There are some great people who get to be recognized only after they die. It's a personal tragedy for them, not getting to see their dreams materialize and flourish; and it's a human tragedy for all those who would like to meet this greatness in person, but the echo of this greatness reaches their ears long after the person who made the first shout dies.
Last Saturday, Sherwin Wine died. A memorial service for him was held in Michigan Friday. Not many have heard his name, even less are familiar with his ideas. The incident of his death while traveling in Morocco was not heard on the news. But many secular Jews will learn about him and his ideas and they will be so inspired by him that they will wonder how it is that they did not know him, or his brave and stormy life story.
Wine was born in Michigan, Detroit in 1928. He completed his Bachelor's and Master's degrees at the University of Michigan and in 1963 established the first community of Humanistic Judaism. This was the first of many more communities to be created throughout the world. In 1969 Wine founded the Federation of Secular Jewish Communities in North America.
The movement of Secular Humanistic Jews under the leadership and vision of Wine became a viable option for the many secular Jews to express their Judaism according to humanistic values and way of life. Wine’s diverse and many activities over the years have been an inspiration to thousands of people all over the world, and in Israel too. With his vision, his creative and freeing philosophy of life and his amazing leadership abilities, he helped make it possible for people to incorporate Judaism into their secular culture and way of life.
Wine was a rabbi for a Detroit secular Jewish community. He wrote philosophical books (“Judaism beyond God”) and he wrote practical books (“Celebration”) filled with ideas of how to celebrate yearly and lifetime rituals in a meaningful, secular fashion. He traveled the world fundraising and lecturing, and had a wonderful ability to give speeches in a simple, exact manner which touched the hearts of those listening. He became the undisputable leader of the Humanist Jewish movement.
For Israelis however, their first profound acquaintance with Wine happened only recently. In 2004 “Tmura” (the Institute for Secular Humanist Leadership) was established and aimed to train secular rabbis who could lead Jewish rituals, events and holidays thus offering a meaningful alternative for secular Jews who want to fully participate in Jewish life.
Today, secular rabbis who have been inspired by Wine and his vision are leading Jewish celebrations and ceremonies, and more secular Jews are now able to celebrate these rituals in a way that fits in with their culture and values.
The Tmura Institute mourns the death of a great man whose personality, work and incredible contribution to world Jewry will be felt for generations to come.
One can say that Wine’s tragic death occurred at a similar stage in life to that of Moses, as we read about in this week’s torah portion “Va-ethanan”. Sherwin, like Moses, was at the gates of the Promised Land, he could almost see his lifetime work finally taking shape. But he will watch from outside of this future, for it is us, his followers to take it upon ourselves to realize his visions and ideas.
Sherwin took flight, to a place high up like mount Nevo. A place so high, you get a new perspective on things. And from there, you can see everything.
Blessed be his memory.