Project of IISHJ

Jewish History Shabbat Service


Humanistic Judaism, Autumn 1985, (vol. 13 no.3, p49-53)



How good and how pleasant it is to live in unity.


The Jewish people is an old people, older than most nations. We began so long ago that it is very hard to know when the Jewish adventure really started. In some dim antiquity, obscured by myth and legend, our Hebrew ancestors made their debut and stepped onto the stage of history.

Our national drama has featured many achievements. Famous books were written. Famous battles were won. Famous ideas were shared. It has also provided many frustrations. Too many enemies assaulted us. Too many martyrs died. Too many hopes were dashed.

Jewish history is the four thousand years of this Jewish experience. It is the sum total of all the pleasure and pain, triumphs and defeats, fulfilled dreams and disappointments which have entered into our memories through centuries of struggle and striving.

We are the children of that Jewish experience.



We are the children of the Jewish experience.




The Jewish people lives.



The Jewish experience is a national experience.

We Jews did not begin as a religious denomination. We did not start out as a theological fraternity. We began our adventure as a nation, as a federation of clans and tribes. Language, life style, the ties of family loyalty, and the sentimental memories of shared ancestors bound us together.

No single set of religious ideas defined our character. No single system of ethical commitments embraced our personal ambitions. From the very beginning Jewish identity was a matter of birth and not a matter of belief. More important than theological convictions were the mothers and fathers, the matriarchs and patriarchs, who gave us entry into the Jewish nation.

To be a Jew is to feel the national roots, to affirm the ancestral pasts, to experience the family connections. We have many opinions. But destiny has made us one people.



We are one people. We feel our national roots. We feel our ancestral past. We experience our family connection.




Our hope has not yet perished.



The Jewish experience is an international experience.

Two thousand years ago our ancestors left the land of Israel. There were many reasons for leaving. The land was too crowded. Foreign conquerors were oppressive. Hostile invaders settled down.

The dispersion posed a threat to Jewish survival. A homeland without a Diaspora was normal. But a Diaspora without a homeland seemed a historical impossibility — like limbs without a body, like trees without their roots. Was it possible for a nation without a country of its own to remain a nation? Was it possible to cut out the ancient heart of a people and to keep it alive?

In the Galut, we Jews achieved a new self-image. We became an international people. While we still loved our native land, we also grew attached to the places where we lived. As members of a world family, no land could fully claim us. We carried our holidays, our memories, our language with us wherever we went. Hebrew was still Hebrew, even in Timbuktu.



We are a universal family. We are an international people. Israel is our homeland. But the world is our home.




Let us make peace and friendship for all the world.



The Jewish experience is the experience of change.

The power of people is the power of change. Circumstances never stay the same. People never stay the same. Culture never stays the same.

Judaism did not fall from heaven. It was not invented by a divine spokesman. It was created by the Jewish people. It was molded by Jewish experience. It was flavored by Jewish sadness and Jewish joy.

Holidays are responses to human events. Ceremonies are celebrations of human development. Music and literature are the expressions of human needs.

Life is an evolution, a continuous flow of transformation. And so is culture. When circumstances change, people change. When people change, their laws and customs change.

A healthy people welcomes change. It understands its history. It knows its own power. It leads the past into the future.



We welcome change. We understand our own history.

We know our own power. We seek to lead the past into the future.




Soon you will see how good it will be.



The Jewish experience is an experience of human ingenuity.

Blind faith is often so dramatic and so noisy that it diverts our attention from the quiet power of practical day to day decisions. Most people live by common sense. They test the truth of ideas by their consequences. The ordinary people

who learn to grow food, to build houses, to make friends, to fight disaster may easily be forgotten. But their undramatic efforts have more to do with human survival than priestly proclamations.

Jewish survival has a similar origin. We are sometimes so obsessed with the literature of prophets and rabbis that we ignore the unrecorded heroes of Jewish life — the people who, day by day, solved their problems and improved their world by adapting old advice to new situations. Peasants and merchants, workers and bankers, doctors and engineers — all of these are heroes of the unacknowledged tradition of Jewish reason.

When, two hundred years ago, the Enlightenment officially came to Jewish life, it was not entirely new. Science is only the refinement of the practical common sense of centuries of survivors.



We pay our tribute to the unknown heroes of Jewish ingenuity.




Rock, roar with laughter! I shall not change my faith in people. Mock me? Still I believe in you.



The Jewish experience is the experience of danger.

Jewish identity is no casual connection. It is no matter-of-fact involvement. In a world of Jew hatred, it is often dangerous to be Jewish.

We Jews have had many enemies. Some of them despised our religious ideas. Some of them coveted our possessions. Some of them envied our skills. Some of them were threatened by our success. But all of them made our humiliation an important part of their lives.

Coping with hostility is never easy. A vulnerable minority cannot fall back on the strength of numbers. Nor can it claim for itself the privileges of the native-born. It has to be much more inventive.

In the face of hatred, our ancestors learned many new skills. They learned to be cautious. They learned to be protective of one another. They learned to be ambitious, striving for the security of money and power. They learned to be strong, doing much and expecting little. They even learned to laugh at the absurdity of their own suffering.

Out of this confrontation emerged the Jewish personality, a figure too proud to surrender, too wise to rely on the promises of enemies, too determined to give up hope.



We are too proud to surrender, too wise to rely on the promises of enemies, too determined to give up hope.




Never say that you are on the final road.



The Jewish experience is the experience of humanism.


Through the eyes of tradition, through the vision of priests, prophets, and rabbis, Jewish history is a testimony to the power and justice of a loving God. The Jewish people is a chosen people, chosen for special duties, special suffering, and special rewards. All that happens to the Jewish nation is part of a noble divine plan, even though we humans, like poor Job, have difficulty understanding its nobility.

But the real history of the Jews has a meaning different from what the authors of tradition wanted it to be. No historic belief system can hide the undeserved suffering of the Jewish past. No age-old ideology can hide the cruelty of fate. In the century of the Holocaust, the illusions of the past insult the memories of our martyrs.

If Jewish history has any message, it is the demand for human self-reliance. In an indifferent universe, there is no help from destiny. Either we assume responsibility for our fate or no one will. A world without divine guarantees and divine justice is a little bit frightening. But it is also the source of human freedom and human dignity.

We stand alone, and yet together, to create the world we want.






Where is my light?








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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.
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