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Isaiah Lives! -- The Challenge of Yom Kippur

At the heart of Yom Kippur is, of all things, a critique of “Yom Kippur”   -– if it is a ritual without compassion or commitment to radical change.

Long ago the Prophet Isaiah walked into the crowd celebrating the holy day by fasting and chanting psalms. 

Is this the fast that the God Who freed the slaves is demanding?” he asked.

And --  to use the words that would speak an Isaiah living today --


You must break off the handcuffs and free from prison those poor and outcast whom you have made the victims of police brutality,  mass incarceration, and a criminal injustice system!

“You must welcome in your midst the despairing refugees from ‘foreign’ lands whom you have deported, whose families you have broken.

“You have let the rich scorch your planet till great storms have destroyed many homes, great droughts have parched many crops.

“You must make sure the hungry are fed, the homeless find homes, the jobless find well-paying, worthy work -- – not just for a day but a lifetime!”

And for hundreds of years, we have read these challenges at the heart of our day of deepest transformation.

How do we keep these words themselves from becoming mere “liturgy,” became exactly what Isaiah was challenging?

Let me share with you three examples:

(1)  P’nai Or of Philadelphia will carry Isaiah into the streets. They have made placards, each with a line in English and Hebrew from Isaiah, and will march from their prayer service into public space, carrying Isaiah, speaking the truth and the challenge of today. To all who gather for prayer they will explain:


TODAY we will hear the words of Isaiah

after the Torah service

“Let the oppressed

go free.

Break off every yoke!

Share your bread

with the hungry

Do not hide yourself

from them!”







Several members will speak out about actions we can take this year to promote social justice in the Delaware Valley. All those who march can participate as witnesses and by handing out information to shoppers.

This year, we will also share a collaboration with the Highpoint Café which will be collecting donations for food for the poor and homeless of our city.

Those who remain at shul will send us off with blessings and continue with the Yizkor ritual where small groups share events in their lives that were joyous and those that brought grief. We on the march will gather to observe Yizkor outside for our beloveds and for those who have died this year in the name of social justice and due to hurricanes and earthquakes. We will return to join in El Maley Rachamim, the memorial prayer for the dead,  with the whole community.


(2) A way to prepare your own heart, mind, and spirit for Yom Kippur: We encourage you to watch a remarkable on-line video recitation in words,  music ,and graphics of the Isaiah Prophetic reading, at


(If the link appears broken on your screen and clicking to it does not work, please copy the whole link between the <> signs and paste it into your browser. )

(3)  Using the translation below, B*R*E*A*K  into the text with brief messages from today. For examples, see below – but feel free to choose your own.

Isaiah breaks into the official liturgy of Yom Kippur

The Prophetic Reading for the Fast of Yom Kippur, Isaiah 57:14-58:14
[Slightly midrashic translation by Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow]

And God said:
Open up, open up, Clear a path!
Clear away all obstacles
From the path of My People!
For so says the One
Who high aloft forever dwells,
Whose Name is Holy:

I dwell on high, in holiness,
And therefore with the lowly and humiliated,
To breathe new breath into the humble,
To give new heart to the broken-hearted.

For your sin of greed
Through My Hurricane of Breath YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh
I smashed you.


Worse: I hid My face, withheld My Breath.

Yet I will not do battle against you forever,
I will not be angry with you forever.
From Me comes the breath that floats out to make all worlds.
I breathe the breath of life, I am the Breath of Life.

When you wander off the path as your own heart,
wayward, takes you.
I see the path you need —— and I will heal you.
I will guide and comfort you
With words of courage and of consolation
For those who mourn among you.
Peace, peace … shalom, shalom!… to those who are far and near,
Says the Breath-of-Life —-
And I will heal you.

But the wicked are like a troubled sea
Which cannot rest,
Whose waters toss up mire and mud.
There is no peace, said my God,
For the wicked.

Cry out aloud, don’t hold back,
Lift up your voice like the shofar!

Tell My people what they are doing wrong,
Tell those who call themselves the “House of Jacob” their misdeeds.
For day after day they go out searching for Me,
They take some kind of pleasure in getting to know My ways —-
As if they were a people that actually did righteous deeds
And never ignored the just rulings of their God.

They keep asking Me for the rules of justice
As if they would take delight in being close to God.

They say: “Why is it that we have fasted, and You don’t see our suffering?
We press down our egos —- but You don’t pay attention!”

Look! On the very day you fast, you keep scrabbling for wealth;
On the very day you fast, you keep oppressing all your workers.

Look! You fast in strife and contention.
You strike with a wicked fist.

You are not fasting today in such a way
As to make your voices heard on high.

Is that the kind of fast that I desire?
Is that really a day for people to “press down their egos”?

Am I commanding you to droop your heads like bulrushes
And lie around in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast day,
The kind of day that the God of the Burning Bush would wish?



This is the kind of fast that I desire:

Unlock the hand-cuffs put on by wicked power!
Untie the ropes of the yoke!
Let the oppressed go free,
And break off every yoke!



Share your bread with the hungry.
Bring the poor, the outcasts, to your house.
When you see them naked, clothe them;
They are your flesh and blood;
Don’t hide yourself from them!

Then your light will burst through like the dawn;
Then when you need healing it will spring up quickly;
Then your own righteousness will march ahead to guard you.
And a radiance from YHWH will reach out behind to guard you.
Then, when you cry out, YHWH will answer;
Then, when you call, God will say: “Here I am!”

If you banish the yoke from your midst,
If you rid yourself of scornful finger-pointing
And words of contempt;


If you open up your life-experience to the hungry
And soothe the life that has been trampled under foot,

Then even in darkness your light will shine out
And your moments of gloom turn bright as noonday.
Then the Breath of Life will always be your guide,
Will soothe your own life in your own times of dryness
And strengthen your bones when they are weary.

Then you shall be like a garden given water,
Like a wellspring whose waters never fail.
Those who spring from you shall rebuild the ancient ruins
And you shall lay foundations for the coming generation.
You shall be called “Those who mend torn places,”
You shall be called “Those who build lanes to live in.”

If you refrain from trampling my Renewal-time*
And from being busy-busy on My holy day;
If you will not only call Renewal-time* delightful
But also turn far from your usual way
And set aside your business and your chatter
To be yourselves the rays by which God’s Holiness
Can turn this world into a radiant joy —-

Then indeed you will find delight in YHWH.
For then —- when you have joined the lowly —-
I will set you all with Me,
Astride the heights of earth.
Then —- when you feed others —- I will let you eat your fill
From what is truly due you as the heirs of Jacob.

For this word comes from the Mouth that
Breathes all life.

 [The "Burning Bush" and "Torah of the Earth" graphins are by Michael Bogdanow. For more of his work, and to

bring prints into your own home, click to <>]

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Isaiah and Arthur

Thank you, Arthur, for this inspiring, creative, current translation of Isaiah. You bring to life the profound urgency of his plea arising out of the wider justice and compassion inherent in the Holy. To bring this great prophet to this moment is a great service.

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The World Itself is Blowing the Great Shofar: Awake!

We are approaching Rosh Hashanah, when we ourselves blow the Shofar  -- puffing a small breath of air into the small end of the ram’s horn to come out the other end as an outcry of four distinct notes: alarm, broken-heart, grief, and awe-filled transformation.

Close to the end of this  Shalom Report, we will suggest five actions that will turn the symbolic Shofar into our active reality.

Why must we do this? Because in just the past four weeks, the world itself has cried out four far more powerful separate soundings of the Shofar.

All four soundings of alarm share the same danger: that those whom we exclude from “our” society can in despair become a danger to the society that excludes them, and that responding to that danger with still more exclusion brings on more violence to contain the danger.

There is only one response that in the long run works: inclusion, connection, or to use the short and embarrassing word – – love.

The first Shofar blast was sounded at Charlottesville, and became even more shrill when the White House commented on what happened there. It called on us, "Awake!" to the resurgence of violent white supremacism, white nationalism, Neo-Nazi-ism no longer at the margins of American society but now with sympathizers and defenders and believers at the very peak of American power in the White House and the presidency itself.

More deeply, it called out the pain and despair of some “old Americans” who feel severed economically, culturally, and spiritually from a new transnational, multicultural world.

A second Shofar blast was sounded by the hurricane that shattered many parts of Texas. Far fewer  Americans could also hear the same Shofar crying out from Asia, in the floods that killed thousands in Nepal, India, and Bangla Desh.  These storms called on us, "Awake!" to the truth of global scorching caused by the corporate greed  of Big Coal, Big Oil, Big Unnatural Gas,  now vigorously made the “Law of Greed is God” by the White House.

Here it is the Earth itself that those who rule our society try to exclude and subjugate -- pretending that all the Earth is not an ecosystem and that what we do to rip and tear its interwovenness does not come back to harm us.

Third, the Shofar blast of a Hydrogen Bomb and long-distance missiles tested successfully by the government of North Korea, echoed by war-like threats of “fire and fury” from the US government  -- together with the announcement that the White House will seek Congressional authorization of a trillion-dollar budget to ”upgrade” and “strengthen” the US arsenal of thousands of H-Bombs. This is the Shofar blast of The Bomb reawakened, after almost thirty years of comfortable neglect as we thought the genocidal danger had been parked in a musty barn, unvisited.

The trillion dollars proposed for  making fancier H-Bombs could instead be spent on removing a trillion tons of CO2 from our planet’s atmosphere, Then our children and grandchildren could take joy and sustenance from a climate as life-giving as that which sustained our parents and grandparents, with a level of eco-social justice that many of our forebears did not experience.

Fourth: The Shofar blast of efforts to wreck the lives of Dreamers and other immigrants, documented or not. We hear the wailing of heartbreak and sorrow in worsening deportation sweeps of these last few months, and in the cancelation of the DACA exemptions from deportation of the Dreamers who came as little children to the United States. These actions not only cruelty shatter immigrant families, but are also inexorably moving toward wounding  the civil liberties and freedoms of many others.

In all four of these Traumas, there is the possibility of Transformation.

  • We could bring together the different segments of working-class and lower-middle-class Americans of every race and gender and ethnicity in a joyful amalgam, a New New Deal of sharing.
  • We could affirm our interconnectedness with all of our planet’s life-forms, and take action to heal and restore a livable climate.
  • We could move swiftly to carry out the Treaty to abolish all nuclear weapons that was recently adopted by the United Nations, freeing us all from the threat of nuclear holocaust. And we could take legal, political, and economic steps to welcome North Korea into the comity of nations, even though we do not like its government.
  • We could rework our entire approach to immigration. We could not only welcome into citizenship all migrants in our midst, but with a new “Marshall Plan” we could revitalize the economies and polities of Mexico and Central America.  Then their citizens would not feel flight from poverty, violence, and despair is their only choice.

In short, in each dimension of these echoing Shofar-outcries we could respond not with more repression but with Transformative inclusion -- Love.

Jewish tradition teaches that God' s own self will blow the Great Shofar to herald the coming of Messiah and the days of healing, peace, and justice. As one ancient rabbi said, "May Messiah come, indeed, indeed .-- And may I not live to suffer through the turmoil that will accompany the Coming!” 

We are hearing the Breath of Life, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, blowing the still small Voice into the small end of our planet’s Great Shofar, sending a flood of sound into our ears and hearts.

On Rosh Hashanah we can only emulate the Great Shofar, to show that we are joining in the great outcry of Transformation.

While The Shalom Center has responded with action-suggestions to all four of these Shofar-soundings of alarm and transformation, we have chosen to focus most of our work on the existential threat to human civilization and to many other life-forms that arises from the climate crisis, from global scorching.

We have chosen that for three reasons: (a) The danger is greatest; (b) The organized Jewish community has been much slower to respond to that danger than to other important issues like hostility to immigrants and refugees, religious bigotry,  racism, and gender bigotry; (c) The Hebrew Scriptures are the spiritual expression of an earth-based people, and have a rich treasury of wisdom for shaping a loving relationship between human earthlings and the Earth --  but that wisdom has mostly been ignored, and could now be drawn upon to inspire strong religious action for the earth.

We suggest five actions you could take immediately, to begin the year with Transformative Action:

(1)  Click here to donate to TEJAS --  Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.  (<>

They are front-line folks in the Latino community who have had poisonous Big Oil thrust down their throats for years, who have suffered even more than most Texans from the hurricane,  and who have already been conscious and active about the dangers of the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs to their own lives. So a donation supports both immediate relief and longer-range organizing against the real danger.

(2) Prepare for Rosh Hashanah by clicking to

<>  (Many of these prayers express the visions and commitments not only of Judaism but also of other spiritual and religious communities So those of other communities should feel free to draw on them.)

(3) As part of a Rosh Hashanah or another gathering, invite congregants or neighbors  to discuss organizing a solar-energy co-op as an act of healing, a Birthday present for the Earth, .  To begin the discussion, print out and share the explanation at


(4) Invite congregants to a study group –-  perhaps the same people who create the solar co-op --  focused on the following vision: Taking action not only to end new CO2 and methane emissions, but also for a public policy to withdraw a trillion tons of carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere. 

The goal of this policy is that our children and grandchildren can take joy and sustenance from a climate as life-giving as that which sustained our parents and grandparents, with a level of eco-social justice that many of our forebears did not experience. Invite scientists,  leaders of religious and ethical thought, and political activists to explore this vision with you.

(5) Gather your friends and congregants into a “sustainers covenant” to help The Shalom Center keep doing this work. There are many ways we could sustain these efforts with Transformation Tool-kits, but only if you sustain us with the money it takes to prepare them.

With blessings for shalom, salaam, paz, peace for Earth and all of us --  Arthur

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Turning Time--From Eid Mubarak to Shanah Tovah

Brief Comments on a Long Crisis

Tonight and tomorrow, the Muslim world through Eid al-Adha, the Festival of the Offering, is celebrating an event that will become salient for the Jewish community on Rosh Hashanah, almost a month from now.

That event is the readiness of our shared forebear Abraham to make an offering-up of his son at God's command, and his willingness to change direction on a moment’s notice – – again at God's command – – to refrain from killing his child, and instead to make an offering of a ram with horns that were caught in a nearby thicket.

For Muslims, the Festival is celebrated in part by sharing roasted lamb or mutton in memory of that ram.  The sharing extends to making sure that the poor receive the food.

One could interpret the whole teaching in these words:

"Do not kill your children; feed the poor!"

For Jews, the story comes with all its torment in the traditional Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah. It follows on the teaching of the first day, when Abraham sends his other son out into the wilderness.

Islam and Judaism traditionally disagree about which son was bound up on the mountaintop – – Ishmael or Isaac. As with many family stories, we can take these different versions of the past as hostile,

or as different threads in a sacred fabric woven of different sacred teachings.

In the one-story, we learn from a family broken. In the other story, we learn from the family never broken, always joyful. Both are part of human experience, and we need to learn from both instead of rejecting either one.

 You could say that for millennia, many human communities have faced the dilemma: Does God demand of us that we kill our children by going to war against some Other with a different story, or does God demand of us that we feed the hungry of all communities?

In the Torah’s teaching of the story, after God has sent Abraham up the mountain, when the Voice says not to harm the child, the Voice must call out twice for Abraham to pay attention and to change the future.

Today we face the dreadful danger of killing our children not only through war, but by slowly choking our Mother Earth herself, and all her life-forms, by global scorching. So perhaps this year we need to draw on another deeply valid teaching about Rosh Hashanah: Yom harat olam, today is the birthing of the world!

At the end of this letter, you will find a brief preface to the candle-lighting on the evenings of Rosh Hashanah --  or on any sacred occasion in which we seek to turn fire into a way to light up the path ahead of us.

Will we turn our ears, our hearts, to hearing that we need to change the future? To hear that pursuing "business as usual" – – and I do mean "business" – – will ruin us all? How many times must the Voice cry out, "Abraham… Abraham! – – ABRAHAM!" for us to hearken?

“Katrina! –--  Sandy! –--  Houston! – – Bangladesh! – – Drought and famine in central Africa! – –  Drought and famine in Syria!…"

What if the Voice had spoken into deaf ears, deaf years?

"Sleepers, awake!" cries out the sound of the ram's horn as we walk toward Rosh Hashanah.

Tradition teaches that at Sinai one horn of that same ram that saved our children blew Truth into the world, and that the other horn of that same ram will signal the world's readiness to bring the messianic days of peace and justice.

Time now, these days of Turning, Transformation, for Homo Sapiens to make the Great Turning that every life-form yearns for.


Between the Fires:

A Prayer for lighting Candles of Commitment


We are the generation that stands 

between the fires:

Behind us the flame and smoke

that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;

From the burning forests of the Amazon,

From the hottest years of human history

 that bring upon us

Melted ice fields, Flooded cities, Scorching droughts.

Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,

The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze,

Not fire and fury,

But the light in which we see each other fully.

All of us different, All of us bearing

One Spark.

We light these fires to see more clearly

That the Earth and all who live as part of it

Are not for burning.              

We light these fires to see more clearly

The rainbow in our many-colored faces.

Baruch attah YHWH --  Yahhh --  elohenu ruakh ha’olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvot vitzivanu l’hadlik ner shel yomtov, Yom Harat Olam.

Blessed are You, Interbreathing Spirit of the world, Source of all creation, Who calls us into holiness through making connections with each other, and Who calls on us to connect by kindling the lights of this festival, the Day of the Birthing of the World.

{Light candles of commitment and joy]


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Hilarious Nonviolence, Assertive Free Assembly

Since Charlottesville, some progressives have questioned whether continuing our commitment to acting nonviolently and to affirming Freedom of Assembly even for neo-Nazis is worthwhile.

Before we look more deeply into the ethical issues involved, let me first share some unconventional imaginings of what nonviolence and free assembly could be like. (1) How might we more imaginatively and even hilariously challenge racists and neo-Nazis when they assemble? (2) And how might we create new forms of Free Assembly of our own?

(1) How might we challenge public gatherings of neo-Nazis and racists without ourselves resorting to violence and glorifying it?  Let’s be clear: ”Nonviolence” is not “passive” resistance. Nonviolence can be active, assertive, colorful, even hilarious. Decades ago, when the ACLU supported the legal right of Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois, the home of hundreds of Holocaust survivors, I suggested that any counter-demonstration draw on the tradition of the Jewish festival of Purim --  satire, parody, ridicule, caricature.

Like this:

That photo comes from a recent New York Times article about a town in Germany that has responded to recent Neo-Nazi  marches in that way. See

The photo, however, is not German: it shows an American action years ago  of the same flavor, aimed against the Klan.

The white-supremacist movement depends on two emotions: resentment at being marginalized, and (to jump across those feelings of impotence), dramatic pretend-performances of superior power and subjugation of others. 

So these might be far better chanted challenges than shouting “Nazi scum!” ---

“Our enemy is Wall Street --

Not each other!”

and  --

“Hitler was a loser goon

Brought his country down to ruin.

Trump is another loser loon

Don't let him bring America to ruin”

The first directly invites the “Other” out of marginalization into the dignity of alliance in a struggle against the HyperWealthy who oppress us all, and the second also invites a truly patriotic love of country while warning that an isolated right wing become losers, not victors.

And further -- what if each counter-protester in Charlottesville and Boston and Phoenix had promised to contribute $1 to  the Resistance for every racist, every Nazi who showed up praising Trump? That would turn every neo-fascist “victory” upside down, into a simultaneous defeat.  

These approaches turn real and potential conflict into a topsy-turvy invitation. Topsy-turvy always has an element of the clown, the joke, hilarity. Just below the surface of hilarity there lies a deeper wisdom.

Meanwhile, let’s reframe our own Freedom of Assembly as pilgrimages to the sacred sites of Democracy. Pilgrimages for peace and justice that treat the offices of Members of Congress or City Councilmembers as sacred places – tiny Temples -- where We The People are entitled to visit and bring Offerings, not to be forced away.

  • Offerings of fair-trade chocolate bars.
  • Offerings of murky water from a frack-infested stream, alongside bottles of pure water protected by the regulations that POTUS Trump is abolishing.
  • Offerings of green and flowering plants endangered by the global scorching that Trump is abetting for the sake of Big Oil and Big Coal hyper-profits.
  • And of course,  Offerings of truthful words – clear, calm, prayerful as befits a sacred Offering.

Now let us turn to the underlying ethics. Although the new pro-counter-violence responses from progressives are understandable because they arise out of shock and fear,  I think they are short-sighted and likely to be self-destructive.

First of all, affirming violence as a political tool poisons the deep assertion at the root of progressive politics and prophetic religion: the assertion that all human beings are sacred, equal not in their abilities or even in their ethics but in their worth and dignity.

Poisoning that truth is not only a spiritual or ethical failure; it invites political disaster. It is no accident that Trump was able to appeal to some large part of his political base by pointing to the fact that “antifa” (antifascist) activists could be seen on video acting violently in Charlottesville.

Thank God, the overwhelming majority of American society was able to see that the Nazi glorification and use of violence was not morally equivalent to the antifa movement. But press reports since Charlottesville indicate that many Trump supporters did think exactly that. 

Detaching those supporters from their support for national neo--fascist officials like Trump himself might be a great deal easier if there were no factual basis for claims that "both sides" created violence.

 There is a close connection between the practice of nonviolence and the deeper meaning of  the First Amendment’s commitment to Freedom of Assembly.

The entire First Amendment (free press, free religion, free assembly) is a hymn to the nonviolent process of covenant, conversation, and decision-making. It forbids the violent use of repression by a government – – whether an un-elected King or an elected Führer.

It encourages rational debate over policy, but it never assumes the debate will be only and always "rational." Its authors lived through the Boston Tea Party. That was a symbolic, emotional, and even spiritual act of nonviolent resistance to taxation without representation – – the violent imposition of a tax upon the community without its participation in the decision-making.  The authors of the First Amendment knew full well the importance of a flag, songs, and other "non-rational" elements in bringing about profound social change.

We have already seen how most of the American people have responded to seeing the Confederate battle flag and the Nazi swastika --- symbols that celebrated violence in the past  -- used to glorify the use of violence in the present. Slavery, segregation, lynching, racism, anti-Semitism, fear and hatred of immigrants,  of Muslims, and of all genders and sexualities other than heterosexual male,  and the treatment of Mother Earth herself as a mere object for destructive exploitation – – all these are rooted in the insistence on subjugating the "other" and on using violence to do it.

Instead of abolishing Freedom of Assembly for those who espouse violence, we can make sure that the weapons of violence cannot be used to poison an assemblage.

I have taken part in many demonstrations where the permits and the police insist that even wooden sticks cannot be used to hold a protest sign, and that we must use cardboard tubes instead. This rule was a way of insisting that the nonviolence that lies at the root of Freedom of Assembly must be carried out in the assembly itself.

The police in Boston forbade the presence of guns, knives, clubs, and similar weapons in either of the two assemblages that gathered this past Saturday. They also insisted on a broad separation – – about half the length of a football field – – between the two demonstrations. Both these arrangements upheld, rather than desecrating, Freedom of Assembly.

The true lesson of Charlottesville is that the Boston Way is the way a police force in any town or city must enforce the Constitution. That approach does not surrender to the violent impulses at the root of Nazism, racism, anti-Semitism; it is by far the most effective way of exposing and weakening them.

The true lesson of Charlottesville is that the city did not act in this way – – and that every city must.

 Indeed, when Boston acted this way, the White Supremacists abandoned their plans far nation-wide “Charlottesville” marches on September 9.

How do we make sure that other cities act like Boston, and what should we do where it does not happen?

I suggest that when the city government and its police fail justice and the Constitution as miserably as they did in Charlottesville, there should be consequences:

  • Lawsuits in advance to require local officials to proactively uphold the Constitution.
  • Lawsuits afterward for damages, brought by those who were wounded, threatened, denied their own freedom of worship in synagogues and churches that were left unprotected as Nazis and racists shouted threats.
  • Political campaigns to oust from power politicians who refused to prepare for an onslaught of those whose ideologies glorify violence. "Preparing" not by forbidding their assembly but making sure their assemblage could not kill, wound, or intimidate the people whom they hate..
  • Political campaigns against officials who still cannot understand that monuments revering Jefferson Davis or Robert E Lee or Stonewall Jackson are as abhorrent as would be statues honoring Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, or Hermann Goering.

 Let me end by going back to the idea of Free Assembly as a sacred pilgrimage bearing sacred Offerings to the offices of those we have elected. 

“What’s the charge, Officer? “   

“Giving the Senator a chocolate bar and a blooming tulip!”

“Oh, is that a crime? I plead guilty!”

This is where Freedom of Assembly and nonviolent direct action meet. It is where our movements need to be.


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Speaking Prophetic Truth to Racist & Anti-Semitic Power

Joining with Chabon & Waldman to Challenge What this Shocking Photo Means

That  photograph from Charlottesville and, even more,  the  Trump press conference that pretended to explain it away,  traumatized many chunks of American society  – – and perhaps most sharply, the American Jewish community.

For the first time in three generations, many American Jews suddenly felt unsafe in what they had come to feel was truly the Promised  Land.

There have been two different efforts to respond to this sudden onslaught of fear.

One has been to encourage a pastoral calm and comfort,  in which politically differing members  of a given congregation could  smooth over their differences through their concern to keep on good and loving terms with each other.

The other has been to encourage what might be called  not "pastoral comfort" but  "prophetic comfort”: the comfort of a prophetic community,  united in song and spirit and determination to challenge  the emergence of neo-Nazism and rabid anti-Semitism in places of great power and in violent eruptions at the grass roots.


In the midst of this unplanned exploration of new intellectual, emotional, and spiritual territory, the community found itself addressed by an "Open Letter to Our FelJow Jews.”

It  came from Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman (authors, respectively, of several brilliant novels including The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and of seven mystery novels in the series The Mommy-Track Mysteries).  What they wrote is clearly in the prophetic,  not the pastoral, mode.

Now and again below the text of their letter, we are inviting you to join in it.  To  join in speaking truth to white supremacist,  racist, anti-Semitic power.

We believe that during a great crisis, the fullest pastoral joy and calm come not instead of prophetic action, but as the result of well-aimed prophetic action.

You can join in signing the letter by clicking here:



"To our fellow Jews, in the United States, in Israel, and around the world:

"We know that, up to now, some of you have made an effort to reserve judgment on the question of whether or not President Donald Trump is an anti-Semite, and to give him the benefit of the doubt. Some of you voted for him last November. Some of you have found employment in his service, or have involved yourself with him in private business deals, or in diplomatic ties.

“You have counted carefully as each appointment to his administration of a white supremacist, anti-Semite, neo-Nazi or crypto-fascist appeared to be counterbalanced by the appointment of a fellow Jew, and reassured yourself that the most troubling of those hires would be cumulatively outweighed by the presence, in his own family and circle of closest advisors, of a Jewish son-in-law and daughter.

"You have given your support to the President’s long and appalling record of racist statements, at worst assenting to them, at best dismissing them as the empty blandishments of a huckster at work, and have chosen to see the warm reception that his rhetoric found among the hood-wearers, weekend stormtroopers, and militias of hate as proof of the gullibility of a bunch of patsies, however distasteful.

“"You have viewed him as a potential friend to Israel, or a reliable enemy of Israel’s enemies.

"You have tried to allay or dismiss your fears with the knowledge that most of the President’s hateful words and actions, along with those of his appointees, have targeted other people — immigrants, Black people, and Muslims — taking hollow consolation in how open and shameless his hate has been, as if that openness and shamelessness guaranteed the absence, in his heart and in his administration, of any hidden hatred for us.

"The President has no filter, no self-control, you have told yourself. If he were an anti-Semite — a Nazi sympathizer, a friend of the Jew-hating Klan — we would know about it, by now. By now, he would surely have told us.

"Yesterday, in a long and ragged off-the-cuff address to the press corps, President Trump told us. During a moment that white supremacist godfather Steve Bannon has apparently described as a “defining” one for this Administration, the President expressed admiration and sympathy for a group of white supremacist demonstrators who marched through the streets of Charlottesville, flaunting Swastikas and openly chanting, along with vile racist slogans, 'Jews will not replace us!' Among those demonstrators, according to Trump, were 'a lot' of ‘innocent' and 'very fine people.'

"So, now you know. First he went after immigrants, the poor, Muslims, trans people and people of color, and you did nothing. You contributed to his campaign, you voted for him. You accepted positions on his staff and his councils. 

"You entered into negotiations, cut deals, made contracts with him and his government.

"Now he’s coming after you. The question is: what are you going to do about it? If you don’t feel, or can’t show, any concern, pain or understanding for the persecution and demonization of others, at least show a little self-interest. At least show a little sechel. At the very least, show a little self-respect.

"To Steven Mnuchin [Secretary of the Treasury], Gary Cohn [chief economic advisor to the  President], and our other fellow Jews currently serving under this odious regime: We call upon you to resign; and to the President’s lawyer, Michael D. Cohen: Fire your client.

"To Sheldon Adelson and our other fellow Jews still engaged in making the repugnant calculation that a hater of Arabs must be a lover of Jews, or that money trumps hate, or that a million dollars’ worth of access can protect you from one boot heel at the door: Wise up.

“To the government of Israel, and our fellow Jews living there: Wise up.

"To Jared Kushner: You have one minute to do whatever it takes to keep the history of your people from looking back on you as among its greatest traitors, and greatest fools; that minute is nearly past. To Ivanka Trump: Allow us to teach you an ancient and venerable phrase, long employed by Jewish parents and children to one another at such moments of family crisis: I’ll sit shiva for you. Try it out on your father; see how it goes.

"Among all the bleak and violent truths that found confirmation or came slouching into view amid the torchlight of Charlottesville is this: Any Jew, anywhere, who does not act to oppose President Donald Trump and his administration acts in favor of anti-Semitism; any Jew who does not condemn the President, directly and by name, for his racism, white supremacism, intolerance and Jew hatred, condones all of those things.

"To our fellow Jews, in North America, in Israel, and around the world: What side are you on?


Michael Chabon

Ayelet Waldman

Berkeley, California, 8/16/17"

####   ####  ####  ####  #### 

Most of us usually think of the ancient Prophets as individuals – – though we see evidence that around Jeremiah, for example, there was a religio-political cluster.

Today,  must we leave the prophetic voice only to individuals like Chabon and Waldman? Can the prophetic voice  be spoken by a broad movement of Jews committed to the revitalization of Judaism in both prayer and politics and in the fusion of the two?

  Can we call upon all rabbis to read the Chabon-Waldman letter in their congregations on Shabbat,  and add a two-word sermon:   “I agree!” --  ??

The Shalom Center intends to try.  We invite you – – any and all of you --  to affirm that we agree with Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman. 

We invite you to direct a petitionary demand to the six Jews whom they have named as continuing, despite all Jewish values,  to serve as close advisers to a racist, hate-filled, Earth-poisoning,  and anti-Semitic President.

At The Shalom Center,  we will make sure this demand reaches Steven Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, Michael D. Cohen, Sheldon Adelson, Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump.

 You can join in signing the Open Letter by clicking here:


Six prophetic challenges can bring us to the Seventh Time and Place – a joyful calm, a Shabbat of community renewed.



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Prayer Service because the Earth Really Matters

And We Hear the Trees Pray

Dear friends,  As we reported to you earlier this week, our Survey of your views showed that you wanted  us to send regular suggestions of actions for you to take, toward healing American society and our wounded Earth. 

Meanwhile,  the collapse of Trump-UnCare has shown that vigorous, persistent public action can thwart the cruel and destructive plans of even would-be despotic officials.

On health care and immigration, religious communities have indeed been vigorous and persistent in resisting cruel governmental action. On the climate crisis, there has been some religious action – but not as much, even though the need is dire and the possibilities wonderful.

This letter offers one such action  -- an Earth-centered prayer service. Others will follow.

 During the week from July 9 to 16, the nationwide Jewish network called  Ruach HaAretz (“Spirit of the Earth”)   held a retreat at the Stony Point Retreat Center in upstate New York.  I took part both in planning that retreat and in teaching /”weaving”a course through the week, entitled “Prayer as if  the Earth Really Matters.” As I did, I kept in mind The Shalom Center’s recent multireligious consultation to develop liturgy that can inspire religious action to heal the Earth.

The class planned and then collectively led a prayer service in which all the retreatants took part. The guidebook/ prayerbook  for that course follows below. I suggest that Earth-aware religious and spiritual communities might use it as a template for planning services – perhaps monthly --  that will help inspire congregants to take spiritually rooted action to heal the climate and the Earth. Each prayer group could of course modify this blueprint to meet its own needs and desires.

We believe that the spiritual depth of prayer is crucial, but not sufficient, to make change happen.

So the class also began developing plans for a “public action liturgy” that would call for renewal, restoration, and healing of the Earth and its climate. We will pursue those plans by long-distance Zoom meetings.

The class also urged that we develop practices – like a congregational or neighborhood solar co-op – that would become  “religious imperatives.” 

The service was held in a grove of trees in the retreat center. It was focused on prayer for a Jewish gathering, but with a few changes could probably be used by many other religious and spiritual communities and interfaith groups.

We recommend that if at all possible, this service be celebrated  outdoors and among trees.  The service was planned for and actually took exactly one hour.  We are glad to provide it to gatherings of any religious or spiritual communities.  We invite those who draw on it to help us continue to disseminate it and develop other Earth-centered religious practices by sending  a supportive contribution to The Shalom Center. Click on the maroon "Contribute" banner on the left-hand margin of this page.or send a check to 6711 Lincoln Dr, Philadelphia PA 19119.

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Prayer Service As If -- and Because! –-

 The Earth Really Matters

Sunday Morning Service, Ruach HaAretz,

July 16, 2017

Held during the week-long retreat at

Stony Point Center


Arriving chant: Modah / Modeh  Ani l’fanecha, Ruach chai v’kayyam. ["Thankful am I, facing You  -- Everlasting Breath of Life ”]

Interpretive Modah /Modeh Ani

"Modah/Modeh Ani" in rhythm with other creatures and living beings. All of our bodies move differently, so please do the kind of motion that works for your body. Stretch up your arms toward the sky like a tree. Twist like a willow. Move your arms like a bird. Invite group to name moves; then the group follows.

Morning Blessings

Baruch ata Yahhh, Eloheinu Ruach ha’olam…

[Blessed are You,  Yahhh our God, Breath of Life -- ]

Who opens our eyes to the beauty in the world,

Who opens our eyes to what is truly happening today,

Who opens our eyes to envision the future.

Who reminds us that each step we take connects us with the Earth

Whose Divine image is seen in all life.

Excerpts from Psalm 148 [to the melody of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore”:

Praise God, sun and moon, Hallelu-Yah.

Praise Yah, you stars of light, Hallelu-Yah.

Praise God, you high heavens, Hallelu-Yah.

All that flows in all the world, Hallelu-Yah.

Praise Yah from the Earth, Hallelu-Yah.

You sea-monsters and all deeps, Hallelu-Yah.

Fire, hail, snow, and steam, Hallelu-Yah.

Stormy wind to do God's word, Hallelu-Yah.

Mountains high and tiny hills, Hallelu-Yah.

Trees of fruit and evergreens, Hallelu-Yah.

Wild beasts and quiet flocks, Hallelu-Yah.

Creeping bugs and winged birds, Hallelu-Yah.

Whole societies and peoples, Hallelu-Yah.

Kol ha’neshama t’hallel Yahh, Hallelu-Yah

Nishmat:  Breathing with the trees…

In this prayer that affirms God’s Name as Interbreathing of  tall life, we invite you to breathe with the trees. Chant (by Joey Weisenberg; to hear his melody, click to

<> We substitute “Yahhh” for “HaShem” to emphasize the Name as a Breathing. )

Nishmat kol chai t’varech et shimcha,

Yahh eloheinu, Yahh eloheinu

Yaidadai  Yaidadai …  

or Hallelu-Yah Hallelu-Yah … --

(English to same melody:)

The breath of all life

Praises Your Name

For Yahhhh is Your Name,

Whispering Life.

Hallelu-Yah, Hallelu-Yah,

Hallelu-Yah, Hallelu-Yah!

Preparing for communal prayer: Retell the Talmud story: “The Torah teaches that all human beings are made in the Image of God. What does this mean? --  When Caesar puts his image on a coin, all the coins come out identical. When the Holy One puts the Divine Image on a coin [a human being and perhaps all life-forms], each “coin” comes out unique.”  So we will turn to look from face to face at each other, pausing at each face to say within ourselves – “This is the Face of God. And this, so different, is the Face of God. And this, and this  …” We affirm this with a chant and dance:

Hinach Yafa Rayati --  “How Beautiful you are, my friend” [Chant by Rabbi Shefa Gold] takes the place of Barchu as the introduction to communal prayer.] Dyads facing each other make up two concentric circles. After each recitation of the chant, each person in the outer circle shifts one person to the left – repeating this three or seven times. Then all  become one large circle again, facing each other for the chant, and then all turn to face the trees  -- nd chant once more.

Sh'ma  Slowly chant Sh’sh’sh'sh   Mmmm  Ahhhh, then:

Sh’ma Yisrael Yah Eloheinu Yah Echad.

The Sh’ma, A Jewish Invocation of the Unity:

An Interpretation for the 21st Century (by R. Arthur Waskow)  Recite popcorn style, each stanza said aloud by one person.Sh’ma for the 21st Century: A Jewish Invocation of the Unity

All together chant: ”Sh’ma Yisrael Yahhh elohenu Yahhhh echad.” Then, going around the room, each person reads one paragraph :]

Sh’sh’sh’ma Yisra’el –
Hush’sh’sh and Listen, You Godwrestlers –
Pause from your wrestling and hush’sh’sh
To hear -- YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh/ Yahhhhhh.
Hear in the stillness the still silent voice,
The silent breathing that intertwines life;
YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh / Yahhhh elohenu

Breath of life is our God,
What unites all the varied
forces creating
all worlds into one-ness,
Each breath unique,
And all unified;
Listen, You Godwrestlers –
No one people alone
owns this Unify-force;
YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh / Yahh is One.

So at the gates of your cities,
where your own culture ends,
and another begins,
And you might halt in fear –
“Here we speak the same language
“But out there is bar-bar-bar-barbaric,
“They may kill without speaking—“
Then pause in the gateway to write on its walls
And to chant in its passage:
“Each gate is unique in the world that is One.”

If you hush and then listen,
yes hush and then listen
to the teachings of YHWH/ Yahh,
the One Breath of Life,
that the world is One --
If you hear in the stillness the still silent voice,
The silent breathing that intertwines life --

If we Breathe in the quiet,
Interbreathe with all Life --
Still small Voice of us all ----
We will feel the Connections;
We will make the connections
and the rain will fall rightly
The grains will grow rightly
The rivers will run,
The heavens will smile,
The forests will flourish,
The good earth will fruitfully feed us,
And all life weave the future in fullness.
Earthlings / good Earth.

But if we break the One Breath into pieces
And erect into idols these pieces of Truth,
If we choose these mere pieces to worship:
gods of race or of nation 
gods of wealth and of power, 
gods of greed and addiction – 
Big Oil or Big Coal –
If we Do and we Make and Produce without Pausing to Be; 

If we heat the One Breath with our burnings -- 
Then the Breath will flare up into scorching,
Great ice fields will melt 
And great storms will erupt:
Floods will drown our homes and our cities.

The rain will not fall —
or will turn to sharp acid —
The rivers won't run —
or flood homes and cities;
The corn will parch in the field,
The poor will find little to eat,
The heavens themselves
will take arms against us:
the ozone will fail us,
the oil that we burn
will scorch our whole planet

The Breath, Holy Wind, Holy Spirit
Will become Hurricanes of Disaster.
and from the good earth
that the Breath of Life gives us,
We will vanish;
yes, perish.

What must we do?

At the gates of our cities,
where our own culture ends,
and another begins,
Where we might halt in fear –
“Here we speak the same language
“But out there is barbaric,
“They may kill without speaking—“
Then pause in the gateway to write on its walls
And to chant in its passage:
“Each gate is unique in the world that is One.”

On the edges of each Self
take care to weave fringes,
threads of connection.
So we end not with sharpness,
A fence or a wall,
But with sacred mixing
of cloth and of air —
A fringe that is fuzzy,
part ours and part God's:
They bind us together,
Make One from our one-ness.
Good fringes/ good neighbors.
Deep mirrors/ true seeing.
Time loving/ right action.
The Infinite/ One.
Connect what we see with our eyes

To what we do with our hands.
If we see that a day is coming
That will burn like a furnace --
Turn for our healing to a sun of justice,
To its wings of wind and its rays of light
To empower all peoples.

Then the rains will fall
Time by time, time by time;
The rivers will run,
The heavens will smile,
The grass will grow,
The forests will flourish,
The good earth will fruitfully feed us,
And all life weave the future in fullness.


Honor the web that all of us weave  -

Breathe together the Breath of all Life. 

[The community simply breathes quietly for several minutes, staying aware that each breath comes from all breath.]

[This mdrashic translation//transformation of the Sh’ma waswritten by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center <>
Sh’ma for the 21st Century



[The community simply breathes quietly for several minutes, staying aware that each breath comes from all breath.]

Mi Chamocha : As once we stood at the Red Sea which threatened to be our waters of death -- yet became the waters of birth for a new people --  so we stand here, watching our seas rise. Consider how we may act to change our seas from waters of drowning to waters of birth and renewal.

Silent” Amidah: As long as we are alive, there is no silence, as we are always breathing. The trees are breathing with us. For this breathing Amidah, we invite you to stand near a tree and breathe together. Hear the tree’s Amidah. Listen to what the tree is praying. [The people disperse to stand with trees.]

To call people back from Amidah:

Etz Chayyim Hi (by Hanna Tiferet Siegel)

She is a tree of life

More precious than gold

Hold Her in your heart

And you will understand

Etz chayyim hi

Her roots are deep and wise

Her branches full of light

And all Her pathways are peace

Amidah Sharing Popcorn style… share about your experience in Amidah with the tree. What did you hear in the prayers of the tree?

[Responses transcribed. We include these only to give a feeling of what can happen. In your own service, do not include these in your prayer-book. Leave this time open for the drect experence of the people.]

1. I couldn’t move out into the trees. I couldn’t understand why. Everyone else was moving out into the trees, and I just had to stand and connect with the roots, and then I realized how holy the ground is, and I removed my shoes.

2. The tree I befriended had prickly pine needles, and  I could hear it saying to me, ‘You who breathe me in and out, I am breathing out to you –- a prickly scent just like my prickly needles — a prickly scent to say to you, "Wake up!”  A scent of more than sleep. "Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Breathe with me. I may be in danger but my prickly needles, my prickly scent, I’m sending to awaken you."

3. My Daily Minyan is made up of trees, and when I say that I am made in God’s image, I imagine the Yod of myself and the Yod of the tree, the Hey of the branches and the Hey of me, the Vav of the trunk and the Vav of me, and the roots of my body and the roots of the tree.

4.  So all week we were living in the Maple Lodge, but now as we’re outside we’re in the Maple Mishkan.

5. My tree said, ‘You and I are safe here. Take care of our brothers and sisters . . .’

6. The bamboo growth was just really insistent and kept saying, ‘You know, we’re really hard to kill. We’re really hard to kill. Don’t despair. It’s really hard to kill us.’

7. My tree kept reaching up to God – a steady stream of energy reaching right up to God.

8. ‘My roots are wider and more intricately connected to everybody else – much wider and more intricate than you can possibly imagine.’

9. My tree spoke as a vibration, and as I felt closer to that, beyond words, I noticed that my molecules and its molecules were very happy to spin around each other.

10.  My tree said, ‘Take care of us so we can take care of you.’

11. My tree said, ‘I’m going to let the birds speak for me.’

12. Mine said, ‘I was your first friend, and I will be your last friend.’

13. Mine said, ‘Help, please help.’ And "I notice my bark is thick and hard to get to. It protects me, the same way your shells protect you. And I share your DNA. I’m your cousin. … help me."

14. My tree said ‘L’dor vador.’

15. My tree said, ‘Thank you for hugging me.’

16. My tiny green sprout on the sidewalk here said, ‘Notice me, touch me, I’m growing in the crack.’

17. I heard my son’s voice, ‘Mommy!’ whispering from the tree, and I felt the wind rustling the canopy of branches. And then part of me remembered how some trees are hurt because crowds of tourists walk over their ground, on their roots, they’re hurt. So I ask the trees’ forgiveness.

18. The trees showed me the diversity of their forms, their different greens. It was beautiful.

19. The branches of my tree began just barely taller than me. It was a young tree, and it spoke to me of the vulnerability of future generations. Concern.

20. My tree said, ‘Ahh, water! Ahh, air!’

21. My tree, I felt -- that tiny little one behind us, a very skinny little tree, not far away – and I touched it, and I felt it. We were feeling each other. I felt that it connected me to me, to the Divine. The Divine was stabilizing in me and the tree, but the tree . . .

22. I just want to add that I was so convinced by the bamboo growth that they were hard to decimate that I felt very safe in there, and I didn’t want to leave and come back into community. It was very, very difficult to leave the grove and rejoin the community of humans.

23. I had a different experience in the bamboo. Under my foot there was something that made it very hard to stand, and I looked down and there was bamboo – the one that had been cut, and I felt apologetic -- standing on a cemetery, on a grave.

24. Hearing that vision of the Yod Hey Vav Hey in the tree and in the human, what came to me was God's Name as a Tree, the Tree of Life: The Yod — tiny, a seed in the ground. The Hey — curvy, the roots growing out of that seed. The straight tall Vav, the trunk. The other curvy Hey, the leaves, the foliage, and in the foliage, hanging, ready to fall into the earth is the next generation, another seed, another Yod. So the real Name, the full Name,  is: Yod Hey Vav Hey Yod. And on and on: Yod Heh Vav Hey Yod. . . A spiral. Always returning, always becoming.

Healing Song (by R. Aryeh Hirschfield)

We ask for healing for ourselves, for our loved ones, for our communities, and for the Earth.

From deep within the home of my soul,

now let the healing, let the healing begin.

Ana eil-na r’fana-la
Ana eil-na r’fana-la

Heal our bodies

Open our hearts

Awaken our minds


Mourner’s Kaddish

As we enter into the Mourner’s Kaddish, we invite anyone to stand who is saying kaddish for someone, and if they wish, to say the name and the relationship with the loved one they are mourning.

Pause: Then:  We also invite anyone else to stand who would like to say Kaddish for any animals, species, bodies of water, trees, or the Earth.  In recognition of these, we end with “v’al kol yoshvei tevel –“and all who dwell upon this planet” (including all life-forms).

Oseh shalom bimromav,

Hu yaaseh shalom aleinu,

v'al kol Yisrael.

V’al kol  Yoshvei tevel

V'imru: Ameyn.

Closing chant: “Earth My Body” (access the chant by Kohenet Taya Shere. Item 3  at  --


Earth, my body   

Water, my blood   

Air, my breath      

Fire, my spirit             

Earth, Assiyah   

Water, Yetzirah   

Air, Briyah         

Fire, Atzilut  

Nurture your body

Heal your heart

Experience your breath

Open to Spirit.


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Havdalah for Being Honored and to Mark 50 Years of the Occupation

Dear friends,
Yesterday, at the graduation ceremony for new rabbis at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, I was deeply moved by the introduction with which Rabbi Deborah Waxman, RRC’s President,  and David Roberts, the Chair of its Board, conferred on me the Doctorate of Humane Letters (hon. causa) and by the warm and prolonged response that came from dozens of the old and new rabbis present and from hundreds of their guests.  

And before that, on Saturday night,  there was a dinner that Rabbi Waxman gave for the Board. Phyllis & I were invited to the dinner — and then invited to lead Havdalah. I began with a kavannah. The weekend’s events were for me a true blessing — not just the words of blessing but the feeling of being fully blessed, down to my toes and within to my kishkes.  Below is some of the kavvanah I shared. (There were also more personal comments on how I felt to be in this way honored by the College where I had taught  in the "80s.)

Shalom, salaam, peace, Earth!   Arthur 



For Phyllis and me, Havdalah tonight is more than making the distinction between Shabbat and the work week. I want to share with you what else it is –-  to share with you a kavvanah for this Havdalah. 

This Havdalah  ends the week of the 50th anniversary of the Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Fifty years ago, that moment seemed more a liberation than a subjugation. We could pray again at the Kotel, along with the Shekhinah still in exile. And surely we would wisely relinquish the newly occupied territories for the sake of peace!

 Fifty years later, not so much joy. What comes next? The very last word of the Havdalah itself raises that question. The word is chol--  Blessed is the One Who distinguishes between kadosh and chol. Between holiness and – what?

Our beloved teacher and friend Rabbi Max Ticktin, alav hashalom, taught that chol means not “profane” but “hollow” – chol like the chalil, the hollow flute that can make a melody precisely because it is hollow. It is up to us to fill the hollow space we are about to enter. We can choose to fill it with the melody of holiness. What comes after 50 years of Occupation? We must choose.

That there have been two different approaches to dealing with the Occupation was not in itself surprising . For the Occupation makes utterly clear the knife edge between winning one’s own freedom —  winning for one’s self  enough empowerment to assert and protect that freedom — and letting the hunger for empowerment became an addiction to power — power that becomes the subjugation that  destroys the freedom of another. It is all too easy for human beings to move from one side of that knife edge to the other. 

Indeed, one line in Havdalah teaches us how sharp the knife-edge is. We sing with joy, “Layehudim haita orah v’simcha v’sasson  v’ikar.  Keyn tihyeh lanu!. For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor. So may it be for us!” But that verse stands right on the knife edge. It comes from  Megillat Esther, close to the end. In the story , within a few moments of celebrating their new freedom, the Jews are killing 75,000 Persians. The knife-edge: How much empowerment of ourselves for freedom, how much power over others that denies them freedom? 

 The danger afflicts not only Israelis but us all. Notice how many of those  Americans who voted for Trump to win their own freedom from economic disemployment and cultural marginalization crossed that edge  into trying to subjugate others — immigrants, Muslims, Blacks, independent-minded women among them. 

 Once we  realize how easy is the slop-over and how hard it is to balance on the edge of the knife,  perhaps we can more easily respond not with the complicity of silence but with the caring of compassionate rebuke, challenge, opposition. Tochecha that comes with ahava.

 So we greet with joy this Havdalah that welcomes us  into hollow time, open time.  I am much more open now than I was years ago to how sharp the knife-edge is, how hard it is to keep the balance. I try to bring much more compassion into my rebuke. I try to focus  my challenge not on Israelis as a whole, but on the government that is more and more leaping across the knife-edge to using its power not to free its citizens but to subjugate its neighbors. 

 So let us plan how to fill this open time beyond Havdalah by making holy melody with the holy flutes we bring to it. And let us take joy in the knowledge that as we pass the 50th anniversary of the Occupation, more and more American Jews are demanding that we renew our own freedom not by continuing the Occupation but by ending it with some new holy melody.  


So  -- Hinei, El yeshuati!   Here! --  O God of transformation!


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Trump Makes CO2 a Weapon of Mass Destruction in War against Us All

Chooses CO2 as his Weapon of Mass Destruction

By quitting the Paris Climate Accord, the Trump regime has issued a formal Declaration of War against our children and grandchildren and thousands of species that global scorching will drive toward extinction.

The Trump regime will use CO2 as its chosen chemical weapon of mass destruction.

Even before the formal Declaration of this War Against Life, Trump had already taken major steps to scorch and burn the Earth. 

These included decisions to shatter the Environmental Protection Agency, to scuttle the Clean Power Plan, and to remove regulations that control auto emissions, keep lead out of our drinking water and mercury out of our air, and even regulations to ensure purity of food and water from disease-producing bacteria and carcinogens.

Trump’s claim that healing our climate destroys jobs is nonsense. If the US government were to decide that we face an emergency even more destructive than the Nazi conquest of Europe in 1940 and were to pour billions into wind and solar energy, millions of good jobs would appear. Instead, millions of Americans will suffer from Trump’s war through droughts, floods, superstorms, and the spread of formerly tropical diseases.

What to do? We must build a far stronger People Power movement committed to renew a climate and a planet as healthy, abundant, joyful, and life-giving for our children and grandchildren as it was for most of our parents and grandparents --- and with much more eco-social justice infusing that transformed world, to make sure all our children share in that abundance.

And where can that greater strength come from?

American religious communities are a sleepy giant of potential social transformation. We need to fully awaken them, and The Shalom Center has just begun a crucial campaign to do that. We need your help to make that campaign succeed. You can help by contributing at


Here is what we are doing, and why:

What is mostly missing in the religious world are precisely the religious qualities that could make healing the Earth a central religious concern. Missing are the Earth-focused liturgies, sermons, ceremonies, and sacred everyday life-practices that would get deep into the guts and hearts as well as the minds and actions of people with even limited religious involvement.

So The Shalom Center has called together a meeting later this month of a small working group from diverse religious communities to develop  liturgies, sermons, and ceremonies --

for life-cycle events such as baptisms and b’nai mitzvah;

for festivals such as Holy Week, Passover, and Eid al Fitr;

for weekly celebrations of Jumat, Shabbat, or the Sabbath;

and to encourage sacred daily practices –-  for instance, congregants gathering in solar-energy co-ops, or reshaping their transportation habits to enhance the Earth instead of wounding it.

Our June meeting is off to an excellent start. We have received the funds necessary to support our staff to work on this, and to cover travel and a 1 ½-day stay at a retreat center.

Then begins the crucial challenge. We need to raise $35,000 to turn the ideas and plans emerging from our June gathering into the outreach that can fully awaken religious communities into a real movement.

Without vision, the people perish.

Without a grounding in daily, weekly, monthly spiritual experience, folks forget.

Through your membership and readership in The Shalom Center, you have shown that you get the need and urgency. With this new multi-religious project, we are positioned to make a major difference. Your help is essential to make it real. We ask you to make a special contribution, beyond what you have been giving to support our usual work.

I want to be clear that this is not just for everyday expenses. You are being offered the opportunity to do the ultimate act of giving life: awaken the communities that could actually generate the power to save and heal our Mother Earth --  our common home, as Pope Francis pointed out. The home our children and grandchildren will live in joyfully –-- or suffer and die in.

Please click on the maroon Contribute banner in the left-hand margin of this page.

Every gift will help. We ask you to consider a range between $180 and $1800.

Many thanks!

Shalom, salaam, peace, Earth!  --  Arthur

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The Torah vs. Jared Kushner

Tonight we enter the festival that has come to mean standing again, each year, at Sinai. What does it mean for us to do this seriously, taking Torah deep into our lives, challenging ourselves to live by its deepest teachings?

What would it mean to bring Torah to bear on one rich, powerful, and unjust Jew –- Jared Kushner?


The New York Times Magazine of May 28 featured an article entitled “Jared Kushner’s Other Real Estate Empire.”  It describes in stomach-turning detail how Kushner’s real-estate firm, using several shell companies to hide its ownership from public view, has become an oppressor of the poor.


His companies have used false and brutal behavior toward low-income people who are tenants and even former tenants of the Kushner-owned properties, to extract money from them that in fact they don’t owe, ruining their families and their lives. 


Since they can’t afford the lawyers who could defend them, they sink deeper and deeper into debt, disaster, and despair.


Through the last 2,000 years or so of Jewish history, generations of rabbis have defined themselves – our selves – as heirs of the Prophets, not of the priests. Heirs of the Prophetic commitment to challenge unjust and destructive behavior, to reinterpret Torah for the sake of renewing life as the world around us and within us changed.

 When Jews lived in self-contained communities, social if not physical ghettos, that degree of social control was workable for the sake of life-giving, justice-living Torah. But as we – for good reason!  -- left such social ghettos, the ability of the rabbis or of the community as a whole to rebuke and end destructive and unethical behavior dwindled. So that lifts up the question: What could the Jewish community of today do about such behavior?

I want to lift up a perfect example of how Torah values are trampled underfoot even while the semblance of piety is claimed.  A story of one man who at this moment holds great power and exemplifies in his own person the “kleptocracy” – rule by thieves – that now afflicts u

It seems to me that this behavior by a very high-profile Jew who claims not only the ethnic identity but the religious conviction is exactly what my grandmother called a chillul hashem. 

Chillul,” from the same root as “challil,” the hollow flute,  means  hollowing-out — in this case, hollowing out God's Name.. Since one of the mystics’ metaphors for God is “Tree of Life,” the “hollowing” is an especially powerful imagery.

A person who seems on the outside to be celebrating a living, thriving Sacred Tree of Life has hollowed out all the life-juice within.


The seemingly pious behavior of a seemingly pious Jew actually shatters Torah --  not in the private and self-contained way of a Jew who decides to eat pork; rather, in a way that shatters decency and justice in the public sphere, for many victims. 

I urge you to see the article for yourself at --


Kushner's behavior teaches a vile version of what Judaism and the Jewish people are. When Jews lived in self-contained communities, such an ethical and religious violation could be confronted, rebuked, perhaps punished, even healed by repentant self-correction.

Now it is harder. But perhaps it is still possible. I recall the moment when a small group of rabbis in Northern California called themselves  ”the Redwood Rabbis.” With help from The Shalom Center, they challenged a Jewish corporation-owner whose business was logging magnificent 2,000-year-old redwood trees to make paneling for rich people’s basements. The corporation’s own annual report said that redwood paneling without knots sold better, and it came only from ancient trees.

We gathered on Tu B’Shvat, the RebirthDay of the Trees and of the sacred Tree of Life, to “trespass” on his land to rebuke his killing of these sacred trees of life. We placed a critical ad in his home-town Jewish newspaper just before Yom Kippur to call him to do tshuvah.

We voted inside and demonstrated outside when his stockholders gathered for the annual corporate meeting.

And finally, reluctantly, he sold the groves of ancient redwoods to the California and American governments to be protected.

If rabbis then could see the destruction of these trees as a violation of Torah, what could we say now about acts that cruelly destroy the  lives of hard-working human beings? Could we challenge Mr. Kushner in similar ways? If we did, would we risk encouraging anti-Semitism? Or would we risk it more by keeping silent?

Tonight we face the Festival of Shavuot and read the Book of Ruth. It celebrates two people: a penniless foreigner, an immigrant from a despised and hostile nation, a woman unprotected by a man – and  a wealthy landholder who not only obeyed but affirmed the Torah’s command to make sure the poor and the immigrant had dignity and a decent livelihood. Could any teaching be more clear about the malfeasance of Jared Kushner?

Since the NY Times article on Kushner’s domestic business cruelties, there have emerged claims he may have negotiated with the Putin government of Russia in clandestine ways. And Politico has published an article suggesting his connections with the Lubavitch Chabad organization are intertwined with Chabad’s specially cozy relationship with Putin, in a way to benefit him and his father-in-law both financially and politically.


These allegations may or may not be accurate. They merit close study. But the cruelty of his business dealings in Baltimore and elsewhere is clear, already proved.

Most American Jews have made clear that they do not view Mr. Kushner or his kleptocratic and authoritarian bully of a father-in-law as heroes.

But the established “major” organizations have so far not rebuked such behavior by rich Jews, nor have the rabbis who might be thought to be the guardians of Torah.  What more might we do to stand again at Sinai and to clarify what Judaism ought to be, in actual practice?

Blessings that we come to live more fully in a a world that as the ancient Rabbis taught, can stand up straight only if it stands upon three pillars: Emet, Tzedek, v'Shalom: Truth, Justice, and Peace --



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Ten Days, Four Festivals

Ramadan, Memorial Day, Shavuot, Pentecost:

Are We Open to the Challenges they Pose?

We are approaching four Festivals:

The month of Ramadan begins this Friday evening, It is sacred to Muslims as a time of inner spiritual attunement and of fasting from dawn to sunset to intensify that focus.  In its midst comes the Night of Power, recalling the moment when the Revelation of the Holy Quran came to the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him.

The Jewish festival of Shavuot (beginning Tuesday night) was lifted up in the biblical Earth-based tradition as a celebration of the spring wheat harvest. For the Rabbis, bereft of connection to any specific land, it became a celebration of harvesting Words instead of Wheat: a celebration of the Revelation of Torah at Mount Sinai.

Long ago, Jewish tradition added the reading of the Book of Ruth as an important part of celebration of the Giving of Torah. In that book, an outsider – a foreigner from a despised nation, penniless, an immigrant, a woman bereft of the social norm of  a male protector – is welcomed to glean a livelihood by literally gleaning grain from the fields held by a wealthy man, Boaz.

The Torah requires that she be supported in that way, since the land itself can be held by a person but is really “owned” only by the Divine Breath of Life, the Interbreathing Spirit of the world. And that Breath of Life that freed the people from slavery insists that no one be left bereft and starving.

Ruth goes beyond all sexual conventions by initiating a relationship with the land-holder; he responds to her by offering marriage. Together, the story says, they become the ancestors of King David and therefore, mythically, the forebears of the Messiah. The teaching of the Harvest becomes simultaneously physical—the gathering of wheat and of sexual union;  social – the gathering of justice and compassion; and theological – the welcoming of an outsider into the heart of Torah’s future.

On Monday, in the United States we honor the dead of many wars through Memorial Day. The custom began in the bloodshed and heartbreak of the Civil War, which became the War to End Slavery. Despite the ambiguities and ambivalences that arise in every war, honoring the soldiers who “died to set men free” set a standard for the American future that has sometimes, but not always, been honored honorably.

And on the Sunday next, June 4, Christians celebrate Pentecost. It grew from Shavuot, when a group of Jews who had become followers of the crucified Jesus and had gathered for that festival were imbued with the Holy Spirit – the Interbreathing that pervades every language and all life. They found themselves able to speak and hear in many tongues, making possible a church that transcended languages and cultures.

 In this multi-Festival moment, we Americans –- Jews, Christians, Muslims, adherents of many other faith-traditions, and followers of the civil-religious patterns that include Memorial Day -- —find ourselves confronted with a challenge to all these values.

Let us ask ourselves the questions these Festivals pose, if we were to take them seriously.

For Muslims during Ramadan:

Do we take seriously the passages of Holy Quran that teach:

"Corruption has appeared on the land and in the sea because of what the hands of humans have wrought. This is in order that We give them a taste of the consequences of their misdeeds that perhaps they will turn to the path of right guidance." (30:41)


“ O humankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may deeply understand each other [not that you may despise each other]. (49:13)

What are we doing to heal the Earth that has been wounded by human greed? What are we doing to affirm and act on our respect for other communities, and to prevent the murders of "despicable others" that have erupted from some who claim Islam as their community?  Have we applied these standards not only to bands of terrorists but also to governments that fly a flag, possess an air force,  and are members of the UN?

For Americans during Memorial Day:

 Are we sending our young to war for oil and our own power, not for freedom? Are we focused on using our power to free people, to end racism and other forms of slavery, rather than  to reward those who spend billions to buy weapons of war from our own businesses? 

For Jews during Shavuot:

Are we celebrating immigrants to America as intrinsically crucial to our society and sacred to God?  Are we welcoming into the land and livelihoods of Israel those who flee famine or oppression, as Ruth was welcomed?  Are we acting to welcome and free “foreigners” who live on what is both their own land and land we claim as ours, instead of subjugating them with our armed force?  Are we making sure that the penniless –- within and beyond the Jewish community -- have access to a livelihood? Are we honoring unconventional sexuality, and the gifts of “nasty” and “persistent” women?

For Christians during Pentecost:

 Are we respecting breakthroughs of spiritual truth in many unexpected tongues and cultures? Are we acting to prevent those in power from torturing and killing people on our streets and in our prisons? Are we making sure that the laws do not discriminate against the homeless and the jobless and the poor and the “others”? Are we making sure that the innocent are not imprisoned and that no one is executed?

The four awesome Festivals of this moment arise from moments of spiritual depth that celebrate the lives of extraordinary “ordinary” human beings. Have we boxed these moments into remembering them by rote? Or are we lifting them “by heart,” truly by heart? To bring the Spirit breathing fresh in every moment?



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