The Rabbi Writes: Is Sherwin Wine Retiring?

The Jewish Humanist, September 1992, Vol. XXIX, Number 2

Is Sherwin Wine retiring? And, if he is, when is he retiring?  

These questions are being asked by a lot of people (sic) especially members of the Temple family. Up until now the answers have been rumors, many of them inaccurate. 

The questions are justified. I am 64 years old, energetic and in good health but, like all people vulnerable to surprise disasters. What if something terrible should happen to me? What would be the future of the Birmingham Temple. (sic

In response to this anxiety a special committee was established to deal with the problem. After all, it was clear that we should be prepared for whatever the future would bring, that an orderly well-planned search for my successor should begin. Even money was raised to finance a search and to provide for the costs of transition. 

As time passed certain realities intruded that would serve as the guidelines for the transition. The first was that the Temple cannot afford to support two rabbis for more than one year. If a suitable assistant or successor should emerge, the transition period could not exceed one year. The second was that important projects, which are necessary to strengthen the Temple and guarantee its future are incomplete and require my participation. The most important of these projects is the building of an educational wing called the Center for Humanistic Judaism. The third was that my retirement plan, which was started late, will not be complete until 1998 when I will be 70. I am not financially able to retire before I am 70.  

Therefore, the answers to the first two questions are quite clear.  I will retire in June, 1998.  Hopefully, in July 1997 my successor will join me for a year of transition and preparation. 

During the next five years many things can be done to ensure that a suitable successor is found. The Birmingham Temple and Humanistic Judaism have been my life for the past 30 years. And nothing is more important to me than that the right person is chosen to be my successor. 

What is the right person? 

The right person must be able to be or do the following things: 

✔ Must be an ordained Rabbi. 

✔ Must be committed to the philosophy and future of Humanistic Judaism. 

✔ Must be young enough to invest his or her life in the Temple but mature enough to have authority. 

✔ Must win the approval and support of an overwhelming majority of the Temple family.  

What can we do during the next five years to find such a person? 

We can establish a positive, ongoing relationship with the students in the Rabbinic Program of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism.  The Institute was established six years ago by the International Federation to train professional leaders for our movement. The Rabbinic Program has opened in North America this year. The Program is a five-year undergraduate program, which includes the acquisition of a doctorate in Judaic Studies or philosophy from a secular university.  Three students have enrolled in the program, two women and one man.  They are eager to do part of their field work training at the Birmingham Temple. We will have the opportunity to experience their skills and personality and to establish a long- run, meaningful connection. They will have the opportunity to understand how to serve the needs of Humanistic Jews in a congregational setting. One of them, or some future student, may indeed be the leader we are looking for.  I hope that you will meet the three students this month when they will participate with me as readers in the High Holiday services. It would be wonderful if my successor would emerge out of our own movement and would be trained to be a rabbi within the framework of our own philosophy. 

We can establish a positive ongoing relationship with rabbis and Jewish academic figures out in the Jewish world who either identify with or favor Humanistic Judaism.  The would collectively constitute a pool of prospective successors who might be available for consideration when the transition period arrives.  They will be invited to be speakers for Shabbat services and special study sessions so that they can become familiar with the Birmingham Temple and we can become familiar with them. If the chemistry is right, some of them may be invited back on a regular basis to reinforce the connection. If an emergency occurs, they, like the rabbinic students, would be available to respond.  

It is very important to remember that for a Reform or Reconstructionist rabbit, becoming a Humanistic rabbi is a dramatic step. Having once closed the bridge, he or she cannot return. 

I am optimistic that over the next five years, we shall become familiar with a pool of suitable candidates, from among whom we can choose my successor. During this time we shall be able to strengthen the congregation and make Humanistic Judaism a more attractive option to both prospective members and leaders. 

Choosing the next rabbi at the Birmingham Temple is one of the most important decisions we need to make. It must be done carefully and with a full and realistic awareness of all the resources that are available. Right now there are many things we can do to get ready for 1998. I do not doubt that, if we remain true to our historic purpose, we will find the future leader we need and want.  

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. 

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 of Ted Brooks – 1976 – Sherwin Wine Bio

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sherwin recognized that he too had the talent for charisma. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good rabbi has to be a good 









and public relations person. 

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

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

…      [Handwritten Hebrew omitted] 

The world is neither good nor bad. 

The world is neither beautiful or ugly. 

The world is neither negative or positive. 

People are. 

…      [Handwritten Hebrew omitted] 

Listen now you lovers of love. 

Here (sic) this you seekers of happiness. 

There is no happiness without love. 

…      [Handwritten Hebrew omitted] 

Just as the water mirrors the face of man, 

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

…      [Handwritten Hebrew omitted] 

Who is wise? 

A person who can distinguish between 

his words and his behavior. 

Who is strong? 

A person who has the power to see  

himself as others see him. 

Who is noble? 

A person who seeks to rule his own 

life instead of the lives of others. 

…      [Handwritten Hebrew omitted] 

We dreamed 

We hoped and we worked 

And our dream has become real 

Let us continue to dream. 

…      [Handwritten Hebrew omitted] 

Where is my light? My light is in me. 

Where is my hope? My hope is in me. 

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

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

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


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

The Rabbi Writes – I Am a Detroiter

Volume 31, No. 8 3, 1995

I am a Detroiter and so are 4 million other people in this metropolitan area. We may live in Birmingham, Farmington Hills or west Bloomfield. But, in the eyes of the world outside, we are still Detroiters.

Some of us are the traders by choice. We have thought seriously about other places to live. But we have come to the conclusion that the Detroit area is the best of all possible options for us.

Others are Detroiters by fate. They would much prefer to be someplace else. They are here only because they have to be. They feel condemned by destiny. When they have to reveal it to others that they are the traders, they make their announcement defensively and apologetically. They have difficulty understanding why anybody would freely choose to live in the Detroit area. In their eyes Detroit is the “pits”.

“Fate-Detroiters” have a long list of complaints. The inner city is a devastation. There is no functioning downtown. Crime is rampant. Culture is thin. Young people are fleeing. The population is shrinking and aging. The scenery is boring. The climate stinks. The race war is relentless. There’s no place to go – except to Chicago or Toronto.

Some of these complaints are valid. Most of these complaints are not.

Certainly, there is crime, poverty, racial tension, urban devastation in the absence of a central downtown. But some of the changes are positive. Suburban housing is bigger and more commodious then the old urban variety. Detroit now spends three counties; most of that area future is comfortable and safe neighborhoods. Shopping centers, with greater variety and options in the old downtown, have become new settings for pedestrian traffic, community interchange and entertainment. The automobile makes educational and recreational opportunities available that the old public transit never provided. There is more opera, classical music, theater and dance than most “sophisticated” citizens choose to or are able to take advantage of. The metropolitan area features the diverse environments of Ann Arbor, Northville, Royal Oak and Birmingham. The Great Lakes may not be as magnificent as the Rockies, but they are clearly not ordinary. The suburbanization Of America has its disadvantages; but it has its advantages to. And the old urban density was never as wonderful and romantic as we know imagine. If it was we would have created its duplicate in suburbia.

I am a Detroiter by choice. Even though I was born and raised in Detroit, there were other urban options available to me when I graduate high school. It would have been easier to organize Humanistic Judaism and bigger more Jewish cities like New York and Los Angeles.

I chose Detroit because Detroit is my home. The streets are filled with childhood memories. The setting is filled with family and friends. Human relations our capital investments in life. They take much time, energy and personal devotion. Then I chose Detroit because Detroit is my home. The streets are filled with childhood memories. The setting is filled with family and friends. Human relations are capital investments in life. They take much time, energy and personal devotion. They engender profound attachments and commitments which are not easy to give up.

Neither weather north theater lights are more important to me and my human connections. I see too many people who abandon their human environment for physical environment they think it’s more comfortable. in my cases separation is less desirable than they initially imagined. I think that, in my old age, I will still choose the February ice of Detroit to the desert warmth of Scottsdale or San Diego.

I chose Detroit because I think that Michigan is beautiful. The magnificence of the Detroit River fills me with all. Adam is Oakland county has much of the splendor of New England. Fort Melbourne and the Bluewater Bridge provide me with inspiring with Easters. I like flat terrains. They do not hide the sky nor dwarf human beings and human creations. They give me my dignity.

I chose Detroit because it is mid-western. I like the culture of the Midwest, its speech, its openness, its hospitality. I find the east and west less rooted in more pretentious. I find the south less welcoming, warm and speech, cold and its acceptance of strangers. The Midwest is a wonderful combination of New England Yankees, Pennsylvania Quakers and generations of immigrants who shaped at this founding culture. When I am in the Midwest I sometimes weary of its matter-of-fastness. But I always look forward to coming back to it.

I chose Detroit because I am a workaholic. I did not want an environment so comfortable and so seductive that I would be drawn to leisure activities I find less meaningful. Cold and rainy days are good for work. A less than exiting outdoors makes things indoors all the more wonderful. Eternal sunshine discourage is the kind of human effort that makes life interesting. I do not dream of comfortable places for retirement. My mind is always inventing new projects. I’m not sure that I chose Detroit because I am a workaholic. I did not want an environment so comfortable and so seductive that I would be drawn to leisure activities I find less meaningful. Cold and rainy days are good for work. A less than exiting outdoors makes things indoors all the more wonderful. Eternal sunshine discourages the kind of human effort that makes life interesting. I do not dream of comfortable places for retirement. My mind is always inventing new projects. I’m not sure that longboat key supports that lifestyle. Long Boat Key supports that lifestyle.

Each of these reasons by itself might find another place for its satisfaction. But in combination, they make Detroit in my city. I do not know for sure whether in the infirmities of my final years, I will surrender and find a refuge in some overcrowded tropical paradise, I hope not.


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.

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In some ways, Sherwin Wine’s life experience demonstrated the need for and importance of his philosophy of life and Judaism. In A Life of Courage: Sherwin Wine and Humanistic Judaism, a celebratory volume published for Wine’s semi-retirement in 2003, two short biographies were written. This one, by his long-time collaborator, organizer and implementer Marilyn Rowens, sets the context for his life and work.

Biography – Marilyn Rowens from Life of Courage

Each of us tastes the bitter loneliness of the human condition. To be an individual is to stand apart and sense the separation that makes every person unique. In a soul where instinct has yielded to the challenge of free choice, decision is personal. Neither the tyranny of the species nor the oppression of society can dictate our will without our moment of consent. Birds and flowers conform to their race and offer no resistance. But human beings are plagued by the unpredictable freedom of our conscious mind. Each of us is distinct and different, defined by the path of our behavior. Within the limits of our possibility we can become what we will to become. Within the boundaries of our talents we can achieve what we choose to achieve. The open possibility of our future is a frightening excitement. We can withdraw in fear and seek to hide from its reality; or we can boldly assume its challenge and bravely confront destiny with the courage of free individuals. -Sherwin Wine, Meditation Services for Humanistic Judaism

When Rabbi Sherwin Wine spoke those words during a Birmingham Temple service in 1976, he was already on a historic journey toward creating a new worldwide religion. Meditation Services was in its third printing in 1976 and the building of the Birmingham Temple, completed five years earlier in Farmington Hills, Michigan, was home to more than 400 families.

A people-centered Judaism—a Judaism that embraced Jewish culture, that was a beautiful marriage between Jewish historical literature and modern Jewish thinkers of the Enlightenment—had become a bold adventure for the young rabbi who had been born, in 1928, into a world of tradition in a vibrant Jewish neighborhood in Detroit.

Humanistic Judaism was created by Rabbi Sherwin Wine at the Birmingham Temple, and from that foundation, from that special place, grew and blossomed an awe-inspiring approach to Jewish life that embraced the reality of the human condition and valued and loved the umbilical connection to the Jewish people. In the forty years from 1963—when Rabbi Wine and several families established a new kind of Judaism in Detroit—to 2003, Secular Humanistic Judaism has become a worldwide movement.


What was it like for a young boy growing up in the late 1930s in the Detroit neighborhood near Clairmount and 12th Streets? That intersection represented the heart of Yiddish language and culture: the Jewish bakery, the Jewish butcher shop, the delicatessen, and other small-business storefronts were the centers for conversation. Customers and visitors could listen to political arguments, hear stories from the “old country,” and learn about socialism, communism, and Zionism, while at the same time absorbing how to become fully Americanized and assimilated into a secular urban world. One summer during that period, Sherwin spent a week at a fresh-air camp sponsored by the Jewish Community Center. His counselors would remember a handsome young boy with thick black hair and bright dark eyes, always curious, reading in his cabin. Already at nine he had memorized all the European monarchs and knew the population of every major city in the United States. At home he listened to the radio. He heard Hitler’s speeches; his hero was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Without question, Jewish culture, political history, and American society were major influences on his emerging worldview.

Sherwin was growing up in a world of Jewish religious orientation, but he was also surrounded by many other philosophical influences. Radical Reform Judaism, brought to the United States by German immigrants, was going through a transition. The Ethical Culture movement was burgeoning. The Eastern European neighbors who argued on the street corners came from backgrounds of socialism and Yiddish nationalism, and they took full advantage of the freedom of expression in America. World-famous rabbi and philosopher Mordecai Kaplan was constructing Reconstructionism and progressive American educator John Dewey was becoming the priest of public education, while the young Sherwin Wine sat in the synagogue.

Walking hand in hand with their father, Sherwin and his sister Lorraine went to Shaarey Zedek, a conservative congregation on Chicago Boulevard, every Saturday. Sitting in shul, Sherwin listened to the words of the Torah, sang the songs of his people, and internalized Judaism. He was mesmerized by the new young assistant rabbi, Morris Adler. With his tremendous oratorical presence, Rabbi Adler had the power and charisma to reach the heart of a young Jewish boy. But the questions emanating from that boy’s mind could not be contained. Why? Why? William Wine, Sherwin’s father, answered, Freg nit—don’t ask.

Sherwin’s parents came to the United States from Poland. They came to the goldene medina, the country where the streets were paved with gold. They came to escape the tyranny of the Russian army and the onset of World War I. They came to a new land to live a life of freedom not unlike the many thou-sands of immigrants that peopled the Jewish neighborhoods in cities across the United States. Growing up, Sherwin fervently absorbed the many flavors of American life—political thought, religious belief, modern culture—he was exposed to in his neighborhood. Detroit, home of the auto factories, also held for Sherwin the wonder and enlightenment of the public school system, as well as the pain of antisemitism as epitomized by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. A curious nine-year-old started his life’s journey early: even at that young age, Sherwin was a keen observer of his neighborhood, his city, his world.

Each of us is the total of his yesterdays. Layers of experience rise in bold succession to build the personal present out of past performance. While the trauma of life shakes our soul and makes it quiver with each repetition, the heavy hands of strong events mold our minds to their conviction. For we can never escape our memories nor elude the imprints of daily experience. The power of our nostalgia always compromises the purity of our desire and the freedom of our decision. – Sherwin Wine, Meditation Services for Humanistic Judaism

The American public school system was a gift to the first- and second-generation immigrant. The open doors of the public schools proclaimed, Come in to us and become an American. Sherwin Wine loved school. He learned civics, citizenship, and American history. He grew up with Jewish ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but he adopted with a passion Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. His Gentile spinster teachers became heroes to Sherwin, and they encouraged him to find intellectual challenges in debate, theater, and poetry. He was a brilliant student both at school and at home. At home he immersed himself in the written word: daily newspapers, library books, textbooks, and encyclopedias. The radio gave him current history. He was aware of the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939. Churchill later became a role model in courage for him, at least in part because, through efforts to provide temporary refuge to Jewish children from Germany and Poland, England became one of the only countries helping the Jews. Even before his bar mitsva, Sherwin was advocating and debating the importance of the United States entering the war.


Sherwin’s ties to the Jewish people, his roots in that community, always informed his thinking. Although his parents were often silent on subjects he quizzed them about, they shared with him their experiences in the Polish shtetl and the worry of his grandfather that the “Jews would be wiped out.” He was fascinated by current events and by what preceded them, and it was only natural that in high school he excelled in history. Central High School, filled as it was in those years with second-generation Jewish immigrants, was a hotbed of ambition and intellectual striving. These children of immigrants were held to the expectation that they would succeed academically: they lived in the United States, the free world, and they had access to universities and career opportunities never even dreamed of by their parents. The adolescents in the old Jewish neighborhood who hung out at the Avalon Theater and Zukins Ice Cream Shop went on to become doctors, lawyers, accountants, scientists, and teachers.

Sherwin’s successful high school years were not without the pain of World War II. The death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt was embedded in his memory. He was still very devoted to his religious connections, but even with his father’s continued admonishment, freg nit, he did ask, he did question, he did struggle with major philosophical issues, with ethical and moral choices, with who he was and who he wanted to be. It was later, at the University of Michigan, that he put a name to this questioning and discovered his great love for philosophy.

To live courageously is to live without guarantees, to make decisions without waiting for every fact, to take action without knowing all the consequences. Brave people do not need the illusions of absolute certainty. They will think before acting. But they will never think so much and so long that it is too late to act.

Courage is the refusal to wait for what will never come. It is the willingness to choose when it is time to choose. -Sherwin Wine, Celebration

Sherwin had excellent professors at the University of Michigan, and for a time he considered getting his doctorate in philosophy and staying in the academic world. But his interests went beyond philosophy; he had also discovered in himself a very strong quality of leadership, which he had exhibited in so many ways throughout his high school and college years: helping and advising friends, negotiating problems in the college dorm, discussing with sensitivity and insight people’s innermost problems. Sociology and psychology were favorite paths for many of his university peers who felt as he did a need to reach out to the world, to help make it better—the Jewish philosophy of tikkun olam, repairing the world. Sherwin’s early memories of Rabbi Morris Adler were never far from his consciousness. Adler’s charisma, power, and influence over a large congregation stirred Sherwin’s questioning mind. Could he also become a rabbi? He had already discovered that he was a humanist, that his connection to his ancestors was unyielding but cultural. He made a decision to attend Hebrew Union College, a seminary for Reform Judaism. Perhaps within the Reform movement he could blend his personal philosophy with a modern Judaism.


Jewish history is four thousand years of 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.

The Jewish experience is the experience of change. – Sherwin Wine, Celebration

The decision to attend Hebrew Union College came only after serious deliberation. How could he become a rabbi if he did not believe in God? He considered many careers, thinking perhaps law would be a wise choice. After his father’s death in 1948, he reaffirmed his deep connection to his Jewish roots. His loyalty to his father’s Judaism, his own love of history, and the memorable impact of Rabbi Morris Adler as a community leader and a role model led him to a career in the Jewish rabbinate.

In 1951 Sherwin entered Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, leaving his familiar neighborhood in Detroit. By this time, the postwar building boom had begun. Families were moving farther from the core of the city. Folksinger Pete Seeger sang about “little boxes in the ticky tacky” suburbs. Anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote about the phenomenon of the American nuclear family, predicting that it would be short-lived. The nuclear family, made up of a husband, wife, and 2.5 children, peopled all these grassy new neighborhoods. Attending temple or synagogue was socially encouraged, and all the moms and daughters wore their white gloves and hats. The times were definitely traditional and conformist, but Sherwin was a devout humanist studying at a Reform seminary.


Sherwin was at the seminary when another war, the Korean War, began. Hebrew Union encouraged its graduates to serve in the army as chaplains even after the war ended. Sherwin was inducted into the army six months after graduation. In January 1957, at the age of twenty-nine, Rabbi Wine became First Lieutenant Sherwin Wine. At that point, his world travels began, and they have never ceased.

If Jewish history has any message, it is the demand of human self-reliance. In an indifferent universe there is no help from des-tiny. 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 dignity. -Sherwin Wine, Celebration

When Sherwin joined the military, the Korean War had been over for several years, but numerous U.S. troops were still stationed there in the wake of the armistice. Young Jewish boys away from home welcomed the arrival of a chaplain from a background similar to their own. First Lieutenant Wine, himself new to a very different culture, became a popular Jewish chaplain.

Korea opened Sherwin’s mind and heart in so many ways. Serving as chaplain to the young Jewish soldiers reinforced his unique and changing approach to Judaism. Prayer and meditation were not high on the GIs’ list of needs. What they welcomed and appreciated in their young Jewish chap-lain was his ability to speak directly to their concerns, to listen to their voices, and to appreciate who they were as individuals. His meetings with them—he searched out many GIs in remote areas—were special times for sharing personal issues. He also set up lectures on topics of interest to them, providing intellectual stimulus and a time to share the comfort of their Jewish memories. Their Friday night services were more cultural than religious. Sherwin’s distinct leadership style and easy rapport with the troops reached out to the inner needs of these Jewish boys living in a strange land. He enjoyed representing Judaism and trying to make it relevant and meaningful to those soldiers overseas. He was able to provide the young soldiers with a connection to their deepest Jewish roots as well as helping them navigate the uncertainties of the human condition posed by the postwar world they were guarding. Most of all, he shared laughter with them. Sherwin’s exceptional sense of humor, expressed not by telling jokes or stories but by listening and laughing with the troops, gave those young men a sense of home and family.

Sherwin’s experience as a Jewish chaplain provided the seeds that would one day blossom into a humanistic rabbinate. For Sherwin, Korea was his initiation to the many worlds and cultures he had read about in books and to which he would travel continuously over the next forty years.

We will not run away from wisdom even though it comes from strange lands and strange people. Our bravery is our dignity. It feeds our strength. If old laws no longer fit, we will revise them. If old postures keep us from moving gracefully, we will find a new way to walk. A free world makes tradition only one of many options. There is more to life than imitation. Our ancestors created. So can we. -Sherwin Wine, High Holidays for Humanists


When his time in the military ended, Rabbi Wine packed away his army uniform and returned to a position as assistant rabbi at Temple Beth El, located at Woodward and Gladstone in Detroit. He enjoyed the opportunity of sharing a large congregation and introducing interesting programs. His sermons, his sense of humor, and his storytelling for children captivated many young families. But the traditional liturgy became increasingly uncomfortable for him. After eighteen months, Sherwin resigned and took a pulpit in Windsor, Ontario, with a new congregation, also called Beth El, which held the promise of developing a more modern Judaism. The Windsor congregation grew under his tutelage. But then he received a call from former Beth El congregants in Detroit, a couple who were disenchanted with Beth El and wanted to meet with him to discuss creating a new suburban-Detroit temple.

Jews in 1963 were moving north of Detroit. Young couples had settled in Oak Park, Huntington Woods, Franklin, Farmington Hills, and Birmingham. When Harry and Suzanne Velick and seven other couples met with Rabbi Wine in 1963, not even Sherwin realized what the future held for them. Eight couples and a rabbi decided to create a new Reform temple. Sherwin met with the core group on Sunday nights, planning the beginning. New people were attracted to the idea, and their numbers grew. On Sunday, September 15, 1963 (Sunday instead of Friday because Sherwin was still committed to the temple in Windsor), a first service was held, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

It was not until a few months later that the real process of change began. A temple was created, a board of directors was established, and the Ritual Committee, chaired by Rabbi Wine, began to explore what these new members really believed. Meetings were held on Sunday nights throughout the metropolitan Detroit community. More and more people became aware of Rabbi Wine and this new temple. Space was rented in the Birmingham Masonic Temple. Sherwin owned a small Torah that was carried back and forth. And during this initial growth period, the discussions of philosophy, Judaism, and the meaning of God continued after each meeting and after each service until the early hours of the morning.

Was God the ideal in mankind? Was God the angry God of the prophets? Was God the salvation God of the rabbis? Was God the limited God of John Dewey and Mordecai Kaplan? Was God just another name for nature?

Judaism must be affirmed as a cultural and aesthetic framework in which a variety of philosophic outlooks are possible. Both mystic theism and empirical humanism should feel equally at home. Jewish custom and ceremony are an adjustable poetry, capable of embracing a wide spectrum of human values and experiences. -Sherwin Wine, Celebration

The congregation named itself the Birmingham Temple because the group often met in Birmingham and some members lived there. Rabbi Wine and the Ritual Committee established that the Birmingham Temple believed in Humanistic Judaism, a Judaism that was people-centered rather than God-centered; a Judaism that affirmed that moral and ethical problems were solved from within each individual, not with the assistance of a supernatural force; a Judaism that believed in the strength of ordinary Jewish people to survive a history of persecution.

A line was drawn in the sand between Reform and Humanistic Judaism. The new Humanistic Jewish community wanted to write their own meditations, using words they did not have to reinterpret, words that reflected what they believed. It was an act of courage for Rabbi Wine and the members of his new congregation to make the decision to exclude God-language from their liturgy.


People give meaning to the universe. If we call to the stars and say “tell us the purpose of life,” the stars are silent. If we caress the earth and ask, “what shall we do,” the earth gives no reply. If we pursue the wind and plead, “let us know the path we must follow,” the wind has no answer…. People give meaning to the universe. -Sherwin Wine, Celebration

Almost immediately, the Jewish com-munity was up in arms. On January 29, 1965, Time magazine wrote about the “atheist rabbi.” Letters of criticism came in from the local community. Letters of support arrived too, not only from the United States but also from around the world. For the most part, however, the local response was one of ostracism. Reform Rabbi Leon Fram wanted Sherwin excommunicated. Some of the Birmingham Temple members left because of hostility from their friends and family, but many others stayed. Sherwin Wine’s response was one of defiance.

He was and is a man of strong opinions, and this kind of confrontation energized him. He was determined to grow his community in spite of local Jewish condemnation. Like a locomotive, he forged forward. Some people on the tracks jumped off, but those who became passengers remained for the journey of a lifetime. Sherwin’s keen sense of humor was an effective tool not only for him personally, but also for the congregation to use in dealing with disapproval from others.

Jewish humor is the legacy of the Jewish experience. It did not arise from the Bible or the Talmud. It did not come down from priests, prophets and rabbis. It did not emerge from famous texts and famous writers. Jewish humor is the response of ordinary Jewish people to the extraordinary horrors of Jewish history. In the face of an uncaring and unjust world, we Jews learned to laugh rather than to surrender and die. – Sherwin Wine, Celebration

The Birmingham Temple expanded successfully over the next several years. Enrollment in the Sunday school grew to more than 175 children. Sherwin left Beth El in Windsor, and Birmingham Temple services were held on Friday nights. The first edition of Meditation Services for Humanistic Judaism was compiled and published.

In spite of the qualms expressed by tradition-minded Jews, the religious climate in the Detroit metropolitan area was ripe for change. Who were the young people joining the temple? They were second- and third-generation Jews who had benefited from the opportunities of a university education and choice of profession. They were children during World War II and young adults in the 1960s, a time when all authority was questioned. A time of mobility, with people moving from city to city. A time of student rebellion, riots, assassinations. A time to protest the Vietnam War. A time to march for civil rights.

These young parents wanted a new Judaism for their children. They wanted honesty and the values they had absorbed in the secular urban environment in which they lived. They wanted a community of like-minded people who would be their friends and extended family. And so the temple grew to more than 400 families, and the loyal supporters helped to create materials, committees, and the new philosophy of Humanistic Judaism.

Sherwin Wine’s sister Lorraine and her husband Ben were loyal supporters from the beginning. Ben and Lorraine Pivnick supported Rabbi Wine emotionally, financially, and even physically, by always being there. They would continue to remain an important part of the Birmingham Temple and the development of the Secular Humanistic Jewish movement.

The congregation, having been expelled from the Masonic Temple building, had to find a new place to meet, and for a time, the meeting site rotated among several different places: the Birmingham Unitarian Church, Eagle Elementary School, High Meadow School, Frost Junior High. Sherwin’s mother, Tillie Wine, referred to members as “gypsies,” and the idea of a “home of their own” became an important part of Sherwin’s vision. In September 1971, services were held in the new building at 28611 West 12 Mile Road, in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

Jewishness is more than a conventional nod to old belief; it is the push of the past and the irresistible attraction of romantic roots. Samson and Samuel, Joshua and Joab may be dim figures of vanished years; but they are also firm links to the chain of our personality. The biography of each of us is not confined to the brief events of our own life; it transcends our time and adds the feel of former years. Since tradition is part of our uniqueness it deserves our wise respect. If it plays the taskmaster and beats us with the whip of conformity, then we shall with justice resist its malice; but if it acts the teacher and guides us gently to wisdom, we shall embrace it with the tribute of consent. – Sherwin Wine, Meditation Services for Humanistic Judaism

During the early 1970s, a volunteer support group of women contributed tremendously to the rapid growth of the Birmingham Temple. This era was a transitional time in American history concerning the roles of women. The feminist movement was not yet widespread; Betty Freidan was not yet being read in every suburban kitchen. But the women members of the Birmingham Temple became Sunday school teachers, committee chairs, board members, and a dynamic source of creative energy for the development of Humanistic Judaism. Friendships were created, and the temple family grew.

Rabbi Wine’s lectures and constant encouragement provided the environment in which the philosophy of Humanistic Judaism flourished. Humanistic Judaism was not created in a vacuum. Jewish history is the history of change. The secularization of America, the influence of the Enlightenment, the impact of Zionism, the questioning of Jewish tradition after World War II and the Holocaust: all led to a need in the Jewish world for a Jewish identity that could blend with a personal philosophy of life. The early years of the temple had less to do with pulling away from God than with pulling together to form a community of “believers” in a humanistic and rational approach to life. The members were a generation of searchers. They had had the opportunity of education and living in a free society. They wanted their children to soar; they wanted to give them wings at a time when having wings meant flying away from tradition toward a universal world of wonder, science, and beauty. Rabbi Wine created meditations, poetry, and ritual to express congregants’ deepest human struggles and their attachment to the traditional Jewish world of their youth.


Rabbi Wine was called upon to lecture all across the country. Responses to his lectures and press coverage resulted in national interest and support. The next step for the ambitious rabbi was outreach to the general community. Coalitions were formed with other secular Jews, unaffiliated Jews who were not connected to organizations but were motivated to proclaim their Jewish identity with pride. A sense of solidarity with Israel increased for many Jews following the Yom Kippur War, creating a powerful urge to establish a stronger Jewish identity. In its initial years, the Society for Humanistic Judaism—created in 1969 to mobilize communities to celebrate Jewish identity and Jewish culture with a humanistic philosophy—began the serious work of outreach and community-building in other cities.

Sherwin also connected with other like-minded humanist organizations. It was the beginning of the real growth of coalitions of secular groups that had previously operated independently. A list of “alphabet soup” organizations, which have become Sherwin’s trademark, began to appear so rapidly that it was hard to define which meeting was being called to order. Rabbi Wine’s energy level could easily handle the multitude of meetings. His organizational skills were unparalleled. A first “Conference on Humanism” held at Oakland University in Michigan attracted stellar speakers and numerous participants. It was an exciting time for members of the temple and for so many unaffiliated humanists to come together and discuss and question: What is authentic in life, what is authentic in the human being? This first conference was not only the beginning of a strong philosophy of Humanistic Judaism, but also the nucleus for future connections with the larger world of humanism. Sherwin had the great talent of bringing people together. The list of organizations grew and grew:

  • Birmingham Temple (BT)
  • Society for Humanistic Judaism (SHJ)
  • Association of Humanistic Rabbis (AHR)
  • Center for New Thinking (CNT)
  • Humanist Institute (HI)
  • North American Committee for Humanism (NACH)
  • International Association of Humanist Educators Counselors and

Leaders (IAHECL)

  • TECHILA (formerly Israeli Society for Humanistic Judaism)
  • Leadership Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews (LCSHJ)
  • International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews (IFSHJ)
  • International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism (IISHJ)
  • Voice of Reason (VOR)
  • Conference on Liberal Religion (CLR)
  • Clergy and Citizens United (CCU)

All of the above organizations began with the very close supervision of Rabbi Wine; as they grew, they became more autonomous but never far from his influence. Simultaneously the Birmingham Temple expanded and became an established and accepted alternative in the Detroit Jewish community.

The literature of our people is an encyclopedia of many ideas. Some of them sprang from Jewish minds. Some of them were borrowed from the neighbors of our ancestors and the loan forgotten. Our religious tradition has been a matter of give and take.… We are the products of universal wisdom. – Sherwin Wine, Meditation Services for Humanistic Judaism

Only part of Sherwin’s inexhaustible energy has gone into creating organizations and establishing communities. He is also a prolific writer. His articles appear monthly in the Birmingham Temple newsletter, The Jewish Humanist; quarterly in the Society for Humanistic Judaism’s journal, Humanistic Judaism; and twice a year in the International Federation Newsletter, Hofesh. He is the author of several books, including Celebration, Judaism Beyond God, Humanistic Judaism, and Staying Sane in a Crazy World. He lectures at least three or four times a week locally, he travels across the country to teach seminars several times a year, and he is the core faculty for training rabbis at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism.

Those who have heard him speak know that Sherwin has a unique lecture style. He is able to present and teach the most difficult subject, somehow making it easy for his audience to understand. He is able to synthesize information and explain ideas in a dramatic and powerful way. This talent has enabled him to stimulate people to cooperate with each other in visionary endeavors, and he empowers others to act on their own to create philosophical connections, com-munities, and organizations. And this is only his public persona. As a counselor and a friend, he has a special gift. He is able to touch people deeply; he knows which questions to ask and he is an intent listener. He can walk into a room and light it up. His incredible sense of humor generates laughter, but, more important, he possesses the ability to sweep away melancholy.

Sherwin Wine, however, is not a saint. He is often a taskmaster with an exceedingly rigid set of standards for himself and others. He has no patience with wishy-washy endless discussion. He is a man of action who is more than willing to make a decision first and consult later. For forty years, this style has served him well; this style has enabled his visions to become realities. He is a natural leader: to paraphrase the old commercial, When Sherwin speaks, people listen. His congenial arrogance is sometimes abrasive, but it is also a key ingredient in many of his relationships. His peers, his congregants, the couples he counsels and marries, the boards of organizations he has created all give consideration to his ideas and suggestions and decisions he may have already made.

Sherwin’s daily agenda and schedule would be tiring even if divided among three people. Sleep does not seem to be a priority. Weather permitting, Sherwin walks every morning; when he’s in New York, he walks across the Brooklyn Bridge. He lectures, attends meetings, and is a sought-after speaker for community groups, clubs, elder hostels, retreats, and college campuses. He may not be totally tireless—occasionally he is caught napping when someone else is the speaker or while sitting in a dark theater during an opera. But when he is speaking in front of an audience, listening intently to others’ problems, or helping to solve a critical situation, he is 100 percent involved: supportive, helpful, and inspiring. He believes that “people are their behavior,” and he is the prime example of that concept: he is an optimistic friend, a rational counselor, a stimulating and affective teacher, and a loyal shoulder to lean on. Living life well is his daily challenge.

We are the survivors of two billion years of vital evolution. We are not miniature gods. We are not manufactured puppets. We are not visitors from outer space. We are the proud culmination of an epic of struggle. The earth is our home. We know it intimately. Its plants and animals are our cousins. Like them we have tested the kindness and cruelty of nature. Our brutal setting has made us strong. We have many talents for survival. Our brains, our limbs and our senses cooperate to make us a hardy fighter for life. We are not the heirs of the passive and the resigned. We are the children of action. We are the offspring of the will to live. – Sherwin Wine, High Holidays for Humanists

Over a period of forty years, contacts, friendships, and outreach efforts contributed to the process of creating the movement for Secular Humanistic Judaism. Not long after the Society for Humanistic Judaism was established, three groups—representatives from the Humanistic Jewish congregations in Westport, Connecticut, and Deerfield, Illinois, as well as from the Birmingham Temple—held a first meeting at the Northland Inn in Michigan. The society now boasts more than thirty-nine communities in North America. In 1981 a meeting was held in Israel at Shefayim kibbutz. It was the beginning of cooperation between Israel and the society. The early years of the society with Sherwin directing traffic resulted in many more conferences, the creation of Humanistic Judaism, the quarterly journal published by the society, and strong emotional connections between each developing community.

In 1982 Sherwin called a meeting of other Jewish secular organizations as well as the Society for Humanistic Judaism: the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations, Polizion, Workmen’s Circle, the Labor Zionists of America, and Americans for Progressive Israel. That was the beginning of the Leader ship Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews, which marked the first time that so many separate secular groups sat together in one room to proclaim solidarity and to cooperate to create a publication of secular humanistic writing.

In 1985, at a meeting in Jerusalem at the American Colony Hotel, representatives from North America, Israel, and Latin America established the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. It had become apparent that in order for Secular Humanistic Judaism to have a future and be able to maintain members in a democratic and secular world, leaders would have to be trained. The institute became the educational arm of what was then the beginning of an international movement.

In 1986 representatives from eleven countries came together at the Birmingham Temple, and the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews was born. More than 350 people—local, national and international— gathered for the federation’s first leadership training seminar and conference. Speakers from France, Latin America, Israel, and North America, whose backgrounds were flavored by the Enlightenment, postwar secularism, Zion-ism, and the Holocaust, spoke from the heart about a shared philosophy: a Judaism of the twentieth century that embraced the culture, history, roots, and essence of the Jewish people; a Judaism that did not rely on a belief in the supernatural but on reason and the responsibility of human beings to create for themselves and others a life of good deeds and a better world.

The Jewish experience is the experience of change.

The power of people is the power of change. Circumstances never stay the same. Culture never stays the same. Judaism was created by Jewish people. It was molded by the 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. – Sherwin Wine, Celebration

Sherwin Wine is a man of social action. All of the organizations Rabbi Wine created had a focus and purpose. In addition to maintaining coalitions with the humanist world and the secular Jewish cultural world, he also encouraged confrontation in response to injustice and fundamentalist irrationality. A firm believer in separation of church and state, civil rights, individual rights, and personal freedom, Sherwin developed such social action organizations as the Voice of Reason, the Conference on Liberal Religion, and later, Clergy and Citizens United. His ability to recruit outstanding allies and specialists in their fields enabled these organizations to make an impact in the community. His motivation to fix the world had its roots in the traditional Jewish influence of tikkun olam.

The 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s were full of the excitement of the growth of Secular Humanistic Judaism. North American conferences were held, and meetings of the International Federation took place in Brussels, Chicago, Israel, Moscow, Paris, and New York, where, in the fall of 2000, a permanent office of the federation was established.


Rabbi Wine has devoted his life not only to making Humanistic Judaism a viable alternative in the Jewish world, but also to lecturing, teaching, and enriching others. All of the federation conferences have included a lecture series and a personal tour with him through each city. His incredible historical knowledge, his love of travel, and his need to learn about other cultures and people has provided him with yet another trademark: The Sherwin Wine Trip. A yearly fundraiser for the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism—open to the general public—the Sherwin Wine Trip is the equivalent of a traveling history class and a participatory documentary.

Does Sherwin ever stop? This question has been asked many times by all those who work with him and love him. His energy is endless, his enthusiasm is genuine, and he always makes time to listen to his congregants, his friends, and his critics. But one month of the year belongs to him. Each summer Sherwin and his life partner of twenty-five years, Richard McMains, travel together. The trips have been logged from Turkey to Timbuktu, from India to Japan, from Egypt to Siberia. Sherwin and Richard have traveled the world together. Since his first taste of the wonders of travel during his military service in Korea, Rabbi Wine has absorbed the politics, the culture, the architecture, the history, the pain and struggle, and the heartbeat of people all over the world.

Societies may undergo revolutions and violent social upheaval; they may experience the overthrow of every existing value and idea. But the explosion is powerless to alter the relentless sequence of spring, summer, fall, winter—birth, puberty, maturity, and death. Nothing is more “eternal” than the seasons. Their continual repetition is an ultimate “security.” – Sherwin Wine, Humanistic Judaism


The International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, established in 1985, became the important educational arm of the movement. The need for communities to have leaders—the key to ensuring a future for Secular Humanistic Judaism—was the motivation for the development of the Leadership Program, designed to train those leaders. New Humanistic communities needed specialists in ceremony and holiday celebration in order to grow.

Established secular groups wanted to make sure that they had educators, spokespersons, and trained leaders to keep secular Jewishness alive. Dedicated volunteers in the institute representing the Society for Humanistic Judaism and the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations worked diligently and created the Leadership Program, which became the most successful pro-gram of the institute. Rabbi Wine was the organizing force and energy that propelled the institute into the twenty-first century.

Again with the generous help of Ben and Lorraine Pivnick, and with matching funds from the Birmingham Temple, an addition to the temple was built to house the Pivnick Center for Humanistic Judaism. The Pivnick Center became the headquarters of the institute, hosting seminars and meetings and housing administration offices and the Milan Library.

Certified leaders, also known as vegvayzer or madrikhim, were trained and graduated from the institute. They then went out to their communities to reinforce and rekindle the flames of Secular Humanistic Judaism.

In 1990 the Institute initiated a five-year rabbinic program. Classes were held weekly in the institute’s Milan Library. Rabbi Wine was the core faculty. Arrangements were made with the University of Michigan to engage guest faculty members from its Judaic Studies department, and the rabbinic program began to take concrete shape.

By October 2001, the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism had ordained four rabbis. By virtue of the acknowledgement and recognition from the United Jewish Communities, three of the rabbis serve on the Detroit Metropolitan Council of Rabbis, and the fourth will be recognized in Washington, D.C.


The International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews met for its ninth biennial conference in September 2002. An enthusiastic assembly from Israel, France, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Ireland, Latin America, England, Germany, and North America (plus greetings from Russia and Australia)—all interested in building communities—indicated a promising future for Secular Humanistic Judaism.

Sherwin Wine is not the Wizard of Oz. He does not stand behind the curtain and pull levers. He has worked industriously to promote and make available to Jews all over the world a Judaism rooted in personal strength; a people-centered Judaism; a Judaism that embraces Jewish history and literature, culture and ethics; a Judaism that speaks to the needs of a cyberspace world and at the same time loves and recognizes with devoted attachment the wisdom and tradition of ancestors.

In the twentieth century, the true meaning of Jewish identity has been dramatized. It is no pious call to faith and humility. It is no saccharine invitation to prayer and worship. It is a summons to all that modern humanism stands for. If a people will not assume responsibility for its “fate” and its “destiny,” no one else will. If human beings will not take charge of their own happiness, the indifferent forces of the universe may arrange for human suffering. Reason and dignity are not built into the structure of the world. They are difficult human achievements. – Sherwin Wine, Judaism Beyond God

In May 2003 Rabbi Wine was honored with the Humanist of the Year award from the American Humanist Association, an organization that has joined with him in so many of the challenges and accomplishments of the last forty years. His enthusiastic unwavering voice for Judaism and humanism is cause for public appreciation and celebration.

The achievements of Sherwin Wine, summarized in the alphabet soup of organizations he founded, rely on who he is as a man, and as a human being. Sherwin never stopped being a philosophy major. He is a student of ethical behavior, an avid reader who maintains a constant passion for knowledge. The Birmingham Temple library is filled wall to wall with the books he has read and reviewed. His broad and deep knowledge is extraordinary. His lectures include spontaneous map drawings to help him clarify his topics. Rabbi Wine is a great teacher, in large measure because he loves to teach.

In his role as a rabbi, Sherwin meets the needs of his congregants in a very special way. During a hospital call he is able to soothe the family, inspire the patient, and often create a secure moment of healing laughter. Families rely on him to help them with the torturous decision of continuing or ending life support. His empathic presence at a house of mourning validates the family’s pain while enabling loved ones to join in a celebration of life. And Sherwin has the ability to empower people, to help them accept responsibility and find motivation to do things they never dreamed they could do. His lectures on themes of biblical history or new scientific theories, politics or psychology, poetry or current social issues have an exceptional way of touching and uplifting his audience.

This does sound like a lot for one person to do, but that’s what Sherwin Wine does. Upon his retirement from the Birmingham Temple, he plans to add a few more things to his agenda. To begin with, he will be the full-time dean of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. He will increase his involvement with the congregations and com-munities that make up the Society for Humanistic Judaism. He will travel to off-campus sites to teach institute seminars as well as choreographing the Sherwin Wine Trips. He will maintain his important role in the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews. He will continue his walking tours, his lectures, his traveling, his writing, his reading, and his outreach to other people. As long as there are still letters in the alphabet, they will certainly appear in the names of new organizations envisioned and directed by Rabbi Wine.

Happiness is no distant event which we strive to achieve, some future bliss we suffer to enjoy. It is the sensitive awareness of what is intrinsically valuable in the here and now. It is the special plea-sure of helping others, the beauty of friendship, the thrill of running, the excitement of learning, the exaltation in simple striving.

Happiness is not, in reality, the goal of life at all. It is the feeling of aliveness that pervades the pursuit of challenge. – Sherwin Wine, Sabbath Services