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.

Yom Kippur Observance


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:

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

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



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, .

Perhaps we can be a home for you.


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!

Hamantaschen Class!

We’re having a Hamantaschen Making Class this Saturday!


 Hamantaschen Class – Saturday, February 18th
1:00 – 3:00 PM
at the home of Glyn & Will Melnyk
Make your Hamanstaschen for Purim
Only 1 space left, so register now!
No charge, but a $5.00 donation is requested for materials.
Presented by People of the Mountain

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Celebrating a Humanistic Purim

PURIM with the People of the Mountain. from the Society for Humanistic Judaism

Join Us for Our Family Purim Party!

purim-inviteAs winter becomes spring, Jews celebrate Purim, originally one of several spring-welcoming festivals. First and foremost, Purim is fun, joyous, and boisterous. But even hilarity must fit within a framework.

Celebrating Purim

The Megilla lists four ways to celebrate Purim:

1. Reading the Megilla (The Esther Scroll),
2. Giving charity,
3. Giving gifts of food, and
4. Eating the festive meal. The hamantashen, the three-cornered filled cookie, remains the food of choice for Purim.

In The Beginning . . .

On one level, the Purim story represents the annual struggle to end the harsh reign of winter. The original characters appear to have been Babylonian gods: Ishtar, the goddess of fertility; Marduk, the chief guardian of the heavens; and Haman, the underworld devil. Ishtar and Haman, life and death, vie with each other for supremacy. Ishtar triumphs; spring returns; and life is renewed. Yahveh, the Hebrew God, played no part in the celebration, which was filled with theatrical renditions of the contest. Noisemaking and masquerading were necessary to trick the evil gods and to aid the good ones.  Merriment was the order of the day.

The Megilla, or biblical Book of Esther, replaced Ishtar and Marduk with Jewish mortals (Esther and Mordecai); Haman became a Persian “devil.” The holiday’s name, “Purim,” meaning “lots” or “dice,” is meant to remind us of how the evil character Haman drew lots to determine the fate of the Jews of Persia. According to the Book of Esther, were it not for the goodness and intervention of Esther and her uncle Mordecai in the court of King Ahasuerus, the Jews certainly would have been exterminated by the king’s vizier Haman. Purim became the joyous celebration of an epic Jewish victory over anti-Semitism and threatened annihilation – an enactment of the hopes of persecuted Jews throughout the centuries.

At first, because of the Book of Esther’s secular nature – it is the only book in the Bible that does not mention God – it was excluded from the sacred canon. It is likely that political conflict between the rabbis and the Maccabees brought the Book of Esther into the Bible and Purim into the official Jewish calendar. Uncomfortable with Purim but faced with a festival that the people would not abandon, the rabbinic leaders found a way to suit it to their purposes. On the thirteenth of Adar, the day before Purim, Jews celebrated Nicanor’s Day, commemorating a major Maccabean victory over a Greek general named Nicanor. The rabbis, to minimize the influence of their rivals, the Maccabees, turned Nicanor’s Day into the Fast of Esther, immediately preceding Purim, and gave the playful folk holiday their grudging blessing. Nicanor’s Day disappeared and Purim grew more popular. Purim shpiels (plays) and satires allowed ordinary people to “sass” their “betters” and voice grievances that remained unuttered throughout the year. Purim balls and carnivals encouraged revelry and drunkenness.

Rabbinic Judaism continues to celebrate Purim with great festivity. In addition to reading the scroll of Esther aloud in the synagogue to a unique or original trop (cantillation), people dress in costumes depicting the major characters of the story. During the telling of the story, the heroes are cheered and the villain, Haman, is booed and his name is drowned out by the sound of noise-makers or gragers.

A Celebration Of The Heroic
For Humanistic Jews, Purim is a celebration of the heroic in Jewish history, a tribute to human ethical role models. Human courage and ingenuity are at the center of a story about the triumph of good over evil. Humanistic Jews celebrate the heroes and chastise the villains of the world through modern Purim shpiels. Reading the Megilla – accompanied by gragers, cheers, and boos – provides a starting point from which to move beyond the framework of the biblical story. The masks of Purim become the faces of Jewish men and women worthy of emulation, from Mordecai to Theodore Herzl and Albert Einstein, and from Esther to Henrietta Szold and Golda Meir. Humanistic Purim celebrations often feature children’s costume parades and carnivals. These lighthearted activities have a serious side, recalling the heroism of individuals and the organized resistance to oppression of the Jewish people.

Choosing A Hero
Having a hero or role model is important for young people. They like to see how adults (who used to be kids themselves) can be influential and powerful and do great things for the world. During Purim, it is fun to pay tribute to heroes of the past and present by dressing up like them or by role-playing with others who are impersonating their heroes. You could even write funny skits where the heroes interact with each other. When you choose a hero, do a little research to find out how they looked, what they wore, how they acted, and what they might say.

In choosing a hero, you will want to consider six points:

FAMOUS: someone who is well-known and distinguished in some field
JEWISH: someone who is not only Jewish but proud
ACTIVE: someone who uses human skills to solve problems
BOLD: someone who boldly challenges old ideas
CARING: someone who is concerned about the welfare of the community
UNIVERSAL: someone who values both their human and their Jewish identity

Mishloakh Manot
Mishloakh manot, sending gifts to the poor, is a tradition that Humanistic Jews incorporate into their Purim celebrations. Giving gifts of food to friends encourages a sense of community. Preparing food baskets for the hungry fulfills humanistic ideals. Inviting new immigrants to home or communal celebrations is an extension of that concept, which embodies humanistic values. By contributing to local food banks or international famine relief organizations, working on home reclamation projects, or assisting the homeless, Humanistic Jews can cultivate the “hero” within themselves.