Project of IISHJ

The First Meeting of the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews

The Jewish Humanist  May_June 1986, Vol. XXIII, Number 10

The 1986 – 1987 season is on its way. 

Here is a preview of a very important coming attraction that you should mark on your calendar right away. 

On the weekend of October 24-26, the first meeting of the new International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews will be held at the Birmingham Temple. This conference will be historic. For the first time in the experience of the Jewish people, humanistic Jews from all over the world will come together to unite their efforts in (sic) behalf of their shared ideology. 

The participants will include our very own Society for Humanistic Judaism, the North American Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations, Israel Association for Secular Humanistic Judaism, the European Society for Secular Judaism, the Leadership Conference of Secular Humanistic Jews, and representatives from secular Jewish communities in Latin America. 

The members of these organizations have their roots in different parts of the secular Jewish experience. Some of the nationalist Yiddishist movements of Eastern Europe. Some have arisen out of Zionist ideology and its affirmation that Jewish identity is essentially an ethnic identity. Some have emerged from the kibbutz movement with its seventy-year-old tradition of secular certainty. Some have developed out of the utopian political movements that dominated so much of Jewish life in the early part of the twentieth century. Some, like us, found their origin in the Birmingham Temple experiment, an attempt to turn a secular approach into a philosophic and religious alternative in Jewish life. 

The idea of the Federation evolved over several years. It began with a meeting in Israel at Kibbutz Shefayim in October 1981. This meeting was initiated by the Society for Humanistic Judaism and involved a dialogue between leaders of the Society and sympathetic Israeli academicians, writers, political figures and idealogues. Out of this encounter came a manifest of unity and resolution to continue the dialogue. In July 1983, at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, when the Israel Association for Secular Humanistic Judaism was organized, further plans were developed for international cooperation. These plans culminated in the Jewish Jerusalem Conference of July, 1985, at the Hebrew University, where representatives from all over the secular Jews world established the institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, a school and research facility to serve as the intellectual center of our Jewish alternative. 

It was at this conference that the initial proposals for the Federation were actively discussed and the Detroit meeting scheduled. 

The evolution of the Federation idea included many people of prominence in the Jewish World – Yehuda Bauer, the director of the Center for Holocaust Studies and the Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University; Haim Cohen, the former chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court and active civil libertarian; and Albert Memmi, world famous French-Tunisian intellectual and writer whose books on Jewish identity are the most powerful evaluations of the Jewish condition in this century. Both Bauer and Memmi will be participating in the conference. 

The October conference and the emerging Federation have great significance for us. 

The Federation is the fulfillment of a dream that began with the Birmingham Temple and spread to other parts of the Jewish world, a dream that a secular approach to Jewish identity can be turned into an organized philosophic alternative in Jewish life. 

The Federation is an affirmation of the fact that Humanistic Judaism is not the bizarrely unique philosophy of a small temple in Farmington Hills. It is part of an important and universal movement in Jewish life, which has deep roots in Jewish life and which enjoys the support and membership of leading writers and intellectuals. 

The Federation will enable us to establish a permanent dialogue among secular and humanistic Jews throughout the Jewish world – a dialogue which will allow the creative efforts of local groups to be shared by communities everywhere. 

The Federation will make it possible for all of us to do together with none of us can do alone – the regular publication of educational and inspirational literature, the training of new leaders, the creation of a significant presence in the Jewish community and in the world at large. 

The Federation will serve as an important vehicle to mobilize resources and support for the new International Institute. The Institute is indispensable to the survival of an intellectually respectable and creative secular Judaism. It will become the focal shared project of the Federation. 

For the Birmingham Temple and for the Detroit Jewish community, the choice of Detroit as the site of the organizing conference is a distinct honor. It will be, as I said, an historic moment. 

I hope that you will choose to attend and participate in this conference. I hope also that you will be willing to help in the preparations for this meeting. 

Please call me at the temple and let me know that you are interested.  

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Note on sources: The Jewish Humanist  was the monthly newsletter of The Birmingham Temple. The periodical Humanistic Judaism was the quarterly journal of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. The Center for New Thinking was Wine’s adult learning program beyond Humanistic Judaism. Selections from Wine’s books are appropriately cited.
All texts, photos, audio and video are © by the Literary Estate of Sherwin Wine, whose custodian is the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism – North American Section. All rights reserved.