Thursday, October 11, 2018

Interview from the Archive: How is Humanistic Judaism relevant to our HBO era? SHJ leader Paul Golin explains.

Editor's note: This article was originally published in May 2017.

This is the final part of my discussion with Paul Golin. The firstsecond, and third articles are available.

Story by Joseph Ford Cotto 
"The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center," the organization reported in May
(Read more of this introduction here.)

Joseph Ford Cotto: Although Humanistic Judaism, an explicitly secular movement, amounts to a small segment of the American Jewish community, it has not seen the drastic shrinkage experienced by Conservatism and Reform. Beyond any other factor, how has Humanistic Judaism managed to rise above the tide?

Paul Golin: Secular Humanistic Judaism was set up on the same congregational model as the other liberal Jewish denominations and is today struggling in similar ways. All of liberal Judaism has to make a better case for: why do it? Why bother with ritual? Why bother with liturgy? What benefit is derived from repeating the same blessings I’ve said hundreds of times before, or singing songs in a language I don’t understand?

I empathize with the disaffiliated mindset because in many ways I share it. I’m super busy and besides, the new season of Game of Thrones is about to drop. At the same time, I do derive benefit from ritual, particularly lifecycle events and holiday celebrations. Jewish identity is central to my being, and connection to Jewish history helps me navigate the world today. I want to share that with more people, and I believe combining a humanistic philosophy of life with Jewish culture and identity is a well-positioned approach for the future. But it can’t only be transmitted through a congregational model. We will develop parallel tracks to augment the current approach.

Cotto: What -- more than anything else -- brought Humanistic Judaism to prominence in the first place?

Golin: I never had the opportunity to meet Rabbi Sherwin Wine, who founded the movement in 1963. He died almost ten years ago, yet I feel his impact daily. So many of the current lay and professional leadership in our movement were personally impacted upon by meeting him or seeing him speak. He was clearly brilliant.

More importantly, though, his ideas have outlived him—because he was right. There is a “Judaism beyond God.” He not only recognized what most liberal Jews were already thinking privately about our relationship to the God-concept in the wake of the Holocaust, he reshaped the Jewish practices that were still relevant to re-center them around a positive humanism that offered a meaningful approach to life. Specifically, that humans are responsible for fixing human problems, and can do so.

Judaism has always been an evolving practice, and this evolution is one that I believe will resonate with many more Jewish households if we can share it more widely. That’s obviously my goal moving forward.

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