Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

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.

Chesed u'mishpat ashira! -- Arthur

 

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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

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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

 

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#JeremiahJusticeJune12 at the White House: Uphold our Covenants

The American people are bound by, and have committed ourselves to live by, two covenants. The “king” who sits in the White House is violating them both. On June 12 we will challenge him to renew his active commitment to abide by these sacred covenants.

One Covenant is the Constitution, the basic framework and the process by which we – the American People -- have Covenantally agreed to govern ourselves.

In it, both houses of Congress bespeak the will of the people as well as the President. In it, all the people are enumerated without fear of reprisal, to guarantee just representation. In it, no money may be disbursed from the Treasury except by laws passed by Congress. In it, the Congress has the necessary and proper power to oversee and investigate all the executive offices, including the Presidency, to ascertain whether the laws be just and effective. In it, the press is free and its freedom is upheld. In it, all of us have the equal protection of the law.  

This President has violated the Covenant of the Constitution and has tried to erect himself into a tyrant.

The other Covenant is one we individually and communally make with God, the Holy One Whom we know by many Names, and Who speaks through us by the Holy Spirit about the love, the compassion, and the justice that we owe each other.  

This Covenant speaks to the content of our laws and regulations, as well as the process by which we adopt them. In this Covenant, it is forbidden to tear children from their families and imprison them in cages; it is forbidden to force desperate asylum-seekers back into the hands of oppressors and murderers; it is forbidden to poison the air, the water, and the food so that they sicken and kill us instead of nurturing us; it is forbidden to poison the atmosphere and oceans of Earth so as to bring terrible fires and floods, famines and diseases upon us and to endanger the entire web of life, including the danger of extinction for the human race;  it is forbidden to deny health care to the sick; it is forbidden to subjugate women and  deny them the moral agency of conscience; it is forbidden to denigrate and damage people because of their race, their ethnic group, their class, their sexuality and gender.

This President has violated our Covenant with God and has tried to erect himself into a Pharaoh.

 What all these sinful acts against both Covenants have in common is that instead of covenantal leadership for justice, compassion, the empowerment of all, and healing, they pursue subjugation: subjugation of racial, religious, ethnic, and gender minorities; of women; of children; of the suffocating middle class, workers, family farmers, the poor, and people who fall sick; of immigrants and refugees; of the free press; of the Congress and the Constitution; even of Earth, our common home. This hate-filled subjugation violates God’s Covenant. It must not stand.

So we turn to an ancient Prophet, Jeremiah, who faced a king similarly possessed by cruelty and corruption:

 “Go to the royal palace and deliver this Message. Say, ‘Listen to what God says, O King of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you and your officials and all the people who go in and out of these palace gates.'

"This is God’s Message: Attend to matters of justice. Set things right between people. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Don’t take advantage of the homeless, the foreigners, the orphans, the widows. Stop the murdering!

 "If you obey these commands, then kings who follow in the line of David will continue to go in and out of these palace gates mounted on horses and riding in chariots—they and their officials and the citizens of Judah. But if you don’t obey these commands, then I swear—God’s Decree!—this palace will end up a heap of rubble." (Jeremiah 22:1-5 )

 We are asking you to join us outside the White House on June 12th.
 

We will be gathering just after Ramadan, Eid, Shavuot, and Pentecost.  We will draw upon their wisdom. And we welcome the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Interbreathing Spirit that gives life to ALL traditions, all communities, all life-forms, to speak through us. To make clear our spiritual commitments and the infinitude of forms and teachings through which the Spirit comes to us, we will walk in the vestments of our varied communities of Spirit.

Hundreds of faith leaders will journey to DC. Of those hundreds, some may hear the call upon their spirits to engage in nonviolent moral action. Some may be called there as witnesses. But all are needed to bear witness together in this moment.

To receive information and updates on the specific time and place where we will gather to begin our solemn March to the White House, please click to  https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=25  and then register by clicking where indicated. Your confirmation OK will have the full information.  

We must not be divided.

We must not be complacent.

We must act so that people are called to a moral awakening. 

We are asking you to come to Washington, D.C., on June 12th. Share this invitation with your faith-leader friends and colleagues.  

 This preceding letter is a summary of the Call previously signed by the Planning Committee:

Bishop William J. Barber II, Moral Monday Architect; President and Senior Lecturer, Repairers of the Breach; Pastor, Greenleaf Christian Church; Co-chair, Poor People's Campaign; National NAACP Board Member

Rev. Traci D. Blackmon, Associate General Minister, United Church of Christ

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Director of Social Justice Organizing Program, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Imam Al-Hajj Talib 'Abdur-Rashid, Ameer/President, The Muslim Alliance in North America

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Director, Kairos Center

Rabbi Dr. Arthur Ocean Waskow, Director, The Shalom Center

Minister Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Director, School for Conversion

  This preceding letter is a summary of the Call previously signed by the Planning Committee. To see and sign on to the fuller Call, please click to  https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=25  and then register by clicking where indicated. Your confirmation OK will have the full information.

Please share this invitation with your faith-leader friends and colleagues.


 

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#JeremiahJusticeJune12 at the White House

[Dear Movement Family, At our #FreedomSeder50, Bishop William J. Barber was deeply moved by the multireligious, multiracial, muiticultural, multigendered gathering of 400 people committed to ecological sanity and social justice. So deeply moved that he felt called by the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, to cry out for  #JeremiahJusticeJune12 at the White House:

[A gathering to confront –in Jeremiah’s words --- -"a corrupt king at his royal palace" -- the White House -- on June 12th.

[A pilgrimage by hundreds of faith leaders,  spiritual leaders, of every Spirit-led community.

Please join us by clicking here: https://tinyurl.com/propheticpilgrimage

[Some may choose to begin their pilgrimage where they live and walk in relays to Washington. Others may gather and journey from places of pain like the synagogues in Pittsburgh, the church in South Carolina, mosques under attack, places destroyed and disappeared like Paradise, California. Like "Paradise, Everywhere."

[There follows the Call to #PropheticPilgrimage that grew out of that moment, signed by the initial Planning Committee.
Please join us by clicking here: https://tinyurl.com/propheticpilgrimage
  (Others are signing as I send this.)

[We will send the signers specific details on precisely where and at what time we will gather on June 12 in Washington for the last stage of our #PropheticPilgrimage to the White House].

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --  Arthur]
### ### ###
 
We know God hears the cries of God’s people who are suffering increasingly under the vengeful leadership and harmful policies of our current Administration. Policies that ignore the cries of the poor, the sick, the widowed, the women, the children, the land, and the stranger among us. We, as a nation, have lost our way.
 
In such moments, God’s call to action is made known through the voice of the Prophets:

"Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a shofar [ram’s horn], and show My people their transgression."  [Isaiah 58:1]
 
As President Trump and his administration let the nation suffer, we must lead with a unified proactive and creative response that is not embedded in right left, Democrat or Republican, but is rooted in the clear vision of right and wrong. It is time to warn the nation and call this administration to repent of their sins.

We call  you to a #PropheticPilgrimage!

In the wake of the Mueller Report, this Administration is defiantly refusing to submit to Congressional oversight or to acknowledge the venality confirmed by an investigation of its inner-workings. The Constitution, which remains as the common basis for our shared life, our covenant is being attacked in broad daylight. 
 
Extremist leaders driven by the idols of racism, greed, and power have broken the Covenant.
 
With each slash at the 14th Amendment and denial of people’s very existence, this administration breaks the Covenant. With each border agent commanded by our rulers to rip families apart; with each attempt to deny health care to millions of people; with each pipeline leaking death to communities across this country; with each ballot denied and voice defiled, this administration breaks the covenant.

The prophet Jeremiah proclaims God’s orders when the leaders in a land abandon the Covenant:


Go to the royal palace and deliver this Message. Say, ‘Listen to what God says, O King of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you and your officials and all the people who go in and out of these palace gates.'


"This is God’s Message: Attend to matters of justice. Set things right between people. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Don’t take advantage of the homeless, the foreigners, the orphans, the widows. Stop the murdering!


 "If you obey these commands, then kings who follow in the line of David will continue to go in and out of these palace gates mounted on horses and riding in chariots—they and their officials and the citizens of Judah. But if you don’t obey these commands, then I swear—God’s Decree!—this palace will end up a heap of rubble." (Jeremiah 22:1-5 )

Friends, it  is time for us to go together to the palace gates with a clarion call:
 
Stop the weaponization of judicial appointments!
Attend to the 14th Amendment, the bedrock of equal protection under the law, not attack it.
 
Stop mandating a census question designed to ensure millions are uncounted!
Attend to the 14th Amendment: Heal and empower the millions poor and of low wealth, not undermine their representation.
 
Stop the abuse of executive power to pollute our communities with pipelines, our planet by burning Carbon!
Attend to our water and air, not privatize it while deserting human rights.
 
Stop the assault on the Affordable Care Act and on health care for women and children in poverty!
Attend to the health of your people, not policies of violence.
 
Stop the brutal treatment of the stranger at the southern border!
Attend to compassionate and humane immigration policies that affirm the divinity within all human beings.
 
What all these sinful acts have in common is that instead of covenantal leadership for justice, compassion, the empowerment of all, and healing, they pursue subjugation: subjugation of racial, religious, ethnic, and gender minorities; of women; of children; of the suffocating middle class, workers, family farmers, the poor, and people who fall sick; of immigrants and refugees; of the free press; of the Constitution; even of Earth, our common home. This hate-filled subjugation violates the Covenant. It must not stand.
 
We are asking you to join us outside the White House on June 12th.
 
Just after Ramadan, Shavuot, and Pentecost, hundreds of faith leaders will journey to DC. Of those hundreds, some may hear the call upon their spirits to engage in nonviolent moral action. Some may be called there as witnesses. But all are needed to bear witness together in this moment.  
 
The Scriptures do not call us to ideological purity tests or to precisely worded positions on each aspect of sensitive topics. Instead, Jeremiah calls to us at the heart of our deepest religious convictions and the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution: love, justice and equal protection under the law.
 
We cannot be divided.
 
We cannot be complacent.
 
We must act so that people are called to a moral awakening. In the wake of the new post-Mueller report reality, we must deliver a moral report.
 
June 12th draws on the wisdom of the sacred festivals of the Abrahamic communities that come just before. The Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Interbreathing that gives life to ALL traditions, all communities, all life-forms, is speaking through us.  
 
We are asking you to come to Washington, D.C., on June 12th. Share this invitation with your colleagues. Let us know you can come by registering your contact information here.  Please join us by clicking here: https://tinyurl.com/propheticpilgrimage

 
We must journey toward freedom and awaken this country once more.  It is time. June 12th.
 
Join us!

Bishop William J. Barber II, Moral Monday Architect; President and Senior Lecturer, Repairers of the Breach; Pastor, Greenleaf Christian Church; Co-chair, Poor People's Campaign; National NAACP Board Member

Rev. Traci D. Blackmon, Associate General Minister, United Church of Christ

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Director of Social Justice Organizing Program, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Imam Al-Hajj Talib 'Abdur-Rashid, Ameer/President, The Muslim Alliance in North America

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Director, Kairos Center

Rabbi Dr. Arthur Ocean Waskow, Director, The Shalom Center

Minister Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Director, School for Conversion

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Campus Freedom Seders, BDS, & Israel: Freedom For Whom, Exactly?

I am sharing with you an article from an on-line campus Jewish magazine. The article used the original Freedom Seder of 50 years ago as the springboard for a discussion of how to treat debate over Israeli-Palestinian relations. Naturally, as the author of said original Freedom Seder, I was intrigued. And I responded.  Here are the original article and my response to it.

At the end of this longer-than-usual Shalom Report, I will add my thoughts about the underlying issues, beneath and beyond this article.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace --  Arthur

 Campus Freedom Seders: Freedom For Who, Exactly?

New Voices [on-line magazine for Jewish college students]

April 23, 2019 by Jess Schwalb

Lift your head from the haggadah. Where is Pharaoh’s army today?

This inquiry motivated Rabbi Arthur Waskow to create the first Freedom Seder. After Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s April 1968 assassination, Waskow saw the police occupation of black neighborhoods in DC and other cities nationwide as an uncanny parallel to the Passover story. The next year, Waskow hosted the first Freedom Seder in Washington, DC with a group of Black and Jewish activists. He created a new haggadah, which detailed the biblical Jewish exodus from slavery alongside the history of US racism and slavery. This Seder was a revelation, Waskow told New Voices. “I realized that the seder was in the streets; the streets were the seder.”

Social justice-related Passover content today seems ubiquitous; haggadot about queer liberation, environmental equity, and racial justice likely graced many of our Seder tables this weekend. But Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a Philadelphia-based radical faith leader, explains that this was not always the case. Though most Jewish organizations now embrace modern-day takes on Passover, Waskow says that many Jewish leaders initially disapproved of the Freedom Seder. “They said to me, ‘There already exists a haggadah!’”

Waskow remembers that when he hosted the first-ever college campus Freedom Seder at Cornell in 1970, over 2,000 people crowded into the school’s fieldhouse to break matzah –– but Cornell’s Jewish institutions did not officially sponsor the event. This 1970 Freedom Seder was a preview for the ways campus Jewish organizations struggle to reconcile the story of Passover with the fight for freedom in our own time. In conversations about the Women’s March and Movement for Black Lives, Jewish groups agonize about whether we should stay in coalition with other marginalized groups when differences over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict arise.

In this context, the Freedom Seder seems a useful parable for the most pressing questions facing Jewish life on campus. When groups such as Hillel and J Street U refuse to host events with most pro-Palestinian student organizations, they prevent Jewish students from building relationships and coalitions necessary to fight white supremacy, regardless of our opinions on Israel-Palestine.

In particular, the history of the Freedom Seder at my own Northwestern University proves that instead of engaging with difficult questions around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, campus Jewish institutions frequently choose to defend their pro-Israel stance at all costs. The contentious campus history of the Freedom Seder should remind Jewish institutions this Passover to recommit to justice and solidarity, instead of actively excluding students of color and Jewish students who criticize Israel.

In 1971, The Daily Northwestern offered a brief advertisement for Waskow’s Freedom Seder haggadah: “You saw it condemned by the Jewish Establishment. Now you can buy the “Freedom Seder” at Hillel.” (They enticed cash-strapped students with a “Special Price”). The first Freedom Seder at Northwestern occurred in 2003 as a collaboration between Hillel and For Members Only, the black student union. The event was not actually held on Passover (attendees ate leavened bread) but referenced the Jewish holiday to frame discussions of historic Black-Jewish coalitions during the Civil Rights Movement. A version of this event continued on campus between 2003 and 2014.

The Freedom Seder at NU ceased after 2015, when the Associated Student Government successfully passed a resolution to divest from companies profiting from human rights violations in Israel and Palestine. When I arrived at NU the following September as a first-year student, I was told that hosting a Freedom Seder was now impossible because of the divestment vote.

NU’s divestment vote divided Jewish institutions from affinity spaces and groups led by students of color. FMO, the former co-sponsor of the Freedom Seder, joined the NUDivest coalition. On the other side of the debate, a coalition formed to oppose the divestment resolution. That group, NU Coalition for Peace, was largely made up of students in the Hillel-affiliated J Street U and Wildcats for Israel, as well as members of AEPi. Hillel International’s political guidelines put Jewish students involved with Hillel in a bind –– they could not publicly partner with those who supported divestment without violating Hillel’s standards of partnership.

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement both explicitly and implicitly drew lines in the sand between Jewish and Black groups at NU. I have rarely, if ever, seen a Jewish group on campus sponsor or host an event with FMO in the last four years. Nor have Jewish groups acknowledged with the extent to which they have stepped back from building coalitions with communities of color. In 2016, a private prison divestment campaign called Unshackle NU received no campus Jewish institutional support or endorsement.

A group of students are now attempting to revitalize the Freedom Seder at NU, and we have been consistently met with push-back from Jewish institutions. Our group felt it was impossible to host a Freedom Seder that ignored the Israeli-Palestinian conflict –– in a practical sense, how would we purport to rebuild the relationships between Black and Jewish students on campus without acknowledging a central reason (i.e. divestment) those relationships are strained?

At first Hillel and J Street U were willing to co-sponsor a liberation seder. But when we began to compile our own haggadah that calls for fighting white supremacy through collective liberation, and when our group insisted we discuss Palestinian liberation in partnership with Students for Justice in Palestine, Hillel and J Street U relinquished their official support for the Freedom Seder.

J Street U leadership told us that the group was not permitted to co-sponsor events with SJP, for reasons which seem to be nebulously justified in the group’s official policy. (Other campuses have hosted events between J Street and SJP, such as Bryn Mawr). By contrast, Hillel International’s standards of partnership do not just prohibit conversation with groups that support divestment, effectively shutting down official spaces for dialogue between Jewish and pro-Palestinian students on campus. These standards also preclude Hillel from working with campus groups that “Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.” This not-so-coded language preventing Hillel from working with “disruptive” students means that activists in our group, whether a part of SJP or FMO, would not be allowed to be an official part of the Seder if Hillel were a sponsor.

In the wake of constant Jewish outrage at Black solidarity with the Palestinian cause over the past year –– whether regarding divestment, the Women’s March, or Rep. Ilhan Omar –– this year’s Freedom Seder is an opportunity to speak across divides and address the issues that frustrate our attempts at intercommunal solidarity. But across the country and on campuses beyond NU, the standards of partnership preclude Hillel from sponsoring a Seder which brings together Black, Jewish, and Palestinian students to actually discuss what liberation and freedom might mean to each of our (often overlapping) communities.

Campus Jewish institutions would do well to take a page from Rabbi Waskow’s haggadah. His 1969 and 1970 Freedom Seders reminded us that our liberation requires building solidarity with non-Jewish communities. The Freedom Seder at its core challenges us to speak to, not avoid, that which divides our coalitions. That major Jewish institutions instead have chosen to opt-out both hurts my heart, and also deeply worries me. In a time of rising white supremacy and of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic violence, I fear the consequence of Jewish groups walking away from coalitions because of Israel and Palestine.

Rabbi Waskow reminds us that there are no shortage of Pharaohs in our time. In attempting to revive the Freedom Seder on NU’s campus this year, it has become ever more clear to me that we cannot shy away from conversations about Israel and Palestine when we discuss freedom and liberation. Instead of removing support from an event that seeks to bring student activists together, Jewish organizations should support young Jews’ desire to have conversations in the face of our seemingly-insurmountable political differences. We as students have chosen to create a Freedom Seder that demands collective, not partial or selective, liberation. I hope that Hillel and J Street U will join us.

Jess Schwalb is a 2019 New Voices Fellow at Jewish Currents. She is from Washington, DC and currently studies history at Northwestern. Whether organizing with Chicago’s Jewish Council on Urban Affairs or leading The Daily Northwestern’s Opinion desk, she has found both meaning and community in interrogating stories about American Jewish communal memory and challenging national perceptions of young Jewish life. 

### #### ### ### #### ###

 Comment by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, posted after reading the New Voices article:

 

The family member of a Northwestern University student sent me this article from New Voices. Of course I feel great joy in hearing that my work across the decades, continuing from 50 years ago, continues to stir creative and transformative thought today. And I very much agree with Jess Schwalb. Attempts by Hillel and others to forbid events that encourage dialogue among Jewish, Black, Muslim, and pro-Palestinian groups on and off campus are worse than mistaken -- they are acts of idolatry. They make the Government and/or the State of Israel into an idol that cannot be criticized or confronted.

 

The Talmud tells a story, a parable: Some ancient rabbis went searching for the Yetzer Hara, the Evil Impulse, for Idolatry, intending to kill it and thus wipe out idolatry.. They found it hiding in the Holy of Holies. The teaching: there is a danger that even, or especially, the most sacred place or practice can be made into an idol.

 

What distinguishes what =is sacred from what is an idol? Carving out any piece of the Great Flow of Life, the Interbreathing Spirit of the world, from that great flow of Truth and bowing down to that one piece as if it were the whole Great Flow – that is idolatry. The most important way of “bowing down” is forbidding and punishing criticism. Today some Jewish institutions have done that to the State of Israel, by forbidding any connection with those who support nonviolent efforts to change or criticize it.

 

BDS itself should not become an idol. Should we discuss BDS, debate about or against it? Sure! (I have.) Forbid discussion and cooperation with those who support it? Idolatry.

 

We don't forbid working with the Roman Catholic Church on issues like immigration where we mostly agree, though its thought and actions on abortion and birth control are repugnant to most Jews.  What makes the difference? Clearly, one involves Israel and the other doesn’t. The sign of idolatry.

 

When I wrote the first Freedom Seder, I replaced the debate in the traditional Haggadah over whether there had been 10, 50, or 500 plagues with a debate between violence and nonviolence as a path to freedom. That issue in 1969 was just as fraught, the debate just as intense, and the consequences just as important as any debate over BDS today.

 

In the same spirit, today I welcome the creation of a new version of a Freedom Seder that will discuss the issues roused by the conflict between Israel and Palestine, alongside many other Seders that the first Freedom Seder stirred into being.

 

At The Shalom Center, we ourselves this year created a new #FreedomSeder50 that was celebrated in a mosque (!!) and led by Rev William Barber and Ana Mara Archila, among others. (See

https://theshalomcenter.org/freedomseder50 ). God forbid that the Freedom Seder itself should be frozen into an idol!

 

### ### ###

Over the years, The Shalom Center and I have rarely addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have focused on the major issues of US public policy that the American Jewish community has faced, and we have especially addressed issues where Jewish religious tradition, especially the Hebrew Bible, has offered wisdom on those issues. In recent years that has meant especially the climate crisis and the question of how to respond to refugees and immigrants.

But increasingly, Israeli-Palestinian issues have entered into the very fiber of US  politics and the very fiber of American Judaism:

  • How should American Jews respond to criticisms of Israeli government policy by African-American and Muslim American activists and officials?
  • How should American Jews respond to words and actions by the Trump White House that bespeak white nationalism, including antisemitism?
  • How should American Jews respond to claims by Trumpist officials that critics of Israel are spouting antisemitism?
  • How should American Jews respond to the close alliance between the Trump Administration and the Netanyahoo government?

Do any of these questions call for responses not in political terms alone, but in terms of Jewish religious thought? In terms of God?

I am feeling called to address these questions when they arise from and speak to the deep crisis in American democracy and to the deep crisis facing the future of a number of religious communities, including Judaism.

Blessings of Emet, Tzedek, v'Shalom -- Truth, Justice, & Peace, the three pillars that the ancient Rabbis taught us uphold the universe. -- Rabbi Arthur Waskow

 

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Becoming Elijah: Shabbat HaGadol (Tomorrow) & Passover

In the Jewish community, we are about – tonight and tomorrow -- to enter the Sabbath before Passover. Traditionally, we are invited to read  the last passage of the last of the classical Hebrew Prophets, Malachi. The passage includes the prophecy of a day that will burn like a furnace, with the promise of a healing from a sun of justice and its wings, and with the insistence that we must turn the hearts of youth and elders to each other lest Earth be utterly destroyed. The passage assigns this task of reconciliation to the Prophet Elijah.
 
This passage speaks directly to our generation – endangered by a Flood of Fire imposed on us by modern Carbon Pharaohs --  and it speaks to the Passover Seder in which, traditionally,  we open a door to welcome Elijah into the Seder. It offers an old/new way of welcoming him, which fits well with the whole effort of the Seder to bring the wisdom of the Exodus into the minds and hearts of the young.
 
Some in the communities and organizations that are struggling to prevent Climate Chaos are Jewish; some are not. I offer the two ceremonies below for all who wish to draw on these ancient wisdoms to strengthen us to face the modern Carbon Pharaohs who are bringing on us a Flood of Fire.

So I suggest that as we open the door to Elijah, we say something like these words:
 


“Elijah, we welcome you to enter not only among us but also within each one of us. We ourselves will act now to turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, lest the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change,  become a Hurricane that smites the Earth with utter destruction.  We ourselves will act now to draw on the energy that comes from the sun and its beating wings that engender wind, to heal us from the danger of a scorched and burning world. We ourselves will turn our hearts to the young people of the world who are demanding that we act.”
 

And I offer this Kavvanah (focusing of intention) before the lighting of the Shabbat candles this evening, for the festival candles as we enter Pesach next Saturday night, and for any sacred occasion in any tradition that includes the lighting of candles and that cares for healing God’s Creation from the Climate Crisis. This kavvanah draws on the passage from Malachi and on the traditional rabbinic midrash that the Rainbow promise to send no Flood of water did not preclude a Flood of Fire. As the Black song says in a very similar midrash  “God gave Noah the Rainbow Sign – No more water; the Fire next time!”

Please feel free to share this letter as you like.
Shalom, salaam, paz, peace -- Arthur



Between the Fires:
A Prayer 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.
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.
 
 
"Here! The day is coming
That will flame like a furnace, “
Says the Infinite YHWH / Yahhhh,
The Breath of Life --
when all the arrogant, all evil-doers,
root and branch,
will like straw be burnt to ashes.
Yet for those of you who revere My Name,
Yes! My Name, Yahhhh, the Interbreath of Life!
For them a sun of justice will arise

with healing in its wings/rays . . .
 
“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 destruction."
                      (Malachi 3: 20-21, 23-24.)


 
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.
                                                    .
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 kindle these candle-fires to see more clearly
That the earth and all who live as part of it
Are not for burning.
We light 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.
 
{Say the appropriate blessing and Light candles of commitment]

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Empower Passover: More Joy, More Justice

In the Philadelphia Inquirer (April 5, front page) appeared the article below.

 

Freedom Seder’s 50th anniversary to be celebrated in a Philly mosque to point up the rise of Islamophobia

 

by Kristin E. Holmes, Updated: Philadelphia Inquirer, April 5, 201,  page 1

 

DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

 

For the 50th anniversary of his Freedom Seder — the groundbreaking observance that each year has inspired a fresh reimagining of the Passover ritual — Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow is continuing to recast ancient Jewish tradition to resonate in a new day.

 

This year, though, the Mount Airy activist and author is taking the renowned interfaith rite into a once-inconceivable place: a mosque.

 

Related stories

 


 

 

The scourges of racism and militarism inspired Waskow in 1969 to create the Freedom Seder, for which he adapted the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt to echo the civil rights movement. For the next five decades, a steady march of crises informed the Passover observances.

 

When Waskow sat down to write the 2019 iteration of the Haggadah, the text recited during the seder, one theme in particular propelled him. That, he said, was “the rise of Islamophobia.

On Sunday, the 85-year-old rabbi will join an interfaith assembly at Masjidullah on Limekiln Pike in West Oak Lane. The celebration — in advance of the eight-day Passover holiday that begins at sundown on April 19 — will feature the Rev. William J. Barber II, an internationally known activist and MacArthur fellow who has revived the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Jr.'s Poor People’s Campaign. Also on the roster are Rev Liz Theoharis, co-chair pf the Poor Peoples Campaign, Debbie Almontaser, founding principal of the first public school in America to focus on Arabic language and culture, and Ana Maria Archila, head of the Center for Popular Democracy, who confronted former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake in an elevator at the U.S. Capitol during confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

A 5 p.m. dinner will be prepared according to Jewish and Muslim dietary guidelines. The seder will follow at 7.pm.

Passover’s traditional blessings will be said in English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Spanish over four cups of grape juice rather than wine, as alcohol is prohibited in Islam. The portion of the original story describing the 10 plagues God inflicted on Egypt to free the enslaved Israelites will be replaced by modern-day “plagues” — not only Islamophobia but also inequitable government funding for public schools, LGBTQ discrimination, and environmental racism.

 About 400 people are expected for the event, which is sold out but will be livestreamed.

 >> READ MORE: A new Freedom Seder for a divided nation

 The influence of Waskow’s Freedom Seder is “huge,” said Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, co-author of Strangers, Neighbors, Friends: Muslim-Christian-Jewish Reflections on Compassion and Peace. “What Arthur did was liberate the Haggadah” from the constraints of its ancient traditions.

 The golden anniversary coincides with a time of increasingly blatant and often violent religious intolerance. In mid-March, 50 Muslims were murdered in a mass shooting at a mosque in New Zealand, nearly five months after 11 Jews were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Last month, the Philadelphia religious community, which has a long history of collaboration, was rattled when a guest imam at a mosque known for its interfaith outreach expressed anti-Semitic sentiments in a series of sermons; the mosque immediately apologized.

... Waskow was a resident fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington when he was inspired to create the Freedom Seder following the 1968 assassination of King. As riots erupted in the district, President Lyndon B. Johnson instituted a curfew and deployed nearly 14,000 federal troops to quell the unrest.

 Along with other activists, Waskow helped members of the black community secure food and medical and legal aid. When he saw a machine gun mounted on a Jeep in a Washington neighborhood, he considered the link between ancient slavery and the turmoil fueled by racism and militarism throughout the ’60s — both cited by King in a famous speech at Riverside Church in New York.

 In response, Waskow wrote the Freedom Seder, inserting quotes by slave-rebellion leader Nat Turner on resisting bondage, the writer Henry David Thoreau on abolitionist John Brown, and King on nonviolence. His Haggadah was published in Ramparts magazine. The first observance was in the basement of an African American church on April 4, 1969, a year after King’s assassination.

 “It was so exciting. All over America, people were showing up at Passover with [a copy of the Freedom Seder],” said Kreimer, an associate professor at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote and founder of the school’s multifaith studies department. Suddenly, she said, a Haggadah that had been the same since antiquity was incorporating the wisdom of 20th century figures such as King and Mohandas K. Gandhi.

 Over the years, the Freedom Seder has been adapted to themes such as LGBTQ rights, immigration, and Jewish-Palestinian reconciliation. In 1970, the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, then on the run after being convicted of burning draft records during an anti-war protest in Catonsville, Md., sneaked into a Freedom Seder hosted by Waskow and students at Cornell University. He escaped with the help of a life-size puppet theater troupe that was part of the event.

 “He got inside one of the puppet costumes, and then he was gone,” said Waskow, who runs the nonprofit Shalom Center, a Philadelphia-based peace and justice organization. Berrigan was later arrested.

 

[Rabbi Arthur Waskow (center) with the Rev. Channing Phillips (left) and TV director Topper Carew (right) at the first Freedom Seder held April 4, 1969, at Lincoln Temple United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C.]

 Last year, Waskow reimagined his own reimagining of the rite when he created The MLK +50 Interfaith Freedom Seder to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination. In the Haggadah, he included references to police shootings of unarmed citizens and the Parkland, Fla., school massacre.

 This year’s event is being hosted in a house of worship with its own interfaith history. The building that Masjidullah now occupies once was home to Temple Sinai synagogue and then the West Oak Lane Church of God. The mosque purchased the property from the church in 2013.

 Imam Abdul-Halim Hassan of Masjidullah has long worked with Waskow, Berman, and other area religious leaders on community issues including interfaith understanding and cooperation, and environmental conservation.

 “You can do something on one side of the world and people on the other side will know about it instantly," Hassan said. "If we can do something here to show that there is a better way, we can be a model for the world.”

 For Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman, Waskow’s wife and co-organizer of the celebration along woth Viv Hawkins, Program Coordinatpr pf The Shalom Center, the Freedom Seder’s evolution and influence is a testament to the staying power of the original concept.

 It “revolutionized the idea,” she said, "that sacred writing could be new in every generation.”

 

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My name is Guillermo

My name is Guillermo Glujovsky. Originally from Argentina I am living in Montreal - Quebec. I am sociologist and free journalist trying to bring Peace to the world

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The Dark Side of Purim, Kahane, & the Soul of Israel

There is a dark side to Purim,  that upside-down, downside-up festival of masks and laughter.

To inoculate us in advance against the break-through of that dark side, the rabbis long ago prescribed that the day before Purim would be the Fast of Esther, drawing us from dawn to dusk into a world of inner contemplation. In a moment, below, you will see an invocation I propose for the Fast of Esther, to strengthen its healing in our day.

Yet the dark side broke out 25 years ago and again in the last ten days. 

On Purim twenty-five years ago, a follower of the racist and murderous “Rabbi” Meir Kahane murdered 29 Muslims prostrate in prayer in the Tomb of Avraham/ Ibrahim/ Abraham, our shared Father and Founder. The Kahanist murderer chose Purim quite deliberately, for reasons we will explore below.  

Just this past week, the Prime Minister of the State of Israel honored the followers of Kahane by greatly easing their path for election to the Knesset.

I intend to join in the Fast of Esther this year on March 20, the day before Purim, and I invite you to join in fasting in sorrow for the way in which our own tradition is streaked with blood:  And I suggest that we begin the Fast by chanting this Vision, this Hazon, that I share with you.  After it are the explanations of how this Vision appeared to me. --  Shalom, Arthur  

The Presence of an Absence

And then appeared Darkness,
Her Head wrapped in mourning,
Her tallit all black,
Her Place only Absence,
Her Voice but a Silence,
Nistar b'Nistar:
 
”When Esther came hidden
In the name of one hiding,
She cried out to Me
To emerge from My Mystery.
 
“So I came to defend you,
My people beloved;
I strengthened your hand
to beat back your foes;
But then you betrayed Me.
For your hand became frenzied,
You struck down the harmless,
You struck down My children
While they reached out to Me.
 
“On the day of rejoicing
You hollowed My Name.
In My Own Tree of Life,
You hollowed out life,
left only a mocking
 Pretense of My Self.
 
“And I see -- yes, I watch--
That in days still to come
Your deeds will give warrant
To a child of your children,
To murder your cousins,
The children of Ishmael,
The children of Abraham,
In the Place of his grave,
On this day of rejoicing.
 
“So My Name I withdraw --
Yes, My Name will be hidden,
Nistar b'Nistar;
 
“For I will not permit you
to call out from this Scroll
My Name on this day.
 
“Yet I teach you that Purim,
Alone of the seasons,
Will continue beyond
the time of Messiah.
 
“On the day that both families
of Abraham's offspring
turn away from their murders,
their killing each other,
on that day will my Name
take its Place in the Scroll.
 
“On that day Purim
and Yom Ha’K'Purim
at last will be one.
 
“On that day, at last,
A Purim will lead you
And light up your way
to the Days of Messiah.
 
“On that day all the nations
will laugh and will dance,
will turn robes of power
into masquerade mirth;
will turn every gun
to a clackety grogger.
 
“On that day will My Name
Take Its Place in the Scroll
In letters of Light.”
 

Ten notes of Background and Suggestions, for Purim and the Fast of Estherr this year: 

1. Spiritually, perhaps the most important “background” is this: The Name of God does not appear anywhere in the Scroll of Esther. It is hidden, and the Hebrew of “hidden” is nistar.  Esther’s own “name,” so close to nistar, echoes that her true name, Hadassah, is hidden in the story.

2. The next most important spiritual lesson is that (as many modern scholars teach) the Scroll of Esther is not history but satire –- an over-the-top tale of an evil prime minister and a pompous, stupid king. In this view, every element in it is a satirical exaggeration for a serious purpose  to laugh at the vileness and stupidity of those who get drunk on their own power. (No accident that the story begins with a royal drinking-party that goes on for months.)

3. The story weaves together two jokes of the same genre: The anti-hero keeps slipping on the banana peel he himself has tossed on the ground. The pompous, stupid king gets the tale going by insisting that no woman is going to tell him what to do. His insistence creates precisely the result that he does exactly what his Queen Esther tells him what to do. And his evil prime minister sets out to bring about the genocide of the Jews in his realm, including the impalement on a gallows of their leader, Mordechai. By thus over-reaching, he brings about his own impalement on that same gallows and the destruction of his political party.

4.    Chapter 9, verse 16 of the Scroll of Esther says that after a day of successful self-defense from those Persian terrorists who had prepared a genocide of the Jewish people, the Jews killed an additional 75,000 Persians. The greatest moral and ethical danger in the story is that some will read it as history, not satire, and will read its excesses as instructions  -- especially the tale of this massacre.

5. Inspired by this passage of massacre,  on Purim 25 years ago, an American-born Israeli Jew grotesquely named “Baruch” (“Blessed”) Goldstein, committed mass murder.

6.  Rabbinic tradition teaches that on Purim we should get drunk or “mellow” enough to the point of not deeply knowing (“ad lo yada,” not grokking) the difference between “Baruch [Blessed be] Mordechai” and “Aror  [Cursed be] Haman.”  (Haman was the genocidal arch-villain of the story, and Mordechai its co-hero.)  The rabbinic teaching was intended to move us to lift ourselves  -- to get high – to ascend -- beyond collision into a world of ultimate Unity. But Goldstein, who thought he was “Baruch, “Blessed,”  actually got drunk on blood, not alcohol, and dragged himself down into the abyss where he became not Baruch, Blessed,  but “Aror,” Accursed.

7. There is an old rabbinic pun:  Occasionally, in Hebrew, the Day of Atonement is called Yom HaKippurim. Someday, the Rabbis said, Yom HaKippurim would become a Yom Ha K’Purim, a day like Purim. When Mashiach comes, they said, the day when we need to atone for our sins would dissolve into a day like Purim, a day of joy and laughter beyond sin because all sin would be transcended. Of all the holy days, they said, only Purim would become so transcendent that it will still be celebrated after Messiah comes.

But the equation is also true in reverse. There must be an element of Yom Kippur in Purim, and that element is the Fast of Esther. 

8.The Rabbis instituted Taanit Esther, the Fast of Esther,  on the 13th of Adar. That was the very day, according to the Scroll of Esther, that the revenge massacre had taken place. And that very day had been “Yom Nicanor,” a festival that commemorated a Jewish military victory by the Maccabees over Nicanor, one of Antiochus’ generals. The Rabbis shattered a celebration of victory in war to bring people to quiet inward meditation. Perhaps they feared that Chapter 9: 16 of Megillat Esther would one day bring about an Aror Goldstein.

9. In 1994, when I woke on Purim morning after a joyful evening of laughter to hear the news of Goldstein's massacre, I thought: "I wrote Purim midrash with a costume and a pen; he wrote bloody midrash with a machine gun. Which midrash will come to express the Soul of Yisrael, the Godwrestling folk?"

Step by step, the machine-gun interpretation of Torah has in the State of Israel been winning. Will Netanyahoo's invitation to Kahanism at last be the overreach that sends our own Haman to oblivion on his own banana peel?  Can the Soul of the People Israel bring a Turning to the Soul of the State?

I am relieved to report that almost the entire spectrum of American Jewish institutions, minus the ultra-right-wing so-called "Zionist Organization of America," condemned Netanyahoo's despicable support for Kahanism. Still sad that it took this level of governmental betrayal of Jewish vision and vaues to bring a strong rebuke.

So for the sake of a deeper Turning, I will fast this year on Taanit Esther. And I suggest we go further. Two thoughts:

10. In 1995, one year after the massacre, on the evening before the sunrise Fast of Esther,  we brought together in our creative Jewish and multireligious neighborhood in Philadelphia, a public meeting in which a knowledgeable Jew, Christian, and Muslim each looked into and spoke about the bloody streaks in her/his OWN tradition. 

As we approach the 25h yahrzeit of this murderous Purim, especially at this moment in world history, as we look at the rising level of violence “justified” by claims of godliness  --  when  violence from each of our traditions is besmirching the Truth of our roots in the ONE  --  this unblinking gaze into our mirrors would be valuable. Wherever it is still possible, I suggest that our communities bring together such a conversation.

In this way, each of the three Abrahamic communities could face – not through accusation of the other but through self-assessment --  our own tugs into bloodshed.

And finally, I suggest that Esther 9: 16 be chanted in the wailing, sorrowful un-melody of Eicha, the Book of Lamentations. Just as we break a glass at a wedding, a time of greatest joy, on this day of laughter let us recall that even this day bears within it the danger of making even more broken the cracked and dangerous world that we inherit.  

 Shalom, salaam, sohl, paz, peace --  Arthur

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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

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