Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

#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

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Days 5 & 6 of #Hanukkah8Days4Climate

[For resources by Faryn Borella and Rabbi Arthur Waskow on celebrating Hanukkah that can help us all to heal our wounded Earth, please see the Home Page of The Shalom Center at <theshalomcenter.org> Faryn Borella is a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern at The Shalom Center. – AW, editor]

Day 5: Support the Green New Deal

Write and call (202-224-3121) your Congresspeople at the US Capitol or visit or call at their home offices during the week of Hanukkah and Christmas, asking for their support for the Green New Deal and the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act. See  https://www.sunrisemovement.org/gnd-for-public-housing.

“One day [the righteous man Choni]  was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree; he asked him, How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit? The man replied: Seventy years. He then further asked him: Are you certain that you will live another seventy years? The man replied: I found [ready grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me so I too plant these for my children.” -Babylonian Talmud Ta’anit 23b

As the story of Choni teaches us, we as Jews are called upon to be accountable in creating a livable world for future generations. However, the lives that many of us have been living and the systems of capitalism that we have bought into have done the exact opposite--our lives have supported the creation of conditions that render the world uninhabitable for future generations. And for this, we are being held to account by the younger generations.

The Sunrise Movement has burst onto the scene, a movement led by and for the younger generation that calls upon the global community to stop climate collapse and build for them and the ensuing generations a liveable future. And a core element of the ask they are making is political support for The Green New Deal.

As the Sunrise Movement explains on their website:

We need a Green New Deal to fight the climate crisis at the scale that scientists say is necessary. It’s a plan that would transform our economy and society at the scale needed to stop the climate crisis. It’s our fighting chance to actually stop this crisis -- for some of us, the first we’ve seen in our whole lives.

“We don’t have illusions of passing this with Donald Trump in the White House. He’s made it clear he’d rather do favors for his fellow billionaires than stopping climate change and fighting for working people. In 2019, we’ll build support for the Green New Deal in every corner of the country and cement it as a litmus test for every politician seeking the Presidency. Then, in 2020, we will unite by the millions to defeat corrupt politicians and the fossil fuel billionaires who aid them, and we’ll elect a President and Congress who will make the Green New Deal law in 2021.”

Therefore, for the fifth day of Hanukkah, we are asking you to respond to the call by the younger generation to ask that the Green New Deal and the Green New Deal for Public Housing be a priority on the legislative and campaign agenda by writing letters to and/or calling your representatives and asking them for their vocal and unwavering support.

For more information on the Green New Deal and the asks of the Sunrise Movement, see the resources that they have collected here: https://www.sunrisemovement.org/green-new-deal

Day 6: Power down for Shabbat, just as our forebears did, by limiting use of gasoline, electronics, and electricity for 25 hours.

“Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of YHWH [Yaahhh/ HaShem/ Breathing Spirit of all life]  your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, or your beast, or the stranger who is within your gates. For in six days YHWH [Yaahhh/ HaShem/ Breathing Spirit of all life] made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore YHWH blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

"The seventh day is Shabbat-pausing for YHWH your God; you are not to do any work ,. . .   in order that your male and female servant may rest as one-like-yourself. You are to bear-in-mind that serf you were in the Tight and Narrow Land. But YHWH took you out from there with a strong hand and an arm-outstretched-to-sow-seed.  Therefore YHWH commands you to observe the day of Shabbat.” (Deut. 5: 13-15)

“To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshipping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow men and the forces of nature. Is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for man's progress than the Sabbath?” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath)

On Shabbat, we are commanded to rest, for two different reasons given by two different ancient teachings:

One teaching says that this day of rest marks the truth that the very creation and continuity of the cosmos rests on the rhythm of Doing/ Making and Resting /Being.

The other sacred teaching is that through the Pause for Shabbat we make sure that no one is enslaved; for to be able to rest means to be free.  And this rest, God makes clear, is not only for us, but for all for whom we assume responsibility and for all whose labor benefits us.

Three thousand years later, Heschel adds many other implications of why Shabbat is crucial, including the celebration of peace among human beings and between Humanity and Earth.

In our day, the complex web of labor is hard to untangle, but one thing is clear -- in order to maintain the lifestyle that people have come to expect in this economy, there is no rest for some people, and there is no rest for Earth. No rest for people means that, as the Deuteronomy text teaches, that some are enslaved. And Earth is enslaved. But both people and Earth rebel against slavery. 

 

Among people, that rebellion takes the forms of both despair and resistance: nightmarish outbursts of addictions, suicides, fascism -- and uprisings of Spirit yearning for Shabbat and freedom, like the Sunrise movement. For Earth, it means plagues like the ones we remember that were brought  on by Pharaoh. 

 

Earth is constantly being mined for resources, and people are being asked to perpetually do that mining. Earth no longer gets a shabbat, even though the precedent for Shabbat is derived from Earth's very creation. Can we use shabbat as an opportunity to divest from consumption? - -to give Earth a brief respite from this labor, and to learn from this brief moment how to free Earth from slavery and release it from the rebellion of disastrous upheavals? And how to free ourselves -- all of us  -- from enslavement to addictive consuming, breathless overwork, and frightening disemployment? 

It has become common practice within Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities to cease to use technology on Shabbat. And much of this is based on the types of labor that Jewish Law outlaws on Shabbat. It is outlawed to drive cars or turn on and off lightbulbs, for this requires ignition of a fire. It is outlawed to use electricity, for it potentially completes a circuit. It is outlawed to use computers or phones, for it breaks the prescription against writing.

However, there is something deeper to taking a shabbat from technology -- to opting out of the consumption of fossil fuels inherent in technological use. It gives us space to glimpse a world in which our very survival is not dependent upon these mechanisms to the extent that we believe they are. It allows us to see what is expedient vs. what is necessary. It gives us more choice as to how and when we consume -- how and when we utilize resources that Earth will never get back.

So for this Shabbat of Hanukkah, we invite you to try on the practice. Try limiting your use of technology for the day. Choose not to use your car, but rather walk, bike and stay local. Choose to not minimize your use of electricity, and perhaps have your home illuminated by candle-light. Choose not to use your phone and computer, but rather spend time face-to-face with loved ones or communing with the very Earth that undergirds the functioning of all of these things. And see how this practice transforms you.

 

 

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Giving Thanks, Arlo Guthrie, & My 1st Yarmulke

A Ritual of Joyful, Thankful  Resistance

Dear friends, Just five minutes before noon today, I will take part in a wonderful ritual. One of the members of a men’s group that began 30 years ago – - Jeffrey Dekro, founder of the Isaiah Fund – will call me and the other men's group members to remind us to turn on our radios. He has been doing this, year after year on Thanksgiving Day, for almost all those thirty years.

And every year, for about a decade, I have been writing you to retell this story. So welcome once again to our Thanksgiving ritual.

Why?

 Every year at noon on Thanksgiving, WXPN Radio in Philadelphia (and many other radio stations around the country) play Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” about a Thanksgiving dinner in Stockbridge Mass. in 1967; about obtuse cops; and about nonviolent resistance to a brutal war.

 And every year, this seemingly non-Jewish set of rituals stirs in me the memory of a moment long ago when my first puzzled, uncertain explorations of the “Jewish thing” inside me took on new power for me. The moment when I came to understand the power of a yarmulke.

By now it is a tradition for me to retell the Yarmulke story every Thanksgiving. It carries deeper meaning this year, as we build a new Resistance, than it has for decades.

In 1970, I was asked by the Chicago Eight to testify in their defense. They were leaders of the movement to oppose the Vietnam War, and they had been charged by the Nixon Administration and Attorney-General John Mitchell (who turned out to be a criminal himself – see under “Watergate”) with conspiracy to organize riot and destruction during the Chicago Democratic National Convention in 1968. 

 I had been an alternate delegate from the District of Columbia to the Convention – elected originally as part of an anti-war, anti-racist slate to support Robert Kennedy. After he was murdered, we decided to nominate and support as our “favorite son” the chairperson of our delegation – Rev. Channing Phillips (may the memory of this just and decent leader be a blessing), a Black minister in the Martin Luther King mold.

 Our delegation made him the first Black person ever nominated for President at a major-party convention. The following spring, on the first anniversary of Dr. King’s murder, on the third night of Passover in 1969, his church hosted the first-ever Freedom Seder. (Its 50thanniversary came this past spring. We held it in a mostly African-American mosque -- probably a first in history! -- and among a dozen transformative speakers was the Reverend William Barber. Now we are at work on a book of many essays by many remarkable authors entitled How to Liberate your Passover Seder: A Handbook. 

 AND – back to 1968 -- besides being an elected delegate, I had also spoken the first two nights of the Convention to the anti-war demonstrators at Grant Park, at their invitation, while the crowd was being menaced by Chicago police and the National Guard. This is what the demonstration looked like, clustered nonviolently in the park: 

Across the street were the police and the National Guard, poised to attack. Scary to watch them.   

 On "Bloody Wednesday," the third night of the Convention, the police – not the demonstrators – finally did explode in vicious violence.

 

Although the main official investigation of Chicago described it as a “police riot,” the Nixon Administration decided to indict the anti-war leaders. So during the Conspiracy Trial in 1970, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger, Abby Hoffman, and the other defendants figured I would be reasonably respectable (as a former delegate) and therefore relatively convincing to the jury and the national public, in testifying that the anti-war folks were not trying to organize violence but instead were the victims of police violence.

 As the trial went forward, it became clear that the judge – Julius Hoffman, a Jew – was utterly subservient to the prosecution and wildly hostile to the defense. (Some of us thought he had become possessed by the dybbuk of Torquemada, head of the Inquisition. --- How else could a Jew behave that way? We tried to exorcise his dybbuk. It didn’t work.)

 Judge Hoffman browbeat witnesses, ultimately literally gagging and binding Bobby Seale, the only Black defendant, for challenging his rulings – etc. Dozens of his rulings against the Eight were later cited by the Court of Appeals as major legal errors, requiring reversal of all the convictions the prosecution had achieved in his court.

 So when I arrived at the Federal court-house in Chicago, I was very nervous. About the judge, much more than the prosecution or my own testimony.

 The witness who was scheduled to testify right before me was Arlo Guthrie. 

 In Grant Park, among the antiwar demonstrators pictured above, Arlo had sung “Alice’s Restaurant,” a joy-filled, funny song about resistance to the Vietnam War and to the draft, and about the perverted priorities of "justice" in America. In 1968 the song was only a few a few years old, but millions knew it. 

 Why did the defense want to call Arlo as a witness? To show the jury that there was no incitement to violence in it.

o William Kunstler, z’l, the lawyer for the defense, asked Guthrie to sing “Alice’s Restaurant” so that the jury could get a direct sense of the event.

 But Judge Hoffman stopped him: “You can’t sing in my courtroom!”

 “But,” said Kunstler, “it’s evidence of the intent of the organizers and the crowd!”

 For minutes they snarled at each other. Finally, Judge Hoffman: “He can SAY what he told them, but NO SINGING.”

 And then – Guthrie couldn’t do it. The song, which lasts 18 minutes, he knew by utter heart, having sung it probably more than a thousand times – but to say it without singing, he couldn’t. His memory was keyed to the melody. And maybe Judge Hoffman’s rage helped dis-assemble him

 So he came back to the witness room, crushed.

And I’m up next. I start trembling, trying to figure out how I can avoid falling apart

I decide that if I wear a yarmulke, that will strengthen me to connect with a power Higher/ Other than the United States and Judge Hoffman. (Up to that moment, I had never worn a yarmulke in a non-officially “religious” situation. I had written the Freedom Seder in 1969, but in 1970 I was still wrestling with the question of what this weird and powerful “Jewish thing” meant in my life.)

So I tell Kunstler I want to wear a yarmulke, and he says – “No problem.” Somewhere I find a simple black unobtrusive skull-cap, and when I go to be sworn in, I put it on.

For the oath (which I did as an affirmation, as indicated by much of Jewish tradition), no problem.

Then Kunstler asks me the first question for the defense, and the Judge interrupts. “Take off your hat, sir,” he says.

Kunstler erupts. – “This man is an Orthodox Jew, and you want – etc etc etc.” I am moaning to myself, “Please, Bill, one thing I know I’m not is an Orthodox Jew.” But how can I undermine the defense attorney? So I keep my mouth shut.

Judge Hoffman also erupts: “That hat shows disrespect for the United States and this Honorable Court!” he shouts.

“Yeah,” I think to myself, “that’s sort-of true. Disrespect for him, absolutely. For the United States, not disrespect exactly, but much more respect for Something Else. That’s the point!”

 They keep yelling, and I start watching the prosecutor – and I realize that he is watching the jury. There is one Jewish juror. What is this juror thinking?

Finally, the prosecutor addresses the judge: “Your Honor, the United States certainly understands and agrees with your concern, but we also feel that in the interests of justice, it might be best simply for the trial to go forward."

 And the judge took orders!! He shut up, and the rest of my testimony was quiet and orderly

It took me another year or so to start wearing some sort of hat all the time –- a Tevye cap or a beret or an amazing tall Tibetan hat with earflaps and wool trimming, or a multicolored Jamaican cap with a zippered pocket (probably originally for dope; I used it to play Yankee Doodle with my grandchildren: "Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni!"). Or a rainbowy yarmulke, like this:

 And whatever its shape or color, the hat continues to mean to me that there is a Higher, Deeper Truth in the world than any judge, any boss, any Attorney-General, any President, or any Pharaoh.

 It’s my – our – “Alice’s Restaurant.” Or maybe “Alice’s Restaurant” is Arlo’s yarmulke. And not only Arlo’s, but the yarmulke for all of us.

Let us face the truth – This Thamksgiving, we have In theWhite House itself a rhetoric and policy rooted in white nationalism. It has poured a fire of hate across America. Latinx, Blacks, women, Muslims, Jews, GLBTQ people, refugees, news reporters, even the Earth itself, have felt the fires.  In California, the fires have been physical, and murderous. Elsewhere, the fires have been words that beckoned murder – as in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. 

 That combination -- racist hate in major speeches, incitements to street violence -- has a well-known pedigree. When a society has lost its way, when its accustomed imperial army is failing and yet is eating up the country's own substance like a cancer, when a rising proportion of its people feel left out economically and culturally, and when demogogues define as traitorous enemies "the wetbacks," "the slant-eyes," "the kikes," "the niggers," "the ragheads," “the nasty, uppity women,” “the fake-news press,” the “lying scientists,” the "human scum" of Congressional leaders -- we are in the presence of a neo-fascist movement.  

 It will take concerted resistance and the sprouting of a new America of joyful solidarity to meet this challenge

 Resistance to what? Carbon Pharaohs. Billionaire election-buyers. Racist politicians. Hate-mongers in the White House, sending the Army to fire on bedraggled refugee families.

 And what is a New America? From the bottom up: 

 Neighborhood solar-energy coops. Public gatherings of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists -- Black, Hispanic, Native, Asian, Euro -- to pray, sing, meditate, and vigil together. Sanctuaries for refugees. Schools, colleges, and universities that celebrate Black songs, Black poetry, Black wisdom, Black visionaries. Release from prison of nonviolent drug offenders, and active groups working for the full rehabilitation of "returned citizens." The Dreamers. Hundreds of Jews going to jail explicitly on a Jewish holy fast day, Tisha B'Av, to defend refugees and immigrants from White house cruelty.  Sanctuary cities. Indigenous communities defending ther sacred lands and teaching the rest of us about nurturing the sacred Earth -- and at last, being listened to, after centuries of being ignored. High-school kids defiantly sitting-in at the office of the Speaker, demanding an Earth that will not kill them. Cities and states that enforce a $15 minimum wage, with automatic cost-of-living increases. #MeToo as women take on an ingrained rape culture that has its hero in the White House, and as hundreds of women run for public office for the first time – and win. “Fusion politics” and a national campaign for moral renewal by the Poor People’s Campaign. Boycotts of global corporations that escape US taxes by pretending to "move" overseas. Demands for Medicare for All. Massive civil disobedience in the very halls of Congress to demand public financing of election campaigns.

At the "top" of the pyramids of power, it is the worst of times. At the grass-roots "bottom," it is the best of times. 

 So the Arlo Guthrie story speaks today in a stronger voice than it has for decades.

 So I invite you to celebrate Thanksgiving (or if you are too busy today, tomorrow -- on the “second day of the Festival”) by thanking the Spirit that calls us to resist those who wound our world and to celebrate those who work to heal it; by lifting your own spirit and encouraging your own commitment to freedom, peace, laughter, and nonviolence. 

For Arlo’s recording of “Alice’s Restaurant” for our own generation with an audience joining in, click to 

https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=B_tMzSxvoeA&list=RDAMVMB_tMzSxvoeA

 And if you take joy and sustenance in the work The Shalom Center does –- including this way of celebrating ritual as joyful social action and turning social action into joyful ritual –- then please make a (tax-deductible) donation by clicking on the maroon “Contribute” banner just below.

Thanks!  And blessings of a joyful Giving Thanks not only today, but as we keep moving, building a multifaceted movement to create a new and deeper, fuller, democratic America. ---   Arthur

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#Hanukkah8Days4Climate

[Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Rabbinical Student Faryn Borella are working together on the year-long Shalom Center program of #Holy Days4Climate. Faryn is the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern for The Shalom Center. For the next several weeks, as we approach the darkest days of the ear,  we will focus on #Hanukkah8Days4Climate  -- the Festival of Lights.]

We hope to inspire Jewish activism on the climate crisis in tune with the festival cycle. The next Festival is #Hanukkah8Days4Climate, which begins with the first candle Sunday evening December 22 and runs through the evening of Monday Dec 30. (The eighth candle is Sunday evening.) 

We light those eight candles to honor the ancient legend that enough Oil for one day’s sacred use to heal the desecrated Temple lasted for eight days. “A Miracle!” says the story in the Talmud:  “God conserved energy to meet the sacred needs of God’s people to heal God’s Temple.”

Learning from this legend, how do we meet our sacred need to heal our desecrated Temple Earth?  By conserving sacred energy in our own way. By lighting and warming our own lives with wind and sunlight.

 How do we draw on the symbols and practices of Hanukkah to do that?

 We suggest drawing on the Eight Days of Hanukkah like this:

Day

Date

Moon

Resource...

Progression

Action

1

Sun Dec. 22- Mon Dec. 23

Waning crescent

Resource Rejuvenation

Study

Gather in community for candle-lighting, pot- luck, & Torah Study applying Hanukkah to Energy Conservation, and Climate Justice.

2

Mon Dec. 23- Tue Dec. 24

Waning crescent

Resource Renewal

Action: Personal

Switch your utility provider from coal or oil to renewables.

3

Tue Dec. 24- Wed. Dec 25

Waning crescent

Resource Conservation

Action: Communal

Go 100% LED light bulbs at home & Jewish & other religious or communal gathering-spaces.

4

 

Wed. Dec. 25- Thu Dec. 26

 

Astronomers’ “New (No) Moon”

Resource Redistribution

Action: Societal

Shift your banking from Carbon-supporting Earth-burning national banks to community banks or credit unions to boost local neighborhoods.

5

Thu Dec. 26- Fri Dec. 27

Astronomers’ “New (No) Moon”

Resource Allocation

Action: Political

Write to/call your Congress people, asking for their support for the Green New Deal and the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act.

6

Fri Dec. 27-Sat Dec. 28

Astronomers’ “New (No) Moon”

Resource Limitation

Action: Spiritual

Power down for Shabbat, just as our forebears did, by limiting use of gasoline, electronics, and electricity for 25 hours.

7

Sat Dec. 28- Sun Dec. 29

New Moon in Jewish Tradition: Rosh Chodesh Tevet

Resource Sharing

Action: Public

Hold a candle-lighting and havdalah in public space, calling for separation between these times of climate apathy and the coming times of transformative climate healing

8

 

Sun Dec. 29- Mon Dec. 30

Waxing Crescent

Resource Transformation

Action: Enduring

Gather in community to devise a Green Menorah Covenant, binding the community together in continued climate justice action in the coming year.

 

[This graphic, created by and for The Shalom Center, picks up on the Torah’s description of the Temple Menorah as essentially a Tree with branches, buds, and blossoms. See Exodus 25: 32-39]

In further mailings during the next few weeks, we will put more meat on the bare bones of these suggestions, day by day.

As we move toward the season of light in the midst of dark, we send you blessings of Light as Clarity and Dark as Mystery –  Arthur & Faryn

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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.

Our present crisis is also meta-Constitutional in the sense that there is no agreed world-wide Constitution. No governmental body, not even the UN, has the power and legitimate authority to make enforceable decisions about the two universal threats to human survival – the H-Bomb and the climate/ extinction crisis.

That presence of that absence arises from a spirituality that lifts separate nationhoods far above the Breath of Life that all peoples and all species share – the Interbreathing that keeps all life on Earth alive. The partial and limited sacred value of nationhood, a carved-out piece of the Unity, is being worshipped as if it were the Whole, the One.

That is the very definition of idolatry, and as the Psalms (115 and 135) teach, its consequence is death. Unchallenged, it will mean the physical death of a million species, quite possibly the human race among them.

In yesterday’s Shalom Report, I listed a number of Mr. Trump’s actions that are clear and unswerving attempts to subjugate various communities within and beyond the American people, to shatter American democracy, and to elevate cruelty into US national policy. All, I suggested, not only impeachable but crucial to include in a Bill of Impeachment if we are to deal with the moral and spiritual crisis of American society.

Yet beyond even his attempts to throttle American and other struggles toward democracy, Mr. Trump has taken actions even more threatening to the lives of millions of Americans, billions of other human beings, and a million other species:

For he has not merely ignored the threat to global climate and denied the reality of a climate crisis, but has taken active steps to worsen the crisis into climate chaos and catastrophe.

He has withdrawn the US from the Paris Accord that was the first serious effort of all the nations in solemn assembly to face the crisis. The Paris Accord has its deep shortcomings --  literally, it falls short of what is needed. But Mr. Trump did not try to correct them. Quite the opposite.

He has canceled limits on emissions of CO2 and methane from autos, coal plants, and fracking.

He has prepared licenses to multiply oil wells and pipelines in our already troubled oceans and in our precious national parks and forests.

He is trying to weaken the protection of endangered species.

He has ap[pointed Cabinet officers and regulatory officials who care far more about Hyper-Profits for the Mega-Corporations they came from than about serving the needs pf the people or the survival of life on Planet Earth.

These acts are calculated to multiply the Hyoerwealth of great corporations and to torment and shorten the lives of low-income, disempowered people who are the first to suffer from epidemics of asthma and cancer, flooded homes, burnt-out towns, poisoned water, drought-plagued farms, higher food prices.

You might think acts like these have all been done before. Wealthy corporations have not only gouged their customers but have sometimes brought in private or public police forces and full governmental power to kill striking workers seeking livable wages, livable hours, and protections against letting factories catch fire and burn their workers to death. Workers and others have struggled, and sometimes succeeded, to stop these abuses of power.

But never before has the entire future of humanity been under threat from what seems like “mere” economic injustice. All these acts, and despite them his continuing hold on power in the American national/ imperial government, arise from a deep spiritual crisis amongst the American people. The minds and hearts of a large minority of Americans have been spiritually captured by subservience to enormous wealth and lethal violence, and by the transmutation of fearing the future into hating and assailing those who are weaker.

These presidential desolations should each be made the grounds for its own Article of Impeachment, all in support of the one basic “High Crime and Misdemeanor” that has been committed again and again by Mr. Trump. That High Crime has been his consistent use of arrogance and cruelty to try to subjugate and shatter all independent energies that affirm and embody American democracy.

We should demand that the Bill of Impeachment name these crimes as well as the more conventional ones against the American body/spirit politic. For each of these crimes is part of the policy of cruelty and subjugation, and naming them is crucial to guiding the future actions of every leader of the United States and indeed of every nation, every corporation.

Mr. Trump’s consistent behavior reenacts the idolatrous politics of Pharaoh and of the Caesars who demanded they be not only politically obeyed but worshipped as gods. Mr. Trump has, indeed, even encouraged references to himself as the Messianic figure chosen by God to redeem the world. For them and for him, all-encompassing political power was identical with idolatry.

For us, democracy as politics is the fruit that grows from the spiritual root of the spark of God in every human being and in all Creation. Protecting and healing the ecosystems of all Earth is the fruit that grows from the spiritual root of God’s creation of each species, and from the recognition that one aspect of God’s Own Self is the Holy Interbreathing Spirit of all life.

We share these thoughts with you to encourage your own thoughts, and we welcome your writing us to share your responses and comments.

If you are ready to go beyond contemplation to action  -- ready to urge that the Articles of Impeachment address acts of cruelty and subjugation beyond the Ukraine Affair, please click to our website for the on-line version of this article, and look carefully at the last few paragraphs.

 

How to do this? We suggest kinds of action:

First, .Call 202-224-3121, ask for your Member of the House of Representatives. If you don’t know her/his name, give the operator your zip code. Once you are connected with the right office, ask for the staffer who is working on Impeachment concerns, or if necessary leave a recorded message.

Say your name, city, and neighborhood, who you are as a person and constituent, and then say your own version of this message: “I believe the impeachment of this President is a moral and spiritual necessity, and I believe that every episode of his cruelty, his efforts to undo American democracy, and his attacks on the web of human and other life on Earth – each episode -- should make up a separate Article of Impeachment.” Whether you are talking to a live person or a tape recording, ask, “What is Congressperson X’s view on that?

Then give your name and phone number, ask for a call-back about the Congressmember’s view on this, and say a polite goodbye.

Second: Write a letter to your local paper—a city-wide paper, or a communal paper (religious, cultural, ethnic, etc)

Third: Talk with your friends who are likely to be open to an ethical, moral, and spiritual way of thinking about public questions, and ask them to join you in a visit to your Congressperson’s local office to discuss precisely this question. (You might start by asking your rabbi, minister, priest, or imam.) Make clear that you support impeachment, and a broad basis for it. If at least three people say Yes, arrange a time or date to meet with the House Member if s/he is at home, or with a staffer if not.  When you meet, start by sharing who you and your people are and then in your own words ask the question above. Listen to ypur Congressmember,  as well as

 

 

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Action Guide for Climate Healing -Part 1

[This Guide to an activist celebration of #Sukkot4Climate Healing was written by Faryn Borella. She is a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern at The Shalom Center. The Guide is intendedd to support groups of Jews and memberss of other religious, spirituaal, and ethical groups who joiin in celebrating Sukkot, the Jewish Harvest Festival tht traditionally welcomes participation by all communities that seek to honor, protect, and justly share Earth's abundance. In our generation, this includes insisisting on public policies to heal Earth and Humanity from the climate crisis. What follows is Part 1 of the Action Guide. Part 2, which offeers more deatil on the ritualss of Sukkot and their signifocance, will follow tomorrow. -- AW, editor]

Pre-Action

1.Building Relationships

The most essential aspect of organizing an effective direct action is being in relationships of trust with those with whom you are taking action. Take time to get to know and build relationships with your team.

Assigning Roles:

Figure out who will be playing what roles leading up to the execution of the action. Such roles include:

Activist, Organizer, Coordinator, Campaigner

Fundraisers

Researchers: to learn about the target and gather facts for the campaign.

Scouting the site or route

Outreach and organizing

Logistics and support

Meeting facilitator

Ritual Prep

Artists, Painters, Sewers to make props, signs, banners, political theatre, etc.

Media outreach: Send out media advisory and media release

Media kits: write, gather and photocopy contents.

Writers: write materials, flyers, media kit contents, web site, etc.

2. Building alliances

The communities most impacted by climate change are the ones that are already marginalized and disenfranchised, and these communities have often also been on the cutting edge of climate justice struggles. Therefore, who can you build alliances within this action? What groups in your area are already engaged in climate justice work? What are interfaith organizing coalitions with whom you can partner? What are the indigenous collectives in your area, and how can you encourage their leadership?  

3. Identifying your Target

What congressperson is your target, and why? What is their record on climate justice initiatives? Where is there local office, and what do you need to know the effectively pull off an action at that location? Make sure to effectively scout the location.

4.Devising an Action Plan

What do you want to happen during your action? Where do you want to begin, and where do you want to end? Do you want to remain outside the building,  or do you want to go inside, either the office or the lobby? What is your main tactic? Picketing? Locking down? Sit-in? What is your demand? What level of risk are you willing to take?

 5. Outreach

Who do you want to take part in this action? Is it open to the public, or will it be carried out by a smaller group of trusted allies? Will only Jews be participating, or will you be inviting participation and leadership of other interfaith and indigenous groups?

6.Ritual Design

What do you want your specific Sukkot Ritual to look like? What ritual items do you want to bring with you? Will you have a traditional lulav, or one made from the materials of your local environment? See our list of ritual resources later in this document for ideas.

7. Assign roles for each person during the action, as well as roles that need to be held after the action is completed.  Such roles could include:

 DuringAction:

People risking arrest: intending to risk arrest and commit civil disobedience

Direct Support People: risking arrest by staying with those locked down as long as possible and necessary and providing a human shield to those locked down

Ritual Leaders: Who will be leading chant? Leading song? Giving speeches? Benching lulav and etrog.

Police Liaison: maintains communication between police and demonstrators.

De-escalators: another “layer” of human shield protection for the demonstration, specializing in nonviolent de-escalation techniques.

Media spokesperson: delivers crisp, 6-second sound bites to hungry reporters.

Media outreach: stays back in the office faxing press releases and making outreach calls.

Communication team: helps “clusters” of affinity groups stay in touch.

Demonstrators/Sign-holders/Chanters/Singers/ Hand out literature etc.

Videographer(s): to document the action and provide images to media.

Still photographer: to document the action and provide images to media.

Live Streamer: to livestream the action to Facebook/Instagram/etc. While it is happening.

Medic/EMT/Medical Team: deal with emergency health issues of participants.

Legal Observer(s): observes the police action, paying close attention to police violence.

Jail Support Contact person: the person on the “outside” who we call to update.

For lock-downs: an off-site key holder 

 

Post-action:

Legal Support to help the people in jail and coordinate with lawyers, if necessary

Lawyer: provides support and information about our choices, if necessary.

Documentarian/Historian/Archivist: keep track of the paperwork and footage.

Fundraisers: To raise money to pay for legal fees, if necessary

Public speakers: to be in contact with the media after the action.

 8. Contacting the Media

Let the media know what is happening, and when and where to be. Write a press release to be released during the action.

9. Collect supplies

What ritual objects do you need to effectively pull of this action? Do you want to have an art build to make posters, signs and banners prior to the action? And how do you want to transport all your supplies to the action? Example supplies include:

  • Lulav and etrog
  • Other ritual objects
  • Megaphone and/or portable sound system
  • Song/ritual sheets
  • Flyers about the action to hand to passers-by 
  • Banners and Signs
  • Any supplies you might need to execute a higher-risk tactic (lockboxes, chains, etc.)

 Action

  1. Meet at a central gathering place, potentially your local synagogue, its sukkah, or the park. Engage in grounding rituals to bring everyone together
  2. March to your target destination. Depending on your action plan, either set up inside, outside or both.
  3. Engage in your action script. This should include Sukkot ritual, such as building a temporary sukkah, benching lulav and etrog, inviting in the ancestors, chanting Hoshanah, petitions for intervention, and more (more information on these rituals below.) It could also include theater, songs, chants, making demands, and refusing to leave the premises.
  1. Throughout this time, you should try to have someone/people leading the ritual, someone livestreaming, someone taking photo, someone taking video, someone/people deescalating angry customers, staff, someone liasing with the media and someone liasing with the police, if present (see roles above).
  1. If you are refusing to leave, announce this intention.
  2. Make sure the action ends in a way that people feel unified, with a closing song or ritual together.

 Post-Action

  1. If people were arrested, contact your legal team and keep them updated on the situation.
  2. Find which station those arrested were brought to and make sure people are there, with snacks, for when they get out.
  3. Raise money for legal funds.
  4. Make sure to de-brief with your whole team. What went well? What can you celebrate? What did you learn for next time?
 
PART 2 of this Action Guide will follow tomorrow. It will focus on the specific ritual aspects of the Sukkot action.

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From Ancient Prophet to the Climate Strike: Youth & Elders Heart-Connect

From last Thursday till Sunday night Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I were in St. Louis, on the invitation of the Central Reform Congregation and its two leading Rabbis, Susan Talve and Randy Fleisher. On Thursday night, the two of us and Rabbi Art Green, rector of the Boston College Rabbinical School and one of the great scholars and interpreters of Hassidism, spoke at the Jewish Federation on our visions of the future of Judaism.

Then on Friday morning I was invited by the young organizers for the Climate Strike in St Louis to be the featured speaker – accompanied by the outcry of the shofar -- at a gathering of about one thousand people at City Hall. The video of my talk is here –-  https://youtu.be/ys0pqlbem3I

and I welcome you to watch it now.

 Through the rest of the weekend, Rabbi Phyllis and I spoke for CRC on our own experience and the teachings of Torah on the refugee/ immigrant crisis and on the climate crisis.  On Sunday, CRC held a multiracial, multireligious gathering to explore religious responses to the existential threat of the global “burning” – not “warming,” a word that contradicts the real crisis by sounding comfortable.

After the Sunday program, one of the most devoted and respected Christian leaders in the nation-wide work for social justice came up to me. She said, “I am always searching for ways to inspire our work with religious language and spiritual passion, not secular words alone. You just gave me more of the language that I seek.”   

That fusion of deep spirituality and vigorous activism has been the hallmark of The Shalom Center ‘s work since 1983. In the past year, that spiritual commitment has been at the heart of our thinking, writing, and activism on the cruelty of separating children from their parents and caging the children  – including two arrests of my own and two occasions when I risked arrest but the government declined the invitation.

And meanwhile, we kept working on how to transform the Corporate Climate Pharaohs and their governmental enablers who – for the sake of Hyperwealthy profiteering -- have been both burning all Earth, our common home, and poisoning disempowered neighborhoods of poverty and color with cancer and asthma epidemics.

For the year ahead, we intend to take the great religious festivals – born from the seasons of our Earth – into public space to help us heal the wounded, choking, burning Mother Earth that gave birth to them. Imagine observing the joyful festival of Sukkot by waving the traditional Four Species of branches and fruit just outside  --or even inside --  the home-district office of your Senator. Imagine kindling the lights of Hanukkah and Christmas there. Imagine coming to those offices bearing aloft matzah, the Passover symbol of “fierce urgency of Now,” and palm branches, the Palm Sunday symbol of life renewed and resisting. All those moments, demanding enactment of the Green New Deal.

To do this, we need your help. Gathering the resources – prayers, commentaries on the Bible, sermons, songs, liturgies --  takes time and money. Completing the fund to pay our rabbinical-student intern – who is already diligently at work --  takes money. Paying for leaflets, telephones, repeated computer outreach – all takes money.

Four years ago at the same moment in world history when Pope Francis initiated what became his encyclical “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home,“ The Shalom Center initiated what became the first ever Rabbinic Statement on the Climate Crisis, signed by 400 Rabbis/ Cantors.

A great deal has happened since, much of it negative. Yet in response to a government that is actively encouraging the Carbon Pharaohs to burn Earth there has arisen a wave of young people who are turning their hearts to Elders as the Climate Strikers did in St. Louis. So we are right now working with rabbis and other spiritual leaders across the whole range of Jewish life to bring forth a new Prophetic Call to Heal Our Wounded Mother Earth.

And this, like all our other work, also costs time and money.

The New Year in both Jewish and secular life is a time to give “tzedakah.”  The root of the word is “tzedek” -- --   justice – and tzedakah is the money that makes it possible for “transformation workers” like The Shalom Center to struggle for justice.                                                                                                                                                   

This coming year will be a crucial one in America’s history and in Earth’s history. We anticipate larger than usual expenses for more than usual activism. Please help.

If you have learned from or been inspired by our Shalom Report but have not helped pay for its production, please do so now. If you have been giving, please consider doubling your gift ---from $36 to $72, from $180 to $360, and so on.

We welcome you to contribute by clicking on the maroon “Contribute” box just below.

Thanks!  --  And blessings that this coming year be a year of Transformation for shalom and tzedek, for healing and for love -- for you and for us all.

Arthur

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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). 

 The arrests were part of a demonstration of about 100 people organized by “ElderWitness and Friends,” many of whom wore “Statue of Liberty” costume and carried signs of the cartoon you see below, as Rabbi Berman is doing in this photo:

 You can hear a very brief interview with me and see a photo of the row of us risking arrest blocking the ICE doorway at this link:

 https://www.publicnewsservice.org/2019-09-05/immigrant-issues/elders-arrested-at-philly-ice-protest/a67670-1

 

That’s Phyllis on the far right and me sitting -- wearing a Truah “Resisting Tyrants Since Pharaoh” T-shirt and Liberty’s crowning hat. (I’m sitting because my back hurts badly if I stand for a while.)

Although this particular action was organized and framed as Elders responsible especially for protecting children, Phyllis and I took part as rabbis in planning the action (Phyllis has been on the EldersWitness steering committee). For us, our arrests are also connected with a major wave of Jewish protests, including arrests, that swept across the country on or about Tisha B’Av in August and are still continuing.

I believe they were the first such event in American Jewish history -- the first time when a large segment of the Jewish community publicly and vigorously opposed a major policy priority of the US government. That did not happen, for example, in response to the Vietnam War. 

American Jews are responding to four imperatives that join in a powerful message to ourselevs and to our country:

  • Torah commands that we treat "foreigners" with the full dignity of residents and citizens: "One law for the home-born and the immigrant," (Num 9: 14) and that we welcome refugees from a cruel overlord to live anywhere they choose within our gates.   "Do not return them to their masters; do not mistreat them!" (Deut. 23:16-17)
  • For two thousand years, Jews have been forced to seek refuge from persecution.
  • Just 70 years ago, Jewish refugees from Nazi cruelty were turned away by the USA and other nations -- and then were murdered by the Nazis.
  • Practically all American Jewish familiies remember a grandparent or great-grandparent who was an immigrant.
So the slogans have arisen: "Never Again Means Everyone!" "Never Again Means Now!"

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"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

I am a disloyal Jew.
I am not loyal to a political party.
Nor will I be loyal to dictators and mad kings.
 I am not loyal to walls or cages.
I am not loyal to taunts or tweets.
I am not loyal to hatred, to Jew-baiting, to the gloating connivings of white supremacy.

 I am a disloyal Jew.
I am not loyal to any foreign power.
Nor to abuse of power at home.
 I am not loyal to a legacy of conquest, erasure and exploitation
I am not loyal to stories that tell me whom I should hate.

  I am a loyal Jew.
I am loyal to the inconveniences of kindness.
 I am loyal to the dream of justice.
 am loyal to this suffering Earth
And to all life.

 I am not loyal to any founding fathers.
But I am loyal to the children who will come
And to the quality of world we leave them.
 I am not loyal to what America has become.
But to what America could be.

I am loyal to Emma Lazarus. To huddled masses.
To freedom and welcome,
 Holiness, hope and love.

[Reb Keller’s website is https://www.irwinkeller.com/   He lives in Sonoma County California and is a student member of Ohalah, the Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal.}

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An Extraordinary Tisha B’Av: Jews Confront the US Government

Yesterday, the American Jewish Community  crossed an extraordinary threshold.

All across the USA, various Jewish groups held large-scale vigils and rallies to observe Tisha B’Av.  Traditionally, it is an inward-looking Jewish-only day of mourning ancient attacks on Jews by ancient empires.  This year, it was observed by affirming an outward-looking solidarity with refugees and immigrants who are being tormented, arrested, imprisoned, and deported by the present government of the United States.

For so bravely and adeptly taking this step, I want especially to thank Truah ("A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights") for the crucial role they played in inspiring and in many cases organizing most of the Tisha B’Av actions yesterday, and also to thank a very new Jewish network called Never Again Action for many arrest-risking actions on the refugee/ immigration issue during the past couple of weeks.

Never before has a large chunk of the American Jewish community done this. (This is a photo of part of a crowd of about 1,000 people at a Tisha B'Av protest in Philadelphia. This and the next Philadelphia photo Copyright (c) by Rivkah Walton. Published with permission.

Early in the 1960s, many Jews supported the civil rights movement; but that movement was in general supported by the US government, though it was bitterly opposed by the governments of most Southern states and cities. As opposition to the US government’s War against Vietnam grew a little later in the ‘60s, the established Jewish community was conspicuously silent. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel stood with Rev. Martin Luther King against the war, but almost all of Heschel’s colleagues were scandalized by his public, vigorous, and Torah-rooted opposition to the government’s war.

Beyond the great increase in numbers and in the breadth of commitment, there was another major departure in what happened yesterday. It was explicitly defined as an observance of Tisha B’Av.Only recently have Jews begun treating the festivals as sacred instruments to change society.


How did this change begin?

Fifty years ago, in 1969, the original Freedom  Seder transformed Passover by welcoming into its telling of the Freedom Story – the struggle of ancient Israelites against slavery under Pharaoh  -- the struggle of Black America against racism -- slavery, lynchings, KKK terrorism, Jim Crow. The Freedom Seder stirred three different responses:  

  • angry condemnation from some Jewish sectors –- Commentary magazine devoted almost an entire issue to bitterly attacking it;
  • chilly disdain from much of the official religious leadership for making Passover a challenge to US culture and politics, and for bringing non-Jews into it;
  • and whole-hearted joy from some progressive Jews, especially thousands of young Jews who quickly liberated their own Passover Seders to celebrate  a myriad of progressive social movements (feminism, anti-militarism, a two-state peace between Israel and Palestine, eco-sanity in the face of looming planetary plagues like those brought on by Pharaoh’s cruelty).

The young folks won. Not only about Passover but more slowly, about other holy-days that they began to redefine as deeply rooted in Jewish experience --  and flowering with broader meaning.

At first these efforts were tiny. In 1972, about 40 Jews observed Tisha B’Av by fasting and leafleting on the steps of the US Capitol, pointing to the US use of Agent Orange to poison the trees of Vietnam as analogous to the ancient Roman Empire’s attempt to disrupt farming in the Land of Israel by sowing salt into the soil.

In 2010, about 300 people (led by Jews, yet multireligious and multicultural) observed Tisha B’Av at the foot of the Capitol.

They (actually, we) were demanding action to respond to the BP oil company’s blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico that killed eleven workers and thousands of fish and birds in the Gulf. We chanted an English-language “Lament for Temple Earth” to the traditional wailing melody of the Book of Lamentations. We demanded the government create programs for "clean energy."

Yesterday went several levels of change beyond that. In Chicago and San Francisco and Philadelphia and New York and in many smaller cities and towns and neighborhoods, Jews gathered to say that we whose Torah teaches us to love and well-treat the stranger in our midst and the refugees who come to us, we who were made desperate refugees by the Babylonian and Roman conquests of ancient Judea and again by many other governments and most horrendously by Nazi Germany, would not stand silent when the US government treated refugees and immigrants cruelly. Inhumanly.

In Philadelphia, for example, a protest vigil was called by the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis. It gathered at least a thousand strong near the Liberty Bell, in the shadow of the inscription high on the wall of the National Museum of American Jewish History: “To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” The passage comes from a letter by President George Washington to a synagogue in Rhode Island. The contrast between the first President and the present one was clear. Vigilers came from almost everywhere on the spectrums of Jewish organized life, and immigrant leaders spoke in English and in Spanish from the platform alongside rabbis and officials of organized Jewry.

Some of the Philadelphia speakers actually chanted from the Book of Lamentations (traditionally bewailed on Tisha B'Av), interspersed with letters from distraught children and parents.

Many of the country-wide protests focused on family separations: Some families were shattered by the imprisonment of children in concentration camps with too little food or medical care, some too young to know their own names, all traumatized by losing their parents. Some were shattered by ICE arrests aimed at deportations of hundreds of migrant workers in Mississippi, while they were at work and their children were in school or at home – left suddenly with no one to care for them.

In New York, a thousand Jews gathered to go beyond ill treatment, confronting the power relationships that are enabling the dehumanizing acts of government. They swirled outside – and some inside -- an Amazon store to protest Amazon’s contracts with ICE to supply digital support for hunting down and deporting immigrants.

Inside the store, as shown here, demonstrators said Kaddish for refugee children who died from neglect and abuse while in US government custody, about 40 were arrested.

“We mourn the destruction of all things holy on the Jewish observance of Tisha b’Av,” said Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum. “This current administration’s attacks on immigrants, Muslims, Jews, people of color, and so many others are likewise horrific destruction of holiness. CBST is proud to stand with all those suffering today and against the evil of the camps, ICE policies, and the separation of families. Never Again is Now.

“Tisha B’Av is a time for mourning destruction and devastation. Sadly, unconscionably, this year, destruction and devastation are all around us,” Rabbi Shai Held also wrote in the statement. “We have a tremendous amount to mourn—the relentless assault on the most basic values of empathy and decency; the cruelty daily enacted in our name; the metastatization of racism and antisemitism in our country. We mourn, but we are also here today to say that beyond mourning, we will fight.”

We are taught that in our doorways and at the gateeways that distinguish us from other communities, we should pause and recite the Sh'ma tht reminds us that the world is ultimately ONE. Yesterday many American Jews stepped across a threshold to assert that this Unity commands us to defend others who are being treated cruelly, as well as remembering and resisting cruelty aimed at us.

It is a fitting time to pause and say, "Hush'sh'sh and listen, you Godwrestlers:  The Breath of Life is our God, and the Breath of Life is ONE. Sh'sh'shma Yisrael, Yahhhh elohenu, Yahhh echad."

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