For those Jews seeking a home outside traditional Judaism, Paul Golin wants them to know they will find a welcoming community and a place at the table at the Society for Humanistic Judaism.
Golin, who is the executive director of the SHJ, will be presenting “No God and Still Jewish — How Does That Work?” at the Pikesville library, May 19, at 2:30 p.m. The free event is sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Cultural Chavurah, a secular humanistic Jewish community “for those who identify as Jews primarily through culture, history and family.”
For Golin, who is Jewish and an atheist, statistics from the Pew Research Center that show increasing numbers of Jews are becoming more secular, demonstrate that there are Jews looking for a community outside of the traditional synagogue.
A 2018 Pew study, “When Americans Say They Believe in God, What Do They Mean?” found that compared with Christians, “Jews and people with no religious affiliation are much more likely to say they do not believe in God or a higher power of any kind.”
Nevertheless, the study found that large majorities in both groups “do believe in a deity (89 percent among Jews, 72 percent among religious “nones”), including 56 percent of Jews and 53 percent of the religiously unaffiliated who say they do not believe in the God of the Bible but do believe in some other higher power of spiritual force in the universe.”
“I actually lead with the fact that this is a movement for Jews who either don’t believe in God or don’t believe in the God of the Bible,” Golin said, when asked what his “elevator pitch” is for secular humanistic Judaism. “Yet, they still find great meaning in Jewish holiday celebrations, lifecycle events, learning, educating our kids Jewishly and Jewish culture. Judaism is much more than just the religious aspects of it.”
Golin sees a renewed role for secular humanistic Judaism, in terms of speaking openly about what Jews do and don’t believe.
“I would love to get more Jews in on this conversation,” Golin said. “I think a lot of Jews in all the denominations are struggling with not having the venue to talk about belief.”
The late Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine was the founding rabbi of the Society for Humanistic Judaism and the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. Golin notes that when Wine founded the movement he changed the liturgy.
“He rewrote the liturgy to remove references to the supernatural, including references to God. And instead he replaced it with the human experience, with humanism and its values,” Golin said. “If you go to one of our services, it’s not anti-religion. And I would argue that the human experience is actually more inclusive than any other liturgy because this is for everybody.”
The movement, Golin said, is inclusive of a spectrum of beliefs. “If you’re going for an experience… or you’ve got a range of beliefs, there’s nothing in our liturgy that’s going to turn you off. It is about being human and living life today.”
Golin admits that some in his movement would rather he didn’t lead with the idea of believing or not believing in God, but for him and many Jews, that is the news.
“That’s what differentiates us,” Golin said. “We have many beliefs. But the differentiating point, I think, is the newsworthy piece. And so I’m not going to shy away from saying it. I want to be a little bit obvious about what we’re saying and open up the conversation — and not put anybody down if they believe differently — but to let them know that we’re here, and this is how we believe.”
Golin said those beliefs include core tenets of Judaism such as tikkun olam, repairing the world.
“How can we make the world a better place? That’s our mission too,” he said. “We may come at it from a different place philosophically. Almost all streams or Judaism recognize that, frankly, we don’t know what comes next. Right? I love that we don’t have a real clear understanding. Instead what we what we say is, this is this may be it, this is our shot, and how do we make the world a better place?”
Elise Saltzberg, of the Baltimore Jewish Cultural Chavurah, said individuals that don’t consider themselves religious are sometimes “turned off by organized religion, or just don’t get anything meaningful from attending services in a synagogue” and drop out of organized Jewish life. “Some even knock themselves down because they don’t participate/affiliate, saying things like, ‘I’m a bad Jew.’ Then they discover Secular Humanistic Judaism and say, ‘I feel like I’ve come home,’ or ‘I wish I had known about this sooner.’”
Last week, after the Poway, California, shootings Golin shared a video by Chabad of Poway’s Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, urging people to stand together, no matter what denomination.
“There are no denominations. It doesn’t matter what people’s theology is,” he said. “Today we are all Chabad of Poway and we stand with them against hate and anti-Semitism, because we’re all here together.”
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