —  4:00 PM  — at Sue’s in Clifftops

challahOne of the benefits of being a small group is that we can adjust things here and there to be sure everyone can participate. Because some of our folks will be out of town on April 10, we will be holding our Passover Seder on the evening of Friday, March 31. That also gives us the special experience of a Shabbat.
This will be a traditional format haggadah.  It will be held at Sue’s home. which has lots of room for people and parking. To help accommodate families, it will begin at 6:00 PM. Please plan on 3 hours for the Seder and related social time. (Bring PJs for little ones if you like!)  Please feel free to invite friends!
We need to get an attendance estimate as soon as possible, so please RSVP here or to humanisticjewishsewanee@gmail.com with number of adults and children. We’ll suggest dishes to bring as the day gets closer.
Another plus to our early celebration is that you get to celebrate twice, if you have somewhere to go April 10th.

An Early Purim at Am haHar

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!  Because some folks will be away on the 11th, we’re doing Purim a week early this year, on the 4th.

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.

See you there!

The Four Mitzvot of Purim

purim_p_10__62466-1453301131-1280-1280Purim is the most Genuinely Fun feast in the Jewish Calendar for two reasons:

  1.  It celebrates what it means to be Jewish.
  2.  It is not mentioned in Torah, and therefore is not Doctrine-Heavy in content.  Like Hanukkah, it is a People’s Feast!

But there is a serious side to Purim, which comes also from the Story of Esther, and that is the Spirit of Giving.  On Purim one sends gifts of food to family and friends, and one gives Tzedikah, or gifts to the Poor.

hamantaschMishloach manot
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gaily wrapped baskets of sweets, drinks and other foodstuffs given as mishloach manot on Purim day.

Mishloach manot (Hebrew: משלוח מנות‎ [miʃˈlo.aχ maˈnot], literally, “sending of portions”; also spelled and pronounced mishloach manos), or shalach manos (Yiddish: שלח־מנות‎ Yiddish pronunciation: [ʃaləχmɔnəs]), and also called a Purim basket, are gifts of food or drink that are sent to family, friends and others on Purim day.

The mitzvah of giving mishloach manot derives from the Book of Esther. It is meant to ensure that everyone has enough food for the Purim feast held later in the day, and to increase love and friendship among Jews and their neighbors.

According to the halakha, every Jew over the age of Bar and Bat Mitzvah should send a food gift consisting of two different types of food to at least one recipient.[1] The practice is a fairly prominent feature of Purim.

The mitzvah of giving mishloach manot is spelled out in the Book of Esther, which enjoins the Jewish people to observe the days of Purim “as days of feasting and gladness, and sending portions of food to one another, and gifts to the poor” (9:22). This verse refers to three different mitzvot: eating a Purim meal, the sending of two different, ready-to-eat foods and/or drinks to one friend (known by the Hebrew term, mishloach manot), and the distribution of two charitable donations (either money or food) to two poor people.

In actual practice, many individuals fulfil the first mitzvah themselves (by sending food gifts to friends, neighbours, relatives, etc.), and the second mitzvah by contributing to charitable organisations which distribute money or food to the poor on Purim day.

Poor people  also  give mishloach manot. One who cannot afford to buy food for his friend may exchange his own food with that of his friend — this fulfills both their obligations.[2]

This mitzvah may not be fulfilled by giving items other than food. Money or other material items cannot suffice. Only food gifts fulfil this mitzvah.[2]

The following halachot apply to the giving of mishloach manot:
Mishloach manot must be sent and delivered during the daylight hours of Purim.[3]

According to most opinions, the sender and recipient should be observing the same day of Purim.[3]
Children over the age of six or seven are also encouraged to send mishloach manot to their friends as training for the performance of a mitzvah.[3][4]
Mishloach manot are not sent to a mourner. The mourner himself is obligated to send mishloach manot, but the package should not be too elaborate. According to some opinions, a mourner should send to only one person.[3]
Mishloach manot can be delivered personally, but it is customary to deliver the food packages via a third party. Children are often involved in this mitzvah as the go-betweens between the giving parties, and are rewarded with sweets and treats for their efforts.[4]
One is not obligated to send mishloach manot as a reciprocal gesture to the sender.[3]
While the halacha only calls for the giving of two food gifts to one friend, a person who gives mishloach manot to more than one person is called praiseworthy. However, it is better to give more charity on Purim day than to spend more money on elaborate mishloach manot.[3]

Mishloach manot can include any food or drink that is ready to eat. A bottle of soft drinks or a bag of potato chips fulfills this criterion; raw meat or a package of uncooked grains does not.[3] Mishloach manot baskets typically include wine and pastries (especially hamentashen); alternately, cooked dishes, canned foods, salads, snack foods, sweets and fruits may be sent. Though a common perception holds that the two foods of mishloach manot must carry different brachot (blessings), this has no source in halakha. One may give two different types of fruits, such as an apple and an orange, but not two of the same fruit, such as two apples.[3]

The amount of food in each mishloach manot package should reflect the standards of both the giver and the receiver. A wealthy person should send a nicer package to his recipients than would a poor person.

Today it is possible to order all kinds of Purim Baskets online and have them sent to the recipient.  While this may fulfill the intent of Shalachmanos, it is not nearly as fun as handmade and personally delivered!