Jan 3, 2010
By SUE FISHKOFF
When Mark Neuman celebrated his bar mitzvah seven years ago at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture in Vancouver, B.C., he didn't read from Torah, wear a yarmulke or pronounce Hebrew blessings. He gave a talk on the psychology of Jewish humor.
Secular families demonstrate...
Secular families demonstrate in support of J'lem Mayor Nir Barkat over the opening of a parking lot on Shabbat.
Photo: Eyal Ackerman
His brother Ben's bar mitzvah "portion" was a report on their grandfather's escape from Nazi-occupied Poland.
That's typical in the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations, a loose-knit group of some two dozen North American communities that emphasize Jewish history and culture while eschewing Jewish ritual, faith and anything that smacks of a deity.
In contrast to the better known Society for Humanistic Judaism, founded in 1963 by the late Rabbi Sherwin Wine, Secular Jewish communities are lay led and emphasize Yiddish rather than Hebrew. But the philosophy and beliefs of both groups are quite similar.
"I feel Jewish," says Mark, now 20 and a teacher at the Peretz school. "To me that means upholding the culture. It's about the history, the Holocaust, the holidays, the language - all these are very important to me. But I don't believe in the religious aspects."
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