CSJO'S Role in Leading the Movement to Greater
Recognition and Strength
By Gerry Revzin
Last May at the conference of the Society for Humanistic Judaism in Scottsdale, Arizona, I spoke on the subject "Building a Movement". Although What. I said then is just as applicable today, I want to reaffirm CSJO's role in helping to lead the movement, to greater recognition and strength. The establishment in 1986 of the International Federation has given us a unique opportunity to enrich our own knowledge and perception of Secular Humanistic Jewishness or Judaism (whichever term you prefer to use). It also gives us an opportunity to exchange ideas and to learn what secular humanistic Jews in other parts of the world conceive as their secular-Jewish goals. We have learned that North America is not the beginning or the end, nor is our way the only way to celebrate our secular Jewish heritage. We need to know what, the concerns are of Secular Humanistic Jews in Europe, Soviet Union, Israel, South America, Australia. A continuous exchange of correspondence and personal visits (where possible) will give us the benefit of expanding our world view. Concerns about, intermarriage are as real in other parts of the world (with the possible exception of Israel) as they are in North America. Developing programs which will attract that 1arge number of unaffiliated Jews is important in all part’s of the world. Our participation in the International Federation gives us an opportunity to share our secular Jewish humanist philosophy and identity with like-minded individuals and organizations outside the North American continent. CSJO's active participation in the Federation gives us a unique opportunity to extend our expertise to other groups,, No-where was this more evident than at the International Federation meeting held in Brussels in 1988, where CSJO presented our version of the "Who is a Jew" resolution.
We came to that meeting after discussing that resolution in our organization -for almost a year and then at our conference in May, 1988, where the final draft including a minority report was developed. I am happy to note that the final wording of the Federation version of the "Who is a Jew" resolution adopted in Brussels, included much of the wording of the CSJO resolution. The delegates from other countries in the world, responded most favorably to our presentation and voted to adopt the resolution.
We in CSJO are proud of that and the many other contributions we make towards strengthening the North American Section and the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews. At the founding seminar of the Institute, held in Israel in 1985, Bess Katz and I introduced the idea of an International organization to Zev Katz: as we felt that our CSJO groups wouldn't feel any affinity to the Institute if it were merely an Israeli institution (which it appeared to be at that time). I think our discussions during that entire week were instrumental in getting those present in Israel to arrive at the conclusion that an international organization could be beneficial. Arid so the International Federation came into being in October 1786 in Detroit.
The idea of expanding the Institute into the North American arena came about when Max Rosenfeld of Sholem Aleichem, Philadelphia, was preparing for his CSJO keynote speech at our conference in 1988 in Philadelphia. Max discussed his thoughts about education with Sherwin Wine to see how the Institute could help, since he believed that was the role of the Institute and he said so in his keynote. Max threw out the challenge to our conference about the need for education, and in the discussion that followed there was interest expressed. Bess Kats then took the liberty of inviting all those who were interested in moving this forward, to come to a meeting Sunday at 4 o'clock. Six people came. Further consultation took place with Sherwin Wine and with Zev Katz, the dean of the Institute, who was in the United States at that time. Bess volunteered to do whatever had to be done to get a seminar scheduled and implemented and Max, Zev, Sherwin and Bess set up the first seminar in December, 1988 in Philadelphia. The success of that first seminar led to the second one in February, 1987 in Detroit and to subsequent seminars. We are grateful to Max for throwing out the challenge and to Sherwin for responding so positively and getting the ball rolling.
The North American Section and the International Federation can only grow if the organizations that are part of this movement continue to grow. Nothing else can be meaningful if we don't expand our numbers. We in the leadership of CSJO must actively pursue a course of action in the next five years to guarantee the development of new groups and the growth and strengthening of our established affiliates. This week-end we will be discussing in great detail plans for this type of aggressive activity for CSJO. Without our own internal organizational growth, there can be no effective growth of the North American section or the International Federation. Unless we are successful in this, by natural attrition, we shall diminish in numbers.
At the same time (even though it may sound like a contradiction), I feel we must be aware of overly ambitious formats and financial obligations which we may not be able to meet, for the organizational structure of our movement at this time. We must be realistic in our plans for the future. We don't want to be counterproductive by overwhelming our membership.
The pluralistic nature of our movement gives us a unique opportunity for creativity. We come together from all walks of life with a single purpose, to spread our message of secular humanistic Jewish life to those unaffiliated Jews who cannot accept the philosophy of the established Jewish community, but who don’t know what we offer. Herein lies our" greatest: challenge: the creation and development of new groups, achools, clubs in all parts of the United States and Canada and the world, where children and adults can explore the meaning and joys of their Jewish peoplehood , their ethnic identity; where Jewish interests and human concerns do not conflict;; where thoughtful, even critical approaches to Jewish issues are welcomed; where holidays and traditions are observed with understanding, with creativity - out of choice, not obligation.
In all of this, CSJO must play an ever increasing role on the international scene through our active participation in all phases of Federation activity. Our movement needs the widest possible input of ideas, from all of our constituent groups. This can only strengthen CSJO and our movement.
In all of our communities, we must become an active part of Jewish life, participating as equals with all other Jewish organizations in concern which affect all of us as Jews, and as human beings in this chaotic world. We can no longer tolerate "second class" citizenship in the Jewish community. We secular Jews are an important and integral part of Jewish continuity and survival and our voices shall and must be heard, through publicity in our communities and active participation with like minded groups on all issues which affect the Jewish people and mankind.
Technology has brought the world community closer together. The International Federation has given us an organized mechanism to get to k n o w our neighbors throughout the world. Through this movement, we share a fellowship with each other based on respect for our similarities and our differences. CSJO is proud of the role we have played and are playing in nurturing this new "kid on the block". We are proud of the CSJO students who are actively participating in the seminar•s conducted by the Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism who will be certified leaders and teachers upon completion of the requirements. Communities which may need help in starting a school or an adult group can then call upon a certified leader or teacher to share their expertise in that way. Help for adult programming or curricula for schools is a concrete way that these leaders and teachers can put the knowledge they have acquired from the Institute seminars to good and profitable use.
The importance of training leaders and teachers can not be emphasized too strongly. This is our future if we are serious about, our growth and development. We urge all of our affiliates to seek out likely candidates who can become students in the Institute seminars. Students must be given financial aid by constituent groups so that they can attend Institute seminars wherever they are held. This is an urgent priority. We have much to offer - each in our own right. CSJO, with its commitment to secular Jewish life, to its growth, to its vitality, to its creativity, and to the international movement, can move us forward towards those ideals of Secular Humanistic Jewishness or Judaism that are the very essence of the Jewish people.