Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

"To Bigotry No Sanction"

In the ears of American Jews, among the golden words of American history are those of George Washington to a synagogue: "To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."

God knows these words have rung false about many different communities in the dark-light-checkered history of our Republic. (Blacks, Mormons, the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Japanese, gay people ---- )

There have even been moments in American history when those words seemed not so clearly truthful, about Jews. (See Philip Roth's amazing alternate-history novel, The Plot Against America, and its roots in real history.) But in this generation, in regard to Jews these seem engraved on American reality – not only in stone, but in glowing beams of light.

But in the wake of the Fort Hood murders, it is not so clear that these words apply to American Muslims.

Every sizeable Muslim organization in America has condemned those murders, and some have taken proactive steps to aid the families of those killed. These are ethically responsible actions.

I wish that Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and other religious communities could also come forward along with Muslim groups to say truthfully, "In the fabrics of ALL our different traditions are both broad spaces of peaceful and peace-seeking wisdom, and some bloody strands. These we need to address forthrightly and to explicitly reject or reinterpret so they cannot be used to justify violence."

The Shalom Center is now working on such a statement, and will seek support across the spectrum of American religious life.

I applaud spokespersons of the Army and other officials who say they do not intend to treat Muslims as suspects. Doing that would be just as reprehensible as treating all American Jews as suspect of espionage because Jonathan Pollard did spy for Israel.

And in that light, I denounce those radio and TV personalities and some politicians who have indeed blamed Islam and Muslims in general for Major Hasan's actions.

Fort Hood's aftermath is a reminder of how easy, and how mistaken, it is for many of us to focus on EITHER individual responsibility OR social responsibility when we assess either blame or causation of some upsetting event.

The “dichotomy” between individual and social responsibility — in which conservatives typically salute the first and liberals the second — is a false dichotomy. BOTH are necessary to a moral order.

In this case, the US war against both Iraq and Afghanistan, plus added attacks on Pakistan and dire threats (probably also covert attacks) against Iran, plus strong US support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, all comprise an illegitimate and immoral and self-destructive war against major aspects of the Muslim world. There is plenty of reason for serious Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus to oppose each piece of this umbrella war -- not only Muslims for "tribal" reasons of "their own" being under attack, but all religious communities for universalist reasons rooted in all these spiritual traditions.

Just to deal with some expectable objections:

(a) The ethically correct US response to 9/11/01 would have been a police action to arrest and try, or if they resisted arrest, if necessary to kill, the actual perpetrators of the murderous attacks on the Towers. Making war on Afghanistan was analogous to responding to cop-killers on the streets of Newark by bombing the whole city of Newark.

(b) In 2003, the pre-Ahmedinajad government of Iran asked the US for a wide-ranging negotiation on all outstanding issues, including US sanctions, Iranian aid to Hezbollah, and the Iranian nuclear program. The Cheney-Bush Administration rejected the whole idea out of hand and even condemned the Swiss intermediaries who communicated this proposal. The rejection helped Ahmdinajad come to power. Imagine how different Iranian, American, and even Israeli history could have been!

These pieces of the umbrella war against many aspects of Islam were and are socially irresponsible actions by the US, and they helped contribute to the Fort Hood murders.

So also is the Army medical system that has enormously overburdened too few Army doctors in dealing with the war-wounded, especially with those wounded in soul by post-traumatic stress. This is irresponsible to the wounded, and to the doctors.

And so is the difficulty that the Army places in the way of soldiers who seek on grounds of conscience to leave.

All these are acts of SOCIAL irresponsibility.

(The Torah orders that men of military age be required to refrain from military service under a number of circumstances — including if they are afraid of being killed or are too gentle-hearted to kill. See Deut 20: 1-9 and for my own essay on the meaning of this passage and its interpretations in later Jewish/ rabbinic thought and practice, click here.)

And in the Fort Hood case, Major Hasan also committed acts of INDIVIDUAL irresponsibility.

He could have pursued a number of nonviolent paths for opposing or resisting the war he considered illegitimate. Suing the Army. Or public, principled civil disobedience. Or flight as a deserter.

Instead, he chose mass murder rather than the nonviolent forms of resistance he might and should have chosen. It is no excuse that he followed the logic of the institution he was "resisting." Indeed, worse than "no excuse" -- because he replicated the violence of the war he abhorred–- replicated the violence instead of resisting it in a deeper way.

The sense that he broke under enormous social pressure — that our nation failed in meeting its social responsibility toward him and other soldiers — does not mean that he is absolved of personal, individual responsibility.

The nation could have met our social responsibility by ending the endless, useless, self-destructive Afghanistan War, or at minimum, by letting Major Hasan leave the Army when he asked to.

But even if the society failed to meet our responsibility, each individual still is obligated to make responsible choices. Murder was the most irresponsible, most unethical choice he could have made.

Now it is up to us to choose how we respond. As a society and as individuals, do we make ethically responsible or irresponsible choices?


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Ft. Hood, Armistice Day, and the Burial of Abraham

Photo of he American Friends Service Committee's "Eyes Wide Open" tour, displays

When I was a kid, at 11 a..m. on November 11, in every school and workplace in America (and Canada, France, England, elsewhere) everybody paused. We took a silent minute or two to remember the dead of World War I and to honor the Armistice that went into effect and stopped the killing at that moment on 11/11/1918.

Even during World War II, we did this --and teachers mentioned the hope that it would have been "the war to end all wars." I don't recall honoring just the American and Allied dead; I think the terrible slaughters of Germans, Russians, Austrians, were also part of it.

This week, the Torah reading includes the story (Gen 25) of how Ishmael & Isaac, Abraham's two long-estranged sons, came together to bury him -- though, or because, he had endangered both their lives. By mourning him together, they dissolved their hostility, and came to live together at the Well of the Living One Who Sees Me.

This week we have been mourning the American soldiers killed by another American soldier at Fort Hood, and sorrowing for their families. Elsewhere in the world, other folks are mourning Afghans and Pakistanis who were celebrating weddings when they were killed by US Predators flinging lightning bolts of death from the sky.

Could we bear to mourn their dead as well as "our own"? Could they bear to mourn our dead as well as "their own"? In Israel & Palestine, there is actually a Circle of Bereaved Families who do exactly that.

What difference might it make? If each "side" mourns only "its own," it is likely that rage and hatred at "the others" will increase. If we can mourn all our dead, perhaps we can make an Armistice. Or even Peace.

So I propose that at 11 am on November 11, we pause to mourn the dead of Fort Hood, of the Pashtun lands, of all the bloodied battle fields.

Shalom, salaam, peace! -- Arthur


Fort Hood and the Prophetic "IF"

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One reader wrote me to ask: " "What effect will the Ft. Hood shootings have on the American public's perception of Islam?" That question asks us to be foretellers, fortune tellers, to predict. But The Shalom Center has had the holy chutzpah to call ourselves a "prophetic voice," and that voice is about "forth-telling," not foretelling. About “If,” not “will.”

The Prophets spoke always with an "If" -- "IF the community chooses to oppress its workers into slaves, then the owners will themselves become slaves to Babylonia; IF the slave-owners will free their slaves, they will be freed from the yoke of Babylonia." (That was Jeremiah, as the Babylonian Army besieged Jerusalem, speaking forth a challenge, at once a warning and a promise, to the conventional practices and power structures of his society.)

From that perspective, the Prophetic question today should be a challenge to power and convention: "What effect should the Ft. Hood shootings have on the American public's perception of the Afghanistan War?"

For anyone who lived through the Vietnam War, Fort Hood recalls the epidemic of "fragging" late in the war -- that is, enlisted men throwing fragmentation bombs at the officers who were ordering them into hopeless, senseless battle.

In Fort Hood, if the reports and claims from the police and military are correct (we already know that a number of falsehoods were reported as facts), an officer, a physician, trained to heal traumatized people from the maiming of their souls, was refused an exit from the soul-destroying prison he begged to leave.

If the reports are accurate, it seems that he broke, choosing murder rather than the nonviolent forms of resistance he might and should have chosen. In that sense he replicated the violence of the war he abhorred and the violence that kept him in the Army against his will –- replicated the violence instead of resisting it in a deeper way.

The sense that he broke under enormous social pressure -- that our nation failed in meeting its social responsibility toward him and other soldiers -- does not mean that he is absolved of personal, individual responsibility.

What could we, and he, have done? The nation could have met our social responsibility by ending the endless, useless, self-destructive Afghanistan War, or at minimum, by letting Major Hasan leave the Army when he asked to.

(The Torah orders that men of military age be required to refrain from military service under a number of circumstances -- including if they are afraid of being killed or are too gentle-hearted to kill. See Deut 20: 1-9 and for an examination of its meaning by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, click here. )

But even if the society failed to meet our responsibility, each individual still is obligated to make responsible choices. For the Major, there were a number of nonviolent choices. Suing the Army. Or public, principled civil disobedience. Or flight as a deserter. Murder was not a responsible choice.

The "dichotomy" between individual and social responsibility -- in which conservatives salute the first and liberals the second -- is a false dichotomy. BOTH are necessary to a moral order.

And an attempt to diagnose or analyze whether bad behavior flows more from one or the other or equally from both should not be dismissed as an attempt to "justify" bad action. Diagnosis is necessary to both prevention and cure. To understand all is NOT to "pardon" all. It is the first step toward healing both individual and social irresponsibility.

One of the reasons that "fragging" came near the end of the Vietnam War is that the epidemic of fragging signaled to the higher officer corps that they had better end the war. Coming on top of more and more evidence that the US and NATO military presence in Afghanistan is itself multiplying the violent resistance it claims to suppress, the Fort Hood murders should signal the American public and its military and civilian leadership to take off the hoods we have put over our own eyes, see the truth, and take our soldiers out from Afghanistan.

If --- IF, the Prophetic word --- If we seriously want to help grow a grass-roots democracy there, we might send teams of women from American community banks to provide grass-roots micro-loans to those who are prepared to use them , especially including women, while abandoning the self-destructive effort to impose democracy with Predators. Then Fort Hood might help Americans grow into a new relationship with the hundreds of millions of Muslims who seek to shape their own futures in peace.

IF instead the American public chooses to define Fort Hood as proof that Islam is a world of hatred, then the cage of violence that some Muslims, some Christians, some Jews, some Hindus are helping build will clang shut upon us all.


Finally, we must let what happened at Fort Hood enter our hearts, not only our minds. Thirteen people are dead and others are seriously wounded because Major Hasan chose violence instead of nonviolence to protest the war and his orders to take part in it. Our country's social irresponsibility and his individual irresponsibility colluded to make a macabre massacre.

So it is the suffering friends and families of the dead and wounded to whom our hearts must turn. Violence creates not only a disaster for the perpetrator but much deeper, longer, broader disasters for its victims.

In this week's Torah portion, two estranged brothers –- Isaac and Ishmael –- survivors of their father's violence -- come together to mourn their dangerous father, Abraham. From their shared grief they are able to shape a life of sharing. May we, no matter what is our religion or our politics, learn to grieve together the dead of the Pashtun country and the dead of Fort Hood. May we learn to create the context of shared responsibility in which each one of us will find it easier to choose a life of individual responsibility.

To take action to end the US military presence in Afghanistan, click to the Take Action section on our Home Page.

Shalom, salaam, shantih --- peace, Arthur

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Write Your Senators: Support the Climate-Healing Bill

Photo of US Capitol framed by the Capitol Power Plant

Dear shalom-seekers,

We are at a great choice point for healing the planetary climate crisis -- the most dangerous crisis in all human history, but one we can still heal. 

Before I expain why and how, let me say right away that we have made it possible and easy for you to write your Senators to support climate-healing action. Click here to write your Senator.

And I also want to say right away that in accord with next Shabbat (October 23-24, the story of the Flood & Rainbow) having been proclaimed Climate Healing Shabbat, and in the light of calls for world-wide action on Oct. 24 by many environmental leaders, I hope you will urge your own synagogue, church, or masjid board or social action committee; your havurah,  local chapter of the PTA or teachers union or AJCommittee  or National Council of Jewish Women;  your local Jewish or church newspaper, to take a stand urging strong climate-healing action by your Senators. 

Why is it so important to act NOW?

Because the US Senate is now considering a major, flawed, but useful bill  to heal our plant from global scorching.

And why is that so important?

Because the US contributes far more per capita to global scorching by our over-use of fossil fuels than any other country. So the first turning point will be getting the US government to define this as a great issue by passing a major bill, even if it has important flaws.
IF that happens, other major governments (outside Europe, which is well ahead) will have good reason to move as well, and the Copenhagen conference may point forward instead of bogging down in despair.
And if a major bill is passed, that COULD – it depends on us, the people – energize instead of lulling major public action by Americans. (The early civil rights bills and court actions in the 1950s were inadequate, but they encouraged widespread committed public action, and that in turn moved Congress to do much more.)

The US Senate now has before it a flawed but useful bill co-sponsored by Barbara Boxer of California and John Kerry of Massachusetts, with unexpected and important strong public support from Lindsey Graham, a  Southern Republican   --  offered on some conditions.  His support is important because it may well open the way for other Republicans, who will be necessary to reach the 60 required votes.

In the view of one of the wisest and most knowledgeable analysts of Congresssional enviro policy, David Roberts of Grist on-line enviro magazine, there is now reason for cautious optimism about the Senate's passing a bill.  Roberts, though he views Graham's conditions as odious (allowing but not mandating  off-shore oil drilling and nuclear power) thinks they will have little actual ecological down-sides because few companies expect to make money from drilling or nukes, whereas the finances of wind and solar energy are much more attractive.

For David Roberts' full analysis of "Seven Reasons for Optimism about the Senate Bill," for our own "Seven Principles for Jewish & Interfaith Action on Climate Policy," and items on prayer, model sermon materials, songs,  and stories for use on Shabbat Noah, see our section on Shabbat Noah at –

I don't  want to blind-side you, our faithful Shalom Center members, readers, supporters, and activists. There are many environmental activists – and we agree! -- who think the crisis requires much more vigorous action than is set forth in the Kerry-Boxer bill and its House-passed counterpart,   the watered-down Waxman-Markey bill. (Interesting that in each House there is one Jewish co-sponsor from California and one Christian from Massachusetts.)

Some of these critics even oppose these bills. They seem to think that if the bills pass, the public will relax; that if they fail, there will be massive demands for much more radical action. My own experience both as an insider on Capitol Hill and as a street activist outsider leads me to a different sense – that utter Congressional failure will lead to despair, but half-success  will lead to public action, action to more success, more success to more action, and then to even more effective law.

So I urge you, our members, readers, and activists, to act NOW, especially using the momentum of the Shabbat of Noah (October 24) and its proclamation as Climate Healing Shabbat --  to work hard for the Senate bill.

I urge you to write this week to your Senators to urge them to support the Kerry-Boxer bill,  and to keep it strong.

Click here to find a model letter and an easy way to fax your Senators I hope you will add your own words.

And I hope you will follow up by getting your own clubs, organizations, newspapers, and friends  to take a stand supporting the bill and letting your Senators know. You could do this easily just by forwarding this letter to your friends, co-workers,  and key local leaders.

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


What is "the Image of God"?

Dear seekers of shalom, Last year at this time -- the time of Shabbat B’reshit, the Torah portion in which the world and human beings are created -- I was visiting my daughter Shoshana and her family in Evanston, Illinois.

My granddaughter Yonit Slater was then eight years old. I said to Yonit,

“You know, according to the Torah this week, God created human beings in God’s Image. What do you think that means?”

Yonit: “What’s an image?

Arthur: “Ummmm, Like a photograph.”

Yonit: “That’s strange. God is invisible. How could there be a photograph of God?”


Y: “Maybe it’s more like God is in the image of human beings.”


Y: “Only it couldn’t be just one human being, it would have to be lots.”


Y: “And they are all different. Each one is different, like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. So you would have to fit all the pieces together.”


Y: “Then they would be a community, and a community is more like God.”

For me, this teaching is worthy of standing alongside two ancient midrashim about the Image.

One was from the ancient rabbis, living under the Roman Empire, who said: "When Caesar puts his image on a coin, all the coins come out identical. When the Holy One Who is beyond all rulers puts the Divine Image on the 'coins' of human beings – each of the coins come out unique." {Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 38a (Soncino transl., p. 240]

Already this is a teaching about the irreducible dignity and worth of every human being, and how limited is the power of Caesar – of governmental authority -- even when it seems most tyrannical, most absolute.

And in this light, I honor a new understanding of what many have thought a puzzling teaching by Rabbi Jesus, reported in the Gospels:

Some of his more conventional colleagues who were troubled by his radical vision demanded whether Jesus thought the people should pay taxes with a Roman coin. When he asked, "Whose image is on this coin?" his accosters answered, "Caesar's!" According to the written story, he responded – "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's!"

Puzzling? Yes, until you set this in the milieu of the rabbinic teaching I have just reported, which Rabbi Jesus certainly would have known.

What the story does not mention -- but may well have happened, it might have been too radical to report -- is that he may have put his arm on the shoulder of his questioner and said, "And whose Image is on this coin?"

When they realized he was reminding them that God's Image was on them and of course on every human being, that they and all the people should give their whole selves to God and only dross to Caesar, they went away to think again. Perhaps we too should think and feel more deeply about the limits on our responsibilities to Caesar. Or Pharaoh. Or any Prime Minister or President or Congress or Knesset or Supreme Ayatollah.

Is it chutzpadik of me, or simply the family pleasure of kvelling, to set Yonit's teaching of the jigsaw puzzle alongside the Rabbis (including Rabbi Jesus)? I think Yonit intuited their point about the uniqueness of every individual –- and then took one more step. They had celebrated the human individual vs. Caesar. She is pointing toward the necessity of connecting those individuals in community; the Divine Image is not truly fulfilled by all those unique Images until they fit together.

Put the Talmud, the Gospels, and the wisdom of an eight-year-old Yonit side by side. They intertwine. The sacred individual, the sacred community, sacred resistance to the tyranny of a Caesar. We think again about God, the Image, the community, the jigsaw puzzle of humanity and earth.

For a further discussion of the "Image" teaching and other aspects of the Creation story, please click to other essays in

Shalom, salaam, shantih -- Peace!
-- Arthur

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Life in Rehab: What Dies & What's Reborn

Dear friends,

Last year, when I turned 75, there was a gorgeous Shalom Center celebration when hundreds of you joined in song and laughter. For me, its highlight was being interviewed about my life by Dr. Dan Gottlieb, a skillful, wise, and profound psychotherapist -- finding myself saying out loud my hopes and fears and worries and joys in the midst of that gathering . The whole event was one of the high points in my life.

This year is very different. I don't think of it as a "low point" -- maybe a "deep point" -- because my experience in the Moss Rehab Center has been remarkable.

I have been deeply moved by seeing up close the extraordinary guts and commitment to healing of people who have lost legs, or the ability to speak, or other major aspects of themselves. I have never before been witness to so much suffering, and so much courage.

And also so much compassion, not only in feeling but in doing -- competent compassion -- from the staff -- doctors, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, aides and assistants.

Their direct human service is utterly intimate. It is bodies that are broken, and bodies that must heal. Dealing with the urine of patients who can't get to the bathroom. Holding patients who totter as they learn to walk again. Patiently repeating again and again and again simple instructions to patients who are relearning how to connect sounds – words – with meaning. Fitting prosthetic legs onto patients whose legs are stumps that end above the knee.

I notice that many many of the doctors, nurses, and aides come from other countries: The Philippines, India, Mexico, Central America, Cuba, Haiti, Vietnam, Korea. And from Black and Hispanic neighborhoods within America. Is this sheer economics? Or are they coming from cultures of compassion, closer to the villages where there is no alternative to caring for each other, from large families living in small spaces where everyone's body is sprawled in everybody's face?

And we, the patients – praising each other, laughing with each other, encouraging each other, thanking each other, watching out not to collide with each others' wheelchairs.

So I have learned a great deal. Learning of the heart and soul. Even a kind of meta-learning of the mind. For instance, I have begun to notice when my old old urge to pick up a book is a signal that I want or maybe need to turn away from face-to-face interaction. Not good or bad in itself – perhaps there is a time for going outward into face-to-face, and a time for going through an inner "worm-hole" to be carried to other worlds and galaxies. What is new is that I am not doing this unaware like an automatic tic, but with awareness that I am choosing, that there is a world of face-to-face I may be turning away from.

Going home does not mean that my learning and healing are complete. I still have a lot of inner work to do, and there is some Shalom Center work I have not been able to do in Rehab, and must turn to now. My days will be busy, including more body-time than I have been used to since I was 20. (And for that reason, I cannot simply say "Drop in." I will need to limit visits that I yearn for, in order to do the different works that I must do.)

(If you want to help out at this time of intense work, what we need most now is hiring an intern who can help me with research and connection-making, If you can contribute to make that possible, thanks! -- I can't imagine a better birthday gift.

My broken leg is healing nicely, and I have learned to hop-walk on one leg with a walker, for distances long enough to cover the first floor of my house. My urinary system, shaken by the surgery, is not yet working well. On Friday, we removed the Foley catheter – but my urinary system still was not delivering as it should, and we had to reinsert a Foley eight hours later. This time, the combined effectiveness and gentleness of the nurse who did the reinsertion, my own ability to relax my muscles more because I was not terrified -- the last time, while painful, had been much less than excruciating -- and once again, chanting in Phyllis' arms during the procedure -- eased the process a great deal.

Just this past weekend, we completed the reading of the Torah and instantly turned to reading its beginning.

Many commentators point out the importance of this sense of never-endingness, the spiral of time in which we are always returning to an old place in order to transform it and make our journey new again.

Fewer commentators point out that the passage at the end of Torah is about the death of Moses, and the passage at the beginning is about the creation of the world.

Death leads straight into birth.

And that has been my experience these weeks.

What died, perforce, was my unaware, unconscious, even uncaring relation with my body.

What I have birthed – and hope to keep growing – is a far more open heart. Open to the concern and caring that many of you have poured out to me in Emails and letters and cards, responding to my pain and sharing stories of your own. Open to the love pouring from and with my close friends, from and with my family, from and with Phyllis most of all.

Love and blessings --

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Spread Over All of Us the Sukkah of Shalom

Photo of a sukkah Photo credit: Rachel Barenblat

Here in the Rehab Center where I am, we do not have a sukkah like the beautiful one built by Rachel Barenblat pictured in the photo. It seemed likely to be hard to celebrate the festival of "Sukkot" — "Huts." It turned out — but I’ll get to the story in a moment.

Sukkot marks both the harvest of the last outpouring of God's and earth's abundance, and the hope for rain that will make fruitful the next outpouring of abundance.

Why "Huts"? Because we are taught to build fragile huts whose only roofings are leafy branches that let in rain, wind, starlight. A "sukkah" impermeable to the weather is no sukkah.

Just as for a week each year we eat the simplest food human beings can make – unleavened bread – so for one week each year, exactly six months later, we live in the simplest home human beings can make. Open to the earth.

And we are taught that our prayers for abundant rain are not just for the sake of the Jewish people alone, but for all the "seventy nations of the world," that they should all find abundance from God.

The traditional Jewish prayerbook includes for every evening through the year, as we enter the vulnerability of sleep, the prayer: "Ufros alenu sukkat shlomecha, Spread over all of us Your sukkah of shalom."

Why in this moment of vulnerability do we seek a "sukkah" of shalom? Why not a "palace," a "temple," a "fortress," a "tower," even just a "house" — anyway, something a lot sturdier to protect us than this flimsy hut?

Because we are being reminded that Towers, Skyscrapers, Fortresses, Pentagons, do not in fact ultimately protect us. All human beings and all our human institutions are in fact fragile. Only when we can all remember that, can we all live in shalom -- in harmony, in peace.

Because of my auto accident and the rigidities it has imposed upon us in both space and time, Phyllis and I were for the first time this year unable to build our sukkah. But our friends brought us the four earthy items – branches of palm, myrtle, willow, and the lemon-like etrog or citron – that during Sukkot we traditionally wave in the "six" directions of the universe.

Correction: seven. Rabbi Shefa Gold reminds us that when we wave outward toward these six directions, each time we complete the waving by bringing the branches and the etrog close to our heart. The seventh direction of the universe is –- inward.

(Is that why Shabbat comes on the seventh day? Is the pattern of six/ seventh day a transcription into time of the shape of space?)

There are many midrashim on the meaning of these four life-forms. For me, one of the richest came from my then ten-year-old son, David Waskow, when in 1974 for the first time in my life I did the waving, then taught him to do it – and then asked him a question you do not find in the Talmud: "How did it feel?"

He answered: "I felt like I was a tree. I could smell my own fruit and hear the rustle of my own leaves in the wind."

(Today he is an expert on climate policy for Oxfam America's lobbying staff in Washington. Maybe that etrog made a difference?)

May we all be blessed with a Sukkot that invites us into that intertwined communion between adam (humanity) and adamah (the earth).

So here in the Rehab Center where I am strengthening my legs and arms toward returning to my more usual life, we sought an outdoor place to "wave" the lulav and etrog. The center has a small outdoor patio, surrounded by the building but open to the sky, with trees and grass and bushes fed by the rain.

Knowing there was no sukkah, we went there anyway – and found a tiny miracle. There was a structure open to the world with a semi-roof of wooden slats. It might even once upon a time have been intended for a sukkah, but there was no greenery (s'chach) laid across the roof.

Then Phyllis noticed a broken branch from a nearby bush — with intensely green leaves and intensely purple berries. She tossed the branch up onto the roof of this odd structure, and — suddenly!! — there was a single sprig of s'chach. A sort of sukkah. So there we shook and waved the lulav and etrog, and thanked God for life, for abundance, for love, for shalom.

And now the miracle multiplied. We had seen a family in the rehab center whose elderly patriarch was wearing a Bukharian yarmulke. He was surrounded by children and a grandchild. We had shared a "Good yontif, chag same'ach!" with them to honor the festival. The elder had had a stroke and could not speak, but seemed to respond when they explained to him that Phyllis and I were rabbis. The family had come from Russia 20 years ago; they noticed that "Waskow" is a Russian name, and I explained it was my grandparents who came.

"A woman rabbi? We are Orthodox; what kind of Jews are you? Reform?"

We tried to explain, not just generic "Reform," maybe a fusion of feminism and Hassidism — but I fear it didn’t compute. They said cautiously they had heard that the grandchildren of non-Orthodox Jews usually weren't Jewish at all, and we said that our five grandchildren all had Hebrew names and that all of them except the one-month-old were going to Jewish day schools. They blinked — a myth shattered, a barrier broken?

We told them that we had a lulav and etrog and invited them to do their own waving. Their faces lit up: "We were just talking, how sad to have no lulav. It is a miracle from Heaven!"

So we told them about the patio and the sort-of sukkah. They were interested — but to get there meant taking an elevator, which Orthodox Jews don't do on festival days.

So Phyllis promptly offered to push the elevator buttons, and they agreed. When they saw the sort-of sukkah to which she took them, again a chorus: "A miracle from Heaven!"

What Phyllis did is the kind of deed that in Jewish lore is reserved for the "Shabbas goy" -- the non-Jew who can help out a Jewish neighbor by doing something Jews aren't supposed to do on Shabbat. One way of seeing this is with gratitude to God for encouraging different practices in different religious communities who can help each other in this way, like an eco-system. But another – met more often among many traditional Jews — is with faint derision.

The notion that rabbis could ever act like "Shabbos goys" — that is certainly a new Jewish thought. For us, it was a joy to be able to do this for the festival that out of the entire cycle is called "THE Season of our joy." (That's where the title came from for my book about the entire cycle, Seasons of Our Joy.)

So Sukkot at its best can be a festival for crossing boundaries and softening barriers. Among human beings and the other beings in our interwoven earth. Among the "seventy" interwoven nations of the world.

For other thoughts on the celebration of Sukkot and the festivals that follow this weekend — Sh'mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah — see Seasons of Our Joy (Beacon Press) and —

Sukkat shalom!
-- Arthur

Photo credit: Sukkah in the Morning by Rachel Barenblat/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


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End the Afghan-Pakistan War:

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We face a crucial choice, right now: An endless, self-destructive war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or turning to a new path of drying up the swamps of despair around the world that breed terrorism.

Frank military assessments and the first-hand report and resignation letter from Foreign Service officer and ex-marine Matthew Hoh have now made clear that US troops and Predator strikes only incite ever stronger opposition in the Afghan civil war and especially can never suppress the Pashtun drive to end foreign military presence. And we now know that President Karzai's 'reelection" was by fraud and his brother has been on the CIA payroll for eight years. So claims that the U.S. is simply supporting indigenous struggles for freedom ring ever more false.

Instead, our military presence is bringing rampant death and maimings of body, mind, and soul to Americans and Afghans alike. More American troops will mean more dead Americans. And our pouring scores of billions into this self-destructive effort will shatter hopes for fixing our broken health care and education and infrastructure syustems at home, or our wounded planet.

Yes, the Taliban are disgusting. Oppressive. But there are a myriad ways of encouraging reform in other countries. The one that does NOT work is trying to install democracy at the point of a bayonet. Or, even worse, Predator Drones.

We should have learned once and for all from Vietnam that an endless war -- in a country that for centuries has hated all occupations with a burning fury -- would undermine all plans for social reform at home – exactly what happened to Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society." .

The moment has come to say No.

Let us urge our Senators to oppose further appropriations for the Afghan War, and to support instead a path that will actually protect America. That means seeking friendship with Islam; sending economic aid at the grass-roots, micro-loan level (especially to women's groups in Afghanistan); and drawing on the healing of wind and solar energy instead of addiction to oil.

The majority of Americans now support this approach. With our support, Congress can grow the courage to face down those who will cry "Unpatriotic, Defeatist!" while they support policies that are bleeding our lives.

But the mindless pressures of military habit are still pressing. The American people –- surveys show a majority oppose this war –- must act to end it.

Again -- we invite you to act now -- here -- to send a letter to your Senator (or Vice-President Biden if as a DC resident you have none)

Thanks and blessings that the effort you bring for peace and healing flows back into peace and healing in your own life.

Shalom, salaam, shantih, peace -- Arthur

Photo credit: From by jjjohn/Photo page at Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Actions on Shabbat Noah

Flood in the Arava desert in Israel

Dozens of communities in America and Israel have already committed to participating in Global Climate-Healing Shabbat (initiated by The Shalom Center) on Shabbat Noach, October 23-24, 2009. Congregations and communities from as far as Uruguay and Israel have told us that they plan to be part of this consciousness and activism-raising weekend.

Below is an alphabetical list of the communities who've contacted us to tell us that they're participating. Some have included details of their plan. We've included them here to spur your creativity and enthusiasm! Please sign up your own efforts by going to --


From Canfei Nesharim: Join Our Parshat Noach Sustainability Project: "As we come to the end of the chagim, we start thinking of the year we'd like to begin. This year, Canfei Nesharim is encouraging communities to learn about sustainability, species protection, and climate change during the week of Parshat Noach (Shabbos of October 24, 2009).  This project is being organized in cooperation with a broader project in the Jewish community to raise awareness about the environment and climate change during Parshat Noach.

We have great new resources to help your community learn about sustainability during the week of Parshat Noach:

  • The Rainbow Covenant: Establishing a Relationship with the Earth: a Torah teaching and study guide for learning about sustainability and protecting the environment in the context of the Noach story.
  • Science-based information on tropical forests and a new Statement on Cimate Change from our Science & Technology Advisory Board, for educating your community .
  • Lesson plans with trigger ideas, text study materials, discussion questions, and a student course book for learning the relationship between Torah and the environment on Parshat Bereishit and Parshat Noach.
  • And join Canfei Nesharim in a new Jewish community-wide, seven-year effort for education, action and advocacy about sustainability in the Jewish community." 

North America

  1. Dr. Randall Miller, Congregation Or HaTzafon, Fairbanks Alaska: "Congregation Or HaTzafon, the Jewish Congregation of Fairbanks, Alaska is sponsoring a Climate Awareness Shabbat on October 23,24. It is our intent to raise awareness throughout 5770 by adapting materials and programming to each holiday of the annual holiday cycle. In Alaska, we witness, first hand the effects of global change, as the farthest North Jewish Congregation in America. We are on board."
  2. Ahavat Torah Synagogue, Los Angeles CA
  3. Steve Fox, Temple Isaiah, Los Angeles, CA: "We will have a special service on Friday night, October 23, to celebrate Shabbat Noach and earth stewardship."
  4. Rabbi Charles Feinberg, Adas Israel Conregation, Washington DC: "Both Rabbi Gil Steinlauf and I will be preaching/teaching on Torah and the environment on October 24 in both services. I also teach a Parashat Hashavua class in which I will prepare material on this issue."
  5. Temple Emanuel, Pocatello, ID
  6. Rabbi Bruce Bromberg Seltzer, Smith and Amherst Hillel, Northampton MA: "We will hold a Shabbaton and/or learning service at Hillel.
  7. Chavurat Ha-Ruach, Northampton, MA
  8. Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, Bethesda MD: "Our shabbat observance will have a climate/350 focus, consonant with the eco-themed Sukkot we'll have celebrated just weeks earlier as the kickoff of our H2C2 -- "Honoring our Holidays, Caring for Creation" -- multi-year initiative."
  9. Congregation Shir Tikvah, Berkley MI
  10. Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, Shoreview, MN
  11. Gail Wechsler, Jewish Community Relations Council/Jewish Environmental Initiative, St. Louis MO: "Our JEI Committee will be doing 'Project Noah: A Week for the Environment' for the fourth consecutive year. We are encouraging and supporting area congregations and day schools to do environmental programming and environmental sermons in and around the week of October 18-24. We also are sponsoring several community wide events, including a trip to a local organic farm, a young children's Noah's Ark event and a book festival event with the co-author of "The Down to Earth Family Guide to Global Warming."
  12. Congregation Beth Shalom, Bozeman MT
  13. Rabbi Howard A. Cohen, Board Member of OHALAH and of the Green Zionist Alliance, Burning Bush Adventures, Greensboro NC
  14. Valley Outreach Synagogue/P'nei Tikvah, Las Vegas NV
  15. Madeleine Stolow, Binghamton University Hillel, Binghamton NY: "A Friday night Shabbat service."
  16. Linda Tobin, Beth El - The Heights Synagogue, Cleveland Heights OH: "Beth El will have a special Lunch and Learn program on Shabbat Noach. The presenter for this program will be Laura Gooch, an active member of our shul, who is also very active in environmental issues."
  17. Rabbi Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin, Temple Beth Israel, Eugene OR: "We will organize a special Shabbat service and perhaps some additional programming before or after."
  18. Jenny Holmes, Oregon Interfaith Power and Light, Ecumencical Ministries of Oregon, Portland OR: "We have started to plan an interfaith event for October 24th or 25th."
  19. Rabbi Ariel Kleiner, Congregation NCI, Montevideo, Uruguay: "We are from Uruguay in south America, we are planning to participate."
  20. UJF Environmental Committee and Rodef Shalom Green Task Force, Pittsburgh, PA
  21. Cantor Marie Betcher, Congregation Shir Ami, Austin TX: "Special prayers or sermons, Torah commentary/midrash songs, resolutions vigils nature-walks, stories for children invitations to public officials and environmental activists."


Leiba Chaya David, Teva Ivri - Jewish Nature, Moshav Aderet, Israel: "Shabbat Noach Highlights The following is a list of events scheduled for Shabbat Noach in Israel. All events are in Hebrew unless otherwise indicated. To register an Israel event with Teva Ivri, please contact This list will be updated after Sukkot.

  1. Shabbat Noach Central Event ___ ___The Flood is Before Us___ Friday, October 23, 9:00-14:00 at the Nature Museum in Jerusalem (German Colony) The event will include Tours, Chevruta Study Groups, Lectures, Practical Workshops, Music, Information Booths, and Children's Activities. Presented by Teva Ivri, SPNI, International Cultural and Community Council, the Jerusalem Municipality, and the Sustainable Jerusalem Coalition. For details:
  2. Returning the World to a State of Repair -- Beit Midrash on Judaism and the Environment -- Monday, October 19 at Midreshet Moriah, Haifa. The public is invited to an evening launching the yearly Beit Midrash program. Facilitated by Dr. Jeremy Benstein. For details: or 04-825-1495
  3. Shabbaton Brit Olam October 22-24 Yerucham Tours and experiential learning about Judaism, the environment, and the connections between them. Sponsored by Atid B'Midbar, Midreshet B'yachad, Yerucham Community Center, and the Noam Eliyahu School (Netivot) For details: or 08-658-5484
  4. Connections -- Judaism, Environment, Society, and Community, Amit Schools. In honor of Shabbat Noach, Amit is launching a young leadership program (in memory of Roi Klein z___l) in which students will engage in environmental action with connections to Jewish sources. Evening on the Topic of Judaism and the Environment Thursday, October 22, 22:00 p.m. Kehilat Yachad, Modi'in Opening event for Shabbat Noach activities in the community. For details:
  5. Tzameret Youth Group of the Zionist Council will dedicate Shabbat Parshat Noach to activities relating to Sustainability and Judaism. For details: 0525821444
  6. To Be a Jew Is To Be Green -- Midreshet HaGolan, Hispin Shabbat Parshat Noach will be dedicated to Jewish environmental topics. For details: or 04-667-8888 Beit Midrash
  7. Derech Eretz -- Community Leadership for Environmental Change October 18, Beit Midrash Elul, Jerusalem The yearly course for community leaders, sponsored by Beit Midrash Elul, Teva Ivri, and the SPNI, will open with an event that is open to the public. For details: 02563-6236 Climate Change Petition
  8. Jewish Climate Initiative JCI will be collecting signatures (a target of 600,000) for a written declaration of our responsibility as Jews to act in response to global climate change. Shabbat Kehilla, Kehilat Hod V'Hadar (Kfar Saba) October 23-24, Center for Jewish Education, Chanaton The community Shabbaton will explore Judaism and the environment through a learning program, local tours, and activities for the family. Environmental Kabbalat Shabbat October 23, Beit Avichai, Jerusalem With participation by Jackie Levy and Amir Balaban"

Photo credit:Flood in the Desert by Einat Creative Commons license: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Crash #5: Excruciating Pain & Oceans of Love

During these past weeks, since my car crash, I have had two profound experiences I want to share with you:

  1. Brief lightning flashes of excruciating pain,
  2. Long days and weeks of love renewed and deepened.

When I had my surgery for resetting my broken leg, one of the elements—which no one mentioned ahead of time—was that under general anesthetic, to prevent my body's contaminating the operation process with unplanned urination, the surgical staff installed a urinary catheter.

This means—I am simply being clear here—the insertions of a small, stiff rubber pipe into the urethra, that tiny tube that opens for men at the tip of the penis. The tube reached back through my body toward the bladder, and of course channeled all urine in an orderly way into a bag that can be emptied.

In most cases, the catheter can be removed shortly after the operation, and the body resumes normal urination.

But in my case, the remaining effects of anesthetic—and who knows what other aspects of my own body—prevented my urination from resuming.

But this can't be allowed to go on very long—more than eight hours or so, in fact—because the body would be poisoned by its own waste products.

So the catheter had to be reinserted. This time with a local topical anesthetic gel, but without general anesthetic or any nerve-block like it.

So for about half a minute, I lived inside a lightning flash of unutterable pain.

In describing this since—especially to men—I have seen them scroonch up, in what some have said was the "archetypal' fear of castration. But make no mistake – what I experienced was no "archetypal fear" but sheer physical pain—the worst of my life.

It didn't end there. The catheter that the urology residents at my hospital used was a short-lived kind. (There could have been another choice—a "Foley catheter'" that can remain in the body, causing little or no pain after its painful insertion, for at least another week.) My body did not respond the way it was supposed to. Once again, they had to reinsert a catheter. Once again, that lightning flash of excruciating pain.

Once again—this I did not and do not understand—the catheter they used was a short-lived kind, not a Foley. Once again, my body did not respond the way it was supposed to. Once again, they told me a reinsertion would be necessary.

This time I challenged them to hear my lived and living experience, instead of simply proceeding on the basis of their medical knowledge. I did not challenge the importance of their knowledge or the necessity of my having a catheter that would save my life from the waste products my own body generates. I simply said they needed to hear what was also at stake for me in the moments of insertion.

Some of them heard me deeply and fully. But not all. Even then, one M.D. when I said this had been the worst pain of my life, asked me, unbelieving, "Worse than your broken leg?" I answered, more calmly than I felt, "Absolutely. Far far worse."

So now they agreed it should be a Foley that might give my body more time to recover its usual ability to urinate. And I talked in depth with my daughter Shoshana—who is a physician—and with Phyllis. Shoshana suggested that Phyllis draw on her experience and ability as meditator / chanter. Together we decided that Phyllis would sit with me to prepare for the insertion by chanting a chant of Rabbi Shefa Gold's—set to a passage of consolation from Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs --- "Zeh dodi, zeh re'i --- This is my Beloved, This is my Friend."

And here the story takes an important turn toward its other side—the side of love, the side of God. Since the car crash and the birth shortly afterward of a daughter to Phyllis' daughter Morissa, Phyllis had been reshaping her work life to enable her to meet in love the family needs. We had begun to spend more time together, really together, not just side-by side in the same room, than we had in decades. Phyllis had been reading aloud to me two amazing "children's" books by Blue Balliet that Shoshana had given us after reading them with her own nine-year-old- daughter Yonit. We had been getting to know and love each other at a new level through the enchanted, enchanting medium of these books.

Now for half an hour we chanted together this chant of love, for the half-minute of terrible pain we held each other's hands and looked into each other's eyes. Phyllis said she could feel in her own body the shock I felt in mine. And for me the pain was terrible, but slightly less so than it had been before. "Utterable," you might say, rather than "unutterable."

I got my first chance to teach at least some of the meaning of this story. The medical school associated with the hospital where I had been going through all this asked some patients, including me, to be interviewed by four first-year students about our experiences. I told them I had agreed in honor of Shoshana Waskow and her husband Michael Slater, whose journey a generation ago through medical school I had watched with great excitement. And, in tears, I told them the story of my pain and the different ways different doctors had responded. I explained that I hoped that as they themselves became physicians, they would never forget the importance of integrating patients' experience with medical knowledge.

Even there, the story doesn't stop. Even a week on the Foley catheter turned out not to be enough time for my body to recover—nformation that could only be reached by withdrawing the Foley and waiting to see. So once more there would need to be a reinsertion. Once more we prepared to chant.

Phyllis said she did not want to use the same chant this time, out of concern that I would so combine my terror and pain with it as to hate the chant itself. Instead she used another chant of Shefa's Elohai nishama sheh'natatah bi, tehorah hi: My God, the breath you have placed within me is pure."

For an hour we chanted, as I looked deep into her loving and beloved face, knowing utterly that those two hazel-green eyes were the eyes of a loving God, seen face to face. Turning upside-down the Torah passage so as to say, "if you look upon My face, you shall live."

And this time, the Rehab Center where I now am found a nurse more gentle and more skillful at reinserting the catheter than the advanced hospital urology resident MD's had been.

So I not only survived but feel less driven by the terror that had haunted me. Tonight, before she left for home, I asked Phyllis to marry me anew. She said yes. And it's not just her. I find myself watching with awe and love the flood of suffering and compassion that I see all around me in this center. In my family and close friends. And in all of you who have taken the trouble to call and write and help.

But that's another story.

With blessings for a year and a life of giving and receiving good—


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