The Rabbi Writes – The Future of the Birmingham Temple

The Jewish Humanist, October, 1978, Vol. XVI, Number 2

The Future of The Birmingham Temple 

The Birmingham Temple is fifteen years old. 

Given the environment in which it grew up, its survival is both amazing and exciting. 

The source of its vital energy lies in two things-the determination and talents of its members-and the sense of mission which the possession of a unique philosophy bestows. 

Without Humanistic Judaism, the Temple would not have been able to recruit the members….who give it its unique character.  And without the need to justify its new philosophy, the congregation would never have been motivated to be creative. 

After fifteen years, The Birmingham Temple has achieved the edge of community respectability. 

It has a home of its own, with an attractive new addition under way.  It has a growing membership which includes some of the brightest young and old people in the community.  It has a large group of student alumni who derive a good part of their childhood memories from the Temple experience.  It has a wide audience of non-members who attend its programs.  It has spawned other congregations which rescue it from isolation and give it the image of a genuine….Jewish alternative. 

The achievements are considerable.  And remembering them for short periods of time is pleasurable and normal. 

But the very nature of Humanistic Judaism prevents us from spending too much time on nostalgia.  We are future oriented.  The accomplishment of yesterday is less important that (sic) the problem of tomorrow. 

What are the problems of tomorrow? 

What new creative answers will we have to come up with? 

There will be the need to deal realistically with the revolution in personal life style. 

The growing world of single people-divorced, widowed and deliberate-can derive no satisfaction from an ethic which finds fulfillment only in family life. 

There will be the need to deal with the aging of the Jewish community.  The decline in the bourgeois birth rate will shift a lot of attention from youth education to creative education for adults. 

There will be the need to communicate effectively with other humanists in our community so that we can cooperate against the increasing aggressiveness of fundamentalist religion. 

There will be the need to share our experience with other Jews in other places, who find Humanistic Judaism significant and want to do what we did. 

Above all, there will be the need to be present-oriented not past-oriented.  At a time when a lot of residual guilt will disappear with a generation of Jews who have no memory of traditional parents and grandparents, new ceremonies and rituals will have to be invented.  The emotional level of religious life will rise from nostalgia to aesthetic fulfillment. 

The next fifteen years will have enough problems to solve so that we will be rescued from boredom and complacency. 

The Rabbi Writes – The Birmingham Temple is Alive and Well

The Jewish Humanist, May_June 1990, Vol. XXVI, Number 10

The Birmingham Temple is alive and well.  The events of the past year attest to the energy and vitality of our congregational family.  The Art show, the Vivace Concerts, the Retreat, the Million $ Auction, the Humanist Forum, the Family Club, the Temple Singers gala-all are witnesses to the enthusiasm and community spirit of our members. 

For the past 27 years we have been continuously renewed by the creative marriage between oldtimers and newcomers.  We value our ‘traditions’.  But we have never been afraid to try something new if we felt that it would enhance the lives of our members and strengthen the survival of our community.  There are too many challenges for us to rest on our laurels. And there are too many opportunities for improvement for us to settle for self-congratulations. 

When we think about the year to come and about what we want to do with it as a Temple family, we need to be very much aware of our present and future needs.  The past is a reliable guide.  But we have to be open to new and useful possibilities. 

We need to continue our work to provide interesting programs and shared experiences for young parents and their children.  The future of our congregation like that of any Temple, depends on the enthusiasm of young families.  When we started-and everybody was young-the euphoria of beginnings made us successful..  Now we need more planning and a greater sensitivity to how families have changed-working mothers, fewer children, higher expectations. 

We need to strive even harder to serve the special requirements of singles, young adults and senior citizens.  There are many diverse lifestyles and no one format can serve the desires of everyone.  Of course, we cannot undertake so many new projects that we replace quality with quantity.  We have to choose a few new ways to be useful to all this diversity and make them work. 

We need to rethink the purpose and format of our holiday and Sabbath celebrations.  What is it that our members want out of a Friday evening experience in the Temple?  What do they want to hear?  What do they want to feel?  What do they want to learn? 

We need to be creative about our outreach to the larger Jewish community.  There are many concerns and anxieties in the Jewish and general world that have not been adequately addressed.  The growing power of conservative religion is a threat to our freedom and our legitimacy.  Do we sit passively and accept Orthodox encroachment?  Or do we take a more activist and challenging posture?  Do we resist Orthodox attempts to monopolize the words ‘Jewish’ and ‘observant’? 

We need to be innovative with regard to ethical service-both to our own members and to others.  We responded to the plight of the homeless in our community.  But what more can we do to relieve suffering-and be effective? 

We need to reach out to the hundreds of Soviet immigrants who are coming to our community-most of whom are basically secular-and find a way to integrate them into our community.  I am confident that if many of them understood what we believed and did, they would be very comfortable to join us.  Both their lives and ours would be enriched. 

We need to take a realistic look at our physical hoe and determine its adequacy.  We have built our Temple in stages-first the Meeting Room and Library and then the Family Room.  It may now be time for us to complete our house by planning an Educational Center that would provide space for both children and adults and an appropriate facility for the educational programming we are planning.  After 27 years of the uncertainties of the public schools it may now be time to bring our children home to the Temple. 

We need to find the young man or woman who will train as my successor and provide continuing rabbinic leadership in the spirit of Humanistic Judaism after I retire.  Hopefully this decision will be made very soon and will enhance the confidence we have in our future. 

We need to reinforce our sense of participation in a Jewish movement that goes beyond our Temple and embraces Jews throughout the world.  Our strength lies in the power of our own community.  But it also lies in the fact that we are not alone, that our approach to Judaism and our convictions about life are shared by thousands of people in other cities and in other lands.  We have to establish stronger links with them so that we can work more closely together to achieve shared goals.  The third conference of the International Federation in Chicago this October will be a wonderful opportunity to experience this solidarity.   

We cannot do all that we need to do in the coming year.  But, given our track record, we will do more than we imagine. 

The Rabbi Writes: Renewal

The Jewish Humanist, March 1993, Vol. XXIX, Number 8

Renewal.  That is the theme of our March retreat.  It is the special theme of our thirtieth anniversary celebration. 

Renewal means a strengthening of our commitment to the importance of the Birmingham Temple and of Humanistic Judaism in our lives.  It means that neither can be taken for granted, and that their welfare and survival depend on our personal efforts and involvement. 

There are many ways that we can express our commitment. 

We may choose to develop a better understanding of our Jewish and humanist roots.  The Monday evening class on Jewish history and Jewish culture and the Shabbat morning discussion group on Jewish literature await our participation. We can even call the Temple and acquire a book list of important reading that we can do all on our own.  Study can intensify our humanistic awareness of the Jewish experience and Jewish identity. 

We may choose to join a Temple committee or Temple work group.  The congregation exists because hundred (sic) of volunteers over the past thirty years have contributed their time and energy to the programs and activities of our unique community.  The Temple provides all kinds of opportunities for interesting work-intellectual, artistic, literary, social, ethical.  Along the way you meet new people and make new friends.  The bonds of friendship are the lifeblood of the congregation. 

We may choose to participate in the celebration life of the congregation  Every Shabbat evening we come together to celebrate our Jewishness and to renew our commitment to each other, to the Jewishh people and to the ethical values we strive to realize.  Being in the Temple on Friday night-all together-heightens our awareness of the community to which we belong and of the philosophy of life by which we seek to live.  Singing songs and lighting candles are not trivial when they are part of community renewal. 

We may choose to bring our Judaism into our home.  There is more to Jewish expression than Hanukka and Passover.  We may introduce a holiday we have never celebrated before.  We may read out loud the literature of Humanistic Judaism, think about it and talk about it with our partners and children.  We may even display a symbol as simple as our very own “Humanorah” to remind us of our identity and beliefs.  Even sophisticated people-although they are reluctant to admit it-may find meaning in visible symbols. 

We may choose to give our energy to community service.  Ethics only become real when they are turned into personal behavior.  Poor Jews need our help.  Russian families need our help.  Homeless people need our help.  The battle for abortion and life style rights is a continuous struggle against powerful opponents.  Social action can be done in many places.  But doing it through the Birmingham Temple strengthens the moral outreach of our own community. 

We may choose to discuss the Temple and Humanistic Judaism with our friends and neighbors.  Sharing ideas and convictions with others does not turn us into aggressive and overzealous missionaries.  But there may be people we know who would really enjoy the Birmingham Temple if only they fully understood our philosophy and if only they could associate Humanistic Judaism with enthusiastic people they love and trust.  New members come to us-not because they are “converts”-but because they discover, for the first time, a community where they can be both honest and comfortable.  Finding new families and singles for the Temple strengthens the congregation.  But it may also strengthen the newcomers. 

We may choose to participate in the movement of Humanistic Judaism.  The Temple is part of a national and world outreach which we helped to create.  We do not stand alone.  There are brother and sister communities in North America, Europe, Israel, Australia and Latin America who share our commitment to a cultural Judaism.  There is also the International Institute which trains our leaders and rabbis and also provides weekend seminars of adult education to help us intensify our Jewish and Humanist awareness.  Participating in the movement means meeting and working with people from all over our country and the world.  There are national conferences to attend.  There are international; meetings to enjoy.  There are annual trips to Israel to join.  There are programs, like the rabbinic program, to support.  Sharing with others in the project of making Humanistic Judaism a viable and recognized alternative in Jewish life is an exciting way to build our future. 

We may choose to be optimistic.  Hope is not a guarantee promised by destiny.  It is a determination to create what needs to be created.  Without that determination the Birmingham Temple would never have survived the assaults of her opponents and the wariness of skeptics.  Choosing hope means that we are serious about the future.  We do not accept the past unquestioningly.  We do not revere our tradition.  We are open to making changes that need to be made.  What once worked may no longer work.  As long as we remain faithful to our fundamental principles and mission, the strategies of implementing them can comfortably adjust to reality.  Creativity has to balance our nostalgia. 

I hope that the thirtieth birthday anniversary will be a time of renewal for you. 

The Rabbi Writes – The Center for Humanistic Judaism

The Jewish Humanist, April 1993, Vol. XXIX, Number 9

The Center for Humanistic Judaism was a dream.  It will now become a reality, if you say yes. 

The Center is a proposed addition to our Temple home.  In l971 we built the Meeting Room and library.  In l981 we added the Family Room and Kitchen.  But our home remained incomplete.  There were no classrooms for education, no adequate space for training our children and adults in the principles of Humanistic Judaism.  But creating this space was not possible without money.  Last year the dream became a possibility when 2 members of our congregation generously offered to give $250,000 to the construction of this addition if matching funds could be found.  They sensed that there were many important Temple needs that the Center could serve. 

We need the Center to provide a home place for our Temple School and for the programs of youth education which we sponsor.  For the last thirty years our Sunday School has been held in public buildings which have been far away from our Temple home.  These schools have often been less than desirable.  The classrooms do not belong to us and are given to us with many annoying and limiting restrictions.  The space is an awkward space designed for educational programs and student bodies which are not our own.  There is no opportunity to transform the school area to our needs because we are temporary tenants, not owners.  There is no guarantee that the space we use will be ours the following year; we have moved from school to school fairly regularly. The cost of renting schools is rising every year.  Above all, we are not the masters of our own educational destiny.  Our children do not experience the connection between their Jewish education and their Temple home.  And the separation makes it difficult to bring together Jewish celebration with classroom instruction.  This dispersion undermines the sense of unified space which is necessary to our effectiveness.  Even a simple thing like a Youth Room for our Youth Group does not exist  And weekday programs for preschool children are not presently possible. 

We need the Center to enhance our programs for adult education.  One of the most promising new areas of growth is the outreach to retired, senior citizens, many of whom are physically and intellectually active and who are able and willing to support institutions that serve their needs.  If we had the educational space we could provide educational and inspirational programs from “elder hostels” to weekday lectures and seminars which would reach the vital members of our aging Jewish community and elicit their participation, support and membership.  Interested older people help to maintain our outreach to interested younger people. 

We need the Center to enhance our role as the focal point of the national movement for Humanistic Judaism.  There are 25 other Humanistic Jewish communities that look to the Society for Humanistic Judaism and to the Birmingham Temple for guidance and inspiration.  Our present building cannot provide an appropriate setting or adequate facilities for our national outreach.  Humanistic Judaism and the Birmingham Temple go together.  Whatever strengthens public awareness of the Humanistic Jewish alternative as a legitimate option in Jewish life strengthens the future of the Temple.  From the very beginning our willingness to share our message with others has provided both excitement and intense commitment for many of our members. 

We need the Center to train the leaders and rabbis of our future  As one of two “headquarters” for the International movement (the other in Jerusalem) the Temple is the North American home of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Rabbis.  This past year the Institute began its Rabbinic Program for the education of Humanistic Rabbis.  Three students Tammy Feldstein, Richard Sherman and Stacie Schiiff have been accepted into the program.  They have committed themselves to an intensive five year educational effort and to serving the movement and the Temple with their skills and talents.  Others have made applications.  But we presently have no space to prove them with the student and research areas that they require.  Nothing is more important for the survival of the Temple and of Humanistic Judaism than the training of Humanistic rabbis.  The International Institute and our congregation need each other.  What could be more exciting for our Temple than to have a body of talented and eager rabbinic students and candidates available on our premises? 

The Center for Humanistic Judaism will provide a vital stimulus to our growth and development if it becomes real.  As of now, the matching funds we need for construction have been offered by generous members and supporters-and the money we need for building services is being actively solicited.  This addition will be built with no special assessment on our members. 

There are two requests that I make of you.  The first is that you offer your yes to the Center when we vote on the project at our Annual Meeting on May 23.  The second is that you think about contributing your own personal financial support to the Center.  Every gift, big or small, is welcome. 

The new Center is a voluntary labor of love.  In this year of our thirtieth birthday anniversary, it is an affirmation of our faith in our future and of our commitment to the survival and growth of both the Birmingham Temple and of Humanistic Judaism.  Despite overwhelming obstacles we have prevailed and shall prevail.  The Center for Humanistic Judaism is our message of hope and determination-both to ourselves and to the Jewish community. 

Humanistic Judaism and the Birmingham Temple-A History by David C. Kreger

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

The Birmingham Temple is celebrating its thirteenth, its baritzvah birthday. This means that the Humanistic Jewish movement also has attained the age of 13. In its short but luminous history, the Birmingham Temple family has evolved from a small committed pioneer group with a different Jewish philosophy, into a strongly-based, maturing congregation which has established a firm identity in the community. It is a good time for us as members of the Society for Humanistic Judaism to pause and to recognize the Temple’s historical contributions to the development of this major Jewish alternative. 

The Birmingham Temple began in mid-1963, when a group of eight young couples gathered and decided to form a new kind of Jewish congregation with the leadership of Rabbi Sherwin Wine. Their needs for an ethical framework for modern day living just were not being met by the religious practices of the Jewish temples in the Detroit area. The group and its rabbi were eager to develop a unified humanistic school of thought, which would place people solely in charge of their own destinies, without the need for control by supernatural forces supported by traditional forms of worship. In the early service the Union Prayer Book was used, as was the Torah (wheeled into the gymnasium of a suburban school dutifully by an “ark committee”). The rabbi wore the traditional black robes. Sherwin Wine presented electrifying sermons on human topics and crowds of people would attend. By November, 1963, thirty-five couples signed the articles of incorporation to become Charter Members of the Temple. 

A ritual committee began to examine whether the traditional rituals were consistent with the evolving humanistic philosophy. New services substituted meditations for prayers. More importantly in the mid-1960’s the contents of the services changed from an emphasis on biblical teachings and history to an illumination of humanistic principles. These principles related to such concepts as: self-respect, Jewish cultural and ethical identity, and humanism. 

Gradually some of the traditional symbols were re-interpreted. The Torah became an important historical and philosophical book, but it lost its “sacred” stature. Readings during services were drawn from many authors who presented interesting ideologies or perspectives. In October, 1964, the congregation ceased to intone the Shema, which until that time had served as the pivotal statement of Jewish creed. The Union Prayer Book was eliminated in favor of a book of services and meditations constructed by Sherwin Wine. On a hot summer night the Rabbi removed the robes-permanently. 

In 1965, when the Birmingham Temple had grown to 140 member families, what had been local controversy in the Detroit area about the Temple’s Rabbi and its humanistic viewpoint, became a source of national publicity and discussion. Time and Newsweek published articles about “The Atheist Rabbi”. Time reported that God had been removed from the Birmingham Temple’s services, and that Sherwin Wine had said “man’s destiny and fulfillment are more important than the idea of a deity”. The Time article also reported that the congregation generally found “Wine’s godless approach meaningful and inspiring.” 

The Detroit News and Free Press reported in 1965 that the President of the Michigan Association of Reform Rabbis had determined Sherwin Wine was an “atheist who teaches atheism”. He wailed that the Birmingham “group aimed at losing all Jewish identity and was instead becoming a sort of cult of self-improvement”. Stating that the group had no interest in Jeiwsh culture, art and literature (and in the survival of Jewish thought), he called for national sanctions by the Central Conference of American Rabbis to discipline Sherwin Wine and to remove his Rabbinical designation. He cried that the congregation should not be permitted to continue under the label of a Reform Temple.  Rabbi Leon Fram was not successful-the Central Conference had no provision in its by-laws to defrock a rabbi. 

Rabbi Morris B. Margolies of Congregation Beth Shalom in Kansas City wrote in the National Jewish Monthly of May, 1965 that anyone has the right to be an atheist, but not a Rabbi. He ended a calamitous editorial by saying, “It is tragic to realize that man’s intoxication with atomic energy is draining awa his reservoirs of spiritual energy; these are the days of Wine and roses-with falling and malodorous petals.” 

Notwithstanding their intentions, the Rabbis Fram, Margolies, et al unwittingly helped to coalesce a Humanistic Jewish identity. The congregation had maintained its respect for Reform Judaism; but it was now clear that Humanistic Judaism was a distinct Jewish alternative and not a modern Reform spin-off. 

The Temple family went through paroxysms of self-examination for a year or so. Creative activity gave way to unremitting debate. Dissatisfied members resented being labeled atheists by outsiders, and were indignant when they were coldly informed that they “weren’t Jews.” Parents and relatives begged members to resign from the Birmingham Temple to avoid community ostracism. These tempestuous times did not last long but they did serve to test the survival strength of Humanistic Judaism. 

By May 1967 the Ritual Committee resumed its important task of developing services and rituals. Rabbi Wine wrote a Passover Haggadah. A special book of ten holiday services was published. In the introduction, Rabbi Wine said that the content of the services attempted to ”…wed intellectual honesty and Jewish identity with man’s perennial response to the cycle of the seasons.”  

The Adult Education program flourished. Sherwin Wine initiated his Monday evening series of courses on intellectual, historic, and philosophical trends. Guest humanists appeared as lecturers. The Sunday School curriculum took on an even more sophisticated mold, with heavy doses of Humanistic Jewish content. Non-members would audit the weekly services in great numbers; some nodding their heads, others gnashing their teeth. 

Humanistic Judaism did not flourish solely in Detroit during the late 1960’s. Rabbi Wine was increasingly in demand to give lectures everywhere. Word of the growth of the movement circulated throughout the United States. Temple members were continually quizzed about the Birmingham Temple by their friends and relatives in other communities. Temple Beth Or in Deerfield, Illinois and the Westport Congregation in Westport, Connecticut emerged as Humanistic Jewish congregations. 

In late 1968 the Birmingham Temple family began debating the possibility of constructing a Temple building. The congregation voted to proceed. In an impressive dedication service in June 1971, 160 member families moved into an aesthetically pleasing, but only modestly costly Temple home. Rather than a loftey synagogue of soaring heights, reaching for God, it was a compact, warmly intimate structure in which those seated in the meeting room were facing each other. The building proved to be a central focus for Temple activity increasing the sense of family experienced by the congregation. Within five years it would host 325 Temple families. 

Another milestone was achieved by the calling of the first annual meeting of the Society of Humanistic Judaism. It took place June 26, 1970 at the Northland Inn in Southfield, Michigan. Representatives of Temple Beth Or and of Westport Congregation joined the Birmingham clan and the Society for Humanistic Judaism was formed. 

This first meeting of the Society was a unique opportunity for Jewish Humanists to exchange ideas about: involvement of members, uniqueness of congregations, goals, ethical behavior, religious education, holiday observances, content of services and publications. Congregants from all three temples became better acquainted. 

Through annual meetings of (sic) the ensuing years, acquaintanceships have led to friendships. Our sense of mishpaha has become intracongregational. The Society for Humanistic Judaism has grown to include: 

Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills, Michigan—Leader: Sherwin T. Wine. 

Congregation Beth Or in Deerfield, Illinois—Leader: Rabbi Daniel Friedman. 

Westport Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Westport, 

 Connecticut—Leader:Rabbi Phillip e. Schechter. 

Toronto Jewish Humanist Congregation in Toronto, Ontario, Canada—Assisted by  

Mr. Richard Neff. 

Adat Haverim in Los Angeles, California—Leader: Rabbi Leslie Freund 

And there are Chapters of the Society for Humanistic Judaism in: 


Los Angeles 




And we have individual Society members from all over the world. 

In the thirteenth year, the Birmingham Temple and Humanistic Judaism are welded into an ascending course. There is a sense of high optimism that the movement is here to stay. It is due for a period of maturing (sic) and proliferation, limited only by the imagination and the potential of the movement’s great human reserve. 


David C. Kreger is a member of the Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills, Michigan 

Bar Mitzvah Ceremony of Ted Brooks, April 10, 1976, Birmingham Temple

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