Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

Havdalah for Being Honored and to Mark 50 Years of the Occupation

Dear friends,
 
Yesterday, at the graduation ceremony for new rabbis at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, I was deeply moved by the introduction with which Rabbi Deborah Waxman, RRC’s President,  and David Roberts, the Chair of its Board, conferred on me the Doctorate of Humane Letters (hon. causa) and by the warm and prolonged response that came from dozens of the old and new rabbis present and from hundreds of their guests.  

 
And before that, on Saturday night,  there was a dinner that Rabbi Waxman gave for the Board. Phyllis & I were invited to the dinner — and then invited to lead Havdalah. I began with a kavannah. The weekend’s events were for me a true blessing — not just the words of blessing but the feeling of being fully blessed, down to my toes and within to my kishkes.  Below is some of the kavvanah I shared. (There were also more personal comments on how I felt to be in this way honored by the College where I had taught  in the "80s.)
 

Shalom, salaam, peace, Earth!   Arthur 

        ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

 

For Phyllis and me, Havdalah tonight is more than making the distinction between Shabbat and the work week. I want to share with you what else it is –-  to share with you a kavvanah for this Havdalah. 

This Havdalah  ends the week of the 50th anniversary of the Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Fifty years ago, that moment seemed more a liberation than a subjugation. We could pray again at the Kotel, along with the Shekhinah still in exile. And surely we would wisely relinquish the newly occupied territories for the sake of peace!

 Fifty years later, not so much joy. What comes next? The very last word of the Havdalah itself raises that question. The word is chol--  Blessed is the One Who distinguishes between kadosh and chol. Between holiness and – what?

Our beloved teacher and friend Rabbi Max Ticktin, alav hashalom, taught that chol means not “profane” but “hollow” – chol like the chalil, the hollow flute that can make a melody precisely because it is hollow. It is up to us to fill the hollow space we are about to enter. We can choose to fill it with the melody of holiness. What comes after 50 years of Occupation? We must choose.

That there have been two different approaches to dealing with the Occupation was not in itself surprising . For the Occupation makes utterly clear the knife edge between winning one’s own freedom —  winning for one’s self  enough empowerment to assert and protect that freedom — and letting the hunger for empowerment became an addiction to power — power that becomes the subjugation that  destroys the freedom of another. It is all too easy for human beings to move from one side of that knife edge to the other. 

Indeed, one line in Havdalah teaches us how sharp the knife-edge is. We sing with joy, “Layehudim haita orah v’simcha v’sasson  v’ikar.  Keyn tihyeh lanu!. For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor. So may it be for us!” But that verse stands right on the knife edge. It comes from  Megillat Esther, close to the end. In the story , within a few moments of celebrating their new freedom, the Jews are killing 75,000 Persians. The knife-edge: How much empowerment of ourselves for freedom, how much power over others that denies them freedom? 

 The danger afflicts not only Israelis but us all. Notice how many of those  Americans who voted for Trump to win their own freedom from economic disemployment and cultural marginalization crossed that edge  into trying to subjugate others — immigrants, Muslims, Blacks, independent-minded women among them. 

 Once we  realize how easy is the slop-over and how hard it is to balance on the edge of the knife,  perhaps we can more easily respond not with the complicity of silence but with the caring of compassionate rebuke, challenge, opposition. Tochecha that comes with ahava.

 So we greet with joy this Havdalah that welcomes us  into hollow time, open time.  I am much more open now than I was years ago to how sharp the knife-edge is, how hard it is to keep the balance. I try to bring much more compassion into my rebuke. I try to focus  my challenge not on Israelis as a whole, but on the government that is more and more leaping across the knife-edge to using its power not to free its citizens but to subjugate its neighbors. 

 So let us plan how to fill this open time beyond Havdalah by making holy melody with the holy flutes we bring to it. And let us take joy in the knowledge that as we pass the 50th anniversary of the Occupation, more and more American Jews are demanding that we renew our own freedom not by continuing the Occupation but by ending it with some new holy melody.  

 

So  -- Hinei, El yeshuati!   Here! --  O God of transformation!

 

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Trump Makes CO2 a Weapon of Mass Destruction in War against Us All

Chooses CO2 as his Weapon of Mass Destruction

By quitting the Paris Climate Accord, the Trump regime has issued a formal Declaration of War against our children and grandchildren and thousands of species that global scorching will drive toward extinction.

The Trump regime will use CO2 as its chosen chemical weapon of mass destruction.

Even before the formal Declaration of this War Against Life, Trump had already taken major steps to scorch and burn the Earth. 

These included decisions to shatter the Environmental Protection Agency, to scuttle the Clean Power Plan, and to remove regulations that control auto emissions, keep lead out of our drinking water and mercury out of our air, and even regulations to ensure purity of food and water from disease-producing bacteria and carcinogens.

Trump’s claim that healing our climate destroys jobs is nonsense. If the US government were to decide that we face an emergency even more destructive than the Nazi conquest of Europe in 1940 and were to pour billions into wind and solar energy, millions of good jobs would appear. Instead, millions of Americans will suffer from Trump’s war through droughts, floods, superstorms, and the spread of formerly tropical diseases.

What to do? We must build a far stronger People Power movement committed to renew a climate and a planet as healthy, abundant, joyful, and life-giving for our children and grandchildren as it was for most of our parents and grandparents --- and with much more eco-social justice infusing that transformed world, to make sure all our children share in that abundance.

And where can that greater strength come from?

American religious communities are a sleepy giant of potential social transformation. We need to fully awaken them, and The Shalom Center has just begun a crucial campaign to do that. We need your help to make that campaign succeed. You can help by contributing at

<https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=1>

Here is what we are doing, and why:

What is mostly missing in the religious world are precisely the religious qualities that could make healing the Earth a central religious concern. Missing are the Earth-focused liturgies, sermons, ceremonies, and sacred everyday life-practices that would get deep into the guts and hearts as well as the minds and actions of people with even limited religious involvement.

So The Shalom Center has called together a meeting later this month of a small working group from diverse religious communities to develop  liturgies, sermons, and ceremonies --

for life-cycle events such as baptisms and b’nai mitzvah;

for festivals such as Holy Week, Passover, and Eid al Fitr;

for weekly celebrations of Jumat, Shabbat, or the Sabbath;

and to encourage sacred daily practices –-  for instance, congregants gathering in solar-energy co-ops, or reshaping their transportation habits to enhance the Earth instead of wounding it.

Our June meeting is off to an excellent start. We have received the funds necessary to support our staff to work on this, and to cover travel and a 1 ½-day stay at a retreat center.

Then begins the crucial challenge. We need to raise $35,000 to turn the ideas and plans emerging from our June gathering into the outreach that can fully awaken religious communities into a real movement.

Without vision, the people perish.

Without a grounding in daily, weekly, monthly spiritual experience, folks forget.

Through your membership and readership in The Shalom Center, you have shown that you get the need and urgency. With this new multi-religious project, we are positioned to make a major difference. Your help is essential to make it real. We ask you to make a special contribution, beyond what you have been giving to support our usual work.

I want to be clear that this is not just for everyday expenses. You are being offered the opportunity to do the ultimate act of giving life: awaken the communities that could actually generate the power to save and heal our Mother Earth --  our common home, as Pope Francis pointed out. The home our children and grandchildren will live in joyfully –-- or suffer and die in.

Please click on the maroon Contribute banner in the left-hand margin of this page.

Every gift will help. We ask you to consider a range between $180 and $1800.

Many thanks!

Shalom, salaam, peace, Earth!  --  Arthur

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The Torah vs. Jared Kushner

Tonight we enter the festival that has come to mean standing again, each year, at Sinai. What does it mean for us to do this seriously, taking Torah deep into our lives, challenging ourselves to live by its deepest teachings?

What would it mean to bring Torah to bear on one rich, powerful, and unjust Jew –- Jared Kushner?

 

The New York Times Magazine of May 28 featured an article entitled “Jared Kushner’s Other Real Estate Empire.”  It describes in stomach-turning detail how Kushner’s real-estate firm, using several shell companies to hide its ownership from public view, has become an oppressor of the poor.

 

His companies have used false and brutal behavior toward low-income people who are tenants and even former tenants of the Kushner-owned properties, to extract money from them that in fact they don’t owe, ruining their families and their lives. 

 

Since they can’t afford the lawyers who could defend them, they sink deeper and deeper into debt, disaster, and despair.

 

Through the last 2,000 years or so of Jewish history, generations of rabbis have defined themselves – our selves – as heirs of the Prophets, not of the priests. Heirs of the Prophetic commitment to challenge unjust and destructive behavior, to reinterpret Torah for the sake of renewing life as the world around us and within us changed.

 When Jews lived in self-contained communities, social if not physical ghettos, that degree of social control was workable for the sake of life-giving, justice-living Torah. But as we – for good reason!  -- left such social ghettos, the ability of the rabbis or of the community as a whole to rebuke and end destructive and unethical behavior dwindled. So that lifts up the question: What could the Jewish community of today do about such behavior?

I want to lift up a perfect example of how Torah values are trampled underfoot even while the semblance of piety is claimed.  A story of one man who at this moment holds great power and exemplifies in his own person the “kleptocracy” – rule by thieves – that now afflicts u

It seems to me that this behavior by a very high-profile Jew who claims not only the ethnic identity but the religious conviction is exactly what my grandmother called a chillul hashem. 

Chillul,” from the same root as “challil,” the hollow flute,  means  hollowing-out — in this case, hollowing out God's Name.. Since one of the mystics’ metaphors for God is “Tree of Life,” the “hollowing” is an especially powerful imagery.

A person who seems on the outside to be celebrating a living, thriving Sacred Tree of Life has hollowed out all the life-juice within.

  


The seemingly pious behavior of a seemingly pious Jew actually shatters Torah --  not in the private and self-contained way of a Jew who decides to eat pork; rather, in a way that shatters decency and justice in the public sphere, for many victims. 

I urge you to see the article for yourself at --

<https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/23/magazine/jared-kushners-other-real-estate-empire.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=image&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Kushner's behavior teaches a vile version of what Judaism and the Jewish people are. When Jews lived in self-contained communities, such an ethical and religious violation could be confronted, rebuked, perhaps punished, even healed by repentant self-correction.

Now it is harder. But perhaps it is still possible. I recall the moment when a small group of rabbis in Northern California called themselves  ”the Redwood Rabbis.” With help from The Shalom Center, they challenged a Jewish corporation-owner whose business was logging magnificent 2,000-year-old redwood trees to make paneling for rich people’s basements. The corporation’s own annual report said that redwood paneling without knots sold better, and it came only from ancient trees.

We gathered on Tu B’Shvat, the RebirthDay of the Trees and of the sacred Tree of Life, to “trespass” on his land to rebuke his killing of these sacred trees of life. We placed a critical ad in his home-town Jewish newspaper just before Yom Kippur to call him to do tshuvah.

We voted inside and demonstrated outside when his stockholders gathered for the annual corporate meeting.

And finally, reluctantly, he sold the groves of ancient redwoods to the California and American governments to be protected.

If rabbis then could see the destruction of these trees as a violation of Torah, what could we say now about acts that cruelly destroy the  lives of hard-working human beings? Could we challenge Mr. Kushner in similar ways? If we did, would we risk encouraging anti-Semitism? Or would we risk it more by keeping silent?

Tonight we face the Festival of Shavuot and read the Book of Ruth. It celebrates two people: a penniless foreigner, an immigrant from a despised and hostile nation, a woman unprotected by a man – and  a wealthy landholder who not only obeyed but affirmed the Torah’s command to make sure the poor and the immigrant had dignity and a decent livelihood. Could any teaching be more clear about the malfeasance of Jared Kushner?

Since the NY Times article on Kushner’s domestic business cruelties, there have emerged claims he may have negotiated with the Putin government of Russia in clandestine ways. And Politico has published an article suggesting his connections with the Lubavitch Chabad organization are intertwined with Chabad’s specially cozy relationship with Putin, in a way to benefit him and his father-in-law both financially and politically.

<http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/04/the-happy-go-lucky-jewish-group-that-connects-trump-and-putin-215007>

These allegations may or may not be accurate. They merit close study. But the cruelty of his business dealings in Baltimore and elsewhere is clear, already proved.

Most American Jews have made clear that they do not view Mr. Kushner or his kleptocratic and authoritarian bully of a father-in-law as heroes.

But the established “major” organizations have so far not rebuked such behavior by rich Jews, nor have the rabbis who might be thought to be the guardians of Torah.  What more might we do to stand again at Sinai and to clarify what Judaism ought to be, in actual practice?

Blessings that we come to live more fully in a a world that as the ancient Rabbis taught, can stand up straight only if it stands upon three pillars: Emet, Tzedek, v'Shalom: Truth, Justice, and Peace --

Arthur

 

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Ten Days, Four Festivals


Ramadan, Memorial Day, Shavuot, Pentecost:

Are We Open to the Challenges they Pose?

We are approaching four Festivals:

The month of Ramadan begins this Friday evening, It is sacred to Muslims as a time of inner spiritual attunement and of fasting from dawn to sunset to intensify that focus.  In its midst comes the Night of Power, recalling the moment when the Revelation of the Holy Quran came to the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him.

The Jewish festival of Shavuot (beginning Tuesday night) was lifted up in the biblical Earth-based tradition as a celebration of the spring wheat harvest. For the Rabbis, bereft of connection to any specific land, it became a celebration of harvesting Words instead of Wheat: a celebration of the Revelation of Torah at Mount Sinai.

Long ago, Jewish tradition added the reading of the Book of Ruth as an important part of celebration of the Giving of Torah. In that book, an outsider – a foreigner from a despised nation, penniless, an immigrant, a woman bereft of the social norm of  a male protector – is welcomed to glean a livelihood by literally gleaning grain from the fields held by a wealthy man, Boaz.

The Torah requires that she be supported in that way, since the land itself can be held by a person but is really “owned” only by the Divine Breath of Life, the Interbreathing Spirit of the world. And that Breath of Life that freed the people from slavery insists that no one be left bereft and starving.

Ruth goes beyond all sexual conventions by initiating a relationship with the land-holder; he responds to her by offering marriage. Together, the story says, they become the ancestors of King David and therefore, mythically, the forebears of the Messiah. The teaching of the Harvest becomes simultaneously physical—the gathering of wheat and of sexual union;  social – the gathering of justice and compassion; and theological – the welcoming of an outsider into the heart of Torah’s future.

On Monday, in the United States we honor the dead of many wars through Memorial Day. The custom began in the bloodshed and heartbreak of the Civil War, which became the War to End Slavery. Despite the ambiguities and ambivalences that arise in every war, honoring the soldiers who “died to set men free” set a standard for the American future that has sometimes, but not always, been honored honorably.

And on the Sunday next, June 4, Christians celebrate Pentecost. It grew from Shavuot, when a group of Jews who had become followers of the crucified Jesus and had gathered for that festival were imbued with the Holy Spirit – the Interbreathing that pervades every language and all life. They found themselves able to speak and hear in many tongues, making possible a church that transcended languages and cultures.

 In this multi-Festival moment, we Americans –- Jews, Christians, Muslims, adherents of many other faith-traditions, and followers of the civil-religious patterns that include Memorial Day -- —find ourselves confronted with a challenge to all these values.

Let us ask ourselves the questions these Festivals pose, if we were to take them seriously.

For Muslims during Ramadan:

Do we take seriously the passages of Holy Quran that teach:

"Corruption has appeared on the land and in the sea because of what the hands of humans have wrought. This is in order that We give them a taste of the consequences of their misdeeds that perhaps they will turn to the path of right guidance." (30:41)

and

“ O humankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may deeply understand each other [not that you may despise each other]. (49:13)

What are we doing to heal the Earth that has been wounded by human greed? What are we doing to affirm and act on our respect for other communities, and to prevent the murders of "despicable others" that have erupted from some who claim Islam as their community?  Have we applied these standards not only to bands of terrorists but also to governments that fly a flag, possess an air force,  and are members of the UN?

For Americans during Memorial Day:

 Are we sending our young to war for oil and our own power, not for freedom? Are we focused on using our power to free people, to end racism and other forms of slavery, rather than  to reward those who spend billions to buy weapons of war from our own businesses? 

For Jews during Shavuot:

Are we celebrating immigrants to America as intrinsically crucial to our society and sacred to God?  Are we welcoming into the land and livelihoods of Israel those who flee famine or oppression, as Ruth was welcomed?  Are we acting to welcome and free “foreigners” who live on what is both their own land and land we claim as ours, instead of subjugating them with our armed force?  Are we making sure that the penniless –- within and beyond the Jewish community -- have access to a livelihood? Are we honoring unconventional sexuality, and the gifts of “nasty” and “persistent” women?

For Christians during Pentecost:

 Are we respecting breakthroughs of spiritual truth in many unexpected tongues and cultures? Are we acting to prevent those in power from torturing and killing people on our streets and in our prisons? Are we making sure that the laws do not discriminate against the homeless and the jobless and the poor and the “others”? Are we making sure that the innocent are not imprisoned and that no one is executed?

The four awesome Festivals of this moment arise from moments of spiritual depth that celebrate the lives of extraordinary “ordinary” human beings. Have we boxed these moments into remembering them by rote? Or are we lifting them “by heart,” truly by heart? To bring the Spirit breathing fresh in every moment?

 

 

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Proclaim Restfulness throughout the Earth to all its Life-Forms

This coming Shabbat, the traditional Jewish reading of the Torah reaches chapters 25 and 26 of Leviticus.

Chapter 25 is famous, especially because the quotation on the Liberty Bell,  “Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof," comes from that passage of Torah. It is not talking about civil liberty  -- freedom of speech and of the press. It is talking about economic freedom – – ending a period of slavery -- and freedom for the Earth from being overworked, freedom to rest.

Chapter 25 begins by asserting that the pattern of work and rest for the Earth comes straight from Sinai, like what we call the Ten Commandments. It teaches us that every seventh year, we must allow the Earth to rest fpr a full year from the work we usually do to make it bring forth the food we need to live.

We must do this because we are not in fact the owners of any plot of Earth.  Only YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh --- the InterBreath of Life – is the “Owner" of the Earth, and the InterBreath of Life can keep on breathing only if there is time to pause, to rest. If we do, says Torah, the Earth will be even more fruitful in the years that follow.

And what if we don't allow the earth to rest? Chapter 26 teaches us that the earth will rest anyway – – on our heads. It will rest through drought and famine, flood and unheard-of superstorms, plagues of diseases in unexpected places, the exile of whole peoples in what we would now call a flood of refugees.

Chapter 26 reads as if it were written by a contemporary climate scientist, describing what we will suffer if we do not change our business as usual into a new kind of communal alertness to the needs and joys of all humanity and of all life-forms on our planet.

 

This week as we read Torah, we can recognize that  the biblical tradition is the spiritual expression of an Earth-based people made up of shepherds and farmers, who knew that overworking the Earth and not allowing it to rest would bring on disaster. 

This week’s reading is the peak of earthy Sinai, but it does not stand alone. The parable of Eden warns us that in the midst of Earth’s wonderful abundance, if we refuse to restrain ourselves and try to gobble up all the abundance, it will vanish and we will be forced to toil with the sweat pouring down our faces to find barely enough to eat from an Earth that we have overworked.

And as another consequence of our subjugating Mother Earth, we will all suffer by the subjugation of women by men. The Torah beckons us to heal from both disasters by  correcting our misdeed.

 

The Torah also offers us a parable of healing. After the Pharaoh who has brought Plagues upon the Earth is dissolved into the waters of the Sea, we find once more an Earth of joyful abundance.

The Manna comes –-- along with Shabbat. We learn a kind of self-restraint that is not ascetic but is joyful. This new sabbatical invention frees us to be at peace with Earth and with each other. Shabbat comes to heal us from the deep misdeed of Eden.

(We ought to recognize that in Jewish theology, Shabbat is the analogue of what Christians see in Jesus as the New Adam, healing the original sin of Eden. We even say that the Messianic Age is yom sheh-kulo Shabbat, the day that is fully Shabbat; that Shabbat is the foretaste of the Messianic Age, as Christians await Jesus’ fulfillment in the Second Coming.)

 So the Manna story is profound and powerful. But the story is only a parable; and a parable works only if it leads to practice.

The practice that reaches toward making the parable reality is the practice of the sabbatical year, the practice we read about this week.

This earthy strand of Torah ascends once more into a vision, a parable, of Eden once again ---- set forth in the poetry of the Song of Songs. 

In the Song, Humanity and Earth are in love with each other, and women are free, no longer subjugated. Men and women can lovingly embrace with neither mastering the other. That is Eden for a grown-up human race.

The crisis that Humanity now faces in its relationship with Earth has reawakened for us this crucial thread of Torah about the spiritual experience of shepherds and farmers on the land, with the land. But in our own day, it is not a sliver of land but the entire planet that needs the long overdue rhythm of restfulness, of Shabbat.

How do we reinterpret the ancient teaching to make a new practice for our own generation?

 

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Trump: Tyranny, Cruelty, Strategy

Yesterday Donald Trump used the power of the presidency to protect himself from the ongoing FBI investigation:  

 Did he or his supporters collude with the government of Russia to corrupt American democracy and win his own election?

 His firing of FBI director Comey was a travesty on justice and the Constitution, and his trumped-up “explanation” of it was a deliberate middle-finger  “F--- you!” to the American people. (Long ago my teen-age kids taught me that ”Forget you!” was an even worse attack on someone’s dignity. Trump’s assault on our memory and dignity combines the two.)

He assaulted democracy "within" the law, like the takeovers of other tyrants in not-too-distant memory.

People protest is the only worthy response. The Shalom Center has already written our members and friends in and near Washington DC, encouraging them to take part in the White House protest at NOON TODAY, called by MoveOn. 

We urge that all around the country, we help organize such protests at Federal buildings. We urge that clergy of all faiths, lawyers of all political persuasions,  teachers of all disciplines  --  our neighbors  of all regions and origins --  name this putsch exactly that – a tyrannical act to annul democracy. We urge that protesters fly the American flag – this way:

 

We have also written several key independent-minded organizers suggesting that if there is no serious motion by — say — next Monday to create an official independent investigation of Trump & Russia, that they create a high-profile People’s Commission of Investigation made up of people like this —  

  • Sally Yates, the deans of a couple of law schools, if possible Judge Merrick Garland;
  •  
  •  a few clergy —  e..g Jim Wallis at Sojourners, Rabbi David Saperstein, Sister Simone Campbell of “Nuns on the Bus,” Joseph Cardinal Tobin (the new Archbishop of Newark, appointed by Pope Francis);  
  •  
  • Reps. John Lewis and/or Elijah Cummings and/or Barbara Lee —   
  •  
  • former Republican NJ Governor "Christie" Todd Whitman
  •  
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren.

 Such a Commission would not have formal subpoena power but would have great public clout to invite/ force witnesses to appear and could put them under oath through affidavits. 

 Don’t wait! --  Demand a formal independent Commission. Crowd your way into your Congressmembers’ home offices, or on the doorstep. Don’t leave till they commit to supporting it.  That has been one of the most successful tactics so far, in mounting the Resistance.

And tell the truth about how tyranny turns into cruelty.

 Most tyrants resort to cruelty when resistance to their tyranny endangers them. Some tyrants make cruelty a plank in the platform of their ascent to power.

 Beginning in the days when Trump used humiliation in his reality TV program, giving viewers shivers of delight as he snarled, "You’re fired!" he has used cruelty as part of  his toolbox to gain power.

 Then his cruelty was psychological. As candidate and as president, he has made it physical.

  • It is physically cruel to repeal regulations that keep our water pure, protecting our children from mercury and lead.
  • It is physically cruel to deprive 24 million Americans of their health insurance, as he is trying to do.
  • It is physically cruel to deprive sick people of access to carefully controlled medical marijuana, even where states have concluded it is life-supporting. 
  • It is physically cruel to reopen and re-escalate the US war in Afghanistan, sentencing American soldiers and Afghan civilians to death and maiming.
  • It is physically cruel to order immigrant families who are living calmly in the United States to be shattered by deportations.
  • It is physically cruel to incite arson attacks on mosques.
  • It is physically cruel to deprive low-income women of the only health clinics they can afford.
  • It is physically cruel to worsen the climate chaos that has brought on droughts, famines, floods, storms of refugees, thousands of deaths.

When Trump fired Comey, the point was not to humiliate him but to humble us  -- We the People.  Not a TV show but naked top-down anti-democratic power. This tyrannical act is intended to  disempower us, to male it possible to impose cruelty on myriads of people,.

Why? Maybe egomania, narcissism, even sadistic pleasure in subjugating others. (Remember his delight in physically assaulting women.) AND -- this tyranny, thse cruelties now has a strategy -- for the sake of enriching himself, a few thousand hyper-wealthy Americans , and a few hundred global corporations.

What do we do? First we tell each other the truth, as I have tried to do in this letter to you –- and I welcome your thoughts and responses, which I will be glad to share with our readers and members.

Then we plan how to renew democracy from the bottom up. In the next few days,  I and others here at The Shalom Center  will share with you our sense of strategy, of how to do this. 

Our strategy must be rooted in our spiritusl commitment.  To draw on a old poem by Robbie Burns for new purposes --


Now’s the day and now’s the hour;

See encroach cruel Donald’s power

Watch his minions sneer and glower—

Hoping that we’ll flee.

 

Americans whom Lincoln led,

Americans whose Roosevelt said,

"Fear alone will leave us dead!"   --

Will you retreat to sleepy bed

Or struggle to be free?

 

We who Constitution follow

Know his threats will be but hollow

If we together Justice hallow -- 

Sow seeds of change on earth that’s fallow--  

On to victory!

And if we help each other –- financially as well as emotionally.   WE need your help. Please click on the maroon button omn the lef-hand margin to send us contributions that we urgently need if we are to continue working against tyranny,  against cruelty, against a strategy of subjugation. Every gift helps; if you can begin with $180 and give more if you can, that would be wonderful.

Many thanks. Blessings to you of grit, commitment,  creativity. --   Arthur

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McKibben: From Sunday School to Sit-Down & Jail

 

Sunday evening, May 21 --

Please join us to meet Bill McKibben, 

“Sow Seeds of Transformative Leadership”

To register, click here:

<https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/event/register?id=17&reset=1>

 

If  possible, please come in person -- you'll learn more and sing more heartfully.

Or even if you cannot make it to Philadelphia. to contribute your personal message of hope and honor to the Tribute Book being assembled for this event. -- The Tribute Book goes to press Monday, May 8 -- so register NOW and submit the text of your  tribute TODAY. (It can honor our three honorees, or the work of The Shalom Center, or your own kid who is graduating into a world we need to heal, or ---- as you like).

However you help, you make it possible to advance The Shalom Center’s work in taking on our own new transformative direction.

AND – you get to honor and to learn fom Bill McKibben, Bishop Dwayne Royster, and Sophia Wilansky. We have written about two of them already; here is what drew us in the first place to honor Bill:

Bill McKibben -- world-renowned leader of  350.org and of campaigns against the Keystone XL Tar Sands dirty-oil Pipeline  -- is now exploring the next steps to resist the Trumpian feverish insistence on wrecking Mother Earth and subjecting our kids to lead and mercury poisoning.

His road to eco-activism began by teaching Sunday school.  “In my Sunday school class,” he said, “We tended to do a lot of hiking. We always celebrated St. Francis Day. We’d bring in everybody’s pets to get blessed, but also I would make sure that the children brought in representative fauna from the forest—mosquitoes and snakes too—just to make the point that it’s all creation and it’s all blessed.

From there, his life-path led to his creative work first in shaping the world-wide 350.org events, and then in leading the opposition to the XL Tar Sands Dirty-Oil Pipeline.



One of the crucial moments in his work was the demonstration in 2011 at the White House against President Obama’s support for the Tar Sands dirtiest-oil Pipeline. As  McKibben wrote, 

“The police, surprised by how many people turned out on the first day of two weeks of protests at the White House, decided to teach us a lesson. As they told our legal team, they wanted to deter anyone else from coming -- and so with our first crew they were… kind of harsh. We spent three days in D.C.’s Central Cell Block…. You lie on a metal rack with no mattress or bedding and sweat in the high heat; the din is incessant; there’s one baloney sandwich with a cup of water every 12 hours.

“ It’s only now, out 12 hours and with a good night’s sleep under my belt, that I’m able to think straight.”

And he wrote poignantly of how his deep respect for Martin Luther King had grown even greater as he realized under what conditions King was able to write the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

The police miscalculated. The three-day jailing, far from deterring protest,  brought more attention, more energy, and more resistance.  The Tar Sands Pipeline became a national issue. And after years of growing protest, President Obama finally vetoed the Pipeline. But like a hydra with a dozen poisonous heads  --  even though most had been cut off, a few still survived long enough to be revived by President Trump.

Meanwhile, McKibben went forward. He mobilized what became widespread movements, especially on campuses,  to divest from the Carbon Pharaohs. In 2016, he wrote writing transformative planet-defending commitments into the Democratic Party platform as one of  Bernie Sanders’ nominees to the Platform Committee.  He threw his pen and his presence into the People’s Climate March just past.

 Now, after the Climate March, comes the even harder part: Facing the Trump presidency, is “resistance” enough? Is there any way forward? How can we connect the Climate issue to all the others now on the chopping block?  Here is Bill with Aaron Mair, head of the Sierra Club.


So we welcome you to hear Bill’s thoughts about these questions, along with those of Bishop Royster and Sophia Wilansky, at The Shalom Center ‘s “Sowing Seeds of Transformative Leadership” gathering on Sunday evening, May 21. Please register now by clicking here:

<https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/event/register?id=17&reset=1>  --

 I look forward to seeing you then – to honor, to learn, to sing, to renew our selves and our commitment to Mother Earth and our grandchildren.

 Shalom, salaam, peace, Earth!  --  Arthur

 

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Heal Earth & America: Honor Transformative McKibben, Royster, Wilansky -- May 21

 Sow the Seeds of Transformative Leadership;

Stand Today with Seed-Sowers for Spirit, Justice, Beauty

Even as fear and danger rise, something new is emerging in our world. At Standing Rock, we saw activism braiding culture, spirituality, and politics so seamlessly that no one could pull them apart, and so powerfully that its force reverberated around the globe.

The Water Protectors inspired our work going forward to achieve planetary and social justice. They expressed the life-giving unity that echoes in Jews’ daily repetition of the Sh’ma, the exhortation to listen deeply to the truth that the Source of Life is One.

To catalyze future action, to mark the moment, to rise in the face of terrible forces and persist, we are gathering in Philadelphia on May 21st to honor three towering figures who understand this new, indivisible power to move hearts, minds, and miracles. This moment is calling you in:

Please join us to attend “Sowing Seeds of Transformative Leadership”

<https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/event/register?id=17&reset=1>  --

whether in person or  to contribute your personal message of hope and honor to the Tribute Book being assembled for this event. -- even if you cannot make it to Philadelphia.

Please be aware that after May 7, the contribution level rises – so act NOW!

However you help, you make it possible to advance The Shalom Center’s work in taking on our own new transformative direction. See below for what we mean!

 At the same time, you will be honoring these transformative leaders:

  • Bill McKibben, world-renowned leader of  350.org and of campaigns against the Keystone XL Tar Sands dirty-oil Pipeline  -- now exploring the next step to resist the Trumpian feverish insistence on wrecking Mother Earth and subjecting our kids to lead and mercury poisoning.
  • Bishop Dwayne Royster, former director of POWER in Philadelphia, instigator of POWER’s jobs-and-climate alliance with EQAT (Earth Quaker Action Team); now the political director of PICO, the national umbrella for religious congregation-based community organizing, with a special involvement with African-American and Latino communities; and

  • Sophia Wilansky, the young anti-pipeline organizer who, after stints working against oil-delivery pipelines in New England and New York, came to Standing Rock as a Water Protector and was cruelly wounded by the militarized police. Sophia will be introduced by Chief Dwaine Perry of the Ramapough Lenape, recently featured by the NY Times for his Nation’s resistance to yet another water-poisoning pipeline.

What is more, even if you think you already know what and who The Shalom Center  is, “Seeds of Transformative Leadership“ is a restart-place for us as well. We will sow our own seeds of transformation. Here’s how:

Almost all scientists and even the most climate-sensitive political activists have accepted that the best we can achieve is bare survival in the midst of continuing climate turmoil, because even ending all CO2 emissions will leave gigantic amounts of CO2 wreaking havoc in the atmosphere.

We have started working with scientists who are looking toward a more compelling vision –– that our children and grandchildren live once again in the Earth’s climate joyful and abundant as it was for our parents and grandparents.

That means getting many many tons of CO2 out of our atmosphere. It can be done – but it will be expensive for our society as a whole. Many politicians simply assume that ends the discussion --- especially in a political situation where Corporate Carbon Pharaohs are willing to wreck the Earth to multiply their profits.

 How do we change this? How do we make a new vision of our relationship to Mother Earth one that inspires people into action?

The scientists who see this also realize that science alone cannot make the necessary social change happen.. They – and we – see the religious communities of America as a sleepy, yawning giant whose energy and commitment are crucial to make the vision real. 

 

So The Shalom Center has been invited to convene and guide a network of diverse religious teachers and liturgists to make this happen  -- by making the goal part of religious life. Creating the sermonic, educational, and liturgical materials to do this, and getting them widely used in the religious communities. 

We cannot do this without your help, your commitment –--  your covenant.  That begins on May 21.

It is no accident that these three transformative people agreed to be with us. Now it is up to you:

Please join with us by filling out this registration page:

https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/event/register?id=17&reset=1  Remember --  After May 7, the contribution level rises – so act NOW!

With our deepest gratitude and freshest hope in this season of renewal,

Arlene Goldbard,  President of The Shalom Center


Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director

 

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Cleaning out the Climate Chumetz

 Torah teaches us that as Passover begins we must clean from our houses all traces of "chumetz” -- leavening, yeast, whatever makes our bread rise and our cucumbers turn sour.

The Hasidic communities interpreted this to mean whatever makes our selves, our egos,  swell up and turn sour. So Passover, they said, is the time to get rid of the Pharaoh inside us, what turns us from "grown-ups" to "blown-ups," whatever tugs us toward domination rather than community.

In our generation, this certainly means moving away from the habits that dominate, subjugate, and endanger Mother Earth. In our generation, energy is food. And the most dangerous, most ego-swelling chumetz that we "eat" are fossil fuels. Burning them is the most dangerous thing we do because the C02 and methane this emits are burning up our planet.

So let us make a commitment this Passover that we will take the steps to clear our common home, our Earth, from this destructive chumetz.

 At the Seder, let us make three pledges to each other:

1. During or very soon after Passover, we will invite ten of our neighbors to gather in our living room to discuss what it would mean to create a neighborhood solar-energy co-op.

 2.  During the next two weeks, our senators and congressmembers are at home. We will invite the same ten neighbors to make an appointment to meet with one of these officials to urge that they support national policies to heal our Earth from the climate crisis, and that they will oppose all efforts to impose upon us the chumetz of burning fossil fuels.

3. During Passover, we will send serious contributions of money to organizations that are bringing deep spiritual values into working for eco-social justice and against the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs at three levels -– to heal our neighborhoods from asthma caused by coal dust and oil-refinery fumes; to heal whole regions from the poisoned air and water caused by oil-bearing pipelines; and to heal the Earth and prevent climate chaos by moving quickly to the use of wind and solar energy.

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Earth Day Activity

We are planning a communitywide service and teach-in on Earth Day at Congregation Shir Shalom in Buffalo. The purpose is to make people aware that science is warning us of impending danger, and our religions teach us about our stewardship of the planet. The teach-in part will discuss climate change and other environmental issues, and how we can influence our leaders, and how we can make a difference in our individual lives. I like the idea of Chumetz and the cleaning out the Chumetz from the Earth.

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Bringing Elijah truly into the Passover Seder

"Elijah Turning  the Hearts of Parents and Children to Each Other Lest the Earth be Devastated"

 On the Shabbat just before Passover, traditionally we read a passage from the last of the classical Hebrew Prophets –-- Malachi.  It cries out:

"Here! The day is coming that will flame like a furnace, says the Infinite YHWH / Breath of Life, when all the arrogant and all evil-doers, root and branch, will like straw be burnt to ashes.

Yet for those of you who revere My Name, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath that breathes all life, a sun of justice will arise with healing in its wings.

“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 children and the hearts of children to parents, lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction." (Malachi 3: 20-21, 23-24.)

This teaching can make a powerful difference in our Passover Seder, where there is a tradition to open the door to welcome the Prophet Elijah.  Out of Jewish suffering in the Middle Ages came the outcry at that moment of opening the door: “Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not respond to Your Unity, Your Call to love each other!"

But far better in our generation would be to open the door for Elijah and say:

“Holy One, We open this door to open ourselves to all of Earth and all Humanity. We take upon ourselves the mission of Elijah. We will act now before the Breath of Life becomes a searing hurricane. We will turn our own hearts to the lives of our grandchildren; we will work to create for them a world as fruitful and as beautiful as the world of our grandparents. We invite their hearts to learning from the deepest teachings of the Wisdom we inherited -- that together we can yet avert the utter devastation of Your Earth."

Let us search more deeply into Malachi’s Prophetic outcry:  Why this danger and this chance for healing?

"You are defrauding Me!" says God. "You fail to share My abundance with the poor and landless, you will not bring the common wealth into the common storehouse. Only if you turn back to My teaching will the locusts vanish from your fields. Only then, if you will share My rain of blessings on your harvests, will I pour those blessings down from Heaven." (Malachi 3: 8-11)

Let us open our ears and hearts to Malachi speaking to our own generation:

"Here! If you oppress the poor, impoverish workers, and wring super-profits from the earth to plump the rich and powerful, the Earth itself will suffer a planetary scorching. If you turn My Breath, My Air, into a furnace, not only the arrogant pharaohs of your day will suffer, but also all life and humankind, as all Egypt suffered from the arrogance of Pharaoh long ago.

"Already droughts scorch your continents, already your waters boil into typhoons and hurricanes, already the ice melts and your sea-coasts flood, already your birds and insects and diseases migrate where there is no place to weave them into the healing web of life.

"Yet even now you can turn away from arrogance and greed, from the fires of coal and oil and unnatural gas; even now you can turn to sharing the abundance that still flowers from the Earth, even now you can turn to the solar energy and the winged wind that rise from a sun of justice and tranquility to heal your planet.

“Most urgent: BE Elijah, turning the hearts of the  generations to each other, to save the Earth from devastation!”

 

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