Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

The Meaning of Good Friday

Must Thousands be Tortured, Millions Die, in Every Generation --

Because Some of Us Lack Imagination?

Last night  -- the eve of Good Friday --  Phyllis and I went to see the Quintessence Theater in Philadelphia do George Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan. Until we were deep into the play, we did not realize how appropriate it was to be seeing it that evening.

 Toward the end of the play, one of the judges who has found Joan, the Maid of Orleans, guilty of heresy and sent her to be burnt actually sees the burning carried out. He is struck with horror at the torture of her death. Standing on the brink of madness, he mourns his own inability to imagine her death ahead of time, and tries to repent of his own complicity.

At that moment, Shaw, a socialist and by then an unchurched transreligious mystic, puts in the mouth of his character this question:

“Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?”


For me, Shaw’s question leaves intact the various and mostly sacred Christian understandings of the meanings of Good Friday, while beckoning other communities to  learn and share their own: Must Rabbi Akiba’s body be torn by iron rakes in every generation because some of us lack imagination? Must the Six Million be gassed to death in every generation because some of us lack not imagination of the horror, but compassion for the “Other” who is seen as not really human?

Must 29 Muslims be machine-gunned at prayer in the Tomb of Abraham because some of us are filled with fear, contempt, and hatred?  -– and must their deaths be renewed in every generation, as when  the Dawabsheh family in Palestine were burned alive in their own home?

Must 30 Jews in the midst of celebrating Passover be blown to shreds in every generation because some of us are filled with fear, contempt, and hatred? 

 Must Martin Luther King and Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman and James Cheney  be murdered in every generation because some of us become addicted to their own power and protect it with their cruelty?

Must Cardinal Romero be murdered as he chanted the Mass and Jean Donovan, Maura Clarke, and four other Catholic lay religious sisters be raped and murdered in every generation because their work for the poor threatened the Salvadoran government?  

Must Emmett Till be lynched and Eric Garner be choked to death in every generation because Black lives don’t matter?

Must thousands die in the most powerful tornado ever recorded because some of us would burn the Earth to make a super-profit – and because some of us lack the imagination to see our planet choking, hear it wailing, “I can’t breathe!”

For those of us who are observing Good Friday today, and for all of us who can remember any of these tortures and these deaths;

For all of us who seek to renew our own imagination –-- and awaken it in others —  

May we all remember to resist those Caesars and would-be Caesars of today who get pleasure from calling for the torture of anyone and who gain power from their arson, their burning, of the Earth as their political forebears burned Saint Joan.

For those of us who await with special hope this approaching Easter Sunday, may your day be filled with Joy—

And for you and for us all, may we act to make sure that all that is dead and all that is shattered in our world be redeemed to new life!


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

“Jewish Values” on the Front Page:

THREE INCIDENTS In the past week, there have been three occasions when “Jewish values” have been at the heart of major US political acts and events. One of these is the invitation by the powerful Jewish organization AIPAC, which claims to lobby for good Israeli-US relations, to invite Donald Trump to speak  -- and a range of responses in the broader Jewish community to that invitation.. Another was Senator (and Presidential candidate ) Bernie Sanders saying that the memory of the Holocaust has been at the heart of his Jewishness as it has powerfully affected his outlook on public policy throughout his life and in his campaign for President. The third is that President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland,  came to the edge of tears in saying that memories of the Holocaust as an important part of his life as a Jew had deeply affected his outlook on the law and justice. The long-ago rabbis who edited Prophetic passages to read  as the “Haftarahs” in the synagogue each Shabbat began their choices with outcries at troublesome behavior of the people and ended with joyful affirmation. I want to begin with what for me is the most problematic case and end with the ones that give me joy –- and with my own personal response to the entry of “Jewish values” into such public arenas. There have been two major responses from Jews who claim they oppose Trumpery to AIPAC’s decision to invite Mr. Trump to speak at its convention: One is — “NO!”  — on the ground that Trump is utterly contemptuous of all American Jewish values and of the Constitution. Thank God —literally — for the insistence by Rob Eshman, editor of the L.A. Jewish Journal; by the leadership of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights; and by the leadership of the Reconstructionist movement, that Jewish values MUST underlie and inform the work of all Jewish institutions, including AIPAC. The Reconstructionists urged AIPAC to rescind the invitation.   T’ruah’s statement ended, “Neither AIPAC nor any other Jewish organization or community should offer a platform to a candidate who spews the same racist and nationalistic language that we have too often seen lead to violent actions.”  The other response is, “Well, AIPAC’s role is to improve relations between the US & Israel.  So it needs to begin cozying up to a politician who is likely to be a leading candidate for President and might even sit in the White House.” But AIPAC, despite its origins and claims, is no longer devoted to improving relations between the US and Israel, nor to making nice to US Presidents merely because they are President. It has, rather, become devoted to unblinking support for whatever an ultra-right-wing government of Israel wishes, up to and including a rejection of  diplomacy with Iran -- a path that would have inexorably led first to the defeat of the Iranian reformist movements that in fact won the recent election there precisely because diplomacy worked, and then would have inexorably led to US involvement in  a war to prevent Iran from making  nuclear weapons  -- a war that would have been far worse for the US than the War Against Iraq. What’s more, AIPAC at the Israeli government’s bidding did its best to thwart President Obama’s diplomacy with Iran — hardly a way to improve Israeli relations with the White House. It had no problem nastily challenging a sitting President when it did not like his policy. Why then treat as a guest an aspirant to the Presidency who pours contempt on American Jewish values and on the Constitution? Some other Jews (including much of the official leadership of the Reform movement) have made clear they think Trump’s proposals and language are utterly contradictory to all Jewish values.  I applaud them for that assertion. But they exempt AIPAC from caring about Jewish values. The Reform statement promises that some Reform Jews at the AIPAC convention will make clear their disapproval of Trump, while “respecting completely” its decision to invite him. Its statement is here. I think that position is an important mistake.  If a leading US Christian or Muslim organization were to invite an extremely prominent speaker who had been calling for sanctions against all American Jews because  some Israeli Jews have been terrorists, would Jews have said they “completely respected” that choice? Is it only because Trump’s propensity to violence, contempt, and hatred is directed so far at Muslims, Mexicans, Blacks, and strong-willed women, not (yet?) at Jews, that makes it all right for a Jewish organization to suspend Jewish values? Of course AIPAC’s abandonment of Jewish values is certainly no surprise, since in its relations to Israel and to US policy toward Israel it has already abandoned Jewish values as they were, for example, eloquently expressed in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. And even in the more strictly US context, with no excuse that it is advancing Israel-US relations, it has  already, before this,  invited some notorious Islamophobes to speak -- another violation of Jewish values.  But to welcome a proto-fascist leading candidate for the Presidential nomination to speak is a last nail in the coffin of AIPAC's pretensions about protecting Israel.  And it should be the last nail in the coffin of American Jewish respect for AIPAC. What to do? I hope that many Jews will publicly call for AIPAC to rescind its invitation, and will boycott AIPAC if it won’t.  Short of that, I am glad to hear that hundreds of Jews (some rabbis among them) who feel that their work requires them to be at the AIPAC meeting, plan to walk out of the AIPAC meeting when Trump begins to speak. The plan seems to be to keep silent as they leave. I would suggest they sing one song, a prayer well-known to many Jews, with one phrase added (here in italics) as it is added in one of my own congregations: May the One Who makes harmony in the ultimate reaches of the universe, teach us to make peace within ourselves, among each other, and for all the People Israel,  for all the people of our cousin Ishmael, and for all humanity and other life-forms that dwell upon this planet: “Oseh shalom bimromamav, hu ya’aseh shalom alenu, v’al kol Yisrael, v’al kol Yishmael, v’al kol yoshvei tevel.” ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Now the other two cases. My attention was caught by the response of a well-known neocon syndicated newspaper columnist to Bernie Sanders’ assertion that he is proud to be Jewish and to draw on his memory of the murder of much of his father’s family during the Holocaust to empower his “democratic socialist” work in local Vermont politics, in the US Senate, and in his campaign for President. So I wrote a letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer, my home town paper and one where the column appeared: [Your columnist’s] comment on Senator Bernie Sanders’ reference to the Holocaust as the reference-point of his Jewishness utterly missed the point. Krauthammer writes that he expected Sanders to cite tikkun olam, “repair of the world,” as his Jewish touchstone. What Krauthammer missed is that for Bernie and for many many Jews, the memory of those murdered by the Nazis connects profoundly with the ever-renewed memory of being enslaved in ancient Egypt  — and of winning freedom from Pharaoh. The Prophetic search for justice, repairing the world,  merges with the resistance to Nazism. When in America today there reemerges the impulse to hate the “stranger,”  oppress Blacks or Hispanics, violate the religious freedom of Muslims, break labor unions  — then many Jews  both hear our own Prophets and sniff the stink of early Nazism — from 1922 to 1933.  As for [your columnist’s] fear that young Jews are abandoning Torah wisdom, the profound meaning of the Sabbath, and life-enhancing aspects of Jewish practice: Where these are shrouded in boring rote, he is right — and so are those who abandon them. Where instead they are filled with the energy to heal our planet from our modern Carbon Pharaohs, end the new forms of slavery in disemployment and mass incarceration, and affirm the Image of God in women, Muslims, and Mexicans — Jews young and old are giving life to a Judaism where ritual and practice are imbued with life. The Inquirer published the letter, minus one sentence and an unfortunate change of “disemployment” to “unemployment.” (I deliberately used “disemployment” rather than “unemployment” because the former gives the sense of a deliberate decision by those in power to abolish jobs, while the latter sounds like an accident  -- workers stubbed their toes on the way to their jobs.) And the third case – Judge Garland – also made clear that his Jewish religious life – Bar Mitzvah, marriage by a vigorously social-justice Reform rabbi to a Jewish woman – as well as his commitment to justice as a lawyer and a judge -- was also deeply affected by the Holocaust. For him, too, it is clear that his consciousness of the Holocaust did not turn him inward to protecting Jews alone, but made clear to him that healing the world –- the whole world  -- is a Jewish imperative. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Finally, my own responses to this unexpected series of events: Why is my soul stirred by the vitality of Jewish values among some Jews? Why is my soul wounded by other Jews who turn away from Jewish values? Is it because I think it is “good for the Jews” to call prophetically for healing of the world? No – often it brings such Jews into disrepute or even danger, even inside the ethnically Jewish community. It is rather because I think it is good for the world that Jews, allied with others, work for a world that is healed from exploitation, tyranny, and hatred imposed on other human beings and on Mother Earth herself. Good for the world, for Jews to gather around the Passover Seder table to say, “In every generation, every human being must look upon himself, herself, as if we ourselves must go forth from slavery to freedom.” Good for the world, for Jews to cry out in recollection of the Holocaust, “Never again – for anyone!”



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?


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


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

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:


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



Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

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: <>. 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!


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

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!


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

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!


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

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  <>, 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  <> 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  <>  to sign on.


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

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 <>),


“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)


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.


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Sha'are Shalom (Reform)   Oxon Hill, MD 20745 MD Rabbi Gary Schoenberg     Gesher‚ÄîA Bridge Home   Portland OR Rabbi Avi Schulman     Temple Beth Torah   Fremont CA Rabbi Fred Schwalb     Hebrew Congregation of Somers, NY   Croton On Hudson NY Rabbi Arthur Schwartz     Retired   Huntington NY Rabbi Jeremy Schwartz     Temple Bnai Israel   Willimantic CT Rabbi Sid Schwarz     Clal: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership   Rockville MD Rabbi Allen Secher     Retired   Whitefish MT Rabbi Arthur Segal     Jewish Spiritual Renewal of the Lowcountry   Hilton Head SC Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg   Northampton MA Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller     UCLA Hillel   Los Angeles CA Rabbi Elyse Seidner-Joseph     Makom Kadosh   West Chester PA Rabbi Erica Sekuler Lebovitz     Conservative   Livingston NJ Rabbi Gerald Serotta     Shirat HaNefesh   Chevy Chase MD Rabbi Isaac Serotta     Lakeside Congregation   Highland Park IL Rabbi Drorah Setel     Kehillah   Buffalo NY Rabbi Mark Shapiro     Sinai Temple   Longmeadow MA Rabbi Rick Shapiro     Congregation Beth Torah   Overland Park KS Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman     Congregation Kehillah   Scottsdale AZ Rabbi Randy Sheinberg     Temple Tikvah   New Hyde Park NY Rabbi Aaron Sherman     Beth Israel Congregation, Florence, SC   Charleston SC Rabbi David Shneyer     Kehila Chadasha and Am Kolel Renewal Community   Rockville MD Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn     Congregation Tehillah   Bronx NY Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner     (as of July 1) Temple Beth Tikvah   (as of July 1) Roswell GA Rabbi Judith Siegal     Temple Judea   Coral Gables FL Rabbi Hanna Tiferet Siegel     B'nai Or of Boston   Needham MA Rabbi Ariana Silverman     Central Conference of American Rabbis   Detroit MI Rabbi Daniel Silverstein     n/a   Bronx NY Rabbi Suzanne Singer     Riverside Temple Beth El   Riverside CA Rabbi Jonathan Slater     Institute for Jewish Spirituality   Hastings on Hudson NY Rabbi Rachel Smookler     Temple Beth David   Rochester NY Rabbi Mark Sobel     Temple Beth Emet   West Hills CA Rabbi Ruth Sohn     HUC-JIR, Yedidya Center for Jewish Spiritual Direction   Los Angeles CA Rabbi Scott Sokol     Temple Emanuel of Marlborough   Marlborough MA Rabbi Eric Solomon     Beth Meyer Synagogue   Raleigh NC Rabbi Marc Soloway     Congregation Bonai Shalom   Boulder CO Rabbi Robin Sparr     Temple Emanuel   Natick MA Rabbi Wendy Spears     Congregation Or Ami /   Los Angeles CA Rabbi Toba Spitzer     Congregation Dorshei Tzedek   Waltham MA Rabbi ed Stafman     OHALAH President   Bozeman MT Rabbi Mark Staitman     Retired   Pittsburgh PA Rabbi Cy Stanway     44 Lambert Johnson Drive   Ocean NJ Rabbi Daniel Stein     Bnai Abraham Synagogue   Easton PA Rabbi Howard Stein     Temple Hadar Israel   Pittsburgh PA Rabbi Margot Stein     RRC   Bala Cynwyd PA Rabbi Naomi Steinberg     Temple Beth El   Carlotta CA Rabbi Gershon Steinberg-Caudill     Ohr Shekinah   Richmond CA Rabbi Ron Stern     Stephen Wise Temple   Los Angeles CA Rabbi Kaya Stern-Kaufman     Aleph   Housatonic MA Rabbi Debbie Stiel     Temple Beth Shlom   Topeka KS Rabbi Michael Strassfeld     Society for the Advancement of Judaism   NY NY Rabbi Mark Strauss-Cohn     Temple Emanuel of Winston-Salem, NC   Winston-Salem NC Rabbi Joshua Strom     Temple Shaaray Tefila   New York NY Rabbi Alana Suskin     Americans for Peace Now   Washington DC Rabbi Brooks Susman     Congregation Kol Am of Freehold   Freehold NJ Rabbi Louis Sutker     Or Shalom   Vancouver Canada Rabbi Daniel Swartz     Interfaith Power & Light    Rabbi Larry Tabick     Shir Hayim/Hampstead Reform Jewish Community   London United Kingdom Rabbi Susan Talve     Central Reform Congregation, St. Louis   St. Louis MO Rabbi Elliott Tepperman     Bnai Keshet   Montclair NJ Rabbi David Teutsch     Reconstructionist Rabbinical College   Philadelphia PA Rabbi Barbara Shulamit Thiede     Temple Or Olam   Concord NC Rabbi Karen Thomashow     Isaac M. Wise Temple   Cincinnati OH Rabbi Debbi Till     Reform   Rochester NY Rabbi Rachel Timoner     Leo Baeck Temple   Los Angeles CA Rabbi Daniel Treiser     Temple B'nai Israel   Clearwater FL Rabbi Lawrence Troster     Shomrei Breishit   Teaneck NJ Rabbi Moshe Waldoks     independent congregation Temple Beth Zion   Newton MA Rabbi Brian Walt     Tikkun v'Or, Ithaca, New York   West Tisbury MA Rabbi Susan Warshaw     Temple Bat Yam   Alexandria VA Rabbi Arthur Waskow     The Shalom  Center   Philadelphia PA Rabbi Julia Watts Belser     n/a   Arlington VA Rabbi Seth Wax     Congregation Mount Sinai   New York NY Rabbi Deborah Waxman     Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, President   Wyncote PA Rabbi Joshua Waxman     Or Hadash: A Reconstructionist Congregatioh   Fort Washington PA Rabbi Donald Weber     Temple Rodeph Torah   Morganville NJ Rabbi Ezra Weinberg     YM&YWHA of Washington Heights   New York NY Rabbi Sheila Weinberg     Institute for Jewish Spirituality   Philadelphia PA Rabbi Cheryl Weiner     Community Rabbi/Chaplain   Hollywood FL Rabbi Daniel Weinr     Temple De Hirsch Sinai   Seattle WA Rabbi Samuel Weintraub     Kane Street Syngogue   Brooklyn NY Rabbi Stephen Weisman     Temple Solel   Bowie MD Rabbi Cory Weiss     Temple Har Zion   Thornhill Canada Rabbi Judy Weiss     Citizens' Climate Lobby (volunteer)   Brookline MA Rabbi Max Weiss     Oak Park Temple B'nai Abraham Zion   Oak Park IL Rabbi Rachel Weiss     Congregation Beit Simchat Torah   BROOKLYN NY Rabbi Shifra Weiss-Penzias     Temple Beth El   Santa Cruz CA Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg     New North London Synagogue   London United Kingdom Rabbi Joseph Wolf     Havurah Shalom, Portland, Oregon   Portland OR Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz     Uri L'Tzedek, Orthodox Social Justice   Scottsdale AZ Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers     Movement for Reform Judaism UK   BOREHAMWOOD United Kingdom Rabbi Sara Zacharia     post-denominational   Brooklyn NY Rabbi Joel Zaiman     rabbi emeritus Chizuk Amuno, Baltimore   Baltimore MD Rabbi David Zaslow     Havurah Shir Hadash, Jewish Renewal   Ashland OR Rabbi Michael Zedek     Emanuel Congregation   Chicago IL Rabbi Adam Zeff     Germantown Jewish Centre   Philadelphia PA Rabbi Tali Zelkowicz     Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion   Los Angeles CA Rabbi Matthew Zerwekh     Temple B'nai Israel, Kalamazoo MI   Parchment MI Rabbi Shawn & Simcha Zevit     Mishkan Shalom   Philadelphia PA Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman     Temple Israel   Minneapolis MN Rabbi Rain Zohav     Interfaith Family Project of Washington, DC   Rockville MD

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