Ubuntu and Humanistic Judaism

This upcoming weekend, I’m thrilled to be officiating a Bar Mitzvah of one of our Oraynu students. This Bar Mitzvah and his brother (who also graduated from Oraynu) are both bright, creative, humourous young men. Their parents really exemplify Humanistic Jewish ideals: they are caring, they are committed to community and to bettering the world, they believe in equality, they are loving and giving parents, and they are kind, decent, warm people.

All Bat and Bar Mitzvah are special. This one is particularly wonderful for me because this student chose to focus his research on the Stephen Lewis Foundation and, in particular, the Grannies Against Poverty and AIDS (GAPA) program in South Africa. These grannies take care of their grandchildren, most of whom lost their parents to AIDS. Stephen Lewis is the Humanistic Jewish hero, but the grannies, as the Bar Mitzvah boy says, are the true heroes for all they do.

This family traveled to South Africa to meet some of the GAPA families. There, they learned of the concept “Ubuntu,” which means “a person is a person through other people,” also sometimes quoted as “I am because you are.” I came across this concept frequently when doing my PhD research on South African literature. What I did not consider at the time is how nicely the concept works with Jewish wisdom.

Hillel, the Jewish sage, is frequently quoted as having said: “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only or myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” In the Bar Mitzvah, we are discussing how this Jewish idea pairs beautifully with South African “Ubuntu.”

What we call “Jewish values” are not uniquely Jewish, but they are rooted in Jewish wisdom. What we can “Humanist values” are values that take seriously the worth of each human being and their right to thrive. It’s sometimes a nice reminder that cultures different from our own share some of our same beliefs. It’s a nice reminder that we are all in this together. I love that Humanistic Judaism allows us to take from Jewish and global cultures and find the values, ethics, and teachings that lend meaning and inspiration to our contemporary realities.

If, like me, you find this to be a significantly more meaningful way of approaching Bar/Bat Mitzvah than, say, you had when you grew up, you’re not alone. The facebook group Humanistic Jewish Discussion had a post about this recently. Check it out here if you’re interested: https://www.facebook.com/groups/humanisticjudaism/permalink/531456263915682/

While you’re at it, join that group to get updates. And “like” Oraynu’s page too: www.facebook.com/Oraynu

Until next week,

Denise