Secular Jews organizing in Pittsburgh
Pittsburghers who are not interested in affiliating with formal, traditional Jewish institutions, but who still crave a connection to Jewish culture, may find just what they are looking for with the Pittsburgh Secular Jewish Community, a group that formed a year ago, and that meets once a month.
The next meeting of the Pittsburgh Secular Jewish Community will be held Sunday, July 14, from 1 to 3 p.m., at Panera Bread on the Boulevard of the Allies. The meeting will be a discussion of the book “The Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde” by Rebecca Dana. The meeting is open.
The group, which usually attracts about 10 attendees, was launched after Miriam Jerris, a rabbi with the Society for Humanistic Judaism, came to Pittsburgh last year to speak.
Humanistic Judaism embraces a human-centered philosophy that combines the celebration of Jewish culture and identity with an adherence to humanistic values and ideas. It offers a “nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life,” according to the movement’s website.
While the Pittsburgh group is not formally affiliated with the Humanistic Judaism movement, some of its individual members are, according to Deb Polk, a member of the group.
Since forming, the Pittsburgh group has had a Chanuka party with a latke bake-off, a Passover seder, and regular meetings in which the members “sit around and get to know each other and talk,” Polk said. “We talk about who we are, and how we got to be interested in the group.”
While some members of the group are affiliated with synagogues in the area, others use the Pittsburgh Secular Jewish Community as their sole connection to their Jewishness.
“For a lot of people, this is it,” Polk said. “They would not be engaged otherwise.”
Susan Forrest, who runs the Pittsburgh Secular Jewish Community along with her husband, Josh, said she is hoping to grow the group.
“We have about 15 or 16 names,” she said. “It’s mostly social. We get together to celebrate holidays, and to feel a connection to like-minded people. Rituals are important, but in a nontheistic way.”
The group includes non-Jewish members, Forrest said.
“Secular Judaism is open to anybody that feels a connection to the Jewish people,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be blood ties, and we are accepting of anyone of any background.”
For more information, go to pghsecularjews.org, or check out its group on Facebook.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)