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Ritual without gods

I’m an atheist, and I always have been. I’m a third-generation atheist, moreover; my parents are atheists, and so were/are most of grandparents. But unlike my parents or my grandparents, I was raised without any Jewish observance in my life at all, mostly due, in my opinion to various family schisms and my parents not having good associations with those celebrations (cf family schisms). But I’m also a folklorist, for a certain value of folklorist, at least, and tradition, ritual, ceremony, all seem to me to be important elements of being human. Not the most important elements, no doubt, but important to me nonetheless.

I’m thinking about this because I just went to the Bat Mitzvah of the little girl I babysat/nannied for when I was in graduate school, lo those many years ago (she was two months old when I started). I found the ceremony moving, as I usually do at ceremonies of people close to my heart, and that made me think about what I wanted for myself and my son.

When I was pregnant I was looking into Bris Shalom, the secular humanist Jewish alternative to Bris Milah, and I found the City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, essentially a secular humanist shul in New York City. I am particularly intrigued by their Bar/Bas Mitzvah program, in which the kids focus on learning about Jewish history, heritage, and literature and presenting their studies to the congregation, as well as taking up some kind of activism. I like that idea; I like the idea of preserving Jewish identity without requiring a belief in the Jewish God. And I was certainly raised to consider social activism part of my Jewish heritage.

I consulted with their rabbi, and developed a naming ceremony for my son presided over my uncle, an anthropologist who feels similarly about the importance of tradition and ceremony. I have made small, private rituals for myself to mark important anniversaries, but this was the first time I included family and some friends (mostly family). Everybody was very supportive and it meant a lot to me, and my uncle gave a great talk about my son’s name and its history and famous namesakes. I spoke a little about his middle name and having named him after my grandfather.

I know I’m not the only unbeliever here (I’m pretty sure), and I’m wondering what others do vis-a-vis ritual and ceremony. Are you just as happy to be free from it? Do you observe any even without believing in them? Have you adapted any to be more meaningful to you? And you know, I’m interested in what those who do believe in various gods and religions think and feel, too.

Superbowl Open Thread

I only kinda halfway watched it because being out watching the Superbowl is a Thing You Must Do, but I did pay attention to the halftime show. Beyonce! Wow. Beyonce. You are a superstar for a reason and I love you and want to be you and I am so glad you never wear pants because there is absolutely no reason for you to ever wear pants. 2013 is really her year, huh? Inauguration and the Superbowl? Not bad. I did not watch the commercials, although I saw that Audi one this morning and I agree with Amanda that it is gross. No, kissing someone isn’t rape, but walking up to a virtual stranger and planting a kiss on her because she’s hot and you’re “brave” isn’t really treating her like a person who should have some say in who she wants to kiss. It’s treating her like she’s an accoutrement to your sweet life, like that car. But as Amanda points out, it is forever fascinating that there exist “gross dudes who will die on the hill of claiming that creeping on women and forcing yourself on them is a legitimate form of flirting.” What did you all think? About the game or the commercials or Queen B or the lights going out because Beyonce is just too bright or whatever?

Bid for Good

WAM, an organization very near and dear to my heart, is auctioning off some awesome items and services just in time for the holidays. Feministe friend Captain Awkward will give you advice! Ann Friedman will tell your story in GIFs! Baratunde Thurston will bring you as his date to Whiskey Friday! Rebecca Traister will edit your manuscript! An autographed Tegan and Sara vinyl pack! Dinner with Jessica Valenti! A strategy session with Sandra Fluke! Tickets to the Colbert Report, Wanda Sykes and more! SO MANY THINGS. GO BID NOW.

TONIGHT: Operation Surfin Bird Fundraiser

TONIGHT, Sunday Nov. 18th, is the Operation Surfin Bird fundraiser to help bring Thanksgiving to the Rockaways after Sandy. It’s from 7-11pm at the Dalloway, $20 suggested donation at the door. DJ sets from Tanlines and Victor Vazquez of Das Racist.

Operation Surfin Bird also needs help to prep, cook, deliver food and clean up on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Email if you can lend a hand. And if you’re not in the NY area and want to donate, you can go here.

Celebrating Womanfest

These days of course there are so many added venues for women to get together -– drinks after work, lunch, maybe a film, etc. My experience with such opportunities often, however, did not seem to me so different from my mother’s day. Often isolated, often individualized, often professionally segregated or age separated.

Considering this a few years ago, I decided a new, big gathering of women was just the ticket.

Can you help a cat-lady out?

This is Peg-Leg Pete (“Petey” for short). Petey, as I mentioned in an earlier post, is a little guy I adopted back in July. He is just the best and I love him. Pete came through the organization Brooklyn Animal Action, a group run by a small and extremely dedicated group of women in New York City. Much of the organization’s funding comes from its volunteers. Without them, Petey — whose foot was crushed as a kitten and who has undergone multiple surgeries and weeks of daily vet visits — wouldn’t be alive, let alone sitting on my couch right now. So they are an organization very dear to my heart. They’re also hosting a big fundraiser on Sept. 10th from 6-10pm at Stone Park Cafe in Park Slope. The invite is here. If you’re in the area, I’d encourage you to attend — Stone Park is a great restaurant, and the event is for a good cause (not to mention having great food and a silent auction). They’re also honoring Dr. Yvonne Szacki, the vet who did Pete’s surgery and provided his daily care for months. She is wonderful, and this honor is well-deserved.