Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

U.S. ELECTION NAMED BEST PURIM-SHPIEL!

King Trump-Us-Swear-at-Us; P.M. Haman-yahoo;

Hillari-ester;  & Morty-Sky Sandstorm

This election has already won the Harpo Marx Award for Best Purim-Shpiel of the 58th Century. It’s hard to parody. But let’s try!

Here’s the Inside Dope: Purim is the Jewish festival of Spring Fever.  (This year it begins the evening of March 23, ending at sunset March 24.) Purim is hilarious and subversive, exactly one lunar (loony) moonth before Passover --  and then Passover is the serious celebration of birth and freedom. In the same way, Mardi Gras is hilarious and subversive, 40 days before Easter --  and then Easter is the serious festival of life renewed and resurrected.

 One aspect of Purim is “purim-shpiels” – Purim playlets that poke fun at all Established Institutions – kings and rabbis, Torah and politics. 

The biblical Scroll of Esther that is traditionally read during Purim is not a factual history; it is itself the first purim-shpiel, a satire on stupid and tyrannical governments, especially on hatred of minorities and women. Its main characters are the feckless King Ahasuerus, his bloody-minded Prime Minister Haman, the doomed Queen Vashti, the would-be Queen Esther who hopes to lead an alternative government, and her clever adviser Uncle Mordechai.

In The Throne Room

KING TRUMP-US-SWEAR-AT-US: Prime Minister Haman-yahoo, this is my golden scepter. It's the biggest scepter in the world.  When I hold it out and wave it in front of everybody, especially the ladies of the court, they all bow and faint in awe. Except Queen Washout, who thinks she is the queen of all our country’s news reporters. When I wave the scepter, she gets so angry she starts bleeding from wherever.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAN-YAHOO: So just execute her already.

KING TRUMP-US-SWEAR-AT-US:  Can I really do that?

PRIME MINISTER HAMAN-YAHOO: I do it all the time. Assassinate whoever you want. Enemies. Teen-agers. People on their way to a wedding. Your predecessor King Panorama used to do it, too. Worked fine.

KING TRUMP-US-SWEAR-AT-US: Wow. Any more advice?

PRIME MINISTER HAMAN-YAHOO: Sure. First, demonize the Muslims. Last time I was worried, I accused them of ruining democracy by coming to vote in “hordes.” Worked fine; I won the election.

Next, put refugees and people who claim they need asylum in detention camps. Indefinitely. Forever. I do that with African refugees, and it works fine.

If you are speaking somewhere and somebody stands up to disagree, shake your scepter at them. If they don't shut up, urge your supporters to beat them up.

And if that doesn't stop people from making trouble, here is what we do: we make people who don't like me wear little tags wherever they go saying that they are foreign agents. Works fine. After all, I'm the Prime Minister. And you, even better; you are the King!

And if that is still not enough, here we have people we call "shtetlers." They live in little shtetls out where the Muslims are. They have rifles and submachine guns and assault weapons. Since we actually have some real live terrorists among our Muslims, the " shtetlers " already think the only way to defend themselves is to shoot first and ask questions afterwards. After all, we’ve already convinced them that all Muslims are “dangerous anti-democratic hordes,”  especially when they try to vote.

I think you have armed people like that, and you call them “militias.”  Or “supremacists.” Or some such.  So if you have any trouble …

And by the way, if somebody asks you to repudiate people like that, just fumf around for a while. Ask – –"What's wrong with supremacy? We should all be supreme, just like me!" Everybody will get the message.

 And then there’s the stuff we do to the trouble-makers we imprison. It’s top secret. We can teach your CIA about it anytime you say the word.

KING TRUMP-US-SWEAR-AT-US: No need. We already know. Don’t you read my speeches? I’m already –

PRIME MINISTER HAMAN-YAHOO: Sh’sh’sh! And I almost forgot, when we catch terrorists we burn down their houses so their kids won’t become terrorists. Trouble is, some of the kids get so traumatized and angry they become terrorists.

KING TRUMP-US-SWEAR-AT US: I already figured that out. I’m ahead of you on that. I announced we’ll just kill the families, whether they knew about the terror plans or not.  Then nobody grows up  to be a terrorist.   -----  Listen, I have a question.

PRIME MINISTER HAMAN-YAHOO: Shoot! – No no! --  Don’t point that scepter at me!  Does it shoot too?

KING TRUMP-US-SWEAR-AT-US: Of course. Biggest shooting scepter in the world!   Here’s my question: When I just talk about some of these ideas, the Jews over here get all riled up. Start muttering about Mussolini and Hitler and whatever. But you actually do some of this stuff, and they don’t say a word. Why not?

PRIME MINISTER HAMAN-YAHOO: Good question.

Meanwhile, In a Neighborhood Bar:

HILLARI-ESTER: Uncle Morty-Sky Sandstorm, I think we may be getting closer to throwing King Trump-Us-Swear-at-Us out and making me the first real reigning Queen in history. Any ideas?

MORTY-SKY SANDSTORM: A lot of folks got mad when they saw the King take over 10 luxury hotels, name them after himself, and throw that six-month-long wild drinking party. Most of the people have to pinch their pennies now. So I think you ought to push this whole question of unequal wealth and income.

HILLARI-ESTER: But a lot of my friends are pretty rich too. Won't they get mad and refuse to support me if I talk like that?

MORTY-SKY SANDSTORM: You know, people say you’re not humorous. But I think you’re Hilarious enough. In fact, you’re Hilariest! Don’t you get it? Look, I can be bad cop and you'll be good cop. I'll talk about a whole political revolution and you talk about important reforms. Your rich friends will get so scared by me that they'll be willing to support you for Queen.

HILLARI-ESTER: But you are organizing thousands and thousands of people who are demanding radical change. How can you turn them off?

MORTY-SKY SANDSTORM:[Silently smiles.]

 ^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Dear friends, The Book of Esther unravels two profound jokes – really the same joke.

Haman -- who plans to hang Mordechai on the gallows -- by his very own planning sets in motion a process that ends by Haman himself being hanged on the very same gallows.

And the King -- who commands that his wife and all women do exactly what he and all their husbands order them to do -- by his very own command sets in motion the process that ends with his doing exactly what a woman – Esther – tells him to do.

Hoist on our own petard, whatever a "petard" is. Slipping on our own banana peel.

Laugh – and swallow. Breathe deep.  Get the joke, let the joke get you, and have a hilarious Purim!

Shalom, salaam, sohl, peace, Earth! --  Arthur

P.S. – By the way: This Purim-shpiel arises only from my own feverish imagination in honor of Rosh Chodesh Adar-Bet -- the New Moon of the moonth of Purim. It does not express the opinions of anyone else or any institution on any subject whatsoever –-  Purim, the Scroll of Esther, American politics, or the uses of a golden scepter. Please feel free to share this with others under --

<Creative Commons Attribution/ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) 4.0 International>       Oh yes: If I get hanged for this under the laws of ancient Persia, will you-all come to my funeral?  --   AW

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Leopard in the Synagogue!

The Leopard Roars,

The Liturgy Awakens,

All Breath Enlivens

One of my favorite moments of 20th century Torah is a two-line short story by, of all people, Franz Kafka:

One day a leopard came stalking into the synagogue, roaring and lashing its tail.

Three weeks later, it had become part of the liturgy.

 The story tells the tragic tale – the lashing, roaring tale – of all organized religion, not just Judaism.

 Powerful moments of breakthrough to The ONE get encoded into a text, a practice, a tale - – how else can we make sure the moment is never forgotten?

 And then we read it, recite it, practice it, not by “by heart”  but by rote.  The leopard is locked into the cage of liturgy.

 I hear my calling in the world as letting the leopard out of the cage. In every generation, every year, every day – every breath!  -- we must let the leopard out of the cage. 

Frightening, that roar, that  tail, that tale.

And full of life.

For me, in this generation one line of llturgy that has the leopard caged – a leopard we need to live with in all its roar of passion – is this:

Nishmat kol chai tivarekh et-shimcha YAHHHH elohenu! ---- The Breath of all life  praises Your Name, YyyyHhhhhWwwwHhhh (pronounce the Great Name by just breathing] OUR God.

Of course the Breath of all Life praises this name of God – for this Name is the Breathing we all do!

I am writing you about this today because last week I heard this verse sung in a haunting new melody created by Joey Weisenberg.  Haunting not because it whispers the ghosts of the dead but because it chants the spirits of all who live now and are still to come.

At the end of this letter to you, I will share the link to hear Joey’s chant sung by the group Hadar. But first, let me share the roar of the leopard that I heard emerging from his gentle, haunting melody.

What I heard:

Find a tree, breathe into it and let it breathe into you -- each of us, the tree and you, the tree and me, by our breath praising OUR God, Who breathes all life.

OUR God: not merely the God of the Jewish people, not merely the God of the human species -- the God we share with all life. When the tree breathes the Name, as it does in every moment, it is among the “we” who are celebrating “our” God.

Those human cultures that grew up into their many forms of holiness without the Bible, without the Holy Quran, without a “personal” God, even against a “personal” God -– are nevertheless breathing in what the trees and grasses breathe out, are breathing out what the trees and grasses breathe in.

Beneath all the Holy Names in all the different languages, beneath all the celebrations of birdsong and whalesong, of leopards’ roar and the rustle of the leaves, is the Breath.

The still small Voice that the Prophet Elijah heard when God was not present in the earthquake or the thunderstorm was simply Breath. In the Breath was God.

In the Ten Utterances at Sinai we are taught: “Do not take My Name in an empty-hearted, empty-headed way.”  Remember: each breath you take is my Name. Breathe each breath mindfully, heartfully, soulfully. Be conscious that every breath You breathe in is the breath a tree, a field of grasses, has breathed out.  You must not choke this Breath to death!

Why do I think that in our generation even more than in all others, this particular leopard in this particular line of liturgy  is so important to free from the cage?

 Because the constant Interbreath of oxygen and carbon dioxide is the Life-Breath of this planet. Yet the human species has learned to pour more CO2 into the air of Mother Earth than the trees and grasses can transmute into oxyg en. The CO2 is heating the planet, scorching Earth. Those who insist on burning fossil fuels to spew it out are committing arson, choking us all to death. 

What we call  the climate crisis is a crisis in the Name of God.

How do we open the cage that for so many years has caged this leopard’s teaching of the prayerbook into mere liturgy?

Nishmat kol chai tivarekh et-shimcha YAHHHH elohenu! ---- The Breath of all life praises Your Name, YyyyHhhhhWwwwHhhh (pronounce the Great Name by just breathing] OUR God.

Three ways:

By learning and sharing the fullness of its meaning.

By learning and sharing the haunting new melody created by Joey Weisenberg for this verse. Chanting into fuller life the spirits of all who live now and are still to come.

In the chanting I am about to offer you, the group Hadar of which Joey is a member substitutes “HaShem, HaShem  -- The Name” for the Breathing. I understand why, following traditional practice, they do this.  They want to protect It from misuse and overuse. I want to protect It from being forgotten — never really breathed at all. So I invite you to name the true Name, simply to Breathe, in that place.

Hush’sh’sh’sh and Sh'sh'sh'sh'ma, listen to all life Breathing, and learn:

<https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=WT1Vt9ESZ18>                                                                                                                                                                

And by making this prayer “subversive,” as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught: Carrying its message into the streets and the polling-booth, into the US Capitol and the Exxon offices.

 Challenging the Carbon Pharaohs of our generation: We will not let you choke to death the Sacred Name of God and our sacred Mother Earth.

 Shalom, salaam, shantih, Earth!  --  Arthur

 P.S.  --  I welcome comments. You can post them below.Please share this essay with your friends.  And if you can, please contribute to the work of The Shalom Center by clicking on the Donate button to the left  --  AW

 

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Dancing in God's Earthquake

 Yesterday, at the tail end of my letter “Election Hot, Supreme Court Hotter,”  I wrote:

 The crisis is all of these. We are living in God’s earthquake.

There are three possible responses to an earthquake:

Denial. Ignore it. Keep walking, and if a broken building falls on us, kills us, too bad. What else to do, when everything is changing?

Grabbing hard at something that just might be immovable. “Christian white America, run by men – real men, not sissies." Seventeenth-century religion  --triumphalist and rigid --of all strands:  Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu.  Workers without troublemaking unions. Cops in control.

Dancing in the Earthquake.  Hardest to do – for the dance floor itself is shaking, rolling, swooping, dancing. But the most life-giving choice.

(If you missed that letter, click here: <https://theshalomcenter.org/content/big-news-supremes-turn-heat-planet-burning-new-hampshire-explodes>. At the end, if you like, you can post a public comment.)

And I promised that today I would explore what “Dancing in the Earthquake” might mean. Here goes:

First: There can be great value in reaching for a truth in past wisdom, if we don’t think it is immovable, unchanging. For example, there have been some creative responses to the Bible’s calls for Sabbatical and Jubilee Years  (Lev. 25) - – rhythmically letting the Earth rest, periodically annulling personal debt --   that indeed became creative by letting go of the biblical assertion that these practices only applied in the Land of Israel.

Why is it more creative and effective to draw on these ancient teachings and refer to them than simply to start from scratch with a political demand? Because the spiritual depth at the roots of these teachings carries a fuller resonance and therefore a deeper appeal (and sometimes a broader appeal to more people) than treating them as sheer political proposals.  That is why they became sacred teachings in the first place. That is why the Pope’s encyclical on the climate crisis had such broad and deep resonance.

For example: One way of dancing in the earthquake is drawing on Passover and (Christian) Holy Week to renew the challenges to entrenched power (Pharaoh, Caesar) that were at the spiritual / political root of the ancient actions that became these sacred festivals. It was no accident that Pharaohs and Caesars defined themselves as gods, and that resistance to idolatrous worship of these cruel and arrogant powers drew on a holistic sense of God as Creator, Liberator, Breath of Life, Resurrector.

At the core of other sacred festivals is this same affirmation of the Spirit,  often obscured by commerce and sometimes even by a superficial pleasure in family or church. Joy includes pleasure, and goes beyond it. Joy requires justice. It requires seeing in the family, the congregation, the neighborhood, the nation a beckoning to a fuller Wholeness, what Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community.

Why and how is this a “dance” in the earthquake? Because it dances between the past and the present. It does not ignore either one, it does not get stuck in either one. It moves in a delicious rhythm in time the way a dance moves in space.

Second: One of the most powerful forms of social change is to embody in the present a vision of the future, and in the doing to challenge the unjust, destructive aspects of the present. This too is a dance in time –- twirling consciously and fluidly between the future and the present.

The Sit-ins and Freedom Rides and Freedom Schools and Freedom Parties half a century ago were all embodiments of an envisioned future. Where restaurants and buses and schools were racially rigidified and unjust, where the right to vote was denied, they began by creating a just alternative that rubbed raw the skin of habit and control. 

“We imagine racial integration someday; here we are today, racially integrated. You will have to respond to us. You can arrest us; you can kill us; you can integrate the buses; you can change the laws; you can change the elections.”

They did not begin by asking for new laws. They did not begin by bombing unjust buses. They did not simply withdraw into a purely utopian village, but forced utopia into the mouth of privilege. They set the teeth of the powerful on edge.

Similarly with the Teach-ins and Draft Resistance as aspects of the movement to end the US war against Vietnam. The Teach-ins were informational, but more than that they were confrontational. Not only about the war, but about a system of education that was boring, stupefying, disconnected from the blood, sweat, and tears of urgent life. 

The Teach-in form was all-night classes, lectures, seminars, workshops on subjects left silent in the daytime university, led by people who knew what they were talking about whether or not they had official “credentials” commanding credibility. In the dark of night, a lightning-flash of knowledge.

The message became the medium, and in this way the medium became the message.

What might this mean today? In neighborhoods where the police have become a military occupation, it might mean starting from the bottom to found Freedom Guardians --  people from the neighborhood, people known to their neighbors as healers and sages.  Carrying not tasers but a chemical shot to heal an overdose of heroin or oxycontin. Using their cars not to imprison or to maim, but to transport a disemployed person to a job.  Trained to defuse conflicts.

And in a neighborhood where all the electric power comes from burning coal, it might mean creating a neighborhood solar coop. Saving money for households, reducing CO2 emissions, weakening the coal and utility companies, expanding the market for renewable energy devices, building a grass-roots political base for changing  energy policy.

Third: Dancing with anger and with love, starting perhaps with a two-step in the emotional dance, learning to synthesize them in what the ballet calls a “lift.” Leaping beyond fury and passivity to offer the most basic of affirmations to our opponents, our oppressors  -– “I will not kill you, I will not hurt you, I will not obey you.” Creating nonviolence  -- what Gandhi called not “non” anything but “soul-force.”  

As I‘ve suggested above, the strongest form of “soul-force” is creating an oppositional alternative in the present that embodies a future we envision. Yet sometimes soul-force does not embody an alternative, is simply an effort to stop the unjust machinery in its tracks. In 1967, padlocking the doors of local offices of the military draft apparatus.  In 1967, Catholic priests and devout laity using home-made napalm to burn the records of a local draft board, disrupting inductions into war. As Father Dan Berrigan said, “burning paper instead of children.”

Was this a “violent” act? Is the destruction of property ever nonviolent? I think it walks the edge, and is often the tactic of secret provocateurs to discredit an oppositional movement. Almost always, better to reject the tactic. Some dance steps are very likely to bring about a broken leg.

So the possibility demands of us a keen and caring discernment. If ever this tactic might make sense, it would only be to destroy property that itself is intrinsically  violent –-  like the records that forced young people to kill and die in an unjust war –- and never to destroy property that is intrinsically neutral –-  like the glass windows of a department store, or the fences around a city hall.  And always to keep in  ind the possibility of provocation.

Fourth: Cleaning and clarifying our language just as we learn the careful grammar of a dance.. 

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said to me in 1971 when I was still a fledgling on  my Jewish journey   -- two uncertain years beyond the Freedom Seder:  “What are our weapons in this struggle? We have no guns, no money. We have only words. We must aim our words with as much precision as people who have guns aim their guns.”

I was moved by the great sage using “we” to include me, so new and ignorant, into "our" effort toward revitalizing Judaism that he saw alrady under way. And I was educated by his rebuke of an inflated, chutzpadik  phrase I had used to describe our work in a way that  I thought might attract excitement.

No inflations. And no sugary soporifics. For example:

Conventionally, we talk about “losing” a job.   The word conceals a politics of put-down, of blaming the worker who has been thrown into despair. Rarely might I “lose” a job the way I might “lose” my house keys.  Calling it that defines me as careless, heedless. It shifts the blame onto the despairing worker. Jobs are robbed from us by a bank, a boss, a governmental policy.

 To be “unemployed” sounds as if we “lost” our jobs, or stubbed our toes on the way to work.  In truth we are “disemployed,” not “unemployed.” Some one decided.

 There is no “global warming,”  -- warming is for most of us a pleasant sensual feeling. Using the phrase says inwardly and outwardly,  It can’t be all that bad. In truth there is global scorching, global weirding, global burning.  And in truth there is no “climate change”  -- as if I decided this morning to change my climate the way I changed my shirt.  There is “climate crisis,” the danger of “climate chaos.”

Finally, we must learn to dance more gracefully with both our principles and our practice. Never to get stuck in the immediate day-to-day without asking ourselves, How does this live in the light of the principles I hold? And even more, Can I learn by searching beneath each immediate problem I am facing, beneath each surface action I am taking, for the deeper truth, the fuller wisdom, that is hidden here?

I have tried to shape these thoughts to themselves embody this pattern --  some principles of dancing that have emerged not from abstract theory but from a waltz here, a grapevine there, a dosado and a pirouette. Moments of dance that I have sprinkled back into clarifying the categories they created. I welcome you to share your own thoughts, your own suggestions and critiques. You can do that by going to the "Comments" section below:

And I also ask your help in continuing this work. The metaphors I’ve used emerge from our work at The Shalom Center. The work of dancing our way into the future, in the very midst of earthquake.  Our dancing needs your steadying hand on the shifting floor.  If this letter has lifted your heart or opened your mind or strengthened your activism, please make a (tax-deductible) gift to keep the dance going, by clicking on the Donate button in the left-hand margin.

Thanks! –--  and blessings of grace and gracefulness!

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MLK, Iran, & The Shalom Center

Letter on Iran from Congresswoman Schakowky to Rabbi Waskow

File Attachment: 

Today –- as we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King –- we can also celebrate a victory for nonviolence and peacemaking not only in the past but in the present and future.

For today we have just seen the agreement between Iran and the Great Powers led by the United States go into full effect, ending the danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon, ending the economic sanctions against Iran, and welcoming Iran back into the community of nations.

And today all of you who work with and support The Shalom Center can take pride in our role in making that peaceful outcome possible.

For two years ago, our work made a crucial difference in whether the US Congress would support or torpedo President Obama’s efforts to prevent an Iranian bomb by peaceful means instead of by war.

 In late 2013 and early 2014, major elements of the US Congress were seeking to torpedo negotiations between the governments of Iran and the United States that sought to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to end the world-wide, US led sanctions against Iran.

The most important pressure against the negotiations was coming from AIPAC at the behest of Prime Minister Netanyahoo of Israel (despite the warnings of many Israeli security officials that he was being far too rigid and that the deal being pursued by the US was worthwhile).

It was clear that one factor undergirding Congressional opposition to the nuclear-weapons-prevention agreement was the belief among many Members of Congress that the American Jewish community was united in support of the AIPAC efforts to torpedo the agreement.

At The Shalom Center, we knew that was not so. So we began organizing rabbis and other Jewish communal leaders to sign an explicitly Jewish petition supporting the effort for a diplomatic solution that would end the danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon and prevent a disastrous war.

At that time, we were the only national Jewish organization to work with full vigor for the peaceful pursuit of a peaceful solution.

On January 7, 2014, we sent the petition – signed by 120 rabbis and more than 100 other communal leaders –- to Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. She is a Jewishly committed Jew who was struggling to support the President against the wave of AIPAC-led opposition to his efforts.

We asked her to put the petition in the Congressional Record. She did. It made a difference to many members of Congress who were relieved to know that many in the American Jewish community supported the path of using peaceful methods to achieve a peaceful result. The Congress refused to wreck the diplomatic process. Congresswoman Schakowsky wrote Reb Arthur a note about The Shalom Center's work. To see it full-size, click on the title of this article.

Eighteen months later, when AIPAC fired its second torpedo,

J Street took the lead in Jewish efforts to deflect the torpedo. Perhaps our previous efforts emboldened them. (The Shalom Center often plays that role -- blazing the trail that others then turn into a roadway.) In any case, we admire the work J Street then did on behalf of a diplomatic solution.

And diplomacy succeeded!

Today Iran has destroyed the centrifuges that could have purified uranium toward weapons grade, has filled with concrete the plant that could have pursued a plutonium route to a bomb, and has transferred its stock of uranium out of the country. It has released Americans it had unjustly imprisoned, and Iranians imprisoned in the US for violating the sanctions have also been released. And a strange incident in which small US Navy ships that for some unexplained reason sailed into Iran’s own waters and were briefly detained with their crews, ended with the swift release of the crews and the ships.

Step by step, as Congreswoman Schakowsky wrote me -- steps toward shalom.

All this just after Saudi Arabia beheaded dozens of people its government called terrorists –-  among them a clergyman committed to nonviolence, to human rights for a religious minority oppressed by the Saudi absolute monarchy, and for democracy. The man they beheaded, Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, might easily be called the Saudi Martin Luther King. (See the attached photo of Sheikh Nimr)

He was a Shiite leader who called for nonviolent protest against the Saudi government’s oppression of its Shiite minority, and called for democratic change in the Saudi kingdom –-- including elections and the end of the King’s autocratic power.  He said, "The [Saudi] authorities depend on bullets ... and killing and imprisonment. We must depend on the roar of the word, on the words of justice.  The weapon of the word is stronger than the power of bullets."

For this he was beheaded. And the US Government, which has correctly denounced ISIS for its cruelty and has actually undertaken an air war to destroy ISIS, issued a namby-pamby wistful comment on the beheading of Sheikh Nimr.  The US addiction to Saudi oil, going back some 60 years, trumped any sense of justice.

In Iran, a nation committed to the Shiite version of Islam, there was mass indignation and horror at Sheikh Nimr’s beheading. The anger culminated in the burning of the Saudi embassy. Though this response was not fully nonviolent, it resulted in no loss of life.  Imagine how the world and many Americans would have reacted had the US Government  officially beheaded Martin Luther King for his nonviolent activism demanding full democracy at home and opposing the Vietnam War.

Just as Jews like Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel, Maurice Eisendrath, and Everett Gendler worked with Dr. King almost 50 years ago to make peace with Vietnam (see the attached photo of their anti-war vigil, carrying a Torah Scroll,  at Arlington National Cemetery) --

And just as two years ago The Shalom Center worked to arouse Jewish willingness to act in accordance with our deepest values in the peaceful and successful effort to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon --

Just so in these years, today, and into the future, The Shalom Center has been arousing our willingness to act on our deepest Jewish values in making peace with Mother Earth.

If we are to make a real difference in this work now as we did two years ago, we need your help. Please click on the maroon “Donate” button just below my signature, to help strengthen your and our work to end the reign of the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are bringing modern plagues upon the Earth and human communities.

In Farsi, the language of Iran, the word for peace is “sohl.”

So let me end by invoking for us all today, in memory of Dr. King and Sheikh Nimr, the blessing that as seekers of peace among the human race and between us and our Mother, we shall overcome --

Shalom, salaam, sohl, peace, Earth!

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Spirit Unites Us; Fringes Connect Us

The letters we send our members, friends, and readers as "The Shalom Reports" are different from most blogs from activist organizations --  because The Shalom Center is an activist non-profit with a difference. The difference is why we call ourselves a “Prophetic” voice in Jewish, multireligious, and American life.  The difference is that we root ourselves not in political tactics or strategy but in a sense of Wholeness in the universe. Most of these Letters have come from me –-- and some have come --

  • from Dr. Barbara Breitman on how brain chemistry connects with the spiritual damage of trauma;
  • from Rabbi Susan Talve on the spiritual energy it took her and gave her, to walk the fearful, angry streets of Ferguson Missouri;
  • from Arlene Goldbard on how the arts, springing authentically from communities, invigorate democracy;
  • from Rabbi Tamara Cohen, on “Bodies in Fear” – from the Binding of Isaac to Black Lives Matter;
  • from Rabbi Mordechai Liebling on the deep history of racism in America and its reverberations inside our own lives and spirits; and more. 

  The difference was embodied, for instance, when I have written about ReNaming God as YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh,                                                          the Breath of Life, when we think --  and when we pray. What on Earth (or, what in Heaven!) does prayer have to do with healing the Earth, with creating racial justice, with honoring Islam, with dissolving modern Pharaohs in a Sea of nonviolent resistance? Real prayer may happen in a synagogue, a church, a mosque, a temple  -- or somewhere else. Real prayer opens our selves to what includes our selves but is larger than our selves. Sometimes the “larger” stops halfway -- at our own family, our own religion, our own nation, our own ethnic group, our own species. Sometimes it embraces the Wholly Holy One. Half-steps to Wholeness often lead to bloodshed. The fuller step embraces the Infinite in joy    -- and realizes that Infinitude can only be expressed through flourishing diversity.  And that this diversity, like the many different species and niches in an eco-system, makes a Whole. Out of this can indeed come a commitment to heal the Earth, create racial justice, honor Islam, dissolve modern Pharaohs in a Sea of nonviolent resistance. At The Shalom Center, we are committed to revivify a sense of connection with the Spirit in the fullest sense  — creating a  spiritual renaissance & transformation of the Jewish people. And the letters of praise and gratitude that we get back from you-all do not come only from Jews. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Bahais, Wiccans write us that one or another or many of our Shalom Reports have nourished their spirits on their own journeys.  This happens because we choose to stand on the fringes of Jewish wisdom --  knowing that it is the fringes on the corners of a tallit, a “prayer shawl,” that make the tallit sacred. These fringes are threads of connection. Not good fences but good fringes make good neighbors. So we look to “the fringes” in teachings ancient and modern:

  • Teachings like the Song of Songs, a subversive celebration that is both earthy and erotic – a critique on the fringes of “regular” biblical and rabbinic worldviews. 
  • A subversive understanding of God’s Name as not “Lord” but “Breath of Life.”
  • “Feminist Hassidism” and “Transformative Judaism” on the fringes of what we call “Jewish renewal,” which itself began as a conscious fringe.

It is people on the fringes of a society, a culture, who make a worldview healing and holy. At The Shalom Center we look to teachers on the fringes of acceptable thought --  --  Martin Buber, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Judith Plaskow, Ahad Ha’Am, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi,  Jeff Roth, Marge Piercy, David Grossman, Rachel Adler, Jerome  Rothenberg,  Shefa Gold, David & Shoshana Cooper, Adrienne Rich,  Giuseppe Roncalli, Oscar Romero,  Dorothy Day, Badshah Khan, Martin Luther King, Rachel Carson, El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, Thich Nhat Hanh, Ali Shariati, Vincent Harding, Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid, Tenzin Gyatso.  We walk in their footsteps, and some of them walk in ours. The very fact that we affirm learning from all these teachers who are on the fringes of their own traditions points to our wearing with joy the fringes on the corners of our own. And in that spirit, let me welcome the surge of spiritual energy that rises on our planet this week as more than two billion of us celebrate the birth of a transformative teacher who lived on the fringes of his own tradition. So if you have found yourself encouraged, inspired, troubled by these Shalom Reports themselves – we ask for your help. We need your help, and I am chutzpadik enough to say that if we have inspired and encouraged you, if we have troubled you into deeper thought and feeling -- we deserve your help. Please click on the maroon “Donate” button in the left-hand margin of this page, and when you’ve reached the “Donate” page, please actually give a Spirit-laden gift. Thank you!

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Next Spring, Can Mass Civil Disobedience help Democracy Spring Up Anew?

Selma March for Voting Rights, 1965: MLK, Heschel, Lewis, et al

With your help,  another Selma is just around the corner. The Selma moment of nonviolent civil disobedence gave birth to a giant step forward toward full American democracy. It gave birth to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the empowerment of an African-American electorate that had never before been allowed to vote. But today we face not only the evisceration of that act, and an epidemic of anti-democratic voter suppression, but the pouring of unheard-of billions of dollars into buying our elections. This poisons not only our own country, but the Earth herself. Over and over, we have faced the deadly truth that behind the Climate Crisis are the Carbon Pharaohs -- Big Coal, Big Oil, Big Banking -- that are making huge profits by scorching the earth, and are using some of their profits to buy elections. They suffocate Democracy with money as they are suffocating Earth herself with CO2 and methane. What if I told you that if we get this moment right, we could create a fundamental shift in this country, that we could win a government that actually works for the People? Amd works to heal the endangered eco-systems -- human and other-than-human -- that  make up the web of life that we call Mother Earth? That is exactly what we’re planning for next spring. If at least 1,000 people pledge to risk arrest by December 15th, The Shalom Center, working as part of a growing coalition, will help organize Democracy Spring — the largest American civil disobedience action in a generation — next April in Washington D.C. The photo above is what Selma looked like 50 years ago:  Dr. King, Rabbi Heschel, the young John Lewis --  now a deeply respected Congressman. That’s the March where Rabbi Heschel said, “I felt as if my legs were praying." In the NEXT "Selma" photo, YOU can be in that line of brave and peaceful seeds of change. Click to  <http://www.democracyspring.org/?recruiter_id=1233>, take the pledge and let us know you’re ready to make history.   Our democracy is in a state of emergency. The 2016 election will be the most big money-dominated, secret money-drenched, voter suppression-marred contest in modern history, with an estimated price tag of 10 billion dollars.And the Carbon Pharaohs make up  a major chunk of that democracy-choking money. They have bought enough Members of Congress to prevent our country from taking necessary action to save ourselves and all of Earth from climate chaos. If the status quo is left unchallenged, this election is almost certain to produce a president and a Congress more bound to the masters of big money than ever before, halting progress on the urgent problems facing our nation: not only the climate crisis, but also wealth and income inequality, mass incarceration, .racial injustice, the backlash against women's rights and gay rights.  Our people and our planet simply cannot afford for that to happen. But there is another way. We can intervene in the business-as-usual of this election cycle and make it a turning point toward reform by coming together in mass nonviolent action to demand true political equality for all Americans. So, please join with me at  <http://www.democracyspring.org/?recruiter_id=1233> in pledging to be one of at least 1,000 who will sit-in and risk arrest to save democracy.   Here’s the plan. On April 2nd, a pioneering group of Americans will embark on a 10-day march from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., at which time Congress will be faced with a simple choice: Take immediate action to make the 2016 elections free and fair for all people as equal citizens, or be prepared to send thousands of patriotic Americans to jail simply for demanding an equal voice.    When the marchers arrive, they will be greeted by the thousands who have gathered in Washington from all across the country to be a part of this historic moment. At that point, either Congress will have miraculously come to its senses and passed the perfectly viable reform bills now pending before it, or those who protect corruption will leave us no choice but to reclaim the People’s House in mass nonviolent sit-ins.    Beneath the Dome of the Capitol Rotunda, on the steps outside the Capitol, and in the offices of our elected officials, we will engage in peaceful civil disobedience for at least five consecutive days. Millions of people will watch as Congress puts thousands of disciplined, dignified democracy defenders in handcuffs instead of simply doing its job to protect the bedrock American principle of "one person, one vote" and to ensure equal representation for all people.   The time has come to take back our democracy. With public figures like Lawrence Lessig, Zephyr Teachout, Cenk Uygur, and Mark Ruffalo leading the way, we can create a watershed moment in this country that rapidly shifts the political climate toward healing the planetary climate, catapulting this issue onto center stage, and impacting the election to lift up the candidates who will fight for fundamental reform and leave behind those who fail to heed the people’s call. A historic Democracy Spring can create a powerful mandate — enforced by a supercharged grassroots movement — for the sweeping changes we need to win, finally, the democracy for all which we were promised. It’s time for a Selma moment. It’s time to launch the Democracy Movement towards victory. Tomorrow we will share a meal of Thanksgiving for an abundant Harvest. At harvest-time is when we sow the seeds for sprouting in the Spring. Let your pledge be the seed that will sprout for new democracy next spring. Join the historic sit-in to save American democracy. Even if you can’t risk arrest, we need you with us. We need your support. Click to  <http://www.democracyspring.org/?recruiter_id=1233>  to sign on.

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After Paris, Where & How?

Sustaining Abundance & Sharing Justice --    Not Imposing War

We must mourn the dead of Paris. Later in this essay you will see a Mourners Kaddish in Time of War and Terror, in Aramaic/ Hebrew and in English, with an invitation to all of us to draw on it, to use it in our own tongus and teachings..

We must affirm and join the overwhelming majority of the Muslim world in utterly condemning these atrocities.  Below you will also see statements issued by the President of Iran  and by the US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), a coalition of leading national and local Muslim organizations.

And we must also, as quickly as possible, assess what to do now to prevent such atrocities.

In that assessment, we must take into account what terrible mistakes our own government and people have made in the past that served to sprout the seeds of terror that already existed in the Muslim world  -- as in other worlds, including some hyper-nationalist and hyper-racist Americans.

There were two such profound mistakes. One was broader than the Middle East, and has not received the focused attention it deserves. It was the failure of the US and other governments to respond to scientific warnings of impending disaster from global scorching. As the NY Times has reported  (March 2, 2015;  see <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/03/science/earth/study-links-syria-conflict-to-drought-caused-by-climate-change.html?_r=0>),

 

“Drawing one of the strongest links yet between global warming and human conflict, researchers said that an extreme drought in  Syria between 2006 and 2009 was most likely due to climate change, and that the drought was a factor in the violent uprising that began there in 2011. …

“They cited studies that showed that the extreme dryness, combined with other factors, including misguided agricultural and water-use policies of the Syrian government, caused crop failures that led to the migration of as many as 1.5 million people from rural to urban areas. This in turn added to social stresses that eventually resulted in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.”

 

So one urgent lesson for the future is that the US and other governments must take swift and  vigorous action in the forthcoming Paris international conference on the climate crisis. Without such action, we can expect more such civil wars, millions of refugees, and desperate acts of war and terror as food and water vanish in many regions of the Earth.

The other profound mistake was the US War against Iraq.  Allegedly responding to the terror attacks on 9/11, the US government decided to turn away from pursuing the criminal band Al Qaeda in its home base in Afghanistan and instead decided to shatter Iraq.

The war renewed old furies between Sunnis and Shiites, destabilized the entire Middle East, and turned what should have been a sharply targeted police action into a totally unnecessary war between the US and large parts of the Islamic

world (including drone attacks that often murdered innocents and stoked fury among many Muslims).

It also brought deep violations of American values and Constitutional liberties – the use of torture as an act of official US policy, egregious governmental surveillance of practically all Americans without search warrants, and both governmental and private attacks on Muslims in a growing fever of Islamophobia.

Learning from this past  mistake means that  any decision to use force against ISIS should in both words and practice define the action as policing criminals within a context of protecting the Syrian and Iraqi publics, not fighting a war against Islam.

That means welcoming Russia and Iran, along with France and other Western nations, into working out a political solution to the Syrian civil war and isolating the terrorist criminals of the ISIS leadership as targets. The goal must be returning millions of refugees to their homes and encouraging the peaceful hopes and lives of the vast majority of Muslims.

And to make clear that our goal is to pursue justice for the peaceful and bring terrorists to justice, not to subjugate Islam, the US should take much more vigorous action to insist on the emergence of a peaceful Palestine alongside a peaceful Israel, in the context of a peaceful settlement between them both with all Arab and Muslim states.

Presidents Hollande, Obama, and Putin should explicitly praise the official statement of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani:

“In the name of the Iranian people, who have themselves been victims of terrorism, I strongly condemn these crimes against humanity and offer my condolences to the grieving French people and government.”

Similarly, President Obama should meet with the leadership of the US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), a coalition of leading national and local Muslim organizations, which yesterday (Saturday) strongly condemned “the abhorrent terror attacks that took place yesterday in Paris and left over 150 innocent people dead and scores injured.”

Its statement continued,

 

“USCMO stands consistent with its position against all forms of violence against innocent people anywhere in Turkey, Beirut, Syria, Paris, and on our soil irrespective of the perpetrators, targets, or reasons. These repugnant acts of violence defy the sanctity of every innocent human live and shall always be condemned and rejected.”

“The US Council of Muslim Organizations sends its heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the people of France and stands in solidarity with them against terrorism and violent extremism. We ask the American Muslim community around the nation to hold candle light vigils in memory of the victims and in support of their families.”

 

The point is that if action against  ISIS is done with the rhetoric of rage against Islam as a whole and if it is undertaken in actual practice with attacks on civilian Muslim populations, as was the Iraq War, then the result will be still more violence against  the US and other Western nations.

Any statements by Presidential candidates or others that fuel Islamophobia should be condemned by churches, synagogues, and other ethical opinion leaders in academia and the press as false and slanderous -- and in this historical moment, as incitements to terrorism both by some Islamophobes against Muslims and by some Muslim terrorists against the whole fabric of our own society.

Finally, I offer us all a Mourners Prayer that is rooted in the Jewish tradition of Mourners Kaddish and goes beyond  it to mourn the dead innocents in every community who have been victims of war and terrorism:   Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims, Jews, and Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, the peoples of Syria and France. I urge Jewish congregations to use the Aramaic and English that are intertwined here, and others to use the English and to translate it into their own tongues.

If we can mourn the dead of ”the others” as well as of “our own,” we are more likely to grow not a future where more and more of us die together at each others’ hands, but one where more and more of us live together in the warmth of each others’ compassion.

* * * * *

Mourners Prayer in Time of War and Terror

Yitgadal V’yit’kadash Shmei Rabah

May Your Great Name, through our own expanding awareness and our own fuller action, lift You to become still higher and more holy.

For Your Great Name weaves together all the names of all the beings in the universe, among them our own names and the names of those we mourn --   (Cong: Amein)

B’alma di vra chi’rooteh v’yamlich malchuteh  b’chayeichun, u’v’yomeichun, u’v’chayei d’chol beit yisrael u’v’chol yoshvei tevel, b’agalah u’vizman kariv, v’imru: --   Amein.

---   Throughout the world that You have offered us, a world of majestic peaceful order that gives life to those whose path is wrestling God and to us all who share this planet,  through time and through eternity ---- And let's say, Amein

Y’hei sh’mei rabbah, me’vorach, l’olam almei almaya.

So may the Great Name be blessed, through every Mystery and Mastery of every universe.

Yitbarach, v’yishtabach, v’yitpa’ar, v’yitromam, v’yitnasei, v’yit'hadar, v’yit’aleh, v’yit'halal --  Shmei di’kudshah, --  Brich hu, (Cong: Brich Hu)

May Your Name be blessed and celebrated, Its beauty honored and raised high, may It be lifted and carried, may Its radiance be praised in all Its Holiness –--  Blessed be!

 L’eylah min kol bir’chatah v’shir’atah tush’be’chatah v’nehematah, de’amiran be’alma, v’imru: Amein (Cong: Amein)

Even though we cannot give You enough blessing, enough song, enough praise, enough consolation to match what we wish to lay before you –

And though we know that today there is no way to console You when among us some who bear Your Image in our being are slaughtering others who bear Your Image in our being -

Yehei Shlama Rabah min Shemaya v’chayyim aleinu v’al kol Yisrael v’al kol yoshvei tevel, v’imru Amein.

Still, may it be that from the unity of Your Great Name there flows a great and joyful harmony and life for those whose path is wrestling God and for us all who share this planet.   (Cong: Amein)

Oseh Shalom bi’m’romav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu v’al kol yisrael v'al kol yishmael v'al kol yoshvei tevel -- v’imru: Amein.

You Who make harmony in the ultimate reaches of the universe, teach us to make harmony within ourselves, among ourselves --  and peace for the children of Israel, the children of Ishmael, and for all who dwell upon this planet.  (Cong: Amein)

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Rabbinic Letter on Climate -Torah, Pope, & Crisis Inspire 425+ Rabbis to Call for Vigorous Climate Action

Encouraged by plans for and release of the papal Encyclical,  they call for Eco-Social Justice

As of Noon on October 29, 2015,  425 rabbis have signed a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis, calling for vigorous action to prevent worsening climate disruption and to seek eco-social justice. The text of the Rabbinic Letter and its signers are below.

 The Rabbinic Letter was initiated by seven leading rabbis from a broad spectrum of American Jewish life: Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the American Jewish University; 
Rabbi Arthur Green, rector of the Hebrew College rabbinical school; Rabbi Peter Knobel, former president, Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbininical College; Rabbi Susan Talve, spiritual leader of Central Reform Congregation, St. Louis; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center; and Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. They were joined by Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, a leader of the Orthodox community.

 The full text and list of signers follows.

___________________________________________________

 To the Jewish People, to all Communities of Spirit,

and to the World:

 A Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis

We come as Jews and rabbis with great respect for what scientists teach us – for as we understand their teaching, it is about the unfolding mystery of God’s Presence in the unfolding universe, and especially in the history and future of our planet.  Although we accept scientific accounts of earth’s history, we continue to see it as God’s creation, and we celebrate the presence of the divine hand in every earthly creature.

 Yet in our generation, this wonder and this beauty have been desecrated -- not in one land alone but ‘round all the Earth. So in this crisis, even as we join all Earth in celebrating the Breath of Life that interweaves us all -- –

 --  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 (Psalm 148)

 We know all Earth needs not only the joyful human voice but also the healing human hand.

 We are especially moved when the deepest, most ancient insights of Torah about healing the relationships of Earth and human earthlings, adamah and adam, are echoed in the findings of modern science.

 The texts of Torah that perhaps most directly address our present crisis are Leviticus 25-26 and Deuteronomy 15.  They call for one year of every seven to be Shabbat Shabbaton – a Sabbatical Year – and Shmittah – a Year of restful Release for the Earth and its workers from being made to work, and of Release for debtors from their debts.

In Leviticus 26, the Torah warns us that if we refuse to let the Earth rest, it will “rest” anyway, despite us and upon us – through drought and famine and exile that turn an entire people into refugees.

This ancient warning heard by one indigenous people in one slender land has now become a crisis of our planet as a whole and of the entire human species. Human behavior that overworks the Earth – especially the overburning of fossil fuels   --- crests in a systemic planetary response that endangers human communities and many other life-forms as well.

Already we see unprecedented floods, droughts, ice-melts, snowstorms, heat waves, typhoons, sea-level rises, and the expansion of disease-bearing insects from “tropical” zones into what used to be “temperate” regions. These cxonsequences are Leviticus 26 embodied.  Scientific projections of the future make clear that even worse will happen if we continue with carbon-burning business as usual.

As Jews, we ask the question whether the sources of traditional Jewish wisdom can offer guidance to our political  efforts to  prevent disaster and  heal our relationship  with the Earth.  Our first and most basic wisdom is expressed in the Sh’ma and is underlined in the teaching that through Shekhinah the Divine presence dwells within as well as beyond the world. The Unity of all means not only that all life is interwoven, but also that an aspect of God’s Self partakes in the interwovenness.

We acknowledge that for centuries, the attention of our people – driven into exile not only from our original land but made refugees from most lands thereafter so that they were bereft of physical or political connection and without any specific land – has turned away from this sense of interconnection of adam and adamah, toward the repair of social injustice.  Because of this history, we were so much pre-occupied with our own survival that we could not turn attention to the deeper crisis of which our tradition had always been aware.

But justice and earthiness cannot be disentangled. This is taught by our ancient texts – teaching that every seventh year be a Year of Release, Shmittah, Shabbat Shabbaton, in which there would be not only one year’s release of Earth from overwork, but also one year’s sharing by all in society of the Earth’s freely growing abundance, and one year’s release of debtors from their debts.

Indeed, we are especially aware that this very year is, according to the ancient count, the Shmita Year.

The unity of justice and Earth-healing is also taught by our experience today: The worsening inequality of wealth, income, and political power has two direct impacts on the climate crisis. On the one hand, great Carbon Corporations not only make their enormous profits from wounding the Earth, but then use these profits to purchase elections and to fund fake science to prevent the public from acting to heal the wounds. On the other hand, the poor in America and around the globe are the first and the worst to suffer from the typhoons, floods, droughts, and diseases brought on by climate chaos.  

So we call for a new sense of eco-social justice – a tikkun olam that includes tikkun tevel, the healing of our planet.  We urge those who have been focusing on social justice to address the climate crisis, and those who have been focusing on the climate crisis to address social justice.

Though as rabbis we are drawing on the specific practices by which our Torah makes eco-social justice possible, we recognize that in all cultures and all spiritual traditions there are teachings about the need for setting time and space aside for celebration, restfulness, reflection.

Yet in modern history, we realize that for about 200 years, the most powerful institutions and cultures of the human species have refused to let the Earth or human earthlings have time or space for rest.  By overburning carbon dioxide and methane into our planet's air, we have disturbed the sacred balance in which we breathe in what the trees breathe out, and the trees breathe in what we breathe out. The upshot: global scorching, climate crisis.

The crisis is worsened by the spread of extreme extraction of fossil fuels that not only heats the planet as a whole but damages the regions directly affected.

§  Fracking shale rock for oil and “unnatural gas” poisons regional water supplies and induces the shipment of volatile explosive “bomb trains” around the country.

 §  Coal burning not only imposes asthma on coal-plant neighborhoods – often the poorest and Blackest – but destroys the lovely mountains of West Virginia.

 §  Extracting and pipe-lining Tar Sands threatens Native First nation communities in Canada and the USA, and endangers farmers and cowboys through whose lands the KXL Pipeline is intended to traverse..

 §  Drilling for oil deep into the Gulf and the Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound off the Pacific have already brought death to workers and to sea life and financial disasters upon nearby communities. Proposed oil drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic threaten worse.

 All of this is overworking Earth -- precisely what our Torah teaches we must not do. So now we must let our planet rest from overwork. For Biblical Israel, this was a central question in our relationship to the Holy One.  And for us and for our children and their children, this is once again the central question of our lives and of our God. HOW?  -- is the question we must answer.

So here we turn from inherited wisdom to action in our present and our future. One way of addressing our own responsibility would be for households, congregations, denominations, federations, political action  --- to Move Our Money from spending that helps these modern pharaohs burn our planet to spending that helps to heal it. For example, these actions might be both practical and effective:

§  Purchasing wind-born rather than coal-fired electricity to light our homes and synagogues and community centers;

 §  Organizing our great Federations to offer grants and loans to every Jewish organization in their regions to solarize their buildings;

 §  Shifting our bank accounts from banks that invest in deadly carbon-burning to community banks and credit unions that invest in local neighborhoods, especially those of poor, Black, and Hispanic communities;

 §  Moving our endowment funds from supporting deadly Carbon to supporting stable, profitable, life-giving enterprises;

 §  Insisting that our tax money go no longer to subsidizing enormously profitable Big Oil but instead to subsidizing the swift deployment of renewable energy  -- as quickly in this emergency as our government moved in the emergency of the early 1940s to shift from manufacturing cars to making tanks.

 §  Convincing our legislators to institute a system of carbon fees and public dividends that rewards our society for moving beyond the Carbon economy.

 These examples are simply that, and in the days and years to come,  we may think of other approaches to accomplish these ecological ends.  

America is one of the most intense contributors to the climate crisis, and must therefore take special responsibility to act.  Though we in America are already vulnerable to climate chaos, other countries are even more so –-- and Jewish caring must take that truth seriously. Israeli scientists, for example, report that if the world keeps doing carbon business as usual, the Negev desert will come to swallow up half the state of Israel, and sea-level rises will put much of Tel Aviv under water.

Israel itself is too small to calm the wide world’s worsening heat. Israel’s innovative ingenuity for solar and wind power could help much of the world, but it will take American and other funding to help poor nations use the new-tech renewable energy created by Israeli and American innovators.

We believe that there is both danger and hope in American society today, a danger and a hope that the American Jewish community, in concert with our sisters and brothers in other communities of Spirit, must address.  The danger is that America is the largest contributor to the scorching of our planet.  The hope is that over and over in our history, when our country faced the need for profound change, it has been our communities of moral commitment, religious covenant, and spiritual search that have arisen to meet the need. So it was fifty years ago during the Civil Rights movement, and so it must be today.

As we live through this Shmittah Year, we are especially aware that Torah calls for Hak’heyl -- assembling the whole community of the People Israel during the Sukkot after the Shmittah year, to hear and recommit ourselves to the Torah’s central teachings.

So we encourage Jews in all our communities to gather on the Sunday of Sukkot this year, October 4, 2015, to explore together our responsibilities toward the Earth and all humankind, in this generation.

Our ancient earthy wisdom taught that social justice, sustainable abundance, a healthy Earth, and spiritual fulfillment are inseparable. Today we must hear that teaching in a world-wide context, drawing upon our unaccustomed ability to help shape public policy in a great nation. We call upon the Jewish people to meet God’s challenge once again.

Signed:

Rabbi Jonathan Aaron     Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills   Beverly Hills CA Rabbi Susan Abramson     Temple Shalom Emeth   Burlington MA Rabbi Ruth Adar     Lehrhaus Judaica   San Leandro CA Rabbi Avruhm Addison     Cong Melrose B'nai Israel Emanu El   Philadelphia PA Rabbi David Adelson     East End Temple   New York NY Rabbi Alison Adler     Temple B'nai Abraham   Beverly MA Rabbi Moshe Adler     Beth El - The Heights Synagogue   University Heights OH Rabbi Rachel Adler     Hebrew Union College   Los Angeles CA Rabbi Ron Aigen     Congregation Dorshei Emet, Montreal   Montreal Canada Rabbi Aaron Alexander     IKAR   Los Angeles CA Rabbi Mona Alfi     Congregation B'nai Israel   Sacramento CA Rabbi Katy Allen     Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hop   Wayland MA Rabbi Adam Allenberg     Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion   Santa Monica CA Rabbi Doug Alpert     Congregation Kol Ami-Kansas City   Kansas City MO Rabbi Neil Amswych     Temple Beth Shalom   Santa Fe NM Rabbi Batsheva Appel     Temple Emanu-El   Tucson AZ Rabbi Aryeh Azriel     Temple Israel   Omaha NE Rabbi Elan Babchuck     Temple Emanu-El   Providence RI Rabbi Richard Backer     Ohalah   Newton MA Rabbi Chava Bahle     Or Tzafon   Suttons Bay MI Rabbi Ethan Bair     Temple Sinai   Reno NV Rabbi Benjamin Barnett     Beit Am Jewish Community   Corvallis OR Rabbi Lewis M Barth     Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion   Encino CA Rabbi Geoff Basik     Kol HaLev   Baltimore MD Rabbi Sarah Bassin     Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills   Beverly Hills CA Rabbi David Dunn Bauer     Congregation Beit Simchat Torah   New York NY Rabbi Birdie Becker     Temple Emanuel, Pueblo   Centennial CO Rabbi Marc Belgrad     B'Chavana Congregation   Buffalo Grove IL Rabbi Haim Beliak     Beth Ohr   Los Angeles CA Rabbi Lisa Bellows     Congregation Beth Am   Buffalo Grove IL Rabbi Gabriel Ben-Or     Gulfport Congregation Beth Sholom   webster FL Rabbi Karen Bender     Jewish Home of Los Angeles   Tarzana CA Rabbi Allen Bennett     Temple Israel of Alameda, Rabbi Emeritus   San Francisco CA Rabbi Philip Bentley     Honorary President, Jewish Peace fellowship   Hendersonville NC Rabbi Tiferet Berenbaum     Congregation Shir Hadash   Milwaukee WI Rabbi Marc Berkson     Congregation Emanu-El B'ne Jeshurun   Milwaukee WI Rabbi Marjorie Berman     Reconstructionist Rabbinical College   Clarks Summit PA Rabbi Phyllis Berman     Pnai Or-Philadelphia, Germantown Jewish Centre, Mishkan Shalom   Philadelphia PA Rabbi Ellen Bernstein     Shomrei Adamah   Holyoke MA Rabbi Jonathan Biatch     Temple Beth El, Madison, Wisconsin   Madison WI Rabbi Brad Bloom     Bloom   Hilton Head SC Rabbi Marc S Blumenthal     Reform Judaism   Long Beach CA Rabbi Neil Blumofe     Congregation Agudas Achim   Austin TX Rabbi Samantha Bodner        Houston TX Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton     Or Haneshamah: Ottawa's Reconstructionist Community   Ottawa Canada Rabbi Jill Borodin     Congregation Beth Shalom   Seattle WA Rabbi Neal Borovitz     Rabbi Emeritus Temple Avodat Shalom River Edge NJ   New York NY NY Rabbi Joshua Breindel     Temple Anshe Amunim   Pittsfield MA Rabbi Anne Brener     Academy for Jewish Religion   Los Angeles CA Rabbi Reeve R. 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Gloria Steinem, Reb Susan Talve, & Catholic Climate Activist on "The Church & Women"

Should "Outsiders" Criticize Subordination of Women in Catholic Theology & Practice? [Our initial essay on that issue, by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, is now available on our Home Page just to the right,  and at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-arthur-waskow/]

From Gloria Steinem:

    Arthur -- I think that as always, you make perfect sense, and of course, it's okay to both praise and criticize from outside a religion. You can't claim a truth that impacts the lives of others outside it without being subject to and heeding the voices of others.

It's especially interesting -- and a revelation to me -- that the Catholic position stems in part from early rabbinic misinterpretation.

I do think there are missing connections here that I would make.

First, the Catholic rejection of authority in women -- even over our own bodies -- is connected to and has the same motive as its rejection of love between two men or two women.

That's because Catholicism, like other patriarchal religions, opposes all forms of sexual expression that cannot end in conception, from birth control and abortion to sex and love between two men or two women. It's all about maximizing reproduction.

Of course, they are also being dishonest about the fact that the Vatican approved of and even regulated abortion until the mid 1800s. A female fetus could be aborted for a longer period than a male fetus -- which, being superior, they believed quickened earlier; thus women could tell the difference. (See John T. Noonan’s books, including A Church That Can And Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching (Notre Dame 2005)  -- and the magazine Conscience, published by Catholics for Free Choice).

The policy changed because Napoleon III wanted to grow a French population decimated by the Napoleonic wars, and in return, offered Pope Pius IX, a very unpopular Pope, support for the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility plus all the teaching positions in the French schools.

Second, I have always wanted to have a major public campaign naming all patriarchal religions that take away women's reproductive freedom, and accusing them of causing global warming.

Forcing women to have children they don't want continues to over-populate our Space Ship Earth

--  and this is the root cause of a continuous increase in global warming that is approaching a place of no return, and is already causing an unprecedented mass extinction of plants and animals.

Yet whenever and wherever women can control our own physical fate, reproduction gradually settles down to a little over replacement level. It is our natural health concern.

Some women may have six children and others none or one or two. But right now, too early marriage and the suppression of contraception, both traditional and modern, are so prevalent that pregnancy and birth have become the biggest cause of death among adolescent girls worldwide.

To me, this Pope is pretending -- perhaps even to himself -- to be against global warming while perpetuating its greatest cause. I don't think it's possible to praise his position on global warming without commenting on how he is sabotaging his supposed goal.

On a different but not-so-different front, I recommend Uncovered by Leah Lax -- an autobiography of a woman I came to know at Hedgebrook, a writing retreat for women. 

She joined a Hasidic Jewish community in Dallas, and after thirty obedient years and six children, realized she would die of another birth, got secret permission for an abortion -- and that single act of free will began to unravel her obedience as a "covered" woman. Her brave book speaks to all covered women, including Christians and Muslims.

           with friendship, Gloria

 ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

From Rabbi Susan Talve

[Rabbi Talve, spiritual leader of the Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, has been a crucial anti-racism leader in the white and Jewish communities there, long before the Ferguson crisis and during and since the upheaval there. She has been named a “Human Rights Hero” by T’ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. She also arranged with the approval of her congregation to use their building as the venue for the ordination of a number of devout and learned women as Roman Catholic priests, through the subversive involvement of a bishop who disagreed with the Church’s prohibition. She then faced and weathered intense criticism not only from the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis but also from the “official” Jewish leadership, which blamed her for anger from the Church that was disrupting local relationships between the Church and the organized Jewish world.]

Arthur -- The most compelling argument for me is your point that because of the public influence that the Pope and the Church have chosen to put forth to all creation they open themselves to this critique.  They do not just speak to and have influence over their own people, they  have chosen to impose their world view on all of us, a world view that causes suffering for poor women and the gay community.

 I also appreciate that you point out the inconsistent teaching on condemning the gross inequality that is causing worldwide poverty without seeing the connection to their own support for inequality and abuse through the subjugation of women.

I love your interpretation of the Garden of Eden. I wonder if there is a place in the teaching to leave room for it as an offering of one of many interpretations: an interpretation that will lead to healing and equality and justice without denying other interpretations and making room for other paths and other choices.

I don’t want to do to them what they do to me, deny to them what they deny to me. And I appreciate and admire so much of the space for others that Pope Francis is trying to make in so many other areas.

The thing that gets us into trouble is thinking we can “know” what we cannot really know: the sin of certainty.  Truth is, I would go to jail to defend a woman’s right to choose, but do I really know when life begins? Not really…I have my beliefs but I don’t know…

Living with this imperfection, with humility, outside the Garden, making room, doing the best I can, is the best I can do…  --  --  Susan

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From Michelle Dugan

 Hello, Reb Arthur!  I know you through Interfaith Moral Action on Climate  and have followed your work online for several years now.

As a Roman Catholic and great fan of Pope Francis, I thank you for speaking out honestly about the problem posed by the Church's stance on women.  In so many ways, this problem hampers our common progress as human beings desiring the creation of the beloved community.

However, to communicate effectively with the Pope and others who support his vision of the family, you and all of us who desire change must first struggle to understand what in this conservative and patriarchal tradition might be worth understanding.

How can we extend the concept of family to include all types of families, rather than rejecting the notion of family as top priority?  Why is it that so many conservative forces feel threatened by change?

As much as I dislike the patriarchal tradition, I also reject the notion of "choice" in all areas.  There is a similarity between an insistence on absolute reproductive freedom and an insistence on the right to free consumption of the Earth's resources, and this is where the Pope is coming from.

He pictures families in the developing world whose greatest joy is in their children, and he wants them to have an abundance to support these children. We have to be careful to continue to find common ground on behalf of our suffering planet and the many poor and voiceless persons across the globe.

Again, I applaud your challenge to the patriarchal, hierarchical attitudes of the Catholic Church, and with you pray for the Spirit to touch Pope Francis and liberate him from the constraints of a tradition that works against our best hopes for a truly loving, peaceful, and just world.

Regards,  Michelle Dugan

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Dear members & friends of The Shalom Center, Please help us keep inspiring and bringing to you this kind of open dialogue about the interaction between religious communities and eco-social justice in the wider world. You can help by clicking on the "Donate" button in the left-hand margin. Thanks!

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The Binding of Isaac & Black Lives Matter: Bodies in Fear

Transcript of Eric Garne's last words as he died in a poice chokehold

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[This remarkable Dvar Torah was given by Rabbi Tamara Cohen on the second day of Rosh Hashanah 5776 (2015) in the Dorshei Derech Minyan of the Germantown Jewish Centre in Philadelphia. The Torah reading for that day is on the Binding and near-death of Isaac. Rabbi Cohen connected that story with the deaths of unarmed Blacks at the hands of police –-  deaths that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. In  doing so, she helps us deepen our understanding of action for eco-social justice as a profound spiritual journey. [Rabbi Cohen is Director of Innovation for Moving Traditions. She has been a liturgist for Ma'yan in shaping its feminist Passover Seder, and five years ago was the Barbara Bick Memorial Fellow of The Shalom Center. She wrote "Eicha for the Earth," an English-language Lament for the Earth modeled on the Book of Lamentations and occasioned by the BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. [The graphic above is a transcript of Eric Garner's last words as he died in a police chokehold. There are other graphics as attachments. You can see the one above and those attached in full size by clicking on the title of this essay. The attachments  are “The Binding of Isaac” and “The Choking of Eric,” the first by Caravaggio and the second from a videocamera; and a baby held aloft in the midst of Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Ferguson, MO. --  AW, editor]

By Rabbi Tamara Cohen

This Dvar Torah was born a few times over this year.

I think the first place it was born was in the powerful experience of giving birth to a beautiful baby --  who among many other things is a white Jewish boy with blond hair and blue eyes --   in a moment when the Black Lives Matter movement was reaching a new level, in a moment when the stories of parents mourning the deaths of their children of color due to police violence were all around me.

We took our son Kliel to a Hanukkah Black Lives Matter protest for his first outing. He was barely a month old. Why? In part because I wanted to be there and in part because I was struggling with how to allow myself the joy of this new baby knowing that all around America and Philadelphia and even Mt Airy, other parents were also celebrating new babies, babies with all different colors of eyes and skin and hair, and that all of us lovestruck parents, wanting to do everything for our children, feeling acutely aware of their vulnerability, also had different relationships to the vulnerability of our kids because of the systemic racism in the America in which these babies were being born.

 I remember waking up in the middle of the night to nurse and realizing that this waking in the night was the core of my current spiritual work. It was a way to teach my baby's little body and deepest self: Yes, it's true, there is nothing I won't do to care for you. You are safe in this world and can take root. You are loved and cared for. Each time you cry out, or murmur, or show me your need, I will respond.

And then it occurred to me that the difference between my parental instinctual hearing and spiritual instinctual hearing was this: I wanted to be, and to raise my children to be, people who wake in the night when they hear not only the cries of their own babies but the cries of every and any baby.  

The kind of people who can respond with love and surrender each time they hear a cry of human being in need, even in the dark of night, even when we would rather sleep.

Another moment when this D’var Torah was born was on a phone call with my friend Y. after Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell. Y. was saying something like, “What’s going on? What’s going on? This is America!” And there was an urgency in her voice, a terror.

I had read a headline or two about the case but I hadn't yet taken the time to read more. I was busy, planned to get to it soon. But something in my friend’s voice, something said to me in a starkness, painful and real, that the difference between being a good white friend and ally and being a black mother in that moment was the difference between my upset at the story and her terror.

And I saw it clearly. I saw her daughter, 17, headed to Princeton after graduating as the only black Jewish girl from her yeshiva high school. I saw her suddenly, briefly, through her mother’s eyes.

I saw the terror of having to release one’s child, one’s black child, to an unknown world, the terror of having to allow one’s baby to drive on a street through Princeton. Anywhere really.

 And I felt shaken awake in a new way to the difference between my reality and the reality of my dear friend, both of us Jewish mothers who love our kids and would do anything to protect them, one of us white and one of us black.

 I tasted for a moment the physical terror in her voice. And then I went into my house to have dinner with my family and she went into her house to have dinner with hers. But before we got off the phone I made a promise to her, yes, we would do something, no I wouldn't forget the moment, no I wouldn't let this fear and anger and horror all sit solely on her shoulders.

The third place this dvar Torah was born was in my reading of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s amazingly beautiful, powerful and heart-wrenching book Between the World and Me, which I read this summer, thanks to the fact that the Germantowwn Jewish Centre’s  Racism group decided it would be a good thing to do together. For those of you who have not yet read this book, and I strongly commend you to read it, what you need to know for now is that the book is written by a black father to his fifteen year old black son.

 The book tells the story of how Ta-Nehisi, in his words, has made the struggle to live free in his black body in America the central meaning-making struggle of his life.

 He writes about his childhood on the harsh streets of inner-city Baltimore, his struggles with school, his period of valorizing and learning from Black Power and Malcom X, his awakenings at Howard University to the deeper complexities of race and racism and blackness, and about becoming parent.

 He shares the story of the loss of a peer to police violence and of his intense visit with the mother of this murdered son, a professor and dean, who had raised her son in the suburbs, sent him to private schools and given him so much, none of which protected him from being murdered by a police officer in the prime of his life.

 These three experiences led me to feel compelled, if still somewhat anxious about, giving this Dvar Torah. So here’s the essence of what I want to say:

 For me, this year, the Binding of Isaac is a story different from any other year I have read it. This year it is a story about an Abraham who loves his son but who is so terrified by the realization that he could be taken away from him that he almost kills him himself.

This year for me, Abraham is a black father. And Isaac is his beloved son. And what happens in the story is that Abraham, through binding his son on the altar, passes on to his son the terrifying truth that his body could be taken from him at any moment.

Isaac and Abraham are both afraid. Fear is something they live with and know. Indeed fear becomes part of Isaac's name (as Gideon Ephrat points out in a blog post on the use of the phrase Pachad Yitzchak after the Akeida).

 I want to briefly read you a few quotes from Between the World and Me that may help you see how I have arrived at this reading of Akeidat Yitzchak.

Coates writes:

“Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered. I think we would like to kill you ourselves before seeing you killed by the streets that America made.”


“That is a philosophy of the disembodied, of a people who control nothing, who can protect nothing, who are made to fear not just the criminals among them but the police who lord over them with all the moral authority of a protection racket.

It was only after you that I understood this love, that I understood the grip of my mother’s hand.
 She knew that the galaxy itself could kill me, that all of me could be shattered and all of her legacy spilled upon the curb like bum wine.


“And no one would be brought to account for this destruction, because my death would not be the fault of any human but the fault of some unfortunate but immutable fact of “race,” imposed upon an innocent country by the inscrutable judgment of invisible gods.” - p. 82
           

 So, what happens when we read these two texts, Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Genesis 22 together? A few things happen.

 One of the most difficult and important things that Ta-Nehisi Coates asks his son and his readers to do is to accept a radically different and more violent narrative of America than the one we generally believe in.

 He asks us, as does the Black Lives Matter movement more broadly, to recognize that what has gone on this year have not been the acts of some bad cops, but instead a reflection of and carrying out of a policy of systemic racism consistent with the basic tenets of the American Dream in which the of safety and prosperity of people who get to claim the identity of “white” get that through the plunder, ownership, and terrorizing of Black bodies.

I hear in this two calls to us as a community of primarily white Jews.

The first is that we recognize how much we have benefited from the process of mostly losing, at least in the United States, the marker of having Jewish bodies, and of being accepted as having white bodies.

 But we can’t stop there. We must also take the step of deciding to stop believing in the whiteness of our bodies, while still fully acknowledging white privilege, and of no longer acquiescing to the system that gives us advantages because of our supposed whiteness on the backs of those whose skin is black.

 Another equally hard and important move that I invite us to make is for us to be willing to look at the Torah and at Israelite civilization with the same hard scrutiny with which Coates looks at America, and also, through the course of the book, at blackness.

 He writes:

"The writer, and that was what I was becoming, must be wary of every Dream and every nation, even his own nation. Perhaps his own nation more than any other, precisely because it was his own” (p.53)

"Perhaps there has been, at some point in history, some great power whose elevation was exempt from the violent exploitation of other human bodies. If there has been, I have yet to discover it."

 I think it’s important for us as Jews to be ready to admit that indeed our beloved Torah is not exempt as a story in which some great power is elevated through the violent exploitation of other human bodies.

 Despite the power of the Exodus narrative, in the Torah, in the end, Israelites bodies are the chosen bodies. It is the bodies of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan who are plundered and destroyed in order to pave the way for our Dream, for the conquest of the Promised Land. This is a very troubling way to look at the Torah, just as Coates presents us with a very difficult read of America. But the fact that it makes us uncomfortable doesn't make it not true.

And if we can tell the truth --  tell the truth about America, and tell the truth about the Bible, and tell a more whole truth about our changing and evolving position as American Jews in the civil rights struggle, not just about Heschel in Selma, and Andrew Goodman, and the stories we are proud of  -- we will be moving closer to being able to make necessary radical change.

Let’s return to Isaac, bound and trembling with the knife raised above him. On the one hand I am seeing him and asking you to see him as an American boy with a black body. I am doing this because black bodies are the bodies in America today that hold the position of Yitzchak, the position of fear, of lack of freedom, of being struck, bound between the promise of a grand and fruitful future and the very real possibility of immanent unexplained and incomprehensible death.

But at the same time that I want us to hold the image of Yitzchak as a black child, I also want to hold him as every child.

The binding of Isaac is a story that reveals that actually we all have bodies. And that actually every one of our bodies is vulnerable. Every one of our bodies would cry out "I can't breathe" if it was put into a chokehold and we had asthma. Every one of our bodies would be destroyed if it was bound and driven around in the back of a police van.

Isaac is our reminder that really race is a construct that creates an unnatural line between those bodies that are vulnerable and destructible and those that are strong and invincible.

Our narrative does not end with Yishmael cast out and Yitzchak  protected as the chosen one. Yitzchak ends up vulnerable in today’s Torah reading just as Yishmael did in yesterday’s. Isaac's body lies there bound and afraid, just as Yishmael sat in the desert thirsty and in danger of dying. Both of them together remind all us that all of our bodies could be taken from us for reasons we don't understand and will never understand. Each is dependent on an angel shifting their parent’s vision in order to enable their survival.

So on the one hand I am saying that some bodies are more vulnerable than others and on the other hand I am saying that all bodies are equally vulnerable. Yes.

Racism and the American Dream's dependence on it makes it true that black bodies are far more vulnerable in America than white bodies. But this is not an inherent truth. This is the result of a system built to protect and construct white bodies and to control and destroy black bodies, families, and communities.

When we recognize that whiteness is a construct, that blackness is a construct, that race is a construct, we take one important step. We then need to take another. We need to take the step of saying that we want to exchange our sense of distance from the reality of the vulnerability of the body for a society in which all bodies are equally vulnerable and equally free.

 We don't yet live in that society. The Torah doesn't live in that reality either. But Isaac's bound body and the rabbis choice to force us to look at it every year is perhaps a way in to that worldview.

That's where we want to go. To the worldview where the color of Isaac's skin doesn't make him more or less likely to be bound or unbound, where the color of his skin doesn't make him more or less likely to live with a constant underlying sense of fear.

As Jews we often read this story in a way that focuses us more on the intellectual, spiritual, philosophical questions raised by the Akeida. I have felt compelled this year to stay with the body. With the embodied terror of Isaac and of Abraham. And beyond them of Hagar and Yishmael. And even Sarah.

I have felt compelled to stay with the deep experience of bodily fear that is not right now equally shared in this country. But which perhaps we can begin to more deeply understand through our bodies than through our minds.

Racism can only partially be unlearned through the mind. The racist’s fear, the fear that the supposedly white body carries of the black body is also a bodily fear. And so perhaps we can get more to the root of racism if we go to this body place. And perhaps this year that is where Isaac is inviting us to go.

At least it is where his body invited me to go this year. His body and a mother’s terror, and the crazy sad fact of Sandra Bland's death, and all the lives taken this year because of police violence and the powerful gift of Ta-nehesi Coates’s words to his fifteen year old son — his act of father to son truth telling that somehow calls out to me across time and space as an answer to Abraham's deafening silence during his three day walk with his son.

Towards the end of the book, Coates addresses his son:

 "Part of me thinks that your very vulnerability brings you closer to the meaning of life, just as for others, the quest to believe oneself white divides them from it. The fact is that despite their dreams, their lives are also not inviolable. When their own vulnerability becomes real—when the police decide that tactics intended for the ghetto should enjoy wider usage, when their armed society shoots down their children, when nature sends hurricanes against their cities—they are shocked in a way that those of us who were born and bred to understand cause and effect can never be.

 "And I would not have you live like them. You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds are always at your heels. And to varying degrees this is true of all life. The difference is that you do not have the privilege of living in ignorance of this essential fact... I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.” (pp.107-8)

May we keep learning, may we keep struggling, may we raise our next generation — all of them --  to be conscious citizens of this terrible and beautiful world.

May the shofar keep blasting and shaking all of us awake.

 

 

   

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