Project of IISHJ

Bar Mitzvah of Ted Brooks – 1976 – Sherwin Wine Bio

Humanistic Judaism, Spring_Summer_Autumn 1976, Vol. IV, Number II


The Barmitsva ceremony at the Birmingham Temple is not at all like a traditional Barmitsva service. At Orthodox, Conservative and Reform synagogues, the thirteen-year-old reads the regular Torah portion for that particular day. He may read about shepherds or nomads About life in a tent or a fertile valley. His topic may be maid-servants, boils or leprosy. But whatever the Torah reading of the day-it is not likely to have any real meaning to the life of the twentieth century, space-age person who recites. It. 

In Humanistic Jewish congregations, the Barmitsva boy or girl picks a humanist hero. The Barmitsva celebrant spends a six month period researching his hero. The tutor and the student use the hero as a role model for the character development of the student. 

For the Barmitsva ceremony, the thirteen-year-old presents his paper on the life and the humanist qualities of his subject. The adolescent teaches the congregation about his hero. And the hero is the teacher about moral growth for the adolescent. 

At the Birmingham Temple, the Barmitsva experience is a meaningful one. 

The man who developed this style of ceremony did not have this kind of Barmitsva himself. He had a traditional service for his own thirteenth birthday. He spoke about Jeremiah. Jeremiah was the most dismal prophet in the Bible. He always predicted doom. He was a sad man. Jeremiah was hardly a person for a young boy to model himself after. 

If he had had the opportunity to pick a hero, he would never have selected Jeremiah. Instead he might have chosen Bertrand Russell or Albert Einstein or Sigmund Freud or Jean Paul Sartre or Erich Fromm. Or-he might even have chosen himself. 

Rabbi Sherwin T. wine is the founder of Humanistic Judaism. 

In the autumn of 1963, Rabbi Wine and eight couples met regularly to decide what kind of temple would have meaning for them. They were unhappy with the choices they had. Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism did not suit their needs. They did not enrich their lives; They did not help them to solve their problems. 

What was needed did not exist. What was needed to help people had to be created. Rabbi Wine created Humanistic Judaism. 

A principle is an idea or an ideal. A set of principles is a philosophy. We use philosophy as a guide to the way we want to live. Religions are philosophies. Humanistic Judaism is our religion. Humanistic Judaism has seven basic principles. Let me define them for you. 

The first principle is humanism. Humanism is a belief in the power of people. It is a rejection of any supernatural power to be above the power of human beings. 

The second principle is reason. Reason Is the ability of the human mind to think about things in a logical manner. 

The third principle is autonomy. Autonomy is the freedom to rule our own lives. It is the freedom to be responsible for our behavior. 

Love is another principle of Humanistic Judaism. Love is the ability to care for and about oneself and others. 

The principle of self-reliance is the confidence in the ability to use one’s own power. 

The sixth principle is self-respect. Self-respect is the feeling of self-worth that a person earns for himself when he does things in a responsible manner. 

And the seventh principle is Judaism. We value our Jewishness. And being Jewish means being a member of a large international family. All the Jewish people have a shared history. And we share holidays. 

These seven principles make up the religion which Rabbi Wine called Humanistic Judaism. 

How does a person become a leader of a new religious movement? Who is this man Sherwin Wine? What were his beginnings? 

He was born January 25, 1928. His mother is tillie Israel Wine His father was William Wine. His sister is Lorraine Pivnick. 

Both Tillie and William wine were born near Bialystok in Poland. But they did not know each other until they met in Detroit. 

In order to understand Sherwin Wine, there are several names that we have to know. One is the name of an era. It was called the depression (sic). Wine was born in ‘28. The depression – in ’29. 

These were times of great stress for people all over the world. During his earliest years, he saw that people had to work very hard in order to get along. He saw the importance of each person’s contribution to the family 

William Wine was a designer and cutter of men’s suits. He worked very hard so that the family income could remain steady. Tillie Wine managed the household expenses very well so that the daily could live within their income. While other families had to move around a lot, the Wines managed to keep up the payments on their home. Until Sherwin went to the University of Michigan, he lived at only one address – 1961 Clairmount. 

When he was still little, he saw that children too could contribute to the welfare of the family. During these difficult years, children helped to keep optimism alive for the adults around them. In the movies, child stars were the biggest box office attractions. And in homes across America, children were entertaining their families.  

Young Sherwin found in himself an ability to make people laugh. He saw that he was helpful to people by making them laugh. He liked helping people. And he enjoyed having an audience. His family was his first audience. 

When he started school, he assumed the responsibility to do the best he could. His best was better than anybody else’s best. And he left behind him a record still unmatched in Detroit’s history. 

Tillie wine is proud of her son. And she is proud to be the first one to have recognized his genius. She loves to tell people that even when he was in the crib – she could tell he was thinking. 

Another name for us to know is Twelfth Street. The house on Clairmont (sic) was near Twelfth. That is where the family did their shopping. There were no home freezers in those days. So people shopped often. It gave neighbors the opportunity to see each other often. 

Twelfth Street was like the market place in the shtetl of Europe that most of the people had come from. Shopping gave them the opportunity to socialize and to exchange their views during the depression. Twelfth Street was a main source of entertainment. 

While his feet were making circles  in the sawdust at the kosher butcher shop, Sherwin was listening to people talk. He was learning how they felt about things. 

In the thirties, there were riots on Twelfth Street. They were different from the riots of the sixties. The Rabbi saw that Jewish riots are safer. Instead of rocks and bombs – Jewish opponents fight with words. 

The men of the community would come in groups to defend their positions. There were followers of Karl Marx who believed that the workers of the world should overthrow the capitalist governments. They believed that God was an evil invention of the ruling classes to make people content to suffer in this life and be rewarded in the next life. 

The Marxists and the Orthodox Jews hated each other. They had heated battles. They argued endlessly. 

Orthodox Jews were not the only enemies of the Marxists on Twelfth Street. There were also the Zionists. The Zionists saw a return to a homeland as the ultimate solution to world anti-semitism. 

The Marxists argued that the problem was not between Jews and non-Jews. They said it was between the world-wide workers and the world-wide ruling class. They were against the formation of another country to set up a society in the same manner. They wanted the workers of the world to unite under one system. 

Secularists believe in the scientific creation of the universe and the evolution of mankind. 

Traditionalists believe that God created this world and all things in it. One side argued for the virtue of reason. The other valued faith. 

One side saw Jewish people from a (sic) historical view. The other saw themselves as the Chosen People. 

One side was concerned with public education. The other side with Jewish education. One side turned to Einstein and Freud for guidance The other turned to the Bible. 

One side was screaming God damn it! And the other did not mention His name. 

This was the everyday scene on Twelfth Street. Most people were outraged. 

But one person was enjoying it thoroughly. Sherwin Wine listened and learned. He commuted between Twelfth and the library where he could look up more information on all the things he was hearing. Through its color, Twelfth Street introduced this curious boy to the world of philosophers. 

Young Sherwin was very interested in politics, in governments and in world powers. By the time he was eight, he knew the history of all the people in each of the royal houses of Europe. 

He loved to read. He liked historical novels best. Adventure was exciting to him. Royalty was fascinating. He admired royalty more than peasants. He liked powerful people better than helpless people. 

He liked the dramatic manner in which people fought for their honor. He liked the elegant style of the upper classes. He liked their theatrical costumes and their lavish furnishings. 

Alexander Dumas, who wrote “The Three Musketeers”, was one of his favorite authors. Young Sherwin liked the excitement of the unexpected. He liked the physical and intellectual grace of fencing swords. He saw that fencing with swords in a scene of a Dumas novel was very much like fencing with words on a corner of Twelfth Street. 

In college he took courses in fencing. Throughout his life, he has developed a graceful style of maneuvering words. He saw the powerful influence of using words with skill. And he has always used his natural ability and his intelligence to improve on that skill. Through his remarkable abilities for writing, speaking and debating Sherwin Wine has affected many people. 

Two more names to know are Shabbat and Hollywood. Shabbat mornings were spent with his father dovening at Shaarey Zedek. But Shabbat afternoons were spent at the movies. 

He found more lasting value in Hollywood than he did in the Torah. He still attends the movies regularly. But he rarely steps foot inside Shaarey Zedek. Cary Grant and Ronald Coleman have affected his style more than Rabbi Hirschman and Moses. 

Another two names that influenced the Rabbi in his childhood were Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Adolph Hitler. It fascinated him that these two men were complete opposites – yet, each had millions of devoted followers. 

One espoused the forces of good. The other was for evil. But both had the power to attract. Like magnets, they pulled people toward them. We call this ability charisma. 

Sherwin recognized that he too had the talent for charisma. 

He looked at Hitler and Roosevelt and he saw that charisma demanded responsibility. He saw that responsible leadership comes from using one’s ability to reason. This is the force for good. People who are driven by passion are irresponsible leaders. They are forces of evil. Roosevelt used his reason. Hitler – his passion. 

Sherwin was always a sensitive person and he knew that within himself – as in all  

people – there were the possibilities to do good as well as to do evil. He saw that  

people used their power to do what they wanted to do. 

He thought about another person who was said to be all-powerful. Yet – with all his talk about his power, he could not overcome Hitler. Sherwin saw that Roosevelt and Hitler possessed more power than God. He saw that people had more power than the supernatural. 

He also saw that both Hitler and god were humorless – while Franklin Roosevelt was filled with good humor. He had the ability to enjoy life. He dealt with serious matters in a responsible manner – but never without humor. He never took life or himself too seriously. He knew how to laugh at life and at himself. He helped people of our nation to overcome their economic and emotional depression. 

FDR was Rabbi’s model of how a leader should behave. 

Rabbi wine received his bachelor’s (sic) and his master’s (sic) degree in philosophy at the University of Michigan. He was ordained as a reform rabbi at the Hebrew Union College. 

A good rabbi has to be a good 









and public relations person. 

Sherwin wine excels in all of these things. That is why he chose to become a rabbi. 

I would like to read to you some of the Hebrew poetry that Rabbi Wine has written. These poems express his optimistic view of life. 

…      [Handwritten Hebrew omitted] 

The world is neither good nor bad. 

The world is neither beautiful or ugly. 

The world is neither negative or positive. 

People are. 

…      [Handwritten Hebrew omitted] 

Listen now you lovers of love. 

Here (sic) this you seekers of happiness. 

There is no happiness without love. 

…      [Handwritten Hebrew omitted] 

Just as the water mirrors the face of man, 

So does the heart of one person reflect the heart of another. 

…      [Handwritten Hebrew omitted] 

Who is wise? 

A person who can distinguish between 

his words and his behavior. 

Who is strong? 

A person who has the power to see  

himself as others see him. 

Who is noble? 

A person who seeks to rule his own 

life instead of the lives of others. 

…      [Handwritten Hebrew omitted] 

We dreamed 

We hoped and we worked 

And our dream has become real 

Let us continue to dream. 

…      [Handwritten Hebrew omitted] 

Where is my light? My light is in me. 

Where is my hope? My hope is in me. 

Where is my strength? My strength is in me. And in you. 

I have learned a great deal from my Barmitsva research. The most basic thing I learned is that we are very lucky to have Rabbi Wine as our leader. 

He has the courage to create a new form of Judaism that has helped all of us to have better lives. 


                             Ted Brooks is a member of the Birmingham Temple family in Farmington Hills, Michigan 

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Note on sources: The Jewish Humanist  was the monthly newsletter of The Birmingham Temple. The periodical Humanistic Judaism was the quarterly journal of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. The Center for New Thinking was Wine’s adult learning program beyond Humanistic Judaism. Selections from Wine’s books are appropriately cited.
All texts, photos, audio and video are © by the Literary Estate of Sherwin Wine, whose custodian is the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism – North American Section. All rights reserved.