December 2015 Illuminator

The Illuminator, our newsletter, brings to life Or Emet’s mission of creating a caring and stimulating community celebrating humanistic Judaism. Click to view or download.

Interview with Rabbi Adam Chalom

Here’s the text of a great interview with Rabbi Adam Chalom, who is Dean for North America of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism as well as the rabbi for Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in Chicago.

Check out this list of hundreds of Society for Humanistic Judaism lectures/programs on video. An extraordinary resource.

August 2015 Illuminator

The Illuminator, our newsletter, brings to life Or Emet’s mission of creating a caring and stimulating community celebrating humanistic Judaism. Click to view or download.

May 2015 Illuminator

The Illuminator, our newsletter, brings to life Or Emet’s mission of creating a caring and stimulating community celebrating humanistic Judaism. Click to view or download.

Happy Jewish Humanist Passover!

seder table

Passover is my favorite Jewish holiday, and one that I can’t image doing without. I am apparently not alone, since according to the Pew Research Center, attending a Passover seder is the one ceremony Jews are most likely to attend.

But as a Jewish Humanist, one may ask, why do I love Passover? For those of us who don’t believe the story of the Jews fleeing Egypt is based on divine intervention — or even historically accurate– why is this night nonetheless different from all other nights?

Here are a few reasons why I, a Humanist Jew, love Passover.

1. Because Jewish Freedom From Oppression Rocks

The Passover story is about Jews fleeing oppression. Whether or not this particular Biblical story ever happened, there is no doubt that Jews have fled oppression many times. We are a strong people who take pride in our endurance, and that’s a story worth telling to our children every year. Or, as the saying goes about the essence of Jewish holidays, “They tried to kill us. We survived. Now let’s eat!”

2. Because All Freedom From Oppression Rocks

As humanists, we cherish individual and cultural freedom as one of the most essential human values. When we tell the story of the Jews fleeing Egypt, we are telling the story of one of humanity’s greatest yearnings: to be free. These days (and throughout all of human history), you don’t have to look far to find parallels between the story of the Jews fleeing Egypt and the story of others who yearn to be free from slavery and oppression. It’s very appropriate that modern seders frequently include a rendition of “Let Me People Go,” the African-American slave spiritual.  And at many modern seders, time is taken to reflect on current situations where slavery and oppression still prevail — and some Jews have taken to including an olive on the seder plate to represent solidarity with the Palestinians.

3. Because Our Ancestors Told This Story

Poor Jews taking free matzoh in 1906 in NYC.

Poor Jews taking free matzoh in 1906 in NYC.

The story of what happened in Egypt may not be true. But here’s what is undoubtedly true. Our ancestors have been gathering around tables for several thousands of years to tell this story to one another, eating brisket and gefilte fish and cake-like concoctions that contain no flour, and leaving a cup out in case Elijah shows up.  We all have stories about how our Baubies and Zadies and other relatives shared the story of Passover with us. Now we get to do this with our children — and along with that, we get to tell our children the story of our Baubies and Zadies. And I’m old enough to already have memories of the people I shared Passover with who are no longer with us — like my grandmother and a wonderful dog named Cookie who spent Passover dinners curled up at her feet. To me, Passover is the event makes me feel more connected to my history on this planet as a Jew.

4. Because Jews Everywhere Tell This Story

When I am at a seder, there’s something powerful in knowing that Jews all around the world are doing the same thing.  Jews are a diverse people, especially in the modern world when so many of us have taken to defining our Jewish heritage in nontraditional ways. On this night, we all come together as one people to tell the same story. The seders I have shared with my extended family are special, but one of my favorite Passover memories is of attending a Hillel seder at Colorado State University, where I worked at the time, with my husband and my infant daughter.  We sat with a table of students who were strangers. Although part of me wished I could bring my daughter to celebrate with family, I found myself feeling deeply connected to the Jews in attendance and to Jews everywhere. On Passover, Jews all sit down together for a meal.

5. Because Passover is Awesome for Kids

passover kidsThe Four Questions! The Afikommen! Elijah’s cup! Ha Gad Ya! In many ways, the whole point of Passover is to pass on these traditions to our children. Humanist Jews may not be concerned with passing along religious beliefs, but we identify as Jews and want very much to pass this identity on to our children.


6. Because Passover is Fun!

four glassesPassover is a deeply moving time for me, but it’s also just plain fun — and not just because there are four glasses of wine. (Although one year my sister and I poured glasses that were a little too big and then wrote a Top 10 list of places not to hide the afikommen, much to my uncle’s chagrin.) There’s songs and Hillel sandwiches and the company of family and friends. There are stories of years past and hope for the year to come.

Chag Sameach, everyone!





Telling Kids about the Holocaust: A Humanist Jewish Perspective

There are topics that all parents dread talking about with their kids.  Sex, of course, is one. Death is another.  There’s no consensus on how or when to discuss these tricky topics with kids.  Like everyone else, we’ve done the best we can to introduce our nine-year-old to these topics in ways that age-appropriate and reflect our values.

For Jewish parents, there’s another topic that parents dread talking about with their kids: the Holocaust. In some ways, this is an even more difficult topic to discuss than those others. Sex may be an uncomfortable topic, but ultimately it’s a positive part of human experience. And death, while scary, is at least a natural part of the order of things.

But the Holocaust isn’t.

So how in the world do you tell your child that a mere 70 years ago, six million Jews in Europe who were just like you were slaughtered for no other reason than they were just like you?  How do you tell your child that the Nazis would have looked at her and thrown her—and me, and many of the people she loves—into the gas chamber without a second thought?  How do you tell her that there’s still plenty of people in the world that still wish us harm and even death because we’re Jews? And how can you even start to talk about the atrocity that is six million murders?

Like sex and death, there’s no consensus on how to talk to your kids about the Holocaust, and I’m not expert who can give you advice. All I can do is share my perspective on the issue—one Jewish parent of a nine-year-old, and in my case, a Humanistic Jew who is committed to teaching my child about our proud place in human history, but who does not believe in a higher power.

A few years ago, as I started to wonder how to tell my daughter about the Holocaust, I did what modern everywhere do—I asked my Facebook friends.  My collective Facebook hive, which has a high population of Jews, resoundingly told me to give her books. So I did. I started with Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, which is about the Danish resistance effort to save the Jewish population. That seemed like a gentle and positive way to introduce the topic, and she loved it.

For Hanukkah this year, we had an important rite of passage: I gave her a copy of Anne Frank. I had told her about the book, and she was very excited. Unfortunately, I fear that nine may be a little young for this book—not just because of the topic, but because she’s found it too boring so far to get into it. “I want to like it,” she said, “but all they do is sit in a room and quarrel.” Sadly, Anne Frank can’t compete with Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, so we’ll try again in a year or so.

So, she’s read a little about the Holocaust. But that didn’t prepare me for last week, when I was watching an episode of Genealogy Roadshow.  A woman on the show was researching her Austrian Jewish relatives during the Holocaust. There was a short historical segment about what happened to the Jews in Austria, and my daughter walked in at this point. I started to turn it off, but she said she wanted to watch.

So she did. And then she started to cry.

I would do anything to live in a world where I didn’t have to disrupt my sweet daughter’s childhood with such a rude awakening. But that’s not possible, so I cuddled her on the couch and we talked.  She asked me if we had any relatives that were killed in the Holocaust. I told her that some of our relatives in Bessarabia had been able to run away from the Nazis. But her father’s grandmother decided she was too old to run, and she was killed. And my grandmother’s brother was too proud to give up the home and the livelihood he had earned, so he also didn’t run, and he and his wife and his three teenage daughters were all killed.

Of course, this made her cry more.  Her reaction was both heartbreaking and fascinating. “There were six million Jews killed!” she said. “Six million! Can you imagine how many Jews there would be in the world today if they hadn’t killed six million Jews?”

I tried to comfort her as much as I could. I told her that this was one of the reasons why it was so important to me to raise her Jewish, even though I don’t have Jewish religious beliefs.  Those bastards tried to wipe us off of the Earth. I will do my part to not let them succeed.  That resonated with her. I told her that there was a great Jewish culture that thrived for many years in Eastern Europe that was mostly gone now—and that I want to teach her about our ancestors who lived there and keep the memory of that culture alive.

There’s more I want to keep telling her. I want to tell her that as Jews and Humanists, it is our duty to stand up for other people of color and LGBT people and other are oppressed for being who they are.  And I want to make sure that she knows that while the Holocaust is essential to remember, it doesn’t define us.  As a Jewish Humanist parent, I pass on our heritage when I take my child to see Fiddler on the Roof, or sing Tumbalaika, or tell her about her great-grandparents.  Being a Jew is awesome—and nobody can take that away from us.

So I guess that’s how I chose to talk to my daughter about the Holocaust—as a part of our complex human story as Jews.  I would love to hear how other Jews go about taking on this difficult task as well.

Not at War with Islam

As the President says, we are not at war with Islam. Fortunately, I think most Americans agree with him. I am also OK with avoiding using the adjective “Islamic” with the word “terrorists”. “Islamic” refers to an entire faith, just like “Christian” does. So using the term “Islamic terrorism” is equivalent to calling the KKK “Christian terrorists” as if they represented Christianity generally. Hopefully, they did not. Although they still professed to be Protestant Christians. However, the term “IslamIST terrorism” is perfectly appropriate in my mind because it captures the true-believer ideological mindset of terrorists from the Muslim world and does not reference an entire faith. Now, a big HOWEVER: The President also said that “young people are taught to hate”. So, who teaches this hate? In every case, it is Muslim Religious Fundamentalists who teach hatred of Jews, Christians, the West, etc. (And so it often is as far as Christian and Jewish Fundamentalists teaching young Christians and Jews to hate.) So, we cannot sidestep the religious question entirely, and it is naive to do so. One other point; It is manifestly NOT primarily poverty that is a key factor in the burgeoning Islamist terrorist movements. That is a red herring, and I could speak to it at length. But it has to do with a pervading love-hate relationship with things Western, deep feelings of humiliation, dislocation, and the like. Many Islamist leaders are far from poor.

February 2015 Illuminator

The Illuminator, our newsletter, brings to life Or Emet’s mission of creating a caring and stimulating community celebrating humanistic Judaism. Click to view or download.

ENGAGE: An Evening of Jewish Learning - St. Paul JCC and Talmud Torah Event

ENGAGE, An Evening of Jewish Learning!
Saturday, January 10  •  7:00 PM  –  11:00 PM

Open to the Community  •  Member Fee:$ 18.00   Non-Member Fee:$ 18.00
Register at Front Desk by calling 651-698-0751, or Online  From  Monday, December 8  thru  Tuesday, January 6The JCC and Talmud Torah of St. Paul team up to bring you a rich evening of eye-opening and mind-expanding classes.
View event brochure and read class descriptions
The location of this program is at the Talmud Torah of St. Paul, 768 Hamline Avenue, St Paul, MN 55116. For more information please contact Beth Friend, Adult Program Coordinator at 651-255-4735    Email Beth