Andrew Silow-Carroll, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting, should know better than to write off Jewish secularism. Within a few miles of his editorial office there are two secular Jewish organizations, the Jewish Cultural School and Society, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism of Morris County, which recently celebrated its 10th. The former is affiliated with the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations (CSJO)and the latter with the Society for Humanistic Judaism (SHJ). A kindred organization, the Center for Cultural Judaism, endows universities to teach courses in secular Jewish studies and publishes a journal.
I dare him to tell the thriving Boston Workmen’s Circle school and community or the its Peretz School and Community here in central New Jersey that it is nearly midnight. We may be small, but we are alive and kicking. He should come to a local Rosh Hashanah observance, a model seder, a Warsaw Ghetto Uprising commemoration or a graduation ceremony and find out for himself.
Mr. Silow-Carroll mentions the 63 three year old Jewish Currents (further evidence that we are still on the scene) and its current issue, but not the article that describes the life and work of Rabbi Sherwin Wine, tragically killed in a car accident 2 years ago, who did a great deal to develop the post-immigrant secular Jewish culture that Mr. Silow-Carroll finds lacking. Furthermore, secular Yiddish culture is not dead either as evident from the National Yiddish Book Center, the klezmer revival, YIVO and the growing number of universities that teach Yiddish.
There are plenty of young gifted Jews proud of their secular identity. They are writing for Jewish Currents, attending conferences, going to summer camps, graduating from Sunday schools and singing in Yiddish choruses. You just have to know where to look.
I am glad to note the vitality Mr. Muraskin describes. But the latest issue of Jewish Currents, and its introduction, hardly paint a rosy picture of “progressive, secular” Judaism [its motto]. As Larry Bush notes in the intro,
“Why is the Workmen’s Circle … now struggling to survive? Why is the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations … marking time instead of growing? Why does the movement for Humanist Judaism have fewer than 30 member organizations and havurot in North America after 40 years of organizing? Why does Jewish Currents arrive in only 2,000 mailboxes?”
I worked for the Forward for three years, in the old Workmen’s Circle building. I met a lot of dedicated, creative, and every now and then young people there, but demographic trends, membership and fundraising were not on their side, and they knew it.
Secular Jewish culture is not dead, thank goodness, but that doesn’t mean it is thriving.