Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

Living Fringes on the Edges of America -- Again

Four brief essays from Jews who after Pittsburgh will not “pass” as even more conventional Americans than we have been, but choose to live as visible fringes on the edges of America.  --  AW

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 1. Why are Fringes Sacred?

 The Pitttsburgh murderer attacked Jews because we were acting upon Torah's teachings, welcoming refugees fleeing from oppression. (See Deut 23:15-16).   So -- in the wake of Pittsburgh, shall we protect ourselves by abandoning our commitment to compassion? Shall we hide from others who we are, by hiding from ourselves who we are?

 That would mean hiding  from Moses and Miriam, from Amos and Jeremiah and Isaiah, from the unknown woman who first sang the Song of Songs, from Hillel and Akiba and Bruriah, from Rabbi David Einhorn of Baltimore who in the 1850s was forced by his own congregants to leave the city when he called for the abolition of slavery, from Clara Lemlich who rose unknown from a crowd of women workers to call for the great shirtwaist factory strike of 1909, from Rose Schneiderman who said only a working-class arising could prevent future Triangle Shirtwaist fires, from Martin Buber and Henrietta Szold, from Heschel and Vorspan and Kaplan, from Muriel Rukeyser and Alan Ginsberg and Leonard Cohen, from Judith Plaskow and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. 

Hiding ourselves from the Burning Bush and the Breath of Life. 

Or we can choose to be who we are, choosing to join others on the fringes of American society – along with bold Black America, brown-skinned Americans 
and Mexicans, Native Americans,  refugees and immigrants, independent-minded women, transgender aand non-binary people along with all the GLBTQ communities.

And remembering that in our tradition, it is Fringes that make the garment holy.

Why do fringes make the garment holy? Because fringes are threads of connection between our inward selves and the world beyond –reminding us that we end not with a sharp edge, a fence or a wall, but with a fuzzy mixture of “my” cloth and God’s air. 

 All the communities that live on the fringes of “America” connect us with the “Other,” the Beyond. Cut us off, and America will die of strangulation.

 --    Rabbi Arthur Waskow

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2. Wearing a Kippah

 In early 2017, I was a panelist in a program about confronting white supremacy.  My fellow panelists were an African-American woman, a Latin@ transgender people, a Native American man, and an Asian woman. 

I believe I was the last one to speak.  When it 
came my turn, I said, "There is a difference between my fellow panelists and me.  Unlike them," I said, removing my kippah, "I can pass."

It is time to stop passing.  It is time to announce loudly and clearly what side we are on and that we are not afraid.  I propose all of us wear kippot in public, at all times.  I began wearing mine two weeks after the inauguration, for just that reason.  Let's do it, and let's encourage others to do so as well.

The day we do not stand up to those who want to make us fear is the day we lose.

 --   (((Alan Wagman)))

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3. A Rabbi's Public Letter to Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania

 Mr. Toomey, Your words of sympathy for the Jewish dead at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh included in Sunday's Inquirer are "crocodile tears" as you and your colleagues in the US Senate have aided-and-abetted the incitement-to-hatred of Mr. Trump.

You have voted against the welcoming of refugees and immigrants, against affordable health care for all, against the preservation of a 
sustaining earth for future generations, against the human needs of the poor whether elderly or young or working or disabled, against women (and occasionally men) who have been harassed or abused or raped by those in "power", and for the dehumanizing of "the other" -- whether Jews or Muslims or people of color or women or GLBTQ.

 Your sympathy would be better expressed and better received if your service to the people of this state included care and empathy for all in need, rather than cold-blooded disregard for the pain you have caused through your support of a corrupt president and his minions.

--   Rabbi Phyllis Berman

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4. Letter to President Trump from Pittsburgh Jewish Leaders

President Trump:

Yesterday, a gunman slaughtered 11 Americans during Shabbat morning services. We mourn with the victims’ families and pray for the wounded. Here in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, we express gratitude for the first responders and for the outpouring of support from our neighbors near and far. We are committed to healing as a community while we recommit ourselves to repairing our nation.

For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence.  

President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism.

Our Jewish community is not the only group you have targeted.  You have also deliberately undermined the safety of people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. Yesterday’s massacre is not the first act of terror you incited against a minority group in our country.  

President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you stop targeting and endangering all minorities.

The murderer’s last public statement invoked the compassionate work of the Jewish refugee service HIAS at the end of a week in which you spread lies and sowed fear about migrant families in Central America. He killed Jews in order to undermine the efforts of all those who find shared humanity with immigrants and refugees.

President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you cease your assault on immigrants and refugees.

The Torah teaches that every human being is made b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.

This means all of us.

In our neighbors, Americans, and people worldwide who have reached out to give our community strength, there we find the image of God.  While we cannot speak for all Pittsburghers, or even all Jewish Pittsburghers, we know we speak for a diverse and unified group when we say:

President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you commit yourself to compassionate, democratic policies that recognize the dignity of all of us.


Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh Steering Committee

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Please help The Shalom Center continue to help  your work to affirm the sacred  fringes that heal our society’s deep wounds,  by clicking on the maroon “Contribute” button on the left-hand margin of this page.

With prayers and blessings for all Americans who choose to live as fringes that reach out to the Other, the Beyond ----  Arthur 

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New Webinar: “Sacred Seasons of the Sacred Earth”


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Register here:


Why are we doing this?

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

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

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

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

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

Join us for this series. Register now!

Register here:

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace --  Arthur & Alanna

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NO Bully on the Supreme Court!

In yesterday’s hearings at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Kavanaugh reacted at the political level exactly as Dr. Blasey Ford describes his behavior at the physical level.

He wants a seat on the Supreme Court; at the possibility of being denied it he responded with fury and verbal violence. Just so, when he wanted sex and was refused it, he responded with physical violence. He is a bully, and everything we know about his judicial behavior and what we now know from three distinct women about his physical behavior jibe. They fit together.

The American people do not deserve a bully on the Supreme Court. Please call your own Senators and Senators Jeff Flake, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski to urge them to vote No on confirming Kavanaugh, because he has shown himself to be not unqualified but DISqualified to sit as a judge, let alone on the Supreme Court.

This decision will affect the next 30 years of American history. It is not only women he will bully, though it was notable that he expressed his bullying even more toward the women Senators than toward the critical male Senators. Those of us who are men have a sacred responsibility toward our own honor, to the decency of our male children and grandchildren, and to all Americans to teach that being male does not mean being a bully and a rapist.

Torah teaches that we celebrate Sukkot because the first sukkot were places of protection for refugees – the vulnerable runaway slaves of the Exodus.   (Lev 23: 43).  This Sukkot, it is a Jewish obligation to help build American  society as a sukkah, a place of shalom for all the vulnerable. A place to shelter all of us from bullies.

To do that we must act now by calling, visiting, imploring, sitting-in --   insisting that our Senators vote against empowering a bully;  help Grow the Vote  by working to register new voters (especially from millennials and others who have a history of low voter turn-out in “off-year” elections) and follow through by voting ourselves and helping others vote in November.

Ufros alenu sukkat shlomecha-  Spread over all of us the Sukkah of Shalom! 


__  Arthur

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A Prayer for This Morning as Our Country Faces Sexual Assault by Men in Power

A Prayer for This Morning

(Written by Rabbi Tamara Cohen)

Dear God Who opened Hagar’s eyes to the desert wellspring that saved her life, 

Dear God Who was with Hannah as she cried out her heart to the priest Eli, deafened by his position and authority and judgment, 

Be with Christine Blasey Ford today as she opens her lips to share her painful truths in a seat of patriarchal power.

May those who seek her harm be stilled!

May those who quake with their own memories find support and comfort.

May those who go to parties tonight and any night seeking joy, acceptance, release, adventure, never be pinned down, ridiculed, forced to yield the basic freedom to their bodies’ autonomy, to their souls’ intactness, to their future’s possibilities. 

May You be also with Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick and all brave women who speak out and risk their safety for the sake of the safety of others.

And may those who seek to limit the freedom of women in the name of their own freedom or in the name of their faith, come to see that the way to protect the sanctity of life is right before them every day --- in the workplace, in their families, on the streets and in their schools, 

Because each chance to treat a human being as a human being is an opportunity to honor the sanctity of life.

     And let us say, Ameyn!

 (Written by Rabbi Tamara Cohen, September 27, 2018)

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Making this New Year a Transformation Time

We’ve just begun the new year, the year when the world needs Transformation.

The Shalom Center has been encouraging the growth of a transformative sense of the Spirit. A spirit of community and comraderie, not of cruelty and subjugation. 

To keep doing this, we need your help.

We write and send out Shalom Reports to hearten your Spirit in harsh times, and to encourage your action against cruelty. We receive hundreds of letters  -- Thanking us.  Promising to undertake an action we have recommended. Inviting us to speak. Asking us for information about Jewish, Christian, and Muslim festivals, about where to find an ancient wisdom teaching.

We write, we research, we respond. All of this costs money. We need your help. Yes, your help. 

We take action ourselves. We visited prisons filled with children whose parents asked for asylum in the US from cruel violence at 
home, and were met instead with cruelty by our own government and by the official kidnapping of their children. We were arrested for nonviolently blocking an ICE office that was haunting schools and hospitals to arrest and deport refugees. We challenged fake biblical quotes by a government official, and showed how the Bible specifically forbids deporting refugees who are fleeing a cruel overlord. 

We organized a vigil that brought together hundreds of letters quoting the Bible to rebuke the corrupt Earth-destroying behavior of EPA Administrator Pruitt, and we helped force him to resign in disgrace. 

We spoke at a rally calling for a No vote on a Supreme Court nominee named by a corrupt President in the hope of protecting himself from 
investigation. We did not speak “politically”; we brought to bear the biblical teaching about how to protect the people from a cruel and wanton king who is deliberately choosing to endanger human civilization and the web of life on earth, to magnify the already enormous wealth of the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs. 

We write, we speak, we get arrested. All of this costs money. We need your help. Yes, truly: your help. 

And we provided a creative way of drawing on the powerful moment of Yom Kippur to carry into the public streets the Prophet Isaiah’s outcry for the poor, for prisoners, and for the powerless. This coming Friday, we will send you a new translation of Isaiah in time for you to use it in your congregation this Yom Kippur. 

Week after week for the past month, we provided creative materials to help you Share Sukkot: Grow the Vote. Facing a crucial election, we provided guides for you to hold “Sukkah parties” to register new voters and follow up to make sure they vote, along with photo-posters to bring heroes of voting rights into our sukkot as “ushpizin,” sacred guests.

All of this costs money. We need your help.

In  the year just past, a Brooklyn synagogue became the first in the country to move its money from a bank that invests in Big Oil to burn our planet, to a community bank that invests in neighborhood needs. Their announcement quotes The Shalom Center’s “Move Our Money/ Protect Our Planet” proposal. (The initials spell MOM_POP.)  We think the Jewish community is ready for that grass-roots effort, and we intend to turn that proposal into a campaign.  That will cost money. We need your help to make it happen.

Look at The Shalom Center's logo. Translating the graphic into words: Together, we have the whole world in our hands. The rocks and the rivers, the frogs and the forests. All our children and all their children.


So please contribute by clicking on the maroon “Contribute” button on the left-hand margin of this page. In this year of Transformation, you can help us help you heal our country, our planet, and your own neighborhood. That is what the Breath of Life is calling us all to do.

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“Avraham -- IBRAHIM!” : Eid Mubarak & Shanah Tovah

During the next month, Muslims and Jews throughout the world will celebrate a transformative moment in the life of Abraham, whom both traditions see as their most ancient sage and teacher.

The story begins with God calling “Abraham,”  who answers, “Here I am!” He remains steadfast in deep faith even when God tests him by telling him to sacrifice his beloved son. But when the terrible moment is actually upon them, God's messenger calls “Abraham -- -- ABRAHAM!” Why twice? Because Abraham had committed himself so deeply to do what gave him great pain that he did not stop the knife from falling until God called again.

This was the moment of transformation that both traditions celebrate as the birthing of their vision.  And it teaches us that today, even in a dangerous moment in the history of America and of our Mother Earth, even when some of our leaders are bringing down the knife upon our children and grandchildren, we the People can still turn our ears and our hearts to hearing the Voice of justice and compassion. And transform our future.

Muslims will honor this story beginning the evening of August 21, with Eid al-Adha --  Festival of the Offering --  in which the key element is sharing food with the poor, in memory of Abraham’s offering of a ram as a substitute for his son. Jews will honor it beginning the evening of September 9 till the evening of September 11, with Rosh Hashanah, by reading in the Torah the stories of Abraham’s relationships with his two sons --  stories of danger and pain that end in survival and success.

The ancient tale -- as often happens in a family remembering some crucial moment in their history – takes on different versions in the two traditions, and in Christianity as well. Many Jews, Christians, and Muslims have focused on the differences as a source of enmity. I have had the joyful opportunity to work with an extraordinary Christian leader and an extraordinary Muslim leader to weave together the different versions --  not ignoring the differences, but seeing them as complementary teachings of different spiritual truths.

We turned that effort into a book published by Beacon Press,  The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

My comrades in that effort were Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, a Roman Catholic feminist, working toward the transformation of her own tradition and community – and Murshid Saadi Shakur Chishti (Dr Neil Douglas-Klotz), a Sufi Muslim teacher of the Aramaic spirituality and culture that gave birth to Rabbinic Judaism and to Christianity. Around each of these teachers has grown up a world-wide community of spiritual searchers.

Each of us wrote ten essays on how and what we learn from the whole saga of Abraham’s family as it appears in the Torah (me), in the Christian Testament (Chittister), and in the Quran (Chisti). Then together we wove the story of Abraham’s and his family’s life.

When we had finished writing, we shared our work with Karen Armstrong, still another world-renowned teacher of the history and meaning of religion. She wrote a profound preface for the book.

During the past several years I have heard from synagogues, churches, and mosques that exploring the book has opened new understandings for their members. Since our generation remains caught in a history when many Jews, many Christians, and many Muslims see the other traditions as their enemies, it may be useful to take this season as a time to read and discuss it.

Though no Christian festival is as focused on Abraham as the Jewish and Muslim ones are, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, October 4, may appeal to many Christians as a relevant time. Francis opposed the Crusades --  an act of heresy and treason in his day – and studied with Muslims to enrich his Christian prayer.

You can order copies of the book by clicking here:

As a member of The Shalom Center community, you can achieve a 10% discount from the cost of the book by inserting the word “tent” (with no quote marks) when in making the purchase you are invited to insert a promotional code.

Beacon wrote:

 "The Tent of Abraham is the first book to tell the entire story of Abraham and to reenergize it as a basis for peace. It explores in accessible language the mythic quality and the teachings of reconciliation that are embedded in the Torah, the Qur’an, and the [Christian] Bible."


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5 Offerings for a Deep & Powerful Yom Kippur

1)  The Shalom Center and I have joined with a group of San Francisco rabbis and other spiritual teachers to propose that on Yom Kippur congregations all across the country set aside 18 minutes to walk in vigil into their neighborhoods to renew and reawaken the American conscience of compassion, not cruelty; of justice, not subjugation. 

Each congregation can further define this event as they wish.  

One way of framing it would be to see it as a call for tshuvah --  “turning” in active repentance --  not only by individuals but also by our society as a whole. 


2) In some Yom Kippur services I have led in the past, we have pursued a deeply moving practice for the Avodah that renews the ancient practice at the Temple . We have  invited people outside.  Then they were invited to lie face-down on the grass, so that  they melted into the adamah (Earth) for 18 minutes, then to be reborn as adam (human earthlings). 

Given the broadening areas of North Ameruca that now host ticks carrying dangerous viruses or sllergens, I can ony suggest carrying out this practice with extreme care -- or not at all.

It is sad and ironic for me to say that it may not any longer be possible to undertake this spiritual journey safely.  For its purpose was to help us cnnect more fully with our Mother Earth, and the reason to demur is that we humans have already made the Earth more dangerous to us than it was, or than it needs to be.

The practice was rooted in the creation story of Genesis 2: 5-7. Those verses describe the birth of the human race in a way reminiscent of individual human birthings. In the Torah story, a clump of reddish earth loses the “— -ah” breathing sound of adamah from Mother Earth and then receives the Nishmat chayyim (“breath of life”) from the Holy One Who is YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life. 

This tells the mythic story of the birth of the human race by modeling it on an individual human birth — the fetus breathing thru the placenta till birth, losing that breath in being birthed, then (with help from  an “outside” act like a tap on the tush)  beginning to breathe on her/his own. 

This is a powerful reminder of the close relationship between Mother Earth & Human Earthling, and of the need to heal the Breath that sustains us both — to heal our CO2-saturated atmosphere that is scorching our planet, forcing upon us huge wildfires, unheard-of floods, torrents of constant rain, lethal droughts and famines, waves of desperate refugees, and the spread of what used to be tropical diseases. Can we learn the connecction without endangering our bodies?

Perhaps we can instead breathe quietly indoors while contemplating the Torah's teaching of what  it means to be children of Mother Earth, and how important it is to turn ourselves to breathe again in communion with our Mother. Perhaps we make the Avodah a time to go outdoors to pray with a near-by tree. To stand beside the tree and listen to the tree's prayers and bring them back to the community. 

3. On the two days of Rosh Hashanah, traditionally we read two painful stories: Abraham’s expelling his older son Ishmael and Ishmael’s mother Hagar from his family, and Abraham’s endangering the life of his younger son, Isaac — and according to many commentaries, bringing about the death of Isaac’s mother Sarah, in sorrow that her son Isaac might have died. 

These two stories cry out for turning and for healing. 

There is in fact in Torah a tale of how the two brothers reconcile with each other. They join to bury their father; then Isaac goes to live at the wellspring that is Ishmael’s home. 

We read this story in the regular rhythm of Shabbat Torah readings. But at The Shalom Center we think that the story should also be read on Yom Kippur, instead of leaving us stuck in the pain of the Rosh Hashanah stories. (The passage is
Genesis 25: 7-11.) 

It can remind us as individuals that it is always possible for us to turn away from anger and toward reconciliation. (Indeed, my brother Howard and I wrote a book, Becoming Brothers, about how we had turned from conflict to loving connection.) 

And especially in our generation, it can remind us that the great-great- great-grandchildren of Isaac — the Jewish people — and the great-great-great-grandchildren of Ishmael — the Arab peoples and Islam, with special attention to the Palestinians — need to turn toward compassion for
each other. 

After reading this passage from the Torah Scroll on Yom Kippur, wherever we gather for this holy day we could pause to explore our own fears and angers. 

One way we have drawn on this reading is to have members of the congregation pair off. One member of the pair becomes Isaac at the edge of Machpelah, having just buried Abraham. The other person becomes Ishmael. The two have a conversation. It might be about their descendants, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims. It might be personal, reflecting on the family dynamics of their dangerous father and caring mothers. They do not talk about Ishmael and Isaac; they become them. 

All these pairs are doing this simultaneously for 18 minutes. Then the congregation reconvenes and some might share what happened in their couple.  

We encourage you to raise in your own congregations the possibility of lifting up this Torah passage and a conversation on its meaning. 

 4) You can hear and see my slightly midrashic translation of the Isaiah Haftarah with music by Will Fudeman and Cantor Abbe Lyons, and with flashes
of extraordinary graphics-in-motion by the renowned artist Michael Bogdanow that carry its message.  See

You can also draw on the written text of the translation, which you can find at

5) Traditionally, we remember ten great rabbis murdered by the Roman Empire. For a new Martyrology/ Eleh Ezhereh/ These We Remember,
 in the video at, you can share some memories not in words alone but in the media of our generation — audio and video — of ten people who were killed during the last 50 years because they were affirming profound Jewish values. This powerful film was made by Larry Bush, editor of Jewish Currents. 

As part of the film, Rabbi Liz Bolton chants some haunting melodies that evoke the ancient and the modern stories. And we see the faces and hear the words of these courageous men and women of our own epoch: Schwerner. Goodman. Krause. Moffitt. Milk. Linder. Krichevsky. Rabin. Chain. Pearl. A minyan of modern martyrs. 

        With blessings for a true tshuvah for us all, each and all of us, as we live through Elul and into the Ten Days that culminate with Yom Kippur.

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Healing Earth-- NOT "Losing Earth"

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Last Sunday, the New York Times gave climate activists and the Earth what seemed to be a wonderful gift. The entire issue of the New York Times Magazine was devoted to a single article entitled "Losing Earth." It reported on the decade between 1979 and 1989 when, it said, the climate crisis could have been averted because scientists and many politicians of diverse outlooks were ready to act to prevent the worsening of CO2 emissions.

But what the Times giveth, the Times taketh away. The article blamed the failure of that nascent climate-healing effort on the entire human race, which it said is so mired in the present urgency of many many issues that it is unable to think about the deeper future.

So the article has the effect of disempowering climate activism, by saying the human species can’t see far enough to make a difference and that we are already cooked – literally. Earth is already lost.

“Human short-sightedness” is in fact not the real problem, as I am in a position to know. And though we have lost a lot of precious time and many precious liveswe are not yet cooked beyond healing.

[This bird and many thousands of other life-forms, including eleven human beings,  were killed by the greed and irresponsibility of  a single powerful and hyperwealthy Big Oil corporation --  BP – in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. They were not killed by the “short-sightedness of the human race.”]

Why do I say that I am in a position to know that the article misses the point?

Because I was from 1978 to 1980 – the start of the decade mourned by the Times -- involved in the effort to pursue renewable energy in order to prevent "global warming" through the profligate burning of coal and oil.

I was working together with Leonard Rodberg, a physicist and a colleague of mine in the Public Resource Center (a center for progressive thought and action in Washington DC). We worked on a study and report to President Carter's Department of Energy on the possibilities of community-based generation and use of solar energy. We said that this would be important to do precisely because the continuing use of fossil fuels was beginning to endanger the planet by heating it to levels that would disturb the entire web of life.

So the Department of Energy gave us a grant to explore the social and technological possibility for this kind of community involvement in shifting to solar energy. We submitted a report that described what needed to be done.

The Department was excited and invited us to propose the next step --  a grant that would make it possible for us to actually undertake and oversee a pilot project in community-based solarization.

We submitted the proposal they invited, and they signed off on a contract to do it. Hallelu-YAH!

But then came the election of 1980. Ronald Reagan was the nominee to oppose President Carter. "The Department of Energy has a multibillion-dollar budget, in excess of $10 billion," Reagan said during an election debate with Carter. "It hasn't produced a quart of oil or a lump of coal or anything else in the line of energy."

Reagan won the election.

When the new administration took power in January 1981, we went to the new set of officials in the Department of Energy with our signed contract in hand and asked them how to proceed.

They laughed. They were not interested in replacing coal and oil with renewable sources of energy. We pointed out that the contract came from the US government, not from a particular administration. They laughed again. They were Big Coal, Big Oil. Why would they want to be replaced? To save the Earth and humanity from devastation? Hardly.

We consulted some friendly lawyers knowledgeable about the ins and outs of the federal government. They told us we could sue, and perhaps in three years a court would decide to enforce the contract. And perhaps not.

By 1986, the Reagan administration had gutted the research and development budgets for renewable energy and had eliminated tax breaks for the deployment of wind and solar technologies. And the Reagan administration capped its policy change with a symbolic change:  Where Carter had installed solar panels on the White House roof, Reagan dismantled them.

That is how we lost the impetus to heal the world. It was not a failing in the genetic makeup of the human race. It was not even a decision by the American body politick to choose oil and coal over sun and wind. The determining factor in the election was not solar energy but Carter’s failure to work out a peaceful settlement with the new Islamic Revolutionary government of Iran when it held as prisoners the diplomats and CIA officials who worked in the US Embassy in Baghdad. (Iran had demanded the US extradite the overthrown Shah of Iran to stand trial for crimes against the people. Carter refused. The Embassy take-over followed.)

 What actually made the difference to Mother Earth was the influence of Big Oil and Big Coal in Reagan’s mind and in the Reagan Administration. Money. Big money.

“The fault, dear fellow-citizens, was not in our stars or in our genes, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." We allowed ourselves to be treated as underlings by the Corporate Climate Pharaohs that have flooded our planet with scorching heat and our politics with cash.

And despite the NYT article, the earth is not yet lost. It is true that we have lost an entire generation of time while CO2 emissions have worsened and the Carbon Pharaohs have gotten even richer, even more able to buy scientists and politicians and the media.

It is true that the task of healing is even harder. That now we need to think about ways not only of getting to Zero Emissions but also of withdrawing a trillion tons of CO2 from the air where the Carbon Pharaohs have happily emplaced it, chortling all the way to the bank.

But we have learned some lessons that are important. Crucial.

We have learned that a small cabal of scientists and politicians, no matter how smart and well-placed they are, cannot outdo the Carbon Pharaohs. Not in the 1980s, not even in 2009 when Obama was President and tried to work “inside the Beltway” to get a climate-protection bill passed by Congress. It failed. Not even in the twilight years of his Administration, with the Clean Power regulatory initiative that he still was trying to carry out by fiat without rousing a movement to demand it. Within months, he was replaced in the White House with a rabidly anti-Earth, pro-Carbon, pro-subjugation President.

It is true that “Without a Vision, the People perish.” It is even more true that “Without the People, the Vision perishes.” We know now that it takes not even a climate-concerned President or presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican, to defeat the Carbon Pharaohs when Congress and the Executive Branch regulators are drenched with Carbon money in campaign contributions and lobbyist favors.

The difference is not between Republicans and Democrats. It is between a hyper-wealthy Corporate oligarchy and a movement that opposes subjugation not only of the Earth but of all insurgent energies. A movement in the streets, the courts, and the voting booths.

A multi-issue “fusion” movement based on a moral revival with a strong element of religious commitment -– as the Poor People’s campaign calls it and organizes it -- against subjugation, to heal the Earth and human civilization. A movement against subjugation of the Earth, of women, of Blacks and Muslims and Latinos, of the poor of all colors and locales, of the independent press, of children ripped from their parents’ arms while their parents are desperately seeking refuge from murderous violence.

A movement that can acknowledge that almost all of us are addicted to oil because the whole society has been structured that way by the Carbon Pharaohs, and also know that just as nicotine addicts could rise up and force the Drug Lords of Tobacco to  accept regulation, so can networks of Oiloholics Not-So-Anonymous  recognize our own imprisonment in choking clouds of CO2 –- and  end them.

When the New York Times is proclaiming in its loudest voice that the climate crisis is real but no longer a crisis with choices – we have already lost our planet –- how do we summon up the will to persist and heal her?

We need to know that it takes not only resistance to subjugation but affirmation of a joyful future, a Vision, to transform our economy and make the Carbon Pharaohs into simple citizens again. That vision must include a program for healing our climate, our planet, not just a plan for staving off utter catastrophe while region after region  burns like California, drowns like Bangla Desh and Florida.

And it will take the emergence of more people who at the grass roots can organically organize, resist, sing, dance, learn, cook, eat, register to vote, together. Not only the future but the present must be filled with joy. At the grass roots and in the grass-roofed Sukkah, the fragile hut to celebrate the Harvest of food, of wisdom, of caring for the Interbreathing that keeps all life alive.

We need to remember that our most creative transformations emerged out of struggles against the worst tyrannies. From resistance to the overweening despotic empires of Egypt and Babylonia came the flawed break-through we know as Torah. From resistance to the despotic Roman Empire came the flawed break-throughs we know as  Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. From resistance to the power elite of Mecca came the flawed break-through of Islam. And so on!

Those transformations sought not only a remaking of the political and economic systems of their time but also a profound sense that the Interbreathing Spirit of all life necessitated a profound reassessment of what is the good society. That in and with the Spirit, joy and self-restraint can join, and call forth energies that will outdo their opposite --  overpowering greed, the never satisfied drive for subjugation.

Those energies, that movement have already begun. Like the great break-throughs of old, it is emerging in response and resistance to the most blatant effort at subjugation in our own country right now.

It is already drawing on ecology, both as a science of the biological world and as an ecological attunement in understanding human societies; on the wisdom of indigenous peoples as encoded in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the powerful and attractive Native presence at Standing Rock; on the wisdom of nonviolent movements in the United States and other nations (especially in the 1960s); and on the best insights of democratic socialism.


The Shalom Center grows out of the belief that not only the Jewish past and present but also the religious communities of all sorts and flavors can make a fusion of the joyful present and the joyful future happen. That the sleepy, yawning giant of the Spirit can be awakened for our good.

Chadesh yamenu  k’kedem – Make new our days as they were long ago,” as the end of the Book of Lamentations calls on us to do after experiencing the worst of subjugations. Not to give us back “the good old days” but to fill our own days with newness, as they were when we humans saw far enough, deep enough, to change the world.

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ICE: Brutal and Brittle

Can We Melt it Down?

Let me invite you first to watch two different 3-minute videos of how The Shalom Center and I joined in the effort to heal the bodies and souls wounded by the Trumpist policy of ripping apart families at the US_Mexico border.  Then I will share with you the story of why we did this.

At you can see and hear the video of my briefly speaking to the police officers who were about to arrest us for blocking the entrance to the ICE office in Philadelphia..

 At <> you can see and hear my speaking in a vigil at the Berks County PA prison where fathers and children who had legally applied for asylum have been sent to rot their lives away.

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The Shalom Center and I continue to see the climate crisis as the most profoundly important issue facing the human species. We believe that Jewish wisdom –-  especially in the Hebrew Bible, the spiritual teachings of an indigenous people – bears vital wisdom for healing Earth today. And we believe that the American religious communities are the sleepy, yawning giant that could – if awakened – transform US policy toward healing our badly wounded planet.

So why did we, and I, take a serious chunk of time during June and July away from working on the climate crisis --  time to address the brutal and sadistic child-kidnapping policy of the present US government?

Three reasons:

  • Because there was no time to lose to free those children from their trauma that worsened every day, every hour,  they were still ripped away from their families;
  • Because in my assessment the cruelty was a deliberate effort to dehumanize brown-skinned Spanish-speaking people – the  “Kristalnacht” step on a path that points toward genocide;
  • Because the same arrogant cruelty that was at the heart of this kidnapping was at the heart of subjugating Mother Earth and tormenting us all – first and worst the poor -- with droughts,  famines, fires, floods.  

So on June 27, half a dozen rabbis, including two from The Shalom Center, joined teachers, clergy, labor leaders, and others at a children’s prison on the US-Mexico border.  Children in cages. After all, these brown kids were not really human: Cages like the zoo. Why not?

We brought Spanish-language children’s books, teddy bears, ourselves  –- for us to share with the kids. “No visits,” said the guards.   “All right, will you guards deliver these?”  “No gifts,” said the guards.  For these “baby animals” -- mere animals in the Trumpist worldview, even though that could talk, weep, wail ---- there were to be no instruments of learning. Or of yearning. No teddy bears for comfort. Only cages.

The leaders of the trip decided against a sit-down right then and there. So we returned to Philadelphia, burning with sorrow and anger.

We helped bring together a pick-up team of veteran activists that challenged ICE – the increasingly brutal enforcers of Trumpist policy to deport immigrants and refugees, and along with the Border Patrol responsible to carry out orders to kidnap children from their families.

Why do I say “kidnap”?  Because we know now they did not bother to take information on the children’s identities. The plan was never to reunite them with their parents. Even under a court-ordered deadline, they “could not” reunify some of the families.

This kidnap was not a mistake, any more than Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, shattered synagogues, murdered and bloodied Jews in Nazi-controlled Germany in 1938 was a mistake. Kristallnacht  was the act and the signal to say that Jews were not human beings. In the same vein,  to kidnap kids and shatter families was such a violation of human feelings that it was intended to signal that Spanish-speaking brown-skinned people were not human.

If it had worked, anything could have happened from then on. Immigrants who for decades had been welcomed into the US armed forces could be summarily discharged for no reason. (That is actually happening.) They could be told that even formal naturalization as citizens could be reversed. (Proposals on the table, but not yet.)  Prison camps for thousands could be set up on military bases. (Already under way.)

But unlike Germans in 1938, millions of American resisted--  Anglos and Latinos, brown and white and black.

What is more, we are winning victories. Here in Philadelphia, some important victories

Back home, we met with our dedicated, joyful pick-up band of 60 nonviolent protesters. Two days later, on June 29, we blocked the ICE office in Philadelphia for two hours. Then six of us were arrested. All of us more than 70 years old. The police were polite.

 At you can see and hear the video of my brief speaking to the police officers who were about to arrest us.

A week later a larger band actually occupied the ICE offices. When they were dispersed, the police acted much rougher.  The occupation sit-in moved to City Hall, adding protests at the rough dispersal to protest of the city’s assistance to ICE.

What assistance? Access, till then unknown to most of the public, to Philadelphia’s data base of people arrested or arraigned for minor offenses – data that ICE then used to deport them.

The drumbeat of resistance grew. And finally, Philadelphia’s Mayor Kenney announced that the city will not renew its contract with ICE when it expires at the end of this August. That is an important victory for human decency. It happened only because dozens of us risked arrest, sat in, sat down --

The target broadened. In Berks County PA, only 70 miles from Philadelphia, is a former welfare center for family healing that has been turned into a prison for asylum-seeking fathers and kids.

At <> you can see and hear my speaking in a vigil at the Berks County PA prison for fathers and children who had legally applied for asylum. I was among five rabbis who were there among a large band of protesters to call for the refugee-family prison there to be turned into a family-support healing center, and for the imprisoned families to be released while their applications for asylum were assessed.

The Governor of Pennsylvania could end the imprisonment of refugees and immigrants in Berks County. So far, he has failed to do so.

 U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw, who issued the court order that all the kidnapped children be reunited with their parents by a date now past, could hold in contempt the high officials who failed to obey the order.  So far, he has failed to do so.

 The House of Representatives could impeach the key actors in this cruel parade of “high crimes and misdemeanors”: White House chief of staff John Kelly, close presidential aide Stephen Miller, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Attorney-General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. So far, the House has failed to explore this possibility. (The Constitution specifies that “all Civil Officers of the United States” can be impeached.  This includes White House assistants. See <>.  There may be a majority of the House that, while unwilling to impeach the President, might be willing to focus on the specific officials who carried out this cruelty.)

A swiftly growing network of activists and Congressmembers are calling for the “abolition” of ICE.  The campaign to do this goes to the heart of what US immigration and refugee policy should be.  There is a serious danger that as the orders ICE is given become more cruel, people with a strong bent toward cruel behavior are attracted to become ICE officers, and people who feel a much stronger tug toward compassion than toward cruelty leave in disgust. If this is already happening, abolishing ICE and starting over would make sense.

The demand to do that may help focus immigration activism and lead to broader change. But that demand really needs to be matched with proposals for a whole new system of compassionate immigration law.

Torah’s law of refugees and asylum is this (Deut, 23: 15-16):

You are not to hand over to their masters
A serf [slave or indentured servant] who has sought asylum with you
From their master.

"Let them dwell beside you,
Among you,
In the place that they choose
Within your gates
That seems good to them.

"Do not mistreat them!”

What if it were adopted by American society  -- not because  it is Torah but because it accords with our sense of justice and compassion?


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Welcome Voting-Rights Heroes as Sacred Guests into our Sukkot

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

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

To access these ways pf Sharing Sukkot please click to <>.

 Here are two of the ushpizin posters:




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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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