"Dear Alan and Elisha,

"We are planning to have the unveiling service for Belle [my mother, who died last year] on Sunday, November 22 at the Haym Solomon Memorial Park, Frazer, PA at 11am.  We would love to have you join us, but please – [there’s] no pressure."

[Invitation to brunch afterward.]

The above is an invitation from my brother and sister-in-law (Deb, although a New Hampshire Congregationalist, follows along with my brother’s Judaism Lite, while keeping his life free of any hint of Christianity.  Whatever works for them.  It’s all good.)

Here is what I am being invited to (from shiva.com, “the resource for Jewish mourning”):

“Within the first year after the passing of a loved one, mourners and their family gather at the gravesite for a ceremony called the unveiling, the placing of the tombstone. At this event, a grave marker is put into place and the monument is formally dedicated. There are a variety of specific customs that revolve around the gravesite to honor the person who is now deceased…it is not necessary for rabbis or cantors to be involved. It is a spiritual time for the family to comfort each other and remember their loved one.

“The ceremony typically has a certain order of events. First, there are readings from the book of Psalms; other prayers may be recited as well. Next, there is a eulogy from either the rabbi or a family member. At that point, the Moleh, or Memorial Prayer, takes place. Finally, the Kaddish [prayer for the dead, consists largely of kissing God’s ass] is recited, and the cloth or veil that has covered the headstone is removed…

“The ceremony …should be held sometime during the first year after someone has died.”


Here is what I didn’t send:


Dear El and Deb,


Thanks for the invitation.  I couldn’t help but notice the reference to “pressure.”  Don’t worry: I always know when you and my brother are applying “pressure” – he’s very clear about it -- and you’re graciously going to give me a pass on this one.

The “please – no pressure” is a syntactic fumble, corrected by the addition of there’s.  People make more errors when writing about subjects that affect them emotionally, and while Deb’s New England reserve prohibits her from talking about it (after 40 years, she still signs off with “fondly”), our differences on the subject of religion (and on my mother, but that’s another whole story) are a potential minefield of emotions, discussion of which would cause discomfort, and there’s nothing worse than discomfort.

You should know by now that I do not attend any religious ceremony, that I am psychologically allergic to prayer, which I view as a consensual psychosis and which I will not help validate with my presence.  When El started reciting Hebrew blessings at his son’s wedding, I walked out, as if my legs were carrying me off without a conscious thought from my brain (I came back later).

I have never been able to figure out your three-day-a-year Judaism.  Don’t you know that the punishment for violating the laws of the Torah, including  working on the Sabbath (not to mention marrying a gentile) is death?  Do you have a special arrangement with God?  What do you say to the Orthodox, who practice one ritual or another almost every waking moment and who don’t consider you Jewish at all?

I think time has a lot to do with it: you’ve been going through the motions for so many years, it’s too much effort to question it now.  I, on the other hand, have done nothing but question it.  My answer took the form of doing nothing, then, as you know, Humanistic Judaism. 

 I later came to realize that HJ was a failed compromise, drifting backwards to Torah-worship…and that there really was no reason for me to identify with any of it.  

Judaism is what it is: a lot of primitive-shepherd stuff, overlaid with millions of subsequent rabbi-hours of deliberations, interpretation, storytelling, and philosophizing, while the women did all the housework.  Most of it has to be wrestled into any kind of modern relevance, since most of it has to do with what God wants or what he meant in this or that Biblical passage.

As years of disconnection went by, it became easier for me to view the whole enterprise as bankrupt, arbitrary, and irrelevant.

But I digress.  Even if I loved and respected Mom at all, I still wouldn’t come anywhere near a grave.  If it is the location of anything, it is a vortex of superstition and morbid fantasy.  It is certainly not the location of my Mother.  To mistake her remains for her self…well, there’s something Neanderthal about that.

Belle is GONE.  She ceased to exist when her body no longer could sustain itself.  But the monuments to fantasy are everywhere (at least, it seems so in rural New England), devouring (along with golf courses) land that is often strategically located and could be put to better use.

It is around death that religion really steps in. People are especially weak and needy. As far as clergy is concerned, death is the gift that keeps on giving, keeps people mumbling prayers and visiting graves.  The supply of dying and dead people will never dry up!

So go, unveil, have a brunch and have a ball.  Do what is expected, as you always do.  But again, dear brother, I cannot help asking myself, as I have so many times over the years: with all of your education and sophistication, what the hell are you thinking when you recite Kaddish?

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Comment by Alan Perlman on October 25, 2015 at 3:34pm

I was just translating into slang.  No offense intended. Don't infer too much connection with the core meaning of "junk." The slang term is derived by a process you might call "faux denigration."

Comment by Michael Pianko on October 25, 2015 at 2:11pm
Do we have to call the male body parts "junk"? Peoples sex organs should not be thought of as any more junky than any other parts of the body. It is not the case that inherently, the male body parts are junky, needing to be mutilated or cut off, while the female body parts are beautiful.
Comment by Alan Perlman on October 24, 2015 at 6:27pm

You don't mess with another guy's junk!

Comment by Joan Denoo on October 24, 2015 at 5:38pm

Deuteronomy 25:11-12New International Version (NIV)

11 If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

OK, Let's see how this works:

If two women are fighting and the husband of one of them comes to rescue his wife from her assailant, and he reaches out and seizes her by her private parts, 12 you shall cut off his hand. Show him no pity.

Yup! that sounds about as barbaric as the former. 

If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

Comment by Alan Perlman on October 24, 2015 at 1:48pm

To Michael...Thanks for the support.  It is appalling that religion simply forces itself onto center stage.  Some time ago, I decided I couldn't stand it any more.  My dignity required non-attendance or strategic exit.  I will walk out and have done so.  I try to live my beliefs and set an example for these spineless, thoughtless, JIMOs (Jews in name only). . Problem is, I love several of them very much.  Had to attend a few bar/bat mitzvahs to see them, then I swore off.

To Joan...Thanks for the kind words.  I despair that religion is here to stay, bringing more chaos and death every year until some apocalyptic wackjobs try to bring on Armageddon by detonating a dirty bomb in Times Square.  Then the fun begins.

I can appreciate natural celebrations.  Humanistic Judaism made much of human beings and their connection to the natural world.  It always made more sense to me to have the New Year in the fall anyway.  

The ignorance of the Bible they profess to love is stunning.  Not one layperson has EVER been able to tell me the difference between the Bible and the Torah.  Even rabbis have lied to me about what is in the Torah.  They prey (no pun intended) on their congregants' ignorance and cite passages from elsewhere in the Bible or in the voluminous Torah commentaries.  

And of course Trump has never read it.  That's why he can't quote his favorite passage.  Mine is Deuteronomy 25:11-12.


This blog has been a therapeutic outlet for my disdain and disgust with religion, which grows every year.  It is a real pleasure to be among like-minded people, if only electronically. (Back in the suburbs of Chicago, we had a great meetup.com group of atheists.)

I have written things here which I would never say to my family or any other (semi-)believer, and your comments have helped me to hold to my principles and face the challenge we all face: to be an unbeliever in a world of insane and often violent believers.

Comment by Michael Penn on October 24, 2015 at 11:04am

I'm glad you made it through that OK, Alan. I remember going to a service in a community center for a dead friend of mine. He was not a believer but his previously deceased wife was. This was a service that should have been just people talking about him and recalling things in his life, etc. but I was afraid it was getting out of hand. Four preachers were there and one gets up to speak saying "how about that god - it's he something?" I was tempted to leave. People even sang 2 or 3 religious songs. Nothing about this gathering was supposed to have been religious in any way, but it was. Sometimes people can't help themselves.

Comment by Joan Denoo on October 22, 2015 at 12:03pm

Alan, change may be happening in your family as it is in society. If so, we can truly rejoice and begin a celebration of not believing in superstitions. Perhaps your stand made a difference in your family! Remaining silent only implies agreement. It takes courage and a deeper understanding of how the universe operates, both of which you have. 

We remember the changes of the seasons and natural festivals, i.e. planting, growing, harvesting, and recuperating. There are members of the extended family that are fundamentalist christians. I never start a conversation about belief or non-belief, but those who do follow the 7th Day Adventist and Mormon religions often initiate a conversation. It seems I know more about the bible and religion than many of them. I can hold my own in a debate. I resolve to never remain silent in the face of their confrontation. I usually end the discussion by making some statement, i.e. "I am happy you find comfort in superstitions. I want nothing to do with hearing the same old bromides again!" That, or some such caustic remark, ends the conversation when I stop taking their bait. 

I hope you can find a way to enjoy your family without having to participate in notions of make-believe. Your enjoyment of natural events can be caught by the younger generation, if not by the elders. 

Larry built a burning pit in the middle of the cleared field south of the house. We always have a log burning event on or near the shortest day of the year. We have a great feed, music, snow activities that the kids love and if the snow is right we build an igloo. The little ones will remember these festivities into their old age. The elders have a good time, too. No religious discussions occur. 

Comment by Alan Perlman on October 22, 2015 at 11:19am

kh, I did attend the funeral.  I thought long and hard and decided that I would go but not wear a yarmulke (skull cap), stand or pray.  

When we got there, the ceremony turned out to be about as unreligious as you could get -- a Hebrew hymn at the beginning, but after that, it could have been any denomination.  And it was held in another assembly room, not the main sanctuary where they keep the Torah and do all their praying.  

Was this a last-minute end-run by my brother and the rabbi?   Actually, the main sanctuary was in use because of a sudden death, so everything worked out. I didn't have to confront the whole prayer thing.  But I'll never know if it was planned or just a lucky break.

Comment by kathy: ky on October 21, 2015 at 10:42pm
Alan, l said you need to do what is right for you. As I must do what is right for me. To have missed my mothers funeral would not have been the right thing for me. To have objected to the religious aspect of her service would have benefited no one involved. The only afterlife l believe in is the DNA that joins us as family. That same DNA will continue on long after my immediate family are dead and forgotten.
Comment by Alan Perlman on October 21, 2015 at 9:45pm

Thanks to k.h.  My family never asks about my sensibilities. And to accept my atheism would undermine their already-weak connection to Judaism.  I need to be an example to these agnostic practitioners of Judaism Lite: if I have the courage to walk away from it and declare it all BS, and you suspect I'm right, why do you keep attending and going through the motions?

Michael, Thank you for your thoughtful comments.  I feel about all religious worship the way you feel about Passover -- well said!.  See my reply to k.h. about why my family won't even touch the subject.  Suggesting that I see the family but ignore the religion tempts them to have the same forbidden thought.  My following your suggestion would lead to discomfort.  Nothing worse than discomfort.  So, no anger in my family over religion.  The only bris I will ever attend is my own.



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