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Interview with Terry Waslow – Executive Director, Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations

2022-05-10

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Canadian Atheist

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/11/01

Terry Waslow was raised in a secular Jewish home. She became an active participant in the Jewish secular community in the mid-1990s when she enrolled her children in the Jewish Children’s Folkshul. She began attending the annual CSJO conferences in 2000 and has attended regularly since. Terry was a board member of Folkshul and CSJO. She spent 4 years as the Chair of CSJO before becoming the Executive Director. Terry has her Master’s in Business Administration with a focus on nonprofits and her undergraduate degree is in Human Services/Counseling. She has worked for over 25 years with individuals and families impacted by physical, intellectual and/or economic challenges to build fully inclusive communities.”

Here we talk about the secular Jewish communities, and more.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What have been the major milestones and developmental steps for the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations?  Conferences attended by people throughout the North American Continent. Ongoing connections to communities in France, Argentina. Publications of a number of books including a children’s book.

Terry Waslow: Two major milestones in the early years was expansion beyond supplementary children’s schools with the inclusion of adult community groups and developing a strong youth component in the ongoing administration of the organization. The name changed to Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations to be more reflective of this expansion. Since the initial meeting CSJO has organized annual weekend conferences attended by people throughout the North American continent. There is always a strong youth component in the conference planning and with presentations during the weekend.  CSJO has connections to communities in France and Argentina.  We have also published a number of books including a children’s book about an intercultural family and their celebrations.

Jacobsen: In professional tenure, what have been the proudest moments there for you?

Waslow:  Prior to my start as the Executive Director of CSJO I am most proud of my work with families and individuals to become strong advocates for themselves and their family members.  It is so gratifying to work with someone as they attain a sense of empowerment.  I was able to mentor a number of direct staff to work in a culturally competent manner to assist numbers of families and individuals become effective self-advocates.  Having the opportunity to hone my people skills has been a plus for my work with CSJO.  I am so pleased to be able to meet people and share the vision of the organization.  I am so motivated and I believe I have been able to bring some new energy and optimism to the group.

Jacobsen: Judaism and Jewishness comprise a number of different identities. What self-identity and group identity best encapsulates the view of the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations about itself and themselves – group and individual members (bearing in mind individual differences)? 

Waslow: Jews are a mosaic of values and beliefs. For CSJO Jewishness focuses on the cultural and ethical precepts of the Jewish people, learning our history and building a just future for all.   For CSJO Jewishness and Judaism have a distinction. For us Judaism has a focus on the religious and ritual aspects of our people.  While we may want to understand the Jewish religious practices it is to gain knowledge of our people rather than to incorporate them into our lives. Individual members of our organization identify themselves in a number of ways including as humanists, atheists, agnostics, ignostics, and free thinkers to name a few.  As an organization we uphold each individual’s right to self-identity, but are clear that we are a secular, non-theistic organization.

Jacobsen: Any recommended speakers or writers? How can people become involved and support the world of the Congress of Secular Jewish Organizations? 

Waslow: We have a number of members that speak on a wide variety of relevant topics.  The easiest way to connect to someone for a speaking engagement would be to send an inquiry through our website csjo.org.  It would enable me to try to find the best fit in terms of location and topic.  We have members across North America that have expertise on such a wide variety of subjects, including history, music, the labour movement, Holocaust resistance, Yiddish and most anything else related to the Jewish people.  I would also recommend our website for books as well.  We have a variety of titles on subjects that include understanding secular Jewishness, how to celebrate holidays and rites of passage in a secular manner as well as a number of collections of folktales.  There are a number of ways to get involved and support CSJO.  Of course one can join as an individual member or if they are part of a secular Jewish group, encourage the group to affiliate or start a local affiliate.  Also, I encourage people to come to our annual conferences.  They are wonderful experiences filled with learning opportunities and friendship and fun.  This spring we will be celebrating our 50th anniversary so plan on joining us.  Information will be posted on our website as we get a little closer to the date. You can also sign up for our enews.  It is a brief update on our activities that comes out a few times a month.  Sign up is easy with a link on our homepage.

Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts in conclusion?

Waslow:  As we know, more and more people are describing themselves as not religious or as unaffiliated.  Among Jews there is a significant growing group that identifies themselves as cultural, not religious.  There is also a growing desire for a sense of community and a broader understanding of cultural heritage. CSJO is positioned to fill that void and welcomes all who wish to identify with the Jewish people.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Terry.

Waslow:  Thank you for giving me a chance to talk about something that is so important to me and that I am proud to represent. I truly appreciate this opportunity.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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