Ten years, and countless holiday meals later, the Pittsburgh Secular Jewish Community marked its tin anniversary.
The event held in May was an informal gathering due to the pandemic, the group’s founder, Susan Kershner Forrest, said.
As the PSJC looks ahead, its ability to stay connected is a testament to the richness its members add to each other’s lives, Forrest said.
Lori Levin, who charts her involvement with PSJC “from the beginning,” agreed.
“It’s like a family to me,” Levin said. “We know that we are going to celebrate our holidays together. We support each other with whatever we are going through in our personal lives. We are just with each other.”
That sense of community and connection was what drove Forrest to launch the group a decade ago. At the time, Forrest’s children were aging, she didn’t have family in Pittsburgh and she and her husband were looking for people to celebrate the holidays with, she said.
While all that was happening, Miriam Jerris, a rabbi with the Society for Humanistic Judaism, visited Pittsburgh.
According to the denomination’s website, “Humanistic Judaism celebrates Jewish life while foregoing appeals for divine intervention, instead putting our faith in human reason and human power as the best vehicles for improving the world.”
Following the rabbi’s Pittsburgh talk, Forrest reached out to Jerris about starting a local group. Ferris told Forrest that there were others in the area who also were interested in Humanistic Judaism. As Forrest started calling around, she discovered that Jerris was right and that there were fellow Pittsburgh Jews with similar philosophies.
Although PSJC never officially aligned with the Society for Humanistic Judaism, several Jewish Pittsburghers began gathering.
Deb Polk, a member of PSJC “since the very beginning,” told the Chronicle that the value of the group is that it “met an unmet need.”
“We are all very proudly Jewish and, for the most part, atheists or agnostics,” Forrest said. “We love the cultural parts of the holidays, the food, a lot of the things that don’t have a God component.”
Levin said she was drawn to PSJC largely due to its distinctiveness.
“I was looking for a community that didn't involve membership dues and didn’t revolve around prayer services,” she said, adding that since its inception, PSJC has satisfied those requirements.
“It’s a secular group where you can talk and eat,” Levin said. “And there is going to be good conversation, and there will be good food.”
Carol Zisowitz has attended PSJC meetups for the past three years.
“It’s stimulating,” she said. “We often have very good discussions. We have very nice parties and I’ve made some friends.”
“I was uncomfortable in synagogue — I really don’t believe most of the things they say or read — this was a way to be among other Jews who felt the same way I did,” she added.
Zisowitz, like other PSJC members, encourages new people to join. The group meets the second Sunday of every month. Details are available on PSJC’s Facebook page.
“We welcome anyone,” Zisowitz said. “It’s totally secular. We don’t discuss anything like whether God exists. People are warm and welcoming and we have interesting discussions.”
“We are not a closed intimate group that isn't interested in welcoming new people,” Forrest said.
Polk agreed, and said, “If they are interested we would love to have them come and check us out.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.