Humanistic Jews will observe the upcoming High Holidays, too, like other Jewish traditions, but in their own way. Kol Haskalah: A Humanistic Jewish Congregation will hold Rosh Hashanah, Tashlik and Yom Kipper services for congregation members who identify more with Jewish culture than religion.
Humanistic Judaism was founded in 1963 by Rabbi Sherwin Wine in Detroit to provide a home for humanistic, secular and cultural Jews. Kol Haskalah means “Voice of Enlightenment.”
Jennifer Sessler, president of Kol Haskalah, explained that Humanistic Judaism is non-theistic rather than atheistic.
“We don’t pray to God – not that if you believe you can’t join,” Sessler said, but human beings can establish morals and ethics without religion or a supernatural authority. The congregation of Kol Haskalah includes interfaith families and Jews raised in a variety of movements.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a time to reflect on how they lived their lives the past year, Sessler said, and if they’ve made good choices and been good to other people. The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah, which begins Sunday, and Yom Kippur, on Sept. 25, are spent reflecting and then asking for forgiveness. Humanistic Jews ask forgiveness of each other and themselves, but not God as well, Sessler said.
“We have an opportunity to come together and listen to life lessons, which are so important,” Sessler said, and use them in a way to experience the significant of the holiday. She said a supernatural authority that punishes and rewards is not necessary to determine if something is the right thing to do.
Sessler is the speaker at the Rosh Hashanah service Sunday and will share her own story about how she came to Humanistic Judaism. She grew up in New York in a conservative Jewish household that kept Kosher. It bothered her that women and girls were not allowed to be called up to the Torah during Shabbat. In college, she began to ask more questions, but living in New York she didn’t feel the need to affiliate with a congregation because she could go to observances anywhere. When she moved to Chapel Hill, she sought out a place where she could identify as Jewish culturally and eventually joined Kol Haskalah. For the High Holidays, Sessler will take her children to services, mark the days and talk about their values, friendships and current events.
“We’ll talk about how to make better choices, be better people,” she said. “We will have those discussions by the time we get to Yom Kippur and ask forgiveness of others and ourselves.”
Her family has those discussions all the time, not just at the High Holidays, Sessler said.
Kol Haskalah congregant Joel Smith also moved South from New York, but was brought into the Humanistic Judaism fold through his Ohio in-laws, he said. His mother is Jewish, his father is not.
Since getting married, Smith had a desire to identify culturally with being Jewish. He didn’t have a bar mitzvah, but his son did through Kol Haskalah.
“Growing up without having that, it was something I missed, but I wasn’t comfortable with more formal forms of the Orthodox and Conservative movements I’d been exposed to,” Smith said. His son’s involvement was to give him that sense of community.
Some families leave the congregation after children are bat mitzvahed, Smith said, but they haven’t.
“Most people in the congregation enjoy celebrating with other people and with their Jewish cultural identity,” he said.
HIGH HOLIDAYS WITH KOL HASKALAH: A HUMANISTIC JEWISH CONGREGATION
Rosh Hashanah: Evening service at 5 p.m. Sunday at Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 4907 Garrett Road, Durham. Children’s service at 10 a.m. Sept. 23 at UNC Murphey Hall, Chapel Hill.
Tashlik service: 1:30 p.m. Sept 23 at Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St., Durham. Meet in the garden parking lot and walk to running water. Bring bread and lunch.
Yom Kippur: Kol Nidre service at 7 p.m. Sept. 25 with guest tenor Lev Zilberter and guest speaker poet Alan R. Shapiro. Adult discussion at 2 p.m. Sept. 26. Nizkor service followed by breakfast potluck at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 26. All events at ERUUF, 4907 Garrett Road, Durham.
For tickets to Rosh Hashanah evening service and Yom Kippur Kol Nidre, call 919-968-7888 or visit http://kolhaskalah.org.