This article was published in the Fall 2021 Issue of Humanistic Judaism Magazine. It was written by Kim Wilson, an SHJ member, a writer and an advocate.
As a Secular Humanistic Jew, and an autistic person, I appreciate diversity. In both aspects of my life, I know how it feels to be ignored, left out of conversations, made to feel “other,” and to be discriminated against in subtle (and not so subtle) ways. I also know what it’s like to be the target of others’ jokes, and how it feels for people to openly discuss whether they approve of who or what I am.
Humanistic Jews are, by nature, a diverse group. We welcome many people that other branches claim they accept, but really do not, placing needless social barriers to full acceptance. That means that we welcome atheists, agnostics, cultural Jews, the Jew-curious, and even the DIY Jews who crave non-theistic ritual and tradition. All are welcomed and openly accepted in Humanistic Judaism. Even those who say they are “just Jewish” find an open door with us.
There is a wide range – a spectrum – of Jews that comprise Humanistic Judaism. We are a diverse community that cherishes, celebrates, honors, and welcomes diversity. We hold diversity in both Judaism and in humanity as equal and sacred at all levels.
I have noticed, though, that one place where Humanistic Jews can grow is in embracing neurodiversity and its connections to other forms of diversity. We are already making great strides in recognizing and welcoming autistic members, along with members with ADHD, dyslexia, OCD, and other “differently wired” brains. As a movement though, we have not intentionally addressed the intersectionality of diversity in gender identity, and the ways that neurodiverse LGBTQA+ people are not always welcomed fully.
Our movement has long welcomed LGBTQA+ members, leading Humanistic Jews from the wide spectrum of human sexual identity to join our voices in this space, but I notice that, as a movement, Humanistic Judaism has not always strove to challenge the assumption that a “normal” Jewish life will reflect neurotypical and heteronormative values and identifications.
A prime example of this is the controversy about personal pronouns. Some say that pronoun usage is a matter of proper grammar alone, and ask, why should this even matter? It matters because using another’s chosen pronouns and descriptive terms is a way of acknowledging the other person’s own identity.
It would matter to most of us if someone called us by the wrong name repeatedly. It would upset us if someone refused to acknowledge our spouse or partner – simply because they disagreed with our way of life, or our beliefs. It would hurt us, if someone refused to respect us or accept us as human beings, because they didn’t like who we love, what we believe, what we are, how we relate to the world and people. Having our identity invalidated is a violation of our humanity. It is a form of emotional and psychological rejection and abuse. Our movement would recognize that discriminating against any of these individuals because of the color of their skin, their sexuality, or their ethnicity is hurtful and inhumane. So we should recognize that failing to honor their preferred pronouns is also a form of discrimination.
As Jews, we come from a heritage of cultural resistance, and of finding ways to maintain our traditions and culture in the midst of dominant and hostile cultures around us. We know what it means to be in the minority, and to be disrespected. The Jewish people have a history (in our best moments) of protecting the rights and dignities of others. And as Humanists, we affirm the value of all of humankind, in all of our beautiful and sometimes challenging diversity.
As Humanistic Jews, I believe we must take our values and apply them more fully to the issue of respectful language. We should never perpetuate the violence of disrespect on others. More than that, we should also seek to proactively find ways to value and cherish others as they are – life-affirming, consenting adults with complex identities, engaged in loving relationships, and bringing who they are to the world. Human diversity is a wide landscape with lots of room for variety. Nature and the Universe love variety, and perfection is an illusion.
Human diversity is part of our human evolutionary path. It is time for Humanistic Jews to more fully embrace it.
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