Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

Over-Burdened Oxen & “Eco--Kosher": This Week’s Torah

Two passages speak especially to me in this week’s Torah Portion, called “Sh'mini.” Or rather, the creative explorations of the two are what speak to me.

One is the shocking story (Lev. 10) of the High Priest Aaron’s two sons, who brought “strange fire” into their offering to the Breath of Life; and were instantly struck dead. Was their offering fatally improper? Or did they bring so much the fullness of themselves that there was no need for them to keep on living?

The Haftarah (prophetic passage) seems a commentary on that story, and its study bears a personal delight for me. So I will explore it first.

First you need to know that as the Coronavirus lock-down first took effect a year ago, my 19-year-old grandson Elior Waskow emailed me: “Granddad, you clearly know a lot of Torah. How about we make a chevrusa (partnership to study Torah) once a week?” I was immensely pleased by the invitation, and agreed. We alternated which of us would choose a passage to read from the Torah portion or its accompanying Haftarah.

When we got to Sh’mini, I chose the Haftarah (II Samuel 6). It is the story of what happened when King David tried to bring the Ark of the Covenant to his capital city, Jerusalem, hoping to add to his prestige as an upstart king. The Ark was carried in a cart drawn by a team of oxen. The oxen “stumbled,” according to most translations. (Everett Fox says they “let it slip.”)

Uzzah, one of the guards, grabbed the Ark to keep it from falling on the ground, and was instantly struck dead. This incident has traditionally been thought to point like the tale of Aaron’s sons to the inexplicably awesome tremendum of God’s presence so that touching the Ark, like bringing “strange fire,” brought death.

But Elior, closely reading the Hebrew, interrupted: “Granddad, here’s your favorite word in the whole Tanakh!”  “What?” said I. “Shmita! Your favorite word! Release, the seventh year when Earth is released from overwork and human beings are released from debt!”  -- See, right here, “Shamtu habakar”  --“The oxen made a release!”

 

[The death of Uzzah by  Giulio Quaglio the Younger in a medaillon in Liubljana Cathedral (1704)]

Wait a minute, I said. “The oxen didn’t stumble. The burden of pulling the Ark was too great, the burden of adding to the king’s prestige for his sake, not God’s, was too great. They tried to release themselves from the burden, and Uzzah tried to force them to bear the burden.” For this the  Breath of Life stopped breathing, for this God’s “nose was inflamed with anger,” for this was Uzzah struck dead. For the freedom of the ox from overwork was more important than housing the Ark in a fragrant cedar palace to make the king more powerful.

In an era when we humans are overburdening many species into their extinction, does the story speak to us?

Elior's discovery transforms the meaning of the passage, and I am “tickled pink,” as my mother used to say, that it was Elior who discovered it and knew that “shmita” was one of my favorite parts of Torah. One of those moments when a whole life-journey seems worthwhile; one is released from doubt. A moment of shmitah.

The other passage that attracted me in this week’s Torah portion is the recitation (Lev. 11) in great detail of animals that Israelites were permitted to eat, and those that were forbidden. I will explore Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi’s transformative exploration of kashrut into what he called “eco-kosher” in our own day.

The biblical recitation is not random. It follows the order of creation: Air, Sea, Land. But beyond that, it is hard to discern a pattern. Perhaps we are forbidden to eat some animals because they eat other animals -- while those we may eat make us “virtual vegetarians.” Perhaps some amphibians must not be eaten because they insist on crossing between land and sea, confounding the great divisions of Creation. Fastidious folk may be surprised to know there are even six species of grasshoppers and locusts that are kosher; other species are forbidden.

Maybe what seems irrational has a higher reason: If there is no simple general rule, everyone who eats must pay close attention to the food, making sure it is sacredly permitted.

When the rabbis of the Talmud prohibited raising sheep and goats in the Land of Israel, was that betrayal of Abraham’s heritage or an Abraham-respectful response to population growth that would denude the land and destroy its fertility if herding were permitted?

Today we are beginning to see efforts to say that beef is not kosher because huge herds of cattle threaten the planet by emitting methane gas. Or perhaps that beef can be kosher but only if its animals are grass-fed and because of this diet emit very little planet-scorching methane. Who decides? Each consumer? A religiously constituted court, for each religion? A national elected legislative body? Are these three possibilities part of an escalating process rooted in public opinion?If so, do religious bodies have an obligation to apply their ethical standards and move the process forward?

Even all this applies only to food we eat with our mouths. But today, is energy “food” that we eat with our whole bodies?  

Enter Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. He went deeply into the roots of biblical kashrut. “Why these elaborate rules of what to eat?” he asked. “Because shepherds and farmers had to affirm a sacred relationship with Earth; and because food was the strongest connection between human earthlings and Earth; so rules emerged that specified what is sacred food and what is forbidden food. Now few of us are farmers or shepherds, and we take from Earth energy by way of coal, oil, natural and unnatural gas, uranium,  water-power from rushing tides or flowing rivers, wind, sunlight.

 Which of these – he coined a word – are “eco-kosher”?

 Though Reb Zalman’s coinage was explicitly not about food, the power of the “food” aura around “kosher” has brought almost all exploration of “eco-kosher” to discussions of food. 

When will we start developing standards and rules about eco-kashrut for energy? Who decides?

The Shalom Center needs your help to keep looking deeper into Torah for its deep wisdom for our day. Please click the maroon “Contribute” button in the left-hand margin.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! -- Arthur

 

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Ecstatic Visions: Passover, Easter, MLK

Today is the 8th and final day of Pesach, in many Diaspora communities. It is also Easter in most Christian communities. And it is April 4, the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s most profound speech in 1967 and of his death in 1968 --  a sacred date to an increasing number of Americans. This last date in past and present will be honored tonight at 7 pm Eastern time by the reading of Dr. King's greatest speech, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" by a group of national truth-tellers. We will explain this third date – today – in more detail close to the end of this Shalom Report.

Both the final day of Passover and the final day of Holy Week could be described as calling forth an ecstatic vision, affirming and transcending the highest notions of political freedom and justice.

The Prophetic reading for the last day of Passover is a passage from Isaiah, including the ecstatic vision of Chapter 8:


But a shoot shall grow out of the stump of Jesse, A twig shall sprout from his stock.

The ruach [spirit /breath /wind] of YHWH [the Breath of Life] shall alight upon him:

A ruach of wisdom and insight, A ruach of counsel and valor,

A ruach of devotion and reverence for YHWH [the Breath of Life].

He shall sense the truth by his reverence for YHWH [the Breath of Life]:

He shall not judge only by what his eyes see, Nor decide only by what his ears hear.

For he shall judge the poor with equity And decide with justice for the lowly of the land.

He shall strike down a land with the rod of his mouth

And slay the wicked with the breath of his lips.

Justice shall be the belt around his loins, And faithfulness the belt around his waist.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard lie down with the kid;

The calf, the beast of prey, and the fatling together, With a small child leading them.

The cow and the bear shall graze, Their young shall lie down together;

And the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw.

A babe shall play Over a viper’s hole, And an infant pass his hand Over an adder’s den.

In all of My sacred mount Nothing vile or evil shall be done;

For the land shall be filled with deep knowing of YHWH [the Breath of Life]

As water covers the sea.

Here even what seems like violence – striking a land, killing the wicked – is done by speech, by persuasion. By nonviolence. And then the ecstatic vision takes off entirely: in even the order of nature, of God’s more-than-human Creation, violence shall end.

For Easter, we begin with the Holy Week of nonviolent resistance to Rome. Just a few days before Pesach, a protest march from the Mount of Olives into the midst of Jerusalem, scattering palm branches  -- a sign of spring and new life, as a modern protest might wave placards of defiance. Singing songs of joy, psalms well-known to the people. Climaxing with a challenge to the official system  supported by the Empire:

         And Jesus went into the Temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple, and overthrew            the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said to them, ”It is written, “My house shall be           called the house of prayer.’ But you have made it a den of thieves.”

The week proceeds with a Pesach Seder where the band of resisters plan the next steps. It is infiltrated by a paid hireling of the Empire’s secret police, who betrays then to the police. Rabbi Jesus is arrested, subjected to a “perp walk” through the city, and crucified  -- tortured to death.

 And three days later, the urge for freedom surges into an ecstatic vision: the despised prisoner who dared to resist the Empire is restored to life. The normal order of nature is reversed.  And the political order is transformed as well: the crucified rabbi becomes a transcendent hero and the God of the Empire that killed him.

In Jewish tradition, ten great rabbis tortured and killed by Rome are remembered by chanting their story on the holiest day of Jewish reverence, Yom Kippur. The nearest the story comes to an ecstatic reversal of the natural order is not the resurrection of any of the ten rabbis but their “immortalization” through memory and one element of Rabbi Akiba’s death. Akiba is sad to have smiled while  being tortured, turning his torture and death into a midrash on the meaning of the Sh’ma.

Half a century ago, the nonviolent spiritual leader Martin Luther King, who resisted governmental injustice  -- racism and war --  was murdered on  the first anniversary of his speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” In it he prophetically warned the deadly “triplets” haunting America – militarism, racism, and materialism – would ruin America if they were left to fester. Perhaps he used the word “triplets” instead of “trio” to point out they share the same DNA -- the impulse to dominate and subjugate. We have watched other forms of the same DNA – sexism, hatred of foreigners, religious bigotry, contempt for the processs of democratic elections and workers’ rights and the free press, contempt for and poisoning of our mothering Earth – bring death and despair to many Americans.

Dr. King’s ecstatic vision did not call for tha transformation of the natural world. It focused on the transformation of human society:

“Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.

"A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

"This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men.

"Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.

"We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation."

Dr. King has been immortalized in many ways – a national holy day in his name, the creation of the Freedom Seder and its being first held on April 4 -- the first anniversary of his death—and in many instances for the last half century on a date very close. For the 50th anniversary, on April 7, 2019, a Freedom Seder held in a Philadelphia Mosque, the Freedom Seder built to a climax with the Prophetic speech of Reverend William Barber II, who drew on Jeremiah to call for a march to the “royal palace”  -- the White House --  of our own corrupt and murderous king.

And now there has arisen a new way of calling out the Prophet Martin’s truth.This very evening, a band of national leaders will take turns reading his speech about the deadly triplets. Here is how you can join in the moment:

Click NOW to KINGANDBREAKSILENCE.ORG.

The Shalom Center is a co-sponsor of the reading.

 With blessings of freedom and eco/ social justice, Arthur

 

 

 

 

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Plague Year I Ends: Now What?

After a year of the “Eleventh Plague,” made far worse by a cruel and egomaniacal pharaoh, the American people have decided against the worst of futures – descent into fascism and destruction of Earth. But we remain poised in uncertainty, at the edge of our own version of the Red Sea.

The choice then was the choice between "normalcy" with Pharaoh's Army or a plunge into the Unknown of freedom. Do we want to return to the “normalcy” of big numbers of “left-out,” “forgotten” Americans – Black and brown and Indigenous, white and rural and desperate? That “normalcy” bred the fury of the last four years.  

Or do we want to venture into the Unknown of growing a more just, compassionate, and loving society?

We remain uncertain: Will we choose only to smooth the jagged edges of disaster wrought by Coronavirus, as the just-barely-passed American Rescue Act does?  Or to heal ourselves from the deeper danger of worsening inequality of wealth and income, from the attack on democratic elections and democracy itself, and to heal our deeply wounded planet?

 The danger to democracy and to Earth are deeply intertwined. The Hyperwealthy Carbon Pharaohs who make their money by scorching Mother Earth into fires, floods, freezes, and famines and their allies in government, banking, and propaganda media use some of their obscene wealth to buy laws that reduce their taxes, increase the power of wealth in buying elections, and reduce the voting ability of marginalized groups who would oppose them.

And there is an even deeper connection. The impulse to dominate and subjugate other human beings colors in blood our behavior toward other life-forms. And the impulse to exploit and subjugate Earth colors our behavior toward human groups we subjugate.

That impulse to Subjugate can only be cured by spiritual transformation --  community-wide spiritual transformation, what we often mistakeny call something utterly different --- politics.

 To redirect that impulse and grow from the grass roots a society of justice, compassion, and love will take support for renewed and more inclusive democracy; both neighborhood and national action for healing Earth and the Human-Earthlings intertwined with her; and the mobilization of faith communities to create a shared spirituality of justice, compassion, and the Loving Eco-Society.

 These three imperatives will govern the work of The Shalom Center.

A. We will support action to strengthen and expand our democracy. This will include national action like the passage of the For the People bill and the John Lewis Voting Rights Enforcement Act. (To learn more about these two major corrections to our broken election system, click to https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/how-to-restore-and-strengthen-voting-rights-act and

https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/people-act-americas-next-great-civil-rights-bill

We will support abolishing or radically reshaping the filibuster, now an intrinsically antidemocratic process that worsens the anti-democratic structure of the US Senate. We will support action to provide statehood to the people of the District of Columbia, and to end partisan and racist gerrymandering.   We will support efforts to fulfill Torah's command to make reparations for the subjugation of a whole people in slavery. We will let you know when a crucial moment comes for these actions, and offer you the means to make a difference.

B. We will support efforts in the Jewish and other faith communities to initiate solar and wind co-ops in rural as well as urban and suburban neighborhoods; to support efforts to win national funding for such co-ops; to empower the poor, the Black, the Latinx, the Native communities to end their subjugation to the poisonous byproducts of the Carbon industries; to end the use of “forever plastics” and dangerous biochemicals as “eco-treyf” (un-kosher) products that sicken human beings and kill many life-forms; to transform agriculture to restore the land and fit with changes in food use that heal both land and people; to encourage space for wild-life to flourish; and to embody “the Covenant of Noah” to protect all life-forms from danger of extinction.

C. We will enrich a transformative religious life that sees all spiritual and religious communities as committed to the enhancement of Humanity and Earth, not only to its own narrow interests. We will share interpretations of Torah that illuminate this vision, teachings like Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion that point toward such communities. We will suggest and provide ways of drawing on the sacred festivals of every tradition to create public policy that heals our Earth. 

With the sacred times approaching of Passover (First Seder March 27), Holy Week (Palm Sunday March 28), and Ramadan (1st day of fasting, April 13), periods of interior and public liberation, we call on all of us to affirm our transformation.

 

We know that all humanity and along with humanity, all Earth, faces a choice between the Great Turning to the sharing of abundance, respect, and love -- or a descent into misery and death. We at The Shalom Center will do our best to provide the ideas and suggest the actions that will help us actually make the Great Turning.

 

 

 

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Torah Today: When the Most Sacred Becomes an Idol

This week’s Torah portion begins with Exodus 32:1 (Everett Fox’s translation, The Five Books of Moses, Schocken):

“Now when the people saw that Moshe was shamefully-late in coming down from the mountain, the people assembled against Aharon and said to him: Arise, make us a god who will go before us, for this Moshe, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!

Aharon said to them: Break off the gold rings that are in the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters, and bring (them) to me.

All the people broke off the gold rings that were in their ears, and brought (them) to Aharon.

He took (them) from their hand, fashioned it with a graving-tool, and made it into a molten calf.

Then they said: This is your God, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!"


This – the Golden Calf – is the model of idolatry in the Hebrew Bible and for many cultures and communities for the last few thousand years.

The question that occurs to me is, “Why did Moses take so long before he came back to the people from the summit of Sinai?”

And when I looked at what the story says is going on at the mountaintop, a great proportion of it is not the Ten Utterances, not the rules and regulations of sacred daily practice, but the description of the portable Sanctuary, the Shrine or Mishkan. Descriptions of gold, silver, purple, scarlet, fur, cloth. Great detail.

Almost as if God become obsessed with the Shrine. Almost as if the Shrine, the Mishkan, had become God’s Own golden calf, God’s own idol. From that perspective, not so surprising that the response of the people was to create an idol.

Imagine a story in which God spoke briefly: Build me a Shrine. It needs a slaughter-site, incense, gorgeou colors. Go figure it out!

Would the people have gotten so fearful, feeling so abandoned, that they needed an idol?

What does this teach us? It reminds me of a story in the Talmud: Some of the ancient Rabbis decide to hunt for the evil impulse that stirs some people to give in to idolatry. They hunt and hunt, and finally find it hiding in the most sacred place, the Holy of Holies at the heart of the Temple.

Both tales warn us: It is possible to turn what is most holy into an idol. Those who destroyed the Twin Towers in New York, killing about 3,000 people, said they were avenging the US desecration of the sacred sites of Saudi Arabia by putting military bases there. They turned that sacred land into their idol. Some Catholics refused to cleanse the Catholic Church of child abusers because they did not want to bring the sacred Church into scandal. They made the Church into their idol. Some Jews have refused to criticize the Government of the State of Israel when it maltreated Palestinians because they thought they were protecting Israel’s reputation. For them, Israel became not a sacred place of freedom but an idol. 

With the true God, you can argue and criticize as Abraham did. With the true God you can wrestle, as Jacob did, giving the name Yisrael,  Godwrestler, to the whole people. An idol is what you must not criticize. An idol is what you think too sacred to criticize. An idol is what you think so sacred you can kill the innocent to protect it.

Look around. Ask yourself, your true Self: have I mySelf turned what is holy into an idol?

 

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The Puzzle of Purim

The puzzle of Purim is upon us. Is it funny, or frightening? A story of triumph? Or does it end with an act of terror, and a terrible mistake?

Let’s start with Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther.

According to the Megillah, the events of Purim invented the Megillah. According to modern linguists and historians, the Megillah invented the events of Purim. It’s not history, it’s a satire on pompous kings and genocidal rulers. The Megillah itself was a farcical tale --  the first “Purimspiel” -- that went along with the craziness of early spring, when even the trees dress their bare nakedness in costumes of green, and many spiritual and religious communities celebrate with bawdy ridicule.

There is even a tip-off in the tale itself: it says that if we check in the archives of the kings of Persia, we will find the whole story. But we can check in the archives of the Kings of Persia, and there’s no such story. The Megillah itself is a joke; in fact it’s two jokes, and they are the same joke.

It’s a classic joke: “hoist on your own petard,” or “slip on your own banana peel.” That’s the double joke. The king starts the whole story in motion by insisting that no woman is ever going to tell him what to do. He brings about the story that ends with him doing exactly what Esther tells him to do. The anti-anti-feminism joke.

A bloodier version of the same joke: Haman gets the second plot of the story going by planning a genocide of the Jews and the hanging of Mordecai in particular. He ends up being hanged on the gallows he intended for Mordecai, and with the death of 75,000 Persians at the hands of the Jews.  The anti-antisemitism joke.

It is a great story for a people that has no power and can laugh and revel in a story where power is so stupid that it turns its own power into an alcoholic stupor.

But if the people of Purim become powerful, the story becomes dangerous. On Purim morning in 1994, a Jewish man thought he was blessed because he was named “Baruch” but became “Aror, Accursed,” by killing 29 Muslims prostrate in prayer at the tomb of Abraham, the legendary ancestor of both the Jews and the Arabs, of both Judaism and Islam.

Jewish tradition teaches that on Purim we should know the mystical identity of two seemingly utterly disparate statements: “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Accursed is Haman.” In Hebrew, the two phrases have the same arithmetical value, but the identity goes even deeper than gematria. How were they identical? Both assumed a story of Power-above and Courage-below. If you are caught in that story, both the defeat of the Power-hungry and the victory of those who birth courage from their own terror may turn to ashes in your mouth. Best to make sure you never get caught in the story, never get caught in cruelty masking as pomposity. Use the power of laughter --  Saturday Night Live or the late-night stand-up comics -- to hustle away a would-be Ahasuerus or Haman. If laughter fails, we may need the civil disobedience of Esther, or even the plagues of Pharaoh, a month later.

The rabbinic tradition assumes that to get to that place of deep unity we need to drink some alcohol or smoke some dope. Little did the rabbis imagine that a Jew with the power to murder could confound “baruch” and “aror” in himself or in us all, by pouring out blood.

Or perhaps they did recognize the possibility, and tried to forfend it. Today, this very day, in rabbinic tradition, is the Fast of Esther – the 13th of Adar, the day before Purim. Why impose a fast in the midst of what the rabbis hoped would be hilarity?

There’s a history. In the midst of the Maccabeean war against a tyrannical empire and a “modernizing” Jewish community, a Syrian general named Nicanor was defeated.

(A detour to explain the history:  The Maccabeean war was actually partly anti-imperialist and partly a civil war, Maccabees and their more traditional followers vs Jews who thought Hellenization was fine – call them “modernizers” or “assimilationists,” depending on your own views. Interestingly, the rabbis were uncomfortable with the Maccabees  -- not wanting to encourage military uprisings, especially because of the mass enslavement of Jews after the Bar Kochba revolt.  Yom Nicanor wasn’t the only thing that got erased. The Books of the Maccabees were rejected from the Tanakh, survived only in Greek (another joke of Purim) and were treated as holy only by Christians. The Talmud on Hanukkah, the premier Maccabeean festival, begins, “Mah zot Hanukkah,” “What is this Hanukkah, anyway?” and then focuses away from the revolt in favor of the miracle of the Menorah oil.)

Back to that day: –- The 13th of Adar became Yom Nicanor, a day of celebrating a military victory. By proclaiming the Fast of Esther, the rabbis shattered Yom Nicanor. They tried hard to prevent Baruch/Aror Goldstein. They failed, and today and even tomorrow on Purim itself, we need to contemplate the dangers of becoming so Power-filled that our own violence comes to seem normal.

ON the Fast of Esther one year after the massacre, here in Mt. Airy  (Philadelphia) we held a solemn assembly – a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim each spoke about the bloody streaks in his/her/their/our own tradition. Then we celebrated Purim with joy and abandon. The idea didn’t become annual practice. Maybe it still needs to.  Having got rid of our own Ahasurus-Haman by laughter and disobedient courage, let us laugh more and party tonight. Freilach Purim!

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste!  --  Arthur


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Sen. Cruz: ”I’ll believe ...when Texas freezes over”

 

I misreported the "Cruz tweet." It was a fake, broadly circulated on social media to hundreds of thousands of people.  I apologize. He never promised to believe in "climate change" if Texas frose over. T

But this past week, Texas froze. All over. Dozens died, maybe hundreds.  Can we expect Senator Cruz to change, even thoigh he didn't promise to?

No, because his false and stubborn denial of climate crisis was not the product of stupidity or ignorance. It was the product of vicious corruption. It was the product of selling himself, body and soul, to the Carbon Pharaohs who brought this Plague upon Texas.

 If the years they and he imposed servitude to Coal and Oil had instead been used to emplace solar-energy co-ops, those years would have saved lives and limbs of Texans “lost” when Global Scorching, Weather Weirding, poured unprecedented cold and snow on Texas. Those lives and limbs and futures were not “lost,” like a stray quarter fallen on the ground by accident. Not “lost” but robbed, killed, destroyed, by the Greed of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Banking, and their toady senators and governors.

Did Cruz care? Not hardly. His money paid for a swift trip to Cancun, Mexico, because his own house was “freezing.”

What can we do? The Shalom Center is supporting a campaign initiated (just before the Texas Freeze) by Solar United Neighbors (SUN) for a federal program to fund the solarization of 30 million American homes.

There are two major ways in which Jewish and other faith communities can build this effort:

  1. Synagogues, churches, mosques, temples, and other congregations can direct their energy to organizing neighbor-based or congregant-based solar co-ops, just as they organize adult-study groups, tikkun-olam projects, and special observances of festivals. In other words, they can define solar co-ops as a religious expression or even a mitzvah -- an obligation, in order to save Earth and Humanity from climate chaos, save neighhborhoods from economic despair, and provide local resilience through co-ops already on the ground if disaster strikes.
  1. Congregations and their support denominations, clergy organizations, interfaith and multireligious organizations can organize to support the “30 Million Solar Homes” campaign. To prevent the Big Freeze in Texas, the Big Wildfire in California, unprecedented floods in the Midwest, climate chaos everywhere.

This approach is urged on us by the needs of today: the planetary need to shift from burning fossil fuels to drawing on energy from the sun, the neighborly need to meet the economic and spiritual needs of neighborhoods made desperate by the absence of jobs and the absence of a future. 

And let us respond to a teaching of hope from a crisis long ago that speaks even more boldly to a crisis of today: the astounding ancient words of the Prophet Malachi, spoken about 2500 years ago:

 "Here! The day is coming

That will flame like a furnace, “

Says the Infinite YHWH / Yahhhh,

The Breath of Life --...

“Yet for those of you who revere My Name,

Yes! My Name, Yahhhh, the Interbreath of Life!

a sun of justice will arise

with healing in its wings / its rays.”

                 (Malachi 3: 19-20)                

We indeed see the "solar energy" of the sun's rays as the healing of unbearable heating of Earth into a furnace. We see the solar solution as a sacred remedy -- not all we need to do, but crucial. Please write us at Solar@theshalomcenter.org if you want specific resources to work on this campaign in your own community.

For us, this did not begin overnight. The Shalom Center -- for reasons economic, ecological, and spiritual -- has been working with SUN for six years, and as a result The Shalom Center inspired and organized the creation of the Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op.

Several months ago, we began urging a national program that would support solar and wind co-ops in every sort of neighborhood – farm and rural as well as big-city and suburban. We saw this partly as a way of dissolving some of the bitter hostility to the concept of renewable energy, just as  the reality of Obamacare dissolved much of he original bitter opposition to the idea.

Bill McKibben was excited by the proposal, and praised it in his New Yorker column. Then we discovered that SUN was developing a very similar proposal for national legislation.

In our Hanukkah 2020 webinar (for the festival of conserving energy –  one day’s worth of olive oil that served the sacred need for eight days) we reported the first stages of the SUN program. Beginning at a Tu B’Shvat webinar, we have worked closely with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) on what became SUN’s “30 Million Solar Homes” campaign.   

Last week, The Shalom Center started calling and emailing a number of Jewish groups to support the “30 Million” program.  COEJL, the Jewish Climate Action Network (JCAN)  of Boston, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, have already responded -- not only signing on but also ready to do the work of organizing. “Dayenu” agreed to sign as a symbol of support. We will keep working to bring more Jewish and multireligious support.

Moreover, we and COEJL have proposed the creation of a “Faith Collaborative” to work with SUN within the broad coalition.

Again: We see this as a major priority. Please write us at Solar@theshalomcenter.org if you want specific resources to work on this in your own community. And if you wish to help The Shalom Center do this work of prophetic organizing, please click on the “Contribute” banner in the left margin of  this page.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste!  -- Arthur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When Life Reminds us of Torah; When Torah Reminds us of Life

Only seven Republican senators voted to convict the former president of inciting insurrection. That reminded me of the passage in the Book of Genesis (18:16-33) when Abraham argues with God: "Shall not the Judge of all the world do justice?” Should God really destroy all of Sodom for its sin of hating foreigners? What if there were decent people among its citizens who will die in the disaster? Abraham starts, “What if there were 50 decent people; would that be enough to spare the city?” God agrees to refrain. What about 40? 30? 20? 10?

 And then Abraham stops. He doesn’t ask God to save the city if there were seven decent citizens, or five, or one. Why not? Because Abraham and God both know it takes at least 10 people to transform an evil society for the good. Ten who will have each others’ backs, ten who will hold and heal each other when they are wounded, ten who will love each other, ten who will protect each other, ten who will help each other speak out against tyranny.

There were not ten Republican senators to stand together, and their absence portends the ruin of their party. May God grant its ruin will not bring down fire, flood, and famine on our lovely and beloved planet – – as Sodom went up in smoke.

*** ***

The Torah portion this Shabbat (Terumah, Exodus 25-27) describes Moses on the mountain listening to God describe the portable Mishkan or Shrine of the Presence that the Israelites would learn to carry in their journey through the wilderness. When Moses cannot quite understand the description given in words, God provides the first Power Point, showing pictures of golden implements, scarlet and purple hangings, the details of its beauty.

The people themselves were to gather, to sew, to smelt, to tie the pieces together with grommets, to untie and retie them when the Shrine of the Presence needed to move. 

For years, it seemed to me this was an overdoing of sacred Art. And then a member of my congregation came back from the first Gay Pride gathering in Washington DC. She described how thousands of people had sewn thousands of squares of cloth in gorgeous color or black mourning, each remembering someone who had died of AIDS, each with grommets at its corners to tie one square to another when the gigantic Quilt was ready for display, ready to be untied when the Quilt was ready to be moved to some new city.

The word "grommet" transfixed me. The Quilt was a Mishkan, a Shrine. The Mishkan was a Quilt. Each was the first defiant acts of beauty of people who had been closed in, in narrow slavery; of people who had been closed in, in narrow closets. The Quilt, the Mishkan, were triumphs of liberty. Each was portable, meant to be carried to those who had not yet heard the message: Freedom! Joy, even in the midst of sorrow. Beauty! 

The abence of ten made disgrace, threatened ruin. The Presence of thousands made beauty and freedom. Each a lesson for our time. 

 

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Noon, Jan 20: If we create the future in the present, the One from the differences that we can fit together ---

Baruch attah YHWH elohenu ruach ha’olam, sheh’hekhianu v’kimanu v‘higianu lazman hazeh.

 Blessed are you, breath of life, creative energy within us and beyond us, Interbreathing Spirit of the universe, who has filled us with life, lifted us up, and carried us to this moment.

 How do we unite the new President’s call for Unity we heard this noontime with the outcry for justice, for equality, for truth, for a healing peace not only with each other human beings but also with Earth that sustains all life – when so many among us doubt or decry those very values?

 Through action. Through making the future in the present. 

 As the reality of broadened health care convinced those who had denounced the law that made it happen when it still was merely words on paper ...

 As the presence of a gay or lesbian son or daughter gentled many a family that had raged against the blurring of the genders ...

 As worshipping next to a Jew or a Muslim, as silently meditating alongside a Hindu or a Buddhist,  had opened the hearts of many who had thought the Other mere idolators ...

 As moving their bodies to jazz or mastering words of spoken Spanish had shattered centuries of fear or hatred ...

 So the presence in every neighborhood of solar and wind co-ops, shaped by the neighbors down the block or in the nearest farm-house, can convince the people who had denounced the global-scorching science as a hoax.

 So playing in real life the ecological game of jigsaw puzzle can teach us that the very fact of our differences can become the facts that make it possible for us to fit together in a community, a One.

 If we choose, if we act, if we enact the practices and laws that allow us to fit ourselves together.

If we steadfastly refuse to be enemies without compromising our hope to be our fullest selves.

 

 

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Noon, Jan 20: If we create the future in the present., the One from the differences that we can fit together ---

Baruch attah YHWH elohenu ruach ha’olam, sheh’hekhianu v’kimanu v‘higianu lazman hazeh.

 Blessed are you, breath of life, creative energy within us and beyond us, Interbreathing Spirit of the universe, who has filled us with life, lifted us up, and carried us to this moment.

 How do we unite the new President’s call for Unity we heard this noontime with the outcry for justice, for equality, for truth, for a healing peace not only with each other human beings but also with Earth that sustains all life – when so many among us doubt or decry those very values?

 Through action. Through making the future in the present. 

 As the reality of broadened health care convinced those who had denounced the law that made it happen when it still was merely words on paper ...

 As the presence of a gay or lesbian son or daughter gentled many a family that had raged against the blurring of the genders ...

 As worshipping next to a Jew or a Muslim, as silently meditating alongside a Hindu or a Buddhist,  had opened the hearts of many who had thought the Other mere idolators ...

 As moving their bodies to jazz or mastering words of spoken Spanish had shattered centuries of fear or hatred ...

 So the presence in every neighborhood of solar and wind co-ops, shaped by the neighbors down the block or in the nearest farm-house, can convince the people who had denounced the global-scorching science as a hoax.

 So playing in real life the ecological game of jigsaw puzzle can teach us that the very fact of our differences can become the facts that make it possible for us to fit together in a community, a One.

 If we choose, if we act, if we enact the practices and laws that allow us to fit ourselves together.

If we steadfastly refuse to be enemies without compromising our hope to be our fullest selves.

 

 

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Why & How to Bless the Breath of Life

 Please feel free to share this and discuss it with your friends and congregants . I’d be delighted to hear what responses, criticisms, and insights  you and they have. Write me at Awaskow@theshalomcenter.org Shabbat shalom, Arthur  

 

This week’s Torah portion begins (Exodus 6: 1): “I am YHWH. I was seen by Abraham, by Isaac, and by Jacob as  El Shaddai [God Many-Breasted], but by my name YHWH I was not known to them.” The Voice says this in Egypt, adding this historical note to the God-Name that had come to Moses at the Burning Bush. It came just after Pharaoh had sneered at being told YHWH demanded Time Off for a Holy Gathering for the Israelites, and had made their forced labor much harder – “bricks without straw.” The enslaved Israelites had blamed Moses for their worsened plight.

 Why this historical footnote? It teaches us that a name of God is a way of thinking about the nature of the universe. “God Many-Breasted” meant that the job of the universe is to nourish Humanity. YHWH mean something more complicated. Those letters can only be “pronounced” by breathing. That means the universe is an intertwining of breath. 

 What human beings breathe out into the universe deeply affects what the universe breathes back. If Pharaoh pours cruelty into the world, the world will respond with cruelty – the Plagues. If Humanity pours more CO2 into planet Earth than all its vegetation can transmute to oxygen, the CO2 builds up and the world overheats into fire, floods, and famine. The Plagues that were about to come upon Egypt could not be explained by seeing the world as simply a nourishing breast.

 For about two thousand years, many of our religious communities have used the God-Names “King” and “Lord” to speak our sense of the world.  That legitimates Domination, Subjugation as the way the world is organized. But long ago farmers and shepherds knew that was not really true, and ecologists know it now. When we learn that trillions of microscopic creatures live in our guts and have a deep effect upon our brains, even though we cannot even see them, we must recognize that the world is not top down. The “Breath of life”” is far truer as a way of understanding the world.

One more learning from this verse. It comes just after the nascent “Brickmakers Union Local 1,”as A.J. Muste called the barely organized Israelite workers, had collapsed under the burden of Boss Pharaoh’s wrathful fury. Why just then, not at the Burning Bush when the YHWH Name first came to Moses?

 I think to tell him that his own soft-heartedness had led him to waffle about the new Name. That he had listened overmuch to Israelites who said they were comfortable with the Name they had learned as children, that surely it did not matter what Name they used. And Moses had shrugged: Perhaps it did not matter. But it did. We cannot transform the world, we will   be unable to press our case with vigorous determination, if we slip and slide into an older understanding of the world, no longer true. 

The warning is as true today as it was in the story of 3,000 years ago. To Name our world as built on Domination, Subjugation, is to collapse in the helplessness of “I Can’t Breathe” in the face of racist brutality, “We Can’t Breathe” in the face of a pandemic virus and its complicit rulers, “Earth Can’t Breathe” in the face of giant corporations that insist on making hyperwealth by pouring CO2 into our planet’s air.

It is time for us, NOW, to change our way of understanding. To Name God more truthfully than  “King” or “Lord”: “Breath of Life,  Interbreathing Spirit of the universe.”  Thus:

 Baruch attah YAHHH, elohenu ruach ha’olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvot, vitzvanu  la’asok b’divrei Torah. [Could also be in feminine, “Bruchah aht,” “kidshatnu,” and “vitzivatnu.”]

Blessed are you, Breath of Life, our creative energy, Interbreathing Spirit of the universe, who makes us holy through acts of connection and connects us through using the Breath we share with  all life to speak words with each other that aim toward wisdom, becoming our own words of Torah. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ecstatic Visions: Passover, Easter, MLK

Today is the 8th and final day of Pesach, in many Diaspora communities. It is also Easter in most Christian communities. And it is April 4, the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s most profound speech in 1967 and of his death in 1968 --  a sacred date to an increasing number of Americans. This last date in past and present will be honored tonight at 7 pm Eastern time by the reading of Dr. King's greatest speech, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" by a group of national truth-tellers. We will explain this third date – today – in more detail close to the end of this Shalom Report.

Both the final day of Passover and the final day of Holy Week could be described as calling forth an ecstatic vision, affirming and transcending the highest notions of political freedom and justice.

The Prophetic reading for the last day of Passover is a passage from Isaiah, including the ecstatic vision of Chapter 8:


But a shoot shall grow out of the stump of Jesse, A twig shall sprout from his stock.

The ruach [spirit /breath /wind] of YHWH [the Breath of Life] shall alight upon him:

A ruach of wisdom and insight, A ruach of counsel and valor,

A ruach of devotion and reverence for YHWH [the Breath of Life].

He shall sense the truth by his reverence for YHWH [the Breath of Life]:

He shall not judge only by what his eyes see, Nor decide only by what his ears hear.

For he shall judge the poor with equity And decide with justice for the lowly of the land.

He shall strike down a land with the rod of his mouth

And slay the wicked with the breath of his lips.

Justice shall be the belt around his loins, And faithfulness the belt around his waist.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard lie down with the kid;

The calf, the beast of prey, and the fatling together, With a small child leading them.

The cow and the bear shall graze, Their young shall lie down together;

And the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw.

A babe shall play Over a viper’s hole, And an infant pass his hand Over an adder’s den.

In all of My sacred mount Nothing vile or evil shall be done;

For the land shall be filled with deep knowing of YHWH [the Breath of Life]

As water covers the sea.

Here even what seems like violence – striking a land, killing the wicked – is done by speech, by persuasion. By nonviolence. And then the ecstatic vision takes off entirely: in even the order of nature, of God’s more-than-human Creation, violence shall end.

For Easter, we begin with the Holy Week of nonviolent resistance to Rome. Just a few days before Pesach, a protest march from the Mount of Olives into the midst of Jerusalem, scattering palm branches  -- a sign of spring and new life, as a modern protest might wave placards of defiance. Singing songs of joy, psalms well-known to the people. Climaxing with a challenge to the official system  supported by the Empire:

         And Jesus went into the Temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple, and overthrew            the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said to them, ”It is written, “My house shall be           called the house of prayer.’ But you have made it a den of thieves.”

The week proceeds with a Pesach Seder where the band of resisters plan the next steps. It is infiltrated by a paid hireling of the Empire’s secret police, who betrays then to the police. Rabbi Jesus is arrested, subjected to a “perp walk” through the city, and crucified  -- tortured to death.

 And three days later, the urge for freedom surges into an ecstatic vision: the despised prisoner who dared to resist the Empire is restored to life. The normal order of nature is reversed.  And the political order is transformed as well: the crucified rabbi becomes a transcendent hero and the God of the Empire that killed him.

In Jewish tradition, ten great rabbis tortured and killed by Rome are remembered by chanting their story on the holiest day of Jewish reverence, Yom Kippur. The nearest the story comes to an ecstatic reversal of the natural order is not the resurrection of any of the ten rabbis but their “immortalization” through memory and one element of Rabbi Akiba’s death. Akiba is sad to have smiled while  being tortured, turning his torture and death into a midrash on the meaning of the Sh’ma.

Half a century ago, the nonviolent spiritual leader Martin Luther King, who resisted governmental injustice  -- racism and war --  was murdered on  the first anniversary of his speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” In it he prophetically warned the deadly “triplets” haunting America – militarism, racism, and materialism – would ruin America if they were left to fester. Perhaps he used the word “triplets” instead of “trio” to point out they share the same DNA -- the impulse to dominate and subjugate. We have watched other forms of the same DNA – sexism, hatred of foreigners, religious bigotry, contempt for the processs of democratic elections and workers’ rights and the free press, contempt for and poisoning of our mothering Earth – bring death and despair to many Americans.

Dr. King’s ecstatic vision did not call for tha transformation of the natural world. It focused on the transformation of human society:

“Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.

"A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

"This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men.

"Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.

"We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation."

Dr. King has been immortalized in many ways – a national holy day in his name, the creation of the Freedom Seder and its being first held on April 4 -- the first anniversary of his death—and in many instances for the last half century on a date very close. For the 50th anniversary, on April 7, 2019, a Freedom Seder held in a Philadelphia Mosque, the Freedom Seder built to a climax with the Prophetic speech of Reverend William Barber II, who drew on Jeremiah to call for a march to the “royal palace”  -- the White House --  of our own corrupt and murderous king.

And now there has arisen a new way of calling out the Prophet Martin’s truth.This very evening, a band of national leaders will take turns reading his speech about the deadly triplets. Here is how you can join in the moment:

Click NOW to KINGANDBREAKSILENCE.ORG.

The Shalom Center is a co-sponsor of the reading.

 With blessings of freedom and eco/ social justice, Arthur

Plague Year I Ends: Now What?

After a year of the “Eleventh Plague,” made far worse by a cruel and egomaniacal pharaoh, the American people have decided against the worst of futures – descent into fascism and destruction of Earth. But we remain poised in uncertainty, at the edge of our own version of the Red Sea.

The choice then was the choice between "normalcy" with Pharaoh's Army or a plunge into the Unknown of freedom. Do we want to return to the “normalcy” of big numbers of “left-out,” “forgotten” Americans – Black and brown and Indigenous, white and rural and desperate? That “normalcy” bred the fury of the last four years.  

Or do we want to venture into the Unknown of growing a more just, compassionate, and loving society?

We remain uncertain: Will we choose only to smooth the jagged edges of disaster wrought by Coronavirus, as the just-barely-passed American Rescue Act does?  Or to heal ourselves from the deeper danger of worsening inequality of wealth and income, from the attack on democratic elections and democracy itself, and to heal our deeply wounded planet?

 The danger to democracy and to Earth are deeply intertwined. The Hyperwealthy Carbon Pharaohs who make their money by scorching Mother Earth into fires, floods, freezes, and famines and their allies in government, banking, and propaganda media use some of their obscene wealth to buy laws that reduce their taxes, increase the power of wealth in buying elections, and reduce the voting ability of marginalized groups who would oppose them.

And there is an even deeper connection. The impulse to dominate and subjugate other human beings colors in blood our behavior toward other life-forms. And the impulse to exploit and subjugate Earth colors our behavior toward human groups we subjugate.

That impulse to Subjugate can only be cured by spiritual transformation --  community-wide spiritual transformation, what we often mistakeny call something utterly different --- politics.

 To redirect that impulse and grow from the grass roots a society of justice, compassion, and love will take support for renewed and more inclusive democracy; both neighborhood and national action for healing Earth and the Human-Earthlings intertwined with her; and the mobilization of faith communities to create a shared spirituality of justice, compassion, and the Loving Eco-Society.

 These three imperatives will govern the work of The Shalom Center.

A. We will support action to strengthen and expand our democracy. This will include national action like the passage of the For the People bill and the John Lewis Voting Rights Enforcement Act. (To learn more about these two major corrections to our broken election system, click to https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/how-to-restore-and-strengthen-voting-rights-act and

https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/people-act-americas-next-great-civil-rights-bill

We will support abolishing or radically reshaping the filibuster, now an intrinsically antidemocratic process that worsens the anti-democratic structure of the US Senate. We will support action to provide statehood to the people of the District of Columbia, and to end partisan and racist gerrymandering.   We will support efforts to fulfill Torah's command to make reparations for the subjugation of a whole people in slavery. We will let you know when a crucial moment comes for these actions, and offer you the means to make a difference.

B. We will support efforts in the Jewish and other faith communities to initiate solar and wind co-ops in rural as well as urban and suburban neighborhoods; to support efforts to win national funding for such co-ops; to empower the poor, the Black, the Latinx, the Native communities to end their subjugation to the poisonous byproducts of the Carbon industries; to end the use of “forever plastics” and dangerous biochemicals as “eco-treyf” (un-kosher) products that sicken human beings and kill many life-forms; to transform agriculture to restore the land and fit with changes in food use that heal both land and people; to encourage space for wild-life to flourish; and to embody “the Covenant of Noah” to protect all life-forms from danger of extinction.

C. We will enrich a transformative religious life that sees all spiritual and religious communities as committed to the enhancement of Humanity and Earth, not only to its own narrow interests. We will share interpretations of Torah that illuminate this vision, teachings like Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion that point toward such communities. We will suggest and provide ways of drawing on the sacred festivals of every tradition to create public policy that heals our Earth. 

With the sacred times approaching of Passover (First Seder March 27), Holy Week (Palm Sunday March 28), and Ramadan (1st day of fasting, April 13), periods of interior and public liberation, we call on all of us to affirm our transformation.

 

We know that all humanity and along with humanity, all Earth, faces a choice between the Great Turning to the sharing of abundance, respect, and love -- or a descent into misery and death. We at The Shalom Center will do our best to provide the ideas and suggest the actions that will help us actually make the Great Turning.

Torah Today: When the Most Sacred Becomes an Idol

This week’s Torah portion begins with Exodus 32:1 (Everett Fox’s translation, The Five Books of Moses, Schocken):

“Now when the people saw that Moshe was shamefully-late in coming down from the mountain, the people assembled against Aharon and said to him: Arise, make us a god who will go before us, for this Moshe, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!

Aharon said to them: Break off the gold rings that are in the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters, and bring (them) to me.

All the people broke off the gold rings that were in their ears, and brought (them) to Aharon.

He took (them) from their hand, fashioned it with a graving-tool, and made it into a molten calf.

Then they said: This is your God, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!"


This – the Golden Calf – is the model of idolatry in the Hebrew Bible and for many cultures and communities for the last few thousand years.

The question that occurs to me is, “Why did Moses take so long before he came back to the people from the summit of Sinai?”

And when I looked at what the story says is going on at the mountaintop, a great proportion of it is not the Ten Utterances, not the rules and regulations of sacred daily practice, but the description of the portable Sanctuary, the Shrine or Mishkan. Descriptions of gold, silver, purple, scarlet, fur, cloth. Great detail.

Almost as if God become obsessed with the Shrine. Almost as if the Shrine, the Mishkan, had become God’s Own golden calf, God’s own idol. From that perspective, not so surprising that the response of the people was to create an idol.

Imagine a story in which God spoke briefly: Build me a Shrine. It needs a slaughter-site, incense, gorgeou colors. Go figure it out!

Would the people have gotten so fearful, feeling so abandoned, that they needed an idol?

What does this teach us? It reminds me of a story in the Talmud: Some of the ancient Rabbis decide to hunt for the evil impulse that stirs some people to give in to idolatry. They hunt and hunt, and finally find it hiding in the most sacred place, the Holy of Holies at the heart of the Temple.

Both tales warn us: It is possible to turn what is most holy into an idol. Those who destroyed the Twin Towers in New York, killing about 3,000 people, said they were avenging the US desecration of the sacred sites of Saudi Arabia by putting military bases there. They turned that sacred land into their idol. Some Catholics refused to cleanse the Catholic Church of child abusers because they did not want to bring the sacred Church into scandal. They made the Church into their idol. Some Jews have refused to criticize the Government of the State of Israel when it maltreated Palestinians because they thought they were protecting Israel’s reputation. For them, Israel became not a sacred place of freedom but an idol. 

With the true God, you can argue and criticize as Abraham did. With the true God you can wrestle, as Jacob did, giving the name Yisrael,  Godwrestler, to the whole people. An idol is what you must not criticize. An idol is what you think too sacred to criticize. An idol is what you think so sacred you can kill the innocent to protect it.

Look around. Ask yourself, your true Self: have I mySelf turned what is holy into an idol?

The Puzzle of Purim

The puzzle of Purim is upon us. Is it funny, or frightening? A story of triumph? Or does it end with an act of terror, and a terrible mistake?

Let’s start with Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther.

According to the Megillah, the events of Purim invented the Megillah. According to modern linguists and historians, the Megillah invented the events of Purim. It’s not history, it’s a satire on pompous kings and genocidal rulers. The Megillah itself was a farcical tale --  the first “Purimspiel” -- that went along with the craziness of early spring, when even the trees dress their bare nakedness in costumes of green, and many spiritual and religious communities celebrate with bawdy ridicule.

There is even a tip-off in the tale itself: it says that if we check in the archives of the kings of Persia, we will find the whole story. But we can check in the archives of the Kings of Persia, and there’s no such story. The Megillah itself is a joke; in fact it’s two jokes, and they are the same joke.

It’s a classic joke: “hoist on your own petard,” or “slip on your own banana peel.” That’s the double joke. The king starts the whole story in motion by insisting that no woman is ever going to tell him what to do. He brings about the story that ends with him doing exactly what Esther tells him to do. The anti-anti-feminism joke.

A bloodier version of the same joke: Haman gets the second plot of the story going by planning a genocide of the Jews and the hanging of Mordecai in particular. He ends up being hanged on the gallows he intended for Mordecai, and with the death of 75,000 Persians at the hands of the Jews.  The anti-antisemitism joke.

It is a great story for a people that has no power and can laugh and revel in a story where power is so stupid that it turns its own power into an alcoholic stupor.

But if the people of Purim become powerful, the story becomes dangerous. On Purim morning in 1994, a Jewish man thought he was blessed because he was named “Baruch” but became “Aror, Accursed,” by killing 29 Muslims prostrate in prayer at the tomb of Abraham, the legendary ancestor of both the Jews and the Arabs, of both Judaism and Islam.

Jewish tradition teaches that on Purim we should know the mystical identity of two seemingly utterly disparate statements: “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Accursed is Haman.” In Hebrew, the two phrases have the same arithmetical value, but the identity goes even deeper than gematria. How were they identical? Both assumed a story of Power-above and Courage-below. If you are caught in that story, both the defeat of the Power-hungry and the victory of those who birth courage from their own terror may turn to ashes in your mouth. Best to make sure you never get caught in the story, never get caught in cruelty masking as pomposity. Use the power of laughter --  Saturday Night Live or the late-night stand-up comics -- to hustle away a would-be Ahasuerus or Haman. If laughter fails, we may need the civil disobedience of Esther, or even the plagues of Pharaoh, a month later.

The rabbinic tradition assumes that to get to that place of deep unity we need to drink some alcohol or smoke some dope. Little did the rabbis imagine that a Jew with the power to murder could confound “baruch” and “aror” in himself or in us all, by pouring out blood.

Or perhaps they did recognize the possibility, and tried to forfend it. Today, this very day, in rabbinic tradition, is the Fast of Esther – the 13th of Adar, the day before Purim. Why impose a fast in the midst of what the rabbis hoped would be hilarity?

There’s a history. In the midst of the Maccabeean war against a tyrannical empire and a “modernizing” Jewish community, a Syrian general named Nicanor was defeated.

(A detour to explain the history:  The Maccabeean war was actually partly anti-imperialist and partly a civil war, Maccabees and their more traditional followers vs Jews who thought Hellenization was fine – call them “modernizers” or “assimilationists,” depending on your own views. Interestingly, the rabbis were uncomfortable with the Maccabees  -- not wanting to encourage military uprisings, especially because of the mass enslavement of Jews after the Bar Kochba revolt.  Yom Nicanor wasn’t the only thing that got erased. The Books of the Maccabees were rejected from the Tanakh, survived only in Greek (another joke of Purim) and were treated as holy only by Christians. The Talmud on Hanukkah, the premier Maccabeean festival, begins, “Mah zot Hanukkah,” “What is this Hanukkah, anyway?” and then focuses away from the revolt in favor of the miracle of the Menorah oil.)

Back to that day: –- The 13th of Adar became Yom Nicanor, a day of celebrating a military victory. By proclaiming the Fast of Esther, the rabbis shattered Yom Nicanor. They tried hard to prevent Baruch/Aror Goldstein. They failed, and today and even tomorrow on Purim itself, we need to contemplate the dangers of becoming so Power-filled that our own violence comes to seem normal.

ON the Fast of Esther one year after the massacre, here in Mt. Airy  (Philadelphia) we held a solemn assembly – a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim each spoke about the bloody streaks in his/her/their/our own tradition. Then we celebrated Purim with joy and abandon. The idea didn’t become annual practice. Maybe it still needs to.  Having got rid of our own Ahasurus-Haman by laughter and disobedient courage, let us laugh more and party tonight. Freilach Purim!

Sen. Cruz: ”I’ll believe ...when Texas freezes over”

 

I misreported the "Cruz tweet." It was a fake, broadly circulated on social media to hundreds of thousands of people.  I apologize. He never promised to believe in "climate change" if Texas frose over. T

But this past week, Texas froze. All over. Dozens died, maybe hundreds.  Can we expect Senator Cruz to change, even thoigh he didn't promise to?

No, because his false and stubborn denial of climate crisis was not the product of stupidity or ignorance. It was the product of vicious corruption. It was the product of selling himself, body and soul, to the Carbon Pharaohs who brought this Plague upon Texas.

 If the years they and he imposed servitude to Coal and Oil had instead been used to emplace solar-energy co-ops, those years would have saved lives and limbs of Texans “lost” when Global Scorching, Weather Weirding, poured unprecedented cold and snow on Texas. Those lives and limbs and futures were not “lost,” like a stray quarter fallen on the ground by accident. Not “lost” but robbed, killed, destroyed, by the Greed of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Banking, and their toady senators and governors.

Did Cruz care? Not hardly. His money paid for a swift trip to Cancun, Mexico, because his own house was “freezing.”

What can we do? The Shalom Center is supporting a campaign initiated (just before the Texas Freeze) by Solar United Neighbors (SUN) for a federal program to fund the solarization of 30 million American homes.

There are two major ways in which Jewish and other faith communities can build this effort:

  1. Synagogues, churches, mosques, temples, and other congregations can direct their energy to organizing neighbor-based or congregant-based solar co-ops, just as they organize adult-study groups, tikkun-olam projects, and special observances of festivals. In other words, they can define solar co-ops as a religious expression or even a mitzvah -- an obligation, in order to save Earth and Humanity from climate chaos, save neighhborhoods from economic despair, and provide local resilience through co-ops already on the ground if disaster strikes.
  1. Congregations and their support denominations, clergy organizations, interfaith and multireligious organizations can organize to support the “30 Million Solar Homes” campaign. To prevent the Big Freeze in Texas, the Big Wildfire in California, unprecedented floods in the Midwest, climate chaos everywhere.

This approach is urged on us by the needs of today: the planetary need to shift from burning fossil fuels to drawing on energy from the sun, the neighborly need to meet the economic and spiritual needs of neighborhoods made desperate by the absence of jobs and the absence of a future. 

And let us respond to a teaching of hope from a crisis long ago that speaks even more boldly to a crisis of today: the astounding ancient words of the Prophet Malachi, spoken about 2500 years ago:

 "Here! The day is coming

That will flame like a furnace, “

Says the Infinite YHWH / Yahhhh,

The Breath of Life --...

“Yet for those of you who revere My Name,

Yes! My Name, Yahhhh, the Interbreath of Life!

a sun of justice will arise

with healing in its wings / its rays.”

                 (Malachi 3: 19-20)                

We indeed see the "solar energy" of the sun's rays as the healing of unbearable heating of Earth into a furnace. We see the solar solution as a sacred remedy -- not all we need to do, but crucial. Please write us at Solar@theshalomcenter.org if you want specific resources to work on this campaign in your own community.

For us, this did not begin overnight. The Shalom Center -- for reasons economic, ecological, and spiritual -- has been working with SUN for six years, and as a result The Shalom Center inspired and organized the creation of the Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op.

Several months ago, we began urging a national program that would support solar and wind co-ops in every sort of neighborhood – farm and rural as well as big-city and suburban. We saw this partly as a way of dissolving some of the bitter hostility to the concept of renewable energy, just as  the reality of Obamacare dissolved much of he original bitter opposition to the idea.

Bill McKibben was excited by the proposal, and praised it in his New Yorker column. Then we discovered that SUN was developing a very similar proposal for national legislation.

In our Hanukkah 2020 webinar (for the festival of conserving energy –  one day’s worth of olive oil that served the sacred need for eight days) we reported the first stages of the SUN program. Beginning at a Tu B’Shvat webinar, we have worked closely with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) on what became SUN’s “30 Million Solar Homes” campaign.   

Last week, The Shalom Center started calling and emailing a number of Jewish groups to support the “30 Million” program.  COEJL, the Jewish Climate Action Network (JCAN)  of Boston, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, have already responded -- not only signing on but also ready to do the work of organizing. “Dayenu” agreed to sign as a symbol of support. We will keep working to bring more Jewish and multireligious support.

Moreover, we and COEJL have proposed the creation of a “Faith Collaborative” to work with SUN within the broad coalition.

Again: We see this as a major priority. Please write us at Solar@theshalomcenter.org if you want specific resources to work on this in your own community. And if you wish to help The Shalom Center do this work of prophetic organizing, please click on the “Contribute” banner in the left margin of  this page.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste!  -- Arthur

When Life Reminds us of Torah; When Torah Reminds us of Life

Only seven Republican senators voted to convict the former president of inciting insurrection. That reminded me of the passage in the Book of Genesis (18:16-33) when Abraham argues with God: "Shall not the Judge of all the world do justice?” Should God really destroy all of Sodom for its sin of hating foreigners? What if there were decent people among its citizens who will die in the disaster? Abraham starts, “What if there were 50 decent people; would that be enough to spare the city?” God agrees to refrain. What about 40? 30? 20? 10?

 And then Abraham stops. He doesn’t ask God to save the city if there were seven decent citizens, or five, or one. Why not? Because Abraham and God both know it takes at least 10 people to transform an evil society for the good. Ten who will have each others’ backs, ten who will hold and heal each other when they are wounded, ten who will love each other, ten who will protect each other, ten who will help each other speak out against tyranny.

There were not ten Republican senators to stand together, and their absence portends the ruin of their party. May God grant its ruin will not bring down fire, flood, and famine on our lovely and beloved planet – – as Sodom went up in smoke.

*** ***

The Torah portion this Shabbat (Terumah, Exodus 25-27) describes Moses on the mountain listening to God describe the portable Mishkan or Shrine of the Presence that the Israelites would learn to carry in their journey through the wilderness. When Moses cannot quite understand the description given in words, God provides the first Power Point, showing pictures of golden implements, scarlet and purple hangings, the details of its beauty.

The people themselves were to gather, to sew, to smelt, to tie the pieces together with grommets, to untie and retie them when the Shrine of the Presence needed to move. 

For years, it seemed to me this was an overdoing of sacred Art. And then a member of my congregation came back from the first Gay Pride gathering in Washington DC. She described how thousands of people had sewn thousands of squares of cloth in gorgeous color or black mourning, each remembering someone who had died of AIDS, each with grommets at its corners to tie one square to another when the gigantic Quilt was ready for display, ready to be untied when the Quilt was ready to be moved to some new city.

The word "grommet" transfixed me. The Quilt was a Mishkan, a Shrine. The Mishkan was a Quilt. Each was the first defiant acts of beauty of people who had been closed in, in narrow slavery; of people who had been closed in, in narrow closets. The Quilt, the Mishkan, were triumphs of liberty. Each was portable, meant to be carried to those who had not yet heard the message: Freedom! Joy, even in the midst of sorrow. Beauty! 

The abence of ten made disgrace, threatened ruin. The Presence of thousands made beauty and freedom. Each a lesson for our time.

Noon, Jan 20: If we create the future in the present, the One from the differences that we can fit together ---

Baruch attah YHWH elohenu ruach ha’olam, sheh’hekhianu v’kimanu v‘higianu lazman hazeh.

 Blessed are you, breath of life, creative energy within us and beyond us, Interbreathing Spirit of the universe, who has filled us with life, lifted us up, and carried us to this moment.

 How do we unite the new President’s call for Unity we heard this noontime with the outcry for justice, for equality, for truth, for a healing peace not only with each other human beings but also with Earth that sustains all life – when so many among us doubt or decry those very values?

 Through action. Through making the future in the present. 

 As the reality of broadened health care convinced those who had denounced the law that made it happen when it still was merely words on paper ...

 As the presence of a gay or lesbian son or daughter gentled many a family that had raged against the blurring of the genders ...

 As worshipping next to a Jew or a Muslim, as silently meditating alongside a Hindu or a Buddhist,  had opened the hearts of many who had thought the Other mere idolators ...

 As moving their bodies to jazz or mastering words of spoken Spanish had shattered centuries of fear or hatred ...

 So the presence in every neighborhood of solar and wind co-ops, shaped by the neighbors down the block or in the nearest farm-house, can convince the people who had denounced the global-scorching science as a hoax.

 So playing in real life the ecological game of jigsaw puzzle can teach us that the very fact of our differences can become the facts that make it possible for us to fit together in a community, a One.

 If we choose, if we act, if we enact the practices and laws that allow us to fit ourselves together.

If we steadfastly refuse to be enemies without compromising our hope to be our fullest selves.

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Noon, Jan 20: If we create the future in the present., the One from the differences that we can fit together ---

Baruch attah YHWH elohenu ruach ha’olam, sheh’hekhianu v’kimanu v‘higianu lazman hazeh.

 Blessed are you, breath of life, creative energy within us and beyond us, Interbreathing Spirit of the universe, who has filled us with life, lifted us up, and carried us to this moment.

 How do we unite the new President’s call for Unity we heard this noontime with the outcry for justice, for equality, for truth, for a healing peace not only with each other human beings but also with Earth that sustains all life – when so many among us doubt or decry those very values?

 Through action. Through making the future in the present. 

 As the reality of broadened health care convinced those who had denounced the law that made it happen when it still was merely words on paper ...

 As the presence of a gay or lesbian son or daughter gentled many a family that had raged against the blurring of the genders ...

 As worshipping next to a Jew or a Muslim, as silently meditating alongside a Hindu or a Buddhist,  had opened the hearts of many who had thought the Other mere idolators ...

 As moving their bodies to jazz or mastering words of spoken Spanish had shattered centuries of fear or hatred ...

 So the presence in every neighborhood of solar and wind co-ops, shaped by the neighbors down the block or in the nearest farm-house, can convince the people who had denounced the global-scorching science as a hoax.

 So playing in real life the ecological game of jigsaw puzzle can teach us that the very fact of our differences can become the facts that make it possible for us to fit together in a community, a One.

 If we choose, if we act, if we enact the practices and laws that allow us to fit ourselves together.

If we steadfastly refuse to be enemies without compromising our hope to be our fullest selves.

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Why & How to Bless the Breath of Life

 Please feel free to share this and discuss it with your friends and congregants . I’d be delighted to hear what responses, criticisms, and insights  you and they have. Write me at Awaskow@theshalomcenter.org Shabbat shalom, Arthur  

 

This week’s Torah portion begins (Exodus 6: 1): “I am YHWH. I was seen by Abraham, by Isaac, and by Jacob as  El Shaddai [God Many-Breasted], but by my name YHWH I was not known to them.” The Voice says this in Egypt, adding this historical note to the God-Name that had come to Moses at the Burning Bush. It came just after Pharaoh had sneered at being told YHWH demanded Time Off for a Holy Gathering for the Israelites, and had made their forced labor much harder – “bricks without straw.” The enslaved Israelites had blamed Moses for their worsened plight.

 Why this historical footnote? It teaches us that a name of God is a way of thinking about the nature of the universe. “God Many-Breasted” meant that the job of the universe is to nourish Humanity. YHWH mean something more complicated. Those letters can only be “pronounced” by breathing. That means the universe is an intertwining of breath. 

 What human beings breathe out into the universe deeply affects what the universe breathes back. If Pharaoh pours cruelty into the world, the world will respond with cruelty – the Plagues. If Humanity pours more CO2 into planet Earth than all its vegetation can transmute to oxygen, the CO2 builds up and the world overheats into fire, floods, and famine. The Plagues that were about to come upon Egypt could not be explained by seeing the world as simply a nourishing breast.

 For about two thousand years, many of our religious communities have used the God-Names “King” and “Lord” to speak our sense of the world.  That legitimates Domination, Subjugation as the way the world is organized. But long ago farmers and shepherds knew that was not really true, and ecologists know it now. When we learn that trillions of microscopic creatures live in our guts and have a deep effect upon our brains, even though we cannot even see them, we must recognize that the world is not top down. The “Breath of life”” is far truer as a way of understanding the world.

One more learning from this verse. It comes just after the nascent “Brickmakers Union Local 1,”as A.J. Muste called the barely organized Israelite workers, had collapsed under the burden of Boss Pharaoh’s wrathful fury. Why just then, not at the Burning Bush when the YHWH Name first came to Moses?

 I think to tell him that his own soft-heartedness had led him to waffle about the new Name. That he had listened overmuch to Israelites who said they were comfortable with the Name they had learned as children, that surely it did not matter what Name they used. And Moses had shrugged: Perhaps it did not matter. But it did. We cannot transform the world, we will   be unable to press our case with vigorous determination, if we slip and slide into an older understanding of the world, no longer true. 

The warning is as true today as it was in the story of 3,000 years ago. To Name our world as built on Domination, Subjugation, is to collapse in the helplessness of “I Can’t Breathe” in the face of racist brutality, “We Can’t Breathe” in the face of a pandemic virus and its complicit rulers, “Earth Can’t Breathe” in the face of giant corporations that insist on making hyperwealth by pouring CO2 into our planet’s air.

It is time for us, NOW, to change our way of understanding. To Name God more truthfully than  “King” or “Lord”: “Breath of Life,  Interbreathing Spirit of the universe.”  Thus:

 Baruch attah YAHHH, elohenu ruach ha’olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvot, vitzvanu  la’asok b’divrei Torah. [Could also be in feminine, “Bruchah aht,” “kidshatnu,” and “vitzivatnu.”]

Blessed are you, Breath of Life, our creative energy, Interbreathing Spirit of the universe, who makes us holy through acts of connection and connects us through using the Breath we share with  all life to speak words with each other that aim toward wisdom, becoming our own words of Torah. 

Living Still lnside the Book of Exodus? What Now?

 Torah Still Coming

Last week our would-be Pharaoh Trump reached the crucial point of his reign: Should he mobilize the red-hat chariots and drown in the Reed Sea, or grumpily relinquish power? We know what he chose. But the danger of Pharaoh does not end with him. We ourselves have not yet crossed the Sea, chosen a new way of understanding World, affirmed a new Name of God. A Name that intertwines us, interbreathes us, not a Name of Domination, Subjugation.

In the old Egyptian culture, Pharaoh was already seen as a god. His power went to his head. Stiffened his heart. He began to believe his own propaganda about the dangerous Israelites, the Ivrim. They speak a different tongue, worship a different God. They come from somewhere else – globalists, cosmopolitans.

He decided it would be a guarantee of his own power to erase them as a separate community. He issued the order to separate new-born babies from their mothers.  Then murder them. Best to start there. Soon he can kill the grown-ups too.

But some people are horrified. Women -- two midwives and then his own daughter – begin creating a Resistance movement. They start saving children’s lives, including one Moses. Fearing the Pharaoh’s racist police, Moses disappears.

Years later he reappears, possessed of a burning new vision, announcing that the very Name of God must change. A new “Name of God” meant understanding the world in a new way, and then changing the world to embody the new vision. The old Name, “El Shaddai, God of many Breasts,” was about a human society always fed by the nourishing Nile. But now the people must learn that they are part of Earth, not separate from it, not the boss of it.

Every breath they took was interwoven with all other interbreathing life. If they acted cruel, Earth would act cruel toward them. Not a punishment, simply a consequence. The only way to prevent a plague was to breathe into Earth and let Earth breathe into them.  The new Name, just Breathing, YHWH, intertwined all people and all life-forms.

But Pharaoh sneers. “Breathing? That’s a God-Name? Can’t even hear it, it’s so weak. The Nile, Osiris, ME –- I am a God you can hear, you must obey!”

Bragging, he treats Nile and Earth and Sky like tools of his own power, bringing on disaster. Some of his advisers warn him. But by this time he has become addicted to his own power; he fires the advisers and hires sycophants. At each disaster, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, and a growing number of critics warm him that he is fighting against the whole process of universal Consequence. At each disaster he first recoils and then returns to his own hubris: The disaster? “Stuff happens!” 

But then his arrogant treatment of Earth brings a devastating disease to afflict his own citizens, his wife, himself. At first he tries to dismiss it. But it grows so terrible that his own Egyptian supporters start denouncing him. He tells the “wetback” foreigners not only that they are free to Go, but they Must Depart. He tells his people to offer them gifts of gold and silver as reparations for hundreds of years of subjugation. 

The cosmopolitan Ivrim smear blood on their doorways as a symbol of going forth from blood-encircled wombs of rebirth, and leave. Many Egyptians sign petitions that he resign and allow his compassionate half-immigrant daughter to become Pharaoh.

And now comes the moment of fateful decision. Pharaoh wakes up the next morning. Should he accept his fall from power, or mobilize a new variety of brown-shirted, armed Egyptians to catch the Israelites at the edge of the Reed Sea, and force them back into slavery? Remind them that back in Egypt forced labor always came with the onions and garlic that they loved, whilst they will have only “God-knows-what?” = Mahn-hu” = “manna”” to eat if they cross the Sea into a wilderness. 

 

So he sends his brown-shirt bullies, legitimated by his own speeches anointing them as the real patriots but only if they will fight in wild melee against the corrupt old leadership. What will the people do? 

Choose the normalcy of slavery with garlic? Or make themselves a civil-disobedient Sea of Reeds, bending and swaying but always returning thick and bristly to block the path of Subjugation?

Announcing we will no longer obey this Pharaoh and his bully-boy brown-shirts? Reaching out to his frightened, despairing followers with new tools, windmills and solar collectors, to make peace with wounded Earth?  Choosing to hear our own ”still small Voice of Breath,” pointing our way toward a Loving and Beloved Community?

It’s up to us. It always has been.

At about 4 pm on Infamous Insurrection Wednesday, we were one of the very first  groups  to urge our members to call Congress and demand Trump be impeached. Done! Now, if you want to end the power of our would-be Pharaoh and prevent a future effort, call 1202-224-3121. Ask for your own Senators or Sen. McConnell, who says he is undecided. insist on removing  Trump and disqualifying him from future office. 

Prayer & Action : First Steps toward Renewing Our Democracy

Action to Remove a Cruel and Dangerous Ruler

Dear folks (written at 4 pm Thursdaay, January 7), I am watching the Capitol, as I assume you are.  I don’t intend to make a “Case” for what needs to be done, because you know as well as I do. Just to suggest the mechanism ands details And to follow with a prayer to strengthen us as we invoke the Interbreathing Spirit of the world, the Breath of Life. 

 Not only for the symbolism, but for reality ---  to prevent further crime by  the President--  he should be impeached,  removed, and prevented (as the Constitution provides) from ever again holding any office under the United States,. As for us, the People, we should be demanding the impeachment  / removal processs of every Member of Congress.The phone number 1202-224-3121 is where to call for your Senator or House Member, as well as the home district of each Member. I urge each of us to call again and again.  (Residents of D.C. who have no voting representative could ask for the Speaker and for Senator Schumer.) 

Trump's promise Thursday morning to permit a peaceful transfer of authority is worthless. Not only does he lie more often than one can count, a democracy does not depend on the whims of a would-be dictator -- but rather on the power of the people. 

Any of our Senators or House Members who -- even after the attack on the Capitol -- joined the Trumpist effort to call for a fake post-election audit,  tell them to resign. 

After Trump has been removed from office,  he should be indicted for a myriad of crimes. If he commits another crime by pardoning himself, that should be ignored.  

Please share this letter and the prayer below, or write your own to all your friends. 

A Prayer  in Time of Coup & Insurrection

 You Who taught us 3,000 years ago that the only king we needed was the Interbreathing Spirit of all Life,

You Who when we insisted we needed a king instructed us  to limit the powers of a king,

You Who empowered yeomen farmers and taught us always to honor their own dignity,

You Who instructed Moses that every seventh year the whole people, even small children, should  assemble  to rethink the Sacred Teaching,

You Who inspired Ezra and Nehemiah to call on the People to vote on whether they would affirm the Torah,

Inspire us now, at this moment of great peril –

Inspire us with the strength to demand the removal of a ruler –

Who has shown contempt for Your Creation and Your People,

Who has acted with cruelty to mothers, fathers, and children,

Who has incited a violent mob to attack the place where our representatives gather to struggle toward our good.

 Inspire us to unite to affirm once more the sacred Image in our diversity

And to banish Cruelty, Subjugation, and Violence from the halls of leadership.

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Deep Breath: New Year, New Call to Sacred Democracy

Dear friends,

 The Shalom Center begins the new “civil year” with the profound hope that our new Administration will help make this a far more civil year in politics than the last one.

 Even while we hope, we will ourselves act. We look at an honest picture of the truth: We are standing at the edge of a great abyss.  Where we are, is a crescendo of Cruelty and Subjugation. Some of us—like Pharaoh’s Army at the edge of the Red Sea – want to force and cajole us back into what has been “normal” --  being subjugated with a few perks of tasty garlic and onions. Some want us to take small “incremental” steps that will meet no one’s needs and do what small steps at the edge of an abyss do --simply plunge us into the abyss. And some of us – as we at The Shalom Center have done – are encouraging us to leap across to create a new society beyond paralysis.

 The constitutional structure we have inherited from an anti-democratic past did not, this past fall, deliver the necessary energy to leap the gap. The heritage of slavery is structurally slanted against democracy, and has not yet been transformed. Indeed, it informs many other versions of subjugation --  of the poor and more and more of what was the “middle class,” of women and GLBTQIA communities, of immigrants and refugees, of Muslims and perhaps of Jews, even of Earth our common home and mother.

The Electoral College is structurally slanted against democracy; the Senate is structurally slanted against democracy; and so is, for now, the Supreme Court – which has gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and gutted a century’s worth of law restraining corporate and hyperwealthy interventions of money into election campaigns.

 A majority of Seven Million votes produced only a 50-50 balance of political power  -- paralysis.

 And it is now clear that this 50-50 balance is between one fairly normal mildly progressive political party not yet fully galvanized by an Earth-shaking planetary crisis --  pandemic, climate chaos, mass extinctions -- and a bitterly furious political current so desperate to hold power and prevent change -– especially change from being a corporate-controlled society with a male white Christian culture -- that it is willing to threaten its own state officials to get them to steal an election, as happened in a conversation between the President and the Secretary of State of Georgia just this past weekend.

We still have a couple of days to know whether the Senate will be able to legislate in a way that will even barely begin to meet our needs, or be utterly paralyzed by an attempt to prevent any forward action undertaken by a new President.

So what is our task at The Shalom Center? I believe we are called by the Spirit to map out how to leap across the abyss, not to fall into it.  That is what happened in that ancient tale of the Red Sea: We plunged ahead into the Unknown. Would the Sea split, or drown us? We did not know. Would it swamp Pharaoh’s chariot army, or let it through to subjugate us again? We did not know. Would the Wilderness sustain us, or starve us?  We did not know.

Here is what The Shalom Center plans: 

  • The Seventh Year of Shabbat Shabbaton, Sabbath to the exponential power of Sabbath, is by the Bible called “Shmita” or “Release.” Release for  Earth from being overworked and poisoned, “Release” for our society from worsening economic and political inequality and subjugation.
  •  
  • That Seventh Year begins, according to the ancient count, this coming fall. It is the Bible’s version of the “other side” of the Great Abyss. It is what we may today call the Great Turning. We cannot simply imitate the Bible’s regulations. But we can welcome the Spirit’s invitation to work out our own new version.
  • Part of our Shmita task will be to heal Earth. There was more to the biblical Shmita, and we will add more as we celebrate our own -- addressing racism, the crush of debt, the need for public health, and more. Earth won't wait, as the pandemic, the fires, floods, and fanines, the asthma, insist. 
  • We can end the paralysis of fear and hatred that is preventing us from healing our neighborhoods, our country, and the great round Earth. We can leap past politicians to every American neighborhood to fund at the neighborly level solar and wind co-ops. We can save money, save lives, save dignity, save hope, heal Earth.
  • We do not have to choose between the Globe and the Neighborhood. We can meet the needs of both, give new life to both..   
  • How? By a Green New Neighborhood Campaign:  rural and small-town, big city and suburban. Climate Justice for every neighborhood, climate healing for Earth. 
  • The sacred festivals of every community were ultimately born from the love affair between our varied human communities and the dance of Earth, Moon, and Sun. Now Earth and human earthlings are suffering; how can we shape our offspring the festivals – the children of that love affair -- to heal us from our sickness? 
  •  Sukkot, Hanukkah, the Advent Season => Christmas, Passover and its younger sibling the Holy Week of Christianity, the moonth of Ramadan – how can they become public actions to heal climate, prevent pandemics, end extinctions? 
  • The Shalom Center will create and share prayers, liturgies, vigils, nonviolent actions, voter turnout practices that any cluster of people, any congregation, can use.

And we are already planning a Multireligious Training Institute for Climate Activists.

We promise to do what we can to stir to wakefulness the sleepy giant of American social transformation – the communities of faith. “We” means all of us who read this and the friends we share it with.  “We” will mean time, money, skill, passion, and compassion.   

What I have written here is only a sketch, a skeleton. We will put flesh on these bones, breath into these bodies. With the help of the great Interbreathing Spirit of the world, in all Their Names, we will take the practical prophetic steps to heal us from our suffering.

 Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --  Arthur

"Subversive Prayer": A J Heschel on His Yohrzeit

The yahrzeit of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is 18 Tevet, and this year the date coincides with this coming Shabbat, Shabbat Va’yehi. As Chapter 6 begins of my new book Dancing in God's Earthquake : The Coming Transformation of Religion (Orbis), I quote three  brief passages from Heschel:

 “I felt as if my legs were praying.” (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, on returning from the Selma Alabama march demanding full voting rights for Black Americans)

 "The beginning of prayer is praise. The power of worship is song. To worship is to join the cosmos in praising God" (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel) 

 "Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement. (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)

[This photo finds Rabbi Heschel with Rev. Martin Luther King in a prayerful moment with a Torah Scroll, at a public event of opposition to the US war against Vietnam.]

 Several chapters of Dancing in God's Earthquake are about sacred street action toward sacred justice. Chapter 6 is about “subversive prayer.” Truly to learn from a teacher is to crystallize what you have learned in some new reality. One form that I have found fruitful is this: For the Amidah, the murmured prayer in which we might take our “stance” by standing, by the lotus position, or perhaps through another posture as our stance in God, the prayer community scatters outside, each finding a tree to listen to.

At first the listening is for the breath the tree is breathing out – the oxygen we need, transmuted by the tree from the CO2 we have breathed into it. Then we learn to listen for the tree’s prayer. And then to rejoin the prayerful community to recite the tree’s prayer that we have heard. Bringing each tree into the minyan. For after all, could the minyan exist if the trees were not fruitfully breathing, praying?

Our tradition teaches that to honor a teacher, we may on his or her yahrzeit learn from the wisdom s/he has left.  For many subversive texts by and about Heschel to shake our assumptions about what prayer and action are, this Shabbat see https://theshalomcenter.org/treasury/52

Planning Hanukkah #8Days4Climate

Green Menorah Covenant

Gather in community to devise a Green Menorah Covenant, binding the community together in continued climate justice action in the coming year. Write us what you are planning, at GMCovenant@theshalomcenter.org

Hanukkah begins Thursday evening, December 10. What do we want the commitment of our community to be, to do, by the last night?

We urge that you, we, together create the Green Menorah Covenant  -- a local group in your own community that will grow connections with Jews around the nation and the world. Green Menorah Covenanters will celebrate the Tree of Light that was the Menorah in the Temple, for the sake of protecting the Tree of Life and the Interbreathing of Life everywhere.  Healing our wounded Mother Earth and ourselves from the climate crisis.  

First of all, the original Mishkan Menorah was shaped like a tree -- branches, buds, flowers. At the heart of Hanukkah is this Tree of Light, connecting Earth with the handiwork of human earthlings. (Exodus 25: 31-39) This medieval portrayal makes the point, as does our generation's symbol for the Green Menorah Covenant:

 

Each year for the Shabbat of Hanukkah, we read a breathtaking passage from the Prophet Zechariah that goes even deeper to connect Earth with Humanity:  The Prophet Zechariah imagines two olive trees beside the Menorah in a yet-to-be-rebuilt Temple – already a radical departure from the Torah’s original ground-plan of the Holy House. The Haftarah explains the meaning of this prophetic vision: “Not by might and not by power but by My Interbreathing Spirit/Wind of Change, says YHWH [Yahhh/ the Breath of life].”  Let us remember this wisdom at the heart of Hanukkah, as we face the greedy power and the selfish might of carbon Empires that are condemning Earth to fires, floods, and famines.  

Then, in a passage just a few lines later, Zechariah asks for a further explanation:

“‘And what,’ I asked [God’s messenger], ‘are those two olive trees, one on the right and one on the left of the light-bearing Menorah? What are the two outgrowths of the olive trees that feed their golden oil through those two golden tubes? Then s/he explained, ‘These two reach out to take their stance to make a lordly connective-link to all the Earth for the shining oil-of-anointment.’” (Zechariah 4:11-14)

So from the Prophet Zechariah, we learn of the self-renewing miniature ecosystem that sustains the eternal burning of the Temple Menorah: two olive trees that feed their oil directly into the Menorah, with no human intervention needed. And what allows for it to be eternally alight with sacred fire? Trees that, springing directly forth from Earth, directly provide the resource necessary for the Menorah’s functioning. Trees, who spring from the Eternal Breath of Life and interweave their breath with all Earth’s animals and so sustain the human beings who fashion the Gold Menorah. And so the Eternal loop of Light and Life and Love that lights our way in the gusts of Winds of change.

Hanukkah was created in a time of resisting tyranny and honoring the resistance with a teaching and a practice: “Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Breath of Life.” And the proof: One day’s energy, one day’s olive oil, met eight days’ needs! If we resisted tyranny and refused to worship idols, we could learn how to make sure that it would take only a minimum of nature’s energy to serve us.

What can we learn from the Green Menorah of the Temple -- one that is sustained indefinitely by cooperative relationship with the ecology of its surroundings? That we are reliant on the resources of our Earth around us and within us, and that we need to create social systems that not only sustain us, but allow for us and the Earth we’re harvesting to mutually sustain one another. Forever.

Therefore, when Hanukkah comes to a close, we invite you to open your imagination from thinking immediate to thinking long-term. What continued action can you commit to over the coming year? What covenant will you enter into with your community to ensure that Hanukkah’s lessons on resource conservation last all year?

And will continue to nurture us – IF we act to make sure our own mechanical out-breath of CO2 does not poison and burn the planet.  

What then could we promise to each other during Hanukkah?

We could promise to create our own congregational and neighborhood solar energy co-ops. And we could commit ourselves that these co-ops will work to support a national campaign for Federal grants to neighborhood solar-energy co-ops in every neighborhood --  urban, suburban, small town, rural.

In the spirit of Hanukah, we could watch on the evening of December 10 a PBS TV show that asks the question -- Why doesn’t every home in America have solar panels?

Watch Property Brothers star Jonathan Scott explain on PBS Power Trip how we can change America’s energy future together. Bring your questions to a  screening and Q+A discussion with Scott and Anya Schoolman, founder and exec of the Solar United Neigborhoods (SUN) program that has solarized many neighborhoods in DC and beyond. The show can be seen anytime with Q and A from 7 pm to 10 pm on December 10.  RSVP here today!  

That evening is the first night of Hanukkah. We can join by Zoom with family and friends to light the first Hanukkah candle, either at 6:30 pm Eastern Time, before this amazing PBS TV show, or after it finishes at 10 pm Eastern Time.  

Federal grants to neighborhood co-ops can bypass state and local officials. The new solar systems radically reduce the costs of electricity; radically increase the rapid spread of renewable energy and its jobs; reduce asthma and cancer rates in neighborhoods near coal-burning plants and oil refineries. Infusing national money into this local transformation would create millions of new “green jobs” in communities now hollowed out and dying. And the new solar systems would greatly reduce CO2 emissions that are scorching and burning our home – our planet.

What’s more, the co-ops themselves would become grass-roots political challenges to the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are making hyperwealthy profits by burning Earth, sowing the anti-life seeds of enormous floods, hurricanes, droughts, fires, and famines.

I sketch this approach as a model of what a community-based, compassionate, justice-seeking America – simultaneously “global” and “neighborly” -- might look like. I suggest that it could be good practical politics as well as good value politics – appealing as a Green Neighborhood New Deal to people who started out opposing the national program for the Green New Deal, just as Obamacare when it actually went into effect appealed to people who started out opposing it.

For that very reason, it may be bitterly opposed by the same politicians who bitterly opposed Obamacare, and still do. All the more reason for us to vigorously support it!

It's time to start preparing for the eight days of Hanukkah  and the twelve days of Christmas (starts Christmas Eve, December 24). When better for a healed economy, a healing Earth?

Dancing in God's Earthquake: Sodom, Lot, & America Today

I’ve said that on Tuesday mornings I would post a quote from my new book, Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion . This isn’t a quote, but reflections from the chapter called “The Sin of Sodom and the Sin of Lot.” (See Genesis chapter 19 for the biblical story.) It fits our discussion of how to welcome the newly arrived into a fuller American democracy, while respecting those who feel they have been forgotten although they used to think they were the heart of American society.

The sin of Sodom was that they hated foreigners. They barely tolerated Abraham’s cousin Lot, and when he welcomed two strangers to his house they mobbed the house and threatened to rape the visitors. The point was not sex, though much of Christian thought was that their sin was homosexuality; the sin was hatred. But Lot committed a sin that was the sin of Sodom upside-down: he offered to let them rape his own daughters if they would let the foreign visitors alone.

With a little stretch we can see our own dilemma: Shall we save the community that thinks we have forgotten the mystic ties that bind us together as friends and family, or save the newcomers for the sake of sacred justice? Have "the forgotten" fallen into hatred? Or are they frightened, desperate? Have the justice-focused forgotten that we all are entitled to justice, not only the newcomers? 

Lot and his family were saved, according to the story – remember, it’s a story! --  when his visitors struck the mob with a light so intense it blinded them from attacking. Already a paradox. A light that darkened.  What might that mean for us? How can we insist that our businesses stop pouring CO2 into the air that burns, floods, and kills our families – our children --  while affirming the cultures that believe global scorching is a hoax?

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A letter from Karen Flotte, a member of the Justice Gardeners Team that works closely with the Central Reform Congregation of St Louis and with the nearby Black community to discern what people need and want to eat – and share in making it possible for all who hunger to tend and feed themselves from the communal garden. And who is a member of the Program Coordinator team for The Shalom Center.

This is a deeply personal post and not meant to be prescriptive for anyone. 

As the sun was setting yesterday evening, I found myself in a park weeping.  Weeping over the nation torn asunder we find ourselves in.  My heart as broken as our people.  

 Yesterday morning, I saw a post asking about a photo of Republican voters, “Who are these people?”  I immediately thought, “People I love.  My family, dear life-long friends, my neighbors.”  My grandparents and parents who taught me to protect those most vulnerable by the ways they lived and acted.  My friend of nearly 40 years who held my hand offering emotional and spiritual support and medical wisdom as my sister and father were dying.  A friend with whom I can consistently reach across the aisle and speak heart to heart about our different perspectives with respect and love. 

My neighbor who cares compassionately and practically for all he meets, especially the elders in my neighborhood.  The neighbor who I told my son would protect us with his own life when John Wesley asked if extremists would try to shoot us. 

I come from an all-American family, Jewish, Christian and nones; conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats as well as those who do not claim a space on that spectrum; urban and rural; queer and cis-gender straight.  Reflecting a part of the erev rav or great mixed multitude that comprises our nation.

 For many years, my friend Rabbi Randy Fleisher has been working with the story of Jacob and Esau, the story of a generation divided, of fear and of hatred.  In the few short years I have known Randy, he has taught this story in different ways, examining it deeply, wrestling with its meaning for our time.  In this story as Jacob returns anticipating meeting his brother Esau, he wrestles for a full night before crossing over to meet his brother.

 I have spent the last few days wrestling within.  If the election season can be compared to the High Holidays of my adopted tradition, Judaism, I feel like I am standing in Yom Kippur, taking a full accounting of my soul.  I live my life on this truth, that the wholeness of the community depends on the wholeness of the entire community.  The entire community.  

I need to take a full accounting of my soul.    How have I personally missed the mark?  What are the ways that I have allowed my heart to harden?  How have the way I speak about my fears, values and perspectives led to alienation, oppression of others?  Has my own speech and thinking contributed to violence, hatred and divide?   

How do I need to listen deeper?  How do I bring compassion and healing to myself, to others?  My inner work, inner healing is necessary if I want to be an active participant in tikkun olam or repair of the world and our nation in the days that follow.

Four years ago on the Shabbat after the election, Rabbi Mem Movshin (of blessed memory), who did the teaching that day, posed this question to all of us, “how will you be a blessing in the days to come?”  Jacob and Esau are able to cross the divide and embrace in an act of blessing.  I fear that if I am unable to do the work of inner healing, of opening my own heart to the entire community -- person to person, face, to face -- the forces which have torn our people asunder will, in fact, win.  As I enter this Shabbat after the election, I ask myself Rabbi Mem’s question again, “how will I be a blessing in the days to come.”  And I carry deep within my heart this prayer by St. Francis which I learned in my parent’s home:

Yah, make me an instrument of your peace;

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.

 

O Divine Breath of Life,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

Amen.

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A glimmer of answers, a glow of light to let us blur our differences and let us see what we might share:

 Rabbi Doris Dyen of Pittsburgh, from one of the congregations that met in the Tree of Life building where murder struck two years ago, recommends two groups that are working to make dialogue possible across what has been our splitness:

 Braver Angels --  https://braverangels.org/ 

The organization was originally called "Better Angels," drawing from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.  They facilitate structured "red / blue" conversations between groups of ordinary people with opposing political views.  They also provide training for conversation moderators.

 

Multi-Faith Neighbors Network --  https://www.mfnnetwork.com/ 

This organization was started by an Evangelical Christian pastor Bob Roberts in Texas, a Muslim leader (also in Texas I believe?) Imam Mohamed Magid, and Rabbi David Saperstein.  I participated in their 6-week workshop of guided conversations this summer, taught by Pastor Roberts and Imam Magid, which brought together local spiritual leaders from the three Abrahamic faiths here in Allegheny County. 

Pastor Roberts, Imam Magid, and Rabbi Saperstein lead these workshops all over the country:  they want to get the spiritual leaders talking/listening to each other, and attending each other's religious services if possible, activities which are then followed up by their congregations doing community service projects together, so that the congregants also begin to establish rapport. 

The long-range goal is to build "resilient communities" where people are working cross-culturally for constructive change together on things they can agree on.  Our chavurah has since participated in two interfaith community food distribution projects in Pittsburgh with the churches/mosques whose leaders I got to know through the Network workshop series.  

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There will be more as we explore this question, for life and not for death.  How can we pursue justice and love at the same time, when parts of our people have such different ideas of what both of them mean?  Can we create forms of action that almost all of us agree on, in our differences?

Meanwhile, if you want to explore this and other questions in the glowing light of Torah transformed: Gloria Steinem, Ruth Messinger, Rev. William Barber; Rabbis Art Green, Jonah Pesner, and Jill Hammer; Bill McKibben, Marge Piercy, and Rev. Jim Wallis have all read and praised Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. You can order it from The Shalom Center or from Orbis Books. Click to --

https://theshalomcenter.org/content/ordering-dancing-gods-earthquake-rabbi-arthur  This book is the harvest of my whole life-experience – and like a harvest, intended not only to draw on the past but to feed the future.

From "Dancing in God's Earthquake": Limits on the Powers of a King

Dear friends, I promised that every Tuesday I would post a passage from my new book, Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion,  This passage seems extraordinarily fitting, on the morning of the most  important election in US history. It’s from Chapter 10, and it was written more than a year ago.


 The king is not to multiply the horses he would need for aggressive imperial warfare. He must not pile up money for himself as a side-benefit for his service to the People. He is not to multiply wives for himself, lest the sexual overload distract him from the public good. And he must sit before the priests who are part of the tribe of Levi, to read aloud from Torah these passages that limit his power and other passages that protect the poor.  (Deut. 17: 1-20)

 The Torah “Constitution” may have thought that the priests could not be overawed. But there is no suggestion of how their supervision of the king’s  recitation can become more than literally listening. Can they, do they, interrupt in public to say, “That last line you read about not equipping your army with chariots –- Have you obeyed it?”

 Our Supreme Court seems less independent from the git-go than the ancient priesthood, because it is appointed by the President whose authority it judges.  Does it defer to presidential power? Up to some limit, our experience shows that the Court draws on public confidence and its life-long terms of office to strike down presidential actions that go beyond the rules. But our experience also shows that beyond some “normal” limit, the more egregious the president is in breaking rules and limits on presidential power, the more likely he will be able to shape or overawe a Court so that it defers to him. 

There was a king, Solomon's son,  who told a group of protesting elders, "My father whipped you with whips. I will whip you with scorpions." There was a revolution against his illegitimate authority, and the kingdom was split in  two.


There’s a lot more in the chapter about the choice to have a king in the first place, about nonviolent resistance to tyrannical actions by the king, and about limits on his power to fight wars.

The book is my sketch of the do-able , transformable future. Gloria Steinem, Ruth Messinger, Rev. William Barber; Rabbis Art Green, Jonah Pesner, and Jill Hammer; Bill McKibben, Marge Piercy, and Rev. Jim Wallis have all read and praised it. You can order it from The Shalom Center or from Orbis Books. See 

https://theshalomcenter.org/content/ordering-dancing-gods-earthquake-rabbi-arthur  This book is the harvest of my whole life-experience – and like a harvest, intended not only to draw on the past but to feed the future.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste!   --  Arthur

Beginning Weekly Quotes from "Dancing in God's Earthquake"

We begin this Tuesday morning – and we will follow on every Tuesday morning -- with a brief passage --  sometimes, like this one, a telegraphic version -- from Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s new book, Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. He calls this book the “harvest of my whole life-experience – and like a harvest, intended not only to draw on the past but to feed the future.”

Torah: “God creates Humanity in God’s Image.”

Talmud: “What does this mean? When Caesar stamps his image on a coin, all the coins come out identical. When the Holy One stamps the Divine Image on each human ‘coin,’ they each come out unique, different.”

The Gospels: A conservative clergyman to Rabbi Jesus: “Shall we pay taxes with this coin?” Jesus (who knows the Talmud teaching) : “Whose image is on the coin?” Conservative: “Caesar’s!” Jesus: “And whose Image is on this coin [placing his hand on the conservative's shoulder]?” Conservative: [“Ummm.”]  Jesus: “You know! So give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s!” Conservative: Stumbles away, abashed.

My eight-year-old grandchild: “God is invisible. How can there be an image of God? Maybe it's the other way around, the human image is placed on God. But we are all different from each other. -------- Oh! Maybe we are different from each other the way the pieces in my jigsaw puzzle are different from each other. You have to fit us together, and if you fit us together we make a community. And a community is more like God.”

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You can order your own copy of his book at https://www.orbisbooks.com/dancing-in-gods-earthquake.html

OR a congregation can order a minimum of 10 copies at a 50% discount, by calling 1-800-258-5838), for a congregational conversation, a book club, etc. You  can bring Reb Arthur to join the conversation by writing Office@theshalomcenter.org with “Book conversation” in the subject line. 

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White House's New "Herd Immunity" Covid-19 Strategy Is Madness

 

 

 

 [By Jeffrey Sachs. Dr. Sachs serves as the Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, where he holds the rank of University Professor, the university’s highest academic rank. Sachs was Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University from 2002 to 2016. He is President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network . The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. They were published on October 14, 2020 by CNN.]


, 

 

As if Donald Trump's irresponsibility was not already a national tragedy, the White House seems now to favor a controversial approach to Covid-19 that threatens to bring nothing less than mass suffering. The idea that we should not try to control infections other than of vulnerable groups is based on a complete misunderstanding of the real choices facing the US.

This approach runs strongly against the overwhelming consensus of public health specialists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The new Covid-19 approach would undoubtedly add massively to the suffering in the US in a very short period of time.

The idea that we should not try to control infections other than of vulnerable groups is based on a complete misunderstanding of the real choices facing the US -- or facing any country for that matter. The core mistake is the belief that the only alternative to an economic shutdown is to let the virus spread widely in the population. Instead, a set of basic public health measures is enough, as many other countries have shown, to control the spread of the virus. The proper measures include widespread testing, contact tracing, isolating of infected individuals, wearing face masks, physical distancing, and barring super-spreader events (like Trump rallies). South Korea has exemplified this policy approach, as have many of its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region.

Trump's Covid-19 recklessness is costing the US dearly

Sadly, this very basic information seems not to have reached the White House or been understood by it, even though experts already knew in April that the Asia-Pacific region was suppressing the pandemic through these public health measures, and without the need for comprehensive lockdowns (or with only brief lockdowns to give time to scale up the public health measures). By suppressing the virus, these countries have limited the economic fallout.

Indeed, according to the IMF's new report, China, which has broken the pandemic by means of public health control, will achieve positive growth of GDP 1.9% this year, compared with America's expected GDP decline of 4.3%. The Trump team is so obsessed with their anti-China propaganda that they utterly refused to learn from China's success in cutting transmission of the virus enabling an economic rebound. Trump and his team have also refused to learn from similar successes in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea, all of which have very low transmission of the virus.

The herd immunity approach is a nightmare for four reasons:

First, according to a study published in The Lancet in late September, fewer than 10% of Americans have so far been infected with the novel coronavirus. Another 60% or so of Americans would likely become infected in a herd immunity strategy. That amounts to around 200 million additional cases of Covid-19 in the United States and countless deaths. This would obviously be wanton madness, since the pandemic can be controlled by low-cost and proven public health means.

 Second, there would absolutely be no reliable way to protect vulnerable populations through "focused protection." Many older people do not live in nursing or retirement homes where protective measure can systematically be implemented. And as the CDC has alerted, there are vast numbers of vulnerable Americans who are not among the elderly, but who suffer from medical conditions as widespread as obesity, cancer, kidney disease, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and others. And in addition to people with prior health conditions, the CDC also points to other groups that need extra precautions: pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with disabilities, people with developmental and behavioral disorders, and others.

For a White House team that can't even properly protect its guests at a White House event, the notion that it could suddenly oversee the implementation of "focused protection" to vulnerable people spread throughout the country in the midst of an uncontrolled pandemic is a fantasy.

Third, the proponents of herd immunity seem to discount the fact that in addition to the acute and short term effects of Covid-19, there are also long-term disease consequences for many, ranging from the Covid-19 "brain fog" to long-lasting damage to many organ systems. The evidence continues to mount that Covid-19 is a frighteningly dangerous disease for many people who survive the infection and in ways that scientists are still coming to understand.

Fourth, it's especially ill-timed to let the pandemic run wild when the White House is touting a vaccine as being just around the corner. If a reliable and safe vaccine will soon be available to protect citizens, surely there is overwhelming reason not to become infected now, but rather to stay safe until the vaccine arrives.

Trump's utter ignorance has already resulted in unprecedented suffering, and the latest bad idea would gravely multiply the damage. If implemented, a herd immunity strategy might just be the most reckless action by the White House yet.

[Although an aditional problem is not addressed in Dr.Sachs' comments here, the herd-immunity approach would almost certainly extremely worsen the already disproportionate deadly effect  of the virus on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities. Suffering would spread among all Americans; it would spread worst among those already marginalized, with least access to health care, etc. Fom the stadpoint of white supremacists, this might be a benefit, not a problem.--  AW, editor]

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Series 4: Invite to Life-Conversations with My Newest Book & Me

Dear friends, Sixty of you have already enjoyed direct conversations with me and with my book Dancing in God’s Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion, which has now been published. Twenty-five feels to me the limit for a really rich conversation. So I have scheduled a new series of three conversations, on Tuesday evenings October 13, 20, and 27 from 7 pm Eastern to 8:30. The three sessions are a unity.  You can register at

I will meet with clergy, spiritual leaders, and other religiously involved and alert people from any and all communities. Now that the book actually exists and we have actual copies, I will send you the book ahead of time – free, and personally inscribed to you from me. Each session will be recorded and made available to registrants in case they need to miss a session.

 The cost of the series is $72.

To register, please click to -- https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/event/register?reset=1&id=33

 I am sharing with you some of the endorsements of the book :

 “A wonderful book! Before the hierarchies and divisions of religions, there was the all-inclusive circle of spirituality. In Dancing in God’s Earthquake, Rabbi Arthur Waskow helps us trace our path back to our spiritual home.” –Gloria Steinem

 “Rabbi Waskow calls each of us to reach down deep in our moral and religious traditions and have a grownup conversation about the response our present crisis requires. I'm glad to lift up this invitation for all to join the divine dance of love and justice.” –William J. Barber, II, President of Repairers of the Breach and Co-Chair of the Poor People's Campaign

 “Like poetry on a cold day, this book warms the heart and mind both. A fierce look at religion, a willingness to question history, to see the connections between the world’s faiths, to suggest how we might move forward from today’s hard times.”—Ruth Messinger, American Jewish World Service

 “We are in a moment of great crises and gathering travail, and so one thing we need to learn is how to steadily, joyfully, determinedly pass through these trials, not just intact, but in love with the world around us. There could be no better guide than Arthur Waskow.”—Bill McKibben, author, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out

“This is a delightful and refreshing book, full of wit, wisdom, and hope--all of which we so desperately need amid the perpetual upheaval and crisis of the world today. I'm deeply thankful for both Arthur and this book.”—Jim Wallis, Founder and President of Sojourners

 “The Jewish people's most revolutionary theologian is at it again, trying to waken us out of our moral slumber, before it is too late. The ancient prophet said: ‘A lion roars? Who will not fear?’ Waskow is our roaring lion.” –Rabbi Arthur Green, Rector of Rabbinical School at Hebrew College, author, Judaism for the World "

"Rabbi Arthur Waskow brings his many years of activism, thought, and creativity to bear on the most important question of our time: how do we respond to cataclysmic change?  How do we shift the patterns of the past rather than cling to them as they unravel?   He re-tools the myths of the Bible to counter racism, sexism, homophobia, fascism, and denial of ecological truth, and concludes that religion today must regard these as sins and resist them by developing new stories and commandments.  Waskow, who has made a career of fearless truth-telling, is not afraid to liberate the stories of the Bible from their context in an ancient hierarchical society and re-frame them for our own cataclysmic moment.-- Rabbi Jill Hammer, author of The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons

 There are also a number of other endorsements that you will see in the book itself. They include Rabbi Jonah Pesner,  Marge Piercy, Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, and other notables from the Christian and Muslim worlds. And I can tell you that these endorsements follow from people having insisted on reading the entire book before they wrote their comments.

  I look forward to having a conversation with you about the book, and with the book about our lives. -- I see the book as a harvest of my whole life experience in religious commitment, spiritual delight, and social transformation. Many people look on a “harvest” as a product of past sowing and growing. But I see this book as what a harvest is really supposed to be – food for the future. Here is where to sign up:

https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/event/register?reset=1&id=33

 With blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --  Arthur

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The Torah of Reparations for Slavery

The Torah of Reparations for Slavery

Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein

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

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

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

The Torah of Reparations for Slavery

Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein

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

 We Took Reparations

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

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

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

Are these Really Reparations?

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

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

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

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

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

Who should get to vote in an American election?

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

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

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

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

Deuteronomy 5: 1-3:

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

Deuteronomy 29: 13-14:

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

Deuteronomy 31: 10-11:

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

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

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

Excerpts from Nehemiah 9 and 10

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My small personal crisis and the Great American Social Crisis


Dear friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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very glad

We are very glad that your recovery from the liver difficulties is progressing so well, b'h. And we found your exposition of leadership styles and communication in Pharaoh's time with those of today's leaders was well-done and interesting. Thank you. Stay safe. May we elders all be healthy.

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Is Coronavirus a Biblical "Plague"?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They chose another birth – the breaking of the waters.

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

Time to choose.

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"Supremes" rob women of Religous Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elders Call: Defend Our Voting Rights

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

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

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

NATIONAL COUNCIL OF ELDERS

Immediate Release June 25, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook contact: National Council of Elders@ncoe20century

 

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Jewishly Honoring Juneteenth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friends:

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

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

                    KADDISH KAVANNAH FOR BLACK LIVES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lerner's "Revolutionary Love"

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

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

 Among his proposed loving alternatives is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Green & Grow the Vote: From #Shavuot2Sukkot

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

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

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

Green and Grow the Vote

From #Shavuot2Sukkot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We look forward to meeting with you there.

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

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#PeoplesBailout: A Hinge Moment

 

Giving --  Wednesday?

[Dear friends, Yesterday was “Giving Tuesday,” and you may have been flooded by requests for funding by numerous praiseworthy organizations. We will add our glass of seltzer -- fizzy water --  to the flood, with a difference.

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Every Bush Afire with God!

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

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

(pronouns slightly modified)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To the Interbreathing Spirit of All Life

As You Cough and Choke amid Our Fires

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

Who whispers breath into all living --

We hear You coughing, choking,

As we flood all Earth with burning smoke of carbon.

We hear You coughing, choking,

As human throats breathe in a virus

That comes as a plague to all of us --

Worse for those who already live on margins --  

And as a warning to our pharaohs..

 

We recall the burning crosses lit by hate and greed;

We recall the flame and smoke

That rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima.

That still rise from the burning forests of the Amazon,

Torched for the sake of fast hamburger and fast wealth.

We count the hottest years of human history

That bring upon us

Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.

Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.


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

Yet with Your help, O Breath of life,

We come to douse that outer all-consuming fire.

To light again in our own hearts

The inner fire that burned in the Burning Bush –

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

And to hear the inner Voice that breathed a whisper

Of love and liberation amidst the inner flame:

For Love and Breath are strong as death --

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

     To ease Your Breath throughout Your Earth.

 

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

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

in the many-colored faces of all life.

 

Woven by Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

Creative Commons Copyright (c) 2020 by The Shalom Center

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

 

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

 

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

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Two May Days? -- or Deeply One?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both May Days joined at the root.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Earth Internationale                                                        

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

(New words by Rabbi Arthur Waskow)

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

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

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

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

to be freely used with inclusion of this notice.]

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

 

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

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

Between the Fires:

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

For Kindling Candles of Commitment

 

We are the generations

That stand between the fires.


Behind us

The burning crosses lit by hate

To choke our people in the smoke of terror;

Behind us the flame and smoke

That rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima.

 

Not yet behind us

The burning forests of the Amazon,

Torched for the sake of fast hamburger and fast wealth.

Not yet behind us, the glare of gun fire

exploding in our children.

Not yet behind us –

the hottest years of human history

That bring upon us

Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.

Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.

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

"Here! The day is coming,”

Said the Prophet Malachi,

“That will flame like a furnace,

Says YHWH / Yahhhh --

The Infinite InterBreath of Life --

when all the arrogant, all evil-doers,

root and branch,

will like straw be burnt to ashes

in the fires that they set.

Yet for all who revere

My Interbreathing Name, Yahhhh,

a sun of justice will arise

with healing in the beating of its wings,

its rays, its winds."

 

“Here! Before the coming

of the great and awesome day

of YHWH/ the Breath of Life,

I will send you the Prophet Elijah

to turn the hearts of parents to their children

and the hearts of children to their parents,

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

 

Here! we ourselves are coming

Before that great and terrible day

Of smiting Earth —

For we ourselves shall turn the hearts

Of parents to their children

And the hearts of children to their parents

So that this day of smiting

Does not fall upon us.

 

We ourselves are coming

To douse that outer all-consuming fire.

We must light again in our own hearts

the inner fire of love and liberation

that burned in the Burning Bush --

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

For love is strong as death --

Love’s Fire must never be extinguished--

The fire in the heart of all Creation.

 

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

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

in the many-colored faces of all life. 

Woven by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center

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3 Eco-Responsive Inserts for your Seder

Between the Fires:
A Kavanah for Kindling Candles of Commitment

We are the generations

Who stand between the fires.

Behind us the fire and smoke
That rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima, 

Not yet behind us the burning forests of the Amazon,
torched for the sake of fast hamburger.

Not yet behind us the hottest years of human history
that bring upon us -- 
Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.
Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.
 
Before us we among all life-forms
face the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

To douse that outer all-consuming fire

We must light again in our own hearts 

the inner fire of love and liberation 

that burned in the Burning Bush --

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

For love is strong as death --

Love’s Fire must never be extinguished:

The fire in the heart of all Creation.  

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

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

in the many-colored faces of all life.

       (By Rabbi Arthur Waskow)

 ### ### ###

Biblical Plagues

Contemporary Plague: Earthly Manifestation

Contemporary “Counter-Plague”: Liberatory Potential 

Water into Blood

Polluted, Undrinkable Waters and Mass Droughts, Super-Monsoons

Rainwater Catchments, Grey-Water Systems, Black-water systems. Reversing global scorching

Frogs

Invasive Species and “Forever Plastics”

Treat “Forever Plastics” as invasive species. Stop making them. Isolate them from oceans and other vulnerable milieu.

Lice

Opioid Epidemic

Trauma Healing on Individual, Collective, Intergenerational and Ancestral Levels

Wild beasts

Species Extinction

Major expansion of Species Preservation Act & Reforestation

Pestilence of livestock

Factory Farming Industry

Reducing Beef Consumption, Buying Local, Forbidding Antibiotic Suffusion of Livestock

Boils

Exacerbated Spread of Disease; Coronavirus Pandemic

Free Healthcare  for All

 

 

Thunderstorm of hail and fire

Superstorms and Wildfires

Local Disaster Preparedness Networks and dissolution of energy monopolies.

Locusts

Crop Failures.

Local, Organic Farms.


Darkness

Failure to see and empathize with other humans & other life-forms; Mass Blackouts, Reliance on mass fossil fuel monopolies

Creation of empathic communities

Congregation-based & neighborhood- based Solar Cooperatives; Renewable energy grids

 

 

 

 (By Faryn Borella, Ira Silverman Memorial Intern for The Shalom Center)

### ### ### 

[On opening the door for Elijah to enter:] Here!  I [YHWH,  Yahhhh, InterBreath of life, Wind of change], will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the great and awesome day of Yahhhh, the InterBreath of Life. He shall turn the hearts of parents to children and the hearts of children to parents, so that, when I [YHWH, Yahhhh] come, I do not come as a Hurricane of destruction to strike the whole Earth with utter desolation. 

(Malachi 3: 23-24)

[Everyone says, in unison:]We welcome Elijah in our own midst, covenanting together that we ourrselves will joyfully take on the obligation to heal our wounded Earth and give new life to the future of the Human species by doing this one act: [wait for people to say out loud, one by one, what each will do).

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April 14! -- Freedom Seder in this Plague Year

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

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

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

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

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

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Gaia and Shekhina Speak: A Message from Mother Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday an essay by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone came my way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Welcome! Zoom Torah Conversations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look forward to joining with you!

Shalom, Arthur

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The Plague Year: Toward a Spiritual Journal

 So far a relative few of us are infected by the new world plague --  but suddenly we are all affected.

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Annual "Freedom Seder Revisited" -- Natl Mus Am Jewish History, March 30

Every year for six years, the National Museum of American Jewish History has in the week or so before Passover held a “Freedom Seder Revisited.”

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Tu B'Shvat: Reforesting Earth to Heal Both Poverty & Climate

[Tu B'Shvat, the midwinter festival that marks the ReBirthDay of trees and of the Divine Tree of Life, begins this year on Sunday evening February 9 -- the Full Moon of the Jewish moonth of Shvat. Rabbi Gilah Langner, who wrote this article, serves as rabbi of Kol Ami congregation in Arlington, Virginia, and of the Shirat HaNefesh independent synagogue in the broader Washington DC area.  She was the founding publisher and co-editor of the journal Kerem: Creative Explorations in Judaism,You can write her at gilah.langner@gmail.com

[Here she proposes that we celebrate Tu B'Shvat and other moments in the Jewish year and llfe-cycle by contributing to massive reforestation in Africa -- addressing both deep poverty in the "Global South" and the need for all Earth and all Earth's species, including Humanity, to breathe again. Forests breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen -- helping to restore the balance that burning fossil fuels has broken. 

[This fusion of social justice and eco-sanity is an important theme of the Hebrew Bible. Even the mystical Tu B'Shvat had its roots in the date of tithing fruit when the Temple stood -- a tax to make sure that those who were too poor to own fruit trees could eat the fruits and nuts provided by social justice-. -  AW, Ed.]

 By Rabbi Gilah Langner

Here's a worthwhile opportunity to take action on climate change -- just in time for Tu B’Shvat.  As you probably know, planting trees can play a vital role in combating the climate crisis, but the numbers of trees that need to be planted is massive.  And trees need to be nurtured and watered after they’re planted.

Enter Trees for the Future, a Silver-Spring based nonprofit that – realistically -- aims to plant 500 million trees by 2025.  Trees for the Future has developed a Forest Garden approach, working with tens of thousands of family farmers in six African countries. Each Forest Garden involves planting and caring for an average of 4,000 trees per one-hectare farm. The Forest Gardens yield food for the families and regenerate the soil so that it, along with the trees, can sequester carbon.  

Meanwhile, farm families who are among the most vulnerable to climate impacts are being brought out of extreme poverty, and are learning "perma-gardening" techniques that will sustain food security for future generations. 

 

Shirat HaNefesh in the Washington DC area is hoping to mobilize Jewish communities across the country to fund a full project’s worth of 300 Forest Gardens in Senegal in 2020.  The idea is for synagogues to make tree planting in Africa a new priority – just like tree planting in Israel used to be.  In the process, we can connect our communities with the fate of the entire planet, helping African families and villages pull themselves out of hunger and poverty, while they, in turn, contribute to saving the planet.  Each Forest Garden costs $640, for a remarkably cost-effective 16 cents per tree.  Here are some ways to get involved: 

  • Ask participants in a Tu B'Shvat Seder to contribute for a $640 Forest Garden.
  • Funding a Forest Garden makes a beautiful Bar or Bat Mitzvah project or a Living Legacy for congregants' loved ones.  
  • Synagogues can commit to funding a certain number of Forest Gardens over the coming year, with a webpage devoted to their own challenge.  
  • To participate in the immediate Tu B'Shvat effort, please go to:  donate.trees.org/TuBShvatPlanters
  • For more information on the organization's activities, watch the documentary:  https://trees.org/documentary/ or browse the website:  trees.org

Many thanks for being part of a Jewish response to the climate crisis. 

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East Bay, Feb 3-10: Sacred Trees, Starhawk, Rabbis Waskow & Berman

 Earthy Events in the East Bay, February 3-10

https://www.facebook.com/pg/jewitchcollective/events/

 Monday Feb 3, 7pm @ Urban Adamah

Nature Tales of Joy and Wonder: Hebraic & Pre-Hebraic Stories of Earth, Sky & Ocean 
Rabbis Phyllis Berman & Arthur Waskow, and Starhawk

1151 6th St, Berkeley
Enjoy ancient and modern tales of earth, sky, and ocean with these master storytellers.
Tickets & Info – 

https://urban-adamah.secure.force.com/WebEvent?eid=nature-tales-of-joy-and-wonder-202023

Share on FB 

https://www.facebook.com/events/2678408058919638/


Israel / Palestine: Creating an Ethical Jewish Response
Rabbi Dev Noily facilitating,  Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Starhawk
Tuesday, Feb 4, 7pm @ Kehilla Community Synagogue
1300 Grand Ave, Piedmont
As Jews and allies, what does it mean to love Israel and hold it accountable for its actions? Join this community conversation, facilitated by Rabbi Dev Noily.
Tickets & Info - Share on FB

https://kehillacs.wufoo.com/forms/q10opzon0llh4vy/

Earth and Spirit: A Multi-Faith Response to Climate Crisis
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rev. Dr. Ambrose Carroll (Green the Church), & Starhawk


Wednesday, Feb 5, 6:30pm-9:30pm @ St. John's Presbyterian Church
2727 College Ave, Berkeley
Join three powerful change-makers working at the intersection of climate activism and spirituality for an inspiring evening of song, ceremony, preaching, prayer, and community.
Tickets & Info - Share on FB

JeWitch Camp: Jews, Pagans & Those Who Love Them
Heaven Walker, Rabbis Phyllis Berman & Arthur Waskow and Starhawk

Friday-Sunday, Feb 7-9 @ Humanist Hall, Oakland


A rare opportunity to spend three days with these prophetic teacher-activists in JeWitchy community. A non-residential retreat/Shabbaton celebrating the Jewish New Year for Trees, including rituals, workshops, storytelling, song and delicious mealtime conversations. Includes a field trip to Wilderness Torah's Tu B'Shvat in the Forest, where we and our teachers will share camp's magic with the wider Jewish community.
Registration & Info - Share on FB
See www.jewitchcamp.org for full teacher bios and additional info

Uprooting Antisemitism, Planting Resilience: A Tu B'Shvat Workshop
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Phyllis Berman and Friends
Monday, Feb 10, 2pm in Oakland - Address available upon registration
Commemorate the Jewish New Year for trees at the site of an Oakland tree that has been defaced with a swastika. We'll cultivate community, create amulets for protection, as well as develop and use ritual for transformation. When we're done, the swastika will be obscured by a community created symbol of our strength, love, and resilience.
Info & Registration-

https://www.facebook.com/events/527745474754391/

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#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:

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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.

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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

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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). 

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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

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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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Two Holy Days of Turning: Tisha B’Av and Eid al-Idha

This weekend, the holy days of the Jewish and Muslim communities come together in a way extremely rare.

For Jews, it is Tisha B’Av, traditionally the day of mourning the destruction by two Empires, Babylon and Rome, of the two Holy Temples in Jerusalem. The ancient Book of Lamentations, called “Eicha” in Hebrew, records death and despair among exiles driven onto a death march from the Land of Israel to Babylon.

For our own sins, Eicha teaches, were these Temples destroyed. So Eicha also looks toward redemption if we can transform our own behavior.

This year, there is a wave of Jewish observance of this fast day by gazing at the present efforts by the American Empire to dehumanize Latinx communities – not only refugees and immigrants but also, as the El Paso mass murder shows, Latinx citizens of the USA.  Those who today are being made victims by our own government rise up out of the ancient pages of the Book of Lamentations to face us today, and to demand we face them.

For fewer but still an unusual number of Jews, the universal meaning of the day is also being marked by mourning the dangerous wounds that modern corporate empires are imposing on Temple Earth and human earthlings.

As Eicha teaches about the past, for our sins in the present is Temple Earth being destroyed.  By us. By corporate Carbon Empires, new versions of Babylon and Rome and Pharaoh, that we are not resisting. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, "Some are guilty; ALL are responsible."  And by the same token, we can save ourselves and Earth by Turning in a new direction.

For Muslims, this weekend is Eid al-Idhathe celebration of the moment when Ibrahim/ Avraham/ Abraham turned from his willingness to kill his son to seeing as a substitute the ram caught in the thicket. The festival when Muslims honor the moment by sharing their food with the poor. One lesson: “Do not kill your children   --  Feed the poor!” An even deeper lesson: Even at the very last moment, you can Turn yourself and Turn history around.

Across the Jewish community this coming weekend, at last a wave of Jews is observing Tisha B’Av as a day of holy mourning not for Jews alone but for frightened and desperate refugees and immigrants, the “ourselves” we see today as we recall being driven into exile on the death march from Eretz Yisrael to Babylon, or from Vienna to Treblinka.

I welcome this response to attempted dehumanization of the Latinx community;  I have risked arrest three times in the past year and actually been arrested once and will risk arrest again in September to block the arrests and deportations. All for the sake of these children and families who stumble into our four-dimensional reality right out of the pages of Eicha.

And I welcome the awakening of Am Yisrael to the universal meaning of Tisha B’Av that the ancient Rabbis felt when they said the first “Eicha” was God’s “Ayekka??!” in Gan Eden as the Garden began to wither.   Twice in my life I have spent Tisha B’Av on the steps of the US Capitol:

  • In 1972, when about 50 of us bewailed the destruction of the trees of Vietnam by “Agent Orange” poured on its soil by the Imperial USA just as, we said, Rome poured salt on the farmland of ancient Israel.
  • And nine years ago, when 300 people – Jews, Christians, secular environmentalists --   bewailed the deaths of eleven workers and tens of thousands of birds and fish caused by the greed, the arrogance, and the over-reach of the BP Big Oil empire in the Gulf of Mexico.  In 2010 we chanted Rabbi Tamara Cohen’s “Eicha for the Earth.”  (See https://theshalomcenter.org/node/173)

It begins this way, chanted in Eicha trope:

Eicha: Alas, she sits in danger.
Earth, home to multitudes,
like a beloved, deep in distress. 

 Blue ocean, source of life --
Endangered and imprisoned.  

Bitterly she weeps in the night
Her shorelines wet with tears.
Of all her friends, none to comfort her;
All her allies have betrayed her.

 Checkerspot butterflies
flee their homes;
Polar bears
can find no rest.
Because our greed has heated Earth.

 Whole communities destroyed
To pursue off-shore oil.
Lives and dreams have been narrowed.

 Wetlands sigh without their song birds,

Estuaries grieve;

The sea is embittered.

Coastlines mourn for families,
lost homes and livelihoods.
Barrier islands lament, desolate.

 Earth’s children – now her enemies;
Despite destruction, we sleep at ease.
The Breath of Life grieves
our abundant transgressions.
Infants of every species,
captive to our conceit. 

Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.

 Let us return, help us repent,
You Who Breathe all Life;
Breathe us, Breathe us,
Breathe us into a new path--
Help us, Help us, ,

Help us Turn to a new way of living
Make–new, Make -new,
Our world of life intertwining –
Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.

So I welcome our grieving not just the greed and arrogance that led to destruction in the past, but the greed and arrogance in the right-now that is traumatizing and killing Latinx children, murdering 22 Ladinx parents gathered in a store to buy school supplies for their kids, frightening millions of Latinx people living in the “America”  where "From every mountain-top," we sing, “ Let Freedom ring!” --   and warping democracy for all of us. 

And I call us ALSO to grieve the species just now dying and the million species already on the brink of extinction, the towns already  drowned and the farmland already flooded and the homes already engulfed in wildfires  and the far worse threatening the billions who depend for water on the rhythmically melting and refreezing ice of Himalaya mountains and who will die if the ice disappears entirely, the millions who will die when the Middle East suffers from months-long unremitting temperatures of 130 F.

BUT ALL THIS IS NOT OUR IRREDEEMABLE FATE --  IF WE ACT NOW! “Turn us to You Who are the Breath of Life, and indeed we shall be Turned!”

The value of Tisha B’Av is to raise our awareness to grief and to the need for Turning and redemption. I urge us all this weekend, whatever else we may be doing with and for Tisha B’Av, to use at minimum the brief passage above of “Eicha for the Earth” and if possible all of it.

From awareness must come action. When we are past Tisha B’Av I will share with you a plan for Jewish action on the third day of Sukkot in mid-October – bringing Earth and ourselves, Earth’s children, into the corridors of power to demand a Great Turning. Even on the brink of disaster, to learn from Tisha B'Ava and Eid al-Idha and all the other great spiritual wisdoms to Turn Toward Life.

With love, Arthur

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Mourning Mother Earth -- And Healing Her

This letter ends with a specific proposal for multireligious action on climate that draws on Tisha B’Av (a Jewish day of mourning, explained below, that can be universal in its meaning) to be held on Friday, August 9. Please write me at 9Av@theshalomcenter.org if you are interested in organizing or joining in such an action. And feel free to share this with others whom you think might be interested. Thanks and shalom, Arthur

Mourning Mother Earth -- And Healing Her

Dear friends, As I often do, I want to begin with the spiritual roots of a religious practice, and then move to the flowering from those roots in the form of spiritually nourished political action. In this case, action to heal Earth. Action rooted in Tisha B'Av, the sacred Jewish day of mourning/ healing.  

 That sad day flowers in healing Mother Earth.  And does it by bringing together the energy of youth and elders as the Prophet Malachi teaches -- together supporting the Green New Deal. 

The traditional Jewish day of mourning and fasting for the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem –- twice destroyed by arrogant empires --  comes on the ninth day of the scorching midsummer lunar month of Av. In Hebrew, that is Tisha (Ninth) B’Av.) This year, that day falls on Shabbat --  Friday evening August 9 to Saturday evening August 10. Since mourning is prohibited on Shabbat, this year the day will be observed on the following day --  Saturday night and Sunday.  But for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, I suggest that part of the observance might happen the day before –- during the day on Friday, August 9.

There are two major aspects to observing Tisha B’Av: reading the Book of Lamentations (known in Hebrew as Eicha, which can mean “How!” or “Alas!”) and for 25 hours fasting from food, water, wearing leather shoes and other luxurious clothes, anointing one’s self with fragrance, joining in sexual pleasure, and learning Torah (except for sad passages and commentaries on Eicha).

At first glance, it would seem that Tisha B’Av is perhaps the most narrowly Jewish of all the sacred days. It seems to deal with a catastrophe that affected only the Jewish people. But an ancient rabbi, 2000 years ago, used a word-play in Hebrew to suggest that in some ways it could be seen as a profoundly universal experience. The rabbi asked, "When was the first Eicha? And answered: In the Garden of Eden, when God asked – –  ‘Ayekka, Where are you?’ “ The word-playay is that in Hebrew the two words have the same consonants, and are distinguished only by their vowels.

So through this midrash, almost a joking pun but very serious, the rabbi was saying that all of humankind went into exile from the Garden of abundance and delight. The original Temple of all humanity was shattered by our own arrogant action. (Notice that in this illustration, the human race is moving from a luscious Garden onto a harsh and stony path.) 

 

What was the arrogance of Eden? The sacred Voice, speaking on behalf of Reality, had told us that there was a world of extraordinary abundance; that we should joyfully eat of it; but that we must restrain ourselves, not gobble it all up. But we did not restrain ourselves, and so the abundance vanished and in consequence, we were to work always with the sweat pouring down our faces to make barely enough food for us to eat, because Earth would give forth mostly thorns and thistles.

So the parable of Eden was a warning not to gobble up all of Earth’s abundance, not to shatter the sacred Temple of all life forms, lest all Humanity become refugees. Exiles from Earth. 

What does this mean? That we are spiritual exiles, not only geographic refugees. We are alienated from our Mother, treating her like an object, not a beloved. Acting in I-It mode, treating her as It -- not a Thou of direct and intimate relationship. 

The human species has often ignored the teaching. Nine years ago, the oil company BP would not restrain itself in probing the Gulf of Mexico for oil. Its arrogance killed eleven of its own workers and poisoned many life-forms of the Gulf. 

 

And that was only one small piece of the devastation we are bringing on ourselves by burning fossil fuels, flooding our atmosphere with CO2.

 

Nine years ago, The Shalom Center joined with hundreds of people  on the steps of the US Capitol --  Jews, Christians, secular environmentalists, ordinary Americans aghast at the deaths imposed by BP’s arrogance – deaths of human beings and of fish and seabirds in the Gulf, economic disasters among the businesses and workers dependent on the Gulf’s abundance.  On the Capitol steps we chanted an English version of Eicha --  Eicha for Earth, we called it --   that The Shalom Center had commissioned Tamara Cohen (now Rabbi) to write. We sang songs from the Song of Songs, songs of love to Mother Earth. We blew the shofar (ram’s horn) of warning and alarm.  We wailed. We protested a government that had done far too little to prevent the disaster.

Nine years later, the present US government is not merely dragging its feet from protecting and healing Planet Earth. It is actively pursuing the destruction of our planet, in order to maximize the already Hyper-Wealthy profits of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Unnatural Gas.

Whether in Washington DC or in the home offices of Senators and Representatives who are accomplices in the arson of Earth, or at the branches of banks like Wells Fargo that are financing Modern Carbon Pharaohs to bring Plagues upon us, or in the offices of Exxon and the other Big Oil pharaohs, we could gather on Friday afternoon August 8, the Friday before Tisha B’Av. Why then instead of Sunday? Because on Friday afternoon the offices will be open. 

We could chant Eicha for Earth and make a covenant with each other to work for the Green New Deal.  To work to restore the healthy, healing climate, the life-breath of our forebears. And wherever possible, to do as Malachi teaches -- turn the hearts of Elders to the Youth (Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion) and the hearts of Youth to Elders, working together "lest Earth be utterly destroyed. "

 (Some Jewish communities have chosen to focus this Tisha B'Av on the refugees whom our government is tormenting, not welcoming. An entirely legitimate midrashic direction to take this Tisha B'Av. They have chosen to enter into companionship with refugees. Both aspects of alienation and exile under pressure of tyrannical subjugation deserve attention and resistance this summer. The burning Earth has received less attention -- and I believe needs more.)

Please write me at 9Av@theshalomcenter.org if you are interested in organizing or joining in such an action.

Or if you can’t do a Friday public action, you might share these concerns with your friends, your congregation, in two hours together that Friday evening or Saturday that are the real Ninth of Av. Perhaps reading Eicha for Earth along with the Prophetic passage Hazon – Vision! – for that Shabbat. Sharing not the fast but our words, our breath, reading and speaking of the wounded, burning Temple Earth of our own time.  Of what we can do to save her.

Eicha for Earth and an entire service that celebrates Earth and mourns its destruction are at 

https://theshalomcenter.org/node/173

It begins this way:

Eicha: Alas, she sits in danger.
Earth, home to multitudes,
like a beloved, deep in distress. 

 Blue ocean, source of life --
Endangered and imprisoned.  

Bitterly she weeps in the night
Her shorelines wet with tears.
Of all her friends, none to comfort her;
All her allies have betrayed her.

 Checkerspot butterflies
flee their homes;
Polar bears
can find no rest.
Because our greed has heated Earth.

 Whole communities destroyed
To pursue off-shore oil.
Lives and dreams have been narrowed. 

 Coastlines mourn for families,
lost homes and livelihoods.
Barrier islands lament, desolate.

 Wetlands sigh without their
Estuaries grieve; the sea is embittered. song birds,

 Earth’s children – now her enemies;
Despitedestruction, we sleep at ease.
The Breath of Life grieves
our abundant transgressions.
Infants of every species,
captive to our conceit. 

Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.

 Let us return, help us repent,
You Who Breathe all Life;
Breathe us, Breathe us,
Breathe us into a new path--
Help us, Help us, ,

Help us Turn to a new way of living
Make–new, Make -new,
Our world of life intertwining –
Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.

Please write me at 9Av@theshalomcenter.org if you are interested in organizing or joining in such an action.

Please help The Shalom Center keep reaching out to you, with you, to help you breathe Spirit into Action, Action into Spirit. Please click on the “Contribute” button in the left-hand margin of this page.

May we in this way join our own breath with YHWH, the Breath of Life that is now gasping, “I can’t breathe!”--  to help us all breathe easy in the Shabbos breeze --  Arthur

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Sending Soap etc to Kids in Cages, via Congressfolk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending Soap etc to Kids in Cages, via Congressfolk

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay. I urge that we actually begin the process.

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Mourning "Temple Earth" This Tisha B'Av

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

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

Now some background for this proposal: --

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://theshalomcenter.org/node/1733

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

Eichah: Alas, she sits in danger.

Earth, home to multitudes,

like a beloved, deep in distress.

Blue ocean, source of life –

Endangered and imprisoned.

Bitterly she weeps in the night

Her shorelines wet with tears.

Of all her friends, none to comfort her;

All her allies have betrayed her.

Checkerspot butterflies

flee their homes;

Polar bears

can find no rest.

Because our greed has heated Earth.

Whole communities destroyed

To pursue off-shore oil.

Lives and dreams have been narrowed.

Coastlines mourn for families,

lost homes and livelihoods.

Barrier islands lament, desolate.

Wetlands sigh without their song birds.

Estuaries grieve, the sea is embittered.

Earth’s children – now her enemies;

Despite destruction, we sleep at ease.

The Breath of Life grieves

our abundant transgressions.

Infants of every species,

Captive to our conceit.

Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, chadesh yameinu kekedem

Let us return, help us repent.

You Who Breathe all Life;

Breathe us, Breathe us,

Breathe us into a new path –

Help us, Help us,

Help us Turn to a new way of living

Make new, Make -new,

Our world of life intertwining –

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

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

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

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

Three final thoughts:

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


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

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

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

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

Shalom, salaam paz, peace  --  Arthur

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Toward a future Judaism: A Retreat This July

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four sessions:

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

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

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

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

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

 

       Here:  yerusha.org/ruach-haaretz

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

Shalom, Arthur

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#JeremiahJusticeJune12 at the White House: Uphold our Covenants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We must not be divided.

We must not be complacent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Director, Kairos Center

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

Minister Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Director, School for Conversion

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

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

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#JeremiahJusticeJune12 at the White House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We call  you to a #PropheticPilgrimage!

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Director, Kairos Center

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

Minister Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Director, School for Conversion

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

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

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Becoming Elijah: Shabbat HaGadol (Tomorrow) & Passover

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

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


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

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

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



Between the Fires:
A Prayer for Kindling Candles of Commitment
  

We are the generation that stands 
between the fires:
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
From the burning forests of the Amazon,
From the hottest years of human history
that bring upon us
Melted ice fields, Flooded cities, Scorching droughts.
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.
 
 
"Here! The day is coming
That will flame like a furnace, “
Says the Infinite YHWH / Yahhhh,
The Breath of Life --
when all the arrogant, all evil-doers,
root and branch,
will like straw be burnt to ashes.
Yet for those of you who revere My Name,
Yes! My Name, Yahhhh, the Interbreath of Life!
For them a sun of justice will arise

with healing in its wings/rays . . .
 
“Here! Before the coming
of the great and awesome day
of YHWH/ the Breath of Life,
I will send you the Prophet Elijah
to turn the hearts of parents to their children
and the hearts of children to their parents,
lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction."
                      (Malachi 3: 20-21, 23-24.)


 
Here! we ourselves are coming
Before that great and terrible day
of  smiting Earth —
For we ourselves shall turn the hearts
Of parents to their children
And the hearts of children to their parents
So that this day of smiting
Does not fall upon us.
                                                    .
It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
But the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different, All of us bearing
One Spark.
We kindle these candle-fires to see more clearly
That the earth and all who live as part of it
Are not for burning.
We light these fires to see more clearly
The rainbow in the many-colored faces of all life
 
Blessed is the One within the many.
Blessed are the many who make One.
 
{Say the appropriate blessing and Light candles of commitment]

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Empower Passover: More Joy, More Justice

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

 

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

 

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

 

DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

 

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

 

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

 

Related stories

 


 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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My name is Guillermo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Presence of an Absence

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

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

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

2. The next most important spiritual lesson is that (as many modern scholars teach) the Scroll of Esther is not history but satire –- an over-the-top tale of

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

Dear friends,

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

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

Then please come back here.

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

So the kids are right and Senator Feinstein is wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One more action, right after your phone calls:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 [Photo by Rabbi Mordechai Liebling]

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

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

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

And that includes --

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

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

Deuteronomy 17:14-19 

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY]

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

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

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

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

Will stop you.

For we have no king!


 

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TRUMP: Kings and Presidents, the Bible & the Constitution

Tomorrow (February 18) is Presidents Day. Not Dictators Day. Not King George III’s Day. The holy day is known as Presidents Day in honor originally of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and more recently to honor all the honorable Presidents of the United States. And when necessary, to challenge a dishonorable President.

Throughout the United States, at Noon local time tomorrow, Monday, February 18, there will be solemn rallies of protest against the so-called “National Emergency” just proclaimed by Mr. Trump.

You can find a rally near you by clicking here

https://www.crisisresponse.us/event/crisis-response/search/?source=dailykos&link_id=1&can_id=ec320de8eee4a92ec3d9eb18c7b84a60&email_referrer=email_496350&email_subject=there-is-an-event-in-or-near-city-default-your-town-on-monday-february-18

and plugging in your zip code.

The Shalom Center has endorsed the national wave of protests, and I will be speaking at the one in Philadelphia. It will gather at NOON Monday at SOUTH SIDE of City Hall.   

We the People chose to bind our President by a Constitution. Here is what that means:

 CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES

 Article. I. Section. 1. All legislative Powers herein granted

shall be vested in a Congress of the United States,

which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

  Article. I. Section. 8. ... No money shall be drawn from the Treasury,

but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law

 Article II. Section 1:  He [The President] shall ... take the following Oath or Affirmation: --

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute

the Office of President of the United States,

and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend

the Constitution of the United States.

This teaching – We the People have no Dictator, no King – goes deep not just into our Constitution but into the moral fabric that preceded it by about 2500 years.  Even when people chose kings, the Bible taught that even a king, especially a king, must have his powers limited.

Deuteronomy 17:14-19

When you enter the land that YHWH  [Yahhh, the Interbreathing spirit of all Life]  your God is giving you, and you possess it and settle in it, should you say, “I will set over me a king like all the nations around us,”  you may set, yes, set over you a king that YHWH [Yahhh] your God chooses....

“Only: He is not to multiply cavalry for himself or make the people return to the Tight and Narrow Place [of slavery] in order to multiply his cavalry, since YHWH [Yahhh] has said to you, “You will never return that way again!” And he is not to multiply wives for himself, lest his heart be turned aside. And silver and gold he must not multiply for himself.  

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

            [Translation by Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses (Schocken Books, 1995), with a few  modifications by Rabbi Arthur Waskow]

That last line about the danger that kings will lift their hearts above their community, not turn their hearts toward their community, is at the heart of all the political rules.  For us as well.

Back to the "political": No previous invocation of a "national emergency" has purported to usurp the sole power of Congress, by “withdrawing from the Treasury” money that has NOT been drawn “in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”

Moreover, in the very proclamation of this “emergency,” Mr. Trump said, “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster. I just want to get it done faster, that’s all.”

 That's the very definition of a non-emergency –-- except to meet the raw emotional and political needs of the proclaimer to subjugate everyone who will not bow to him. He kidnaps children from their families, he brings wildfires and hurricanes and famines on all living beings. Doing exactly what the Bible forbade: “that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”

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

We demand that he stop lifting up his heart in contempt and arrogance above and against his people, all peoples, and all life; and turn his heart instead toward justice and compassion. Or leave.

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Trump Mulls: Burn the Constitution, the Planet, or Both?

(This is satire from the well-known Satire News Agency, the Dissociated Press. Satire reports not the immediate facts but the deeper Truth that emerges from understanding the immediate facts.)

Trump Mulls: Burn the Constitution, the Planet, or Both?

Dissociated Press [Washington DC, February 15, 2019]  A member of the Trump family has described to our reporter a private meeting of the Trump Family just before Donald Trump decided today to proclaim a national emergency on the Southern US border so as to build the Wall.

The family member reports that Donald said,  

“I’m considering burning the Constitution by ignoring its provision that only Congress can appropriate money, and grabbing money from various agencies to start building that Wall.  I want your advice: Will we make more money for the Family if I do this “national emergency” thing, or if I just focus on burning the Earth?

 “I’ve already been doing my best to burn all Planet Earth. I’m  encouraging the burning of as much coal, oil, and unnatural gas as possible, ending limits on automobile CO2 emissions, allowing coal-burning power plants from spewing their poison into the air.

“The GREAT thing is, all that carbon-burning also multiplies weird cancers and terrible asthma epidemics in the Black and Brown neighborhoods, who don’t belong in our country anyway and harbor thousands of would-be terrorists. We protect America by keeping them busy with their kids in hospitals.

“Of course there is no national emergency on the border.  The real emergency is that I might lose the 2020 election if I don’t get that Wall built.

“I notice just today, my Trump Organization announced that so many elitist and globalists are angry at me they won’t stay in my Hotels any more. The new hotels we planned will have to wait.

 “So those 'globalists' like Soros and Steyer (you know who I mean, but I can’t say the whole truth about them out loud – yet!) are going to explode if I burn the Constitution too. But my loyal followers will love me even more, so it’s my best chance to win in 2020.

"The Dems will go to court, of course. But so what if they win? Once I’ve burned one part of the Constitution, what’s to stop me for burning more? As my hero Andy Jackson when the Supreme Court tried to stop him from forcing those Pocohontas Cherokees to move their asses out of Georgia, ‘John Mashall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!’

“And besides, it’s such a thrill to see McConnell so scared!  He’s so scared I’ll support somebody to beat him in the primary,  I bet if I got the actual original copy of the Constitution out of the Archives and told him to light the match to burn it on the White House lawn, he’d swallow hard and do it.

“But if it will hurt the Hotels, should I do it?   Win the Presidensity, lose a few hotels  -- is it worth it to our bottom line?”

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Supporting the "Green New Deal"

Dear friends, “Sunrise” is the mostly young-people movement that first put the Green New Deal on the map. I am sharing with you an invitation to an “emergency mass phone call” at 8 pm EST  THIS evening (WEDNESDAY Feb 13) to plan an effort to win as many votes as possible in the Senate for a resolution by Senator Markey of Massachusetts in support of the concept. (See below for why this vote is coming and why to press for support.) 

My own view is that the Green New Deal offers by far the best chance of success in our struggle to prevent climate chaos, because it joins the struggle for social justice with the struggle for eco-sanity. 

This is rooted in our best religious and spiritual traditions – for instance, the biblical Shmita/Sabbatical Year both releases the Earth from overwork and releases debtors from their debts.

 -– AND it flowers with the most effective possible political energy, for it responds to all the pent-up desires in American life for well-paid working-class jobs that will be needed to create the green renewable-energy society. And it addresses the need for a just transition from Carbon to renewable energy by affirming the need for new jobs for those now locked into Carbon industries and for special aid to depressed and isolated communities, rural and urban. 

 So I hope you will join in the call tonight. For the link to register, see here & below.


https://zoom.us/webinar/register/1115500645166/WN_-uff9AwNRJqMiX9opzFQ2g?link_id=0&can_id=de6277e02b2b184c1a1c39f5bf6caf62&source=email-“Sunrisbreaking-senate-vote-on-green-new-deal&email_referrer=email_494332___subject_636448&email_subject=breaking-senate-vote-


 Shalom, Arthur

 

FROM "SUNRISE":

Yesterday, Mitch McConnell announced he’s bringing the Green New Deal resolution to a vote in the Senate. Tonight we'll hold an emergency call to chart out our response. 

 

Rabbi Arthur, 

Yesterday, Mitch McConnell announced he’s bringing the Green New Deal resolution to a vote in the Senate. He’s wagering that he can use this to destroy the momentum for the Green New Deal before we are able to build support in the Senate. 

We intend to make him regret it. Tonight, we’re launching our plans to fight back. Join our Emergency Mass Call tonight at 8pm EST. 

McConnell made this call because he works for the fossil fuel billionaires, not our generation, and they are scared. They see the movement we’re building: the thousands of people visiting offices this week, the bipartisan support for the Green New Deal in the polls, and the wall-to-wall media coverage about a real solution to climate change. 

This vote raises the stakes higher than ever. We don’t expect to win this vote: fossil fuel money still runs Washington -- for now. But, it is a huge opportunity. It forces every member of the Senate to make a choice: will you vote for a plan to guarantee every American clean air and water, a stable climate, and a good job? Or will you stand with Mitch McConnell and the fossil fuel billionaires who are willing to put millions of lives in peril so they can pad their profits? 

Mitch McConnell thinks he can win this fight in 2019 -- but he’s actually just starting the process of losing it in 2020.

Once Senators on the record, we can hold them accountable, and begin the process of turning over our democracy to the people who are willing and able to fight for all of us - not just the billionaires. We’ll build a youth-led electoral army that will help our friends and punish the members of Congress working against us. 

It starts tonight, when we’ll meet to talk about our plan to push as many Senators to side with us before the vote, and our 3 year plan to take back power and pass a Green New Deal - no matter what happens in the coming weeks.

RSVP to join the call here.

Mitch McConnell and his allies have no plan to stop catastrophic climate change. They have nothing like this movement. All they have is fear, division, and distraction. Their time is over. It’s not going to be easy, but I believe that we can do this. 

Sunrise is a movement to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. If someone forwarded you this email, sign up here to get updates from Sunrise.

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Howard Schultz and The Challenge of "Class Suicide"

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

  

By Arlene Goldbard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freire was right.The spoilers like Schultz who claim to be for the public good but sacrifice nothing to see it enacted, those whose self-im