A Sad Repeat of History

By Joan Kurtz

Winter is my most favorite time of year. I love the crunch of frost under my boots and the quiet of the woods when it starts to snow. December is the beginning of winter and, of course, the holiday season. Sadly, this is not a happy time for me.

This Hanukah will be the first time in the past 30-plus years when I will not put my electric menorah onto my window sill. In my town here in western Massachusetts, we have recently seen racist graffiti on boulders on our local mountaintop. There have also been reports of swastikas and racist slurs found on school buildings.

So … do I really want to show people in this town that I am Jewish? Should I just light my candles behind shuttered windows or should I proclaim it to the community with a menorah on display in the window?

My husband and I have decided to err on the side of caution for at least this year. We are hoping that this will all change over the next few months and we can return to what was our normal way of living.

But with reports throughout the U.S. of an increase in racist, religious and xenophobic displays of hate and intolerance, one can only hope ...


A CSJO Road Trip

By Jordi Shuster, Sarah Waslow-Washington, Adam Beardsley, and Madi Burns

The minivan pulled up… and the journey began.

The 2016 CSJO board meeting took place in Michigan, so the Pennsylvania youth contingency decide to take a little road trip. We laughed, we cried, we napped, we snacked, we listened to throwback jams. Three of us – Adam Beardsley, Jordi Shuster, and Sarah Waslow-Washington (our fearless driver) – left just after 6am on Friday morning, and we picked up Madi Burns once we reached Pittsburgh.

We spent the drive doing two things: planning for the upcoming board meeting and reconnecting with old friends. The former involved creating a game plan for what we wanted to achieve at this year’s board meeting, discussing what we as the youth might bring to the discussion. As for the latter…

We decided that Rifke Feinstein will officiate all of our weddings, except Adam, who decided he wants Rob Kurtz to officiate (with Rob’s cat Sammy wearing a tux as the ring bearer, of course). We talked about our shared backgrounds, each having been raised in interfaith homes with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers. Although we each have unique stories, many of our similarities are what allow us to feel so connected and welcome with each other and with CSJO as a whole.

One productive board meeting, one dinner featuring flaming cheese, one outing to see Trolls, and one encouraging event with the board of the Society of Humanistic Jews (SHJ) later, we got back in the car to debrief about the weekend and the positive changes we hope to implement internationally while we drove home. We interviewed each other about what development we’re most optimistic about:

Sarah is excited to start sending our young adult board members and other invested youth to visit the youth of CSJO’s various affiliates, in order to make excitement and spread excitement about the conferences and CSJO as an organization.

Adam, as our new content manager, is looking forward to the development of our revitalized social media presence, from the CSJO website and Facebook page to an Instagram account that can be used to promote CSJO and secular Jewishness in a creative way that we’ve never successfully explored before.

Jordi is incredibly eager to begin the restoration of the CSJO Social Action Committee, which will use CSJO’s presence as a platform to call for social change, including stressing the importance of certain issues and their relation to the Jewish experience, as well as organizing service projects for and with affiliates so that we can give back as an organization.

Madi is excited to begin regularly incorporating a community service component into CSJO conferences, beginning in 2018, in order to tie the strong belief that secular Jews have of tikkun olam (repairing the world) into our annual meeting.

And most of all, we’re all excited for the 2017 CSJO conference in Chicago from June 9 to June 11 – we hope to see you all there!

Update from CSJO (November 2016)

By Terry Waslow, Executive Director, CSJO

Hello everyone,

It has been quite a busy time since I sent my last email. The schools have been bustling with activities and are soon to be gearing up for Chanukah. Please send your news and holiday photographs to congress@csjo.org.

Speaking of Chanukah, we happen to have a great card that you can send to family and friends. We are selling them for $4.00 U.S. for a pack of six cards and that includes postage! Please contact me directly at congress@csjo.org with your order and I will be happy to send them to you. The picture below is the front of the card with the inside text.

As I mentioned previously, CSJO is now a member organization of the Secular Coalition for America. On October 27, it announced our membership in a press release that you can access by clicking here. Please spend some time on the site and go back to it periodically. Let me know which issues it presents that are most important to you.

I had the wonderful opportunity to join the International Institute of Secular Humanistic Judaism for its "Jewish, Secular and Humanistic American: Learning Tour of Philadelphia." There were 35 participants from a wide variety of cities; Chicago, Raliegh, Kansas City, to name a few, and there were a few locals as well, of course. We began each day with an informative introduction given by Rabbi Adam Chalom and then were off to begin our explorations. The first day we toured three historic synogugues and finished off with a wonderful Shabbat program and meal. We continued the weekend with a walking tour, a museum visit and historic sites in Philadelphia. There was lively discussion, time to meet new people and expand our knowledge. What a delightful weekend. There was an article printed prior to the weekend in the Jewish Exponent, a Philadelphia weekly paper. It will give you a bit more information. If you would like to read it, click here. There are plans to tour another location in two years. I highly recommend you consider participating. I know I will.

Another exciting happening is our work with the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism to jointly publish an eBook. CSJO chose "Pushcarts and Dreamers." This is a compilation of Yiddish short stories selected and translated by Max Rosenfeld. The 10 authors featured in this book give us a first hand view of immigrant life. It should be available on Amazon in a few weeks. Some of you might prefer a hard copy. If that is the case, please contact me at congress@csjo.org as we have copies available.

I must sign off now to prepare for our Board Meeting. I am looking forward to seeing the wonderful volunteers on our Board and collaborating with them to continue our journey together.

Until next month, zayt gezunt (be well)!

Terry Waslow
Executive Director, CSJO