HJ Role Models

HJ Role Models

 

The Society for Humanistic Judaism launched the Humanistic Jewish Role Model program in 2005 to create a sense of excitement about outstanding people who demonstrate the organization’s values and philosophy. It provides SHJ affiliates an annual fresh programming opportunity. Additionally, the earlier role models can be used in succeeding years for both adult and children’s programming.

 

2014-2015 Role Model: Nora Ephron (1941-2012)

Nora Ephron was known for her caustic wit, biting sarcasm, brutal honesty, and her innovative sense of humor as a reporter, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter. Her credits include countless essays, plays, the iconic films When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail, and her autobiographical book, Heartburn, which was turned into a movie. Her family were secularists and incidental Jews. She bristled at being pegged a “Jewish director,” just as she cringed at being described as a “woman director”: “It seems like a narrow way of looking at what I do.” She was neither an observant or strongly self-identified Jew. “You can never have too much butter—that is my belief. If I have a religion, that’s it,” she quipped in an NPR interview about her 2009 movie Julie & Julia. In 1994, she received the Women in Film Crystal Award. After her death from leukemia in 2012, the Tribeca Film Festival established the Nora Ephron Prize, which awards $25,000 to a female writer or director “with a distinctive voice who embodies [her] spirit and vision.”


 

2013-2014 Role Model: Maurice Sendak (1928-2012)

Maurice Sendak, a well-known writer and illustrator of children’s books, is an attractive multi-generational choice for a role model. Sendak’s work is ostensibly for children, but it also touches on issues and feelings faced by adults. His Jewish identity forms the context of his story telling. Sendak’s most well-known children’s book is Where the Wild Things Are, for which he received the Caldicott Medal. He preserved the memory of his deceased relatives, using their pictures as the basis of his illustrations for Isaac Bashevis Singer’s book, Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories. He also collaborated with playwright, Tony Kushner, illustrating Hans Krasa’s Brundibar, a children’s opera about a brother and sister who fight a bully named Brundibar. Sendak was an atheist and stated in a September 2011 interview with Terry Gross on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air that he didn’t believe in God.


2012-2013 Role Model: Richard Feynman (1918-1988)

Feynman (pronounced “Fineman”) was an American physicist known for his theoretical work in quantum mechanics, quantum electrodynamics, and particle physics. A professor at the California Institute of Technology, he pioneered in the field of quantum computing and introduced the concept of nanotechnology. A 1965 Nobel Prize winner in Physics for work on quantum electrodynamics, he has been called one of the ten greatest physicists of all time. He authored several popular books, including Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think? Born to Ashkenazi Jewish parents, Feynman was a self-proclaimed atheist with an irreverent sense of humor. He wrote that at age 13 he “stopped believing that the Jewish people are in any way ‘the chosen people.’”

feymanrole2


2011-2012 Role Model: Ernestine Rose (1810-1892)

The nineteenth-century activist Ernestine Rose was an ardent abolitionist, a spokesperson for women’s rights long before Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton appeared on the scene, a socialist in a capitalist country, and an atheist at a time when many Americans turned to their Bibles for guidance. Ernestine Rose was one of our more intriguing Humanistic Jewish Role Models. Many of our members learned of her for the first time through this project, and they felt the excitement of discovering a Jewish woman who demonstrated the philosophy and values of Humanistic Judaism long before Humanistic Judaism existed.

Ernestinerole


2010-2011 Role Model: Jonas Salk (1914-1995)

Jonas Salk, a medical researcher and virologist, developed the first safe and effective polio vaccine. Born to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, Salk was a cultural Jew whose Jewishness was a deeply important aspect of his life. He wrote: “Curiosity was very much a part of my early life: asking questions about unreasonableness. I tended to observe, and reflect and wonder. That sense of wonder, I think, is built into us.”

SalkatPitt


2009-2010 Role Model: Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)

Baruch Spinoza, the seventeenth-century Dutch philosopher, laid the ground-work for the Enlightenment and for modern biblical criticism. Spinoza identified God with the totality of the universe and maintained that the Bible was not a revealed document but was written by human authors. He was excommunicated by Amsterdam Jewish authorities for his unorthodox beliefs.

 

 

 

 

 

spinoza


2007-2008 Role Model: Sherwin Wine (1928-2007)

Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine was the founder of Humanistic Judaism and a chief architect of the international movement known as Secular Humanistic Judaism. Wine combined the philosophy of Humanism, an attachment to Jewish culture, and congregational life to create a new, modern approach to Jewish identity. Welcoming and inclusive, Rabbi Wine championed the rights of all individuals to marry the person they loved regardless of their gender or their religious or cultural background. Wine officiated and co-officiated at weddings for couples from different religious backgrounds, invited non-Jewish individuals to become full members of his congregation and the Humanistic Jewish movement, and encouraged self-definition as the measure of membership in the Jewish people.

winerole


2006-2007 Role Model: Betty Friedan (1921-2006)

Betty Friedan was the author of The Feminine Mystique (1963), which sparked the feminist revolution. Friedan was the first president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which she founded. Earlier in life, she was active in Jewish circles; she attributed her “passion against injustice” to her “feelings of the injustice of antisemitism.”

Bettyrole


2005-2006 Role Model: Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

Sigmund Freud is known as the founder of psychoanalysis. Freud rejected religion as an illusion (“the opiate of the people”) but embraced Jewish peoplehood. Although Freud’s theories are controversial today, his formidable achievements in medicine and psychology and his wide-ranging impact on contemporary understandings of human nature are undeniable.

sigmundrole


2004-2005 Role Model: Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

Albert Einstein is often called the father of nuclear physics. Einstein believed that human power and responsibility are the foundations of morality, reality is limited to the natural universe, and supernatural intervention plays no part in its events. While rejecting a personal God, he was proud of his Jewish heritage, especially “the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, an almost fanatical love of justice, and the desire for personal independence.”

Citizen-Einsteinrole