The Rabbi Writes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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