Hanukka – A Children’s Ceremony


Many years ago the Jews in the land of Israel were not free. They were not free to rule themselves. They were not free to live in the way their hearts and minds desired.

A foreign king made their lives miserable. He sent many soldiers to make the Jews do what he wanted them to do. He took away their Temple and gave it to their enemies. The Jews rebelled. They rose up against the king. Under their brave leader Judah Maccabee they defeated their enemies and won their freedom.

Parent or Child

The Jews decided to celebrate their victory. They set aside eight days for a special festival.

The Temple was made ready for the celebration. The lights of the Temple Menorah were kindled and gave forth a bright light.

Judah Maccabee dedicated the Temple to the service of the people. He called this special festival Hanukka.

Hanukka is a Hebrew word which means dedication.

Judah Maccabee asked the Jews to celebrate this holiday every year at the same time. He wanted them to remember this victory.


The Jews of this story were our ancestors.

Our ancestors suffered the cruelty of a foreign king.

Our ancestors fought for their freedom.

Our ancestors restored the Temple in Jerusalem.

Our ancestors heard the words of Judah Maccabee when he asked them to remember their victory.

Our ancestors saw the lights of the Temple Menorah rekindled.

Let us, therefore, remember what our ancestors did.

Let us kindle the lights of our Menorah in memory of their courage.

(Children light candles after reading. Family sings.)

Ba-rookh ha-or ba-o-lam

Ba-rookh ha-or ba-a-dam

Ba-rookh ha-or ba-ha-nuk-ka

Radiant is the light of the world.

Radiant is the light of humanity.

Radiant is the light of Hanukka.


Hanukka is the feast of light. In the winter the days are short and the nights are long. In the winter the light goes quickly and darkness lingers.

In the summer we take the light for granted. The sun is so generous. But in the winter we know how precious it is and how much we need it.

Ba-rookh ha-or ba-o-lam We value the light within the world

Hanukka is the feast of light. Not only the light without. But also the light within. Not only the light of the sun. But also the light of life which shines through every living being and which warms the darkness.

Light is power. Human light is human power. It is the power to love life, to nurture it and to make it grow. It is the power to resist evil. It is the power to be a Maccabee and to defend what is good and beautiful.

Ba-rookh ha-or ba-a-dam We value the light within every human being

Hanukka is the feast of light. Light is radiance. It is the radiance of whatever we do to make our world a better place to live.

It is the light of reason, which helps us see the difference between right and wrong.

It is the light of self-esteem which keeps us proud.

It is the light of courage which gives us the strength to stand up for what we believe in.

It is the light of freedom which reminds us to take responsibility for our own lives.

It is the light of love which enables us to care for those who suffer.

It is the light of loyalty which makes us keep our promises to those who trust us.

It is the light of generosity which encourages us to give even when we do not receive.

It is the light of hope which leads us to the vision of a better world.

Ba-rookh ha-or ba-ha-nook-ka We value the light of Hanukka

Ba-rookh ha-or ba-o-Iam. Ba-rookh ha-or ba-a-dam.

Ba-rookh ha-or ba-ha-nook-ka.

(Light Candles and All Sing)

Maccabees of old did rise

To defy the wicked king

They fought hard to help all men

And through courage freedom bring.

They brought a message cheering

That the time is nearing

Which will see all men free

Tyrants disappearing.

A Sukkot Family Service

Sukkot, Summer 1990


Hinnay Ma Tov

How good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to celebrate together.


Autumn is here. The days and nights are colder. The leaves are turning brown and gold and red. The sun spends less time with us and darkness arrives earlier than before.

Autumn is here. Everything is changing. Nothing lasts forever. What is born must also die. What is new must also grow old. Nature never stays the same. All the world is moving.

Autumn is here. Everything is beginning. School starts again. Work is renewed. Activity increases. While the life of nature ebbs, human energy grows stronger.

S ’tav is the Hebrew word for “autumn.”


Seesoo Vseem’hoo

Rejoice and be happy on this joyous holiday.


Autumn is harvest time. The seeds of spring have turned into the food of winter. The work of summer has brought forth the bread of life. We live with nature. It gives us grain and fruit. It yields up fish and fowl. It sends us survival.

But nature needs more than nature. Farming is far more than finding food. It takes human ingenuity to turn the earth into a field of corn. It requires human caring to change the sapling into the successful tree. The harvest does not happen all by itself.  Nature and people work together. We need each other.

Katseer is the Hebrew word for “harvest.”


Artsa Aleenoo

We have gone up to our land.


Autumn is harvest time in Israel. The fruit on the trees is ready for picking. The grain in the field is ready for cutting. The land is filled with joy. The winter will be secure.

In olden times, Jewish farmers stayed all day in the fields at harvest time. They were very busy and had no time to return home. In the heat of the day, they stopped work for a while and rested in special huts nearby. The huts were frail structures, decorated with the special fruits of the harvest and open to the sky. Our ancestors sang songs, they danced, they ate their midday meal and returned to work.

Sukka is the Hebrew word for “hut.”


Hava Nageela

Come and rejoice.


Autumn is a special time for celebration. Like all the seasons of the year, it brings its own unique joy. Holidays are times of celebration. They make us aware of what is important in our lives. They make us notice the beauty of things and places and people.

As far back as we can remember, the Jewish people have always enjoyed a fall festival. They have taken the time to honor the autumn, to pay tribute to the harvest, to sing and to dance. There was so much to do, one day was never enough. Eight days were better. The autumn holiday needed eight days.

Sukkot is the Hebrew name for the fall festival.


Zoom Galee



Holidays need parades. Parades need special things for people to hold and wave.

Sukkot needs a parade —not an ordinary one with flags and floats but a special one with harvest grain and harvest fruit.

In the land of Israel, the date palm grows tall and straight. At harvest time its dates are sweet and nourishing, its branches are long and graceful.

The palm branch is a beautiful Sukkot banner. For many years, Jews have marched with it to celebrate the harvest and to honor the autumn season. They decorate it with the leaves of myrtle and willow. They wave it to the sound of flutes and drums. They march with it in long processions.

Lulav is the Hebrew word for “palm branch.”



Let us save ourselves.


The lulav did not stand alone. Tradition found it a partner, not long and thin and green but short, round, and yellow.

There is a special fruit that grows in the land of Israel. It grows nowhere else. It looks like a wrinkled lemon, but it does not taste like a lemon. Nor does it smell like a lemon. It has a special taste all its own. It has a special fragrance that is unique. People like to smell it because it smells like perfume.

The special fruit is the partner of the lulav. They always go together. They remind us of life: Some people are tall. Some of us are short. But all of us are important.

Etrog is the Hebrew name for this fragrant fruit.



Let us save ourselves.


When holidays come we think of all the good things in life. We think of the beauties of nature, the love of family, the importance of friendship, the power of roots.

The good things in life bring us happiness. They give meaning to our existence. They offer us strength and hope.

Sukkot is a time of happiness. It is a time of joy. Just as in ages past our ancestors marched and sang and danced, so do we. We stamp our feet. We clap our hands. We proclaim our joy.

Simha is the Hebrew word for “joy.”


Seesoo Vseem’hoo

Rejoice and be happy on this joyous holiday.

A Short Humanistic History of the High Holidays

High Holidays – Summer 1986

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are more than Jewish holidays. For many Jews, they are the only expression of Jewish identity. The High Holidays are the two times during the year when these Jews feel compelled to do something Jewish. Countless synagogues and temples would fail without Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Hordes of rabbis would lose contact with their membership if these holidays were abolished. There is something about them that is compelling for Jews.

This prominence is historically puzzling. While the Torah cites the first day of the seventh month as a holy day and a time for blowing the shofar, it makes no reference to the name Rosh Hashana. In fact, the use of the number seven indicates that the new year began sometime in the spring, just before Passover. And while the Torah prescribes an elaborate ritual of community repentance for the tenth day of the seventh month, it restricts the ritual to priests and makes no provision for popular participation.

The Torah requires fasting on Yom Kip­pur. But it knows nothing of synagogues, all­day services, Kol Nidre, swinging “scape chickens” over the head in the ritual of Kapparot, or emptying pockets at riverside in the ceremony of Tashlikh. If the Torah suggests any holiday as number one, it most likely is Pesakh, the commemoration of the Exodus.

Secular Jews had trouble with the High Holidays from the beginning. As festivals of national liberation, Passover and Hanukka easily could be purified of supernatural con­nections. As nature holidays, Sukkot and Shavuot could, with little effort, be con­nected to the seasons and to all the secular responses they aroused. But Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, as they had evolved in the Judaism of the rabbis, seemed inseparable from the supernaturalist tradition that secularists rejected. There was no event in Jewish history that these holidays com­memorated. There was no seasonal happen­ing they pointed to. Both holidays were fraught with ideas of divine power and judg­ment, sin and repentance.

Early Jewish secularists discarded the High Holidays as hard-core traditionalism. They found them irrelevant to the new secular nationalism and made no effort to rescue them for humanistic use. Some secularists developed a strong hostility to these holidays because they seemed to sym­bolize the “enemy” and all that had gone wrong with Jewish life. Many radical socialist groups held Kol Nidre night af tsu loches (for spite) dances to provoke the Or­thodox. I still remember street battles be­tween offended traditionalists on their way back from shul and these brash provocateurs.

In Israel, the kibbutzim, driven by socialist and secular fervor, ignored the High Holidays entirely. In time, they found some minor use for Rosh Hashana as the marker of the new year. But Yom Kippur re­mained an uncomfortable gap in the calen­dar, a day off in the national yearly cycle that other Jews used for religious purposes.

Today, many humanistic Jews have rein­corporated the High Holidays into their Jewish observance, recognizing that their continuing hold is too strong to be ignored. But many are not fully aware of why these holidays remain so compelling for Jewish humanists. Perhaps a historical survey of their beginnings and evolution would help.


The beginnings of most Jewish holidays are hard to find. Unlike the traditional history, which claims that the major festivals were proclaimed at Mt. Sinai, a scientific history has to settle for the murkiness of dim antiquity. New year celebrations in Semitic Western Asia were popular events as far back as historical records can take us. Babylonians and Canaanites loved them long before the Jews emerged as a political reality.

After all, the idea of dividing time into years is a necessary development of an ex­panding agricultural society. The year is a cycle of seasons, which controls the work of plowing, sowing, reaping, and picking. In the beginning, the priests of early cultures were barely aware of the connection be­tween the seasonal year and the “movements” of the sun. As calendars became more sophisticated, the emergence of the solar year, which defined the cycle of change with its solstices and equinoxes, im­proved with predictability.

In these Near Eastern farm cultures, the time of the “new year” coincided with dramatic beginnings. The beginning of the grain harvest or the beginning of the rainy season were sufficiently important to justify ending one year and starting another. In Syria and Palestine, the grain harvests belonged to the spring and the rainy season to the fall-winter. Either event was impor­tant enough to separate two years. However, the rainy season, which followed the sum­mer fruit harvest, generally won out.

If the rain determined the food of the future, then life and death were in the hands of the rain. And if the rain was in the hands of the gods, then the gods must be made hap­py to insure the rain. The rituals of the new year celebration were designed to achieve this goal, to please the gods and insure the survival of the people.

The original Rosh Hashana (it was not yet called by that name) was a fearful day of judgment. Dramatic questions hovered over the event. Would the gods send the rain and let the people live? Or would they deny the rain and let the people die? What determines the decision of the gods? What needs to be done to guarantee a positive verdict? What needs to be done to reverse a negative one?

Within the popular belief system, many things could be done to avoid death. Gifts could be given to the gods, especially the meats and incense they adored. Loud public flattery of their power and might could be orchestrated. Confessions of regret for past injury to divine interests could be offered. Fasting and self-degradation could be practiced as signs that the guilty already had been chastened and needed no more punishment.

Kings and Priests

When the Jewish nation, with its devotion to the cult of the god Yahveh and his central shrine in the city of Jerusalem, emerged as a united political state in the tenth century B.C., the ritual grew more elaborate. Less and less was done by the ordinary people. More and more was done by professional kings and priests. While the royal house of David was in power, the king was, most likely, the leader of the appeasement rituals in the Jerusalem Temple. After the conquest of the Jews by the Chaldeans in 586 B.C. and the destruction of the royal family, the high priest of the house of Moses became the leader of the nation and the leader of the new year ceremonies.

During this historical period, two dif­ferent time structures for the new year festival competed with each other.

The first was a function of a seasonal calendar based on the number seven (a sacred number because of the seven visible “heavenly bodies” that determined the fate of humanity). Time was divided into units of seven days (weeks). Seven weeks plus a clos­ing day (atseret) formed a “season” of 50 days. Seven “seasons” made a year of 350 days. The difference of fifteen days between 350 and the 365 days of the solar year was divided into two holidays of seven days — Matsot for the spring and Katsir for the fall — and one day for the new year festival. This festival was tacked on to the end of Katsir, just before the rainy season.

The second time structure was a function of the moon calendar that the Hebrew nomads and shepherds brought with them from their early wanderings. It was pre-agricultural and based on the phases of the moon. The natural month of 29 or 30 days was its basic unit. Twelve natural months constituted 354 or 355 days and fell at least 10 days short of a solar or seasonal year. The difference was turned into a ten-day period of new year celebration and repentance, which was assigned to the advent of the rainy season.

By the time the Torah was edited by the Levitical priests, somewhere around 500 B.C., the second system had won out. The first system still has powerful relics: the Sab­bath, Shavuot, the seven-day spring Pesakh, and the eight-day fall Sukkot. Even the eighth day of Sukkot, Shemini Atseret (the old new year), retains some of the solemnity and ritual of the original Rosh Hashana, especially its concern for rain.

Although the second system won the competition, it was modified to accom­modate the priestly elite who edited the Torah. These Mosaic priests were influ­enced by Chaldea, where they had spent many years in captivity and political exile. They borrowed the moon calendar of the Chaldeans, whose new year celebration was assigned to the spring and who made up the differences with the solar calendar through periodic leap years. In the end, the first month of the Torah year was moved to Nissan in the spring and the ten-day festival of judgment was placed in the first ten days of the seventh month in the fall. Because of its connection to the rainy season, the judg­ment holiday could not be moved to the spring. But the Torah writers no longer designated it the new year festival, although popular custom continued to do so.

Under four centuries of priestly rule, the judgment festival rivaled Pesakh for first place among the holidays. It began with the solemn day of Yom Teruah, the day of the blowing of the shofar, and ended with Yom Kippur, the final day of ritual appeasement. The setting of the ceremonies was the se­cond Jerusalem Temple. The performers were the High Priest and his attendants. The awe-struck audience was the observing masses. The shofar was blown to attract the attention of Yahveh and to warn the people of impending danger. A scapegoat was chosen to receive the sins of the people and was sent into the desert to be thrown over a cliff as an appeasement offering to Azazel, the king of the evil spirits. And the High Priest, on Yom Kippur, entered the throne room of Yahveh in the Temple behind a pro­tective screen of incense smoke to plead for the people. The day was filled with wailing, fasting, splendor, and suspense.

The Rabbis

The destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans transformed the judgment festival. With the elimination of the sacrificial ritual, the heart of the old ceremony was excised. And with the removal of the priests, the central per­formers of the traditional service vanished into oblivion.

Of course, the decline of priestly power had begun more than a century before. The popular political party, the Pharisees, under the leadership of the rabbis, assumed control and imposed their vision of Jewish history and Jewish tradition on the people. The rab­bis brought with them the folk traditions of their Oral Law, a Messianic vision of the final judgment day, an anti-priestly bias, and the institution of the synagogue meeting house.

The rise of the rabbis to power was ac­companied by a massive emigration of Jews from Judea. By the first century A.D., the Jewish population outside Judea was greater than that within. Most of the Jews of the Diaspora had nothing at all to do with farm­ing and rainy seasons and were heavily ur­banized. Agricultural suspense was no longer part of their experience.

The consequence of these changes was a second transformation of the judgment holi­day. In the Talmud, the written version of the Oral Law, the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim) took on their familiar “Orthodox” character. The Biblical Yom Teruah became the Talmudic Rosh Hashana, with a full acknowledgment that it was indeed the new year festival. And the Temple ritual was replaced by private rituals and public synagogue services.

A new ideology pervaded the mood of the season and the words of the synagogue prayers. The annual judgment day of Rosh Hashana became an anticipation of the final judgment day ushered in by the Messiah. The fear of drought vanished. And the danger of eternal punishment now became the threat of divine retaliation. The ten days took on the mood of a trial. Rosh Hashana became the day of justice, when we all are rightly condemned for our sins. Yom Kippur became the day of mercy, when we are par­doned for our sins (even though we have not earned the pardon) and granted the gift of life. The High Holidays remained unique, a personal and universal religious event, not commemorative of any national victories or defeats.

As the centuries passed, the High Holidays became associated with certain special rituals:

The Shofar was blown three times on Rosh Hashana and once on Yom Kippur, its sounds conjuring up images of dread and hope.

Piyyutim, special poems of praise, were added to the service. The most famous of these is the Untaneh Tokef announcement, when the ark of the Torah is opened and the proclamation of divine judgment is made.

Kol Nidre was attached to the beginning of the Yom Kippur evening ritual. A legal for­mula absolving its subscribers from the fulfillment of frivolous vows, this pedestrian Aramaic declaration is of dubious moral value. The rabbinic leaders of Chaldea, where it was first composed, condemned its inclusion but were ultimately powerless to prevent its use. The Jewish public won out. In the European Askhenazic world, the “legalese” was attached to a haunting melody, which made it famous. In the Sephardic world, the words never found a memorable tune and remained comparatively unimportant.

Fasting became the vogue. Pious people abstained from food and water, not only on Yom Kippur, but also in spurts throughout the ten days. The mood of the holiday was hardly joyous. Fear and self-inflicted suffer­ing were pervasive: flogging, breast-beating, wearing the clothing of destitution, and abstinence from bathing.

In the European milieu, folk customs that never received official sanction achieved a semi-legal status. The symbolic emptying of pockets by a flowing streamside to allow the water to carry away the impurity of sin became the Tashlikh ceremony of the first day of Rosh Hashana. The slaughter of chickens to receive the guilt of their owners became the Kapparot ritual of the day before Yom Kippur.


The Enlightenment and Emancipation undermined the old belief framework of the High Holidays and removed some of the dread. Divine record-keeping, supernatural rewards and punishments, and the value of appeasement ceremonies seemed less credi­ble than before. Many Jews saw Tashlikh and Kapparot as primitive and superstitious and unworthy of repetition. Kol Nidre, with its dismissal of the binding character of pro­mises, became a moral problem. Long confes­sions and breast-beating appeared unseemly. Even fasting developed a bad reputation, of­fending “rational” people who found no ethical value in self-inflicted suffering.

Nevertheless, radical Reform in America found an enormous importance in the High Holidays because the reformers had defined the Jews as a religious denomination, and these solemn celebrations were supremely religious. But the Reform movement had lost its belief in a personal, punishing God, which had made the days so awesome. In the end, a decorous prayer service emerged, with little of the passion of the old days of judgment.


Throughout traditional observance of the Days of Awe, despite the heavy emphasis on divine justice and divine mercy, humanistic dimensions appear. Guilt leads to self- reflection and self-evaluation. Resolutions to improve behavior in the coming year are made. People seek out friends and neighbors to ask for forgiveness for past wrongdoings and to effect reconciliation.

Still, many secular Jews found Rosh Ha­shana and Yom Kippur too religious for their tastes. They saw no way of transforming them into secular national holidays.

But they failed to realize that the High Holidays, precisely because they are per­sonal rather than national, have a special significance for Humanistic Jews. If human judgment replaces divine judg­ment, and if human power becomes the alternative to divine power, then Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur become perfect vehicles for celebrating a humanistic phil­osophy of life. It is appropriate for Jews at the time of the Jewish New Year to reflect on the moral quality of their behavior and to make decisions to improve it. Intro­spection and goal setting are traditional. They are also humanistic.

A Sample Funeral or Memorial Service

Death and Dying – Summer 1989


(Choose One)


Death is something individual. Against the collective stream of life, it seems powerless. Particular flowers fade and die, but every spring repeats them in the cycle of nature. In­dividual people are brief episodes, but humanity bears the mark of immortality, renewed in every generation by the undying spark of life. We are, each of us, greater than ourselves. We survive in the children we create. We endure in the humanity we serve.

As an individual, separate and distinct, each of us is temporary, an ephemeral chapter in the saga of the universe. As a moment in the never-ending process of life, each of us is im­mortal, an expression of the persistent thrust of vital energy. The leaves of last year’s sum­mer have died and have vanished into the treasury of mother earth, but each one lives on in the renewal of every spring. Every person dies, but humanity survives. Every living thing perishes, but life persists.


Friendship is possible when we know how to trust, when we know that others can be faithful and honest. In the earliest experiences of our childhood, in the first awakening of our infant minds, we discover the security of love. Families may scold and complain. Parents may lecture and cry. But their deeds are usually sweeter than their words. In the hour of need they do not judge. They help.

When parents die they leave us more than memory. They leave us the well-being of accep­tance, the possibility of trust, and the reassurance of unconditional love. Without their gifts we would stand alone in fear. We would not be able to reach out to other people in friendship.


Life offers the gift of many blessings. None is more precious than the love of family and friends. In the strength and compassion of parents, in the mutual devotion of husband and wife, brother and sister, we find the security of love. For the landscape of our years is peo­pled by the presence of open hearts that exact no price for the gift of themselves.

When an intimate friend dies, sadness and despair are normal responses. Two people cannot share the best and worst of life in mutual experience and find that absence is trivial. The tribute of love is the pain of separation.


Death is not always tragic.

If we have enough years to test our skills, if we can see and enjoy the results of our work, if we can nurture our family and have them near, if we can love our friends and share their pains and pleasures over many seasons, if we have the time to develop our own unique style and know that it will not easily be forgotten, if we can die quickly, without the agonies of prolonged suffering — well, then death is not tragic.

For some people, life scripts are never meaningful unless they last forever. Others derive their grace from the rhythm of growth, fulfillment, and decay. What never ends cannot be very precious. Today cannot be special if there is always a tomorrow.

In the flow of life, exits, like entrances, have their own dignity.


Death needs courage. It is so overwhelmingly final that it fills our lives with dread and anxious fear. When it arrives at the end of a long and happy life it is never welcome, yet not deeply resented. But when it comes too soon, invading young lives, disrupting hopes and dreams, it adds anger to our fear. We cry out at the injustice of destiny and wait for answers that never seem to come.

Courage is the power to confront a world that is not always fair. It is the refusal to beg for what will never be given. It is the willingness to accept what cannot be changed.

Courage is loving life even in the face of death. It is sharing our strength with others even when we feel weak. It is embracing our family and friends even when we fear to lose them. It is opening ourselves to love, even for the last time.

Courage is self-esteem. It prefers quiet determination to whining. It prefers doing to waiting. It affirms that exits, like entrances, have their own dignity.

__________ , whom   I loved very much and still do, chose to die with dignity. We shall

never forget his/her courage.


The past is unchangeable. What happened yesterday is beyond our control. We can cry and shout, we can scream and complain, but the events of just a moment ago are as far from our reach as the farthest star. Fools never forgive the past. They devote every present mo­ment to worrying about it, scolding it and wishing it were different. Wise people release the past. They do not need to assault what cannot be taken. They do not need to forgive what cannot be altered. They simply accept what they are not able to change. Since the future is open to human decision, they turn their energies forward and choose to create rather than to regret.

People of self-respect do not dwell on helplessness. They do not assault what cannot be taken. Since death is irreversible, they accept it and turn to the living.


Death is an intrusion.

Sometimes it arrives at the end of a long life when we are waiting for it. But sometimes it comes unexpectedly, interrupting young lives and wasting hopes and dreams. People we love are taken from our midst too soon, and we struggle to deal with their absence.

Destiny is often unkind. Since it is a mindless force, we cannot praise it or blame it. We simply accept what we cannot change.

But people are different from destiny. We have hearts and minds. We have hopes and dreams. We have love and loving attachments. Above all, we have the power of courage — the courage to affirm the value of life in the face of death.

The fates are beyond our control. But our response to the fates is in our hands. We do not know what will happen, but we do know that amid all the uncertainty, we have the courage to love.

Those we remember also had that courage. Love is the power that binds the living and the dead.

(A tribute [or tributes] is now offered by the leader of the service or by family and friends.)

(Choose One)


Our families and our friends are so close to us that we often take for granted what they do. What is familiar has a tendency to appear ordinary. We lose our perspective. We imagine that what is far away is superior to what is close at hand. People are only heroic when we cannot experience them.

We need to pay attention. We need to notice the extraordinary in the ordinary. We need to see the special in the familiar. There are parents who give us love. There are children who give us hope. There are friends who give us courage. In their own unique way — without the privilege of spoken philosophy — they make us feel worthwhile.

In this hour of remembering, we offer them our tribute and our recognition.


The glories of our universe are never eternal. They shine for a while and are then con­sumed by the darkness. All things change. All life yields to death. If the beauties of nature en­dured forever, they would not be precious. We cannot love what we do not fear to lose.


After every spring comes the fullness of summer. After every summer comes the color of autumn. Beyond every autumn lies the serenity of winter. And beyond every winter appears the freshness of spring.

The circle of human existence reflects this return. It sweetens death with hope. Old peo­ple yield to the child. Old life is forever the prelude to the new.


Death is a reminder of human frailty. We are very vulnerable creatures. And we have so many natural enemies. Floods and earthquakes, disease and famine, heat and cold take their toll and thin our ranks. Even in the time of science, the ancient enemies of aging and decay still creep up on us uninvited and make us mortal.

In a world of peace there is still a war to be fought — not a war of people against people — but a war against death and all its friends. If we must fight, let us fight poverty. If we must enter battle, let us battle with disease. If we must assault the enemy, let us assault the poisons of our environment. There are many real foes to face.

Let our tribute to the dead be our struggle against death.


We live through hope. Where there is darkness we wait for the light. Where there is pain we anticipate pleasure. Where there is boredom we yearn for the arrival of new excitement.

Living without hope is living without dignity. It is a denial of everything vital. It is an ab­ject surrender to evil. It is a humiliating affirmation of the darkness, the pain, and the dullness of human experience. If the future holds no promise of better things to come, then the present weighs us down like an intolerable burden.

Persons of self-respect, people who esteem their own power, do not welcome despair. In the darkest hour, they resist the self-pity that paralyzes action. Even when the night seems more than eternal, they plead for the morning.


Loyalty is life. We live through the loyalty of others, not only the devotion of having family and friends but also the loyalty of the past to the future. Our ancestors worked, saved, and gave up their pleasure to provide for generations yet unborn. They pursued distant goals that they knew they would never reach so that their children and their grandchildren could ultimately achieve them. The mountain of human culture is built out of many layers of human achievement, each generation resting on the work of the one before.

We are here today because the people of the past did not forget us. Our ancestors have planted and we have reaped. Like them, we must live for more than the present. Like them, we must work for those who will follow.


Immortality is not an illusion.

The selfish kind of immortality is the vision that imagines that each of us is indestructible, exempt from the laws of nature, immune to personal death.

But there is a natural immortality. It finds its source in the two billion-year-old chain of life, in the experience of parents and children, in the sentimental power of human memory.

Each of us is an extension of the past. Each of us is an intimation of the future.

We are more than individuals. We have connections. That is how we are born. That is why we never completely die. We receive our inheritance, we leave our legacy.

__________ is part of the chain of life. It still continues.

May we regard the life of_____________ as a special link in the chain of vital existence.

May we honor him/her always with the gift of remembrance.


Death is real. In the world of changing nature it is inevitable. It may be postponed, but it cannot be avoided.

Loved ones do not pass away. They die. They do not escape the rhythm of life.

But they leave their gifts. We still bask in their love. We still use their instruction. We are still inspired by their deeds. We still linger on the memories of their style.

Immortality is very intimate. It is part of our mind. It is as close as our power to remember.

In the real world death is part of the drama of life. So is the loving tribute of remembrance.


Autumn leaves are more useful than they seem. Although in final glory they fall to the ground in a wistful descent of death, the fertile earth pays them tribute. She embraces their forms and turns their hidden energies into the evolution of new life. In the drama of human love, a similar pattern prevails. The thoughts and ideals of those we admire survive death. They fall on the fertile earth of our minds and hearts and renew our lives through inspiration.


Winter is a cruel season. It reminds us of how hostile nature can sometimes be.

It also reminds us of the power of human love and human connection.

In the winter, we become aware of how we derive our warmth from one another, of how much we depend on the loving care of parents and children and friends.

When it is cold outside, we must create our own human fires. When one flame is ex­tinguished, we must light another.

May this moment make us sensitive to our need for one another.

May the death of one we love encourage us to foster life.

May we regard the life of_____________ as_ a special link in the chain of vital existence.

May we honor him/her always with the gift of remembrance.


Memory is a precious possession. It captures the past and trains it to our need. The harsh­ness of old events is softened by vagueness and the pleasures of happy moments are shar­pened by vivid imagination. Loved ones linger on in the glory of their individual uniqueness. In life they willed to live and hewed the path of their personal difference. In death they tran­scend decay and find their niche in fond remembrance. No person is defined by the sameness of another. If it were so, memory would die from generalities.

In the particular grace of_____________ lies his/her immortality.

May the memory of___________ , whom   we loved in life and still love in death, bless our thoughts and actions. May the special grace of his/her years reach out to touch our hearts and give us hope.

Let us all rise and stand for a moment of silent tribute to the life and memory of


(Choose One)


ZAY-KHER TSA-DEEK-KEEM LEE-V-RA-KHA Let the memory of good people bless us.

May the memory of___________ , whom we loved in life and still love in death, continue to bless our thoughts and our actions.






Listen now, you lovers of love.

Hear this, you seekers of happiness.

There is no happiness without love.

Feelings – A Shabbat Celebration

Reason and Emotion for Humanistic Jews, Autumn 1986


V’-SHOOV IT-KHEM Let us be happy together.


Feelings make life worthwhile. Without needs and desires, there would be no purpose to living, no goals to strive for. Without needs and desires, there would be no meaning to existence, no passion to inspire us.

Feelings make the world a home of opportunity. There are so many things we want to touch. There are so many experiences we want to have. There are so many people we want to be near.

Feelings make the world a place of danger and dread. There are so many things we want to avoid. There are so many experiences we want to push away. There are so many perils we want to escape.

Attraction and avoidance. Running to and running away. Attachment and sepa­ration. They are the recurring themes of human existence. They fill our lives with ecstasy and despair. They infuse our spirit and make us human.



For the honey and the bee sting,

For the bitter and the sweet,

For the pleasures and the sorrows

That make life complete.


No feeling is all good or all bad. Every emotion started out as a strategy for survival. It drew us near to what was good for us. It made us move away from what was bad for us.

When anger started out, it defended our territory. It protected our family. It drove out intruders. When love began, it nurtured children. It fed the helpless. It guarded the young. When sadness appeared, it made us slow down. It gave us time to think. It allowed healing to take place. When joy made its debut, it mobilized our energies. It announced our strength. It reinforced our bond with others.

When we are defending our dignity, anger may be necessary. When we are building a community, love is essential. When we are faced with defeat, sadness is appropriate. When we are planning our future, joy is our friend.

There is a time and place for every feeling. Angry sadists do not understand. Loving masochists do not comprehend. But healthy people do.



Come and rejoice.


Most of us believe that it is easy to know what we feel. We have only to look inside our minds and hearts and discover what is there. If we are honest, if we are sin­cere, self-awareness is a simple matter.

But love and hate, anger and jealousy may be more secretive than we would prefer. Our minds are so complex that feelings wear disguises and often appear to be what they are not. Emotions can make us uncomfortable. They can tease us and embar­rass us. They can taunt us and fill us with shame. We sometimes turn our backs on them and pretend that they are not there. We sometimes look at them and do not see them. Sincerity is not enough — especially if we are not strong enough to face reality.

Self-awareness needs strength. We need to be strong enough to feel what we do not want to feel. We need to be strong enough to experience what we do not want to experience. We need to be strong enough to remove the masks that shield us from the face of our own desires.



Evening of roses.

Let us go down to the garden.

To hear a song of love.


It would be so nice if all our feelings got along with each other. It would be so nice if they were friendly to one another, if they worked together to create an internal harmony of mind and heart.

But our emotions are less cooperative than we would prefer. They rub up against each other abrasively. They compete with each other. They fight to seize the energy of our will. Oftentimes we confront the problems of the moment with two opposing feelings. We love and we hate. We want to embrace and we want to reject. We want to reach out and we want to run back. Our emotions pull us in two different directions and make it hard to make decisions. Ambivalence becomes the soul of the human condition.

Being faithful to our feelings is not easy, especially if our feelings give us no clear instruction. Many people are comfortable with this limbo of indecision. They find ambivalence charming. Others find no virtue in waiting. They know that they must go beyond their emotions and choose their life.



For the expectant is the glory.

The future is theirs.


When we are born, when we are separated from the womb, we experience a sense of aloneness that never leaves us. As we grow up, as we become more and more aware of our own uniqueness, this feeling of apartness grows stronger and fills our hearts with a need for connecting.

There are many ways to connect. There are many paths to belonging. Men and women find each other and love each other and choose the commitment of mar­riage. Strangers meet strangers and discover that they can be good friends. Parents have children and nurture them with tender care. Clans and tribes, nations and peoples, embrace their members and give them the security of identity and roots.

Belonging is an experience of transcendence, an experience of being part of some­thing greater than oneself. It starts with the human bonds of family and reaches out to wider horizons. There are times when we feel connected to all the people of the world. There are times when we feel we belong to the universe itself — to the evolu­tionary drama of life, to the very stars and beyond.



How good and how pleasant it is to celebrate together.


Some people go through life very carefully. They are afraid of their feelings. They are afraid of being swept away. They fear all intensity. Caution becomes their byword. Security becomes their dream.

But there are others who are ashamed to be timid. They know that life must be an adventure, that for each of us it happens once and must never be wasted. Boldness and courage discipline their fear. Curiosity and ambition fuel their passion. No tradition can hold them prisoner. No convention can restrain their creative power. They do not seek danger. But they will not avoid it if the moment demands it.

The human spirit is no disembodied soul. It is no quiet and demure thing that finds its home in heavenly bliss. It is the flame of our passions, the fire of our will, the intensity of our commitment to life. When it speaks, it speaks through our striving. It speaks through our deeds. It announces our vision of a better world.



Soon you will see how good it will be.


For many people, reason has a bad reputation. They see it as the party pooper of life, the enemy of passion, the foe of feeling. In their eyes, rational people are cold, austere, and distant. Only the devotees of faith and intuition know what to do with their emotions.

But this vision of reason is all distortion. It sets up straw men, only to tear them down. Feelings need reason to make life worthwhile. They need the discipline of common sense to guarantee our survival and dignity. Emotions are like children. They want what they want right away. They want what they want regardless of consequences. Love and anger are blind. They cannot see the future. They cannot even see each other. Sometimes their fires are not the fires of life. They are the fires of death and destruction.

Reason is no withdrawn logician. It is a concerned parent. It is the defender of our happiness, the protector of our fulfillment. It disciplines our fear. It manages our anger. It restrains our jealousy. It directs our love to wholesome ends.



Laugh if you will at all my dreams. I shall not change my faith in people.


To be a Jew is to feel many feelings. There is the security of roots, the pleasure of belonging, the pride of achievement, the warmth of solidarity, the joy of survival. There is the fear of rejection, the anger of victims, the sadness of separation, the loneliness of difference, and the bitterness of remembered wrongs.

Our experience has been no ordinary experience. Our history has been no com­monplace adventure. We have been visited by the best and assaulted by the worst that the world can offer. We have achieved the peaks and sunk to the depths of the human possibility. Our presence does not arouse indifference. If we have enemies, their hatred is no ordinary hatred. If we have friends, their attachment is no ordinary connection. We have lived too hard and too long to settle for the tamer emotions.

When we sing, our songs have pain and pleasure. When we laugh, our laughter has surrender and defiance. When we hope, our hope has fear and determination.



Our hope has not yet perished.





Let us make peace and friendship for all the world.

Courage in the Face of Death

“Courage” memorial reading, Humanistic Judaism journal, Winter/Spring 1999

Death needs courage. It is so overwhelmingly final that it fills our lives with dread and anxious fear. When it arrives at the end of a long and happy life it is never welcome, yet not deeply resented. But when it comes too soon, invading young lives, disrupting hopes and dreams, it adds anger to our fear. We cry out at the injustice of destiny and wait for answers that never seem to come.

Courage is the power to confront a world that is not always fair. It is the refusal to beg for what will never be given. It is the willingness to accept what cannot be changed.

Courage is loving life even in the face of death. It is sharing our strength with others even when we feel weak. It is embracing our family and friends even when we fear to lose them. It is opening ourselves to love, even for the last time.

Courage is self-esteem. It prefers quiet determination to whining. It prefers doing to waiting. It affirms that exits, like entrances, have their own dignity.

Alternative Literature

“Alternative Literature” from Judaism Beyond God (1985)

Humanistic Jews need a literature that clearly and boldly states what they think and believe—in the same way that “Rejectionist” literature clearly and boldly presents what Rejectionists think and believe.

This literature should defend reason and dignity in a clear and open way. It should talk about human power and human freedom with the same directness that rabbinic literature talks about divine power and divine freedom. The ordinary reader, who is not familiar with clerical and legal rescue strategies, should be able to hear the message without confusion.

This literature should present Jewish history and the Jewish experience in a scientific humanistic manner. Instead of explaining how the old establishment literature failed to tell the story in the right way, it should tell the story in the right way. Instead of pretending that the roots of the modern Jewish personality lie in the belief system of the priests and the rabbis, it should describe the real roots.

This literature should be straightforward and should not have to be defended against misinterpretation. Humanism is not served well by writing that seems to say the opposite. The texts should make it easy for us to teach, not necessary for us to apologize.

If we apply these three criteria to existing literature, what passes the test?

The classics of humanism pass the test. Epicurus, Democritus, Auguste Comte, John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, Jean-Paul Sartre, and George Santayana speak their minds clearly and without reservation. They are not Jews. But they are articulate humanists. The literature of humanism is part of a humanistic Judaism, even more than the pious writing of pious Jews who did not defend either reason or human autonomy.

These writers did not deal with Jewish history or the Jewish experience specifically. But in their treatment of the human condition, they enable us to understand the values and ideas that make a secular Jewish identity possible. If Humanistic Judaism is a philosophy of life, it must be able to place the value of Jewish identity in a philosophic context. That context is universal and includes all humanists.

The writings of famous Jews who were humanists and who wrote about humanism pass the test. Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Erich Fromm, Walter Lippmann, Walter Kaufmann, Isaiah Berlin, and Hannah Arendt came to their humanism out of the background of their Jewish experience. Although they were not aware of their own Jewish significance, they were voices of the Jewish experience—an experience which had molded the Jewish personality but which had never been able, in the face of rabbinic suppression, to establish its own literature. The words are new. But the affirmation of the human spirit is an old Jewish response.

The literature of secular historians, sociologists, and archaeologists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who have uncovered the real history of the Jews, passes the test. Baruch Spinoza, Julius Wellhausen, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Simon Dubnow, Salo Baron, and Theodor Gaster went beyond the official story of rabbinic Judaism to reveal the events that were distorted or never noticed and the natural causes that made these events possible. It is the Jewish experience, not the classic description of that experience, that is important.

The writings of Jewish nationalists, whether Yiddishist or Zionist, whether socialist or capitalist, who rejected supernatural authority and who sought to persuade the Jews to take their own destiny into their own hands, pass the test. I. L. Peretz, Sholem Aleichem, Chaim Zhitlowsky, Ahad Haam, Micah Berdichevsky, Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, A. D. Gordon, Ber Borochov, Shaul Tchemikhovsky, Vladimir Jabotinsky, David Ben Gurion, and Joseph Brenner mocked the pious passivity of the old regime and sought to restore Jewish confidence in human planning and human effort. Their passion produced some of the best humanistic Jewish propaganda. Even exaggerated sentimental poetry like Tchemikhovsky’s “Ani Maamin” still hits the mark: “Laugh, laugh at all my dreams. But this I the dreamer proclaim. I still believe in man. I still believe in you.”

The affirmations of intellectual and organizational pathbreakers for a humanistic Judaism must be included. Horace Kallen, Yehuda Bauer, Haim Cohn, Albert Memmi, and Gregorio Klimovsky are important voices.

The celebration materials of secular Jewish communities qualify for admission. For seventy years, the secular kibbutzim in the land of Israel invented new humanistic ways to celebrate old holidays. Their efforts are collected in kibbutz archives, untranslated and presently unavailable to world Jewry.

The reflections of Jewish essayists and novelists who are ardent humanists and who value their Jewish identity are an important part of a humanistic Jewish literature. George Steiner, Yehuda Amichai, Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, and Primo Levi dramatize the human condition and the Jewish condition. Whether their perspective is cosmopolitan or nationalistic, a new approach to the significance of Jewish identity flows from their creativity.

A humanistic Jewish literature differs in many ways from the rabbinic variety.

It is new and contemporary. It lacks the advantages of antiquity and wide popular recognition. It is not embedded in the folk cultures of Western civilization. It does not conjure up the image of books that grandparents revered.

It tends to be scholarly and intellectual. Folksy legends and naive stories that appeal to children are few and far between. Not that these rabbinic styles are not possible on humanistic terms. They just have not been indulged.

Its authors tend to be far more diverse. They are less involved in professional Jewishness than the historic prophets, priests, and rabbis. They lack the professional solidarity and intensity that these old fraternities engendered.

But, most important of all, it is incomplete. Rabbinic Judaism has had over two thousand years to say what it needed to say. Its view of Jewish history, its roster of heroes, its celebration formats, its sentimental symbols, its sacred scriptures, its folksy messages for the masses, are established. What remains is only repetition and reverence.

Humanistic Judaism has only begun. Most of the literature it needs, it still has to create. Two thousand years of censorship and official intimidation have put us far behind in the race. The Jewish experience is old. But having the opportunity to describe it in a humanistic way is new.

We still need a clear, popular, poetic, non-scholarly presentation of Jewish history. We still need folksy sentimental biographies of humanistic Jewish heroes. We still need vivid celebration formats that make the humanistic meaning of the holidays come alive. We still need naive didactic stories for children and inspirational anthologies for adults. We still need time for our symbols to touch the heart.

The test of a successful Humanistic Judaism will be its courage and persistent integrity. If the task of creating this new literature frightens the Jews of the Secular Revolution and freezes their talents, they will drift back to the compromises of the lackluster Ambivalents. They will strive to rescue the “scriptures” of rabbinic Judaism for their very own and fail. In the end, they will be neither here nor there—suffering the cynicism of lost integrity and deception.

But if the task inspires them with a sense of urgency and excitement, there is no doubt that the talent exists to tell the Jewish story the way it should be told.


Meditation Services for Humanistic Judaism (1976)

We live and find it hard to live. We are consumed by anxiety and we know that nature is stingy with satisfaction. We are terrified by the limits of our wisdom and we shiver in the cold of human ignorance. Love touches us with the pleasure of fulfillment and runs away too soon. Pain squeezes the marrow of our bones and lingers with malice. Although our suffering cries out for justice, the world answers with deaf defiance. The darkness of evil is a persistent shadow.

We live and find it good to live. We feel the invitation of doing and we rush to the surprise of new excitement. We sense the opportunity of our talents and we plunge to taste their fulfillment. Bold events stimulate our sense of self and tease the ordering skill of our reason. Unselfish acts overwhelm our being and fill our hearts with the security of love. The world is an open door to vital variety and it stuns our hopes with boundless promise. The light of our possibility shines through to overwhelm the darkness.

Ayfo Oree

Meditation Services for Humanistic Judaism (1976)

Ayfo Oree lyrics





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.