I recently talked about a Jewish friend in New York who was going to experience Passover with Humanist Jews. Michael Otterman, author of American Torture and a forthcoming book on Iraqi refugees, just sent through his report:
Just got back from the Humanist congregation Seder – it was really interesting, unlike any previous Jewy experience I’ve been exposed to. Perhaps you can recall reading a Haggadah, or a book for your Bar Mitzvah, or a Sidur, whatever, and there are occasional points of interest intertwined with ‘art thou master of the universe’, ‘blessed be He,’ ‘giver of life’, ‘thou most amazing deity dude’, etc etc? I always found those exaltations, even from a young age, quite archaic, out of place, and a little silly. Well, these Jewmanists feel the same… so what to do about it? The Jews have a collective written, oral and (most important) culinary history of thousands of years – should one simply rubbish all that if you take God out of the equation? As I understand it, Jewmanists say no, and selectively draw out from the tradition the most relevant aspects of the Jewish experience – namely, an ethos of peace with justice, overcoming adversity, and giving back to the wider (not only Jewish) community.
So the Haggadah used in today’s Seder – actually written by the Rabbi of the New York congregation – excises all references to God, and replaces that with faith in fellow man to make the world a better place. Yes, a bit naive – and probably offensive to any believer. But, for the first time ever, I was able to go through a Jewish ceremony without all that cringing and hoping to be somewhere else. We used what they called a ‘liberated’ Haggadah – ‘liberated’ from the chains of dogma that entrap many aspects of the religion to a by-gone era before science. ‘Liberated’ also for its stress on liberation for all oppressed people around the world.
Also of note, the service made no explicit reference to Israel. In the place of ‘next year in Jerusalem’, there was ‘next year peace in Jerusalem’ – a nice touch. Also, the whole seder ended with a rendition of ‘we shall overcome’ – nuff said.
My partner, sitting to my left, enjoyed it thoroughly and got along with everyone at our table. She lent her classically trained voice to a lot of the songs – I was quite impressed. To my right was a Christian, former milk truck driver and current bodybuilder and high school security guard, who had never been to a Seder before.
Overall, a very interesting, diverse scene, both Jewish and non. That all said, I can totally see accessing this synagogue again as more holidays approach. In the end, it is a brand of Judaism that doesn’t insult my worldview. Sweeeet.