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January 15, 1988 - Image 26

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-01-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Without God

Continued from preceding page

singing of the Children's In-
ternationale. One early
Sholem Aleichem Institute
alumnus remarked that as a
child he knew of only one
Jewish holiday, the first of
May.
During those years, the
Yiddishist institutions were
ostracized from the Jewish
mainstream and were refused
Jewish communal funding. At
meetings of the Jewish
Welfare Federation, Yiddish
schools were disparagingly
referred to as the "godless
schools."
strict
Ultimately,
secularism proved to be too
abstract and unsatisfying for
many. Beginning in the late
1930s, Sholem Aleichem In-
stitute began to reintroduce
the celebration of Jewish
festivals and rites of passage
from a secular perspective.
"Many of the religious
aspects were re-invented,"
recalls Irving Panush, once a
principal of the Sholem
Aleichem school. "We poured
new wine into it.
"Within the last 20 years,
Sholem Aleichem has evolved
a machzor (High Holiday
prayer book) for Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur,
incorporating traditional
elements," such as the blow-
ing of the shofar, he says, ad-
ding with some sadness, "If
time had allowed the Yiddish
schools to survive, we might
have included study of the
siddur (prayer book) from a
secular point of view."
But time was against Yid-
dish and. the ideology of the
Yiddishists. English became
the mother tongue of
American Jews and Yiddish
became a quaint, and often
embarrassing, relic of the old
country. Language-based
schools became outmoded.
The Yiddishist movement
might have continued to
flourish if it had adapted to
changing times, argues
Harold Gales, a long-time
secularist. "The fault of the
decline of Yiddish and Yid-
dish literature was the in-
sistence that it be taught in
Yiddish."
What will be the future of
that once-vibrant Yiddish
culture? Many, like
Workmen's Circle's Edwin
Shifrin, believe that Yiddish
is making a "terrific com-
eback." Most of that
resurgence, however, is occur-
ring on college campuses in
Yiddish studies programs and
not on the Jewish street.
Sholem Aleichem's Betty
Schein notes with optimism
that the treasury of Yiddish
literature is now found in
English translation and can
be read by those who know no
Yiddish. But can a literature

live if there is no one to write
it or if it deals solely with the
past? The most prominent
writer of new Yiddish
literature is octogenarian
Isaac Bashevis Singer, whose
subject matter primarily con-
cerns the world that was
obliterated by the Holocaust.

I

s there a direction other
than Yiddish to which
secular Jews can turn for
a helping of authentic Jewish
culture?
"[The Yiddishists'] culture
centered around Yiddish. But
a new form of Jewish culture
has emerged, created by
Zionism," explains Rabbi
Sherwin Wine. "So there is
this exciting new culture
built around Hebrew. There is
all this music. There is all
this poetry. There is all this to
study and to participate in:'
Rabbi Wine is the founder

"There are some
people who don't
want to see God
mentioned. They
see God as a
crutch, a fantasy
figure."

of the Birmingham Temple, a
"Secular-Humanistic" Jewish
institution whose philosophy
and structure, he believes,
may avoid the dead ends fac-
ed by other secularists.
"We share with Jewish
secularists an orientation
towards Jewish identity and
Jewish life:' Where they dif-
fer, he continues, is in the
"strategy of organization."
"Historic secularism was so
anti-religious that they refus-
ed to accept any of the struc-
tures that traditional religion
provided. I think there's an
increasing recognition in the
more traditional secular
circles — if I can use such a
phrase — that this communi-
ty structure is needed and
that there's a need for train-
ed leadership."
Hence the secular temple's
congregational format, led by
an ordained rabbi. Rabbi
Wine received his smichah
from the Reform Hebrew
Union College; he founded
the Birmingham Temple in
1963.
Located in Farmington
Hills, the Birmingham Tem-
ple resembles a typical
synagogue. The main indica-
tion that the congregation is
pursuing a different path can
be found on the bimah. A
sculpture hangs on the wall
where the Sefer Torah would
be kept in a traditional
synagogue. It announces the

Continued on Page 28

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