Frequently Asked Questions
What sort of group is Kol Shalom?
Kol Shalom was founded in 1993 as an affiliate of the national Society for Humanistic Judaism. We have about 70 households in our membership, ranging from 30-something to 80-something, married, partnered and single, from all over the Portland metropolitan area. Our members are folks who are not afraid to question tradition, work out their own beliefs, and want to create something that's authentic for them. We're volunteer-run except for our administrator, the children's teachers and the Ritual Director, so every member needs to pitch in and help where he/she can. And we also like to have fun!
What sort of programs does Kol Shalom offer?
We have a Children's Education program for pre-kindergarten through Bar/Bat Mitzvah and are working toward starting up a teen group. The Mitzvah preparation requires two years of advanced study of Jewish history, some Hebrew and a little Yiddish, at least 36 hours of community service, and individual research on a Jewish "hero" or a Jewish topic, culminating in a ceremony in which the B'nai Mitzvah lead the ceremony and give a talk describing their service and their research, and what becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah means to them. Classes for younger children deal with Jewish customs and holidays, through stories, music, drama and art.
Our Sunday Forums include a variety of subjects such as Judaic studies, current events and arts and humanities. They are held at the same time as the children's classes-- one Sunday morning a month during the school year.
We observe the major Jewish holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot (lulav, etrog, songs and food in a sukkah), Hanukkah (a party with candle lighting, singing and latkes), Purim (with a cool Megillah reading, costumes optional), and Passover, with a wonderful community Seder.
We try to celebrate Shabbat once a month on Erev Shabbat, in months without a Jewish holiday (except when the holiday is celebrated in a Shabbat ceremony). This frequency is what we can manage, since we're a volunteer-operated congregation.
We have Havdalah potlucks several times a year, held in several members' houses all on the same evening, which results in small groups where it's easy to get acquainted and visit.
We have several interest groups, such as a book discussion group, a Yiddish study group, an adult education class , and a musical group that performs and leads us in singing at our events. There are also social occasions such as member-run dinners or desserts, picnics, and group outings. We have life-cycle ceremonies; "Mishpocha" Committee is our link to those who are in need of help or extra attention: illness, death, new baby or simcha.
Is Kol Shalom active in the Portland community?
Very much so. Our social action initiatives demonstrate our commitment to community responsibility. We promote social justice and engage in public affairs, advancing our ideals of equity and tolerance. For example, our Social Action Committee works through the Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good (MACG), Oregon Food Bank, and for mental healthcare parity. We believe in intellectual freedom in the pursuit of tolerance, truth and knowledge, for our children and ourselves. There are no questions that may not be asked, no answers that are forbidden.
What are the dues for Kol Shalom?
Please click here for membership information.
What do membership dues pay for?
Dues go to help support children's education, public relations, and overall operations including our day-to-day expenses, celebrations, etc. Our fiscal year is July through June, to synchronize with the school calendar.
What sort of involvement do members have with Kol Shalom?
Most of what we do is on a volunteer basis. We strongly encourage members to help out on on-going or short-term committees or task forces. Participation is what enables our congregation to function and to offer a variety of activities, and participation is also what makes a member feel that he/she is truly a part of our community!
What is Humanistic Judaism?
Humanistic Judaism is distinguished from the other branches of Judaism, in that it's human-centered. Humanistic Judaism is one of the newer branches or denominations of Judaism. It was founded in the 1960's by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, who was ordained and had served as a Reform rabbi, and organized the first HJ congregation in suburban Detroit. In 1969 he and others founded the national Society for Humanistic Judaism, to help establish affiliates in other cities and to serve as a central resource for humanistic Jews. There are currently 33 affiliates in North America.
If Kol Shalom is a human-centered group, are KS members all atheists?
Not at all. Some Humanistic Jews are atheists, some are agnostics, and some are deists who believe that there is a power which created the universe and is expressed in natural laws. Many Humanistic Jews may feel an awe and reverence for the wonders of nature or the human spirit -- a form of spirituality -- but don't envision the kind of God that one might address in prayer.
Of course, anyone may become a member. If someone joins us who believes in a personal God, we respect that belief, and anyone's personal beliefs, so long as they aren't damaging to others [beliefs such as in racial inferiority, etc.] and so long as the person doesn't expect us to change to conform to his/her beliefs. We don't require adherence to any creed or dogma and wouldn't question any member's right to participate in our community.
How do you have services without God?
Our ceremonies deal with ideals for human behavior, aspirations to be better, more responsible and more courageous people, to do our part to improve society and the world, and honoring Jewish history, culture and peoplehood. We find this kind of liturgy inspirational, as well as relevant to our lives today, especially when expressed poetically in a ceremony with music.
Are all of the members of Kol Shalom Jewish?
We have a number of members who are non-Jewish humanists, spouses or partners of Jews, and we take care to respect their cultures as well. While we accept anyone as a Jew who sincerely identifies as a Jew, we do offer an "adoption" ceremony for anyone who wants a formal recognition of being Jewish. (Our form of conversion would not be recognized by other branches of Judaism, just as Orthodoxy doesn't recognize a Conservative conversion and Conservatism doesn't recognize a Reform conversion.)
What sorts of things do you have in your services?
Our ceremonies have a definite Jewish flavor and a humanistic flavor as well. We light candles with a humanistic blessing, in Hebrew and repeated in English, which says, "Wonderful is the light of the world, wonderful is the light of humankind, wonderful is the light of Shabbat (or Yom Kippur, Pesach, etc.)" We have a Sh'ma in Hebrew and English which says "Hear, O Israel, our people are one, all humanity is one." (This might be close to the original intent of this statement of faith, when Judea and Israel were competing countries with competing Gods--Elohim and Yahweh, called Adonai, or "the Lord"--and the attempt to untie the two was expressed in the saying, "Adonai is our Elohim, Adonai is one [the same].") We have a kaddish which praises life and honors our deceased relatives and friends. We sing Jewish songs--in Hebrew, English or Yiddish--which have familiar tunes and non-theistic words--some were secular to begin with, such as "Hine Ma Tov" and "Shalom Khaverim" and some have changes in the wording.
How can you call it Judaism if it doesn't include God?
God is a part of Judaism, but not all of it. All throughout history, there have been different beliefs in Judaism, and Judaism may have survived because of an ability to adapt to changing circumstances in a changing world. As a result, many denominations of Judaism now exist. Tradition isn't the only option any more. Humanistic Judaism isn't for everyone, but can reach many Jews who don't accept the traditional approaches. Thus, it's one more way to include Jews who are humanists, and intermarried Jews, who would not be involved with the Jewish community without this alternative. We offer one more way to be Jewish and to celebrate Judaism, for those who want to do this without expressing ideas about a supernatural being or power.
What do you mean by "Jewish culture"?
The usual elements of culture are language, music, literature, food, traditions, values, and a shared history. All of these are present in Jewish culture. Most of us also partake of other cultures as well, but we recognize certain things as belonging to our Jewish culture, that we have in common.
Is Humanistic Judaism recognized and accepted by the Jewish community?
Kol Shalom in Portland is acknowledged and accepted as the Human Centered Branch of Judaism. The Society is a member of the United Jewish Communities, the U.S. umbrella organization for Jewish denominations and federations. We belong to our local Jewish Federation and are represented on the Community Relations Council. The International Institute for Secular and Humanistic Judaism is training and ordaining rabbis (as well as educators and community lay leaders).
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How can I learn more about Kol Shalom?
Contact the Kol Shalom Center at 503-459-4210. You are welcome to join our events, and we would be happy to connect you with a member to talk to.