Announcing Keynote Speaker Greg Epstein
“Advancing the Cause of Humanistic Judaism for a 21st Century Audience: Challenges and Opportunities for an Optimistic Secularism”
Greg Epstein is a best-selling author and the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and MIT (full bio below). Listen to him discuss Humanistic Judaism on NPR’s “Fresh Air” here and learn more about his book, “Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe” here.
Announcing SHJ’s social justice initiative Jews for a Secular Democracy presents its inaugural Constitutional Defender Award to Rachel Laser, President and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, for her outstanding work protecting our freedoms.
Rachel Laser will speak on why maintaining the wall between government and religion is a Jewish and American imperative.
Rabbi Adam Chalom has served as Dean for North America of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, the leadership and rabbinical training institution of the world-wide movement of Secular Humanistic Judaism, since 2007. He has also served as Rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in suburban Chicago, where he lives with his wife and two children. He is on the editorial board of the journal Humanistic Judaism and has served on the Advisory Council of The Humanist Institute. Rabbi Chalom was raised as a Humanistic Jew at the Birmingham Temple in suburban Detroit, Michigan, the founding congregation of Humanistic Judaism. He earned his B.A. from Yale University in Judaic Studies, a Master’s Degree at the University of Michigan in Hebrew and Jewish Cultural Studies, Rabbinic ordination from the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, and his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in Near Eastern Studies. His dissertation was titled “Modern Midrash: Jewish Identity and Literary Creativity.”
Rabbi Chalom has previously helped organize and spoken at conferences on theism and public policy, young adult children of intermarriage, the future of Jewish peoplehood, and more. He has contributed to several published volumes, most recently “Humanistic Judaism and Secular Spirituality” in Religion: Beyond Religion (MacMillan, 2016) and the entry “Humanistic Judaism” in The Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception. Rabbi Chalom has also edited two books: Jews and the Muslim World: Solving the Puzzle (IISHJ, 2010) and Rabbi Sherwin Wine’s A Provocative People: A Secular History of the Jews (IISHJ, 2012). He also developed a 50-session adult education curriculum, Introduction to Secular Humanistic Judaism (IISHJ).
Greg Epstein, Keynote – Humanistic rabbi Greg M. Epstein has served the country’s rapidly growing population of nonreligious people for nearly two decades. Described as a “godfather to the [humanist] movement” by The New York Times Magazine in recognition of his efforts, Epstein was also named “one of the top faith and moral leaders in the United States” by Faithful Internet, a project coordinated by the United Church of Christ with assistance from the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society.
Greg currently serves as the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, a position he has held since 2005. He joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Office of Religious Life as Humanist Chaplain at MIT and “Convener” in 2018. Greg has helped establish similar positions at Yale, Stanford, USC, and other academic institutions.
Greg has also served in an advisory capacity for a diverse range of interfaith and humanist institutions, including Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s Interfaith Advisory Task Force and the Advisory Board of the Secular Student Alliance. He also supported “The Inclusive America Project,” an initiative of the Aspen Institute co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. He has served for nearly a decade on the Harvard Chaplains Executive Committee, with a term as vice president.
Greg is a frequently-quoted expert on humanism, religion and ethics. Greg authored the New York Times bestselling book, “Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe.” His writing has appeared on CNN, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Forbes, Salon, and more. His work has also been widely discussed in the national and international media, including the New York Times, CNN, Boston Globe, and on dozens of radio and television programs. Over the years, he has led and facilitated thousands of humanist and interfaith programs and educational opportunities at Harvard and elsewhere – universities, community and state colleges, urban public and expensive private high schools, at the United States Congress and Senate, megachurches, synagogues and Islamic centers, and interfaith and civic institutions of many other kinds.
Having first discovered humanism through Sherwin Wine and the IISHJ rabbinic program as a recent college graduate in the year 2000, Greg considers himself to have been deeply influenced by Wine, to whom he dedicated his book Good Without God. After over 5 years of intense study, including a year and a half in Israel supported by fellowships from Harvard and the University of Michigan, Greg was ordained as a humanist rabbi in October 2005. He is deeply proud and humbled to be the keynote speaker of this important gathering and especially now that he is a father, he looks forward to helping advance the cause of humanistic Judaism for a new generation.
Additional media about Greg:
“Harvard Humanist Society welcomes all beliefs,” CNN, March 24, 2015.
“Secular, but Feeling a Call to Divinity School,” NY Times, October 16, 2015.
“MIT Now Has a Humanist Chaplain to Help Students With the Ethics of Tech,” The Atlantic, May 16, 2018.
Rabbi Jeffrey L. Falick serves as rabbi at The Birmingham Temple Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Originally a member of the Reform movement, he became involved in the movement in 2009 after a lifetime of searching and questioning. Jeff has held leadership positions in the SHJ and the Association of Humanistic Rabbis. He is also the founder of the southeast Michigan chapter of the American Humanist Association and was named “Freethinker of the Year” by CFI Michigan in 2018.
Natan Fuchs was born in Tel Aviv, then part of Mandatory Palestine, on September 9, 1943.From early childhood Natan was groomed to become an Orthodox rabbi. He moved, with his family to Detroit, with his father, mother and sister. Natan earned a BA in psychology and a second degree in history from Wayne State University, and later an MA degree in curriculum writing, along with a Michigan teaching certificate. Natan taught history and social studies in the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) system, for seventeen years. From 2008 to the present Natan has been participating in the Birmingham Temple adult education program, teaching the Hebrew Bible from a secular literary historical perspective, and Jewish history, ancient and modern.
Gordon Gamm is a local trial attorney, he graduated from Tulane University law school. He is writing a book on Humanism and has represented all of the Humanist organizations in the U.S., The American Humanist Association, The Center for Inquiry, Humanistic Judaism, and The American Ethical Union as an attorney before state and federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court. He served on the board of the AHA for 6 years where he was chair of the committee to write the Humanist Manifesto III. In his capacity of representing the humanist organizations he has defined humanism for the court. He is presently working on a supreme court case for the AHA that is being argued on February 27th about the separation of church and state under the Establishment clause of the 1st Amendment.
Rabbi Eva Goldfinger was raised in a Chasidic (Satmar) Jewish family, which explains her passion for Judaism and learning. But her commitment to science, egalitarianism and embracing diversity, led her on a journey towards Secular Humanistic Judaism and interfaith work. Since 1984, when she joined the movement, Eva was ordained first as a Madrikha then as a Rabbi and has served on the boards of pretty much every North American and international movement organization. She is the Director of the Canadian Division of the International Institute (IISHJ) and its Ontario Governing Official and is a rabbi at Oraynu Congregation in Toronto.
Eva has been actively involved in building the Movement and developing its philosophy and practices locally, nationally and internationally. She wrote the basic text for the Humanistic Jewish Movement and created widely used publications and training manuals for its leaders and communities. She is a sought after Jewish educator lecturing in Toronto and other parts of Canada and the US. Eva is also a well known interfaith specialist in the field of therapy and counselling and has been featured at conferences and numerous radio and television programs.
Paul Golin is the executive director of the Society for Humanistic Judaism (www.SHJ.org), the congregational arm of a movement that combines a Humanistic philosophy of life with Judaism as the cultural and historic experience of the Jewish people. He is a writer, speaker, advocate, and consultant on the most important issues facing the organized Jewish community in America today, including intermarriage, outreach, engagement, disaffiliation, and inclusion.
Paul’s writing has appeared in the Forward, the New York Jewish Week, Tablet, the Huffington Post, and elsewhere. He co-authored the books: 20 Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren To Do (And Not Do) To Nurture Jewish Identity In Their Grandchildren (2007) and How To Raise Jewish Children…Even When You’re Not Jewish Yourself (2010). Paul has trained and presented at conferences hosted by the American Humanist Association, Jewish Funders Network, Foundation for Jewish Camp, Jewish Community Centers Association, Program and Engagement Professionals of Reform Judaism, and many others.
Paul previously served as associate executive director of Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute, a national, independent, transdenominational organization reaching out to unaffiliated Jewish families with an emphasis on engaging intermarried households and helping the organized Jewish community better welcome them in. Paul has a background in media, having worked at HBO Studio Productions and a startup multimedia games company. He studied Communications and Political Science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Paul is the white Ashkenazi half of a “Jewpanese” (Jewish/Japanese) Jewish multiracial household. He maintains the Jewpanese page on Facebook and tweets sporadically at @paulgolin.
Rabbi Denise Handlarski is the spiritual leader of Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism and SecularSynagogue.com, an new online community. She also works with pregnant folks creating Jewish birth experiences as “Jewish Doula.” Rabbi Denise was ordained through the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism Rabbinic Seminary, holds a PhD in English literature, teaches teachers at Trent University, is a mom to two wonderful children, and likes good wine and bad TV.
Rabbi Miriam Jerris is the rabbi of the Society for Humanistic Judaism and the Associate Professor of Professional Development of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism (IISHJ). She holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies and a MA degree in Humanistic Psychology. Rabbi Jerris was ordained by the IISHJ Rabbinic Seminary in 2001.
Rabbi Jodi Kornfeld founded Beth Chaverim Humanistic Jewish Community in Deerfield in 2003. She holds a Masters of Jewish Studies and a Doctor of Science in Jewish Studies from Spertus College in Chicago. Rabbi Kornfeld was ordained by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism in October 2009. Her essay “Visual Arts and Jewish Historiography” was published in The Routledge Companion to Jewish History and Historiography, ed. Dean Bell (2018). She is the current president of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis.
Rabbi Jeremy Kridel is the rabbi at Machar, The Washington Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism, and serves as the editor of Humanistic Judaism, the magazine of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. Before he became a rabbi, Jeremy worked as a lawyer and law professor, and before that he was a database and web developer. And before that, he was a graduate student in religious studies.
Rachel Laser is the President and CEO at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Rachel Laser is a lawyer, advocate and strategist who has dedicated her career to making our country more inclusive. She has a proven track record of uniting both faith and secular leaders and advocacy organizations to make tangible progress on some of the most important issues of our time.
And as a religious minority – she was raised as a Reform Jew – she understands personally how much it matters that our laws treat everyone fairly and equally. She is an advocate for racial justice and has led workshops, given speeches and worked with schools and universities to challenge racism and expose privilege.
She knows the work of Americans United has never been more important than it is today. And she will work to continue our fight to defeat the many new and serious threats to religious freedom and the separation of church and state coming from the Trump-Pence Administration and across the country.
As the deputy director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC), Rachel worked to further its historic mission of strengthening the separation of religion and government. She also ran interfaith campaigns on a number of critical issues, including LGBTQ equality, immigration reform, gun violence prevention, and paid sick, family and medical leave.
Before the RAC, Rachel directed the Culture Program at Third Way, a Washington, D.C., progressive think tank specializing in understanding and reaching moderates. There, she launched the “Come Let Us Reason Together” Initiative, which mobilized evangelical Christians and liberals to work together on critical issues including women’s reproductive freedom and LGBTQ equality. She also helped draft the first-of-its-kind common ground abortion bill to be introduced jointly by pro-life and pro-choice members of Congress.
As senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), Rachel founded and ran the Pharmacy Refusal Project which challenged pharmacists who were refusing to fill women’s birth control prescriptions in the name of religion. She also leveraged NWLC’s network to advocate for judicial appointments with a proven and positive record on women’s issues, and lobbied in favor of reproductive health bills while working to educate members of Congress and NWLC members about the perils of anti-choice legislation.
Rachel is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Chicago Law School. She also serves as a national board member of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Her religion is an important part of her identity. “I believe that religion can provide guidance, ritual and structure for celebrating, reflecting on and dealing with life,” she says. At the same time, many in her immediate family identify as atheist or agnostic. “Some of the people I love and respect the most are non-believers. They are also some of the most moral, ethical and principled people I know.”
Rachel lives in Washington, D.C. She and her husband have three children and a dog, Teddy.
Sarah Levin is Director of Grassroots and Community Programs of the Secular Coalition for America. She graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies from American University, where she served as president of the university’s Secular Student Alliance affiliate. Since joining the Secular Coalition in 2013, she has managed and grown the Secular Coalition’s state advocacy program and implemented various grassroots campaigns on the national and state level, including: the 2014 “Knit a Brick” campaign to protest the Hobby Lobby v. Burwell decision; the 2015 (now annual) Bad Bill Madness; and a new political party organizing initiative, launched in 2016 when the first ever Secular Caucus was established at the Texas Democratic Convention and three secular policy resolutions were incorporated into the party platform. Prior to joining the Secular Coalition, Sarah completed her AmeriCorps service by serving low-income immigrant and refugee families as a community liaison at the Greenbrier Learning Center in Arlington, Virginia.
Daniel Libenson is the founder and president of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future and co-host of the Judaism Unbound podcast. His extensive background in Jewish communal innovation includes six years as Executive Director of the University of Chicago Hillel and three years as Director of New Initiatives at Harvard Hillel. Dan is a 2009 AVI CHAI Fellow and has also received the Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence award, Hillel International’s highest professional honor. In 2010, Dan was named a Jewish Chicagoan of the Year by Chicago Jewish News. Dan attended Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where he graduated magna cum laude, was an articles editor of the Harvard Law Review, and assisted Professor Alan Dershowitz in criminal defense work and on book projects, including The Vanishing American Jew. Dan has published articles in Ha’aretz, The New York Jewish Week, Zeek, eJewishPhilanthropy, and elsewhere. Before devoting his life to working in the Jewish community, Dan spent five years as a law professor after clerking for Judge Michael Boudin on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. He lives in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago with his wife and two children. Contact Dan at Dan@nextjewishfuture.org.
Richard D. Logan is the President of the Board of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. He is a retired Professor of Human Development. He has a BA in Anthropology from Harvard College and a PhD in Human Development from the University of Chicago where he studied under Bruno Bettelheim and Lawrence Kohlberg. Most of his career was at UW – Green Bay but he also had appointments at the University of Nairobi and Vassar College, and a sabbatical at the University of Kent in Canterbury England. He has published on adolescent identity, American individualism, the emergence of the self through Western history, and the state of higher education. He also authored a book on the psychology of solitary ordeals, and another on the true survival story of a young girl lost at sea. He also chaired the Faculty Executive Committee. Since retiring he has served on several non-profit boards.
Richard is married to the former Carol Zazove, Russian language and culture specialist. They have two sons, David and Jonathan. Richard and Carol have belonged to Or Emet in Minneapolis since 2005. Prior to this they attended Temple Cnesses Israel in Green Bay for a number of years.
Rabbi Sivan Maas is the first Israeli rabbi ordained by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism in 2003. Rabbi Maas is the Dean of Tmura the IISHJ in Jerusalem and director of “The Secular Library,” publishing works on Judaism as culture.
Jerid Morisco teaches high school chorus and guitar, and is head coach for the variety girls soccer team. Additionally, he teaches American Popular Music at the university level and sings tenor with a professional men’s ensemble. Jerid is pursuing the Certificate of Continuing Jewish Studies at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. He earned his Bachelor of Music in Voice and a Master of Music in Orchestral Conducting. He earned an Educational Specialist degree in Educational Management and Supervision and a Doctor of Musical Arts in Music Education. Jerid is honored to be adopted into the Jewish family, where he has discovered profound meaning. He is helping to form a Humanistic Jewish Community in Atlanta, Georgia, where he resides with his spouse, a long-haired calico cat, and a rambunctious treeing walker coonhound.
Faith Oremland After 25+ years in the corporate world, Faith discovered storytelling and an entirely new part of herself. “It is a joy to see people become actively engaged when a story moves them, touches a nerve, sparks a long-forgotten memory.” Stories are like candy for the soul. Faith has performed at the Minneapolis Jewish Humor Festival and currently does storytelling at Children’s Hospital, Minneapolis and Weinman Assisted Living in St Petersburg. Faith and her husband, Steve, have been members of the SHJ for more than 30 years and are members of Congregation Or Emet (Minneapolis) and establishing a havurah in St Petersburg.
Audrey Pleasant is a retired public school teacher and occasional yoga instructor, a native of Detroit, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan.
As a strong secular humanist and enthusiastic member of the Birmingham Temple, she enjoys a wide variety of activities. She is also a member of the Humanists of Southeast Michigan. She chairs the Community Impact Committee of the Birmingham Temple.
Michael Prival has been active in Humanistic Judaism for about 40 years. He is a certified leader (madrikh) and the author of Learning Bible Today, a book written to guide nonreligious educators and parents in teaching children about the Bible. A retired microbiologist, Michael is currently serving as president of the board of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism.
John Ratnaswamy, a practicing lawyer, has been a diversity and inclusion activist for two decades. He is a former member of the American Bar Association’s Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. John was the first volunteer for the diversity committee when he worked at a major law firm, where he also was the first leader of that firm’s Asian-American Affinity Group. He has worked on diversity efforts in the non-profit realm as well. John also has spent over 15 years volunteering in a “pipeline” program for students in Chicago public middle schools. He has received extensive training on diversity and inclusion through the Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s Academy for Leadership and Inclusion and other programs.
James Ryan is a member of The City Congregation in New York City. He has been a student of history for many years, as well as a major fan of popular music. He writes for Rebeat magazine, covering music history and other historical topics in addition to his genre film history column Fantasia Obscura. He has also written the popular history work The Pirates of New York, and two novels. His pursuit of history and music can be found in all of his writing.
Susan Ryan is on the Board of the City Congregation in New York City, where she developed the original version of “Jews of Rock and Roll.” She has been a Beatles expert for over 43 years. A native New Yorker with a lifelong passion for the history of the city she loves, she is currently the proprietor and tour guide for Fab 4 NYC Walking Tours, an escorted walk around New York City sites related to the group. She is the co-host of the travel DVD “John Lennon’s New York,” produced in 2007 by ArtsMagic, Ltd., and the founder of Rooftop Sessions, a webzine devoted to presenting the finest in Beatles-related fiction on the Web. Additionally, Susan has appeared as a guest at the Fest for Beatles Fans in New York, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles over the course of the last 18 years. Susan currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Society for Humanistic Judaism.
Marc Swetlitz is a historian of science with a special interest in science and Judaism. Marc holds a Ph.D. in the history of science and an M.A. in Jewish Studies, and has taught high school and adult education courses. Marc lives in Naperville, Illinois, and is an independent member of SHJ and a member of non-affiliated Congregation Beth Shalom in Naperville.
Rabbi Frank A. Tamburello has been congregational leader Makor Center for Applied Judaism, in Manhattan since 2013, and is also a certified celebrant of the Humanist Society of the American Humanist Association. Born in New York City, he was a teacher of foreign languages on Long Island before becoming ordained a rabbi by Rabbi Joseph Gelberman in 2004.
Rabbi Frank holds masters degrees in Spanish, Eastern Religious and Interfaith Studies and has worked primarily in the New York progressive Jewish and interfaith community. In addition, since 2010, Rabbi Frank has served as ceremonial chairperson and rabbi of the Westchester Community for Humanistic Judaism. Frank is a regular contributor to local newspapers in the Westchester area on Judaism from a progressive Jewish perspective. He is a member of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis and the International Federation of Rabbis. Rabbi Frank has retired from teaching and now resides in midtown Manhattan.
Rabbi Tzemah Yoreh, leader of The City Congregation, is one the intellectual leaders of Jewish humanism. He has been a student of the Bible since his earliest days, winning the Diaspora Division of the International Bible Contest in childhood. He attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he obtained his Ph.D. in biblical criticism in record time. He is currently completing a second Ph.D. in Ancient Wisdom Literature at the University of Toronto for the joy of studying ancient text.