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

Celebrate Erev Rosh Hashana with Am HaHar

HAPPY 5778!

Rosh-Hashanah-shofar

The People of the Mountain (Am HaHar) will celebrate Erev Rosh Hashana here on Monteagle/Sewanee Mountain on –

Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Gathering: 6:00 – 6:30 PM
Dinner at 6:30 PM

Please make a Reservation, so we know how many people to plan for.
We’ll be gathering at Sue’s house.

If you need directions, just ask in your RSVP message!

Use the contact form on this site or email us at humanisticjewishsewanee@gmail.com

 

A Humanistic Rosh Hashana

Referred to as the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana falls on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, the first month of the lunar calendar. It is the beginning of the 10-day Jewish new year festival, which culminates with Yom Kippur.

Humanistic Jews see Rosh Hashana as a time for renewal, reflection, and new beginnings. Our focus is on the affirmation of human power and human dignity. Rosh Hashana is a time to consider the possibilities for change, improvement, and happiness that we can create for ourselves as human beings. Acknowledging human courage and independence, we can achieve human dignity. 

Humanistic Jewish communities have adapted many of the ceremonies that are part of the rabbinic celebration of Rosh Hashana. As the first day of the Jewish year, Rosh Hashana marks a turning point, a separation between what was and what will be. It offers a time for Humanistic Jews to pause in their daily lives and reflect on their behavior and renew their commitment to their highest values. The creative liturgies used by Humanistic Jewish communities on Rosh Hashana reflect these themes.

Many Humanistic communities sound the shofar on Rosh Hashana, evoking memories of a time when the blasts of the ram’s horn called the Jewish community together in times of danger. Today, the shofar summons Jews around the world to a celebration of renewal, reflection, and commitment to values in action. The four sounds of the shofar are: t’kiah (one long blast), sh’varim (three short blasts), t’ruah (nine quick blasts) and t’kia g’dolah (one very long blast).

The ceremony of Tashlikh, which typically involves visiting a moving body of water and symbolically casting off one’s sins by throwing bread crumbs into the water, often is included in a Humanistic Rosh Hashana observance. Tashlikh allows Humanistic Jews to reflect on their behavior, to cast off behaviors they are not proud of, and to vow to be better people in the year to come. Some Humanistic Jewish communities incorporate the writing of New Year’s resolutions into their Tashlikh ceremonies.

Family Celebrations

In creating family celebrations for Rosh Hashana, you will want to select readings and music that create a balance between self-reflection and renewal of commitment to Humanistic Jewish values. The readings and music should encourage children to begin articulating their values and the behaviors in which they want to engage. Rosh Hashana is a good time to teach children about role models of Humanistic Jewish values. The Tashlikh ceremony can be very powerful (and fun) with children, as can the blowing of the shofar and eating apples and honey. By examining our past behavior, we can learn from our mistakes and improve ourselves and the world around us.

Tashlikh can be done in many different ways. If a flowing body of water is available, take advantage of the opportunity to involve the children in this outdoor ceremony. Use this as a lesson about identifying and letting go of undesired behaviors by throwing bits of bread into the water. It is possible to use bird seed as well. If no such body of water is available, throw bird seed outside and explain that just as we throw the seeds or bread crumbs, so too do we cast off unwanted behaviors. Another alternative is to use large jugs of water and a large bowl or collander. Have the children (and adults) write down behaviors or qualities that they would like to change on slips of paper and pour water over the paper until all the ink disappears.

The shofar is a call to action and commitment to our values. Children love being able to blow their own shofar (inexpensive plastic shofarot are available from most Judaica stores).

Apples and honey are a fun and memorable way to mark the new year together as a family. The sweetness of the honey combined with the tart taste of the apple represents our hope for a year that will be tempered by sweetness and joy. A round challah, often with raisins, also may be dipped in honey, then eaten. The round shape is said to reflect the ongoing cycle of days, seasons and years that make up our lives.

The creative possibilities for this holiday are endless. Although the holiday has serious themes, it is a time for children to begin participating in the behaviors we value. 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.

Themes of Humanistic Rosh Hashana Celebrations
Self-reflection
Renewal of commitment to Humanistic values and ethics
Putting Humanistic Jewish values into action
New beginnings
Forgiveness
Change
Endings and beginnings
Resolutions for new behavior
Letting go of undesired behaviors or attitudes

We hope you will join us, to bring in the New Year, 5778!

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.