FROM ALEF TO ZAYIN: A Secular Jewish Education
Boston Workmen’s Circle (WC) is a center for Jewish culture and social justice in Brookline, MA. A community and spiritual home for secular Jewish life, the WC welcomes participants of all “Jewish background, whatever the faith, ethnic, or gender diversity of your family” (website). Many WC families are interfaith, multicultural, and LGBT. The organization promotes progressive Jewish values and Yiddish culture, largely through their cultural Sunday School program offered for K-7th grades. The 7th grade year focuses on Spiritual Identity and culminates in a secular Bar Mitzvah ritual wherein the students present personal statements on their Jewish Identity.
My Hebrew School students are learning about religion in a secular, and self-identified radical, liberal, feminist, pro-union, leftist, socialist, atheist Jewish community setting. The flavor of Judaism found at WC is hardly traditional, but is still strongly Jewish in ethnic and cultural terms. Nevertheless, the young members of the Bar Mitzvah class are each asked to articulate something new and different in tension with a norm.
What does that mean to the kids? What exactly ARE their Jewish identities? How do the kids negotiate their family’s departure from the dominant norms of progressive/Reform Judaism? I follow them as they articulate their young adult commitment to their families’ minority religion, and their personal interpretation of what that means and what they can offer to the community.
This is a short film piece about the class that I filmed during the final month of the final school year as the kids were getting closer to their Bar Mitzvah. It is a non-commercial educational tool made to address the issue of identity development for kids in non-traditional religious contexts. The film also follows the process of developing contemporary rituals and the creative process of the kids.