How Sunday School Grew Into Something Special

By George Oertel

About 60 years ago, our children were at the age suitable for religious education. Being humanists, we were reluctant to send them to any church Sunday school with their narrow indoctrination of religious certainties. Each Sunday, we would drive from Long Island to the New York Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan (about 40 miles).

Other parents faced the same problem. With the help of many members, we started a Sunday school on Long Island.

The curriculum was based on reason, compassion, recognizing the worth of very individual and introducing the children to the teachings of many cultures and religions.

One of the needs for the Sunday school was playthings for the very young. Carl Weiler, a member, with no children, offered his basement workshop.

We were building large blocks. Harry Frankel, whose children were grown, was working along with us. As he worked, he was singing to himself, very quietly, and was immersed in his thoughts.

Carl and Harry were both of Jewish heritage. Both were atheists.

Carl called to Harry, "For God's sake, Harry, why are you singing the Psalms?"

Harry thought for a moment and answered, "You know, I have participated in many Jewish ceremonies, singing the Psalms, but for the first time they have had special meaning for me."

It made me realize that we cannot erase our cultural background, but we can adapt it to new knowledge, discoveries, inventions, theories and use critical thinking to find answers to the mysteries of life.

This was the birth of the Long Island Society for Ethical Culture in Garden City, N.Y. It is now known as the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island.

December 1, 2007

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