The Importance of Supporting CSJO


By Dorothy Werblow, Treasurer, Jewish Secular Community of Cleveland, Ohio, and CSJO Supporter Every year the time arrives when each community has to pay their dues to CSJO. Our group, as most, I think, has low membership dues and there is always a discussion about the expense and remarks that we shouldn't rejoin because "CSJO doesn't do anything for us." These remarks only come from a few people. From their narrow viewpoint, I certainly understand, but disagree.

It seems to me that very few of our members, in Cleveland, Ohio, have much knowledge of, or interest in, the international secular Jewish movement. They don't attend the marvelous colloquiums in Michigan or the annual Memorial Day weekends. I have noticed that books are not often borrowed from our library. As this is probably not uncommon in the CSJO family, folks join because they can express their Jewishness in a "Hamish" environment; our monthly Shabbat programs are very short; the food is always good and the folks are great, fun people to spend time with.

CSJO is our connection to the Jewish community, at large, everywhere, not only in our particular city. It is imperative that each community support CSJO because not being part of the national group implies that this is not a movement; we are not an important and growing branch of Judaism; and there might be conflicts of some kind (personality). It has been a long road to achieve the recognition and support of the Jewish Federation in Cleveland. We now have it. I think it is petty and short-sighted to not be part of the national group.

CSJO has grown tremendously in their almost 50 years. At one time I wondered about what they were accomplishing. It seemed like a club of people who had been friends for years and years. A new constitution and bylaws have recently been born, the leadership has changed, technology is improving service to the constituents, and the costs of providing all this has been kept very, very low.

One year, at the colloquium, historian Dr. Norman Cantor was a presenter and was exposed to the humanist and secular Jewish movement for the first time. He was super impressed and told a few of us at the hotel that what CSJO needs is a billionaire benefactor so that we could get the word out. The "Jewish world" needs us. Bill and Melinda Gates and Steven Spielberg were already "taken." Slow and steady progress worked in the past and it will continue to do so.

Dorothy Werblow Jewish Secular Community in Cleveland Volunteer and Member since 1984

A Guide to "Jewish" Produce


By Samara Cogan I have discovered some important and profound things about my secular Jewish identity in the most unlikely place: the produce department. It helps that I spend a lot of my time there; I work in a grocery store cutting fruit. Part of what makes working there so special is being able to help shoppers during Jewish holidays. I live and work in a highly Jewish populated area, and our produce department tends to be busier than most around Rosh Hashanah and Passover. Most people come in knowing exactly what they are looking for. Potatoes, apples, carrots, and celery (already popular items) fly off of our tables faster than we can refill them.

However, occasionally there is a shopper who comes in with only a vague idea of what they need for the honey-dipping New Year tradition or the Seder plate. Perhaps they have Jewish friends and they want to bring a side dish to their meal. Maybe they just married into the “tribe” and they want to impress their in-laws. Whatever the case may be, they need help. And as fate would have it (as the only Jewish person working in my department), they need my help.

Last year, a woman walked into the produce department, list in hand, and asked my coworker for “chazeret.” He said he didn’t think we carried it, but he would go look in the back. My coworker immediately came to find me and said, “I’m not trying to be offensive, but you’re Jewish, right? Somebody just asked me for something I can’t even pronounce.” Together, we eventually sussed out what she needed (bitter herbs), gave her some options (horseradish, romaine, celery, parsley), and sent her on her way. It was then that I realized that I held a unique position in my department: the go-to Jew. Part of my job, in my mind at least, was to become as knowledgeable as I could about the produce items that feature heavily in Jewish traditions, especially around the holidays. Not only was I helping our customers, but I was helping to demystify the Jewish holidays for my non-Jewish coworkers. I don’t claim to know everything, particularly about Sephardic Jewish cuisine, but I am learning.


My Dad’s Memorial


By Samara Cogan My dad Stuart Cogan died unexpectedly in August 2014. He was raised Jewish, but he didn’t seem to feel any particular connection to Judaism. I have a distinct memory of him attending a conservative Bar Mitzvah with my family, and in the middle of the service, he was asked by a member of the congregation to put on a yarmulke. My dad’s response to this was to throw the yarmulke on the ground and storm out of the synagogue, never to return. With this memory in mind, I initially struggled to find a way to honor my dad in his memorial service. I wanted to acknowledge his Jewish heritage, but I felt that religious traditions wouldn’t be fitting for our family or honoring his memory. I also didn’t have any examples of secular Jewish memorial services; I had never attended one.

Luckily, I discovered that I had the tools I needed to create a service: the support of my Folkshul community, and Sherwin Wine’s book Celebration: A Ceremonial and Philosophic Guide for Humanists and Humanistic Jews. The end result was a service that was specifically suited to my dad’s memory and my family’s need to have a ceremony that celebrated his life. The program included excerpts from Sherwin Wine’s book, quotes from Harry Potter (a favorite series of his), a stone dedication (using stones that my dad collected himself), Billy Joel lyrics, the secular kaddish, and one blessing in Hebrew for my more conservatively Jewish family members. We did not include any songs or any other prayers because that was not a part of our tradition.

As difficult as it was for me to attend my dad’s memorial service, it helped me to have a meaningful way to grieve. Because my family was the architect of the ceremony, we weren’t just going through the motions. We created a program that was accessible to everyone in attendance, yet still maintained a distinctly Jewish quality. I think my dad would have been proud of us.