The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, February 1988, Vol. XXV, Number 7

The history of the Birmingham Temple is the history of Humanistic Judaism. The two go together. Without the Birmingham Temple Humanistic Judaism would not have come into existence. Without Humanistic Judaism the temple would have no reason to exist. 

Our congregation did not emerge as a local convenience. It did not grow because it served the conventional needs of conventional religionists. From the very beginning it was the center of a new approach to Jewish identity, the home of a new philosophy in Jewish life. The men and women who joined the Temple family did not join perfunctorily. They joined with the strong awareness that they now belonged to a unique community of “believers” with a unique message to the Jewish Community. 

Out of the Birmingham Temple came new organizations. Although they were theoretically separate and distinct, in reality, they were not. Their agenda was the same as that of the Temple, the expression and promotion of Humanistic Judaism. 

Many Jews throughout North America were inspired by the example of our congregation. They proceeded to organize, in their own cities, communities just like ours. In one case a Reform temple turned humanistic. In another, former members of the Temple wanted a congregation similar to the one that found so meaningful. In still another, enthusiastic young people, who had read about us in the local press, recruited their equally enthusiastic friends to establish a Humanistic Jewish Community. 

The society for Humanistic Judaism is a child of the Birmingham Temple. Organized in 1969, it held its first meeting in Detroit in the spring of 1970, even before the Temple building was completed. The  establishment of the Society was a major achievement. It turned a philosophy into a movement. It gave national reality to what began as a local phenomenon. 

The International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews is also a child of the Birmingham Temple. Established in 1986, its delegates met for the first time in Farmington Hills in our Temple home. Secular Jews from ten countries and five continents, including South America and Australia, came together to issue their manifesto of belief and to proclaim their solidarity. The ideas that were discussed in the intimacy of private homes in Birmingham in 1963 were now the shared commitment of an international community. 

As we celebrate the anniversary of our congregation. It is very important to remember these connections. An enthusiastic nostalgia may encourage us to remember all the wonderful experiences that we, as a Temple family, shared during the past twenty-five years – all the intimate moments of fun, friendship and challenge that made our association with each other so worthwhile. But it may also, inadvertently, make us parochial, dwelling only on personal memories and local events. We may forget the larger context which gives us meaning and significance. 

The Society and the Federation are not separate from the Temple. They are, part (sic) and parcel of everything we are. When we celebrate our survival and achievement we also celebrate theirs. Our fates are intertwined. 

The future of the Birmingham Temple depends on our connection with our “children.” (sic) 

For our future we will need leaders and rabbis. The new Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, which was established by the Federation in Jerusalem, will be the school where these leaders and rabbis will be trained. 

For our future we will need literature. Books and teaching materials which will explain the ideas and practice of Humanistic Judaism are indispensable to our survival and growth. They will be published by the Society and the Institute. 

For our future we will need allies. The congregations and communities, all over the world, who are part of our Federation, will give the support, depth and credibility we need. They will make it possible for our children to be Humanistic Jews outside the Detroit area. 

It is, therefore, appropriate that we celebrate these connections in this our anniversary year. In April we shall be host to the 18th annual conference of the Society. And this February 19 we shall welcome the distinguished president of the Federation – and the world leader of Humanistic Judaism – Yehuda Bauer. 

His presence will help us affirm the importance of our outreach.