In a somewhat non-traditional way of celebrating the Jewish New Year, people of many faiths last night attended a Humanistic healing service that emphasized the importance of service and unity.

Paul Wong
Participants in last night”s Humanistic healing service for Rosh Hashanah wash their hands in a symbolic effort to erase the pain caused by last week”s terrorist strikes on New York and Washington.<br><br>ABBY ROSENBAUM/Daily

Humanistic Judaism is a religion primarily based on Jewish culture rather than ceremony. Shaina Liberson, an LSA sophomore who helped plan the event, said its draw is that the religion is open to everyone.

“It”s not focused on believing in God, but more about helping each other and believing in yourself” Liberson said.

The service featured as its keynote speaker Prof. Ralph Williams, associate chair of the University”s English department.

Williams said Humanistic Judaism is not a denial of God, but rather an acknowledgement “that moral choice must take place as though God were not a given.”

One of its central ideas is that people must not defer responsibility to others, even to God, but take responsibility for themselves, Williams added.

In light of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington last week, he said, these ideals are especially significant.

“We have seen evil calling for evil,” he said.

“I urge you to answer in the face of that call for evil, “I will make the world new and fresh, and we will love.””

He told the audience that, although “the world seems made for unhappiness” after the last week, each person can do good in the coming year.

Accompanied by the music of drums, a violin and a clarinet, Social Work student Greg Epstein led the congregation in the chanting of Hebrew hymns, both traditional and newly adapted. Epstein is a leader of and adviser to the University”s Humanistic Havurah, the group that sponsored the event.

A bowl of water was passed around the audience and many people washed their hands in it, an act Epstein said symbolized “moving beyond the events of the past week.” Later, some members of the audience shared the names of loved ones they had lost to the recent tragedy.

Many of those attending the service do not practice Humanistic Judaism, and some were not Jewish at all.

Lana Shikhman, an LSA junior, said she was not familiar with the religion but nonetheless enjoyed the experience.

“It”s great to be a part of something like this. I had a great time,” she said.

Both Epstein and Williams urged those attending the service to go out and make a difference. Williams added that this is one of the most important aspects of the religion.

“The deepest appeal (of Humanistic Judaism) is that it represents a call to responsibility, with reference to what we would think to be the human good,” Williams said.

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