Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

China Arrests Ex-Pres. Bush! Charges Him with War Crimes & Torture

Photo of Dissociated Press reporter consulting the future

[Beijing, Dissociated Press, July 4, 2011. The Dissociated Press seeks to report not the “actual facts” but the deeper “counter-factual” truth. Sometimes that truth is datelined from a hidden place beneath the surface of the facts, sometimes from the future  — see graphic above.  Often this kind of truth will read like satire.]

By Arthur Waskow, Special Roving Reporter for the Dissociated Press 

Chinese President Hu Jintao announced today in a hastily called news conference that “Former US President George W. Bush has been arrested by the People’s Liberation Army of the Chinese People’s Republic and is now under detention in China, charged with war crimes in the invasion of Iraq and with the use of torture forbidden by international law.”

Tumult broke out in the news room as soon as these words had left President Hu’s mouth, and many reporters were heard shouting into cell phones. After several minutes, order was restored and questions were shouted at Mr. Hu:

How was he arrested?”  -- “Special detachments of the Army’s Tiger Team helicoptered into Texas last night, overcame ineffective defenses, and withdrew with Mr. Bush. The Tiger Team was under strict instructions

to arrest him and under no circumstances allow him to be injured.”

“You said ‘charged with crimes.”  Will there be a trial?”  ---  “Of course.  Mr. Bush has already been invited to name any lawyers of his choice, from anywhere in the world. The trial will be public, held under the strictest standards of international scrutiny. The People’s Republic of China will present witnesses, and we expect that Mr. Bush’s defense attorneys will do the same.”

What made you decide on this unprecedented action?” --  “Actually, there are a number of precedents.  Most recently, there was the action taken by the US itself on Pakistani territory against Osama bin Laden, who seems by his own confession to have planned and executed monstrous crimes in the attacks of September 11, 2001. In that case, as you know, there was no trial. Long before, there was the extraterritorial arrest of Adolf Eichmann by agents of the State of Israel, followed by his trial.  And various persons accused of war crimes in the Balkans or in Africa have been arrested and put on trial.”

“But what stirred you to do this now?” --  “Under international law, all states are both authorized and required to bring to justice persons credibly accused of war crimes and torture. There were two factors in our decision: One was that in his own autobiography, Mr. Bush confessed that he had ordered the use of waterboarding, universally recognized as a form of torture. We waited to see whether any United States authorities would fulfill their obligation to act after this admission, but none did.” 

“Don’t you expect the United States to respond with great force to this violation of its sovereignty?”  --  Mr. Hu cupped both hands in front of him, and said: “In these hands the Chinese People’s Republic  holds the public debt and therefore the economy of the United States.   This debt was placed in our hands – I think in English you call this ‘irony’ --  by Mr. Bush himself, through  the enormous expenses he ran up in the invasion and occupation of Iraq and in the tax cuts he provided for the extremely wealthy in America.

“As a result, we expect there will be many public statements of outrage by the US authorities, but we do not expect them to take any serious action.  In any case, if they themselves had acted as they were obligated to do when Mr. Bush publicly confessed to ordering the use of torture, we would not have taken these steps.” 

“What about China’s own violation of human rights in Tibet and elsewhere?”  --  “These allegations are of course false, and China enforces with full justice its own laws on its own territory.  We do not interfere in the domestic affairs of any other country, and we do not permit such interference in our own. ” 

[Same reporter}: “Sir, that is just not so. I am of Tibetan ancestry, and I myself know of 17 cases…"  [At that point four men in plain clothes surrounded the reporter, covered his mouth, and swept him out of the room. As the room sat in shocked silence, President Hu said:] “Just as I remarked, we have no internal human rights problem, and China enforces its laws with vigor. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen."  [He bowed, and left.] 

                                                                                                == 30 == 


The Dissociated Press is a new project of The Shalom Center.  Unlike regular Shalom Reports, the Dissociated Press seeks to report not the “actual facts” but the deeper “counter-factual” truth. Sometimes that truth is datelined from a hidden place beneath the surface of the facts, sometimes from the future — see graphic above).  Often this kind of truth will read like satire.]


CUNY Trustee Attacks Rabbi Waskow & Shalom Center

I was astonished and amused yesterday to receive a letter to me from Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the CUNY Trustee who (temporarily) persuaded CUNY to deny Tony Kushner an honorary doctorate, by lying about Tony¹s views on Israel.

His letter accused The Shalom Center of being "perfidious"; my comments on his role in the Kushner matter of being "libelous"; and the interview of him in the NY Times of being "part of a concerted campaign to defame me." Below is his letter, verbatim.

Please note that Mr. Wiesenfeld complains about The Shalom Center’s request for our readers – you ! – to support us with tax-deductible donations. He is himself very rich, and does not need the help of such donations to spread his attacks on great artists and prophetic voices like Tony Kushner.

We do need your donations to provide our own and support other independent voices.  I repeat our request that you donate, ideally as Sustaining Members, by clicking here.

After Mr. Wiesenfeld’s letter (in navy blue, to make clear what is his), you will find information on the NY Times interview at which he sneers, and some additional comments of my own. With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace -- Arthur

From: Wiesenfeld, Jeffrey S <>
Date: Wed, May 18, 2011 at 11:38 AM

Subject: "rabbi" uses defamation to raise funds

To: <; 
Cc: <>, <>, <>, BETH GILINSKY <>, Phyllis Chesler <>, Malcolm Hoenlein <>, Hank Sheinkopf <>

Rabbi Waskow:
 Don't use defamation of me to raise funds for your perfidious activities.


Regarding the absolutely outrageous and libelous letter, penned by one Rabbi Waskow, let me be clear: Jim Dwyer's piece in the NY Times was part of a concerted campaign to defame me. I apologize for nothing. I never made the statement that Palestinians were not human.

I was very clear to the reporter at the "newspaper of record" that the Palestinians had developed an official culture of death, with government rewards for the families of suicide bombers, educational incitement to hatred and the like. I also stated that anyone who worships death for their child is not human - it is against the natural order.

Rabbi Waskow, like the Times, spins a yarn to suit his own warped view. If the good rabbi also believes, as does Mr. Kushner, that the Jewish people; the people of Israel are guilty of ethnic cleansing - then he, too merits my unequivocal condemnation.

Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, Trustee
The City University of New York
535 East 80th Street
New York, NY 10075
office: 212-407-5878 <tel:212-407-5878>

fax:    212-407-5850 <tel:212-407-5850>

Since Mr. Wiesenfeld  sneers at the New York Times and its published interview of him,  I have excerpted the Times interview and noted the background of the interviewer at whom he sneers.

In regard to one issue he raises: neither Tony Kushner nor I ever said that “the Jewish people, the people of Israel,” were responsible for ethnic cleansing – that is, forcible removal of Palestinian populations from what became Israeli territory – during the war of 1947-1949.

Tony has said, and I agree,  that there is very strong historical evidence that some leaders of the early Government of Israel in that period did order many Palestinians driven from their homes. One of the historians who uncovered these facts from Israeli archives, Benny Morris, continues to assert the facts at the same time he defends  the actions as necessary in 1947-1949. He is not the only historian to affirm the evidence.

Mr. Wiesenfeld’s making believe that these facts about some parts of the Israeli government 63 years ago are attacks on the “Jewish people, the people of Israel,” shows exactly what is wrong with Mr. Wiesenfeld: He cannot make distinctions between the bad behavior of some people and demonizing a whole community.

He translates the brutal behavior by some Palestinian leaders into demonizing the whole Palestinian people. I do NOT translate the brutal behavior by some Israeli leaders into demoniziong all israelis, or all Jews.

I reaffirm what I wrote about Mr. Wiesenfield. My two essays on his egregious effort to chill  and censor public debate about the policies of the Israeli government can be found on our Home Page.

And an extraordinary interview with Tony Kushner on the occasion a year ago of The Shalom Center’s presenting him with our “Prophetic Vision” award can be clicked here.

We can only do this work, and speak out for independent voices when they are attacked, if you help us – with heart, mind, and money. Please click to the Donate banner on the left-hand column of this page.

Thanks! -- and shalom, Arthur

What follows (in red) are excerpts from the Jim Dwyer interview at which Mr.Wiesenfeld sneers, and some background on his interviewer. 

A University Trustee Expands on His View of What Is Offensive
NY Times, Published: May 5, 2011

On Thursday afternoon, Mr. Wiesenfeld took a phone call about the events at the board meeting, and said he was surprised to get enough support from other trustees to block the Kushner degree. He had thought, he said, that he was going to register his dissent for the record and move on.
I tried to ask a question about the damage done by a short, one-sided discussion of vigorously debated aspects of Middle East politics, like the survival of Israel and the rights of the Palestinians, and which side was more callous toward human life, and who was most protective of it.
But Mr. Wiesenfeld interrupted and said the question was offensive because “the comparison sets up a moral equivalence.”
Equivalence between what and what? “Between the Palestinians and Israelis,” he said. “People who worship death for their children are not human.”

Did he mean the Palestinians were not human? “They have developed a culture which is unprecedented in human history,” he said.

But is there no reason to hear from Tony Kushner, or have a more thorough airing of his views? “Tell you what,” Mr. Wiesenfeld said. “Your question tells me — and I am saying this not to insult you — tells me that you don’t know” what you are talking about.

Two years ago, John Jay gave a medal to Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and human rights commissioner with the United Nations. Many who see the world as Mr. Wiesenfeld does also revile Ms. Robinson for having presided over a conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, at which a number of delegates were unabashedly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.

Mr. Wiesenfeld said he had confronted Jeremy Travis, the president of John Jay. “I said, ‘Jeremy, this is crazy. Mary Robinson? The woman who oversaw this disgrace that the United States pulled out of. You can’t have a tin ear.’ He said, ‘Well, many people see it differently,’ ” Mr. Wiesenfeld said. Mr. Travis could not be reached on Thursday, his office said.

(During the Durban conference, The Jerusalem Post reported that Ms. Robinson had spoken out at a major dinner when she was presented with a book of anti-Semitic cartoons. “When I see the racism in this cartoon booklet, of the Arab Lawyers’ Union, I must say that I am a Jew — for those victims are hurting,” Ms. Robinson was quoted as saying. “I know that you people will not understand easily, but you are my friends, so I tell you that I am a Jew, and I will not accept this fractiousness to torpedo the conference.”)

Background on James Dwyer, NY Times columnist and  author of several books:
Jim Dwyer began writing the About New York column in April 2007. He has spent most of his professional life covering New York as a reporter, columnist and author. He joined the Times in May 2001 after stints at the Daily News, New York Newsday and several papers in northern New Jersey.
Born and raised in the city, Jim is the son of Irish immigrants. For the last 30 years, he has lived in Washington Heights with his family.

His latest book, 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, co-written with Kevin Flynn, an editor at The New York Times Company, was a 2005 National Book Award finalist.[4] The book chronicled the 102 minutes that the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood after the attacks of September 11, 2001 began. The sources included interviews with survivors, tapes of police and fire operations, 911 calls, and other material obtained under freedom of information requests including 20,000 pages of tape transcripts, oral histories, and other documents.

Actual Innocence and Two Seconds Under the World
Dwyer is also the co-author of Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution and Other Dispatches from the Wrongly Convicted, which examined the causes of wrongful convictions.

He is co-author of Two Seconds Under the World, an account of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center that explored the early signs of fundamentalist terrorism, and poor coordination by investigating agencies, including the FBI.

Subway Lives
He is the author of Subway Lives: 24 Hours in the Life of the New York Subways, a work that follows the lives of six New Yorkers and is set on the day the last graffiti-covered train was in service. came from his job as the subway columnist from 1986 to 1989 for New York Newsday.


Jobs Not Wars: The Religious Imperatives

1. Our faith traditions require human beings to co-create the world through honorable work not on the back of Earth or on the backs of other human beings, but as part of Earth and part of the human community – and also require that honorable work must bring an honorable, adequate livelihood to the worker. Everyone must have the opportunity to work and be paid. (See the Book of Ruth, where even an immigrant from a pariah people is absolutely entitled to glean from fields she does not own.) Today this means effective intervention by governments to make sure all would-be workers can find a job at a living wage with livable hours, especially meeting social needs for swift rail transport, schools, health centers, art centers, up-to-date water and sewer systems, etc.

2. Everyone is entitled and obligated to rest and to allow the Earth to rest. This is the teaching of Shabbat (the Sabbath) and the sabbatical and jubilee years, and of traditions of meditation and festive celebration. In America today, millions are overworked and millions are disemployed. Part of the way to redress that imbalance is to reduce the normal work week to 32 hours with no reduction in pay. (Swollen corporate profits would absorb the difference.) This change would not only share the work but also free our people to take time with families, neighbors, grass-roots civic and political action, and spiritual reflection.

3. All religious traditions teach that the web of life on the earth is sacred, and must be protected and celebrated by human communities.Today that web is endangered by the climate crisis caused by the overuse of fossil fuels. Job creation must focus on swiftly shifting from the fossil economy to providing green energy sources, transportation, building, lighting, and heating, to our country as a whole.

4. Most Jewish tradition and many other religious communities apply tough standards to whether any given possible war is both absolutely necessary in self-defense and is carried on so as not to do any more damage than is absolutely necessary. (The Talmud teaches: "If one comes to kill you, kill him first." [Him, not his cousins and his friends and his community.] AND – "If you can prevent him from killing you by taking any action less violent than killing him, and you choose to kill him anyway, then you yourself become a murderer." The present US military and mercenary actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are neither just, proportionate, nor effective. They spill American and other blood and waste resources that are desperately needed to rebuild America and give grass-roots aid to grass-roots communities in those countries. And the present US military budget, even aside from these wars, is swollen with useless weapons systems and unnecessary overseas bases. The Congressman Barney Frank "25% solution" -- transferring 25% of the present military budget to civilian needs -- is feasible and desirable.

5. Much of the present degradation of American society and the dangers to our planet come from the use of top-down, unchecked, undemocratic power by enormous global corporations – Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Banking, and the Military-Corporate Complex -- and their use of money to control elections and politicians, abetted by the recent Supreme Court decision giving corporations the free-speech rights of human beings. From the history of Pharaoh, Caesar, and the power elite of Mecca onward, religious communities have known that such unchecked power is a form of idolatry and must be replaced by the empowerment of the people..

6. It is forbidden to whip up hatred against any group of people as Pharaoh did against the ancient Hebrews in the Biblical story of slavery in Egypt. Corrupting the human spirit with hatred leads to violence and war. The recent surge of Islamophobia in the US is rooted in fear and anger about the collapse of the American economy, the American future, and American culture. It is fueled by deep ignorance about Islam, by rage at attacks on America by self-proclaimed Muslims, by the frustration caused by involvements in un-winnable wars, and by the disastrous level of job loss and home foreclosure. The US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan both win support from Islamophobia in American life, and worsen the Islamophobia. Faith communities must work against Islamophobia by truth-telling about Islam and by interfaith action (not only "dialogue") for jobs, against the present wars, by intercongregational visits to end the "strangeness" of Muskims in mamny and for vigorous US action to bring peace among Israel, Palestine, and the rest of the Muslim world.

7. As the Christian and Jewish communities move toward Passover (April 18-26, 2011) and Holy Week (April 17-24), they should develop educational and action materials to address both the concrete issue of "Jobs Not Wars" and "the issue behind the issue" -- Power. "Who/ what today are Pharaoh and Caesar? What institutions exert top-down, unchecked and destructive power? How do we create new forms of community as did our ancient communities in responding to Pharaoh and Caesar? Parallel materials should be developed this spring by and for the other American faith communities.

We affirm two teachings by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: Returning from a voting-rights march alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama: "I felt as if my legs were praying." And in a lyrical essay on prayer: "To worship is to join the cosmos in praising God. . . . Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehood."

"Justice Denied": My Mini-Sermon at the Lincoln Memorial, 10-2-10

I was asked by the organizers of yesterday's  great rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, called "One America Working Together," to give one of three 5-minute mini-sermons at the interfaith service that kicked off the rally.  I was asked to speak on  "Justice"; the other two mini-sermons, interspersed with brief readings from the sacred texts of several traditions, were "Jobs" and "Education." 

The service began and ended with blowing of the shofar.

When we began at 11:30, my sense was that there were about 10,000 people. When the interfaith service ended at 12:30, there were about 50,000. When I left the rally at 2 pm to get back to Philadelphia, the crowd seemed to me about as large as the one I was part of in 1963, the Great March for Jobs and Freedom, at which Dr. King gave his great "I Have a Dream" speech. That was about 240,000.

My mini-sermon at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday follows.

Justice is Still Denied --So We are Still Not Satisfied

 "Shalom!"  (Crowd responds, "Shalom!") - "Salaam!" (Crowd responds); "Peace!" (Crowd responds.)
On behalf of all of us  here today who were at the Great March for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 -- "Blessed is the Holy One, the Interbreathing of all life, who has kept us alive and has filled us with life,  lifted us up, and carried us to this moment. Sheh'hekianu, v'kimanu, v'higianu, lazman hazeh!"
Almost 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, standing at this very place, cried out: "We will not be satisfied until 'justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.' "

He was quoting the Prophet Amos, who cried out those words almost 3000 years ago.

Today we are still denied justice, and we are still not satisfied.

Today the waters themselves, the mightiest of streams, the great onrushing rivers and oceans that Prophet Martin and Prophet Amos thought the very standards of mighty justice, of empowered justice, of Eternal justice -- these mighty waters are themselves  being poisoned, polluted, raped, reduced to mere victims of unjust power.

The earth itself and all its waters, the skies above us, the climate that sustains us -- are all denied justice, and like the Prophet Martin, we are still not satisfied.

When the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, perturbed by Hurricane Katrina, overwhelmed  the wetlands that had been decimated by profit-hungry Big Oil and overwhelmed the levees negligently misbuilt by the Corps of Engineers and then overwhelmed, drowned, and dispossessed the poorest, Blackest neighborhoods of New Orleans while our government fiddled as the city drowned --  we were all denied justice. So like the Prophet Martin, we are still not satisfied.
When the Gulf of Mexico is poisoned by a volcanic eruption of an oil rig --  by the negligence, greed, and power of Big Oil and by the corruption of politicians purchased by Big Oil --  not only is the Gulf itself and all its citizens --  petrels, pelicans, fish  beyond number --  denied justice, but so are the human beings who live by the bounty of the Gulf.
They are denied justice, and like the Prophet Martin, we are still not satisfied.
When  Senators threaten to cripple the Environmental Protection Agency, it is our lives, our breath, our health that they are threatening to cripple. -- They aim to deny us justice, and like the Prophet Martin, we are not satisfied.
When our government abjectly surrenders to  malefactors of great wealth  so that neither President nor Congress  can make jobs real for fifteen million desperate Americans, then we are all denied justice -- and we are not satisfied;
When neither President nor Congress can safeguard from foreclosure the homes of millions of Americans, then we are all denied justice --  and we are not satisfied;
When neither President nor Congress can provide an independent source of health insurance that will guarantee affordable health care for all, then we are all denied justice --  and we are not satisfied;
When neither President nor Congress can make it possible for hard-working immigrants to become our fellow-citizens, then we are all denied justice --  and we are not satisfied;
When neither President nor Congress can ensure that gay and lesbian Americans can freely marry and freely serve in the armed forces, then we are all denied justice --  and we are not satisfied;
When neither President nor Congress will end the wars that are shedding the blood and maiming the minds and souls of thousands of Americans, hundreds of thousands of overseas civilians, and are spilling the treasure that could help create justice in America, then we are all denied justice -- and we are not satisfied;
When neither President nor Congress can ensure that our elections are indeed expressions of democracy, not overwhelmed by the wealth of global corporations,  then we are all denied justice -- and we are not satisfied!
I have drawn on the Prophet Martin, who was deeply rooted in Christianity, and the Prophet Amos, who was deeply rooted in the community of Yisrael --  the Godwrestlers.
Today in an America where fear and anger about our future --  as individuals and as a nation --  have led to a surge of fear and anger toward Islam -- I want also to draw on the call to justice of the Prophet Muhammad, in the Quran:
"O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice. If  ye distort justice or decline to do justice, truly, God is well-acquainted with all that ye do." [An-Nisa 4:35]  Let not the hatred of others toward you make you swerve to do wrong and depart from justice. Be just: For indeed God is well-acquainted with all that ye do." [Al-Maidah 5:8]
Wisdom for us all!   Let us indeed NOT let attacks upon us, or disemployment thrust upon us, or poisonous pollution poured out upon us, drive us to wrong-doing and injustice. Let us reach out once more to become what the Prophet Martin called '"the Beloved Community!"
Let us not be satisfied until the great streams of water, air, and earth of our planet themselves have justice, and along with them, for all our people --  may "justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."
Till then --  we will not be satisfied!


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Spread over ALL of Us the Sukkah of Shalom

PDF icon Sukkat_Shalom_music_in_PDF.pdf567.64 KB

The Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot in 2010 begins the evening of September 22 and lasts for seven days, to be followed at once by a separate festival of closure and inwardness. There are three crucial teachings embodied in Sukkot:

1) A "sukkah" is a fragile hut roofed with green branches, open to starlight, wind, and rain. Making it watertight makes it not a kosher sukkah. Its vulnerability is crucial.

The evening prayers say, as we prepare for sleep and seek some security through the vulnerable night, "Spread over all of us Your sukkah of shalom." Why not a fortress of shalom, or a castle, or a temple, or a tower? Why not something sturdier, hard-shelled, invulnerable –won't that get us more peace, more security, as we sleep?

The wisdom of the prayer is that in fact all human beings do live in a vulnerable "sukkah," and we can achieve true peace and security if we all recognize that and share our vulnerability with each other --neither in fear and hiding, nor by threat and attack.

2) The festival is focused on the health of the earth, the interplay of all life which brings the harvest that feeds us all. In the ancient Temple, there was a ceremony of offering water on the first day – pouring it into a sacred spout right next to the Altar. Rabbi Akiba taught that our pouring water was intended to remind God to pour water – that is, to send the rain so crucial to the arid Middle East."

So Sukkot is a powerful moment to affirm healing and protection of the earth. Take one of the seven days to write your local newspaper about the need to preserve the power of the EPA to limit CO2 emissions -- despite efforts by Big Coal and Big Oil to cripple the EPA

3) The Torah prescribes the offering of 70 bulls at the Temple during Sukkot. The ancient rabbis said this was to implore God for prosperity and joy not for the people of Israel alone but for all the 70 nations of the world. So Sukkot is a powerful time to focus on peace making and to welcome as guests into the sukkah people from all religious and national origins.

We can do that figuratively by reading from the various sacred teachings of the different cultures of the world, or literally by inviting people of different backgrounds to come visit with us. Even if we have not built a physical sukkah, we can sit together in a quiet outside space, sing together, eat together, share our hopes and prayers.

For additional teachings about the meanings of Sukkot, click here for a treasury of essays.

In celebration of all these teachings, we offer the song at the start of this essay. If you click on the graphic, it will expand to full size. You can also access it to print out for yourself by clicking below.


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

One America Working Together: Oct 2 Giant Rally in Washington

On October 2, there will be a huge gathering at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC called "One America, Working Together," focused on creating jobs for all. Many groups that are taklng part will also urge transferring the present war budgets to civilian needs in the US, and focusing on green job creation -- renewable energy sources, public transport, etc.
Jewish organizations have to deal with the fact that October 2 is Shabbat. In part to address that question and to lift up the profound religious and spiritual need for a reawakening in America that serves the people, not corporations, a number of religious organizations are planning for an Interfaith Shabbat service at the Lincoln Memorial at 11 a.m.

The rally, which is intended to keep on as a campaign after 10/2/10, was initiated by the AFL-CIO & NAACP. Many other groups, including The Shalom Center, have joined in sponsoring the rally.

Click here for more detailed information about October 2 and how you can participate.

That Shabbat, Jews will be reading the Torah portion about the Creation of the world and the birth of the human race. It is clear we are in a crisis in which the old America – indeed, the world as we have known it -- is passing away and a new one is being born.

Will the new America be a society of the VERY VERY Rich ruling over the desperate poor and the distraught former middle class, while the earth itself falls to plagues of oil, coal, fire, flood?

Or will it be an America newly committed to jobs for all at living incomes, with livable hours to assure free time for family, neighborliness, civic participation, grass-roots politics, and the Spirit, with healing for our deeply wounded earth and with restrictions on the power of corporations so that they must serve the public good, not their own aggrandizement?

We hope that where possible, whole congregations will decide to come to Washington, take part in the interfaith service, and then in the rally. Where that is not possible, we hope rabbis and social action committees will announce the event, encourage individuals to come if their understanding of Shabbat accords with that, and give sermons about the issues.

Jobs are not just an economic necessity; they are a spiritual practice.

A rhythm of rest and reflection is not just a psychological or physical need; it is a deep spiritual value.

Toppling Pharaohs of top-down, irresponsible power is not just a political act; it is at the heart of the struggle against idolatry; it is a spiritual commitment.

Healing the earth is not just a matter of preserving the future of humankind; it is a spiritual undertaking for the sake of the One, the Breath of Life.

With blessings of the wholeness that comes only when we "pray with our legs" (as Heschel taught) -- joining our hearts, minds, spirits, and bodies in the deepest, fullest action –


5 Steps to Burning Books

From a small right-wing church in Florida, there has gone out a call to burn copies of the Quran on September 11. Instead of being ignored as clearly cuckoo, this call won world-wide media coverage.

As the German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine wrote almost two centuries ago, "Those who begin by burning books will end by burning people.” The theater piece for which he wrote those words, called "Almansor," was addressing the Inquisition's burning of the Quran. In 1933, university students in Heine's own beloved homeland burned his books, along with many others. They burned people soon after.

Many American religious communities and organizations, as well as secular groups like Common Cause, have condemned this call for burning. The road to burning people is by no means so open here, now, as it was in Germany in 1933.

Indeed, the right-wing Florida church finally withdrew its threat to burn the Quran. It seems to have responded mostly to a leading general's warning that US troops would be endangered if the burning went forward. (Note the irony here: In order to carry on more effectively a war against Muslims, it would be prudent not to burn their sacred text. This is a case where burning the people preceded burning the books, and helped stimulate the urge for book-burning -- as explained below.)

We still need to face the question: How did we get to the point where some Americans would burn a sacred book, and many more oppose the building of a sacred mosque in their own town––not only in Lower Manhattan, but in many other neighborhoods?

It would be easy to start with the aftermath of the terror attacks against the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. But the spiritual chasm between Christianity and Islam goes back centuries. The hostility of Jews toward Islam, on top of the ignorance of almost all European and American Jews about Islam, goes back at least to 1948. And the economic dislocations and unwinnable wars of recent years also have their place in pouring out the fear and anger that provides the fuel for the spark of bigotry.

Step 1: The Old Hostilities

There are perverse and paradoxical spiritual roots to the hostility between Islam and Christianity.

All the great religious traditions––not only those we call monotheist, but Hinduism and Buddhism and Shinto and Wicca and for that matter what we call "secular" traditions like socialism and liberalism ––are rooted in the profound effort to make loving contact with the ONE. One God, one historical dialectic, one Web of life in soul and body on our planet––ONE.

Once a community has begun to reach out toward the ONE, it begins to create the metaphors, the rituals, the languages, the practices in daily life, the festivals to embody this searching toward the ONE. And then the community bumps into another community that also claims it is in contact with the ONE, and has its own quite different set of metaphors, rituals, languages, and daily practices, with which to make this contact real.

There are often two responses to this discovery:

One is to say with surprise and delight, "You have shaped a different path from ours! Of course there must be many ways of lighting up the Infinite, unfolding truth. How could the great Infinity reveal itself except through sacred diversity? Let us learn from each other!”

The other response is to say: "We have unearthed the one way to the ONE, and any other path must be a false one. And worse than false––since you claim falsely to have made contact with the ONE, you must be lying. Corrupt. Deceitful. Worth killing."

In the various British colonies that became the United States, this bitterly hostile response was embodied in the persecution of one or another faith community (e.g. Quakers, Jews, Roman Catholics), by one or another of the original colonial governments. The uncertainty of who might get persecuted in the nation as a whole was one of the factors leading to adoption of the First Amendment, and much of the hostile reaction was then muted by the existence of the First Amendment. If no religion could wield state power and violence against another, this reaction was less likely.

Native American religions and Mormonism did not "count" in this context; state power or pressure was used against these religious communities. And there was public pressure in the 19th century against Roman Catholicism, and in the 20th century against the "Nation of Islam" (a racially focused variant not accepted by any other Muslims as truly Islamic).

Step 2: The 9/11 Attack

Until 2001 in America, both hostility and interfaith exploration were quiescent, in regard to classical Islam. Then a tiny proportion of the more than one billion Muslims of the world, claiming they were acting on behalf of Islam and God, murdered about 3000 people.

Again, there were two responses:

There was a wave of rage against Muslims and anyone who looked as if he might be Muslim. Some were attacked, a few were killed. Officials arrested hundreds of Muslims out of fear, almost always utterly unjustified, that they were would-be terrorists. Some of them were held for months without access to families or attorneys.

And during the same weeks and months, some Americans–– often religiously motivated Christians and Jews––rallied to protect Muslims and their mosques. Some stood guard to prevent attacks, some created vigils, some brought together Jews, Christians, and Muslims under " The Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah.”

Step 3: The Wars with Islam

Soon after, the government of the United States began wars against two Muslim-majority nations. It quickly became clear that what began under the banner of "liberation” actually became conquest and occupation. Yet the wars dragged on, bringing death to thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians. And meanwhile, there were deadly US military attacks on Pakistanis, threats of war against Iran, and a continuing close alliance with the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and people in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

There is a process that researchers in psychology have uncovered and call "cognitive dissonance.” People who begin with one opinion but act in a way contrary to that opinion change their ideas more than their behavior. After almost a decade of American wars against a number of Muslim-majority societies, and several actual murderous attacks by self-proclaimed Muslims against civilians in various countries allied to America, some Americans who had begun with few opinions about Islam in general began to view it with anger and disgust:

"If we are killing lots of them and they are killing some of us, there must be something evil about them.”

Step 4: The Great Slump

Meanwhile, Americans experienced a disastrous economic slump. The last time that rates of disemployment and of home foreclosure had been this high, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, one of the reactions was a great wave of anti-Semitism across America. Father Coughlin on radio, Henry Ford through the Dearborn Independent, were reaching millions of Americans with fear and hatred of the Jews.

So now, in another time of economic trauma -- and now also of unwinnable wars and a deep sense of cultural dislocation -- there was seething not quite visible below the surface of American culture and society a current of xenophobia. Hispanic immigrants, legal and illegal, became suspect. And Muslims.

Step 5: Crystals of Bigotry

And then into this hyper-saturated solution of fear, suspicion, and hatred came some who chose deliberately to drop the poisonous crystals of bigotry.

In December 2009, the New York Times––a liberal leader of opinion––and Laura Ingraham––a conservative leader of opinion–– carried articles and interviews about plans of American Muslims to establish Cordoba House, a community cultural center in Lower Manhattan. There was no fuss, no fury.

Not till May 2010 did the ultra-right-wing anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller and organs of Rupert Murdoch, the right-wing publisher who later gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, begin to carry inflammatory stories about what they call the "Ground Zero Mega-Mosque.”

And then, step-by-step, the crystal they sowed precipitated the super-saturated solution into a noxious brew. Right-wing blogs and talk-radio programs described the Cordova House as an insult to the dead of 9/11, a triumphal celebration by Islam of its victory in the attacks on the World Trade Center's, anything to arouse fear and hatred of Islam.

Even Jewish organizations that claimed their mission was to prevent "defamation" not only of Jews but of all religious and ethnic groups, or claimed their mission was to promote "tolerance," spoke out against the planning for Cordova House. "Yes,” they said, "Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan have every constitutional right to place their mosque or cultural center two long long New York City blocks from Ground Zero, but it is not ethically right or spiritually wise to do so. It would offend the sensibilities of the survivors of the 9/11 dead."

These assertions ignored both an important fact and a crucial principle. The fact was that hundreds of 9/11 survivors, in the organization called September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, had endorsed the placement of Córdoba House. The principle was that the constitutional right of freedom of religion has no reality if a wave of hostility from "private" citizens, sparked by great media empires and backed up by public officials, can prevent the fully legal placement of a house of worship.

Why then did the right wing media and right-wing politicians like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich decide to light this conflagration? The spark would not have lit a fire if that there had not been gallons of gasoline beneath the surface, but why light the spark?

I think the answer is that the right wing was and still is hoping to split the vote of progressive Americans by using not just Cordoba House but also broader fear of Islam as a wedge issue, just as they used the issue of gay marriage––which now has little bite. They have used the fear of Hispanic immigrants in the same way.

Fanning fear and hatred of Islam has one major advantage over firing up fear of gay people or of Hispanics: it may offer the possibility of splitting the Jewish vote, which is, next to the vote of African-Americans, the most progressive voting bloc in the country.

Indeed, many Jews, outraged by attacks on Israel that are sponsored by two Muslim organizations––Hezbollah and Hamas––and by Holocaust denials from some leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, may be susceptible to an Islamophobic campaign. At the same time, of all American communities, Jews are perhaps the most likely to smell and taste the danger of bigotry against a religious minority.

So the American Jewish community is one of the crucial arenas of struggle over whether burning the Quran becomes a step on the path that Heinrich Heine prophesied toward burning people.

Out of this witches' brew of dark past and explosive present, there emerged not only bigotry but another wave of interfaith engagement. Those of many religious and ethical communities gathered to condemn the burning of the Quran and to affirm all sacred texts, all sacred gathering places.

This kind of affirmation is important. And if indeed the official wars against Muslim-majority countries and the great wave of disemployment and home foreclosures have been crucial to pouring the gasoline of fear and anger that have been ignited by sparks of bigotry, then working for economic healing, a peaceful foreign policy, and the transfer of war budgets into rebuilding America are also crucial.

The path America will take is still uncertain.

As for the Jewish community, in its possibly pivotal role: Let us hope that a story from my own childhood echoes so strongly the memories and sensibilities of other American Jews that overwhelmingly, we will walk the path toward freedom and diversity, peace and economic healing:

When I was about seven years old (1940), my grandmother interrupted other Jewish women in line at the kosher butcher shop who were talking contemptuously about "the shvartzes" -- that is, Black people. She challenged them: "That's the way they talked about us in Europe. This is America, and we must not talk like that!"

We must not act like that, either.


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Reading from the books that some would burn

In New York, speaking out for freedom and diversity might mean joining a vigil at 7:15 pm Friday evening September 10 at 51 Park Place [near the Park Place stop of the #2 or #3 subway], the location of the Muslim-rooted community/ cultural center that has been the object of both attack and warm support. That date/time has been chosen by the support group New York Neighbors for American Values. (See their website here. )

Some religious folk have urged that gatherings in synagogues, churches, and/ or public places on September 11 or 12 read together from the Quran, Torah and Talmud, the Christian Gospels, and other sacred texts.

Since many American Jewish and Christian households may not have a Quran at hand, we have selected just three passages that lend themselves to the message of peace, dialogue, and compassion.

"There shall be no coercion in matters of faith." (2:257 [Asad])

"Behold, we have created you all from a single male and female, and have made you into nations and tribes so that you might come to deeply know one another [not to hate and despise each other]. Truly, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of God. Behold, God is all-knowing, all aware." (49:13 [Asad])

"True piety does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or the west -- but truly pious is he who believes in God, and the Last Day; and the angels, and revelation, and the prophets; and spends his substance -- however much he himself may cherish -- it -- upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and [truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God." (2:177 [Asad])

These translations come from Muhammad Asad's The Message of the Qur'an: The Full Account of the Revealed Arabic Text Accompanied by Parallel Transliteration (publ by The Book Foundation, England, 2003). This edition includes many many notes citing authoritative Muslim scholars explaining the texts.

Some texts that seem much more violent also appear in the Quran. So do such texts in the Torah, the Gospels, the Upanishads, etc. But the great teachers of all our traditions have insisted that “all their paths are peace.” All teach that some version of “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the central wisdom.

Ah-meyn, ah-min, amen!

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9/11 and Rosh Hashanah: Reconciling Abraham's Families, Celebrating American Diversity

Dear friends,

Before I share with you some thoughts about the intersection this year of 9/11 and Rosh Hashanah, I want to remind you: I am one of four rabbis who will be leading Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur retreats at Elat Chayyim/ Isabella Freedman, the lovely spiritual center in Connecticut.

The Shalom Center co-sponsors those retreats, and our community is entitled to 20% reductions in the cost of room & board. Just enter SCRH10 as the discount code when you register here.

This year especially, I urge us to plan to include in Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur Torah readings the passage on reconciliation of the two families of Abraham -- Gen. 25: 7-11, when Ishmael & Isaac come together to bury their father and then after long estrangement decide to live together at Ishmael's wellspring. This reading could then open up a discussion of what it means about our intimate families and our larger family, in this generation when the children of Abraham through Hagar & Ishmael and the children of Abraham through Sarah and Isaac are so often at each other’s throats.

Here's why to do this especially this year:

This year, the ninth anniversary of 9/11 falls on Shabbat Shuvah, just after the second day of Rosh Hashanah. The day will be used for a demonstration in New York City denouncing Park51/ Cordoba House (the Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan) by several right-wing political figures, including Geert Wilders, an ultra-right-wing Dutch politician who is on trial there for anti-Muslim hate speech.

They will be trying to inflame hatred of all Islam, including the peace-seeking Sufis of Park51/ Cordoba House, as if all Muslims were responsible for the 9/11 mass murders.

It seems to me that one of the factors (not the only one) in the wave of opposition to Park51 from many conservative, Tea Party, and other right-wing politicians is the hope of using it as a wedge issue to split voting constituencies and communities that generally vote progressive. The obvious target here is the American Jewish community, and it behooves us to take great care not to let anti-Muslim bigotry sweep away the Jewish voting community.

Of course different Jews have many issues to consider, and many different perspectives from which to do so, in choosing whom to support in the November elections and beyond — our varied economic views, our varied outlooks on US foreign policy, our concern about terrorism, our concern for religious freedom and civil liberties. But hatred of Islam, as if all Muslims and their religion were our enemy, should not be one of them. And given the attempts to inflame Jews to feel this way, we need to take special care to oppose such abuses.

How then can we address this question, especially in the light of the confluence of 9/11 and Rosh Hashanah?

The traditional readings for Rosh Hashanah are two deeply disturbing tales: Abraham’s and Sarah’s expulsion of Hagar & Ishmael, almost to die in the wilderness, saved only by YHWH’s opening Hagar’s eyes to a well at the last possible moment; and Abraham’s readiness to offer Isaac as a burnt-offering, from which disaster both were saved at the last possible moment by YHWH’s opening Abraham’s eyes to a ram he then killed as the offering.

Both lives are saved, but Abraham's two families remain divided.

Muslim tradition has some important differences — not only does it say that the son almost offered up was Ishmael, but it has no tale of the breakup of Abraham’s family. Interestingly, Jewish midrash says that after Sarah’s death, the woman named Keturah whom (according to Torah) Abraham took to wife was actually Hagar.. In other words, the broken family was healed.

One might say that our two traditions are expressing two complementary though different truths: one about the spiritual effort involved in healing brokenness; the other, the spiritual effort involved in protecting wholeness.

AND -- not only the midrash but the Torah points toward reconciliation. In Genesis/ Breshit 25: 7-11, the Torah describes how upon Abraham’s death, his two sons (indeed the phrase connecting them, “his sons,” is used for the first time) come together to bury him. And then Isaac goes to live at the “Well of the Living One Who Sees Me,” the well YHWH revealed to Hagar & Ishmael.

It seems that the two estranged families are reconciled. Somehow the death of the man who was most dangerous to both his children, and the task of burial, broke down the barriers of many years of separation. This passage is about tshuvah and slichah -- "turning" or repentance, and foregiveness.

But we read this passage only in the regular cycle of Torah portions. We do not lift it up into our intense awareness as we do with the expulsion of Ishmael & the binding of Isaac, by reading these two stories on Rosh Hashanah as well as in the regular cycle.

So I have a proposal: That either on Rosh Hashanah or on Yom Kippur, we read these few verses from the Sefer Torah, Gen. 25: 7-11, with all the sacred blessings for reading Torah, and open up a discussion of what they mean about our intimate families and our larger family, in this generation when the children of Abraham through Hagar & Ishmael and the children of Abraham through Sarah and Isaac are so often at each other’s throats.

In some congregations, it might even be possible to invite a Muslim -- perhaps a Muslim Sufi like Imam Rauf, or any Muslim who has taken part in interfaith work, to share her/his insights into Jewish-Muslim reconciliation.

And perhaps we might read as Rosh Hashanah preparation the Beacon-published book The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, rooted in the varied tales of the Abrahamic family, co-authored by a Benedictine nun (Sr. Joan Chittister), a Sufi teacher (Murshid Saadi Shakur Chisti, also known as Neil Douglas Klotz), and me, with a couple of very important chapters by Rabbi Phyllis Berman.

Indeed, one essay by Phyllis, “Why Hagar Left,” is a very bold midrash on the true relationship of Hagar & Sarah.

This year, American society (including the American Jewish community) is in the midst of an intense argument, emotional far more than intellectual, over whether Islam and Muslims are a fully legitimate strand in the American rainbow-colored fabric.

At a time of unwinnable wars and economic disaster, there is great danger that fear of the little-known will turn to fury, as it did during the Great Depression when a wave of anti-Semitism swept across America. But our country did ultimately realize that the Jewish community could bring its own unique threads into American society. That realization took work to accomplish -- grass-roots education, inspiration, organizing.

It is important to do the same kind of grass-roots education, organizing, and inspiration, to achieve the same result in regard to Islam. If the High Holy Days are indeed to be Holy, that is one holy task we should be doing.

Jews are taught that precisely in the doorways that might seem to separate my home from the world, and in the "city gates" that might seem to separate two different cultures, we are to lift up the mezuzah that reminds us, "YHWH [the Breath of Life] is One."

This is a crucial moment to cross the thresholds that have divided our Abrahamic families, and to affirm that we celebrate the same Breath of Life.

Shalom, salaam, shantih, peace --

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director, The Shalom Center

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High Holy Days: Does the Earth really matter?

Rosh Hashanah is traditionally understood as the anniversary of the creation of Adam from Adamah --- the Hebrew that might most accurately, though clumsily, be translated into English as "Human Earthling" born  from "Earthy Humus." (The intertwining of these words is far closer to the truth of the relationship than the word "environment," which means something "out there" -- in the environs.) 
So, to traditional Torah readings for the day we might add Genesis 2: 7:  "And YHWH [the Name of God that can only be pronounced by breathing with no vowels, thus "Yahhh, Breath of Life"] formed the earthy-human from the humus-earth and blew into his nostrils the breath of life;  and the human-earthling became a living being."

Notice that in moving from earthiness to humanness, the human loses the "ah" – a breath-sound – at the end of Adamah, and takes on the more conscious independent breathing received from God.
 This replicates the process of birth in which at first the fetus has an unconscious gift of breath from Mother through the placenta; loses this breath as s/he is born; and regains a separate, more conscious breath by, usually, being gently tapped by an adult.  
 This reading would then lend itself to exploration of the relationship between "adam" and "adamah" today – especially since the story of Eden (which follows) is about alienation from the earth resulting from a greedy attempt by the human to gobble up all earth's abundance, without self-restraint.
 There is a way to echo and enhance this passage on Yom Kippur.

In some communities, on Yom Kippur there is a tradition of full prostration of all or many congregants during the Avodah service, imitating what the ancient Israelites did at the Temple while the High Priest breathed God's Name.  If this were done outside and allowed to last 18 minutes, it would reconnect  adam with adamah, the human-earthlings with the earth.  It could help us commit ourselves to redeem the relationship in our generation.
For the ceremony of Tashlich on Rosh Hashanah afternoon, Jews leave their synagogues to go to nearby lakes and rivers to cast small objects (traditionally bread crumbs) into the water.  Traditionally, they recite a passage: "You [God} shall cast [Tashlich} all their sins into the depth of the sea."
For centuries many rabbis opposed this custom for fear  that people would think this "magic"  would be enough to atone for their misdeeds, instead of correcting their action and making amends with their neighbors.

But the people insisted – perhaps because this was their one opportunity to get out in the open, among trees and streams, to celebrate the God Whose Torah is written not only on parchment but in grass and squirrels and fish and wind.
Today we know that there is no "away" to cast our misdeeds against the earth –-- "downstream" is just another part of our planet. And we know that organic matter like bread crumbs can disrupt the eco-balance of the river; so we might use pebbles instead.
Just as Hagar did not "cast" her son Ishmael away but tried to renew and transform his life, just as God did not "cast" Jonah away but sought to transform him – so we might say aloud that our "casting" is not to get rid of our misdeeds but to transform the energy in them toward good.
In later letters, we will unfold the Earthy aspects of Sukkot and Shabbat Noach  -- that story of a disastrous planetary Flood, followed by the Rainbow Sign of love and healing.
Don't forget to register for enjoying Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at Elat Chayyim/ Isabella Freedman with Phyllis, Shawn, Simcha, and me: Click here. 

 Shalom, salaam, peace – Arthur



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