The National Gathering of Secular and Humanistic Jews, co-sponsored by the Society for Humanistic Judaism and the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, took place April 22-23 in Deerfield, Illinois.
The stimulating and inspiring weekend included the ordination of two rabbis: Rabbi Mary Raskin from Portland, OR, and Rabbi Jeffrey Schesnol from Phoenix, AZ, and the graduation of three officiants from the IISHJ Officiant Program.
Also included were provocative presentations and discussions including Rabbi Sivan Maas from Israel, and Rabbis Adam Chalom, Jodi Kornfeld, and Miriam Jerris from North America; a tour of the exhibit “Rise up: Stonewall and the LGBTQ Rights Movement” at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie; the SHJ board meeting (photo above); powerful and entertaining storytelling by “You’re Being Ridiculous”; and of course lots of good food and fellowship.
Some photos from the event were shared in the Spring 2022 issue of Humanistic Judaism Magazine. Below you will find links to event videos, many more photos, and additional highlights.
Above is the first video from this YouTube playlist, which includes all of the talks from the Friday night graduation/ordination program.
On Saturday, we enjoyed three excellent learning session, now available online:
Parashat Re’eh – Freedom and Authority
A discussion of Parashat Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26–16:17), some of which is traditionally read during Passover. With Rabbi Adam Chalom, Dean – North America of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism and Rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation, and Rabbi Sivan Maas, Dean of Tmura-IISHJ in Jerusalem.
Roots and Branches: Intellectual Ancestors of Humanistic Judaism
Who and what are the intellectual ancestors of Humanistic Judaism? What does our choice of ancestors tell us about who we are today? With Rabbi Adam Chalom, Dean – North America of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism and Rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation; Rabbi Miriam Jerris, Rabbi of the Society for Humanistic Judaism and Associate Professor at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism; and Rabbi Jodi Kornfeld, Rabbi of Beth Chaverim Humanistic Jewish Community.
Inheritance and Authenticity – Humanistic Judaism and Tradition
How do Secular and Humanistic Jews approach, adopt and use their religious Jewish inheritance? With Rabbi Adam Chalom, Dean – North America of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism and Rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation; Rabbi Jodi Kornfeld of Beth Chaverim Humanistic Jewish Community; and Rabbi Sivan Maas, Dean of Tmura-IISHJ in Jerusalem.
Excerpts from the IISHJ Officiant Graduation and Rabbinic Ordination
The full talks can be heard via the video link above, but here are a few highlights…
Officiant Jacinda Bauman: I joined the officiant program as a way to give back to that community for everything that they had given for me and everything they had done for my family. We all should have officiants available to us who can empathize with our most strongly held values. And I’m proud to be one of those people for our community.
It is my wish that through such self-sustainability, secular Judaism will be able to thrive and grow into the future. I want the children now in Sunday school to be able to raise their children with the same wonderful experiences that my children are having. I want to know that there will be secular Jewish communities wherever my family may go in the future. And finally, I want to know that someday, it won’t take someone like me, and it won’t take families like mine to not take so long to find secular Judaism for themselves.
Officiant Marla Davishoff: Since joining the secular humanist Jewish movement almost 30 years ago, I’m humbled and touched as I reflect back, and realize I’ve personally experienced all major life cycle ceremonies as a member of this community. These ceremonies helped me to integrate changes throughout my life, not only into who I am as a person, but also as a member of the wider Jewish community. It wasn’t just the actual ceremony that was transforming, but also the writing and creating of them that helped me to explore the meaning behind various milestones in my life. The ceremonies also reminded me of my greater connection to humanity, and to the Jewish communities I call home.
Officiant Elisa Lapine: The Making of a community was certainly my wish when we began this great experiment in 2003. I wanted to feel like home, a place where I didn’t have to apologize for being a non-religious and non-theistic Jew, a place where I could be with others to celebrate cultural heritage as well as my politics, a place where I could educate my children and give them a sense of belonging and feel special about belonging without feeling superior or chosen a place that would nurture me as well as well as allow me to nurture others, a place where I could feel challenged, to do more and say more and be more and act more. Becoming a lifecycle officiant is now an integral part of that dream. Thank you.
Rabbi Mary Raskin: Secular Humanistic Judaism gave me an unexpected gift. It gave me the Bible. Yep, the Bible. I no longer find the ancient texts tedious or confounding, instead, I have a connection to those ancient stories. What challenges did the ancient Israelites face? And how did they respond to those challenges? What can I learn from their challenges or their responses?
Rabbi Jeffrey Schesnol: I’m almost 80 years old. And as George Burns said, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”
Four years ago after receiving my madrich certification marking four years of study, I asked my friend, holocaust survivor Oscar Noblacht, if he thought I was too old to pursue the rabbinic ordination. Oscar who was 93 at the time, told me “if you’re passionate about it, you’re never too old to pursue it.” So I listened to my wise sage and embarked on my second four years of my journey toward the rabbinate, or as my great-granddaughter Audrey at the time when she was four years old, good luck in rabbit school!