Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

At Gaza-Israel Border: Can We Cross the Sea toward Peace?

Friday April 6 is this year the seventh day of Passover. In Jewish tradition that day commemorates the crossing of the Red Sea by the band of runaway Israelite slaves, escaping and resisting Pharaoh,  for the sake of their own freedom. That was when Pharaoh’s army and his power dissolved into the Sea, blown away by YHWH/ Yahhhh, the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, become a Hurricane of Transformation.

That Friday is also scheduled to be the day of another large gathering of Palestinians at the border between Gaza and Israel. We do not know what the day will bring: perhaps more bloodshed, perhaps on both sides of the border respect and adherence to a nonviolent discipline in response to the horror of the deaths last Friday.

We do know this: Many Jews, and many others, in America and Israel,  stand in tears before God and Torah and other sacred wisdom, deeply saddened by the unnecessary deaths of at least sixteen Palestinians and injuries to close to 800 others among the thousands of Palestinians protesting last week as part of a “March of Return” along the Israel/Gaza border.

 Many who were horrified by the deaths are grateful that there were no deaths or serious injuries to Israeli soldiers or civilians. And precisely this fact casts great doubt on the legitimacy of using live ammunition to shoot into the assemblage, when it seems clear there was no direct danger to Israeli lives. Only such a strong and immediate danger could have justified the lethal violence ordered ahead of time by the present Israeli government.

These people strongly support the right to non-violent protest, whether here in North America or in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, as a fundamental right of civilians. We support the vast majority of the Gazan protesters who chose a deliberately nonviolent form of protest, and condemn the fact that some resorted to throwing stones, burning tires, and Molotov cocktails at soldiers, and a few tried to breach the border fence.

The root cause of the protest and of the frightened response by the present Israeli government is the continuing blockade of Gaza by the Israeli government. That blockade is an illegitimate use of collective punishment for the people of Gaza for having voted for or accepted the election by majority vote for Hamas to govern the region.

The blockade is a continuing aspect of the over-all military occupation and forcibly imposed settlements by the Israeli government of Palestinian communities beyond the Green Line – the only places where a peaceful independent Palestine could come into being alongside Israel.

The denial to the Palestinian people of self-determination in those areas is a denial of human rights. That includes the blockade of civilian goods from entering or leaving Gaza so as to impoverish its people as a part of that illegitimate denial.

In regard to what may have been the illegitimate use of lethal force against an almost entirely nonviolent demonstration, we call for these actions:

First, the creation of an international investigating commission  that includes Israelis and Palestinians, to examine the decision-making in the present Israeli government and in some Palestinian groups that ordered or encouraged the use of violence in the situation on the cusp of Passover last Friday..

Second, we urge individual Israeli soldiers to assess whether orders to use lethal violence in this or similar situations may require their refusal to obey such orders if they are illegal.  And we urge all Palestinians in Gaza and beyond to use their power and influence to deny support to any Palestinian groups that urge or allow the use of violence in this or similar situations.

 The Israeli group called “B’Tzelem,”  ”In the Image” – that is, “In God’s Image are all human beings created” – has already taken ads in major Israeli newspapers to call on Israeli soldiers to refuse manifestly illegal orders to fire when their lives are not endangered.

See <>

We recall the teaching of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) that when King Saul ordered his own royal bodyguard to kill Israelite priests who had fed the guerrilla underground led by David, the bodyguards refused – even though the guerilla band was a clear and present threat to Saul’s legitimate government.  (I Sam. 22:6-17).

The message is clear: Human life is so precious that even in military situations, one must take every precaution to avoid killing, even of an enemy or of one perceived as endangering the government. All the more must lethal force be rejected when no such danger exists.

In alignment with the ancient Tabbis and our deepest Jewish values, we call on Israel to find ways to respond to the demonstrations planned for tomorrow and the next few weeks in ways that will not escalate the situation or lead to injury or death; to  cooperate with an international investigation of the decisions that led to live fire being used on demonstrators; and to refrain from revising the rules of engagement to permit the expanded use of live fire.

To many it may seem that only in the long term can a peace agreement end the on-again, off-again violence on the Gaza border, which endangers residents of Gaza, along with Israelis living near the border, and the soldiers sent to protect this border.

But this delay is itself lethal.   We urge the present government of Israel and the Israeli people, and the present leaders and the whole community of Palestinians as a whole, to begin now immediate negotiations for a just peace between Israel and a new Palestine.

And we urge that American Jews,  Christians, Muslims, and others of ethical commitment, press the US government to press both peoples and their leaders to move forward now on the road to peace.  

And we urge leaders of all peoples to begin at once to play an active role in ending the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The closure of the borders with Israel and Egypt severely limits the import of needed goods as well as the exports necessary to allow for economic growth. The people of Gaza have limited access to electricity, clean water, and medical support.

The Hamas government, no doubt, shares significant blame for the situation in Gaza, as a result of their repression, corruption, and continued violent rejection of the existence of Israel. So does Egypt, which has largely closed its border with Gaza. So does the present government of the United States, which has just drastically cut its long-standing financial allotment to meeting the urgent needs of the people of Gaza.

But the government of Israel, which continues to control Gaza’s borders, air space, and population registry even after the official disengagement, maintains major responsibility for the humanitarian crisis there. We encourage Israelis to deploy all their creativity of the start-up nation to end this crisis, refrain from escalating violence at the border, and work toward a two-state peace that will keep both Israelis and Palestinians safe and free.

As the traditional Passover Telling says, “In every generation,  every human being is obligated to look upon herself, himself,  as if we go forth from slavery to freedom,  not our ancestors only.

God forbid – God forbade!  -- that on this Passover the present government of Israel should choose to act like Pharaoh.

May the Seventh Day be instead the day that both peoples take the first courageous steps into the Sea, not red with blood, into the freedom for them both that only peace can bring.

Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Add new comment

The Prophet Martin: A New Haftarah

 A new genre of Haftarot has been stirring, initiated and taught by Hazzan (Cantor) Jack Kessler of Ohalah and the ALEPH Ordination Program of Rabbis, Cantors, and other Jewish spiritual leaders in the movement for Jewish renewal.

Traditionally, the Haftarot are passages from the ancent Hebrew Prophets, chanted in a traditional melody (nusach). What is new is the  creation of chantable haftarot, using the traditional nusach, made up of English-language passages spoken or written by some prophetic figures who are not Jewish.

The newest creative effort in this direction is by Cantor Abbe Lyons of Ithaca, NY,   As the 50th yohrzeit of Dr. King (April 4, 2018), was approaching, she decided to  shape a new Haftarah  from passages of his prophetic “Beyond Vietnam” speech,  given at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4,  1967 –- exactly one year before he was killed.

 As we consider how to use this new haftarah, we might recall the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. On March 25, 1968, he introduced Dr. King to speak to the Rabbinical Assembly. Rabbi Heschel said, 

“Where in America do we hear a voice like the voice of the prophets of Israel? Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America. …The whole future of America will depend upon the impact and influence of Dr. King.” 

Ten days later, Dr. King was killed — giving a deeply ironic cast to the last sentence in Rabbi Heschel’s introduction. 

Fifty years later, we could turn that history in a new direction. Fulfilling Heschel's words by using the traditional Jewish forms to fully recognize King as a Prophet could contribute to America's doing tshuvah for the long history of racism, violence, and other forms of subjugation.

We invite you to choose the Shabbat just after April 4 to introduce this new haftarah into your sacred service, in addition to the haftarah for the eighth day of Pesach. . 

I worked with Cantor Lyons to choose passages from the "Beyond Vietnam" speech.  She  has set its English words to the traditional Haftarah melodies. This new Haftarah takes seven minutes to chant. You can access Cantor Lyons' chant at --


and her Text for the Haftarah, with the musical trope marks,  at --


What has made this a new genre, not just a single experiment, is that  Cantor Kessler has done this with other prophetic passages. One is the Declaration of Independence, to be chanted on the Fourth of July or a nearby Shabbat. It has been coupled with the reading of the Torah portion  sometimes called Perek HaMelekh, defining the limits on the power of an Israelite king. That passage may indeed be seen as the oldest political and spiriitual forebear of the Declaration.  It appears in D'varim (Deut) 17:14-21.

Hazzan Kessler has also created a haftarah from an amalgam of passages from a number of  Dr. King's speeches, for chanting on Martin Luther King Birthday Shabbat.

See it at <>

A "kissing cousin" to this form has been developed by Kohenet Shoshana Bricklin of Congregation Mishkan Shalom in Philadelphia. She has created several haftarot that intertwine passages from several different  prophetic voices, also in English and also set to haftarah nusach.

This effort to intermingle the powerful forms of Jewish tradition with the wisdom of prophetic voices beyond the Jewish community was what  the original Freedom Seder of 1969  did, and what the new "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder," woven by The Shalom Center and already being used in various communities around the country, aims to do. I welcome your comments on the implications of this new approach .

Blessings for a sweet, kosher, and liberating Pesach!--  Arthur

Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

1 Comment

MLK as prophet

I don't admire this designation for one important reason. The profoundly significant thing about the Civil Rights movement was that it was a people's movement. MLK caught the tail-of-this-tiger and was a great orator and had charisma. He did some leading but he did a lot of following. His deification or prophet-ification deeply obscures this more important fact. Most media-driven public discourage ignores this fact. I wish January 15 was a Civil Rights Movement holiday rather than his. And this making him a prophet goes along with this.

Add new comment

Next Steps for The Shalom Center: Beyond Passover & MLK+50

We are swiftly approaching the confluence of three moments of profound spiritual intensity: Passover, Christian Holy Week, and the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King.

All three are about resistance to oppression—Pharaoh, the Roman Empire, and the “triplets” Dr. King named as dangerous to America: racism, militarism, materialism. And in each case, the oppressed not only resisted tyranny, but also worked to create a new kind of spiritual community.  

For April 4, 1969, the first anniversary of Dr. King’s death, I wrote a Freedom Seder that like all Seders was deeply rooted in the past and unlike them, spoke powerfully to the future.

The Shalom Center has put in almost two years of work preparing for this 50-year moment, drawing on the spiritual power of those festivals and of “MLK+50.”

And now here we are! Many of you have supported our work with your activism, creativity, and money.  I want to thank you, and to let you know what your contributions have already brought about, including what we are doing in the next few weeks.  And I also want to share what we are planning beyond this season and ask you to help make it happen. Please contribute here

<>, and whether you do or not, please read on.

The struggle for freedom has moved forward for at least 3,000 years. Three eras, three examples:


The Exodus itself (a general strike against oppression)


The Seder led by Rabbi Akiba, as resistance to the

Roman Empire stirred about 130 CE


And the multiracial, multireligious Freedom Seder in 1969 CE.


Now what? The Shalom Center has created and widely distributed a new “MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder,” drawing on Dr. King’s wisdom as it connects with the struggles and wisdoms of today. 

In late March and early April, we will carry out an extraordinary line-up of events  that are rooted in the “MLK+50” Seder. They range from public forums on the Freedom Seders, old and new, at the Center for Jewish History and the National Museum of American Jewish History, to my speaking and leading the concluding prayer for the interfaith prayer service sponsored by the National Council of Churches on April 4 at the National Mall in Washingon DC as many thousands gather to honor Dr. King through action for "Truth and Racial Justice."

Our work will not end then. We are already looking forward to the next steps to resist the modern Pharaohs of Carbon, Pharma, and Wall Street, and their incitement of racist, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-free-press, and anti-Earth energies as a way to increase their own power and their hyper-wealth.

There are two main themes we see for our work going forward:

Healing and Renewing our Climate

One is to deepen our work on the climate crisis. It is increasingly clear that even halting all CO2 and methane emissions will leave so much of them still in the atmosphere as to bring about multiple catastrophes for human civilization.

So -- many scientists are now exploring how to reverse the carbonization of our atmosphere and oceans, to achieve a climate as healthy and life-giving for our children and grandchildren as it was for our parents and grandparents. As Proverbs 29:18 says, “With no Vision, the People Perish.”  The Shalom Center will work with scientists to develop a vision of how to renew that world, not just to barely survive great disasters.

Second, it is clear that our present government is so addicted to increasing the wealth and power of the modern Pharaohs—including the Carbon Pharaohs that are hell-bent on burning the Earth to multiply their wealth —that we must put some energy into resisting their attack on democracy.

This fall, we will celebrate the Jewish Harvest festival of Sukkot with a campaign to

Share Sukkot; Grow the Vote!

Many groups will be working to get out the vote. What we can provide is the spiritual interweaving of that effort with the deep values of Sukkot – inclusiveness of all communities, openness to the Earth and to each other, joy in gathering to Harvest the fruits of our labor and Grow the Vote, rather than treating it as onerous toil.

Your support is crucial to our being able to get these two campaigns going and growing. Please sow the seeds now to harvest in the fall. Please click on the maroon "Contribute" button on the left-hand maargin of this page, to send us your (tax-deductible) contribution.

Thank you!  And blessings to you of shalom, salaam, paz, peace—Arthur





Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Add new comment

627 votes, 17 minutes, 1,000,000+ kids

These numbers – 627, 17, 1,000,000+– ring out how people who have been inspired to organize themselves can begin to change the world. And they represent two currents of change under way in the USA, one electoral and one in the streets. Both currents are crucial, if we are to save ourselves, our democracy, and the Earth that mothers us.

 I want to share with you my thoughts about these numbers. First, what happened this week and how “inside-the-system” and “outside-the-system” efforts for change connect with each other.  Second, the “deep history” of top-down subjugation and uprising new community.

 I. This past week saw two remarkable and quite different expressions of Resistance. On Tuesday, a candidate for Congress who is a progressive on economic issues and a centrist on social issues defeated a pro-Trumpery right-winger by 627 votes.   The Trumpist ploy failed -- the ploy of enriching the UltraWealthy and the Corporate Pharaohs, impoverishing the middle class, and subjugating the poor by inciting racist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-free-press, anti-woman energies in the country in order to win support from struggling workers, farmers, and rural businessfolk.

This week, in one more Congressional District, that ploy failed.  Even pouring unheard-of millions into the pro-Hyperwealth campaign –- money to prime the pump so that hugely more money would come out the other end of the policy pump – even that failed.

 This is important. To build any bulwark against floods of would-be anti-democratic, anti-Earth policy for the years ahead, at least one house of Congress needs to be in bold defense of The People, Yes.

I think those who dismiss Tuesday’s election as a merely symbolic victory are mistaken: Members of the House of Representatives who were slavering at the chance to damage and destroy Social Security and Medicare are far less likely to do it, as of today, than they were on Monday.  Why? Because the danger of being defeated is all too clear. (On other issues, like Wall Street & the Dreamers, they don’t feel endangered. Yet.) If the right-winger had won, even by a sliver, those right-wing Congressmembers would have been likely to say, “See? Floods of money can pull me through even if it’s just by a hair.”

 Electoral victories are necessary, but they are not enough. Energies that are rooted “outside” electoral politics are crucial to making change happen. Even in this electoral case, it took labor-union organizers spending thousands of hours knocking on thousands of doors in Pennsylvania to energize those 641 more voters than the Corporate Pharaohs with all their millions could turn out.

 That’s the power of 641. What is the power of 17?   All across America yesterday, high-school students left their classes for 17 minutes, in grief for the 17 students and teachers murdered in Parkland, Florida, and in angry determination to make a difference about guns. Many left school for much longer – t least 1,000,000 of them across the country. Maybe many more: Who can count a demonstration that takes off from thousands of school buildings?

 It has taken smart, creative, and gutsy high-school students to break through the fog of despair and apathy about gun violence. I am proud to report that all four of my high-school-age grandchildren took part in (indeed, helped organize) walk-outs where they are.  “Five generations of activists,” my father would have joyfully said, starting with his father the “shoshalist” Amalgamated Clothing Workers organizer.

The multifaceted Resistance didn’t start yesterday. Looking back a year, It took 3,000,000 women on the streets -- now there’s a number! – to awaken candidates for office, the #MeToo movement, and much more. It took tens of thousands of people streaming into airports to break the back of the Trumpist ban on Muslim immigrants and refugees.

 And we have seen great strides of Resistance to anti- immigrant and anti-Black racism. Not yet anywhere near enough.

 The Shalom Center has put most of our energy into protection of the Earth. In that arena it has been harder and slower to build an effective opposition to Trumpery. I will be writing separately about how to deal with that.

 II. I think we are in the midst of one of the great swings of history, when there is a great shift toward tighter control and subjugation from the top, and in response a great effort to create a new, richer, broader, fuller community at the grass roots. (Or maybe the power-grab for tight control is sparked by  growing, sprouting communal grass-roots energy. Or both.) That is a deeper reason for synergy, not hostility or competition, between “in-the-system” and “out-of-the-system” activism.

 Think about the “big past.” Squeezed between two ravenous Empires, Egypt and Babylonia, some of the Western Semitic tribes responded by creating the Godwrestling People, Shabbat, and Torah. A new kind of community.

Millennia later, subjugated by the Roman Empire, that same community found what we call “Biblical Judaism” collapsing. They responded by creating two new forms of spiritual community – Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.  Half a millennium later, rigid authoritarianism and oppression in Mecca led to a new prophecy and the spread of Islam.

And now, Techno-Imperial Modernity is destroying all the old forms of society, economies, cultures: Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Nationalist, Communist, Liberal-Democratic.

More and more of the youth cannot abide these old forms. They do respond to moments of unofficial or marginal spiritual depth, like the Occupy movement and the Standing Rock encounter.  “Interfaith” and “transnational” and “intersectional” efforts would have been defined and punished as heresy by almost all the older religious, political, and national communities just 150 years ago. Now they are flourishing. No way to know in advance what form this energy will take.

Our Resistance in this hour is part of one of the great Upwellings in human history, like the emergence of the great religions. The only question is whether we can carry the day into a new kind of Beloved Community before Imperial Modernity can shatter all our civilizations and the Earth beyond renewal.


Site Placement: 


1 Comment

The Rise of Movements of Substantial Spiritual Depth

Dear Rabbi Waskow, "Energies that are rooted “outside” electoral politics are crucial to making change happen." Thank you for that heartening statement. I am a new subscriber who lives near the Lummi Nation in Bellingham, Washington. What I found most powerful about the Standing Rock Movement was the spiritual depth and spirit of nonviolence demonstrated by the indigenous peoples who gathered at Standing Rock from all the U.S. and Canada. From this article: "The elders told us constantly, “You’re here to pray.” Pray? This used to be such a loaded word for me as someone who grew up and became disillusioned with the idea of asking an old white guy in the sky to wave his magic wand and give me what I want. But that’s not the kind of prayer the elders were talking about. Of course, the Sioux pray petitionary prayers, but they’re not one-sided demands or requests. Those prayers come from a deep understanding of relationship with Mother Earth and offerings are made to Her as appeals are made. Body, mind, and heart must be prepared beforehand." What also comes to mind is that the Coast Salish community of tribes in Northwest Washington experienced a tragic school shooting in October 2014 where the shooter was a young Tulalip man. He killed four of his friends with a handgun and then killed himself. From this article: “Sing your songs loud and pray hard for the Fryberg family, Tulalip Tribe, Marysville community and all those who knew Jaylen,” Chief Seattle Club program manager Caleb Dunlap wrote on Facebook. “This will have a huge effect on the lives of many. If you are sad, mad, confused or experiencing any other forms of grief, turn to your songs, medicines, prayers, elders [and] loved ones.” With gratitude for the rise of movements of substantial spiritual depth, Amanda Muir

Add new comment

New "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder"

Friends and comrades in the struggle for spiritually-rooted justice, peace, and healing of our wounded planet   -–

This year, April 4, 2018, the 50th anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, comes just a few days after Easter and is itself the fourth night of Passover.  We honor these festivals and draw on them to renew and re-invigorate  Dr. King's wisdom, linked to the struggles and wisdom of our own generation.

We are doing that with the “MLK + 50 Interfaith Freedom Seder.”

You can read and print out the PDF file of the "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder" by clicking on the title of this article and then on the link that says "pdf," just below the bold "Attachment" line that appears. This brief note gives an overview of our intention.

The MLK + 50 Interfaith Freedom Seder

Woven by The Shalom Center

To Reawaken and Renew

The Prophetic Wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During Holy Week and Passover in this 50th Year

The new Seder stands in a great tradition. On April 4, 1969, the first anniversary of Dr. King’s death, about 800 people – Jews and Christians, Black and white -– gathered in a Black church in Washington DC to celebrate the original Freedom Seder in his honor and for the sake of strengthening the work he had begun. The next year, a Freedom Seder held at Cornell Universty actually liberated Father Dan Berrigan for several hours of freedom from his underground resistance to arrest by the FBI.

The Freedom Seder was unique and unprecedented because it wove the ongoing and still unfinished story of the struggle for Black liberation in America together with the ancient story of Israelite liberation from slavery to Pharaoh. It was published, radio’d, and televised nationally.

Exactly one year before Dr. King was killed, on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City, in his speech “Beyond Vietnam,” he warned that the “triplets” of racism, materialism, and militarism were endangering America. He called for a “radical revolution of values.”

The "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder" is shaped by devoting three of the traditional Four Cups of the Seder to opposing and transcending one of those triplets, and devoting the fourth cup to opposing and transcending their "quadruplet" --  Sexism & the Subjugation of women.

And we devote the traditional Cup of Elijah as a Fifth Cup of commitment to activism toward creating the Beloved Community that Dr. King envisioned. 

You can read and print out the PDF file of the "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder" by clicking on the title of this article and then on the link that says "pdf," just below the bold "Attachment" line that appears 

We look forward to hearing your plans to use the Seder. Please share them by writing <>

Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Add new comment

April of Resist: MLK+50, Holy Week, & Passover

This coming spring, three powerful Prophetic moments will arise in American society. We need to – and we can! -- bring them  together to face the threat of despotic leaders ready to poison justice, peace, our democracy, and Mother Earth herself.

All three of these moments of the Spirit Rising have their roots in powerful grass-roots movements against despotic power:  against Imperial Pharaoh, against Imperial Rome, against an Imperial US Government that Dr. Martin  Luther King insisted had become “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

  • The Christian Holy Week will begin on March 25 with Palm Sunday, ending on April 1 with Easter.
  • Passover will begin with the First Seder on Friday evening, March 30, and continue through April 7.
  • And the deepest questions of American society – – past, present, and future – – will clang together on April 4, the 50th anniversary of the murder of Dr. King in Memphis, Tennessee.

Exactly one year before he was killed, on April 4, 1967, Dr. King had spoken with deep concern about the American future – – not only condemning the US War Against Vietnam, but also warning that the deadly "triplets" of racism, materialism, and militarism were corrupting and endangering our country.

[Dr King at Riverside Church in NYC for his most prophetic speech, "Beyond Vietnam," with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel & historian Henry Steele Commager at his side.]

Why did King use the word “triplets” rather than “trio” or simply “three”? Triplets have one distinctive characteristic: they share a large amount of their DNA. What DNA do these triplets share? Subjugation. Exploitation. Contempt for “the other.”  Increasing their own unaccountable, irresponsible power by trampling others in the mud.

Half a century later, have we weakened these “triplets” in our midst? Our President waves the bloody flag of racism, threatens to annihilate in nuclear “fire and fury” millions of helpless human beings controlled by a despotic leader, and plans to spend a trillion dollars “modernizing” nuclear weapons that can already empty our planet of all life. 

And three aspects of materialism are far worse than fifty years ago:  gross economic inequality, grinding poverty for more people, and destruction of the Earth that is our common home.  All these aspects of the third triplet bear down upon us from the power, greed, and cruelty of Hyper Wealthy corporations. Modern Pharaohs, modern Caesars.

And we have realized that we need to name beyond King’s triplets another form of oppression: sexist contempt and hostility toward women. So now we must face deadly quadruplets. 

Can we draw on Dr. King’s prophetic wisdom and the spiritual power of Passover and Holy Week  to heal us from these woundings and move toward what King called the Beloved Community?

One year after King’s death, on April 4, 1969, the third night of Passover, in the basement of a Black church in Washington DC, about  800 of us  --- Jews and Christians, Black and many shades of “white” --   joined in an unprecedented "Freedom Seder." 

What made it unprecedented was that for the first time, the "Telling" of the ancient story of Exodus from slavery under Pharaoh was intertwined with other tales of liberation –-- especially the ongoing, unfinished story of the Black community’s struggle for liberation in America.

I wrote the text of that Telling, and a group called “Jews for Urban Justice,” far outside the established Jewish organizational structure, organized the actual celebratory Seder.  The night was filled with eloquence, song, laughter, comraderie,  tears..

The Telling was published by Ramparts magazine. The actual Seder was broadcast live by WBAI radio in New York City, and major excerpts were broadcast on television by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Seder itself, and what it inspired, pointed toward the “Beloved Community” and the “moral revolution of values” that King envisioned. Tens of thousands of Jews and Christians across America responded with joyful recognition. And not imitation but emulation: a flowering of Seders that were feminist, antiwar, ecologically responsive. The Freedom Seder turned out to free Passover itself, opening it to new energies and visions. And not just Passover, but many other aspects of ritual and ceremony were reread into new life, new meaning. The Freedom Seder became a tiny crystal of change tossed into a super-saturated solution of people who were thirsty for change. The "super-saturated solution" became a light-filled, light-refracting  crystal.

Can we do this again, this year?  Can the Spirit rise in the face of tyranny as it rose in the Exodus, in the week from Palm Sunday to Easter, in the Hegira from Mecca to Medina?

Already, all across America, a multi-state nation-wide Call for Moral Revival, led by Rev. William Barber, intends to include vigils and civil disobedience in affirming a new Poor Peoples Campaign  --  renewing and enriching what Dr. King was doing in  the last year of his life. See <>

Already the National Council of Churches has called for a massive gathering on the National Mall in Washington on the morning of April 4 to begin a great campaign for “Truth and Racial Reconciliation.”  See --



Already, The Shalom Center has organized and posted a remarkable collection of prophetic teachings by and about Dr. King.  See <>

What more? All across America, religious communities and congregations and multireligious alliances could sponsor Interfaith Freedom Seders during Holy Week and/or Passover (especially April 3 or 4) as a way to challenge the Pharaohs and Caesars and Bull Connors and Trumps of our own day. 

For example, New Freedom Seders could dedicate the Four Cups of wine or grape juice in the Seder to  “Healing Us from the Deadly Quadruplets”  -- the triplets named by Dr. King and the fourth, sexism, added by the realities of our day.

The Shalom Center is at work on creating the text for that Seder. We welcome your suggestions.

And meanwhile, we invite you to explore these versions we have already created of a Seder for the Earth:

“The Interfaith Freedom Seder for the Earth” at <>

“The Seder that Makes Clear the Earth Really Matters” at


Please write us with your suggestions for a New Freedom Seder and/or with requests for our help and suggestions in creating and organizing your own.


Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

1 Comment

Toward liberation

The Exodus story as metaphor for our individual liberation. We seek liberation yet fear the unknown of 'freedom' - Pharoah promises and reneges mimicking our difficulty of letting go to move forward only to lose his forces in their failed attempt to hold the tide back. The crossing of the sea to Sinai and wandering is the birth of a people and an ideology similar to the birth of a human - gestation, painful birth, maturing thro' new experiences and leaving old patterns behind and finally receiving 'heart', the Mishkan. Our failure to follow the wisdom if this path to liberation is one cause of our suffering thro' life rather than embracing true liberation. This points up the struggle between mind and heart and the shortcomings of language.

Add new comment

A Jewish State Must Not Send Refugees to Death

Torah vs. the Present Government of Israel

One of the greatest betrayals the present Government of Israel is visiting upon the Jewish people is poisoning the bloodstream, the very birth-moment, of Torah and Jewish history.

How? By deporting to tyranny and death African refugees in Israel who have with great and painful effort made their way to israel and are seeking asylum from threats of death in several of their home countries.

The Jewish commitment to give refuge to those fleeing tyranny is rooted deep in Jewish history – at the very birthing of Jewish peoplehood. Three thousand years ago, according to our story of our origin, we ourselves were a band of runaway slaves. And so the Jewish people encoded its own “Refugee Convention” in Torah:

“You are not to hand over to his master a serf who has sought rescue by you from his master. Beside you let him dwell among you, in whatever place he chooses, within one of your gates that seems good to him. You are not to maltreat him!” (Deut 23: 16-17, modified transl. by Everett Fox, Five Books of Moses)

How could we NOT have affirmed this, insisted on it? Every year we gather at the Passover Seder to repeat that we were a band of runaway slaves. Without that, we are nothing.

Recent history makes clear once again that the expulsion of these refugees is a poisonous betrayal of ourselves. After World War II and the Holocaust, during which Jews were denied refuge in many countries and died as a result, the world insisted on adopting the Refugee Convention, with the State of Israel among its leading supporters.

So it is not surprising that already thousands of Israelis and hundreds of American rabbis have protested. Already pleas to Israeli pilots to refuse to fly these asylum-seekers to their deaths have brought some pilots to announce they would indeed refuse.

Facing the US government last week, hundreds of American Jews joined as a body in Resisting its actions to ruin the lives of the Dreamers, of immigrants, and of refugees.  Eighty-two were arrested. They were motivated by the same deep values as those protesting about the similar actions of the Israeli government. Thanks be to God!

Now we need more voices, many thousands of voices, to stop this betrayal of Jewish peoplehood and biblical teaching by the Government of Israel.  Americans —  Jews, Christians, and others moved by the best of biblical wisdom  --  can make a difference by joining with the Israelis who have already spoken out..

We invite you to join in this resistance by signing the Call at


We call for all Israelis to join those who already oppose these deportations of despairing refugees, and refuse to cooperate with the deportations.

We call upon the Government of Israel to reverse its plan and obey the Torah’s command to offer aid and asylum to the runaway serfs of our day.

 And we call upon all Americans to join in these demands.

We invite you to share this letter with your friends and colleagues, and ask them to join as well. You can do that by clicking here:


Let us be clear about what is already under way at the behest of the Government of Israel: 

As reported by Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, January 4, 2018:

The operation of deporting African asylum seekers from Israel has been officially launched. Yesterday, the Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA) announced that, from February 1st onward, it would no longer extend the temporary visas held by asylum seekers and demand that they leave to a third country. 

The official procedure does not exclude the chronically and severely ill, people with disabilities and victims of torture. All are now subject to the threat of deportation. The PIBA is already calling upon Eritrean and Sudanese citizens, urging them to leave Israel within three months. Asylum seekers who do not leave within that period will face indefinite detention and their employers will be fined. 

But that decree is not the end of the story, thanks to God and history and the survival in our kishkes of the values embedded in Torah and our lives.

We can stop the cruel plan, but in order to do so we need thousands more with us.

Please join in the Call for offering aid and asylum to the African refugees now under threat of deportation in  Israel by clicking here:


And please help The Shalom Center keep renewing the wellsprings of our spiritual wisdom and healing the deep wounds of our society, by making a contribution through the maroon "Contribute" button in the left-hand margin of this page.

With blessings for all who seek justice and pursue peace --  Arthur

Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

1 Comment

Remember! Not so long ago,

Remember! Not so long ago, many Jews attempting to flee the Nazi death machine were turned away by various countries--including the United States--and sent to their deaths. Can Israel have such a poor memory?!

Add new comment

Gloria Steinem: "When Americans Leave an Abusive Household"

The Moment of Greatest Danger;

The Moment of Greatest Freedom

By Gloria Steinem

[More than four years ago, in the fall of 2013, The Shalom Center celebrated the approaching 80th birthdays of Gloria Steinem and myself with a gathering titled "This is what 80 Looks Like: Activists as Elders, Elders as Activists." I certainly do not need to tell you who Gloria Steinem is. On that evening, Gloria said something that has echoed in my mind and heart ever since. It is the quote with which she begins this comment on where we stand today. --  AW, editor]

Dear Friends:
            “American society is living now at the moment when an abused wife walks out of the household. It is the moment of greatest possibility for freedom, and the moment of greatest danger that the abusive husband will try to kill her. Freedom depends on her having a community to protect and nurture her. Right now, many abused communities are walking out of their abusive households. Almost certainly, there will be attempts by those in power to choke these energies to death.   Together, we can nurture them and all of us to greater freedom, greater justice.”
        Those were words I said to you-all at The Shalom Center when we were last together in the fall of 2013. That they were written down at all, I owe to the generosity of Arthur Waskow. Since the 2017 Presidential election -- and all that has flowed from it -- they have turned out to be more of a truth and warning than I could have known or guessed at the time. 
        It has taken a voter turnout rate lower than that in India, an outdated Electoral College, and a name popularized in TV “reality” shows to empower the third of the country that is in backlash against social justice movements. Yet that third of voters did elect to the top of our hierarchy a President who represents powers that are indeed trying to “choke those energies to death.” 
      This is happening even though – and also because -- the issues of social justice movements are now supported by the majority of Americans in public opinion polls.        
       Yet two big things also happened the day after the election. First, we learned that Donald Trump was the second man in modern history to win the Presidency despite losing the popular vote   -- and the one who lost it with by far the largest margin.  Second, we probably didn’t learn that Rebecca Shook, a retired lawyer living in Hawaii, posted on Facebook her idea that women should march on Washington in response to the first thing.
        Now a year later, the energy released by that obscure woman –-- and by everyone who has ever stood up and said, “It’s not fair!” -- is beginning to rival the power that is choking us from the top.

      Not only was that Washington March with its sister marches all across America the biggest demonstration in the history of the nation –- not only national but global –-- it was a reminder of all the marches of past and present against racial and economic injustice. 
      It set off a wave of protests against anyone in elected office who wasn’t following or listening to the majority will. It also initiated candidacies by Americans who had never run for office before -- or perhaps even voted. We cannot minimize the danger we are in, from war talk with North Korea to judicial appointments we will be facing for years to come.
      But in my long life, I have never seen such a populist, spontaneous, long-lasting, and self-willed rebellion. Planes have been stopped on the tarmac to warn those aboard that exclusionary immigration policies might not let them back in. Candidacies have been launched by Americans who are supposed to be outsiders by race, sex, class, gender, and/or sexuality, yet they have beaten longtime representatives at the polls.  
     Donald Trump himself has helped galvanize the March and the rebellions that have been happening ever since. By his fact-free Tweets, narcissistic lashing out at the smallest criticism, seduction by any praise, even from his country’s enemies, and appointment of a fox to head every chicken coop in Washington, he has depressed his Gallup poll ratings to a level way below that of any previous President.

Also, because he rose to office as the unpunished Harasser-in-Chief, he has turned a Me, Too movement into a coast-to-coast It’s About Time! Movement. This has just turned the Golden Globes into the first ever mainstream television event that belonged to women as much as men; to an organizer of household workers as much as a movie star.
     Though we always knew that Trump would be richer if he had just invested what he inherited from his father, now we know he would be more popular if he just disappeared.
        So in recognition that we, too, need Twitter-length versions of why we are in this struggle together – why we need a deep democracy of human beings who are linked, not ranked -- let me just remind us that sexism, racism and class systems are all intertwined. That’s because controlling reproduction, and therefore female bodies, is the only way to maintain differences of race and class in the long run.

       Of course, racism often affects women differently. White women have been more likely to be sexually restricted in order to maintain racial “purity,” while black women have been more likely to be sexually exploited in order to produce cheap labor. For both women and men, class negates our equal status at birth inn all kinds of ways from inheritance to health and education. Altogether, there is no such thing as freedom for anyone as long as racism, sexism and economic class decide our fates. 
          The bad news is that we are in maximum danger. Like the woman escaping from a violent household, we are at the moment when our captor is most fearful and likely to strike. 
     The good news is that we are now Woke! Like that escaping woman, we see the maximum danger, and yet know we also could be free.
      We must work hard, organize every minute, and take care of each other. Yet I think there is no turning back. We are escaping old divisions. 
    We just might be on the way to new freedom.  

     --  Gloria


Site Placement: 


1 Comment

Wonderful article. The time

Wonderful article. The time has come and I am happy to see woman coming out in different ways. Actually we are way overdue..

Add new comment

MLK + 50: Remembering & Relearning from April 4, 1968

Beyond the Deadly Triplets of "Racism, Militarism, & Materialism" toward the Beloved Community

As we move into the weekend of Martin Luther King’s Birthday, I want to flag the fact that this year, April 4 will be the 50th anniversary of his death.

It will also be the 51st anniversary of his most profound teaching, his speech at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.” In that speech he warned America against the deadly "triplets" of racism, militarism, and materialism, and called us to face "the fierce urgency of Now." (This photo is from a demonstration against the US War in Vitenam, led by Dr. King and Dr. Benjamin Spock.)

And this April 4 will be the 49th anniversary of the original Freedom Seder, using the first multireligious/ multiracial Passover Haggadah –- held during Passover in 1969, deliberately on Dr. King’s first yohrzeit to honor and continue and renew his prophetic vision. .

Both this weekend and as we approach April 4, we can lift up what we have learned from Dr. King’s life and work, and what we need to reconfigure for our own generation.  For example, his warning about "materialism" in our lives evokes both the worsening economic inequality in our country, a new Oligarchy of the Hyper-Wealthy, and the worsening danger of climate chaos brought on by the  homicidal greed of the Carbon Pharaohs.

This very weekend, we could add a reading of excerpts from Dr. King’s prophetic vision to prayer services  of Jumah, Shabbat. and the Sunday  Sabbath.  Key excerpts are posted on our Home Page at <>

Plans and actions are already afoot around the country for recognizing this  dark and bloody moment in American history, and turning it toward the transformation of America –-  taking steps toward the birth of the Beloved Community that Dr. King envisioned.

Among these efforts:  Rev. Dr. William Barber is leading the New Poor People’s Campaign, a multi-city echo of the work Dr. King was doing in his last days. On April 4 itself, he will be leading activist commemorations in Memphis, where Dr. King was killed. The National Council of Churches is planning a major gathering on the National Mall that day, focusing on “Truth and Racial Justice.”

What can we ourselves do in taking this time as a Season of Truth and Transformation?

The assassination of Dr. King crystallizes into one moment a great many of the bloody streaks in US history --  violence by the powerful against the disempowered:

  • Genocide of the Native communities;
  • Slavery, “post“-slavery racism in segregation, the Klan, lynchings, and  “the new Jim Crow” of mass incarceration;
  • The long history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of violence against labor unions;
  • A long history of imperial wars, from the war to annex large parts of Mexico to the war to subjugate the Philippines through many violent interventions in Latin America to the Wars against Vietnam and Iraq and the endless invasion of Afghanistan; 
  • The imprisonment of Japanese-Americans in 1942;
  • The gun violence that is uniquely horrific here as compared with every other industrial country;
  • The violence done other life-forms on this continent, this planet, and now the deep and near-mortal wounding of our Mother Earth through global scorching.

Americans have never collectively and at a spiritual level faced this part of our history, seen it as a continuing self-inflicted wound, done penance for it, and committed ourselves to heal ourselves from its hurt.

Could we make April 4, 2018,  a National Day of Atonement and At-One-ment, perhaps a fast day from sunrise to sunset?   In Jewish life there has grown up a profoundly serious word-play rooted in Yom Kippur as, in English, the Day of Atonement — also the Day of At-One-ment. The day when we not only atone for our misdeeds but turn toward The One — the Source of Life, the Unity of all.  Both Atonement and At-One-ment are what a National Fast Day on April 4, 2018, would aim at. 

On the website <> you can find the full text of “Beyond Vietnam” and several others of Dr. King’s speeches — both in writing, and by voice —  and some powerful writings about him and the effects of his work even into our own generation. These materials could assist you in organizing an all-day or all-night teach-in on applying the wisdom of Dr. King today. 

In addition, this year the 6th night of Passover begins the evening of April 4. This could be a powerful moment for a Freedom Seder. (The photo below is from the original Freedom Seder in 1969.) If any of you, our readers and members, wants to organize such a Freedom Seder, please let us know. Write us at <>.

You will find helpful materials  on The Shalom Center ’s website at 







We will write more about these possibilities as we move closer to April 4. We invite you to write us at <>what you are planning, so that we can share and enrich our separate efforts into a network of Truth and Transformation..




Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Add new comment

Truth and Transformation: A Vision for the New Year

This could become a year of Truth and Transformation. Truth about the painful past, the promising past. Transformation of the future toward making real the Beloved Community.

Just as I sat down to write you-all a letter on my sense of what we face and how we can take action in 2018, I received an oddly, ironically  relevant link to an article in the New Yorker, just appearing.

In it I am quoted from a recent interview for the New Yorker story --  about a conference I took part in 50 years ago. The Foreign Policy Association, which sponsored the conference, aimed at predicting what life would be like 50 years afterward –-  that is, this year.  Then they published a book of predictive essays --  with not a single woman author, nothing on race  relations,  and no author under 35 years old. 

Were their predictions on target? One participant warned that “large-scale climate modification will be effected inadvertently” from rising levels of carbon dioxide. A few others foresaw the rise of complex “big data” computers.

Otherwise, no worthwhile predictions. No one foresaw the collapse of the Soviet Union, the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage , or the election of a fascist President of the United States.

The article, by Paul Collins, quotes me:

For Waskow, such omissions were no accident. “That’s what I ended up feeling about this whole cluster of people,” he remembers today:

 “They were trying to figure out how to describe the future, and mostly in ways that would have them still in charge of it. Their technology was all stuff that would fit within the basic framework of corporate capitalism of the sixties and seventies.”

 “I was interested in changing the world—not trying to predict the future, but to create the future.”

I still am.  The prophetic voice does not predict the future, it “possidicts” the future with a strong ethical dimension to the vision. If you do x, you will get x-squared. If you do y, you will get y-cubed. What you sow is what you will reap. All the prophetic voice can do is warn of danger if we do x and offer transformation if we do y.     If is the word of truth.

If you want to read the whole article, click to --

If you want to hear a prophetic voice, not predictions, keep tuned here:

  1. 1.     Oligarchy

There are three crucial aspects to the present effort to turn a precariously democratic society into an Oligarchy of the Hyper-Wealthy:

a. Personal egomania and paranoia, well positioned to evoke the same responses in fear and disgust toward  Blacks, Browns, immigrants, the poor, students and teachers,  elders, women, LGBTQ people, Muslims, maybe Jews, the Earth itself and those who  try to protect water, air, food, land, national parks, from poisoning and corporate take-over. The desired result: emotional distress and economic misery among these folks, enough to keep them so busy surviving and so suspicious of each other that they cannot take time to organize an insurgent politics

b. Shifting enormous amounts of wealth and power to those already Hyper-Wealthy.


 c. Preparing to choke off debate and dissent. The goals: –- taking over the FBI and “re-Hooverizing” it as a politically repressive force; ending Net Neutrality; bashing and ultimately limiting independent judges and the critical press; defining networks like Black Lives Matter as proto-terrorist, etc. This part of the process is so far mostly at the “shouting” rather than the “choking” stage

2.     Resistance

We have seen the emergence of larger and broader grass-roots opposition. Much of it has been single-issue from different sectors of American society, each responding to the pressure on itself. But there has been an increasing recognition that “we are all in this together,” that subjugation is the DNA that all the different pressures share, that democracy itself is in serious danger.

a. Many thousands of women have been moved into action beyond anything before, even in the movement to win the right to vote. Many women have seen the links between political threats to the right to choose birth control and abortion,  with individual, personal, and intimate attacks on their bodies and dignity.

b. From a seed planted in North Carolina’s “Moral Monday” movement has grown the organizing of a new Poor People’s Campaign, drawing on memories of Dr. Martin Luther King, reaching across racial and regional boundaries as King was hoping to do when he was murdered, and enlivened now by the prophetic intelligence and eloquence of Rev. Dr.  William Barber.

Barber has called for a “fusion politics” that brings together  not only economic issues and resistance to racism but also the threats to newly won freedom for women and varied sexual and gender minorities, exploitation of the Earth, the extreme weather events caused by global scorching and the climate crisis.

 c. There are three dates that will arise this year that will test the strength and courage of the movements to renew American democracy. One of these dates we do not yet know. It will come if the present powers in control of the US government respond to growing opposition with a crack-down. That might take the form of firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. It might take the form of a war unleashed –- the classic resort of a frightened politician. It might take the form of a violent attack on civil liberties in response to a terrorist attack.  These possible events may not arise, but IF they do, widespread rapid-response grass-roots resistance will be crucial.

d. This coming April 4 is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination. It is also the 51st anniversary of his most profound speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” in which he named “racism, militarism, and materialism” as the deadly “triplets” afflicting America, and warned of the “fierce urgency of Now.”  (See the website <> for a wealth of wisdom from him and about him for our generation.) 
The National Council of Churches is planning a large gathering on April 4 on the National Mall in Washington DC;  Dr. Barber will be in Memphis where Dr. King was killed as he worked to support the rights of garbage workers. This day comes shortly after Easter (April 1) and in the midst of Passover (the 5th day).

The week or so preceding it and April 4 itself could be the occasion for a myriad “MLK50” actions all across the country –--  teach-ins and prayer vigils, marches and sit-ins, voter-registration  campaigns and strikes for a $15 minimum wage and a four-day work week with no cuts in take-home pay, blockages of oil and gas pipelines that threaten both local towns and neighborhoods and the planet as a whole -- and many other forms of united resistance.

Those days could also be the moment to begin work on democratic alternatives --  neighborhood food co-ops, neighborhood and congregational solar and wind energy co-ops, “B Corporations” legally committed to the common good, “freedom schools” to teach about participatory democracy in the past and future, newspaper-sponsored  dialogues on American democracy open to all, with the grass-roots conversations then published by the papers, and many more.

e. The next crucial date for the renewal of American democracy will be the November elections for Congress and many state and local offices. Voter turn-out of Black and Latino communities, of women and GLBTQ folk, of labor-union members and un-unionized workers, of students and young people, of elders alert to attacks on Social Security and Medicare –- all these will be crucial. It is not that a renewed and vigorously progressive Congress and city councils will be enough –- but without them, the task of resisting the Oligarchy will be much harder.

f. The values and authenticity of America’s myriad religious traditions are in question. Are they – we! -- ready to act on the values we claim of compassion and community, of love for our neighbors and for our Mother Earth? Are we willing to see the varied strands of religious practice as evidence of God’s Infinity to be cherished, rather than as evidence of bad faith and wickedness?

Prophetic activism: Truth and Transformation

In a time of crisis 50 years ago, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that ““Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism and falsehood.” Do our religious communities affirm that vision?

The subjugation of human beings and the destruction of our increasingly fragile planet go hand in hand. We cannot return to the rapacious past and still survive. The threats to our hope of creating the Beloved Community are rooted in greed and in fear. Can our churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples both call for and in themselves live out a loving world?

These are the worst of times, these are the best of times. For all of us, in the worlds where we have lived in comfort or discomfort, that world is coming to an end. What world we shape instead is up to us. What we sow is what we then will reap.  As was true in 1968, still true is it today: Our task is not to predict but to create.  IF is the word of truth.  Truth and Transformation? It is up to us.

Blessings to each of you and all of us that we can shape this newest year for shalom, salaam, paz, peace, for Earth and all her myriad earthlings --  Arthur



Site Placement: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

1 Comment

Your new year's comments

Dear Arthur, What an insightful and rich comment with relevant looks at the past and why actions 50 years ago didn't produce a world 50 years better. Thank you for being you and sharing. Readers are inspired, I'm sure, just as I was. I am proud to be your student and to have you as mentor.

Add new comment

Subscribe to Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts