Secular Jewish Identity and
Our Tu B'Shvat Seder

A member of our community, Leonard (Leibel) Fein, co-authored an article for the Huffington Post this week, arguing that secular Judiasm is an authentic, vibrant, and very common way to approach Jewish life and Jewish identity.

The article is written as a reponse to Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism, who argues that the root of Judiasm, and of Jewish life, is religious - God, the Torah, religious ritual - and that it is impossible to separate Jewish identity from religious belief. Leonard Fein and Steven M. Cohen counter Yoffie's argument by looking at recent evidence of the preponderance of self-identifying cultural and secular Jews and Jews who call themselves both religious and cultural, suggesting that identity is not so clear-cut. They argue that Jewish identity is meaningful, whether or not it is religious - that secular Jews can be people of faith, even if not subscribing to "God-oriented belief." It is possible, they propose, to have "a faith pointed in other directions," such as "in the improvability of humankind, or in progress as the underlying cadence of the universe." Secular Judiasm and secular Jewish values, including social justice, may derive from religous tradition, but "now have momentum on their own," and subscribing to those values is an authentic expression of Jewish identity.  

We're proud to have a member of our community so eloquently describe some of the ways that we, as non-religious Jews, find meaning and inspiration in our identity and heritage. A wonderful example of finding that meaning is last weekend's Tu B'Shvat seder. As our Tu B'Shvat Haggadah points out, the holiday "has been a pagan festival, a tax deadline, a kabbalist mystical observance, and Jewish Arbor Day" - a holiday whose significance has evolved with the people who observe it. This was our fifth annual seder, and many facets of the community, including shule families and young adults from Moishe/Kavod House, came together to celebrate "The Birthday of the Trees," discussing topics that included food justice and the planting of trees. Putting our value of social justice into practice, the Haggadah includes resources and suggestions for ways to take action on the themes of the seder throughout the year.

Thanks to the everyone who helped organize the seder, and to all who helped make it such a lovely and meaningful celebration. The Tu B'Shvat Haggadah may be found here.