The Torah of Reparations for Slavery

The Torah of Reparations for Slavery

Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein

[We are in the midst of an extraordinary event in American history: a multiracial nation-wide uprising against deeply dug-in racism. It started with rejection of the use of racist violence by some among police forces. That was a profoundly wise response, since our whole society has assigned the police the American monopoly on the legitimate use of violence inside our country. If they use that license in racist ways, the whole society is responsible to change course.

[This movement has broadened, to look at other aspects of institutionalized  racism that have been the long long shadow of enslavement. One question that has arisen is whether some form of reparations is due from America to the Black community. For Jews, this question has special importance. For we and the Japanese-American community are the only segments of American society that have in fact received reparations --  Jews from Germany, for the almost unfathomable violence against the Jewish people in the Holocaust; and Japanese-Americans from the US government, for their imprisonment in detention camps and loss of property during World War II. So the Jewish community may have some special insight into the ethical issues involved in reparations.

[In addition, our deepest spiritual and religious roots – the biblical story of the Exodus – are intertwined with a story of reparations to the whole people for having been enslaved by Pharaoh, the embodiment of Mitzrayyim – the Hebrew word for Egypt, which means “the tight and narrow place.”  So The Shalom Center will bring our members and readers a series of articles from various standpoints – religious, historical, and personal -- on the question of reparations. The following is the first in a series of such essays. It is a much-abbreviated version of Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein’s extraordinary 2018 article, “The Torah Case for Reparations,”  which you can read in full at this link. The author prepared this shortened version especially for The Shalom Center. --  AW, ed.]

The Torah of Reparations for Slavery

Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein

In the last several years, cultural and political winds have moved the demand for reparations to Black Americans from the fringe into the mainstream of American politics. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s magisterial 2014 article, “The Case for Reparations”, deserves much of the credit for this shift. Slavery and its aftermath sit at the heart of the mythic consciousness of Judaism. Does Judaism have anything to contribute to a national consideration of reparations? I think it does. 

 We Took Reparations

Jews must support reparations in principle, because we took reparations for our slave labor, we were commanded by God to do so, and we were promised these reparations in the earliest Divine plan for our liberation. The Torah emphasizes that on the way out of Egypt, the Israelites emptied their Egyptian neighbors of their wealth (Exodus 12:35-36).

This taking of reparations was not castigated as dishonest plundering or sinful vindictiveness, nor even as an optional bonus, but was a required component of liberation, as God had explicitly commanded the day before (Exodus 11:2). Receiving reparations was a core component of the Exodus. God’s first promise to liberate the Israelite slaves, spoken to Moses at the burning bush, already explicitly included abundant reparations (Exodus 3:21-22). The taking of reparations is at the very heart of the slavery story, even promised to Abram as part and parcel of the Bible’s first premonition of slavery and redemption.

The first time the Torah’s core story — slavery and liberation — is revealed, the entire content of that liberation is the future departure from Egypt with reparations: “Know for sure that your seed shall be an alien in a land not their own, and shall serve them; and they shall abuse them -- four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with significant property” (Genesis 15:13-14). We recite this passage ritually in our Passover seders to this day, annually reviewing that God’s faithfulness is expressed through a promise kept over hundreds of years, and that that promise was reparations for slavery.

Are these Really Reparations?

The Rabbis of the Talmud understood the wealth taken by the Israelites as slavery reparations, as shown in a piquant story in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 91a) which imagines the Egyptians suing the Jews in the court of Alexander the Great to return the wealth they took on the way out of Egypt. A non-rabbi named Geviha ben Pesisa serves as defense attorney for the Jews and countersues: “I, too will bring you evidence only from the Torah, as is said, ‘And the Israelites’ residence, which they resided in Egypt was 430 years’ (Ex. 12:40): Give us payment for the labor of 600,000, whom you enslaved in Egypt for 430 years.”

The Egyptians offer no response and drop their case. Egypt had exploited the Israelites for hundreds of years, stealing their labor. Egypt owed the Israelites generations of reparations, but was not about to pay them willingly or to acknowledge the depth of its wrongdoing. According to the Talmud and even the Torah itself, not only were reparations just, but taking them by any means necessary, even deception, was just and commanded by God and should be intelligible to the international community.

The Rabbis place this (fictional) lawsuit during a Sabbatical year, when Jews are prohibited from farming. Observing the sabbatical year disrupts anyone’s domination over land and people. The land is released to grow wild and debts are relieved. Temporary economic straits, then, cannot plunge a person into structural poverty and servitude.

Just as the Torah contrasts Egyptian slavery with observance of the weekly sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:15), the prophet Jeremiah tells the people that God commanded the Sabbatical year laws “on the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Jeremiah 34:13). For the Rabbis, Egyptian spoils

Torah Teaches: Consult the WHOLE People. How Can WE, USA 2020?

Who should get to vote in an American election?

Especially an epochal election that will decide on life or death for tens of thousands of Americans living in the midst of a botched governmental response to a world pandemic;  an epochal election that will decide whether American democracy survives or is subjugated by a fascist government; an epochal election that will decide the future of life on this planet?

Many of our politicians act as if this were just a matter of partisan politics. But our most ancient spiritual teachings insist that at such epochal moments, the whole society must take part.

Let us look briefly at three such moments: when the people of Israel, the Godwrestling folk, stood at Sinai to receive Revelation; when the people were just about to leave the wilderness and begin to live as shepherds and farmers in the land beyond the Jordan River; and when those who had been exiled to Babylon returned and were trying to establish a People with a Covenant.

And after looking at these teachings, I will share with you what we can do to uphold them is this epochal moment,

Deuteronomy 5: 1-3:

Moses called all of Israel together and said to them ... “YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] cut with us a covenant at Horeb [=Sinai, but with a name that means “knife”}. Not with our forebears did YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] cut this covenant , but with us, yes, us, those here today, all of us alive.”

Deuteronomy 29: 13-14:

Not with you, you-alone do I cut this covenant and this oath, but with the one that is here [at Sinai]/ Horeb], standing with us today, facing YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] our God, and also with the one who is not here with us today.

Deuteronomy 31: 10-11:

And Moses commanded them, saying, “At the end of seven years, at the appointed time of the year of release, on the pilgrimage festival of Sukkot, when all Israel comes to be seen facing YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] your God, at the place The One chooses, you are to proclaim this instruction in front of all Israel in their ears.

“Assemble the people, the men, the women, and the little ones, and your sojourner that is in your gates, in order that they may hearken, in order that they may learn and have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life] your God to carefully observe all the words of this instruction;

“So that even their children, who do not fully understand, may hearken and learn to have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life] your God all the days that you remain alive on the soil that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.”

Excerpts from Nehemiah 9 and 10

Chapter 9: 1 Now the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads.

4 On the stairs of the Levites they cried with a loud voice to YHWH [Yahhhh, the Breath of Life] their God..  

 

 32 “Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our rulers, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our forebears, and all your people.

36 “Behold, we are subjugated-people this day; in the land that you gave to our forebears to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are subjugated-people. 37 And its rich yield goes to the rulers whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.

38  “Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of[6] our princes, our Levites, and our priests.

Chapter 10: Those who sealed it were: Nehemiah the governor;the Levites;10 their associates; 14 the leaders of the people; 28 the rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, musicians, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand— 29 all these now join their fellow Israelites the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of YHWH [Yahhhh, the Breath of Life]..

The teaching is clear: We in the United States have turned Moses’ call to Assemble the people every seven years to hear and commit to Torah, into a commitment to gather the people every two years to choose our national leaders.

If some part of the government seizes the moment to exclude some people, so as to elevate its own power, it is violating not only the Constitution but the most basic spiritual truth: Especially when the whole people faces an epochal choice, the whole people must be present and involved.

How do we make this happen, in the USA, in 2020?

The “whole people,” it is now most clear in the midst of pandemic, need the US Postal Service and Vote-by-Mail if the whole people is to be involved. It is hardly surprising, if one of the epochal choices we face !s democracy vs. authoritarian rule, that authoritarians want to shatter that possibility. And they are doing what they can to break USPS, the most democratic and most beloved of all the Federal agencies. One built on connecting We the People.

I have tried to imagine some way We the People could create our own way out of this. I imagined “Democracy Bonds,” which the public would buy (as patriotic people bought “War Bonds” during World War II)  to lend the Postal Workers Union – not USPS --  enough money to get them and us past the election. Then a new President and Congress could repay the bonds. Clever, a number of people said, but it would take six months to set up the arrangements. Too late.

Okay. Next best, try to make the Federal system, even authoritarians, support the democratic institution. At least to make utterly clear to all who need the mail, who is disrupting its delivery.

Two channels: Congress, and the Board of the USPS. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is mobilizing people TONIGHT to lean heavily on Congress. Click to www.rac.org/everyweek

Eve Ilsen warmly circulates a proposal from Varda B, below.  

"Hello People -- In case you don't see any other way - PLEASE WRITE & CALL the 6 People who supervise the USPS Board -- See all contact info below, and SHARE this info!!

"Louis DeJoy, the Postmaster General and Trump appointee who is now dismantling the USPS on Trump's behalf, “serves at the pleasure of” and reports to the 6-member USPS Board of Governors. These six men have the power & duty to #StopDeJoy & prevent Election Day chaos.

My small personal crisis and the Great American Social Crisis


Dear friends,

This past Wednesday afternoon, I found all my leg muscles very weak and my speech slurred. Seemed like it might be a stroke, so Phyllis with the help of wonderful friends hurried me into an ambulance to a hospital. The hospital found there was nothing at all wrong with my brain, but something was wacky with my liver. During the next 24 hours my liver calmed down. The medical hunch was that there had been a stone interrupting the internal processes of the liver, the stone passed,  the processes worked right, and I felt fine. On Friday afternoon they sent me home.

It was a powerful lesson: In the Hierarchical picture of the world, my Brain is in charge. The liver is deeply subordinate. But that is just not so. In an Ecological picture of the world, the liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, belly – – including even the million microscopic creatures living in my belly that are not even me – – as well as my brain work together to keep me alive and making sense. If I were to act as if my liver were unimportant, a mere appendage, disaster. Domination, subjugation can kill me.

There was another powerful lesson. The official ethic of the hospital was honesty and transparency with patients. But over and over during those 40 hours, particular medical professionals withheld vital information from me. Their refrain: "We didn't want to scare you." My refrain: "I'm a grown-up. I want to know the truth." It was only because I pushed and challenged that I found out what was going on.

"Easier" for them to control the information, even if that meant I didn't get fed dinner and didn't get medicine pills I needed. It was only because I pushed and challenged -- made them uneasy -- that I found out what was going on.

In the great American social crisis we are living through, the official ethic of America is democracy and honesty in government. But the White House has chosen Domination, Subjugation, and a flood of lies to support them as the mode by which to lead America. It has viewed with contempt and oppressive behavior the liver and the kidneys and the lungs of American society. It has done that literally in the face of a virus that is saying, “Pay attention to all the organs!” And so Americans are dying by unnecessary tens of thousands.

More metaphorically, the Black community which has always been treated like an unimportant liver in the American social system has wakened not only itself but many other organs of the system who understand the Ecological rather than the Hierarchical way of keeping America healthy. So there has perhaps for the first time, or perhaps for the first time since the Civil War, been a multiracial uprising against racism.

The White House, in its obsessive commitment to Dominate and Subjugate, is trying to deal with at uprising by making an American police state. That may create chaos, but it will not create health and prosperity.

That obsession with Subjugation is the politics of Pharaoh. It ended up drowning Pharaoh himself in the Sea of Reeds, but it took tens of thousands of Egyptians with him. First in ecological upheavals we call the Plagues, finally in the death of the firstborns.

What can we do? Nonviolent action both inside and outside the system are necessary. The House of Representatives should be refusing to appropriate any money at all for the Department of Homeland Security without a physical withdrawal of all its police forces from American cities, and with legislative provisions to prevent what has happened in Portland and now in Seattle. Senators committed to democracy with a small “d” should be filibustering every so-called “must-pass” bill until no American city is under Pharaoh’s occupation. The ACLU should be going to court everywhere to restore and renew the right to vote freely and to demonstrate freely.

And I do not think that this kind of action will happen, or will matter without nonviolent direct action by the people. I emphasize nonviolent. Even where a particular building is itself a repository of Subjugative violence, it will make more sense in this situation to avoid attacking that building. We should be enforcing a nonviolent discipline in order to gather against Pharaoh’s violence.  Closing the roads around such a building, closing the highways, creating a campaign for “denial of service” to computers in Department of Homeland Security and the White House – – all those will be necessary to protect us in our myriad vital organs of society from Pharaoh and from the Plagues that Pharaoh has brought upon us.

I want to come back to my own personal crisis of life and death. In October I will be 87 years old, and as one of those who is most vulnerable to terrible torment or death by the Coronavirus, I have been extraordinarily careful to protect myself and my immediate family.

In early October, what I think may be the most important work I’ve done since the Freedom Seder in 1969 will be published. It’s a book entitled Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. It’s an effort to reimagine Judaism, Christianity, and other religious communities as committed to an Ecological rather than Hierarchical vision of the world. I very much hope to be here, able to speak and to write and to teach what that book is saying.

Yet if between now and January 20, 2021, it is necessary to bring all my organs, all my body, into the struggle to prevent a police state under Pharaoh, then I will.

With blessings for each and all of us – – each human being and all life forms, free and unique organs to give life to the Loving and Beloved Community, the ONE –
 Arthur

Is Coronavirus a Biblical "Plague"?

In the ancient biblical tradition, what is a "plague"? Where does it come from? Is it anything like coronavirus? Is it anything like the wildfires that have so damaged California and Australia? Can these ancient stories teach us anything today?

Some of the great plagues of the Exodus are what we would call diseases, but not all. There is a cattle affliction that sounds something like mad cow disease. There is an affliction of all water in the land of Egypt, not only the Nile but even water in pots and pans. There is the death of all firstborns.

But there are also the invasions of frogs, of locusts, of lice or mosquitoes. These are ordinary animals in extraordinary numbers and places. But so are diseases. The Coronavirus is perfectly normal until it leaps a species. Carbon dioxide is perfectly normal – – even necessary – – until human corporations create so much of it by burning fossil fuels that it becomes extraordinary, planet-destroying. The Exodus move to a freely wandering, struggling, learning, growing journey in a Wilderness, seeking to become a loving and beloved community.

The Exodus is empowered by a series of Ten Plagues. In some understandings, they were brought on by a God Who is a sort of Super-Pharaoh in the sky, proving he is even more powerful and more cruel than the Pharaoh on the Egyptian throne, who claims to be a god. Pharaoh enslaves Israelites; God kills Egyptians.

This understanding that the Exodus is a contest between a king and a Super-King is underlined by the false biblical translation of YHWH as “LORD.” (The rabbinic tradition substituted “Adonai/ Lord” for “YHWH” but the Hebrew Bible does not.) It is more likely that YHWH with no vowels is simply a breath – Yyyyyhhhhhwwwwwhhhh: the Breath of life, sometimes the Wind of change, sometimes the Hurricane of destruction. 

This Ruach (Hebrew for “breath, wind, spirit”) is what intertwines all life. We know now this is literally, physically, scientifically true: the Oxygen-CO2 interbreathing between animals and vegetation keeps all life alive. So YHWH is the bearer of consequence, not punishment or rewards. Try reading the whole Plague narrative substituting “Interbreath of life” instead of “LORD.”  For me and others who have tried this, it changes the whole story. 

From this vantage point, the concentrated power and the arrogance, cruelty, and stubbornness of a Pharaoh whose subjugation of human beings soon became subjugation of Earth. The cruelty that Pharaoh sows, all Egypt reaps.

Those plagues did not come from outside us. They came from our own society, from our own government, from our own way of living. "We" allowed a Pharaoh who turned Egyptian farmers into sharecroppers and an immigrant community into slaves.

And that's the case today. The coronavirus only becomes destructive and deadly because we don't leave space between ourselves and various other species. We don't leave space for bats who fly around perfectly well carrying that virus. We take up all the space there is, and we take up all the air there is with far too much CO2. We allow ourselves to become "sharecroppers" within the system that brings plagues upon us. And we become accustomed to the system of domination, so much that we think it is normal. It is not arrogance, it is not cruelty; it is normal.

Until Earth rebels, and what is normal becomes lethal. Some groups of us suffer more from the "diseases" than others, die more than others. More and more of us even begin to notice that the "overseers" who casually murdered Israelite slaves in the ancient story are not so different from the police today who use their legitimized authority to kill more Blacks. Then more and more of us realize that some of us are sharecroppers and some of us are enslaved.

Yet these plagues have an unexpected effect, in the ancient story and for us today. Though the ancient plagues were the horrifying results of Pharaoh’s cruelty, they became the instruments of liberation.

How could both truths be true? The Exodus story splits the targets of the plagues. For Egyptians, they were utterly destructive. For Israelites, who according to the story were physically and ecologically separated in their own region of Goshen, the plagues were liberating. Zoom becomes our Goshen. And if we stop to think, we know that Zoom is a class and racial privilege. The deeply poor do not get to live in Zoom.

Whether the separation was factually accurate or a part of a larger parable, it was a way of celebrating the emergence of a new kind of community  -- committed to a new birth of freedom yet welcoming, as the story of Pharaoh’s daughter indicates, to “renegade refugees” even from the palace of privilege and power.

We, living in the midst of the Coronavirus Plague and the varied plagues of global scorching, do not have the luxury of regional separation.  Our own “Goshen” is retreat into our own homes, scattered everywhere. Our own new plagues imposed by modern pharaohs are again horrifying and might-be liberating: Undrinkable water.  Intrusive “forever plastics,” even inside human bodies. Droughts. Famines. Floods. Fires. Human beings becoming unable to see each other through the darkness of fear. Ultimately, the dangerously impending death of the next generation of the human species -- our own first- and second- and tenth-borns.

Our new Plagues might be sounding the death-knell of an old world order of Domination and Hierarchy. Or they might by making uprising for freedom so difficult to do in public and by destroying jobs and workplaces, reinforce the power of our pharaohs until all of us are conscripted into the chariot army that drowns in the Sea of misery, despair, and death.

Which future is our future depends on us. Can we suffer from the plagues and yet --  and therefore! -- act on them as birth-cries of a new worldview of ecological interwovenness: seeing our communities of life as conscious interconnected ecosystems of biology, culture, and society--rooted in love and flowering in life-affirming justice? 

In the ancient story, on the very night when they must choose Exodus or Death, the Israelites must encircle the doorways of their houses with blood. To leave the Tight and Narrow Land, they must leave a household rimmed with blood. There is one bloody house that every human being exits: the womb, in every birth.  Here a whole people is reborn.

 And then, those Israelites who made that choice – not every descendant of Abraham and Sarah did, and some Egyptian-born, like Pharaoh’s daughter, joined that choice to be reborn –- met another birth-choice on the seventh day.

On that day they found themselves at the shores of the Sea of Reeds, a roaring, roiling ocean. Behind them they heard the drumming hoof-beats of Pharaoh’s horse-chariot army. It was coming to insist they turn back to familiar life: slavery, yes, and accustomed onions, garlic, chewy meat.

Which should they choose? The unknown? The Sea of drowning? A wilderness beckoning on the other shore -- still more unknown?

They chose another birth – the breaking of the waters.

Today the whole human species is standing between the Unknown Sea and the world of Customary Order – garlic, onions, and slavery.

Time to choose.

"Supremes" rob women of Religous Freedom

 The Supreme Court majority decided yesterday that an employer who has religious or moral objections to birth control can refuse a health-insurance contract that covers it for his employees.

They did this in the name of "religious freedom."

But in fact they refused to recognize the religious freedom, the moral freedom, the conscientious freedom, the freedom of conscience,  of thousands of workers. For the boss, it's money saved. For the workers, it's freedom lost. -- No, not lost. Stolen. A life lived by their own consciences in the most intimate parts of their lives --  stolen.

But they are only women. They have no moral agency, no right to consciences of their own, anyway, The bishops of the Roman Catholic Church and the heads of various "evangelical" denominations have a religious conscience. Even a boss who never goes to church but claims a "moral" objection has a conscience. But a woman who has decided to make her own choice whether or when to get pregnant has no moral choice, no conscience. No religious freedom. Please notice: This is not even about abortion, where it is possible to make a coherent ethical case at some point in a pregnancy that a viable fetus has rights. There is no fetus. No being that has rights.

Where does this come from? Two roots, like many practices: An intellectual formulation that meets the needs of some group for power over others. For the Catholic Church and some other forms of Christianity, a tortured interpretation of the Eden story plus power for a certain body of males. The interpretation in its best-shaped version came from Augustine -- I won't call him a "Saint."  The "original" sin of Eden was not just "original" in the sense of "first." It was the corruption of our origins -- that they came from the pleasure of sex. And the invitation of an archetypal woman --  Eve. So pleasurable sex was sinful. But sex was necessary for the continuation of the human species. Sooooo -- prohibit all sex that was not for procreation. No birth control, no contraception. And since "Eve" had invited all this, men should rule.  What a convenient theory to make "legitimate" the rule of men who claimed to be celibate (though they often lied).

It isn't what Eden was about. It was about refusing to have the self-restraint to leave even one tree uneaten -- to not gobble up the whole of material abundance. When that obligation to our Mother Earth was violated, two dangerous consequences: (1) The abundance vanished: Men had to work hard in the sweat of their faces because  Earth gave forth only thorns and thistles. And (2) Hierarchy entered the human community: If Humanity thought it could rule over Earth, then men would rule over women.

The story was urging the human race to grow up enough to rise beyond both consequences. Humans should learn to invent tools that eased their own labor while nurturing Earth. Women and men should learn to be equal. Nobody thought the first consequence was a command -- no tools! But the second -- aah, no equality!

But not everybody accepted Augustine's tortured -- and torturing -- logic. Not even Catholic women. Every sociological study, every survey, shows that about 97% of Catholic women actually use the very forms of birth control that the male bishops of their church prohibit. In the Church's convenient acceptance of Augustine, each of the all-male bishops has a religious conscience. Women? A laughable idea.

Let me be clear -- this is just as reprehensible when it is male Orthodox rabbis or male imams or males who claim to be the "heads" of any religious community

And of course this has a class and race dimension too. Many women will have the money to buy contraception, even while they are robbed of conscience, But the poor won't. No freedom of religion for THEM. How can a poor Black woman have a conscience?

There will be only two ways to reverse this decision to enforce religious tyranny.  Bodies on the line to vote, and bodies on the line to block and create in the same breath. When the Supreme Court dares again and again to Subjugate, not Liberate, when it denies those "inalienable rights," then get ready to "alter or abolish it." Get ready for a struggle to change the Supreme Court, not just the Senate and the White House. It is necessary but not enough for women to vote, if the Court insists on robbing them of conscience, of religion.

This is as much Subjugation, Tyranny, as police killing Blacks with impunity. As destroying health insurance. As yanking babies from their mothers' breasts at the Southern border. As imposing coal-plant dust and asthma epidemics on poor neighborhoods. As burning California and drowning Midwestern towns to multiply the profits of the Carbon Pharaohs. As pepper-gassing peaceful demonstrators to make space for photo-ops of holding a Bible upside-down.

We must unite to win our freedom, our bodies, our souls.

Shalom and salaam mean not only paz, peace, but wholeness. Namaste means "In you I see God." It is time for all of these. Fierce urgency of NOW. The vote and the body and the soul.

Your action is necessary. And right this moment, please help us help you to make these actions real by clicking on that "Contribute" banner in the left-hand margin of this page --  Arthur

Elders Call: Defend Our Voting Rights

[Dear friends of The Shalom Center, For about nine years I have been a member of the National Council of Elders. It is a consulting council of veteran activists who helped shape the great social-change movements of the mid-20th Century. Among its founders was my beloved friend Vincent Harding, of blessed memory.  

[In the midst of the political convulsions of this past six months, we decided to issue several statements that draw upon our experience. One of them is about the current election campaign and various threats to the crucial right to vote. I was one of those most deeply involved in drafting this statement on Dangers to the Right to Vote.

[The Shalom Center is already involved in what we are calling “Share Sukkot: Green and Grow the Vote.” The Harvest Festival of Sukkot comes in every other year just a few weeks before a US national election. We have already prepared and are preparing more resources to make Sukkot in those years a time to express the eco /social justice and peacemaking values of Sukkot as a framework for greening and growing the vote. More information on Share Sukkot will follow. Today I am sharing the NCOE statement – AW, editor]

NATIONAL COUNCIL OF ELDERS

Immediate Release June 25, 2020

We call upon all Americans to exercise this fundamental and essential right to vote. We call upon all Americans to demand the right to vote by mail. We call on all Americans to make clear we will not allow any attempt to steal the election by any means.

Contact
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Philadelphia PA; Frances Reid, Oakland, CA;
Mandy Carter, Durham, NC
E-mail: elders4belovedcommunity@gmail.com

The National Council of Elders (NCOE) Call: Prepare to Defend Our Voting Rights in 2020 Election

We, members of the National Council of Elders, were deeply involved in the great movements of the 1960s and ‘70s to advance American democracy, winning many important victories for freedom. One of the greatest of these victories was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was passed after the non-violent actions of Mississippi Freedom Summer and the Selma to Montgomery March, which were met with violent repression, killings and brutal beatings.

The right and responsibility to vote in a free and fair election is an essential aspect of democracy. Yet that right has been weakened by two crucial and badly decided 5-4 verdicts of the Supreme Court:

The 2010 Citizens United decision to abolish decades of election law preventing great wealth from buying US elections on the grounds, among others, that corporations were “Persons” entitled to “free speech.” [I would add, No corporation is “made in the Image of God.” Human beings are, and their right to shape the society they live in and the government that governs them is partly rooted in that sacred character. --  AW]

The 2013 decision to cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act, the requirement for preclearance to pass new voting laws for jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg brilliantly said, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

As we prepare for the national election of 2020, the Supreme Court has again attacked the right to cast a vote by refusing to allow an expansion of voting by mail in Wisconsin in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, the citizens of Wisconsin defended their right to vote by showing up at polling locations in huge numbers, despite the danger of sickness or death, similar to the courageous men and women of the South in 1964 and 1965.

We call upon all Americans to exercise this fundamental and essential right to vote. We call upon all Americans to demand the right to vote by mail. We call on all Americans to make clear we will not allow any attempt to steal the election by any means.

The president has threatened to use military force against the American people to halt the practice of free speech and free assembly. We are concerned about the danger that the current holders of power in the federal government may use anti-Constitutional force before or after the election on November 3 to maintain their power.

We call upon the American people to be alert to such danger and to meet it:

With a vast and vigorous turnout of voters, casting no doubt that pro-democracy forces have won the Presidency and both houses of Congress

With maintaining vigilance if the current president is voted out of power, until he is well gone in January

With preparation by resilient grass-roots groups to be ready to apply broad and deep civil resistance, should a usurpation of our democracy be thrust upon us.

Come hell or high fever, we must vote – and we shall!

National Council of Elders Members: Ms. Rachele Agoyo, Ms. Dorothy Aldridge, Rev. Dorsey Blake, Mr. Louis Brandon, Ms. Candie Carawan, Ms. Mandy Carter, Dr. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Rev. John Fife, Ms. Aljosie Aldrich Harding, Dr. Gloria Aneb House, Dr.Shea Howell, Dr. Dolores Huerta, Mr. Phil Hutchings, Ms. Joyce Hobson Johnson, Rev. Nelson Johnson, Mr. Frank Joyce, Rev. James Lawson, Rev. Phil Lawson, Dr. Catherine Meeks, Mr. Gus Newport, Ms. Suzanne Pharr, Ms. Lyn Pyle, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Ms. Frances Reid, Ms. Kathy Sanchez, Mr. Charles Sherrod, Ms. Shirley Sherrod, Dr. G. Zoharah Simmons, Friar Louis Vitale, OFM, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Mr. Hollis Watkins, Mr. Junius Williams, Mr. Bob Wing, Rev. Janet Wolf.

Deceased Founding Members: Dr. Grace Lee Boggs, Dr. Dorothy Cotton, Dr. Vincent Harding, Father Paul Mayer, Mr. Ron Scott.

Facebook contact: National Council of Elders@ncoe20century

 

Jewishly Honoring Juneteenth

On June 19, 1865, the US Army announced the emancipation of enslaved people to the public in Texas – the last of the Confederate states to be liberated from slavery  

 That day each year became known as Jubilee Day and later as Juneteenth, and became a day of celebration, education, community, and political vision first for the Blacks of Texas and then for Blacks throughout the United States. It has been recognized as a special day of celebration by 47 of the 50 states and by some major corporations. It has slowly become recognized and observed by some whites -- especially this year, in the great wave of multiracial Uprising against American racism. (For a history of the day, see “Juneteenth” in Wikipedia.)

Beginning seral years ago and increasing this year, several waays have energed of  Jewishly underling the celebration of Juneteenth. I will review them here. They include sharing a Seder for Juneteeth; suggesting a Kavvanah (focus) for the Blacks killed by racism in reciting Mourners Kaddish on Juneteenth; and shaping a Kabbalat Shabbbat and Havdalah for the day. Each of these is noted below.

Beginning in 2018, some Jews Of Color have shaped a Seder for the day, drawing on the structure of the Passover Seder and using foods, songs, poetry, symbols, and other elements of Juneteenth celebrations. In 2018, a vigorously progressive Jewish group in New York City, Jews For Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), observed a Juneteenth Seder and then published its Haggadah at  

https://www.jfrej.org/news/2018/06/jfrejs-juneteenth-seder

As the author of the original Freedom Seder in 1969, the first Haggadah ever to welcome the Black struggle for freedom into the heart of the Passover Seder, I have been especially moved by this introduction of the form of the Seder into a Black holyday of freedom.   And I have been warmed and excited by the notion that Blacks who are not Jewish and whites who are or who are not Jewish might find it a welcome way of affirming and working for the end of American racism. At the same time, I encourage caution in its use – not easily “appropriating” the symbols and practices of Black America.

So I decided to share one sliver of the Juneteenth Haggadah that felt to me especially relevant to the struggle to end racism, and especially both Jewish and universal in its drawing on Torah and on the post-history of the Holocaust to urge a serious discussion of “reparations”  for slavery.  Here it is:

THE SECOND CUP: Behold this cup of wine. Assata taught us: It is our duty to win. We drink to her, to our commitment to winning, and to our ancestors who invested in our winning and building power: Fannie Lou Hamer, Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, Ella Baker, Pedro Albizu Campos.

 Raise glass. Say one of these blessings: P’ri hagafen, ito nishteh, “l’chayim!” The fruit of the vine, with it let us drink “to life!”

 Bruchah at Yah, Shekhina, eloheinu malkat ha’olam bora p’ri hagafen. Blessed are you, Shekhinah, Queen of the universe, creator of the frui of the vine.

Baruch atah Yahhh (Adomai)  Eloheinu ruach (melekh) ha’olam borei p’ri hagafen. Blessed are You God, Interbreathing Spirit (Sovereign) of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.בְּרוכָּה אַתְּ יָהּ שְׁכִנָה אֱלֹתֵינוּ מַלְכַּת הָעוֹלָם בוֹּראַ פְּריִ הַגָּֽפֶן.בָּרוךְּ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ רוּחַ )מֶלֶךְ( הָעוֹלָם בוֹּרֵא פְּריִ הַגָּֽפֶן.

Love & Support: We must love and support each other, and for that love and support to have any meaning, it must be material as well as spiritual.

 “The Torah says: And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock ... And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt...”

 Black liberation is something that has been compromised again and again, through actions monstrous and tiny — the incompre-hensible violations we promise to never forget, and the endless diminutions we all decide to ignore.

 White supremacy is centered in Christianity, but Jews with white skin privilege have been enacting it and actively benefiting from it for centuries. In the recent history of the United States, white Jews benefited from the G.I. Bill; moved to, and profited from, racially segregated housing; accepted and enabled massive disparities in education; and received loans, financial aid, salaries, and benefits denied to Black people.

 White folx: even if you personally find the idea of white supremacy repulsive, even if you are afraid of antisemitic neo-Nazis and white nationalists — you still benefit from the culture of white supremacy we all live in.

And so tonight we are asking you to think about what it means to commit to reparation — to take a small but challenging step toward accountability and disinvestment from white privilege — a step that also leads toward a bolder, more moral, more vibrant future for Jews and for all people.

Rabbi Sharon Brous writes: “Most American Jews came to this country years after the abolition of slavery, but we have thrived under a national economic system that was built on stolen land and stolen labor, a foundational wrong that has yet to be rectified. As survivors of generational trauma and beneficiaries of reparations [from Germany, to Israel] granted after the Holocaust, Jews have a special obligation to help advance this conversation.”

In addition, Eric Greene, a member of the board of the Jewish Multiracial Network, has suggested preceding a recitation of the Mourners Kaddish with this kavvanah (‘focus’):


Friends:

This Friday night Shabbat coincides with Juneteenth, the commemoration of the official ending of mass enslavement of African Americans.  In observance of this important day, and in remembrance of the countless African Americans who have been victimized and killed by ongoing racism, we are lifting up the suggestion of Black Jewish journalist Robin Washington and we are asking our friends and allies in the Jewish community—Jews of Color and White Jews, Sephardic and Mizrachi and Ashkenazi, religious and secular, in private or on Zoom—to recite a Kaddish for Black Lives during this Shabbat

We are providing the text of Jewish Multiracial Network’s “Black Lives Kaddish” below. Depending on your practice, you may choose to recite it along with the traditional Kaddish or, after candlelighting, join us in reciting Psalm 31 (traditionally recited as a plea for protection from those who would do us harm) on this special Juneteenth Shabbat.  We ask that you share this ask with your networks, friends and contacts throughout the Jewish Community so we may all come together to give appropriate honor to those we have lost.  May their memories be a blessing.                                                   

                    KADDISH KAVANNAH FOR BLACK LIVES

 Creator of life, source of compassion. Your breath remains the source of our spirit, even as too many of us cry out that we cannot breathe. Lovingly created in your image, the color of our bodies has imperiled our lives. 

 Black lives are commodified yet devalued, imitated but feared, exhibited but not seen.  

 Black lives have been pursued by hatred, abandoned by indifference and betrayed by complacency.  

 Black lives have been lost to the violence of the vigilante, the cruelty of the marketplace and the silence of the comfortable. 

 We understand that Black lives are sacred, inherently valuable, and irreplaceable. 

We know that to oppress the body of the human, is to break the heart of the divine.

We yearn for the day when the bent will stand straight.

We pray that the hearts of our country will soften to the pain endured for centuries. 

We will do the work to bind up the wounds, to heal the shattered hearts, to break the yoke of oppression.

 As the beauty of the heavens is revealed to us each day, may each day reveal to us the beauty of our common humanity. Amen.

I suggest that we add these readings to our Shabbat observance, either or both on Erev Shabbat (Friday evening, June 19) or Shabbat morning, fitting in with our attention to the nationwide gathering of the Poor People’s Campaign at 10 am and 6 pm Saturday  and 6 pm Sunday at June2020.org

Bechol Lashon is sponsoring an early Juneteenth Kabbalat Shabbat with Rabbis Sandra Lawson and Isaama Goldstein-Stoll  at --
 
 
And the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA) of Chicago and the Kol Or Caucus for Jews of Color are excited to invite you to the 3rd Annual Juneteenth Havdalah on June 20 at 7:00 pm, where we’ll come together as a community to commemorate the emancipation of Africans and African-Americans from slavery.  Please RSVP by clicking here.

Blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste!-- Arthur

Lerner's "Revolutionary Love"

Michael Lerner wrote his newest book, Revolutionary Love (University of California Press), in 2019. There was already in the world and in his mind’s eye the brutality of the Trump Administration. There was only a hint of the possibility of a world pandemic resulting from the rampant disregard by human institutions – mostly the Hyperwealthy – for the habitat of other species. And though he notes with hope the existence of Black Lives Matter, a massive national Black-led multiracial Uprising against racism was not on the country’s, or Lerner’s, agenda.

What his book is mostly about is an imagined series of social changes that would make America, and the planet, a society focused on loving connectiveness -- not competition and subjugation – and the loving means of getting  there.

 Among his proposed loving alternatives is:

  •  “Gradually disband police forces and replace them with neighborhood  security committees,  trained in de-escalation  and empathic intervention.  (These committees will be backed up in emergency situations by local community forces (neighbors trained to meet violence effectively).” (page191)

 Who knew (I think not Lerner) that this would be on the front pages everywhere while his book was still new?

 The book is peppered with such ideas. The question is how to make them do-able. Not every one of them is going to have behind it the force of an Uprising deep enough to make tens of thousands of people forget their fears of Death by Coronavirus and erupt onto the streets.

 I do want to note one other proposal out of dozens, partly because It is a special concern of mine and because Lerner gives it five pages (pp. 233-238), not just one small paragraph. That is his examination of whether it would be possible to organize in our own society, so different from ancient Israel, the Sabbatical Year commanded in Leviticus 25. 

For Torah, this is the crucial way of preventing both social disaster as economic inequality worsens and eco-disaster as Earth is treated with contempt. The Torah considers this program so central that it is said to come from Sinai, just like “Don’t make idols” and “Don’t murder.” – And so, in Lev. 26, is the recitation of specific disasters that will come if Earth is not allowed to rest every seventh year.  Lerner thinks we could do this Great Sabbath in modern America. Wonder how? Read the book!

 Lerner deals with almost every bristling “Impossible!” and “Unrealistic!” by challenging the “liberal” and “progressive” Lefts that express considerable contempt for “Love” as a transformative possibility. The Lefts’ reaction translates into contempt for religion, the one aspect of American society that still holds some love for Love.  And into contempt for the “deplorables” who depend on religion as their last gasp of breath – and of Love at least in their local communities.

 Lerner recalls the sense of frustrated and frayed connections between people, and the experience of many working-class Americans that their once-upon-a-time liberal allies see them as damaged and disreputable because they seem to be translating psychological and social fears into attacks on “the others.“

 He hopes to bring together the old Left-outs --  Blacks, Indigenous Peoples, Muslims, Spanish-speakers, women,  GLBTQIA communities, Jews – with the new Left-outs --  the “forgotten whites.” He looks to heal their split in part by their economic resentment against the ultra-rich 1/10 of 1%, but more by his appeal to their separate but shareable Love.

 His book ends with what I would call despair masked as hope. As a last resort, Lerner imagines dividing the USA in two, using the new technology that could unite clusters across territory to separate the “Progressive States of America” from the “Conservative States of America.” His comments remind me of the despairing advice on the edge of the last Civil War: “Let the erring sisters [the Southern states] depart in peace.“

But most of all he is hopeful. He hopes that the steps he proposes of actually embodying “revolutionary love” and an ultimate “Love and Justice Party” will enable the creation of a transformed United States.

Green & Grow the Vote: From #Shavuot2Sukkot

The Eleventh Plague, the Coronavirus, has taught us this: Elections this November will make a strong impact -- on the very health and bodily life of practically all Americans, both as individuals and as a whole society;  on the future of American democracy, or whether we become a plutocracy, ruled by those with Hyper-wealth, with a flavor of rancid racism poisoning the stew; and on whether we can renew the life-forms of our Mother Earth or we all suffer from the onslaught of CO2 and methane on our air and oceans, and succumb to fire, flood, and famine.

Every American has a life-or-death stake in this election; our goal should be that every American over 18 gets to vote. To vote with full knowledge of what is at stake.

So as Jews committed to justice and freedom, to abundance and generosity, to the Holy Breathing Spirit that interweaves all life --  we raise the banner of making these next months of Jewish and American time into a commitment:

Green and Grow the Vote

From #Shavuot2Sukkot

 Who is this “we”? The Religious Action Center ("the RAC") of Reform Judaism, The Shalom Center, and Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action are co-sponsoring a remarkable Zoom conversation on the eve of Shavuot, from 8 to 9:40 pm Eastern Time on May 28. We will look forward to Sukkot in early October, just a month before the election. Four months of thought, feeling, action that could make a great difference in November. 

To register for that conversation and receive the Zoom link, click here:  https://tinyurl.com/Shavuot2Sukkot

We invite you to join the conversation; there will be an opportunity for break-out groups to share your own thoughts, as part of observance through song and words of Torah -- "From #Shavuot2Sukkot: Green and Grow  the Vote."

 Among the leaders in the conversation will be Rabbis David Saperstein, Michael Namath, Arthur Waskow, Mordechai Liebling, Jennie Rosenn, Margot Stein, Tamara Cohen, and Shoshana Friedman;  renowned teacher-of-organizers  Heather Booth; youth climate activist Isha Tobis Clarke; climate activist Phil Aroneanu of Dayenu;  Cantor Linda Hirschhorn;  Cherie Brown of the National Coalition-Building Institute, an expert in healing Jewish trauma; Arlene Goldbard, artist and President Emerita of The Shalom Center; and powerful young shofar-blower Zahava Kiernan. 

They will join in connecting ancient wisdom from Sinai to our own generation’s needs for active engagement in and beyond the US election process to heal our wounded Earth from the climate crisis and to heal our own society from its deep wounds.

You can watch and join the conversation live from 8 to 9:30 pm Eastern Time on May 28.  It will also be recorded, and we will send you the link by which you could watch it at your convenience. We encourage you to make it part of the traditional tikkun leyl Shavuot, the study of Torah at any time you choose on the night of Shavuot, to share with your friends and congregation.

We promise you joyful song and joyful Torah, a Shofar-blast you will never forget, just barely short of the shofar-blast at Sinai.

To register for that conversation and receive the Zoom link, click here: https://tinyurl.com/Shavuot2Sukkot

We look forward to meeting with you there.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, shantih --  Arthur

Every Bush Afire with God!

“Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only those who see take off their shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

(pronouns slightly modified)

This is the "Burning Bush" of azaleas just outside the windows of my house. I look at it each morning seeing it "crammed with Heaven," moved by what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called “radical amazement.”  There's every reason to be that way amazed when plucking blackberries, if we open ourselves to it.

Another way of expressing it: The daily blessing over Creation, in Hebrew and a caring English translation -- more caring than convention-bound:

"YOtzer Ohr, u'vOrey ChOshech, Oseh shalOm,  u'vOrey et-ha'kOl."

"“Notice,” Rabbi Burt Jacobson taught me, “the vowel that defines the prayer: ‘O! O! O! O!’

"Oho!" said I. "If you were in a state of radical amazement, or to get yourself there, just O-pen your eyes, your mind, your heart to the world and chant the vowel, forget the words.” And sometimes I do. But, a little stubborn about the words, I also searched for English that would keep the “O!” ---

  "FOrming glOw, compOsing shadOw, Opening  shalOm, compOsing the whOle."

Or try this, back to “Every common bush afire with God.” I was asked last week by a leader of the United Church of Christ to supply one of 24 prayers, one to be released each hour on May 7, the “National Day of Prayer,” into the radically amazing World Wide Web of Earth.  That Burning Bush appears in all its inward blazing, near the end of this prayer.

In my view, serious political engagement will be necessary to transform and heal ourselves and Earth. And in my view, we must deepen and lift high this radical amazement at the root and flower of our politics, or it will curdle rather than transform.

 

To the Interbreathing Spirit of All Life

As You Cough and Choke amid Our Fires

You Who are the Interbreathing Spirit of all life,
You Who are the “still small Voice”

Who whispers breath into all living --

We hear You coughing, choking,

As we flood all Earth with burning smoke of carbon.

We hear You coughing, choking,

As human throats breathe in a virus

That comes as a plague to all of us --

Worse for those who already live on margins --  

And as a warning to our pharaohs..

 

We recall the burning crosses lit by hate and greed;

We recall the flame and smoke

That rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima.

That still rise from the burning forests of the Amazon,

Torched for the sake of fast hamburger and fast wealth.

We count the hottest years of human history

That bring upon us

Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.

Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.


Before us we among all life-forms
Face the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

Yet with Your help, O Breath of life,

We come to douse that outer all-consuming fire.

To light again in our own hearts

The inner fire that burned in the Burning Bush –

The fire that did not consume the Bush it burned in.

And to hear the inner Voice that breathed a whisper

Of love and liberation amidst the inner flame:

For Love and Breath are strong as death --

Love’s fire that breathes in the heart of all Creation

     To ease Your Breath throughout Your Earth.

 

We vow to make from inner fire
Not an all-consuming blaze

But the loving light in which we see more clearly
The Rainbow Covenant glowing

in the many-colored faces of all life.

 

Woven by Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

Creative Commons Copyright (c) 2020 by The Shalom Center

<theshalomcenter.org>. Freely use with inclusion of this notice.

 

I do not think we can move toward the world we intend without opening ourselves to radical amazement. Radical amazement that every common bush is afire with the inner blaze of love, not just the "royal" few. That our amazing world is not hierarchical but ecological, each being nested in the others.

 

I also think we cannot move at all without multidimensional political action. I will be exploring those paths in the next few letters to you, and I bless us all with the wisdom, the courage, and the love to act . --  Arthur

Two May Days? -- or Deeply One?

When I was a child in public elementary school, every May 1 we would dance around a Maypole, twirling colorful ribbons attached to the pole. My school was merely one among thousands all across America that celebrated a survival of the pagan earthy ceremonies of ancient Britain before the Roman conquest and then Christianity. 

In those ancient days, the pole and dancing young girls welcomed Spring with a barely cloaked fertility ritual in which a tree was central. The Puritans of New England outlawed the Maypoles as licentious, though it seems no orgies took place. During my childhood, the American Civil Liberties Union did not protest this merger of religion and the state in our schools.

There is another May Day, more overtly political and much more controversial. Yet at its deepest roots it is connected with the early May Day. Most US businesses, governments, and even labor unions have treated its presence on American soil as a foreign invasion. But it was born right here. And it has taken on new energy in our own American generation.

 In 1884, at its national convention in Chicago, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions proclaimed that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labor from and after May 1, 1886."

Workers all across the country struck and demonstrated for the 8-hour day. It took more than 50 years to become US law, and still gets eroded or ignored for farm workers, domestic workers, “contractors” like Uber drivers, etc.

https://www.facebook.com/events/879524972549591/?active_tab=about

Why do I think the two May Days may have the same roots? Because in Spring the blossoms rise up against winter, and the people rise up against pharaoh, boss, commissar.

Passover -- the festival of simplest matzah from new-growth barley, of newborn lambs,  and of a newborn people seeking freedom through Exodus. Freedom is always new, unknown –  – growing beyond the Tight and Narrow Place to be reborn. The festive festival to chant the Song of Songs, an erotic poem led by women who probably danced under a Tree, a Pole.

The Song Beyond All Songs, voted by the Sanhedrin to be included in the Hebrew Bible on the day when its members forced their tyrannical Chairman to resign.

Both May Days joined at the root.

It is no accident, then, that May 4, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of the day when four nonviolent student protesters opposing the US War Against Vietnam were killed by troops of the Ohio National Guard on the Kent State University campus. Rabbi Lee Moore, a member of the Board of The Shalom Center, will be leading an online Shabbat morning prayer service in their memory, and to honor all of those traumatized by the events of Kent and Jackson State – a Black university in Mississippi where two students were killed several days later for similarly protesting the war.

She will lead the service at 10 am on Shabbat, May 2, in a traditional, yet accessible Jewish format will offer simple Hebrew prayers with English explanations and transliterations. The service will be musical, contemplative, and connective.

Rabbi Lee Moore was born and raised in Kent, attending nearly every May 4th Memorial in the 1970's, 80's and beyond. She returned to Kent after her ordination in 2010 to serve as the Rabbi at Kent State's Hillel for seven years. She is an inspiring prayer leader (even on Zoom) and currently serves as the Interim Spiritual Leader of Brattleboro Area Jewish Community in Vermont. People of all backgrounds are warmly invited to join her and the BAJC to honor Shabbat and this important history that has shaped all of us.

To join, use this Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/4300550548
Password: 585655

Or dial in to (312) 626-6799 or
Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/aDGFQQLVR

What is a gorgeous Spring day without a song of hope and joy? Insurgent Spring and Insurgent Humanity are joined at the root in this song, woven to fit the melody and rhymes of the socialist Internationale, while celebrating a more loving revolution:

The Earth Internationale                                                        

To hear the melody of the Internationale as sung in the original English version click here.

(New words by Rabbi Arthur Waskow)

Arise, ye prisoners of pollution;
Arise, ye poisoned of the Earth!
We dance to make a revolution—
A joyful world’s in birth!

No more the corporate smoke shall blind us,
We can hear the trees and oceans call --
Humankind amid Earth's breathing life-forms—
Together we are all!

As we face the crisis of all history,
Let us rise to heal our Place.
To save our deeply wounded planet
We must wake the human race!

[Creative Commons Copyright (c) by Rabbi Arthur Waskow 2018;

to be freely used with inclusion of this notice.]

Time to sing -- and to act. In this time  of Coronaplague, the Hyperwealthy are bailed out and the Plague is turned into a war against the American poor -- made to suffer even worse than usual:

 

Good yontif! And blessings for a May Day and months to come of joyful uprising --  Arthur

Between the Fires: Invocation for Earth Week, Earth Year, All Years

Between the Fires:

An Invocation for Earth Week, Earth Year, All Years—

For Kindling Candles of Commitment

 

We are the generations

That stand between the fires.


Behind us

The burning crosses lit by hate

To choke our people in the smoke of terror;

Behind us the flame and smoke

That rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima.

 

Not yet behind us

The burning forests of the Amazon,

Torched for the sake of fast hamburger and fast wealth.

Not yet behind us, the glare of gun fire

exploding in our children.

Not yet behind us –

the hottest years of human history

That bring upon us

Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.

Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.

Before us we among all life-forms
face the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

"Here! The day is coming,”

Said the Prophet Malachi,

“That will flame like a furnace,

Says YHWH / Yahhhh --

The Infinite InterBreath of Life --

when all the arrogant, all evil-doers,

root and branch,

will like straw be burnt to ashes

in the fires that they set.

Yet for all who revere

My Interbreathing Name, Yahhhh,

a sun of justice will arise

with healing in the beating of its wings,

its rays, its winds."

 

“Here! Before the coming

of the great and awesome day

of YHWH/ the Breath of Life,

I will send you the Prophet Elijah

to turn the hearts of parents to their children

and the hearts of children to their parents,

lest I come and smite the earth with utter desolation."

 

Here! we ourselves are coming

Before that great and terrible day

Of smiting Earth —

For we ourselves shall turn the hearts

Of parents to their children

And the hearts of children to their parents

So that this day of smiting

Does not fall upon us.

 

We ourselves are coming

To douse that outer all-consuming fire.

We must light again in our own hearts

the inner fire of love and liberation

that burned in the Burning Bush --

The fire that did not destroy the Bush it burned in,

For love is strong as death --

Love’s Fire must never be extinguished--

The fire in the heart of all Creation.

 

It is our task to make from inner fire
Not an all-consuming blaze

But the loving light in which we see more clearly
The Rainbow Covenant glowing

in the many-colored faces of all life. 

Woven by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center

April 14! -- Freedom Seder in this Plague Year

Tuesday evening, April 14, is the 7th night of Passover. Traditionally, it is the night to celebrate the ancient crossing of the Red (Reed) Sea, and there has been a tradition of Seders to honor that night.

This year, The Shalom Center will hold an on-line Seder specially written to address our crisis, facing the Eleventh Plague --  the Coronavirus Plague --  as well as other plagues of wounded Earth and Humankind.

We see this as another in the great line of spiritually rooted and creatively activist Seders that goes back to the Freedom Seder of 1969. 

Please save the date and time – 7 p.m. to about 9 p.m Eastern Time on Tuesday, April 14. We will be back in touch with you with more details, the link, etc. We will welcome freely offered contributions and we will freely welcome all who wish to take part  – as the Haggadah itself says, Let all who are hungry, all who are in need,  come and celebrate Pesach. We would add, all who are hungry for emotional, spiritual, and intellectual sustenance in this moment of crisis broad and deep.

With blessings of health restored, of freedom renewed, of Earth and Humankind closer to the Land of Promise, the Beloved Community --  Arthur

Gaia and Shekhina Speak: A Message from Mother Earth

[Arlene Goldbard, who wrote and painted the following essay, served for ten years as an amazingly adept President of The Shalom Center.  She is now our beloved President Emerita and continues to provoke new thought as a blogger. You can SUBSCRIBE FREE to her blog or post comments at her Website: arlenegoldbard.com – AW, ed.]

What can console us in the face of the Great Unknown? I thought I understood that safety was always an illusion: any of us could be struck down at any moment. But having the illusion of safety erased, that's uncertainty of another magnitude, so vastly out of proportion to the "normal," default reality that words can't do it justice.

Gaia and Shekhina Speak: Earth, Water, Fire, Air © Arlene Goldbard 2020

When I painted the first of these self-portraits in August—the one with my hair on fire—I had no idea it would add up to something much larger and more urgent, compelling me to share with you. I soon had the idea of depicting the remaining three elements: water, earth, and air.

I knew that my own face could stand in for the weathered face of Mother Earth. I knew there would be a stark contrast in each painting between the aging face and the wild energy of the element supporting it; between the lines and shadows and the relentless gaze. A few weeks before the pandemic began to make headlines, the texts written on the lower edge of each painting came to me.

But I didn't know till this week that something beyond my own hands had painted these pictures: the voices of Gaia and Shekhina.

In Greek mythology, Gaia is the feminine embodiment of life, the personification of Planet Earth. Her name has come to be central to ecological thinking since James Lovelock's 1979 book, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. It introduced "the Gaia hypothesis," asserting that all that exists on this planet is part of a complex dynamic system that sustains life on earth, that intervening in one part of that system inevitably affects the whole.

In Jewish spirituality, Shekhina is the imminent Divine Presence, the feminine aspect of the Divine. Because the ancient sacred texts are sorely lacking in direct address of the role of women in making and upholding the world as a holy vessel for life, in recent decades, Jewish teachers, especially women, have created new liturgy, practices, and understandings to right this omission as a path to healing the world.

I am not a Pollyanna. I have no more idea than anyone what this plague will bring: my inbox, like yours, is overflowing with best and worst-case scenarios, and like you, I will have to do my best to help while I wait and see which comes true.

I see this plague unmasking the terrible inequities of the modern world, in which the privileged bask in their advantages while the marginalized bear the brunt, in which a giant deranged baby rules in the White House. Whether he is merely blind to others' suffering or basking in it, I cannot say, but he seems determined to say and do the precisely worst thing at every turn, the thing that multiplies harm.

So many people are responding to this moment with compassion and generosity, even as some public officials and private corporations rush to profit from suffering, finding infinite ways to rationalize their greed. I am fearful, hopeful, obsessed, distracted, and each of these swirls into the next without a pause.

Yet the message brought to me by Gaia and Shekhina is this: while green life springs from the dust and birds course through the spring air, life abides. The spirit that sustained us to meet this moment can carry us into the next, if only we listen. I am choosing to listen. 

Yesterday an essay by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone came my way:

"The Sacred Meaning of COVID-19." It arrived just as I was thinking how to share these paintings, the best way to offer these images as a gift. She wrote this:

What if we understood KOVID-19—this horrific virulent virus (our ancestors would surely call it a plague)—as Shechinah’s formidable face showing up today to admonish us, correct us, love us back into our rightful place as creatures, not masters, of this earth?

"Shechinah's formidable face" is what I have tried to depict. If you find this image useful and want to share it for some noncommercial purpose, please contact me. You can also see it and more of my paintings at my website

May you be blessed with health and well-being, with ears to hear the voices of Gaia and Shekhina, with eyes to see both the suffering of the world and its beauty, with voice to speak out when needed, to comfort and console.

"Mother Earth" by Tracy Nelson.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yw0jGceuiKE&feature=youtu.be

READ ABOUT The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future and The Wave.

Welcome! Zoom Torah Conversations

Dear chevra, The point of this letter is to invite you into a five-evening once-a-week conversation about the Torah reading of that week, with me as guide and “weaver,” via Zoom. What follows is an explanation of why and how.

Last week I mentioned in my weekly Shalom Report that our Shabbos-morning one-hour Torah study that has for years been gathering in Philadelphia was now going to happen through what I call “distance reconnection” (NOT “social distancing” ) through Zoom. Several people wrote me asking whether they could join by Zoom.

I talked with the existing group, and they/ we agreed we would prefer to keep the group as intimate as it has been.AND – what emerged is that I should set up a separate group to examine a passage of the Torah portion of the week, not on Shabbat but earlier in the week – and in a different framework but using the same approach.

So I am inviting you to join in such a Zoom conversation that I “weave” rather than lead in conventional ways..

Here is the practice and process I am inviting you into:

1. I choose a passage from the weekly Torah that seems to me likely to engage our own lives. For example, I might choose the passage where ancient Israelites ae facing the Reed Sea ahead of them and Pharaoh’s Army close behind

2. I invite the community to search back into their/our own lives and each of us to bring to awareness a moment when they faced what seemed an impossible choice. Silently, each of us recalls how that felt: in our guts, our arms and legs, our heart, our breath.

3. After a very few minutes of silent lifting-up such a moment, I say in a midrashic English version and then in Hebrew the blessing over Torah-study in words that celebrate “Yahhh, Breath of Life” instead of “Adonai, Lord,” and “Ruach Ha’Olam, Breathing Spirit of the world,” instead of “Melekh, King of the world.”4. Then we read aloud in English, with different readers reading paragraph by paragraph around the “circle,” the passage I have chosen.  The passage is usually from the weekly portion. Sometimes I choose that week’s Haftarah instead; sometimes, as in the pre-Passover special Shabbats we are now in the midst of, it is a special reading traditionally set aside. 

(Last week, that special portion was about the “Red Heifer” ceremony to release a person who has been in contact with a dead body from the awe-struck, uncanny spiritual state of “tumah” into a more communal spiritual state. We connected it with the creation of “distance reconnection” as a response to the Coronavirus deadliness. And we took into awareness our own contacts with death.) 

If we are using a passage from the Five Books or a Haftarah from the Early Prophets that have been translated into English by Everett Fox, we read his translation, because in my view it is by far the best translation of the Hebrew Bible  into English. (The Five Books of Moses and The Early Prophets, both published by Schocken Books.)

5. Then we talk about the passage and about our lives. Our lives become part of Torah and the Torah becomes part of our lives. We talk in the worlds of emotion and Spirit as well as in the world of Intellect. I may add a thought and weave the conversation together. The D’var Torah that emerges is collective and multiflavored.

6. When an hour is up, we close with my sharing an embodied and somewhat midrashic version of Kaddish d’Rabbanan, the prayer that honors the holy process of learning and teaching.

, I welcome you to join with me in this process by Zoom for five Thursday evenings, from 7 pm to 9 pm  Eastern Time, starting Thursday evening MARCH 19. We will skip Thursday evening April 9 because it is the night of the Second Seder.  The evenings we will gather will be March 19 and 26, April 2, 16, and 23. 

Please click to the following link: https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/event/register?reset=1&id=26

The total cost for taking part in these five Zoom conversations is $45 (paid to The Shalom Center, not to me). You can pay on-line. Once you have registered, we will send you the link for the Zoom Torah-study.

I look forward to joining with you!

Shalom, Arthur

#NoWarWithIran

How did we get to the brink of an unconstitutional, world-shattering war against Iran, almost certainly far worse for the United States than the self-destructive war against Iraq?

And how did we get to the moment when the US Border Police started detaining and interrogating Iranian-Americans and confiscating their passports -- --  mostly US citizens, many US-born -- who were returning to their US homes after a major Iranian pop music concert in Vancouver? 

Four years ago, history seemed to be going the other way. In January 2016, The Shalom Center celebrated the peaceful achievement of an extraordinary agreement among the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Germany, the European Union, and Iran that put an absolute end to any effort Iran had been making to make nuclear weapons.

The essay we wrote is at https://theshalomcenter.org/mlk-iran-shalom-center, along with this note from Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky thanking us for mobilizing Jewish leadership to support the agreement despite the efforts by AIPAC (in accord with the Netanyahu government of Israel) to get Congress to torpedo the agreement.

The process by which the agreement was achieved pointed to the wisdom of one of the most powerful teachings of Jewish tradition about peacemaking. Traditionally, every evening Jews pray that YHWH, the Breath of Life, the Interbreathing Spirit of the world, the Wind of Change, will “Ufros alenu sukkat shlomekha  --  Spread over us the sukkah of Your shalom.

Why a sukkah  of shalom --  a Sukkah,  the flimsy hut with a leafy, leaky roof that is open to rain and wind -- rather than a fortress, a  palace, even a solidly built house?

Precisely because the Sukkah is so vulnerable. The tradition is teaching that one way to peace is for everyone to recognize that all of us are, each of us is, vulnerable. In order to choose the nuclear agreement, the Great Powers decided they were vulnerable to a possible Iranian nuclear arsenal. And the Iranian government decided their country was vulnerable to sanctions by the Great Powers. By sharing their vulnerabilities, they could agree on how to give all the parties shalom.

The agreement worked. Deeply intrusive inspections in Iran, agreed to by Iran as part of the agreement, showed Iran was adhering to its rules.

But a new US President, elected Constitutionally but undemocratically by a minority of the people, decided to smash the agreement. He may have been motivated by rage against former President Obama, both out of his own racism and because Obama had publicly humiliated him in a White House Correspondents’ dinner. Or by wanting to support Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, both of whom feared and hated Iran. Or by his own preference for bullying people into submission rather than negotiating with them. Or all three.

Result: After a year of trying to reestablish the agreement with European help, Iran began acting as if it didn’t exist. Reopening its nuclear facilities. The US jammed draconic sanctions down Iran’s throat, punishing its people for having elected a peace-seeking government and having thrown out a war-wishing political faction.  Iran responded by increasing its pressure in and on Iraq.

At home, Mr. Trump was experiencing more and more political pressure.  Impeachment is no joke. One of the most famous of political maxims came into play: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” (Samuel Johnson, said in April 1775 just as King  George’s troops were preparing the attacks that became the battles of Lexington and Concord). When the scoundrel finds his political fate still worsening, the ultimate advice comes into play: “War is the very last refuge of a scoundrel.”

Mr. Trump and his allies are already trying to make this reckless killing justification for opposing an open, impartial, and fact-based impeachment trial. But the opposite response would be wiser: That this unconstitutional, illegal act of war is another example of this President’s abuse of power.

 General Suleiman was no ordinary grunt, just following orders in the trenches. He had planned attacks on enemy soldiers and mercenaries, including Americans.  He may have been more violent than some important generals of other governments. He was certainly no worse than the Saudi Crown Prince – Mr. Trump’s pal -- who personally ordered the murder of a dissident journalist and politically has ordered the killing of tens of thousands of Yemenites, while crucial US help was being given by Trump despite Congressional efforts to end all US involvement.

And one of the main "charges" against General Suleiman -- that he commanded and organized the killing of hundreds of American soldiers -- seems to be about attacks on the US Army that President George W. Bush sent to invade, occupy, and conquer Iraq. Certainly a nonviolent resistance to that occupation would have been far preferable to what General Suleiman planned, AND --  the bloody hands responsible for the deaths of those American soldiers belong in the first case to Mr. Bush, who sent them to die in a war built on lies.

Many generals do their bloodshed with care not to explode an uncontrollable war that will kill tens of thousands and wash blood for decades into the future.  Sometimes clever generals even order disruptive action short of killing, as when Iraqi militias responded to US attacks that killed 25 of their soldiers with demonstrations at the US Embassy in Iraq that burned buildings but killed no one, and then withdrew.

The whole war system needs to be treated and cured as a lethal disease of humankind. But impulsive violent bullying is not the way to do that.

Impulsive violent bullying is what Trump did. 

He ignored the Constitution and the law requiring the permission of Congress to begin a war – let alone the United Nations Charter, treaty law that the Constitution says is also “the law of the land.” His Secretary of State is citing an alleged urgent danger that the Iranian general was plotting an attack against Americans. Thousands of them.

Really? What’s the evidence? As “truthful” as the lie that Iraq was hiding nuclear weapons, the lie that killed and maimed a million Iraqis and thousands of Americans? Where were and are these thousands of endangered Americans? Even SecState acknowledges this alleged plot was not to attack anyone on American soil. And various military officials are telling the US press that evidence of an impending attack was unclear and uncertain. There would have been plenty of time to take protective --  not aggressive -- action.

A story from 65 years ago: In graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, in a seminar led by Professor Howard K. Beale, we were studying the foreign policy of President Theodore Roosevelt, including his decision in 1907 to intimidate Japan by sending the US Navy – the “Great White Fleet” -- uninvited to its shores. Professor Beale asked us in his seminar, “What do you think was Japan’s response?”

I answered, “Pearl Harbor, almost 40 years later.” 

He whirled on me, astonished, even angry. “That is what my study of the Japanese archives shows. But you –- how did you know that?!”

“It just makes sense,” I said.  “No country, no government, likes being humiliated. Even if it takes 40 years –- "

 Now what? Iran threatens retaliation. By attacking oil tankers in the Gulf, disrupting the global economy as Iran’s economy has been disrupted?   By seeking to fire hundreds of missiles into Israel or Saudi Arabia, Trump’s allies? By slowly unfolding years of terror attacks against Americans without an Iranian label  -- perhaps cyber-attacks against American water supplies, electric power?  By assassinating, say, Prime Minister Netanyahu or Crown Prince MbS? By holding its anger tight and redoubling its work to create a nuclear arsenal? 

 Will the American people support this killing as “patriotic”?  And reward it by reelecting the President who ordered it? Or denounce it as unconstitutional, murderous, self-destructive, far too risky of many many deaths in a bully’s gamble for power?  And punish it by electing a President who will try to restore the denuclearization agreement with Iran – far harder to do now, after fear and distrust have been so intensified?

The answer, my friends, is “blowing in the Wind.” That sacred Wind, that Breath of Life, that comes alive when a great community, a steadfast People, breathes into life the Wind of Change.

By breathing its thoughts, our thoughts, out loud, and concerted. Just now, a phone call to your Senators and Congressperson would do that: 1202-224-3121. Your own feelings, your own words. Perhaps along these lines: "My name is Xxxx Yyyy, and I live in Qqqq. I am a constituent of yours. [If you have a defined religious or civic role in the community, you might mention it.] I am calling to urge that you speak out and vote to rebuke Mr. Trump for committing an act of war and risking a disaster far worse than the war against Iraq, without even consulting Congress, without obeying the Constitution and the law and the UN Charter. I urge you to demand public hearings on the claims that try to justify this act. And I urge you to take vigorous action to prevent a war against Iran. "

Says Psalm 34, “Seek peace and pursue it. Turn away from evil; do good.” The rabbis interpret: “Not only seek peace but pursue it, especially when it is running away from you. Not only turn away from evil, but take vigorous action for good.”  That wisdom rests on each of us, not only Congressmembers.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace -- sohl [“Peace” in Farsi, the language of Iran]  --  Arthur

Is Burning the World Impeachable?

 Part 2 of "IMPEACHMENT: Constitutional, Moral, or Spiritual?"

[See Part 1 on the right-hand column of this Home Page. --  AW, editor]

For the human species and a million others now imperiled, our present crisis is meta-Constitutional. The present President has taken many actions to subsidize and support the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are burning the Earth -- what Pope Francis called our common home. But those actions do not violate any explicit provision of the US Constitution.

But in any sane world, risking the extinction of the human race would be the Highest conceivable of High Crimes and Misdemeanors. Claiming that there is no climate crisis, that it is all a hoax, does not exonerate him – even if he believes It. Claiming that bullets do not kill, that shooting someone dead is not a criminal act because the claim that bullets kill is a hoax, does not exonerate a murderer.

Arrested! While Blocking ICE in Philadelphia

This past Wednesday, my beloved fellow-rabbi and life-partner Phyllis Berman and I were arrested, along with two other people, while blocking the entrance to the ICE offices in Philadelphia. We were arrested by the Federal Dept of Homeland Security police, not the Philadelphia police -- and were each harged with two Federal offenses (with whopping fines if we don’t stand trial and the possibility of prison time if we do). 

"Disloyal Jew"

“I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”  Donald Trump. President of the United States

"Disloyal Jew"

By Reb Irwin Keller

Sending Soap etc to Kids in Cages, via Congressfolk

 Yesterday afternoon I sent a note to you-all about going in groups to US Senators & Representatives, bringing them packets of soap and toothpaste and toothbrushes, and demanding that they carry them IN PERSON to the prisons where refugee children are being held in medically dangerous unsanitary cages --  demanding THEY go because we would not be allowed in but the political pressure of their going would be important, whether or not they were admitted. 

In the rush of getting the idea out, I aimed at the idea itself, in the fewest possible words to make clear the what-to-do, without any explanation of where or why to me it seems so valuable or how or by whom it began – leaving all that to the next step.   In fact, I think how it emerged was important. It was put forward by Rev. Jean Erb, one of the beloved participants in P’nai Or of Philadelphia’s Torah conversation group that meets every Shabbos before davening. 

 The Torah conversation began with the question of how fear or caution inhibits us from taking action that feels right, connected with the Torah story of the spies or scouts whom Moshe sent to scout out the land of Canaan, and how their report scared off the People of Israel from moving forward.  Out of that focus on when, how, and with good wisdom or not we may let fear or caution --  a positive or a negative word for what may be the same response – to shape our actions came Jean Erb’s thought about how to have an effect on the immediate issue of the concentration camps while doing so in ways that point to the deeper illness. 

I quoted Howard Zinn as having said that every once in a while, a lightning flash lights up the truth of the world we live in. The lightening flash lasts only for an instant, but if we are alert enough we can help ourselves and others stay awake to the fuller truth that was visible in that moment.  The kids-in-cages lightening flash can reveal fuller truths about our government and our society.  The lightening flash can show us, remind us, who holds power in and defines the shape of our society – and where to aim change. 

 What seemed and seems to me brilliant about Jean Erb’s proposal is that it connects the simplest acts of face-to-face love and caring --  toothpaste, for God’s sake!! --  with the need to challenge those in power to act  -- Justice, for God’s sake! 

Indeed, what came to my mind as I thought about her proposal was the beginning of Psalm 101 --  “Chesed u’mishpat ashira, l’cha YHWH azamaira  -- Of Love and Justice I will sing;  To you, Breath of Life, I’ll sing praises.” ---   a song by Rabbi David Shneyer that in 1971 was the first song of Jewish renewal that I learned. (David sang “Adonai,” not “Breath of Life.”) 

Love AND Justice. And the sacred Breath of Life, the Holy One.

So part of the wisdom that rose up in and from Jean Erb was, I think, the outcome of the process itself, and how we can engage with Torah in such ways as to take our own lives into it, and invite it into our own lives. 

Having said all that, let me go back to the proposal:

Sending Soap etc to Kids in Cages, via Congressfolk

 Groups of people – ideally at least ten, a minyan, but not necessarily – get together for the following action: 

 Each member makes a small packet of sanitary, health-giving items for kids – toothpaste, soap, etc.

They agree on a time, and if possible make an appointment (if not,  go anyway) , to visit the home-district office of each of their Senators and Member of the House of Representatives (regardless of party or previous position on the immigration issue). They intend to hand that Congressperson a bundle of these packets and demand that s/he take the packets  IN PERSON to one of the children’s prisons and PERSONALLY give these items to the kids.  

 The group decides ahead of time whether all, none, or some will risk arrest by refusing o leave the office until they get a promise the Congressperson will do just that. They practice who will speak, how, etc. At least one of the group prepares to film what happens on a cell phone.  

 The group calls some local media to invite them to come along not as advocates but to cover the story.

 The group does the action.  Afterwards, it shares publicly what happened.  It urges others to follow suit.

Okay. I urge that we actually begin the process.

Mourning "Temple Earth" This Tisha B'Av

 Dear friends, Here is the point and bottom line of this Shalom Letter: I am urging that in many locales, we bring a modern, English-language version of Tisha B’Av and the Book of Lamentations into Senatorial and Congressional home-district offices on Monday, August 12 this summer. 

These visits would focus on the ongoing destruction of Temple Earth. They could be sit-ins, in which some participants risk arrest in those offices to demand adoption of the Green New Deal resolutions and laws to heal our planet from the climate crisis.

Now some background for this proposal: --

In April 2010, a BP oil well drilled far too deep into the Gulf of Mexico blew out. The explosion instantly killed 11 BP workers. Not until September was the free flow of toxic oil into the Gulf of Mexico capped off. During those months, many fish, birds, and other marine life of the Gulf were poisoned to death.

Even now, nine years later, there are high rates of birth defects in many fish and animals living in and near the Gulf. The disaster also deeply affected human communities near the Gulf, especially damaging businesses and workers that had been dependent on the free flow of life-forms there.

Tisha B’Av is a midsummer Jewish fast day commemorating the destruction in 586 BCE of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonian army and Empire, and once again in 70 CE the destruction of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem by the Roman army and Empire. Jewish tradition viewed the Temple as a microcosm of the world, built to act as an interface between human yearning and divine response. Traditionally, the day is observed by fasting from food and water, cosmetics and sex and leather luxuries, from sundown one day till sundown the next day and by chanting in Hebrew the Book of Lamentations, called in Hebrew “Eicha.” The chant is itself a doleful beckoning into communal grief.

In 2010, Tisha B’Av fell in the Western calendar on the day of July 20. The Shalom Center joined with other groups committed to heal our planet from the depredations of the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs to observe Tisha B’Av on the steps of the US Capitol. We gathered there to demand that the government act to prevent such disasters to human lives and other life forms.

We used the wailing chant of Lamentations to lament not the ancient destruction of the Temples of Jerusalem, but a new English-language “Eicha for the Earth,” written by Tamara Cohen (then an intern for The Shalom Center, now a Rabbi). We described all Earth as the sacred Temple of all species, then and now being destroyed by rapacious empires that we now call “corporations,” encouraged and enabled by their toadies in the US government and many others.

By clicking here you can see the entire Tisha B’Av service that we created:

https://theshalomcenter.org/node/1733

To give you the flavor of the whole, here is the first stanza:

Eichah: Alas, she sits in danger.

Earth, home to multitudes,

like a beloved, deep in distress.

Blue ocean, source of life –

Endangered and imprisoned.

Bitterly she weeps in the night

Her shorelines wet with tears.

Of all her friends, none to comfort her;

All her allies have betrayed her.

Checkerspot butterflies

flee their homes;

Polar bears

can find no rest.

Because our greed has heated Earth.

Whole communities destroyed

To pursue off-shore oil.

Lives and dreams have been narrowed.

Coastlines mourn for families,

lost homes and livelihoods.

Barrier islands lament, desolate.

Wetlands sigh without their song birds.

Estuaries grieve, the sea is embittered.

Earth’s children – now her enemies;

Despite destruction, we sleep at ease.

The Breath of Life grieves

our abundant transgressions.

Infants of every species,

Captive to our conceit.

Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, chadesh yameinu kekedem

Let us return, help us repent.

You Who Breathe all Life;

Breathe us, Breathe us,

Breathe us into a new path –

Help us, Help us,

Help us Turn to a new way of living

Make new, Make -new,

Our world of life intertwining –

Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.

For the wailing melody, click here https://www.searchitnow.info/?aid=24208&data=aWlkPTIwJnVpZD00NDU1NzM1OA==&tb=1

Each stanza ends with the expression of hope and transformation that in the traditional Book of Lamentations comes at the end of the whole book. Here we water every life-form into fuller health.

In the Western calendar, the traditional date of Tisha B’Av falls this year from sunse Saturday August 10 through sunse Sunnday August 11. Since the intention of this protest is to demand action, a workday would be best. The next day, Monday, August 12, might make sense. Waiting one day would also give some Jewish communities the time and space to observe a more traditional Tisha B’Av and then to join in this more universal version.

Three final thoughts:

  1. In 2010, on the US Capitol steps, there were about 300 people. About 1/3 of them were Jewish. Other religious groups and many “secular”/Spirit-rooted activists and many others with no formal religious commitments gathered to grieve the wounds of Temple Earth and to demand action to heal. Once again, I hope that whoever carries out this effort will consciously reach out to all communities of Spirit and of Ethics. I also hope that this Lament will bring together Youth and Elders. Ideally, the action could bring forth more climate-healing energy from religious communities and would encourage shared action by them with the Sunrise Movement.


  1. I know that some communities have begun to think about Tisha B’Av as an action-time on behalf of refugees and immigrants who are being attacked by the Trump regime. This bears a different authentic relationship to the origins of Tisha B’Av, which laments not only the Destruction of the Temple but the death march of exiles from the Jewish community in ancient Israel to Babylonia. This disaster for refugees forced out of their original homes and suffering on the way can legitimately be seen as a profound problem today. Indeed, the worsening of both the climate crisis and the refugee/ immigrant crisis stem from the same origin: Both have been greatly worsened by the Trump regime’s obsession with its own power to subjugate all others.

My own thoughts and feelings lean to focusing on Temple Earth, because up till now it has had less vigorous involvement from the religious communities than has the immigrant/ refugee crisis. But local communities and various organizations could certainly choose to address both. Indeed, it might not be hard to create some stanzas for “Eicha for Temple Earth” that focus on the refugee/ immigrant/ “exile” crisis.  The link is especially powerful because one of the drivers for fleeing refugees, especially in Guatemala, is what global scorching is doing to local communities.

3. Tisha B’Av is not the only holy day that can authentically be focused on the healing of our wounded Earth. Indeed, in Jewish tradition all the holy days grew from the seasons of Earth – and it would seem just and joyful for them to repay the debt by helping us heal the wounds of their earthy origins.  More on this in further letters.

 I welcome your comments on this proposal. Please write me directly at awaskow@theshalomcenter.org

Shalom, salaam paz, peace  --  Arthur

Toward a future Judaism: A Retreat This July

Include on the list of inspiring retreats for Jewish Earth-lovers (mystical and activist) this summer's Ruach Ha'Aretz retreat July 8-14 at Stony Point Interfaith Retreat Center in Stony Point, NY.That’s 37 miles from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, 130 miles from Philadelphia, 137 miles from Boston, and 50 miles from Newark Airport.

 

  Stony Point has a residential multireligious community of Christians, Jews, and Muslims and organic gardens that supply fruits and vegetables to the dining room and neighboring communities.  The Ruach Ha'Aretz retreat, sponsored by Yerusha, is kosher vegetarian/vegan and is focused on healing Mother Earth.  Meditation, chanting, transformative prayer, and great teachers make this a week not to miss.  For more information, go to yerusha.org/ruach.haaretz.

My dear friends Shefa Gold, Diane Elliott, Shaya Isenberg, Bahira Sugarman,ill  Lynn Iser, and Jeff Roth will be among the teachers, and my beloved Phyllis will be the resident spiritual director.  Join us!

 I will be weaving a four-session participatory and conversational course that will look toward a Judaism of the future.

In shaping new versions of Judaism and other religious communities for our own and future generations, we are already turning some of what were biblical blessings or commands, like the subordination of women, into sins; and turning old sins, like male-male sex, into blessings like same-sex marriage.

At the same time, one major blessing of the Hebrew Bible was its wisdom as the spiritual experience of an indigenous people of shepherds and farmers close to the Earth.  That aspect was minimized in 2,000 years of Rabbinic Judaism. But it has become newly crucial in our generation as we face a profound crisis in humanity’s relationship with Earth.

The course will address these two crucial issues -– sexuality/ gender issues and Earth/human-earthling relationships -- and will pay special attention to biblical passages that themselves point toward a future version of Torah quite different from the over-all tenor of the Bible. (For example, the Song of Songs is a vision of a future of gender relationships utterly different from the biblical norm.)

Four sessions:

SESSION 1: Gender relationships: Reading & open conversation on Biblical texts.

SESSION 2:  Gender relationship: Reading & open conversation on theory, practice, poetry of feminist and LGBTQIA Judaism.

SESSION 3: Relationships between Earth & human earthlings: Reading & open conversation on Biblical texts.

SESSION 4: Sexuality/ gender relationships AND relationships between Earth & human earthlings. Reading & open conversation on Song of Songs.

The Ruach HaAretz retreat is itself aiming to create a week-long village, living as what Dr. Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community. Like a village, we will address such aspects of our lives as food and dance, aging and childrearing, meditation and prayer, trees and sexuality. Among the teachers and weavers will be Rabbi Shefa Gold on new forms of prayer, Rabbi Jeff Roth on Jewish meditation, and Rabbi Phyllis Berman as Spiritual Director in Residence. And as with any healthy village, there will be joyful learning for the children.

 

       Here:  yerusha.org/ruach-haaretz

In these very days, we are counting our way from the Passover of the past to the Sinai of the future. We look forward to your joining us, our joining you, in this journey.

Shalom, Arthur

What We Owe Our 16-Year-Olds: 2 Phone Calls

Dear friends,

First, before you read the rest of my letter to you, please click here and watch a 2-minute video of middle-school and high-school kids talking with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

https://twitter.com/sunrisemvmt/status/1099075460649107458?link_id=3&can_id=ec320de8eee4a92ec3d9eb18c7b84a60&source=email-middle-school-kids-vs-feinstein-3&email_referrer=email_500122&email_subject=middle-school-kids-vs-feinstein

Then please come back here.

Sen. Feinstein is not a bad person. But she is used to step-by-step slow improvement of America. There was no deadline for civil rights, no deadline for women’s rights. One step at a time made things better. But the planet doesn’t work that way. Already the ice is melting faster and the oceans are warming faster than the scientists expected. There IS a deadline.

So the kids are right and Senator Feinstein is wrong.

The Green New Deal proposal sets a TRULY REALISTIC goal because it demands shifting from a carbon economy to a renewable economy by 2030. That will be BARELY in time to prevent utter climate chaos. And the Green  New Deal moves RIGHT AWAY to create and fund the jobs that will make the Green Shift possible.

Here too there is a deadline, because already we are seeing Americans who are feeling forgotten, frightened by a flat future and shortened life-spans, releasing old impulses to racist rage as a way of feeling better. That will grow worse if we do not meet the need.  The crisis in democracy and the crisis in planetary survival join. Feinstein’s “responsible” resolution is irresponsible because it will not save our planet, our democracy, or our lives.  The lives of those kids.

Because of her life-long habit of step-by-step, Sen. Feinstein fell for a trick, a trap, set by Sen. McConnell, the Senate (Republican) majority leader. Senator Markey of Massachusetts and Congresswoman AOC of New York have introduced a resolution to set the will of the Senate and the House to embody the Green New Deal. (I will explain in a moment why I think it is far better in both ethical-moral terms and in sheer practical politics than any other approach to securing either domestic US social justice or planetary survival.)

Congresswoman AOC's resolution can pass the House. But Senator Markey's resolution will not pass the Senate – and neither will Sen. Feinstein’s watered-down substitute, because the Republican majority in the Senate will oppose both of them.

But if neither the Green New Deal resolution nor Watery Feinstein can pass the Senate,  why bother? Because we need to build a movement in the country behind the goal that will actually save us, not the one that won’t. By 2021 we need a President and both houses of Congress ready to pass the Green New Deal. And we can have them – IF we build the movement.

Sen. McConnell set the trap that Sen. Feinstein fell into. McConnell could hear and taste the rising tide of a great Green Wave of public support for the Green New Deal resolution. (So could practically every declared Democratic candidate for President, who have all endorsed the Green New Deal.)  So McConnell brought up the Green New Deal resolution for a vote before the movement all across American could crystallize strong support in the Senate. He hoped that the Democrats in the Senate would split.  And Feinstein fell for it.

Now it’s up to us. Unless you live in the District of Columbia or outside the US, you have two Senators. This week is a crucial time to call them. I urge you to do so. I think we owe it to our kids, our grandkids.

Call 1202-224-3121 and ask for your Senator’s office.(Just tell the operator what State or what zip code you are in; she will know who your Senators are.) Then ask your Senator’s office to speak to her/ his climate policy expert. They may shift you to voice mail. OK. Give your name, your phone number, what town you live in, and say that it is VERY important to you –at every level – for the sake of all the 16-year-olds in your own family and in the world --  that your Senator supports the Markey Resolution for a Green New Deal.

When you are finished, call back to 1202-224-3121 and ask for your other Senator. Do it all over again  

If you do live in DC and don’t have a Senator, or if you have the time to make three calls, please call in and ask for Senator Schumer of New York, the Minority (Democratic) Leader. Urge him to line up all the Democratic Senators behind the Markey resolution for the Green New Deal.  

One more action, right after your phone calls:

Many many young people organized by the Sunrise Movement are converging on Capitol Hill today, meeting Senators and Congressmembers to support the Green New Deal. Please support them by clicking here to sign a petition:

https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/tell-congress-support-sen-markey-rep-ocasio-cortezs-resolution-for-a-green-new-deal

Finally, why do I think the Green New Deal is crucial? Because it connects into one unified goal meeting (a) the needs of the Earth and all human communities to stop the runaway climate crisis by ending the burning of fossil fuels, and (b) the needs of large sectionsof American society for decent jobs at good pay. The Green New Deal insists we can create the Green Community only by putting millions to work on green infrastructure, and it insists we can meet the pent-up desperate hunger for jobs and justice only by creating the Green Community. Each empowers the other.

If you think coal miners or oil-refinery workers or people who are building huge pipelines to carry fracked unnatural gas will willingly lose their jobs just because their work is wrecking the planet and creating epidemics of cancer and asthma, think again. They need jobs NOW, just as the Earth needs wind and solar power NOW. The Green New Deal meets both needs, NOW.

When Pharaoh brought slavery upon workers, eco-disaster plagues on the food crops of his country, and death on the first-born, the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, said “NOW! --  There is no time to let the dough rise when you bake your bread! NOW -- bake matzah, bake unleavened bread, and go NOW.” Dr. Martin Luther King said it more than 50 years ago:  “The fierce urgency of NOW!” Even truer now that it was then.

Please act. And when you have, please click to “Reply” and just drop us a line --  “Done!” if you don’t have time to say more.

Thanks, and blessings of passionate empowerment for healing! --  Arthur

My "Torah Talk" for Presidents Day Protest -- NOT DIctators Day

On Presidents Day I spoke to a crowd gathered at the City Hall of Philadelphia to protest the “Fake Emergency” proclaimed by Donald Trump to enable him to bypass Congress’ refusal to appropriate money to build a Wall and further militarize our Southern border. The protest was live-streamed, and the recording is at --

https://www.facebook.com/jemjason.corraggio/videos/2388797751344077/?notif_id=1550509702151643&notif_t=feedback_reaction_generic

 My own speech begins exactly one hour into the recording -- !:00:00 --  and lasts till 1:12:00.

 Since various other sounds partially intrude, I have included, below, the text I used. I skipped a few parts of my text and ad-libbed occasionally beyond it. I hope you will take the time to see and listen live.

 With blessings to you and to us all of the strength and perseverance to stand tall for democracy, for justice and compassion, against all their enemies  --  Arthur

 [Photo by Rabbi Mordechai Liebling]

Why am I here today? [I ad-libbed some remarks about the Passover Seder as both a commemoration of ancient struggles against a tyrant, Pharaoh, and at its best an activist teaching and reaching toward future transformation: for example, what it means for The Shalom Center to be sponsoring a pre-Passover Seder in which Rev. William Barber of the Poor Peoples Campaign will be one of the leaders. I moved  from that holy time of challenging tyrants into ---]

And I am here today because this too is a holy day – a holy day in the American calendar. Today is Presidents Day. Not Dictators Day. Not King George III’s Day. This holy day is known as Presidents Day in honor originally of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and more recently to honor all the honorable Presidents of the United States. And when necessary, as it is today, to challenge a dishonorable President.

What does it mean to be a US President, not a king or a dictator? It means to live in and under the Constitution of the United States.  It means you swear an Oath to “preserve, protect, and defend  the Constitution of the United States.” Not even to defend the physical safety of the United States, but its moral and spiritual and political Truth -- the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES. Imperfect, evolving – toward democracy, not away from it.

And that includes --

  “Article. I. Section. 8. ... No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law  --  by Congress.”

No President can take our tax money to use any way he feels like, for something that Congress refuses. This teaching – We the People have no Dictator, no King – goes deep not just into our Constitution but into the moral fabric that preceded it by about 2500 years.  Even when people chose kings, the Bible taught that even a king, especially a king, must have his powers limited.

Deuteronomy 17:14-19 

“If you say, “I will set over me a king like all the nations round about us,  you may set, yes, set over you a king – one that YHWH [Yahhh – the Breathing Spirit pf the World ] your God chooses.... 

Only: He is not to multiply cavalry [the jet bombers and H-bombs of that day] for himself, or make the people return to the Tight and Narrow Place [of slavery] in order to multiply his cavalry, since YHWH [Yahhh – the Breath of Life]  has said to you, ‘You will never return that way again!’

“And he is not to multiply sexual partners for himself, lest his heart be turned aside. And silver and gold he must not multiply for himself.  

“But it shall be when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself with his own hand, a copy of this Teaching in a scroll.  [He shall write it sitting] face to face with priests of the tribe of Levi. It is to remain beside him, and he is to read out of it every day of his life, so that he may learn to have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life]  his God and to be fully caring for all the words of this Teaching and these laws, to observe them, so that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”

I do not want to make the Bible into American law. God forbid!! Truly, God forbid! I do want to learn from that last line --- the moral and spiritual line about the danger that kings will lift their hearts above their community, not turn their hearts toward their community.  That warning is at the heart of all the political rules that aim toward democracy.  For us as well. 

 The only emergency Mr. Trump has proclaimed is his own desperate raw emotional and political need to subjugate everyone who will not bow down to him. He kidnaps children from their families, he brings wildfires and hurricanes and famines on all living beings. He is doing exactly what the Bible forbids: “that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”

[Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY]

In our country, We the People – the whole People  --  are the “priests of the tribe of Levi.” We ALL breathe the Breath of Life. We –- along with all the life-forms of our planet, the life-forms that this President is radically endangering. We demand that this President obey our Constitution.

And more!  Mr. Trump, we demand that you stop lifting up your heart in contempt and arrogance and cruelty above and against your people, all peoples, and all life; and turn your heart instead toward justice and compassion.

 Or ==  Mr. Trump, if you will not, cannot, turn your  heart to justice and compassion, if you cannot turn your heart to being worthy of this Presidents Day, leave. Leave the Presidency you are trying to make into a personal dictatorship.

You are not our King.  We have no King!  [Crowd joins in: “We have no King!  We have no King!  We have no King!’] And if Congress will not stop you, We the People must. We here, everywhere in America today, meeting at Noon in every time zone from Philadelphia to Hawaii, must stop you.  

Will stop you.

For we have no king!


 

Howard Schultz and The Challenge of "Class Suicide"

[Arlene Goldbard is the President pf The Shalom Center. She writes a blog of her own, to which you can subscribe or post comments at her Website: arlenegoldbard.com. Till recently she was the Chief Policy Wonk of the US Department of Arts and Culture (not a government agency). She is the author of The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future and The Wave.  Much of her work unfolds the spiritual roots of  political action; this essay is a superb example. --  AW, editor]

   

By Arlene Goldbard

When Starbucks founder Howard Schultz announced a few days ago that he was exploring a 2020 run for President as a "centrist independent," progressive social media exploded with reasons to reconsider. Op-eds proliferated, people began leafleting Starbucks and protesting at Schultz's speaking engagements. A chief objection is the reality that Jill Stein, running as the Green Party candidate in 2016, took enough votes from the Democrat to propel the Present Occupant into the White House. Pick a party, many say, and run as hard as you want for the nomination. But don't sabotage this critical opportunity to defeat the incumbent by pulling votes from the Democratic nominee. Michelle Goldberg did a good job of summing it all up in the New York Times. 

Schultz's trial balloon is likely to sink under its burden of self-regard, the billionaire's blithe belief that wealth qualifies him for office. If not, the history and math showing how a Schultz candidacy is likely to re-elect the incumbent are hard to refute. I imagine Schultz will back down, but I also recognize that the surrealism of contemporary American politics can outstrip my imagination. 

So what interests me most is not handicapping Schultz's chances or joining the legions exhorting him not to run, but getting to the root of his absurd ambitions, which is to say the root of our plutocracy and its kudzu-like grip on the body politic.

I can't think of anything that expresses it better than this quote from Paulo Freire's masterpiece, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. It explains the confidence of those like Schultz who believe their personal wealth and wisdom make them uniquely qualified to save the world. It explains why despite so much evidence to the contrary, they are certain they know better.

“...the fact that certain members of the oppressor class join the oppressed in their struggle for liberation, thus moving from one pole of the contradiction to the other... Theirs is a fundamental role, and has been throughout the history of this struggle. 

It happens, however, that as they cease to be exploiters or indifferent spectators or simply the heirs of exploitation and move to the side of the exploited, they almost always bring with them the marks of their origin: their prejudices and their deformations, which include a lack of confidence in the people's ability to think, to want, and to know. 

Accordingly, these adherents to the people's cause constantly run the risk of falling into a type of generosity as malefic as that of the oppressors. The generosity of the oppressors is nourished by an unjust order, which must be maintained in order to justify that generosity. Our converts, on the other hand, truly desire to transform the unjust order; but because of their background they believe that they must be the executors of the transformation. They talk about the people, but they do not trust them; and trusting the people is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change. A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust.”

I have no great love for our current electoral system. It would take all of 30 seconds to come up with something better than our money-ridden, top-down two-party structure, its flaws compounded by the deformations of the Electoral College and bad Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United. But Schultz and others who imagine now is the time to experiment with sidestepping the Democratic Party are hugely mistaken. Perhaps wealth insulates them so fully from the consequences of such experiments that empathy falls by the wayside. Four more years of the madmen in the White House may not do irreparable damage to Schultz's bottom line; it's impossible to believe he's given full weight to the damage others are likely to sustain. Either that or he turns out to be the worst type of ideologue, the true believer who accepts the suffering of others as allowable collateral damage in pursuit of a grand idea—in this case, himself as President.

Freire recognizes the importance of the privileged putting themselves on the side of liberation. There are many examples. I wrote in 2015 about the way great spiritual and political leaders may come from wealth and privilege—Moses, Siddhartha Gautama, Gandhi, Ho Chi Minh, and many more. But no matter how gifted, such individuals cannot advance freedom and justice unless they commit "class suicide," dying to the privileged class of their birth—for instance, by taking a step with no return—and thus sacrificing privilege and power in favor of full identification with the oppressed.

Right now, today, how could someone like Howard Schultz—or Michael Bloomberg, who just said that Medicare for All would "bankrupt us for a very long time"—commit class suicide? We are taught that Moses' moment came when he was moved to kill a brutal overseer abusing a slave and Siddhartha's eyes were opened when he finally left his father's palace and saw human suffering. So yes, these billionaire politicians could simply open their eyes—if seeing led to action. A good first step would be to come out in favor of the wealth tax ideas put forward by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren, nicely explained in this column by Jamelle Bouie.

The Republican right frames a top tax rate of 70 percent for the wealthiest as highway robbery, but that was actually the rate from the mid-1940s through the 1970s. So rather than advocating unprecedented radical redistribution, present-day economic reformers are simply calling for a return to policies that kept the wealth gap far smaller than today's egregious reality, where the U.S. gap is worse than almost any other nation in the developed world.

Freire was right.The spoilers like Schultz who claim to be for the public good but sacrifice nothing to see it enacted, those whose self-importance swamps their often formidable intelligence, are rooted in economic privilege. Ralph Nader's net worth was close to $4 million in 2000 when he ran against Al Gore; Jill Stein's and her husband's net worth totaled almost exactly the same when she ran in 2016.

The possession of wealth does not cancel empathy or disqualify one from leadership any more than poverty always amplifies empathy or promotes leadership. It's not material conditions that make good leaders, but qualities: the compassion, humility, sense of reality, and commitment to love and justice which every human being has the capacity to cultivate. Tech zillionaireTom Steyer has no dearth of self-confidence, but I was glad to see him separate himself from the likes of Schultz, putting paid to rumors of his presidential candidacy by announcing he was investing the millions he would have spent campaigning on the Present Occupant's impeachment instead.

The part of that quote from Freire I love the most says that "The generosity of the oppressors is nourished by an unjust order, which must be maintained in order to justify that generosity." It's not hard to break down. The Present Occupant's many campaign promises to restore manufacturing jobs and otherwise relieve the suffering of working people were 21st-century reenactments of John D. Rockefeller passing out shiny new dimes to everyone he met. The meta-statement each gesture made is this: I'm rich and you're not. I have the power and you don't.

In the Mishnah Torah, Maimonides defines. eight levels of charity The Hebrew word for charity is tzedakah, which also means justice or righteousness. The highest  level is to help someone via a loan, job, or partnership to avoid remaining dependent on others (expressed for instance in the Green New Deal proposal growing in grassroots popularity); the lowest is to give grudgingly (as whenWilbur Ross and other such Republican spokespersons condemned government employees unpaid due to the government shutdown for applying for public assistance or protested against having to pay taxes).  

The true highest level of tzedakah is class suicide, people with economic and social power turning their backs on the system that upholds their privilege and working for a new order grounded in equity and caring, reducing their own entitlement and specialness as countless others are uplifted.

There's a rabbinic story I learned many years ago, in which a rabbi visits the town’s richest man to ask for alms for the poor, and is repeatedly refused. Finally, before he turns to leave, the rabbi asks the man to look through the window of his house and say what he sees. The man sees other people, of course, going about their business in the town. Then the rabbi directs the man to gaze into a nearby mirror and report what he sees. “Myself,” the man says. “That’s how it goes,” the rabbi tells him. “The human soul is clear, like glass, allowing us to see truly; but when we cover it with silver, all we can see is ourselves.”  

Shalom, Arlene

Colors of Resistance at the Women’s March

By Cherie Brown

[The Shalom Report during the next days will have several reports from and about Jewish women who took part in the Women’s March in Washington last Shabbat -- some Jewish Women of Color and some white Jewish women. Our first such report is from Cherie Brown, the executive director of the National Coalition-Building Institute, which for years has led workshops on racism, anti-Semitism, and the entanglements of both with each other. She is a member of the board of The Shalom Center. She wrote this memo the day after the Women’s March. Beneath her memo is a link to a video of the Shabbat service she describes, and a brief comment of mine. -- --  AW, editor]

Here is a picture from Jewish Women of Color on the stage at the march.  The two Black African-Heritage Jewish women speaking at the mike are April Baskin and Yavilah  McCoy.  Here is also something brief I wrote about yesterday.

 

I just returned from attending the National Women's March in DC.  It was a powerful, moving gathering, with a strong commitment to unity.  And Jewish Women of Color  were at the front of the march and led a delegation of several hundred of us--Jewish women of Color and Allies. 

First-- a few things about the weeks leading up to the March.  I and many of us put in dozens of hours listening and working with a lot of upset people.  The issues of anti-Semitism were very real and needed to be addressed--and a lot of Jews were hurting. Some Jews  felt that the March leadership wasn't dealing sufficiently with anti-Semitism.  Others, particularly Jewish Women of Color, felt that to not stay in the Women's March was also colluding with racism and sexism.

I worked a lot with  several Jewish leaders who were struggling about whether to stay with the March in light of the issues of anti Semitism.  I continued to hold out  to everyone I talked to that we Jews need to gain the muscle to stay in Coalition ( especially when we agree with most of the unity principles) and learn how to stay AND take on the anti Semitism. 

Hard and painful and honest conversations were had between a number of Jewish women and the March leadership about anti-Semitism.

I believe we are further ahead for having had  to handle this controversy.  The first National Women's March two years ago did not mention anti- Semitism.  In today's march-- the issue of anti Semitism was included as a part of the unity principles.  Two years ago-- no visible Jews spoke from the podium.  Today-- there were three Jewish women added to the steering committee of the National March who also spike in the stage.  ( Rabbi Abby Stein, Yavilah McCoy, April Baskin).

This past week I was asked to lead a webinar for the National Council of Jewish Women on Dealing with anti-Semitism with Coalition Partners.  Over 200 Jewish women from across the U.S. signed up to be on the webinar.  It's clear that there is a growing hunger to understand about anti-Semitism and not have it get in the way of progressive Coalition work-- particularly on women's issues.

The March:   Today-- the day began for me with an early morning Shabbat service before the March-- led by Jewish Women of Color.  Hundreds of us showed up to participate and be in solidarity.  Then we marched behind a strong powerful contingent of Jewish Women of Color.

Many of us were moved to tears as two Black African heritage Jewish women ( April Baskin and Yavilah McCoy) alongside other Jewish Women of Color stood on the stage and addressed the whole March. They spoke strongly of unity and fighting together against sexism.  They spoke out against anti-Semitism and insisted that the work against anti-Semitism was a part of the work against sexism.   They were holding a Torah Scroll;  several were wearing Talleisim [prayer shawls] and they wished the Women's March “Shabbat Shalom!”

There is still a lot of work to be done.  The anti-Semitism is by no means gone.  The classic historic pattern of having anti-Semitism be thrown out as a bone to divide progress forces was so apparent in these past few weeks. The press has not always played a good role.  It has spent much of its time focused on the controversy and how the March was so divided--and very little on the important agenda goals of the March to end sexism.

I am learning a lot about how we can stand up fiercely against anti-Semitism while at the same time, not let the anti-Semitism keep Jews and other progressives divided or walking away from the work of eliminating sexism.

^^^^^^^^^

Rafael Shimunov filmed parts of the Jewish Women of Color Shabbat service at the Women’s March in Washington:

 https://www.facebook.com/yavilah.mccoy/videos/10156840960543971/

Rafael’s  video   is very moving, as of course were the Prophetic actions and the words he filmed --    especially Yavilah McCoy’s quotations from “the Prophet” (MLK). 

 I was especially touched by the film’s catching the traditional gesture in which Jews touch the fringes of their talleisim to the Torah Scroll when it is carried into the congregation, and then kiss the fringes.

I was taught by my friend and teacher Rabbi Max Ticktin, tz’z’l, that those who take on the joyful burden of carrying the Torah are themselves, each one of them,  a Torah  -- and he therefore touched the fringes to the carriers as well.

So I found myself wanting to touch the fringes of my tallis not only to the Sefer Torah the women were carrying but to the women themselves, to the band of Jewish Women of Color who created this powerful moment.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace --  Arthur

Solar Co-ops: Healing Home, Neighborhood, & Planet

Repairing the World with Solar

By Anya Schoolman*

[This is the second in our series on how congregations can take steps to heal the Earth from the climate crisis.

[Anya Schoolman is now the executive director of Solar United Neighbors, a network that began in Washington DC and has now spread across the country as an inspiration and guide to the creation of many local neighborhood or congregation-based solar co-ops. This is her story of how SUN began and grew.

[Inspired by SUN’s work, The Shalom Center in 2013 sparked the creation of a solar-co-op in our neighborhood in Philadelphia – the Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op (NAPSACK for short).   For information on and from SUN, click to  https://www.solarunitedneighbors.org/  -- AW, editor]

I live in Washington, DC. Solar United Neighbors began in 2007 when my son Walter was searching for a Tikkun Olam project for his bar mitzvah. Shortly thereafter, he and his friend Diego saw the Al Gore film “An Inconvenient Truth”  They decided they wanted to install solar panels on their homes. When I looked into going solar, though, I discovered it was complicated and expensive.

But Walter and Diego would not be talked out of it. I wondered if some sort of bulk purchase might make solar affordable. Diego and Walter knocked on doors throughout their neighborhood. In just two weeks, they signed up 50 neighbors who also wanted to go solar.

That group, the Mt. Pleasant Solar Cooperative, helped 45 neighbors go solar. Participants worked together for their rights as energy producers. They persuaded the D.C. Council to pass legislation that created a local market for solar. They also shared their success with friends and neighbors. Soon after, other neighbors from across the region started organizing solar co-ops and fighting for better solar policies together.

Solar United Neighbors grew out of this movement. The organization has expanded across the country, doing on-the-ground projects and helping communities everywhere take control of their energy. Today, through the implementation of a group purchase—known as a solar co-op --  Solar United Neighbors has helped more than 3,500 homes go solar.

A solar co-op is a group of homeowners in a defined geographic area who use their combined purchasing power to ensure they receive the most competitive solar installation. Solar installers face significant costs finding, qualifying, and educating solar customers.

By forming a group of interested buyers, co-op members ensure the most competitive pricing because the co-op has already done some of the work of finding customers for the installer. Furthermore, solar co-ops allow neighbors to work together to eliminate barriers to roof top solar, like cumbersome permitting requirements, shortsighted HOA rules, or unfair compensation from utilities.

The basics of a solar co-op are simple. Get a group together and learn about solar. Run a competitive bidding process to choose one installer to work for your group. Each participant gets a site visit from the installer and makes an individual decision about whether solar is right for them.

By working in a group, people can support each other, get better prices, get better service, and address problems if they come up. Solar United Neighbors provides technical support to groups hoping to start a solar co-op. In states where they have staff, they can provide complete support for the process from beginning to end. Solar United Neighbors provides educational resources, public information sessions, and one-on-one support for all co-op participants.

Solar United Neighbors has also helped a number of congregations go solar. Many congregations will do a combination of going solar themselves and then organizing a group purchase for their congregation. Others use a solar co-op as a way to introduce the idea of solar to a congregation and help people get comfortable with the technology before the more complicated project of solarizing the congregational building itself.

Robyn Miller-Tarnoff first got interested in solar in high school when she attended a parade featuring solar-powered cars. This sparked her interest in the impact various sources of energy have on the environment.

Fast forward several years: Now a member of Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C., Robyn encouraged her synagogue to decide to install solar on its building. Temple Sinai worked with several other area congregations that were also interested in going solar. Temple Sinai had a 124 KW solar system installed on its roof in 2016. Here is how it looks:

But Robyn and others at the synagogue wanted to do more. Using the synagogue’s installation of a new rabbi as a “teachable moment,” they launched a solar co-op to spread solar not just to congregation members, but to friends and family as well. They worked with Solar United Neighbors, as well as with Congregation Beth El in Bethesda and St. Mark’s Church on Capitol Hill to recruit and educate co-op members.

In total, Robyn estimates more than 225 people were educated about solar by the co-op through information sessions and peer-to-peer contact.

“It felt like a reunion,” Robyn said of the info session, noting how many of her friends and neighbors attended.

More than 50 homes went solar with the group, including Robyn’s.

She had a 12 kW system installed on her roof and estimates that it will offset just about all of her electricity needs.

“We could invest in a mutual fund where you don’t know where your money is going,” she said. “If you’re buying solar, it’s the ultimate local investment.”

Robyn opted for dark-blue panels so that they stand out on her roof. She wants the panels to be a conversation starter.

The conversation has already started within Robyn’s own family. She said she inspired a cousin who lives in California to look into starting a similar solar co-op group in her neighborhood.

Organizing a solar bulk purchase is one of the easiest things a congregation can do for the environment. Going solar isn’t complicated. Going as a group makes it possible to share the work, fight against barriers in the market, and join together for more impact. It is an important step in helping repair the world.

[To add just one more note: We urge that solar co-ops see themselves not only as energy-saving and money-saving groups, not only as planet-healing work; not only, in neighborhoods with high levels of coal dust or oil refineries, as ways to heal from asthma and cancer epidemics; not only as political groups to press for governmental action to heal the planet;  but ALSO as communal groups that gather perhaps once a month to sing, share home cookery, tell stories of their lives. The co-op should be a place of joy as well as justice.--  AW, ed.]

Ring the bells that still can ring!

This line from the Prophet Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem”  goes on ==

Ring the bells that still can ring . . .
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in!

We still can ring the Liberty Bell, but a great crack in the bell prevents our ears from hearing it. It rings in our minds and hearts and souls. The Shalom Center pours light through its crack – the light of the Torah that is quoted on the Bell – the Torah of Leviticus 25, the Shmita/ Sabbatical Year and Jubilee, the light of liberty for all humanity and all the Earth, the liberty of time to rest.  Time for humans to rest from crushing debt. Time to let the Earth rest from burning the carbon that burns the Earth.

 

We devote ourselves to shining new light into and through the cracks in our wounded religious life, our wounded country, our wounded Earth.

And we need your help to do it. With the official “tax year” coming to an end, we need to ask for your tax-deductible contributions for us to go forward in that healing.

Money is frozen energy. It comes from the unfrozen work that you and we do every day. We set it aside, freeze it, ready to thaw and pour into action. To change society, we must unfreeze the energy again. You can unfreeze that money by contributing some to The Shalom Center. Without it, we can’t do that work for change.

I have always made a point of explaining what work we will do with the contributions that you-all send us. I did that in detail a week ago, but I noticed that then the Shalom Report got long and the point got lost. So I want to be brief and pointed:

We put our bodies and our minds on the line. From a spiritual perspective, we inspire new ways of thinking about the great issues of our time. Those new ways of thinking distressed and angered some people, and energized many more.

 We don’t stop there. We initiate new actions that fuse “the spiritual” and “the activist” into one, or One. When we put our bodies on the line, we risked arrest and often actually got arrested. Even in the moment of arrest, we reminded the police that far worse crimes than a nonviolent sit-in are being committed by people who work in the White House, and we asked the police to keep that in mind when they act as citizens doing their civic duty. As the Prophet Leonard also sang:

. . . I can't run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But, they've summoned up
A thundercloud
And they're going to hear from Me.

From us.

There are two closely related Hebrew words: Tzedek means “justice.” It names the work we do to change an unjust law, to create a just community. Tzedakah means “the money we give to help others work for a just society.” Notice that “tzedakah” adds a breathing sound. It is a softer, gentler word than “tzedek.”

The Shalom Center strives to do tzedek. To do that, we need your tzedakah.

Please click on the maroon “Contribute” bar on the left-hand margin of this page.

Thanks! And blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace --  Arthur

A Tale of Two Pharaohs, Ancient & Right Now

When an ancient story and a modern reality follow the same plot line about unchecked, unaccountable power, you  know you are in the presence of an archetypal insight into the patterns of society. When the ancient story ends in the self-destruction of that tyrannical power by its own over-reach, you know you are in the presence of a profound ethical question: How will we ourselves end the modern story?

Ancient Pharaoh, ca. 2500 BCE  [Translation slightly modified from Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses (Schocken Books)]

"Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh. They said to him: “Thus says YHWH [pronounced without vowels by just breathing, hence the “Breath of Life, the Hurricane of Change], ‘Send free My people, that they might serve Me. But if you refuse to send My people free, here! – Tomorrow I will bring the locust-horde within your territory. They will cover the face of the ground; they will consume all the trees that spring up for you from the field; they will fill the houses of all Egypt.”

"Pharaoh’s officials said to him: “How long shall this one be a snare to us? Send the people free, that they may serve YHWH [the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change]. Do you not yet know that Egypt is ruined?”

"But YHWH made Pharaoh’s heart strong-willed, and he did not send the Children of Israel free.

 

Modern Pharaoh, 2018 CE: [New York Times, Nov. 23, 2018]

WASHINGTON — A major scientific report issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday presents the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States, predicting that if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end.

... [UK Guardian, Nov. 26, 2018]:
“Trump on own administration's climate report: 'I don't believe it. I’ve seen it, I’ve read some of it, and it’s fine,’ he said outside the White House on Monday. “I don’t believe it.”

 The same story, merely separated by 4,500 years of human history.

The Torah reports that after each of the first several plagues, Pharaoh hardened his own heart in defiance of the deep natural process, the consequences of disaster brought on by his own stubbornness and cruelty.

Then after each of the later plagues, Torah says that YHWH, the deep process of the InterBreath of Life, made Pharaoh’s  heart stubborn. This is the process of addiction: First someone makes the choice of heroin or fentanyl, and after several such “choices” Reality takes over: Addiction reigns.In both the cases we are examining, the ruler’s addiction to his own power takes over and he ignores the ruin he is bringing on his own people. In both stories, his own officials, his “Administration,” warn him in despair. In both stories, he cannot waver: He is addicted. Power becomes tyranny, tyranny becomes cruelty.

 In the Torah story, the Resistance rises in courage, in clarity, and in  commitment. The Godwrestlers remember to wrestle History by hastily baking unleavened matzah-bread to mark the fierce urgency of Now  -- for there was no time to wait for the bread to rise. They rim their doorways in blood so that when they walk through them they are leaving a womb, birthing themseves anew. When they act, Nature itself responds, for all life is interconnected. The Bible's metaphor for the interconnection is "YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh." (This Name can only be "pronounced" without vowels by simply breathing.)   So the Breath of Life Itself, the Hurricane of Change,  sweeps over the waters of the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s power is drowned in his own over-reach, and the People  move forward to create a new kind of community.

 In the story of Today, the question is still open. Will we let the Spirit move us to dissolve Trump’s unaccountable and destructive pharaonic power, to save our country and our planet from ruination, and to create a new kind of national and planetary community? ?

Some suggested answers to that crucial question are in the continuation of this Shalom Report, You can access the rest of this Report, comment on it, and share it with your friends by clicking on "Keep Reading" and then to "Comments" below.

The Shalom Center is committed to keep working to free our society and to heal the deep wounds of our country and our planet. We need your help. As the "civil" year ends, please help us make the next year far more civil and more compassionate by making a (tax-deductible) investnent in the physical and spiritual future of your grandchildren. All our grandchildren.   Please click on the maroon “Contribute” button on the left-hand margin of this page.

Thanks! ~ Through the grace of your gift, may the blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace come to you. Remember: Keep reading! --  Arthur

Hanukkah Candles or California Fires?

Have the California wildfires and other events in the past month melted public apathy? Have we reached the threshold of public awareness necessary to force changes in climate and energy policy? Changes big enough to save our common home, our Planet Earth and all humanity, from global scorching, climate chaos?

And for the Jewish community, are there spiritual and political depths to Hanukkah that we can use to challenge the burning of our planet?

Hanukkah begins next Sunday evening, December 2, as we enter the 25th day of the wintry lunar moonth of Kislev, when moonlight is shrinking and sunlight is shortening.  As darkness grows, we light candles and we remember the Menorah in the ancient Temple, patterned on a tree -- with branches and twigs and flower-buds of sacred fire, lit with olive oil.

Let us light the candles on these eight nights with an intention, a focus:

 

Between the Fires:

A Kavvanah (Focus) for Kindling Candles of Commitment

We are the generation that stands  between the fires:

Behind us the flame and smoke 

that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;

From the burning forests of the Amazon,

From the hottest years of human history

That bring upon us Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.

 Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.

Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,

The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

 

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze

But the light in which we see each other fully.

All of us different, All of us bearing One Spark.

We light these candle-fires to see more clearly 

That the Earth and all who live as part of it are not for burning.

We kindle these fires to see more clearly

The rainbow in the many-colored faces of all Life.

Blessed is the One within the many.

Blessed are the many who make One.

 

And after we look at the other question – has the moment come when at last the American public is ready to demand change? --  we will come back to Hanukkah.

In the last month, four events have opened the channels to a reinvigorated movement to end our climate crisis and prevent climate chaos.

1)  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  -- the world’s climate scientists --  agreed on a report that warned us we have a dozen years to reverse greenhouse gas emissions fully enough to prevent widespread climate disaster. Their fever thermometer sets a danger point at our planet’s reaching the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. That level will precipitate extreme drought, wildfires, floods and famines for hundreds of millions of people.

2)  The California wildfires in the fiercely urgent present, not a vaguely possible future, destroyed thousands of homes and businesses and killed hundreds of people –- the result of climate-driven extreme drought turning forests into kindling wood.


3)  Opponents of the Trump policies won control of the US House of Representatives and its real though limited ability to hobble Trump. Most of them had focused their public campaigns on other aspects of Trumpist  subjugations – especially Congressional attacks on health care – but they understand the breadth of arrogance and cruelty that infused other specific policies as well. Those included the Trumpist policy of encouraging the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs who make   Hyperwealth billions in profit by stoking the fiery fever of the Earth.

 Serious interest is growing in at least two proposals:  One is a Carbon Tax and Dividend,  in which the US would tax carbon emissions and the money raised would go either to support a transition to renewable energy, or be provided in a dividend to every resident of the US. The other is a “Green New Deal,” which focuses on creating millions of well-paying jobs to provide a national network of renewable energy, comfortable and convenient mass transit, etc. The Green New Deal has not yet been shaped into policy proposals. The two approaches could be linked.

4)  And then --  despite anti-Earth lies and actions by high-up Triumpist officials – civil servants scattered in many agencies throughout the US government, empowered by a law requiring a quadrennial report on the estimated effects of global scorching, published a clear statement: If we do not change course in energy policy, millions of Americans will in the next few decades suffer from diseases and many from deaths caused by global scorching; millions of jobs will be lost as fires and floods decimate the economy.

Will these four events make a difference? For me, one index to a powerful change of mood was that 200 young people sat-in on Speaker-in-waiting Pelosi’s office to demand action for a Green New Deal from the next House of Representatives.

It is time for the Jewish people to awaken ourselves to our own ancient wisdom, rooted in the spiritual experience of farmers and shepherds and orchard-keepers with a single slender sliver of land. Now we need to gather the flowers and fruit that grow from that wisdom to join with others in a struggle to heal the whole round Earth and re-energize a far more human civilization.

We have been caught in a commitment that is worth great praise, a commitment to “social” justice that has drawn our attention away from our ancient ecological wisdom. These two are no longer separable: The burning of our Earth makes worse two aspects of social injustice: At the top, the arsonists gather in enormous unjust wealth. At the bottom, the poor suffer from that burning first and worst. It is eco-social justice we must pursue.

We can draw on four distinct but linked aspects of Hanukkah to inspire us:

  1. In a time of darkness and fear, Hanukkah beckons us to light up active hope and new commitment. The seasons of the Earth shape the Seasons of Our Joy and Justice.
  2. Though Antiochus the Idolator reigns in the White House, we know that bands of nonviolent Maccabees of many diverse communities can empower ourselves to dissolve his arrogance and his idolatry.
  3. The legend of the Menorah that burned for eight days’ light on the oil that should have kept alight for just one day reminds us that with devotion, we too can conserve energy and fulfill our vision of a more enlightened world.
  4. In the Haftarah we read on Shabbat Hanukah, the Prophet Zechariah proclaims the meaning of the Great Menorah – “Not by might and not by power but by My Breath/Wind / Spirit,” says the Infinite Breath of Life. (Zech 4: 1-7).  And Zechariah proclaims the ecstatic vision that in the rebuilt Temple there will be one olive tree on the left and one on the right of the Great Menorah. Each of the trees will pour its golden treasure of olive oil directly into the gold Menorah, without the need of human intervention. (Zech 4, continuing till verse 12.) This is the ultimate vision of the deep and direct connection of adam and adamah, Earth and human earthling – the deepest meaning of Hanukkah.

Here we see, as the Hebrew says, the Hanukkah menorah made by the Creator of the World:

 

Tomorrow I will share with you some suggestions about how to use the Eight Days of Hanukkah to learn, connect, and act in this moment. We can imagine a new song: “The Eight Nights of Hanukkah, my True Love said to me: Please heal My Earth!”

Blessings of light in a month of dark, hope-filled action in a time of doubt.— Arthur

New Webinar: “Sacred Seasons of the Sacred Earth”

 ANIBEW A

“Sacred Seasons of the Sacred Earth” is a series of four webinars focusing on the festivals of Hanukkah, Tu B’Shvat, and two sessions on Passover. We invite you to join with us. Below you will find first the facts and then the “Whys” beneath the facts.   

WHO, WHAT, WHEN

Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Alanna Kleinman, a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern at The Shalom Center, will explore these festivals and questions:

Hanukkah Webinar on Tues., Nov 13, 2018, 7-9 pm Eastern time

  • Hanukkah is the festival of lighting lights in a time of darkness. One of the legends about it is that its holiness involved conserving energy – making one day’s olive oil light up eight days. The Menorah at the heart of Hanukkah was designed by the Torah to be modeled on a living tree, as it is portrayed in the  medieval graphic just above.
    How could we use the eight days of Hanukkah to light our inner spirits in a dark time, and to light our whole society to heal our wounded Earth by conserving energy? Hanukkah itself begins December 2.
  • Tu B’Shvat Webinar on Wed., Jan 9, 2019,  7-9pm Eastern time
    Tu B’Shvat, the ReBirthDay of the trees after a winter of hibernation, is also seen as the ReBirthDay of the Tree of Life – the sacred impulse within us and all the world to grow and be more fruitful.  How can we shape the evening and the day to benefit our own souls, the soul of our country, and the soul of our rejuvenated Earth? Tu B’Shvat begins the evening of Sunday, January 20, and ends the evening of Monday January 21. That Monday is also the Martin Luther King Birthday Holiday!  Is there a connection between the two?
  • Passover Webinar Wed., Apr 3 & 10, 2019,  7-9pm Eastern time

  • Passover comes at the peak of Spring. It celebrates the birthing of lambs, new barley, a new people, and Freedom (which itself is a birthing of new possibilities, new creativity). We recall a Pharaoh who brought death on children and plagues – eco-disasters – on the Earth.
    What does it mean to free ourselves today and heal the Earth? Passover begins Friday evening, April 19

 

Together we can make new meanings for these festivals. This webinar series will be interactive, drawing forth the insights of all who take part. In that way it will enrich the lives of each person and of the whole community of participants.

WHERE & HOW

We will meet by Zoom conference, making it possible by video for us to see each other face-to-face or by telephone. The Zoom information will appear when you register. We will record each session and send the video link a few days after the Webinar itself.

Each session will cost $18. If you register for all four now, the series will cost $62, a $10 discount.

Register here: https://tinyurl.com/ss4sereg

WHY

Why are we doing this?

Because a great deal has changed in America, on Planet Earth,  and in Jewish thought, practice, and creativity since Reb Arthur originally wrote and Bantam published his classic Seasons of Our Joy: A Modern Guide to the Jewish Festivals in 1981.

Indeed, in just the last few days the world’s scientists have intensified their warnings that we have at most a dozen years to prevent disruptions of human civilization far worse than the California wildfires and the Florida hurricanes that have torn at us.

How do we draw on our deepest wisdom to inspire far more commitment to act, to heal our Mother Earth from the wounds that she is suffering?

We need to strengthen both our interior spiritual gumption and menshlichkeit and our communal spiritual compassion. The Jewish festival spiral is itself rooted in the Earth, in its seasons of grief and joy and action, birth and covenant, fulfillment and seed-sowing. The festivals weave the inner and the outer into fringes of connection.

They are among the gifts that Judaism can bring into the efforts of all humanity to correct our own misdeeds toward Mother Earth. But the festivals can do this only if we draw from their reservoirs of wisdom into rivers of action.

Join us for this series. Register now!

Register here: https://tinyurl.com/ss4sereg

Welcome Voting-Rights Heroes as Sacred Guests into our Sukkot

Can we make Sukkot an activist framework for Growing the Vote -- just five weeks before the November election?

We are offering you three forms of help to do this. One is -- posters of “ushpizin” --  sacred guests who are welcomed into the sukkah – – who have been heroes of work to guarantee voting rights to all Americans. A second is information on how most effectively to register new voters. The third: essays on how to apply the values of Sukkot to the crucial issues in this November’s election.

To access these ways pf Sharing Sukkot please click to <https://theshalomcenter.org/ShareSukkotResources>.

 Here are two of the ushpizin posters:

 

 

 

I am adding a poster from 1984, the earliest days of The Shalom Center. President Reagan and the Andropov-Chernenko leadership of the Soviet Union were reheating the nuclear arms race in a frightening way.  The Shalom Center built a sukkah on Lafayette Park in Washington, DC, midway between the White House and the Soviet Embassy, and organized a rally there urging both superstates to move toward freezing and ending the nuclear arms race.

 

The physical sukkah as a fragile, vulnerable hut and the festival of Sukkot both affirm the importance of peace, rather than threats and acts of war. The traditional Jewish evening prayers ask God to “spread over all of us the sukkah of shalom.”  Why a sukkah rather than a fortress, a palace, even a house? Because shalom is more likely to be achieved when all the parties in a conflict recognize their vulnerability, rather than aggressively striving to dominate the other.  That is even more likely in a world of nuclear weapons.

And Jewish tradition teaches that the harvest festival of Sukkot celebrates an abundant harvest not only for the Jewish people but for all the "70 nations" of the world.

 So this aspect of the issues before us in the November election can be understood to affirm every effort to use diplomacy to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. From that perspective, the careful multinational diplomacy that achieved the end of Iran's nuclear-weapons program in exchange for the end of economic sanctions against Iran was a great triumph for peaceful sanity, and its cancellation was a tragedy.

 In other Shalom Reports on Share Sukkot --  Grow the Vote, we will take up other aspects of the meaning of Sukkot as the election approaches.

 Again, we welcome you to access these materials by clicking to

 <https://theshalomcenter.org/ShareSukkotResources>

 With blessings for shalom, salaam, sohl (“peace” in Farsi, the language of Iran) paz, peace.

Families Torn Apart: : A Lightning-Flash of Cruelty in Power

The Lightning Flash that Reveals our Hidden Cruelties and Lights our Way to Compassionate Action

 The American people have stood up! – against an encroaching tyranny that has been forced to take one tiny step not even back, but to one side. Indeed, it is even now moving ripped-away children without adequate ID. They may never be reunited with their famiies. Disgusting! The struggle for justice and compassion continues.

 Some immediate actions will still be needed. We will suggest these action proposals for the immediate next stage of struggle for a spiritually and ethically rooted immigration policy for the United States. AND --  we need to look more deeply into the ethics of “immigration” around the world as it morphs into great waves of refugees desperate for safety, on the one hand, and on the other hand into tidal waves of hypernationalist fear of losing a national culture and sense of identity.

 

The immediate and the deeper questions are connected. The deep moral collision over ripping children out of their families has been a lightning flash in the dark, lighting up the deeper issues beneath. But like a lightning flash, it may vanish before we can attune our eyes to see the deeper truths and questions.

 

We want to pursue those questions without losing sight of the most urgent needs exploding every day along the US, German, and many other borders. Reluctantly, we see the need to separate these immediate action needs from the deeper exploratory needs. For our action proposals, see <>. Below is a deeper  exploration of the dark behind the lightning flash. 

 

^^^^^^    ^^^^^^

Our Hidden Cruelties  & New-Found Kindnesses --  Now Visible

[Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I were the initial drafters of this Shalom Report petition about the crisis of US government action to tear apart families at the border. Rabbi Berman was the founder (1979) and director through 2016 of the Riverside Language Program, an intensive English-language  school for newly arrived immigrants and refugees.

 

It has been modified in consultation with its initial signers: Sahar Ahlsalani, co-president of the Fellowship of Reconciliation; Cherie Brown of the National Coalition-Building Institute; Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the American Jewish University; Rabbi Raachel Jurovics, president of Ohalah: Rabbinical Association for Jewish Renewal; Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, member of the Board of Truah;  Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Kolot Chayeinu/ Voices of Our Lives, member of the Board of Truah; Ruth Messinger of  American Jewish World Service; Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in St Louis; Rev. Nancy Taylor of Old South Church in Boston; Rev. Rick Ufford-Chace and Kiitty Ufford-Chhase of Stony Point Retreat Center; Rabbi Elyse Wechterman, executive director of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz of Uri L'Tzedek. --Rabbi Arthur Waskow, editor]


 In hundreds of vigils and millions of letters, phone calls, and emails, we have witnessed a deep level of moral outrage that has responded to the forcible splitting of families and traumatization of children by agencies of our Government.

Not only outrage but action as well has been bubbling over. Later in this essay we offer forms of action that would express compassion in the means we choose as well as the ends we seek. Only compassion can cure cruelty.

 A wide wave of religious folk stand in and with that outpouring. Specific sacred verses from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and other Scriptures speak to this moment.

One leading official of the United States Government has claimed that biblical calls to obey the law are paramount here.  We affirm that the Bible actually speaks the contrary.

Some officials are saying – even boasting -- that the policy was deliberately intended by its ruthlessness to deter families from coming to the United States, seeking asylum because of well-founded fears that their lives and the lives of their children are in immediate danger if they were to stay in Central American countries that have been overwhelmed by violence.

But the Bible sees the world through God’s commitment to justice and compassion: "You shall not hand over to their masters slaves [or, some translators say, “serfs”]  who have escaped from their masters to you. They may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which they choose within your gates, wherever it seems best to them. You shall not maltreat them.”   (Deuteronomy 23: 15-16)

Of course neither the biblical understanding of serfdom, indentured servitude, or slavery nor the experience of these refugees today, fleeing murder and rape and seeking asylum, is identical with the past of chattel slavery in the United States. Yet their experience bears elements of the same ruthless and violent subjugation. And this biblical verse is uncanny in its direct address of the crisis we face now, even more than other, broader teachings about love and justice for “foreigners.”

  And the “law” that Attorney-General Sessions cites to subjugate love and destroy our families is not law at all. It is a policy concocted by elements of the present US government that actually violates the law. It is intended to keep asylum-seekers from making their case as they are entitled to do both by US law and the binding law of the land, embedded in treaties the US has ratified. 

 It is about “laws” like these that the Bible speaks and Isaiah (10:2) cries out, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”

Out of exactly that Prophetic outlook, Jesus broke the law, nonviolently.  That’s why he was crucified. Does the fact that the Roman Empire crucified Jesus mean that it is legitimate for the United States Government to destroy the lives of children and parents? Or does it mean exactly the opposite?

There is a reason that one of the key moments in the story of Pharaoh is when he orders babies killed  (Exodus 1: 15-22 ). And in the Christian story, one of the key moments is when Herod orders children killed in the “Massacre of the Innocents.”  (Matthew 2: 16; imagined below). Those are the moments when a tyrant becomes monstrous.


Outrage at these actions comes from a very deep gut level. The “prime directive” for every species, including the human species, is to make sure the next generation thrives. The children! You can only rip children away from their families by dehumanizing the people you are facing. Down that path lies genocide.

The cruelty we are witnessing is being blatantly exposed as intrinsic to racism and militarism. All societies face the dangerous impulse to exalt only their own culture as fully human and treat others as sub-human. Indeed, for centuries, American policy has ripped the children of enslaved Africans, African-Americans, and Native Americans away from their families. 

 But the vision and hope of the Bible, the Quran, and other sacred wisdom is summed up in the Bible’s teaching,  “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:39)  and  the Quran’s teaching (49:13):  “O humankind, We have created you from a single pair of male and female [as one family], and appointed you diverse cultures and communities, that you may get to profoundly understand one another [not to despise one another].” 

Centuries of struggle between carrying out this ultimate religious wisdom and descending into dehumanizing “the Other” have been like a case of blood poisoning that at first is hidden and then breaks through into the bright red streak of inflammation that signals extreme danger. We have seen those red streaks before, and we see them now. 

 Does all this mean the opening of US borders to an unknown unbounded number of refugees, without limits or planning? No. There are solutions rooted in compassion, not subjugation. Here, for example, might be one approach:

 

Torah Study, Eco-Science, & Activism

Ecological Devastation & the Poor Peoples Campaign

Several weeks ago, Truah: A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights decided to support the organizing efforts of the Poor Peoples Campaign by supplying Torah-study texts and questions for the six different focuses of the six different weeks of the 40-day PPC campaign. Truah asked several rabbis, including me, to provide these texts and studies.

The way this was to work: Each of us proposed some texts of Torah (in the broad sense: the Hebrew Scriptures and rabbinic commentaries) that dealt with the key Spirit--rooted areas of the PPC campaign: poverty; racism; militarism; ecological devastation and health; jobs, income, and housing; and “a fusion movement rising up in response to a false moral narrative.”

Along with the texts we chose,  we provided some questions to encourage and enrich exploration of these issues from a Torah perspective. We did not provide “correct answers”; the purpose was to encourage open exploration by a gathering of people.

The texts and questions for the six weeks were published at <www.truah.org/ppc>.  I encourage you-all to look at them and to draw on them for conversations in your own community (face-to-face or on-line.)   Below I will add my own section, which addresses  “Ecological Devastation”  -- the issue that the Poor Peoples Campaign is dealing with this week.

As you will find by exploring these biblical texts,  both ancient Torah and modern science predict climate chaos and ecological disaster, if we keep on overworking our Earth and denying her the rhythmic restfulness that the Breath of Life requires.  So I urge you to join in the Poor Peoples Campaign at your own state capitol this week, demanding action to prevent even worse disasters than the droughts, famines, floods, and wildfires that our modern Carbon Pharaohs are already imposing on us. Find your closest action by clicking here: <https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/events/>

 I asked the Truah staff whether there might be a way to  invite people to respond with their own thoughts to any and all of these explorations of Torah, and to circulate their responses. The answer came back that Truah was not in a position to do this.

 So I am inviting you-all to do this. I invite you to read the Truah gathering of wisdom -- either on your own or in community --  and to respond with your own thought by clicking to the ”Comment” section for this report, on The Shalom Center ‘s website. So please click <www.truah.org/ppc>  to read the rabbis’  thoughts that Truah collected, and then click here <> to share your thoughts with each other and the public.

 Here is my own contribution to Truah’s effort:

 The biblical passages about Creation (in  Genesis) draw our attention to who we are as human “earthlings” and our relationship to the Earth. And later texts (especially in Exodus 16 and Leviticus 25-26) explore how we can fulfill that relationship so that future generations can prevent ecological disasters and live sustainably.

(Torah translations are slightly modified from Everett Fox’s The Five Books of Moses (Schocken); the passage from II Chronicles, from the New Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh. For this section of Truah’s exploration of Torah, I chose the texts and the accompanying questions.)

I. ADAMAH & ADAM

A. Genesis 2:5

No bush of the field was yet on earth, no plant of the field had yet  sprung up, for YHWH [Yahhhh, Breath of Life], God, had not made it rain upon the earth, and there was no human/ adam to till the soil/ adamah.

AW: Isn’t this backward to our understanding of evolution and to Genesis 1, in which vegetation emerged before Homo Sapiens ? Why would this Torah passage say it was necessary for the human (adam) to be present for shrubs of the earth (adamah) to grow?

The Torah continues (Gen. 1: verses 6-7): “but a surge would well up from the ground and water all the face of the soil; and YHWH, God, formed the human [adam], of dust from the soil [adamah]. YHWH [Yahhhh, Breath of Life] blew into his nostrils the breath of life and the human became a living being.

AW: From the adamah (earth) comes forth adam (the human earthling). First this newborn loses the –ah, the Hebrew letter hei  that is the sound of breathing. Then the Creator Breath of Life (YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh Elohim) “blew into the newborn’s nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living, breathing person.” What do these two passages mean about relationship between adam and adamah?

What do they mean about the relationship between God and Breath? About the YHWH Name?

About the relationship between an individual human birth and the emergence of the human species? 

TWO PARABLES: EDEN AND MANNA/SHABBAT

AW: Do these two parables have any connection with each other?

A. Eden

Genesis 2:15-17:  YHWH, God, took the human and set him in the garden of Eden [Delight}, to work it and to watch it. YHWH, God, commanded concerning the human, saying: From every (other) tree of the garden you may eat, yes, eat, but from the Tree of the Knowing of Good and Evil—you are not to eat from it, for on the day that you eat from it, you must die, yes, die.

 AW: Paraphrasing: “On this earth there is wonderful abundance. Eat of it in joy. But you must restrain yourselves just a little: Of this one tree, don’t eat.”  But the humans refuse to restrain themselves, and insist on leaving no part of the Garden uneaten.

 Genesis 3:17: To Adam [Human] God said: Because you have hearkened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying: You are not to eat from it! Damned be the soil on your account, with painstaking-labor shall you eat from it, all the days of your life. Thorn and sting-shrub let it spring up for you, when you (seek to) eat the plants of the field! By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread, until you return to the soil, for from it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust shall you return.

AW : By trying to gobble up all the abundancee, we have ruined it. Only by toiling every day of our lives with the sweat pouring down our faces will we find enough to eat from an earth that gives forth mostly thorns and thistles.”

B. Manna & Shabbat

Exodus 16:13b-18 (and continuing through verse 35)

...And at daybreak there was a layer of dew around the camp; and when the layer of dew went up, here, upon the surface of the wilderness, something fine, scaly, fine as hoar-frost upon the land. When the Children of Israel saw it they said each-man to his brother: Mahn hu/what is it? For they did not know what it was. Moshe said to them: It is the bread that YHWH has given you for eating. This is the word that YHWH has commanded: Glean from it, each-man according to what he can eat, an omer per capita, according to the number of your persons, each-man, for those in his tent, you are to take. The Children of Israel did thus, they gleaned, the-one-more and the-one-less, 18 but when they measured by the omer, no surplus had the-one-more, and the-one-less had no shortage; each-man had gleaned according to what he could eat.

AW :The Torah provides us this near-Edenic parable on the same theme, a story that points toward the healing of the disaster at the end of Eden. This is the parable of manna and Shabbat (Exodus 16). For in this story, as in Eden, the Great Provider showers adam again with almost free abundance. The only work the Israelites need to do is to walk forth every morning and gather the manna—a strange “vegetation” that is like coriander seed but far more nourishing.

No sweat, no toil, no thorns or thistles. Self-restraint is built in: Anyone who tries to gather more than enough to eat for a day finds that the extra rots and stinks. On the sixth day, enough manna falls to feed the people for another day, and it does not rot. It will meet their needs for the seventh day. On the seventh day, Shabbat, no manna falls. Self-restraint is again built in. But the two versions of self-restraint are quite different.

What was the self-restraint required in Eden? What was the self-restraint required in the wilderness when the Manna appeared? How do they differ?

III. SPIRITUAL PRACTICE & THE LAND: SHMITA AND ITS FAILURE

A. Leviticus 25:1-4, 6, 10, 23.

YHWH spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land is to cease, a Sabbath-ceasing to YHWH. For six years you are to sow your field, for six years you are to prune your vineyard, then you are to gather in its produce, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of Sabbath-ceasing for the land, a Sabbath to YHWH: your field you are not to sow, your vineyard you are not to prune...Now the Sabbath-yield of the land (is) for you, for eating, for you, for your servant and or your handmaid, for your hired-hand and for your resident-settler who sojourn with you...

You are to hallow the year, the fiftieth year, proclaiming

freedom throughout the land and to all its inhabitants; it shall be Homebringing [Yovel or Jubilee] for you, you are to return, each-man to his holding, each-man to his clan you are to return... But the land is not to be sold in-harness, for the land is mine; for you are sojourners and resident-settlers with me...

AW: Can we apply these teachings in our day? How?

1. Excerpts from Leviticus 26:14–46, especially verses 34–35 and 43

14 But if you do not hearken to me, by not observing all these commandments... you I will scatter among the nations; I will unsheath the sword against you, so that your land becomes a desolation and your cities become a wasteland. Then the land will find-acceptance regarding its Sabbaths, all the days of desolation—when you are in

the land of your enemies—then the land will enjoy-cessation, and find-acceptance regarding its Sabbaths. All the days of desolation it will enjoy-cessation, since it did not enjoy-cessation during its Sabbaths when you were settled on it.

B2. II Chronicles 36: 20. Those who survived the sword he exiled to Babylon, and they became his and his sons’ servants till the rise of the Persian kingdom,  in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, until the land paid back its sabbaths; as long as it lay desolate it kept sabbath, till seventy years were completed.

AW: Through drought and famine, pestilence and plague, through an exile that today we would call a flood of refugees, our Mother Earth will indeed “rest” by failing to be fruitful. (N.B. Verse 23 of this chapter is the end of the entire Hebrew Bible.)

Are these disasters punishments? Consequences? How do we understand them? How do they compare with what modern climate scientists are predicting if we keep spewing CO2 and methane into our atmosphere?

I invite you to respond with your own thoughts by clicking to the ”Comment” section for this report on The Shalom Center ‘s website, to share your thoughts with each other and the public.

Ruth: the Torah of Transgressive Transformation

Shavuot: When Torah Comes from Earth More than from Heaven

 As we take up the Book of Ruth for its traditional reading on Shavuot (this year, from Saturday evening, May 19, through Sunday evening, May 21) we may note that it bears special significance for the role of women in our own generation, and for changes in the meaning of Torah when change happens in society at large.

The story of Ruth brings together with almost invisible threads three seemingly transgressive women of the Bible. The Hebrew Bible conventionally assigns women to the role of motherhood, and it likes to tell the stories of how women who are denied the opportunity of motherhood seek it with great urgency.  But in three stories of such women, the urge to be conventional empowers deeply unconventional change.

When the stories are first told, they seem to have no connection with each other. But then the Book of Ruth links the three stories by threads that are almost invisible -- but not quite. The gossamer threads of connection strengthen each separate story into an epic of ironic transformation.

These three women all draw on the biblical legal rule (“levirate law”) that if a husband dies without having fathered any children, his widow is entitled to marry and have children with his brother. If the brother refuses, he is subject to public contempt.

In the first of the three tales, after the explosive destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s daughters (who have escaped along with Lot) are convinced that all the men in the world are dead, and in order to have children they get their father drunk and have sex with him. The child that is born to one of them is named Moab (which could be understood to mean "from daddy"). He becomes the head of a tribe and the ancestor of Ruth the Moabite.

We will come back to Ruth. Meanwhile, long afterward, one of Joseph's brothers, Judah, marries one of his sons to a foreign woman, Tamar.  His son dies, with no children. In accordance with the law, Judah marries her to his second son. But he too dies, leaving no children. Under the law, she is entitled to marry a third brother. But Judah fears she is jinxing his offspring, and prevents a third marriage.

But Tamar knows that she is entitled to have children by some member of this family. She pretends to be a prostitute, seduces Judah himself to sleep with her, and has two children. Judah is on the verge of burning her at the stake for adultery, when she explains what she has done and he affirms that she is more righteous than he is. So she, like Lot’s daughter, has invoked a peculiar – even outrageous -- version of the levirate law.

One of Tamar’s children becomes the ancestor of a prosperous Israelite landholder, Boaz. Yes, the same Boaz who connects with Ruth the Moabite.  Ruth’s Israelite husband has died, leaving her childless.  When she accompanies her mother-in-law Naomi to Naomi’s home in the Land of Israel, she gleans in the fields owned by Boaz. He goes out of his way to warn the young men working in his fields not to harass her. She ventures onto the threshing floor where Boaz is sleeping, and breaks the rules of conventional behavior by “uncovering his feet.”  (“Feet” in the Hebrew Bible is often used as a euphemism for the genitals.)

Boaz, powerfully attracted to her, discovers that he is a distant cousin of her dead husband. He appeals to a far-fetched version of the levirate law about a childless widow, and marries her. She has one child.

So these three women, all outsiders to the Jewish people, have stretched the law beyond its normal understanding, in order to bring their children into the world. Then the story of Ruth goes out of its way to announce that Ruth's own children will become the ancestors of King David – – and they do. Since Jewish tradition insists that the descendants of David will give rise to the Messiah (and Christian tradition specifically mentions Ruth as an ancestor of Jesus), in both traditions these three transgressive women are said to make possible the peaceful transformation of the world.

 In this complex interwoven tale, there is a subterranean assertion of what the Psalmist says in open song: "The stone that the builders rejected will become the cornerstone of the Holy Temple." The women who are "supposed" to be subordinate have subversively turned history around.

Click here to hear Rabbi Shefa Gold chant:

http://www.rabbishefagold.com/cornerstone/

Evven ma’asu habonim ha’y’tah l’rosh pinah



The Stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. (Psalm 118:22)

Notice that each separate story breaks the rules, and their culmination becomes a vision of Messianic time  -- which also “breaks the rules,” for ultimate good.  As if to say, live a raindrop here, a drizzle there –- and suddenly the rain becomes a river.

How did the biblical text evolve into this effort to go beyond itself? The thread that tied the separate stories together was the Book of Ruth.  And many modern scholars understand Ruth as a polemic in a major political/ spiritual debate. A debate about the boundaries of the Jewish people, and a debate about the role of women in those boundaries.

When the Jews who had been taken into Babylonian Captivity were permitted by the new Persian Empire to return to the Land of Israel and were handed power over those Jews who had never left, the returnees faced a question: Many of the men they met “back home” had married women who were not Jewish. Could this stand? Could the culture stand it?

The leaders decreed that all “foreign” women must be divorced. The Book of Ruth seems to have been an attack on this draconic policy. Its heroine was an outsider, and she became the forebear of King David. Should “foreign” women really be forbidden?

An actual struggle in the body politic led to an amendment in the sacred text. And then the sacred text remained a thorn, at least a puzzle, in the body politic. We see an interplay between sacred text that grows itself beyond itself, and communal change that reshapes old forms into new paradigms. 

Perhaps that is the deepest reason for us to read the Book of Ruth when we welcome Revelation of the Torah: a teaching that new Torah may come from earthiness, more than from heaven. "For not afar in Heaven is the Torah-connection but very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, to love the Breath of Life!"  (Deut 30: 11-16)

A lesson for today.  For Shavuot, and every day.

Mr Pruitt: Turn, Turn, Turn!

[This is the letter to Mr. Scott Pruitt, head of what in the past could honestly be called the Environmantal Protection Agency, that I read at its front door on April 20, the Friday just before Earth Day. See the essay called "The days AFTER Earth Day" on our Home Page.--  AW]

Administrator Pruitt:

During the last few weeks, there have been a number of public criticisms of you that allege you have misused government resources and the taxpayers’ money for your own private purposes.

I know that you have denied any misbehavior of this kind. I hope that as all our religious traditions teach, you have looked profoundly inward to examine what you have and have not done. I hope that if you do in this process of soul-accounting find some important blemishes, you will take the steps of repentance – – what in Hebrew is called  “tshuvah,” which means turning one’s self more fully toward God and toward right behavior with our fellow human beings and all life

 It is still unclear to the American public whether your actions as Administrator have indeed been self-enriching, or legitimate uses of public money. What is much clearer in the public knowledge is that you have done a different kind of turning -- turning away from God and your sacred duty, not toward the mission and effectiveness of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Your misturning in this work is analogous to what critics have accused you of in regard to misusåe of public resources. Your actions have robbed our Mother Earth herself and the multitude of human communities she nourishes along with many other forms of life. You have taken many steps to multiply the wealth of Hyper-Wealthy carbon corporations that are burning the only Earth we have -- for profit!

In both Jewish and Christian traditions, we have recently celebrated Passover and the Last Supper, a Passover Seder, in which we name the plagues that Pharaoh brought upon his own land and his own people.

He did this out of arrogant pretensions that as himself an uncriticizable “god,” he could turn workers into slaves, and his hard-heartedness could turn drinking water into undrinkable blood, fertile fields into food for billions of locusts, a sunny sky into blasts of hailstone and lightning-bolts. 

You have tried to cancel regulations that protect our pure water and food from poisoning by rapacious corporations, our climate into disastrous wildfires, droughts, and floods. You have done your best – your worst -- to turn EPA into the Earth Poisoning Atrocity. 

I call upon you, in the Name of the God Who breathes all life, to turn yourself and your life once more toward that very God, away from imitating Pharaoh.  

 Blessings to you of truth, healing, and turning –

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The Shalom Center

Eminent Lawyer Burns Self to Death to Protest Burning of Earth by Fossil Fuels

The NY Times and New York Daily News reported yesterday that David S. Buckel, a 60-year-old lawyer in good health who had a major hand in achieving the right for same-sex couples to marry, burned himself to death in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, to protest the burning of the Earth by fossil fuels. He sent several newspapers a suicide note:

 “I am David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide. I apologize to you for the mess.

“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather. Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result — my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”

 “Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death.

“Here is a hope that giving a life might bring some attention to the need for expanded actions, and help others give a voice to our home, and Earth is heard.”

The Daily News reported that Adam Aronson, a legal colleague of Buckel’s, said,“He put his heart and soul into everything he did in life. He obviously decided to put his heart and soul in the way he died…. There are other ways to fight for what you believe in. I wish this hadn't been the way that he had chosen to do it.”

David Buckel, Presente!

 

May his memory serve as he hoped, to stir others into fuller action. May his burning passion to heal our burning Earth indeed “help others give a voice to our home,” so that the outcry of our Earth is heard.

What “other ways” could there be to fight for what David Buckel and many of us seek to make real? --  an Earth restored to health; our children and grandchildren able to live amidst a climate as life-giving as the climate in which our parents and grandparents lived.

Some possibilities, in descending order of risk:

(1)  On February 18 of this year, the New York Times Magazine carried a thoughtful, fascinating article entitled “ ‘I’m Just More Afraid of Climate Change Than I Am of Prison’: How a group of five activists called the Valve Turners decided to fight global warming by doing whatever it takes.”

The article interviewed the “Valve Turners” who actually turned the shut-off valves for five oil pipelines that cross the Canadian-US boundary, including “the 2,700-mile-long Keystone Pipeline, which carries crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries on the Texas coast. Together, the pipelines carry nearly 70 percent of the crude oil imported to the United States from Canada.”   

The article described who they were, what they did, why, and what the consequences were for them --  different in the different states where they acted. All of them risked prison sentences, and some received them. Not all.

(2) Perhaps “next lower” on the risk scale: Last Tuesday, I took part in a rousing and powerful gathering in Washington DC of several hundred organizers from a broad coalition of national sponsors (including The Shalom Center) to renew, recreate, and expand the Poor Peoples Campaign that Dr. Martin Luther King was planning when he was murdered 50 years ago.  

One of the major goals of the new Poor Peoples Campaign is a wave of life-affirming nonviolent civil disobedience in state capitals all across the country and then in Washington. One of the crucial issues of the campaign will be ecological devastation. The civil disobedience envisioned is far less risky than what the Valve Turners did, but still involves putting bodies on the line.  Even less risky, some may choose to be present in support without risking arrest.

The new Poor Peoples Campaign sees itself as “A National Call for Moral Revival” on the growing edge of a deeply moral, ethical, and

At Gaza-Israel Border: Can We Cross the Sea toward Peace?

Friday April 6 is this year the seventh day of Passover. In Jewish tradition that day commemorates the crossing of the Red Sea by the band of runaway Israelite slaves, escaping and resisting Pharaoh,  for the sake of their own freedom. That was when Pharaoh’s army and his power dissolved into the Sea, blown away by YHWH/ Yahhhh, the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, become a Hurricane of Transformation.

That Friday is also scheduled to be the day of another large gathering of Palestinians at the border between Gaza and Israel. We do not know what the day will bring: perhaps more bloodshed, perhaps on both sides of the border respect and adherence to a nonviolent discipline in response to the horror of the deaths last Friday.

We do know this: Many Jews, and many others, in America and Israel,  stand in tears before God and Torah and other sacred wisdom, deeply saddened by the unnecessary deaths of at least sixteen Palestinians and injuries to close to 800 others among the thousands of Palestinians protesting last week as part of a “March of Return” along the Israel/Gaza border.

 Many who were horrified by the deaths are grateful that there were no deaths or serious injuries to Israeli soldiers or civilians. And precisely this fact casts great doubt on the legitimacy of using live ammunition to shoot into the assemblage, when it seems clear there was no direct danger to Israeli lives. Only such a strong and immediate danger could have justified the lethal violence ordered ahead of time by the present Israeli government.

These people strongly support the right to non-violent protest, whether here in North America or in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, as a fundamental right of civilians. We support the vast majority of the Gazan protesters who chose a deliberately nonviolent form of protest, and condemn the fact that some resorted to throwing stones, burning tires, and Molotov cocktails at soldiers, and a few tried to breach the border fence.

The root cause of the protest and of the frightened response by the present Israeli government is the continuing blockade of Gaza by the Israeli government. That blockade is an illegitimate use of collective punishment for the people of Gaza for having voted for or accepted the election by majority vote for Hamas to govern the region.

The blockade is a continuing aspect of the over-all military occupation and forcibly imposed settlements by the Israeli government of Palestinian communities beyond the Green Line – the only places where a peaceful independent Palestine could come into being alongside Israel.

The denial to the Palestinian people of self-determination in those areas is a denial of human rights. That includes the blockade of civilian goods from entering or leaving Gaza so as to impoverish its people as a part of that illegitimate denial.

In regard to what may have been the illegitimate use of lethal force against an almost entirely nonviolent demonstration, we call for these actions:

First, the creation of an international investigating commission  that includes Israelis and Palestinians, to examine the decision-making in the present Israeli government and in some Palestinian groups that ordered or encouraged the use of violence in the situation on the cusp of Passover last Friday..

Second, we urge individual Israeli soldiers to assess whether orders to use lethal violence in this or similar situations may require their refusal to obey such orders if they are illegal.  And we urge all Palestinians in Gaza and beyond to use their power and influence to deny support to any Palestinian groups that urge or allow the use of violence in this or similar situations.

 The Israeli group called “B’Tzelem,”  ”In the Image” – that is, “In God’s Image are all human beings created” – has already taken ads in major Israeli newspapers to call on Israeli soldiers to refuse manifestly illegal orders to fire when their lives are not endangered.

See <https://972mag.com/btselem-to-israeli-soldiers-refuse-orders-to-shoot-gaza-protesters/134398/>

We recall the teaching of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) that when King Saul ordered his own royal bodyguard to kill Israelite priests who had fed the guerrilla underground led by David, the bodyguards refused – even though the guerilla band was a clear and present threat to Saul’s legitimate government.  (I Sam. 22:6-17).

The message is clear: Human life is so precious that even in military situations, one must take every precaution to avoid killing, even of an enemy or of one perceived as endangering the government. All the more must lethal force be rejected when no such danger exists.

In alignment with the ancient Tabbis and our deepest Jewish values, we call on Israel to find ways to respond to the demonstrations planned for tomorrow and the next few weeks in ways that will not escalate the situation or lead to injury or death; to  cooperate with an international investigation of the decisions that led to live fire being used on demonstrators; and to refrain from revising the rules of engagement to permit the expanded use of live fire.

To many it may seem that only in the long term can a peace agreement end the on-again, off-again violence on the Gaza border, which endangers residents of Gaza, along with Israelis living near the border, and the soldiers sent to protect this border.

But this delay is itself lethal.   We urge the present government of Israel and the Israeli people, and the present leaders and the whole community of Palestinians as a whole, to begin now immediate negotiations for a just peace between Israel and a new Palestine.

And we urge that American Jews,  Christians, Muslims, and others of ethical commitment, press the US government to press both peoples and their leaders to move forward now on the road to peace.  

And we urge leaders of all peoples to begin at once to play an active role in ending the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The closure of the borders with Israel and Egypt severely limits the import of needed goods as well as the exports necessary to allow for economic growth. The people of Gaza have limited access to electricity, clean water, and medical support.

The Hamas government, no doubt, shares significant blame for the situation in Gaza, as a result of their repression, corruption, and continued violent rejection of the existence of Israel. So does Egypt, which has largely closed its border with Gaza. So does the present government of the United States, which has just drastically cut its long-standing financial allotment to meeting the urgent needs of the people of Gaza.

But the government of Israel, which continues to control Gaza’s borders, air space, and population registry even after the official disengagement, maintains major responsibility for the humanitarian crisis there. We encourage Israelis to deploy all their creativity of the start-up nation to end this crisis, refrain from escalating violence at the border, and work toward a two-state peace that will keep both Israelis and Palestinians safe and free.

As the traditional Passover Telling says, “In every generation,  every human being is obligated to look upon herself, himself,  as if we go forth from slavery to freedom,  not our ancestors only.

God forbid – God forbade!  -- that on this Passover the present government of Israel should choose to act like Pharaoh.

May the Seventh Day be instead the day that both peoples take the first courageous steps into the Sea, not red with blood, into the freedom for them both that only peace can bring.

The Prophet Martin: A New Haftarah

 A new genre of Haftarot has been stirring, initiated and taught by Hazzan (Cantor) Jack Kessler of Ohalah and the ALEPH Ordination Program of Rabbis, Cantors, and other Jewish spiritual leaders in the movement for Jewish renewal.

Traditionally, the Haftarot are passages from the ancent Hebrew Prophets, chanted in a traditional melody (nusach). What is new is the  creation of chantable haftarot, using the traditional nusach, made up of English-language passages spoken or written by some prophetic figures who are not Jewish.

The newest creative effort in this direction is by Cantor Abbe Lyons of Ithaca, NY,   As the 50th yohrzeit of Dr. King (April 4, 2018), was approaching, she decided to  shape a new Haftarah  from passages of his prophetic “Beyond Vietnam” speech,  given at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4,  1967 –- exactly one year before he was killed.

 As we consider how to use this new haftarah, we might recall the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. On March 25, 1968, he introduced Dr. King to speak to the Rabbinical Assembly. Rabbi Heschel said, 

“Where in America do we hear a voice like the voice of the prophets of Israel? Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America. …The whole future of America will depend upon the impact and influence of Dr. King.” 

Ten days later, Dr. King was killed — giving a deeply ironic cast to the last sentence in Rabbi Heschel’s introduction. 

Fifty years later, we could turn that history in a new direction. Fulfilling Heschel's words by using the traditional Jewish forms to fully recognize King as a Prophet could contribute to America's doing tshuvah for the long history of racism, violence, and other forms of subjugation.

We invite you to choose the Shabbat just after April 4 to introduce this new haftarah into your sacred service, in addition to the haftarah for the eighth day of Pesach. . 

I worked with Cantor Lyons to choose passages from the "Beyond Vietnam" speech.  She  has set its English words to the traditional Haftarah melodies. This new Haftarah takes seven minutes to chant. You can access Cantor Lyons' chant at --

<https://drive.google.com/open?id=1JinKtCcTJXsQve4jocGD6dmZUseugge9>

and her Text for the Haftarah, with the musical trope marks,  at --

<https://drive.google.com/open?id=1-B1l5o7-uAt0pxddde-q506xL_Q8nXYD>

What has made this a new genre, not just a single experiment, is that  Cantor Kessler has done this with other prophetic passages. One is the Declaration of Independence, to be chanted on the Fourth of July or a nearby Shabbat. It has been coupled with the reading of the Torah portion  sometimes called Perek HaMelekh, defining the limits on the power of an Israelite king. That passage may indeed be seen as the oldest political and spiriitual forebear of the Declaration.  It appears in D'varim (Deut) 17:14-21.

Hazzan Kessler has also created a haftarah from an amalgam of passages from a number of  Dr. King's speeches, for chanting on Martin Luther King Birthday Shabbat.

See it at <https://theshalomcenter.org/sites/default/files/mlk_haftara-trop.pdf>

A "kissing cousin" to this form has been developed by Kohenet Shoshana Bricklin of Congregation Mishkan Shalom in Philadelphia. She has created several haftarot that intertwine passages from several different  prophetic voices, also in English and also set to haftarah nusach.

This effort to intermingle the powerful forms of Jewish tradition with the wisdom of prophetic voices beyond the Jewish community was what  the original Freedom Seder of 1969  did, and what the new "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder," woven by The Shalom Center and already being used in various communities around the country, aims to do. I welcome your comments on the implications of this new approach .

Blessings for a sweet, kosher, and liberating Pesach!--  Arthur

627 votes, 17 minutes, 1,000,000+ kids

These numbers – 627, 17, 1,000,000+– ring out how people who have been inspired to organize themselves can begin to change the world. And they represent two currents of change under way in the USA, one electoral and one in the streets. Both currents are crucial, if we are to save ourselves, our democracy, and the Earth that mothers us.

 I want to share with you my thoughts about these numbers. First, what happened this week and how “inside-the-system” and “outside-the-system” efforts for change connect with each other.  Second, the “deep history” of top-down subjugation and uprising new community.

 I. This past week saw two remarkable and quite different expressions of Resistance. On Tuesday, a candidate for Congress who is a progressive on economic issues and a centrist on social issues defeated a pro-Trumpery right-winger by 627 votes.   The Trumpist ploy failed -- the ploy of enriching the UltraWealthy and the Corporate Pharaohs, impoverishing the middle class, and subjugating the poor by inciting racist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-free-press, anti-woman energies in the country in order to win support from struggling workers, farmers, and rural businessfolk.

This week, in one more Congressional District, that ploy failed.  Even pouring unheard-of millions into the pro-Hyperwealth campaign –- money to prime the pump so that hugely more money would come out the other end of the policy pump – even that failed.

 This is important. To build any bulwark against floods of would-be anti-democratic, anti-Earth policy for the years ahead, at least one house of Congress needs to be in bold defense of The People, Yes.

I think those who dismiss Tuesday’s election as a merely symbolic victory are mistaken: Members of the House of Representatives who were slavering at the chance to damage and destroy Social Security and Medicare are far less likely to do it, as of today, than they were on Monday.  Why? Because the danger of being defeated is all too clear. (On other issues, like Wall Street & the Dreamers, they don’t feel endangered. Yet.) If the right-winger had won, even by a sliver, those right-wing Congressmembers would have been likely to say, “See? Floods of money can pull me through even if it’s just by a hair.”

 Electoral victories are necessary, but they are not enough. Energies that are rooted “outside” electoral politics are crucial to making change happen. Even in this electoral case, it took labor-union organizers spending thousands of hours knocking on thousands of doors in Pennsylvania to energize those 641 more voters than the Corporate Pharaohs with all their millions could turn out.

 That’s the power of 641. What is the power of 17?   All across America yesterday, high-school students left their classes for 17 minutes, in grief for the 17 students and teachers murdered in Parkland, Florida, and in angry determination to make a difference about guns. Many left school for much longer – t least 1,000,000 of them across the country. Maybe many more: Who can count a demonstration that takes off from thousands of school buildings?


 It has taken smart, creative, and gutsy high-school students to break through the fog of despair and apathy about gun violence. I am proud to report that all four of my high-school-age grandchildren took part in (indeed, helped organize) walk-outs where they are.  “Five generations of activists,” my father would have joyfully said, starting with his father the “shoshalist” Amalgamated Clothing Workers organizer.

The multifaceted Resistance didn’t start yesterday. Looking back a year, It took 3,000,000 women on the streets -- now there’s a number! – to awaken candidates for office, the #MeToo movement, and much more. It took tens of thousands of people streaming into airports to break the back of the Trumpist ban on Muslim immigrants and refugees.

 And we have seen great strides of Resistance to anti- immigrant and anti-Black racism. Not yet anywhere near enough.

 The Shalom Center has put most of our energy into protection of the Earth. In that arena it has been harder and slower to build an effective opposition to Trumpery. I will be writing separately about how to deal with that.

 II. I think we are in the midst of one of the great swings of history, when there is a great shift toward tighter control and subjugation from the top, and in response a great effort to create a new, richer, broader, fuller community at the grass roots. (Or maybe the power-grab for tight control is sparked by  growing, sprouting communal grass-roots energy. Or both.) That is a deeper reason for synergy, not hostility or competition, between “in-the-system” and “out-of-the-system” activism.

 Think about the “big past.” Squeezed between two ravenous Empires, Egypt and Babylonia, some of the Western Semitic tribes responded by creating the Godwrestling People, Shabbat, and Torah. A new kind of community.

Millennia later, subjugated by the Roman Empire, that same community found what we call “Biblical Judaism” collapsing. They responded by creating two new forms of spiritual community – Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.  Half a millennium later, rigid authoritarianism and oppression in Mecca led to a new prophecy and the spread of Islam.

And now, Techno-Imperial Modernity is destroying all the old forms of society, economies, cultures: Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Nationalist, Communist, Liberal-Democratic.

More and more of the youth cannot abide these old forms. They do respond to moments of unofficial or marginal spiritual depth, like the Occupy movement and the Standing Rock encounter.  “Interfaith” and “transnational” and “intersectional” efforts would have been defined and punished as heresy by almost all the older religious, political, and national communities just 150 years ago. Now they are flourishing. No way to know in advance what form this energy will take.

Our Resistance in this hour is part of one of the great Upwellings in human history, like the emergence of the great religions. The only question is whether we can carry the day into a new kind of Beloved Community before Imperial Modernity can shatter all our civilizations and the Earth beyond renewal.

New "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder"

Friends and comrades in the struggle for spiritually-rooted justice, peace, and healing of our wounded planet   -–

This year, April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, comes just a few days after Easter and is itself the fourth night of Passover.  We honor these festivals and draw on them to renew and re-invigorate  Dr. King's wisdom, linked to the struggles and wisdom of our own generation.

We are doing that with the “MLK + 50 Interfaith Freedom Seder.”

You can read and print out the PDF file of the "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder" by clicking on the title of this article and then on the link that says "pdf," just below the bold "Attachment" line that appears. This brief note gives an overview of our intention.

The MLK + 50 Interfaith Freedom Seder

Woven by The Shalom Center

To Reawaken and Renew

The Prophetic Wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During Holy Week and Passover in this 50th Year

The new Seder stands in a great tradition. On April 4, 1969, the first anniversary of Dr. King’s death, about 800 people – Jews and Christians, Black and white -– gathered in a Black church in Washington DC to celebrate the original Freedom Seder in his honor and for the sake of strengthening the work he had begun. The next year, a Freedom Seder held at Cornell Universty actually liberated Father Dan Berrigan for several hours of freedom from his underground resistance to arrest by the FBI.

The Freedom Seder was unique and unprecedented because it wove the ongoing and still unfinished story of the struggle for Black liberation in America together with the ancient story of Israelite liberation from slavery to Pharaoh. It was published, radio’d, and televised nationally.

Exactly one year before Dr. King was killed, on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City, in his speech “Beyond Vietnam,” he warned that the “triplets” of racism, materialism, and militarism were endangering America. He called for a “radical revolution of values.”

The "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder" is shaped by devoting three of the traditional Four Cups of the Seder to opposing and transcending one of those triplets, and devoting the fourth cup to opposing and transcending their "quadruplet" --  Sexism & the Subjugation of women.

And we devote the traditional Cup of Elijah as a Fifth Cup of commitment to activism toward creating the Beloved Community that Dr. King envisioned. 

You can read and print out the PDF file of the "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder" by clicking on the title of this article and then on the link that says "pdf," just below the bold "Attachment" line that appears 

We look forward to hearing your plans to use the Seder. Please share them by writing <Seder@theshalomcenter.org>

Gloria Steinem: "When Americans Leave an Abusive Household"

The Moment of Greatest Danger;

The Moment of Greatest Freedom

By Gloria Steinem

[More than four years ago, in the fall of 2013, The Shalom Center celebrated the approaching 80th birthdays of Gloria Steinem and myself with a gathering titled "This is what 80 Looks Like: Activists as Elders, Elders as Activists." I certainly do not need to tell you who Gloria Steinem is. On that evening, Gloria said something that has echoed in my mind and heart ever since. It is the quote with which she begins this comment on where we stand today. --  AW, editor]

Dear Friends:
 
            “American society is living now at the moment when an abused wife walks out of the household. It is the moment of greatest possibility for freedom, and the moment of greatest danger that the abusive husband will try to kill her. Freedom depends on her having a community to protect and nurture her. Right now, many abused communities are walking out of their abusive households. Almost certainly, there will be attempts by those in power to choke these energies to death.   Together, we can nurture them and all of us to greater freedom, greater justice.”
 
        Those were words I said to you-all at The Shalom Center when we were last together in the fall of 2013. That they were written down at all, I owe to the generosity of Arthur Waskow. Since the 2017 Presidential election -- and all that has flowed from it -- they have turned out to be more of a truth and warning than I could have known or guessed at the time. 
 
        It has taken a voter turnout rate lower than that in India, an outdated Electoral College, and a name popularized in TV “reality” shows to empower the third of the country that is in backlash against social justice movements. Yet that third of voters did elect to the top of our hierarchy a President who represents powers that are indeed trying to “choke those energies to death.” 
 
      This is happening even though – and also because -- the issues of social justice movements are now supported by the majority of Americans in public opinion polls.        
     
       Yet two big things also happened the day after the election. First, we learned that Donald Trump was the second man in modern history to win the Presidency despite losing the popular vote   -- and the one who lost it with by far the largest margin.  Second, we probably didn’t learn that Rebecca Shook, a retired lawyer living in Hawaii, posted on Facebook her idea that women should march on Washington in response to the first thing.
 
        Now a year later, the energy released by that obscure woman –-- and by everyone who has ever stood up and said, “It’s not fair!” -- is beginning to rival the power that is choking us from the top.


      Not only was that Washington March with its sister marches all across America the biggest demonstration in the history of the nation –- not only national but global –-- it was a reminder of all the marches of past and present against racial and economic injustice. 
 
      It set off a wave of protests against anyone in elected office who wasn’t following or listening to the majority will. It also initiated candidacies by Americans who had never run for office before -- or perhaps even voted. We cannot minimize the danger we are in, from war talk with North Korea to judicial appointments we will be facing for years to come.
 
      But in my long life, I have never seen such a populist, spontaneous, long-lasting, and self-willed rebellion. Planes have been stopped on the tarmac to warn those aboard that exclusionary immigration policies might not let them back in. Candidacies have been launched by Americans who are supposed to be outsiders by race, sex, class, gender, and/or sexuality, yet they have beaten longtime representatives at the polls.  
        
     Donald Trump himself has helped galvanize the March and the rebellions that have been happening ever since. By his fact-free Tweets, narcissistic lashing out at the smallest criticism, seduction by any praise, even from his country’s enemies, and appointment of a fox to head every chicken coop in Washington, he has depressed his Gallup poll ratings to a level way below that of any previous President.

Also, because he rose to office as the unpunished Harasser-in-Chief, he has turned a Me, Too movement into a coast-to-coast It’s About Time! Movement. This has just turned the Golden Globes into the first ever mainstream television event that belonged to women as much as men; to an organizer of household workers as much as a movie star.
 
     Though we always knew that Trump would be richer if he had just invested what he inherited from his father, now we know he would be more popular if he just disappeared.
 
        So in recognition that we, too, need Twitter-length versions of why we are in this struggle together – why we need a deep democracy of human beings who are linked, not ranked -- let me just remind us that sexism, racism and class systems are all intertwined. That’s because controlling reproduction, and therefore female bodies, is the only way to maintain differences of race and class in the long run.

       Of course, racism often affects women differently. White women have been more likely to be sexually restricted in order to maintain racial “purity,” while black women have been more likely to be sexually exploited in order to produce cheap labor. For both women and men, class negates our equal status at birth inn all kinds of ways from inheritance to health and education. Altogether, there is no such thing as freedom for anyone as long as racism, sexism and economic class decide our fates. 
 
          The bad news is that we are in maximum danger. Like the woman escaping from a violent household, we are at the moment when our captor is most fearful and likely to strike. 
 
     The good news is that we are now Woke! Like that escaping woman, we see the maximum danger, and yet know we also could be free.
 
      We must work hard, organize every minute, and take care of each other. Yet I think there is no turning back. We are escaping old divisions. 
 
    We just might be on the way to new freedom.  

     --  Gloria

Prayer Service because the Earth Really Matters

And We Hear the Trees Pray

Dear friends,  As we reported to you earlier this week, our Survey of your views showed that you wanted  us to send regular suggestions of actions for you to take, toward healing American society and our wounded Earth. 

Meanwhile,  the collapse of Trump-UnCare has shown that vigorous, persistent public action can thwart the cruel and destructive plans of even would-be despotic officials.

On health care and immigration, religious communities have indeed been vigorous and persistent in resisting cruel governmental action. On the climate crisis, there has been some religious action – but not as much, even though the need is dire and the possibilities wonderful.

This letter offers one such action  -- an Earth-centered prayer service. Others will follow.

 During the week from July 9 to 16, the nationwide Jewish network called  Ruach HaAretz (“Spirit of the Earth”)   held a retreat at the Stony Point Retreat Center in upstate New York.  I took part both in planning that retreat and in teaching /”weaving”a course through the week, entitled “Prayer as if  the Earth Really Matters.” As I did, I kept in mind The Shalom Center’s recent multireligious consultation to develop liturgy that can inspire religious action to heal the Earth.

The class planned and then collectively led a prayer service in which all the retreatants took part. The guidebook/ prayerbook  for that course follows below. I suggest that Earth-aware religious and spiritual communities might use it as a template for planning services – perhaps monthly --  that will help inspire congregants to take spiritually rooted action to heal the climate and the Earth. Each prayer group could of course modify this blueprint to meet its own needs and desires.

We believe that the spiritual depth of prayer is crucial, but not sufficient, to make change happen.

So the class also began developing plans for a “public action liturgy” that would call for renewal, restoration, and healing of the Earth and its climate. We will pursue those plans by long-distance Zoom meetings.

The class also urged that we develop practices – like a congregational or neighborhood solar co-op – that would become  “religious imperatives.” 

The service was held in a grove of trees in the retreat center. It was focused on prayer for a Jewish gathering, but with a few changes could probably be used by many other religious and spiritual communities and interfaith groups.

We recommend that if at all possible, this service be celebrated  outdoors and among trees.  The service was planned for and actually took exactly one hour.  We are glad to provide it to gatherings of any religious or spiritual communities.  We invite those who draw on it to help us continue to disseminate it and develop other Earth-centered religious practices by sending  a supportive contribution to The Shalom Center. Click on the maroon "Contribute" banner on the left-hand margin of this page.or send a check to 6711 Lincoln Dr, Philadelphia PA 19119.

                                                                     ### ### ###

Prayer Service As If -- and Because! –-

 The Earth Really Matters

Sunday Morning Service, Ruach HaAretz,

July 16, 2017

Held during the week-long retreat at

Stony Point Center

 

Arriving chant: Modah / Modeh  Ani l’fanecha, Ruach chai v’kayyam. ["Thankful am I, facing You  -- Everlasting Breath of Life ”]

Interpretive Modah /Modeh Ani

"Modah/Modeh Ani" in rhythm with other creatures and living beings. All of our bodies move differently, so please do the kind of motion that works for your body. Stretch up your arms toward the sky like a tree. Twist like a willow. Move your arms like a bird. Invite group to name moves; then the group follows.

Morning Blessings

Baruch ata Yahhh, Eloheinu Ruach ha’olam…

[Blessed are You,  Yahhh our God, Breath of Life -- ]

Who opens our eyes to the beauty in the world,

Who opens our eyes to what is truly happening today,

Who opens our eyes to envision the future.

Who reminds us that each step we take connects us with the Earth

Whose Divine image is seen in all life.

Excerpts from Psalm 148 [to the melody of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”:

Praise God, sun and moon, Hallelu-Yah.

Praise Yah, you stars of light, Hallelu-Yah.

Praise God, you high heavens, Hallelu-Yah.


All that flows in all the world, Hallelu-Yah.

The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives Who Gave Birth to Freedom

The Short Colorful Passover Gift-Books for Kids & Their Grown-Ups
As Passover approaches, you may find especially delicious a colorful way to share the story with your children or grandchildren, your friends' kids, your Seder hosts and guests, and for that matter with grown-ups who are open to laughng at loooong narrow pharaohs of the past as well as the present.  

 



That’s what our words and the wonderful pictures by Avi Katz (a creative illustrator for the Jerusalem Report)  do with this new brief and colorful book --  The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives  Who Gave Birth to Freedom.  We share a new story of both resistance to a cruel ruler and the birthing of a new community.

(Or maybe it's not just an old story, since the Pharaoh tried to incite hatred of an immigrant community who talked a strange languag and had a different religion. Uncannily familiar, maybe? )

(Anyway, the story we tell sure is new --  Like, Did you ever hear it was really the midwives who inspired and led the Exodus itself? Was that a secret, long kept hidden by the men who wrote our Bibles?  Or was it --- shshsh!)

The long narrow Pharaoh ordered two midwives, Shifra and Puah -- to kill the boy-babies of that immigrant community, the Cross-Over People.  BUT ---



 

AND THEN --  (Sh-sh-sh, you remember that Women's March last January, all over America and all around the world?)

But we don't want to spoil the story by telling what happens next.  Get the book to find out!

You can order The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives  Who Gave Birth to Freedom  by clicking here:

<https://www.amazon.com/Looooong-Narrow-Pharaoh-Midwives-Freedom/dp/069275721X>  

At the bottom of the same Amazon page you’ll find another of our books,  The Rest of Creation,