Calling All Jewish Atheists, Secular Jews, Etc.

The next chapter of our ongoing conversations about Judaism and Jewish culture is unfolding over at Faith’s blog, where she has started a thread for atheist, agnostic and secular Jews to discuss their relationships with Judaism and Jewishness.

Faith explains:

As a bit of background, I grew up in a very traditionally reform synagogue and household. Lit Shabbat candles every Friday night, didn’t eat shrimp or pork but didn’t keep kosher either and kept separate dishes and did bedika chametz the night before Pesach, etc. As a young adult I went to HUC-JIR and had planned to become a rabbi until I realized that I was pretending to believe in God and it was incompatible, at least in my mind, with getting smicha. I promptly stopped practicing and yet, the culture, and yes, even some of the rituals, hold great meaning for me.

And she wants to know:

What do you do to maintain your culture?
Have you found a community that welcomes you and makes you feel included?
Do you attend synagogue? If so, how do you deal with the God stuff?
What other questions need to be asked?

I’m really looking forward to reading the responses. Head on over there and tell her what you think!

Cross-posted at Dear Diaspora.

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11 comments for “Calling All Jewish Atheists, Secular Jews, Etc.

  1. July 17, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Her blog doesn’t allow non-Google account comments! Here’s what I would have posted:

    I’ve been learning Yiddish and reading all I can about secular Jewish feminism (Adrienne Rich, Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz…), Jewish labor movements, and Yiddish women writers.

    I feel like the closest thing I’ve found to a community, though, is the blogosphere. I’m a good 30 years younger than most of the people in my Yiddish class.

  2. July 17, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    @Julie: Thanks, I’ll post here too.

    What do you do to maintain your culture?
    Nothing, the parts of it I keep are just a part of me, no maintenance needed. So I cook some redonkulously good recipes (My charoset and chicken soup rock), read a few excellent Jewish authors and philosophers here and there, and indulge often in my favorite part of our culture: the sense of humor.

    Have you found a community that welcomes you and makes you feel included?
    Nope. I feel more in common with secular humanists, but what community do they have? Really nothing compares with the type of community offered by religious institutions. And any outreach to secular Jews has more than a hint of “let’s work on that secular problem you have”.

    Do you attend synagogue? If so, how do you deal with the God stuff?

    What other questions need to be asked?
    For practicing Jews, how important is it to include secular Jews in your community? Are you doing outreach devoid of efforts to convert? For secular Jews, how important is our Jewishness to the type of community we form or join?

    It could be neat to have some way to give young people who are disillusioned with organized to the religion (to the point we really don’t want to hear how to fix it, we’re quite done with it) a way to share in the very rich culture we grew up in.

  3. Flowers
    July 17, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    As someone who decided to convert to Judaism purely because I believed in the religion, I thought I would have encountered the most resistance to my conversion from “secular Jews” because I am claiming to be a part of their culture based completely on the part of their culture that they reject. It would be like our Venn diagrams of “What makes me a Jew: culture or religion?” wouldn’t overlap, and that would cause resentment on both sides.

    However, I found that I was wrong, and that all the Jews I met were very welcoming, including secular Jews who did not believe in Judaism as a religion but were very happy to see someone who was interested in the religion try to learn the culture, too. I found also that I in turn was not judgmental about their rejection of the religion but inspired by their strong identity with their culture and willingness to share it with me.

    I guess the relationship between this religiously-identified Jew and the secular Jews I have met is one of “live and let live because we’re still all Jews and we need to be there for each other.” I think part of this might be because at the end of the day, secular Jews and practicing Jews are just “Jews” to anti-Semites who decide to use violence against us. There is no use in us dividing ourselves.

  4. July 18, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    The bulk of my connection to the Jewish community is my choice of handle, reflecting my trickster nature, hahaha, and my Eastern-European-Jewish background. I don’t attend synagogue, even where Papa Ostropoler is the president (though no one in my family is devout).

    I maintain an interest in Jewish Culture, however (hence the handle) and cuisine and Yiddish and the secular side of the ethics (and I think the Talmud suggests that it’s better to follow the laws and not believe in God than the other way around).

    I suppose the strongest aspect of my Jewish identity is this: if I see anti-Semitism, I feel it’s directed at me. My atheism, my non-Jewish partner, my tattoo, not of that alienates my from feeling Jewish in that way.

  5. Dymphna
    July 18, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    I’ve been out of commission for a few days, so I didn’t get a chance to thank Daisy and everyone else who responded to my post so kindly and with such a welcoming, inclusive spirit. Thank you!

    Will not continue reading.

  6. Dymphna
    July 18, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Um … I mean will now continue reading.


  7. July 20, 2009 at 9:23 am

    I try to maintain my culture by learning about out history. I also try to jump into the holidays as much as I can.

    We love our synagogue, but we wish more people did too. We both grew up at our synagogue and never want to leave, but there being only about 5 couples under the age of 30 makes it seem like the synagogue will not survive. We love the inclusion, the acceptance and the liberal nature of our temple in right-winged Orange County, CA. We have a female rabbi and a female cantor. Can’t get much better than that! (Although we’re not huge fans of the rabbi, but it has to do with the person she is.)

    Dealing with the god stuff is tough. Not having kids makes that easier. I majored in religion in college, so the whole deity issue goes even deeper for me. Trying to figure out religion in and of itself is more likely first and foremost in my brain, but I’m not 100% sure. And since we’re not having kids any time soon, I don’t really need to worry about that.

    Can’t think of any other questions. Hope this helps!

  8. July 20, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Devin, I grew up in Orange County (now live in Long Beach) and I’m so happy to hear that there’s a synagogue with a female rabbi and cantor there, even if the rabbi’s not the best.

  9. Rockit
    July 20, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Just a little sidepoint. I wouldn’t say I’m secular exactly but I am reform and I don’t conform to a lot of the strict guidelines as far as the religious part goes (keeping sabbath, observing all the fasts, etc.). I was however head of our university’s jewish society for a year and I found it was very difficult to organise events, even non-religious, purely social events, because none of the secular jews were interested.

    So I guess the point I wanted to make was the same one Devlin was alluding to above. Although I’ve never noticed any strict divide between religious and secular jews (apart from conservative jews of course), secular jews are also less likely to keep up cultural traditions than their religious counterparts, particularly if they marry out of the religion, and there’s a general uneasiness about what this means for the future of not only the religion but the culture and customs.

  10. Chana
    July 21, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Hello All,

    I was hoping that you could help me out with the below ANONYMOUS survey regarding the Jewish Secular Community…if possible, it would be great if you could pass it on to your friends as well.

    “Are you a Secular Jew between the ages of 18-29? Would you like to take a couple of moments to discover more about yourself and your stage in life?

    Below is a link to an on-line research study survey which will present you with questions regarding your assessment of your values, beliefs, and current stage of life. All answers will be confidential and your identity can be anonymous if you so chose.

    It only takes 20-30 minutes to discover more about yourself, share your story, and contribute to psychological theory. Not bad, considering it can take years to write an auto-biography….

    Copy & Paste/or Click this link to begin telling your story:

    Also, please keep in mind–that only one response per computer is allowed.

    Many thanks for the time and effort,

Comments are closed.