Kol Shalom Embraces Jewish Heritage without Theology
On Saturday evening, over a hundred people celebrated the Jewish holiday of Passover in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Kol Shalom, Humanistic Jewish Congregation of Portland, put on the event – and the majority of those who attended considered themselves to be Jewish.
Reed Secular Alliance President, Leslie Zukor, was in attendance, and she enjoyed the celebration. “It was great to have a Seder that was positive, upbeat, and celebrated our common humanity,” she said. Zukor was raised in the Reform Jewish tradition, but often found services to be lacking in present-day applications.
Why is this Seder different from all other Seders? The answer is that the Humanistic Jews emphasize social justice, instead of reading ancient prose from the traditional Haggadah [Seder Book] about events that may or may not have happened thousands of years ago.
Gone were references to the wicked son, who flouted tradition by being uninterested in the Seder. In its place was a group reading of The Four Questions, with all children being included, not just a few stereotypical kids. In short, this gathering emphasized our common humanity, not misbehaving children.
In addition to emphasizing our common humanity, the Seder made reference to the importance of recognizing the struggle of homosexuals for equality. Coming from a heteronormative family, Zukor was really appreciative of this alternative perspective on gay rights. “I am really glad that the struggles of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters were recognized,” Zukor emphasized.
Equally important was the emphasis that was placed on only following those traditions that were applicable to present-day sensibilities. For example, there was no debating about how many plagues there were on land vs. in the sea, and none of the exegesis that is omnipresent at religious gatherings. Zukor’s experience as a child has been instructive.
“When I grew up, there was all this commentary on if the Exodus from Egypt actually happened, and how to reconcile it with historical facts,” Zukor explains. “It was almost like the substance of the Seder was lost in the need to prove the veracity of the Biblical ‘history.’” And Zukor was glad that the focus was not on proving Biblical stories, but on living today for today’s sake.
It was also moving that the Holocaust was mentioned in the Seder. Whenever Jewish holidays were celebrated in her youth, Leslie explained, “I always have wanted to know why we celebrate leaving Egypt, but why the Holocaust only seemed to be a footnote,” tacked onto the end of the Holiday calendar. However, this Passover celebration was different, in connecting events to the modern world.
“I am glad to be part of a Jewish event that recognizes that history doesn’t end with the Old Testament,” Zukor explained. And Leslie Zukor was especially appreciative that Passover was celebrated as one in many journeys from slavery to freedom, not as an isolated occurrence several thousand years ago. “There was commentary on [the genocide in] Darfur, as well as pleas for a world living in harmony,” Zukor explained.
Even though Zukor enjoyed the Seder, she left with plenty of questions. “There was all this thankfulness for Israel being a Jewish state,” she explained. “But what do Humanistic Jews think about Palestinians, and their belief that they are entitled to a state themselves? It was almost like the proverbial elephant in the room that nobody was willing to address.” Although Zukor didn’t receive an answer to this question, she looks forward to learning more about Humanistic Judaism.