Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

Proclaim Restfulness throughout the Earth to all its Life-Forms

This coming Shabbat, the traditional Jewish reading of the Torah reaches chapters 25 and 26 of Leviticus.

Chapter 25 is famous, especially because the quotation on the Liberty Bell,  “Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof," comes from that passage of Torah. It is not talking about civil liberty  -- freedom of speech and of the press. It is talking about economic freedom – – ending a period of slavery -- and freedom for the Earth from being overworked, freedom to rest.

Chapter 25 begins by asserting that the pattern of work and rest for the Earth comes straight from Sinai, like what we call the Ten Commandments. It teaches us that every seventh year, we must allow the Earth to rest fpr a full year from the work we usually do to make it bring forth the food we need to live.

We must do this because we are not in fact the owners of any plot of Earth.  Only YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh --- the InterBreath of Life – is the “Owner" of the Earth, and the InterBreath of Life can keep on breathing only if there is time to pause, to rest. If we do, says Torah, the Earth will be even more fruitful in the years that follow.

And what if we don't allow the earth to rest? Chapter 26 teaches us that the earth will rest anyway – – on our heads. It will rest through drought and famine, flood and unheard-of superstorms, plagues of diseases in unexpected places, the exile of whole peoples in what we would now call a flood of refugees.

Chapter 26 reads as if it were written by a contemporary climate scientist, describing what we will suffer if we do not change our business as usual into a new kind of communal alertness to the needs and joys of all humanity and of all life-forms on our planet.


This week as we read Torah, we can recognize that  the biblical tradition is the spiritual expression of an Earth-based people made up of shepherds and farmers, who knew that overworking the Earth and not allowing it to rest would bring on disaster. 

This week’s reading is the peak of earthy Sinai, but it does not stand alone. The parable of Eden warns us that in the midst of Earth’s wonderful abundance, if we refuse to restrain ourselves and try to gobble up all the abundance, it will vanish and we will be forced to toil with the sweat pouring down our faces to find barely enough to eat from an Earth that we have overworked.

And as another consequence of our subjugating Mother Earth, we will all suffer by the subjugation of women by men. The Torah beckons us to heal from both disasters by  correcting our misdeed.


The Torah also offers us a parable of healing. After the Pharaoh who has brought Plagues upon the Earth is dissolved into the waters of the Sea, we find once more an Earth of joyful abundance.

The Manna comes –-- along with Shabbat. We learn a kind of self-restraint that is not ascetic but is joyful. This new sabbatical invention frees us to be at peace with Earth and with each other. Shabbat comes to heal us from the deep misdeed of Eden.

(We ought to recognize that in Jewish theology, Shabbat is the analogue of what Christians see in Jesus as the New Adam, healing the original sin of Eden. We even say that the Messianic Age is yom sheh-kulo Shabbat, the day that is fully Shabbat; that Shabbat is the foretaste of the Messianic Age, as Christians await Jesus’ fulfillment in the Second Coming.)

 So the Manna story is profound and powerful. But the story is only a parable; and a parable works only if it leads to practice.

The practice that reaches toward making the parable reality is the practice of the sabbatical year, the practice we read about this week.

This earthy strand of Torah ascends once more into a vision, a parable, of Eden once again ---- set forth in the poetry of the Song of Songs. 

In the Song, Humanity and Earth are in love with each other, and women are free, no longer subjugated. Men and women can lovingly embrace with neither mastering the other. That is Eden for a grown-up human race.

The crisis that Humanity now faces in its relationship with Earth has reawakened for us this crucial thread of Torah about the spiritual experience of shepherds and farmers on the land, with the land. But in our own day, it is not a sliver of land but the entire planet that needs the long overdue rhythm of restfulness, of Shabbat.

How do we reinterpret the ancient teaching to make a new practice for our own generation?


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Trump: Tyranny, Cruelty, Strategy

Yesterday Donald Trump used the power of the presidency to protect himself from the ongoing FBI investigation:  

 Did he or his supporters collude with the government of Russia to corrupt American democracy and win his own election?

 His firing of FBI director Comey was a travesty on justice and the Constitution, and his trumped-up “explanation” of it was a deliberate middle-finger  “F--- you!” to the American people. (Long ago my teen-age kids taught me that ”Forget you!” was an even worse attack on someone’s dignity. Trump’s assault on our memory and dignity combines the two.)

He assaulted democracy "within" the law, like the takeovers of other tyrants in not-too-distant memory.

People protest is the only worthy response. The Shalom Center has already written our members and friends in and near Washington DC, encouraging them to take part in the White House protest at NOON TODAY, called by MoveOn. 

We urge that all around the country, we help organize such protests at Federal buildings. We urge that clergy of all faiths, lawyers of all political persuasions,  teachers of all disciplines  --  our neighbors  of all regions and origins --  name this putsch exactly that – a tyrannical act to annul democracy. We urge that protesters fly the American flag – this way:


We have also written several key independent-minded organizers suggesting that if there is no serious motion by — say — next Monday to create an official independent investigation of Trump & Russia, that they create a high-profile People’s Commission of Investigation made up of people like this —  

  • Sally Yates, the deans of a couple of law schools, if possible Judge Merrick Garland;
  •  a few clergy —  e..g Jim Wallis at Sojourners, Rabbi David Saperstein, Sister Simone Campbell of “Nuns on the Bus,” Joseph Cardinal Tobin (the new Archbishop of Newark, appointed by Pope Francis);  
  • Reps. John Lewis and/or Elijah Cummings and/or Barbara Lee —   
  • former Republican NJ Governor "Christie" Todd Whitman
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren.

 Such a Commission would not have formal subpoena power but would have great public clout to invite/ force witnesses to appear and could put them under oath through affidavits. 

 Don’t wait! --  Demand a formal independent Commission. Crowd your way into your Congressmembers’ home offices, or on the doorstep. Don’t leave till they commit to supporting it.  That has been one of the most successful tactics so far, in mounting the Resistance.

And tell the truth about how tyranny turns into cruelty.

 Most tyrants resort to cruelty when resistance to their tyranny endangers them. Some tyrants make cruelty a plank in the platform of their ascent to power.

 Beginning in the days when Trump used humiliation in his reality TV program, giving viewers shivers of delight as he snarled, "You’re fired!" he has used cruelty as part of  his toolbox to gain power.

 Then his cruelty was psychological. As candidate and as president, he has made it physical.

  • It is physically cruel to repeal regulations that keep our water pure, protecting our children from mercury and lead.
  • It is physically cruel to deprive 24 million Americans of their health insurance, as he is trying to do.
  • It is physically cruel to deprive sick people of access to carefully controlled medical marijuana, even where states have concluded it is life-supporting. 
  • It is physically cruel to reopen and re-escalate the US war in Afghanistan, sentencing American soldiers and Afghan civilians to death and maiming.
  • It is physically cruel to order immigrant families who are living calmly in the United States to be shattered by deportations.
  • It is physically cruel to incite arson attacks on mosques.
  • It is physically cruel to deprive low-income women of the only health clinics they can afford.
  • It is physically cruel to worsen the climate chaos that has brought on droughts, famines, floods, storms of refugees, thousands of deaths.

When Trump fired Comey, the point was not to humiliate him but to humble us  -- We the People.  Not a TV show but naked top-down anti-democratic power. This tyrannical act is intended to  disempower us, to male it possible to impose cruelty on myriads of people,.

Why? Maybe egomania, narcissism, even sadistic pleasure in subjugating others. (Remember his delight in physically assaulting women.) AND -- this tyranny, thse cruelties now has a strategy -- for the sake of enriching himself, a few thousand hyper-wealthy Americans , and a few hundred global corporations.

What do we do? First we tell each other the truth, as I have tried to do in this letter to you –- and I welcome your thoughts and responses, which I will be glad to share with our readers and members.

Then we plan how to renew democracy from the bottom up. In the next few days,  I and others here at The Shalom Center  will share with you our sense of strategy, of how to do this. 

Our strategy must be rooted in our spiritusl commitment.  To draw on a old poem by Robbie Burns for new purposes --

Now’s the day and now’s the hour;

See encroach cruel Donald’s power

Watch his minions sneer and glower—

Hoping that we’ll flee.


Americans whom Lincoln led,

Americans whose Roosevelt said,

"Fear alone will leave us dead!"   --

Will you retreat to sleepy bed

Or struggle to be free?


We who Constitution follow

Know his threats will be but hollow

If we together Justice hallow -- 

Sow seeds of change on earth that’s fallow--  

On to victory!

And if we help each other –- financially as well as emotionally.   WE need your help. Please click on the maroon button omn the lef-hand margin to send us contributions that we urgently need if we are to continue working against tyranny,  against cruelty, against a strategy of subjugation. Every gift helps; if you can begin with $180 and give more if you can, that would be wonderful.

Many thanks. Blessings to you of grit, commitment,  creativity. --   Arthur

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McKibben: From Sunday School to Sit-Down & Jail


Sunday evening, May 21 --

Please join us to meet Bill McKibben, 

“Sow Seeds of Transformative Leadership”

To register, click here:



If  possible, please come in person -- you'll learn more and sing more heartfully.

Or even if you cannot make it to Philadelphia. to contribute your personal message of hope and honor to the Tribute Book being assembled for this event. -- The Tribute Book goes to press Monday, May 8 -- so register NOW and submit the text of your  tribute TODAY. (It can honor our three honorees, or the work of The Shalom Center, or your own kid who is graduating into a world we need to heal, or ---- as you like).

However you help, you make it possible to advance The Shalom Center’s work in taking on our own new transformative direction.

AND – you get to honor and to learn fom Bill McKibben, Bishop Dwayne Royster, and Sophia Wilansky. We have written about two of them already; here is what drew us in the first place to honor Bill:

Bill McKibben -- world-renowned leader of and of campaigns against the Keystone XL Tar Sands dirty-oil Pipeline  -- is now exploring the next steps to resist the Trumpian feverish insistence on wrecking Mother Earth and subjecting our kids to lead and mercury poisoning.

His road to eco-activism began by teaching Sunday school.  “In my Sunday school class,” he said, “We tended to do a lot of hiking. We always celebrated St. Francis Day. We’d bring in everybody’s pets to get blessed, but also I would make sure that the children brought in representative fauna from the forest—mosquitoes and snakes too—just to make the point that it’s all creation and it’s all blessed.

From there, his life-path led to his creative work first in shaping the world-wide events, and then in leading the opposition to the XL Tar Sands Dirty-Oil Pipeline.

One of the crucial moments in his work was the demonstration in 2011 at the White House against President Obama’s support for the Tar Sands dirtiest-oil Pipeline. As  McKibben wrote, 

“The police, surprised by how many people turned out on the first day of two weeks of protests at the White House, decided to teach us a lesson. As they told our legal team, they wanted to deter anyone else from coming -- and so with our first crew they were… kind of harsh. We spent three days in D.C.’s Central Cell Block…. You lie on a metal rack with no mattress or bedding and sweat in the high heat; the din is incessant; there’s one baloney sandwich with a cup of water every 12 hours.

“ It’s only now, out 12 hours and with a good night’s sleep under my belt, that I’m able to think straight.”

And he wrote poignantly of how his deep respect for Martin Luther King had grown even greater as he realized under what conditions King was able to write the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

The police miscalculated. The three-day jailing, far from deterring protest,  brought more attention, more energy, and more resistance.  The Tar Sands Pipeline became a national issue. And after years of growing protest, President Obama finally vetoed the Pipeline. But like a hydra with a dozen poisonous heads  --  even though most had been cut off, a few still survived long enough to be revived by President Trump.

Meanwhile, McKibben went forward. He mobilized what became widespread movements, especially on campuses,  to divest from the Carbon Pharaohs. In 2016, he wrote writing transformative planet-defending commitments into the Democratic Party platform as one of  Bernie Sanders’ nominees to the Platform Committee.  He threw his pen and his presence into the People’s Climate March just past.

 Now, after the Climate March, comes the even harder part: Facing the Trump presidency, is “resistance” enough? Is there any way forward? How can we connect the Climate issue to all the others now on the chopping block?  Here is Bill with Aaron Mair, head of the Sierra Club.

So we welcome you to hear Bill’s thoughts about these questions, along with those of Bishop Royster and Sophia Wilansky, at The Shalom Center ‘s “Sowing Seeds of Transformative Leadership” gathering on Sunday evening, May 21. Please register now by clicking here:

<>  --

 I look forward to seeing you then – to honor, to learn, to sing, to renew our selves and our commitment to Mother Earth and our grandchildren.

 Shalom, salaam, peace, Earth!  --  Arthur


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Heal Earth & America: Honor Transformative McKibben, Royster, Wilansky -- May 21

 Sow the Seeds of Transformative Leadership;

Stand Today with Seed-Sowers for Spirit, Justice, Beauty

Even as fear and danger rise, something new is emerging in our world. At Standing Rock, we saw activism braiding culture, spirituality, and politics so seamlessly that no one could pull them apart, and so powerfully that its force reverberated around the globe.

The Water Protectors inspired our work going forward to achieve planetary and social justice. They expressed the life-giving unity that echoes in Jews’ daily repetition of the Sh’ma, the exhortation to listen deeply to the truth that the Source of Life is One.

To catalyze future action, to mark the moment, to rise in the face of terrible forces and persist, we are gathering in Philadelphia on May 21st to honor three towering figures who understand this new, indivisible power to move hearts, minds, and miracles. This moment is calling you in:

Please join us to attend “Sowing Seeds of Transformative Leadership”

<>  --

whether in person or  to contribute your personal message of hope and honor to the Tribute Book being assembled for this event. -- even if you cannot make it to Philadelphia.

Please be aware that after May 7, the contribution level rises – so act NOW!

However you help, you make it possible to advance The Shalom Center’s work in taking on our own new transformative direction. See below for what we mean!

 At the same time, you will be honoring these transformative leaders:

  • Bill McKibben, world-renowned leader of and of campaigns against the Keystone XL Tar Sands dirty-oil Pipeline  -- now exploring the next step to resist the Trumpian feverish insistence on wrecking Mother Earth and subjecting our kids to lead and mercury poisoning.
  • Bishop Dwayne Royster, former director of POWER in Philadelphia, instigator of POWER’s jobs-and-climate alliance with EQAT (Earth Quaker Action Team); now the political director of PICO, the national umbrella for religious congregation-based community organizing, with a special involvement with African-American and Latino communities; and

  • Sophia Wilansky, the young anti-pipeline organizer who, after stints working against oil-delivery pipelines in New England and New York, came to Standing Rock as a Water Protector and was cruelly wounded by the militarized police. Sophia will be introduced by Chief Dwaine Perry of the Ramapough Lenape, recently featured by the NY Times for his Nation’s resistance to yet another water-poisoning pipeline.

What is more, even if you think you already know what and who The Shalom Center  is, “Seeds of Transformative Leadership“ is a restart-place for us as well. We will sow our own seeds of transformation. Here’s how:

Almost all scientists and even the most climate-sensitive political activists have accepted that the best we can achieve is bare survival in the midst of continuing climate turmoil, because even ending all CO2 emissions will leave gigantic amounts of CO2 wreaking havoc in the atmosphere.

We have started working with scientists who are looking toward a more compelling vision –– that our children and grandchildren live once again in the Earth’s climate joyful and abundant as it was for our parents and grandparents.

That means getting many many tons of CO2 out of our atmosphere. It can be done – but it will be expensive for our society as a whole. Many politicians simply assume that ends the discussion --- especially in a political situation where Corporate Carbon Pharaohs are willing to wreck the Earth to multiply their profits.

 How do we change this? How do we make a new vision of our relationship to Mother Earth one that inspires people into action?

The scientists who see this also realize that science alone cannot make the necessary social change happen.. They – and we – see the religious communities of America as a sleepy, yawning giant whose energy and commitment are crucial to make the vision real. 


So The Shalom Center has been invited to convene and guide a network of diverse religious teachers and liturgists to make this happen  -- by making the goal part of religious life. Creating the sermonic, educational, and liturgical materials to do this, and getting them widely used in the religious communities. 

We cannot do this without your help, your commitment –--  your covenant.  That begins on May 21.

It is no accident that these three transformative people agreed to be with us. Now it is up to you:

Please join with us by filling out this registration page:  Remember --  After May 7, the contribution level rises – so act NOW!

With our deepest gratitude and freshest hope in this season of renewal,

Arlene Goldbard,  President of The Shalom Center

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director


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Cleaning out the Climate Chumetz

 Torah teaches us that as Passover begins we must clean from our houses all traces of "chumetz” -- leavening, yeast, whatever makes our bread rise and our cucumbers turn sour.

The Hasidic communities interpreted this to mean whatever makes our selves, our egos,  swell up and turn sour. So Passover, they said, is the time to get rid of the Pharaoh inside us, what turns us from "grown-ups" to "blown-ups," whatever tugs us toward domination rather than community.

In our generation, this certainly means moving away from the habits that dominate, subjugate, and endanger Mother Earth. In our generation, energy is food. And the most dangerous, most ego-swelling chumetz that we "eat" are fossil fuels. Burning them is the most dangerous thing we do because the C02 and methane this emits are burning up our planet.

So let us make a commitment this Passover that we will take the steps to clear our common home, our Earth, from this destructive chumetz.

 At the Seder, let us make three pledges to each other:

1. During or very soon after Passover, we will invite ten of our neighbors to gather in our living room to discuss what it would mean to create a neighborhood solar-energy co-op.

 2.  During the next two weeks, our senators and congressmembers are at home. We will invite the same ten neighbors to make an appointment to meet with one of these officials to urge that they support national policies to heal our Earth from the climate crisis, and that they will oppose all efforts to impose upon us the chumetz of burning fossil fuels.

3. During Passover, we will send serious contributions of money to organizations that are bringing deep spiritual values into working for eco-social justice and against the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs at three levels -– to heal our neighborhoods from asthma caused by coal dust and oil-refinery fumes; to heal whole regions from the poisoned air and water caused by oil-bearing pipelines; and to heal the Earth and prevent climate chaos by moving quickly to the use of wind and solar energy.

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Earth Day Activity

We are planning a communitywide service and teach-in on Earth Day at Congregation Shir Shalom in Buffalo. The purpose is to make people aware that science is warning us of impending danger, and our religions teach us about our stewardship of the planet. The teach-in part will discuss climate change and other environmental issues, and how we can influence our leaders, and how we can make a difference in our individual lives. I like the idea of Chumetz and the cleaning out the Chumetz from the Earth.

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Bringing Elijah truly into the Passover Seder

"Elijah Turning  the Hearts of Parents and Children to Each Other Lest the Earth be Devastated"

 On the Shabbat just before Passover, traditionally we read a passage from the last of the classical Hebrew Prophets –-- Malachi.  It cries out:

"Here! The day is coming that will flame like a furnace, says the Infinite YHWH / Breath of Life, when all the arrogant and all evil-doers, root and branch, will like straw be burnt to ashes.

Yet for those of you who revere My Name, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath that breathes all life, a sun of justice will arise with healing in its wings.

“Here! Before the coming of the great and awesome day of YHWH/ the Breath of Life, I will send you the Prophet Elijah to turn the hearts of parents to children and the hearts of children to parents, lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction." (Malachi 3: 20-21, 23-24.)

This teaching can make a powerful difference in our Passover Seder, where there is a tradition to open the door to welcome the Prophet Elijah.  Out of Jewish suffering in the Middle Ages came the outcry at that moment of opening the door: “Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not respond to Your Unity, Your Call to love each other!"

But far better in our generation would be to open the door for Elijah and say:

“Holy One, We open this door to open ourselves to all of Earth and all Humanity. We take upon ourselves the mission of Elijah. We will act now before the Breath of Life becomes a searing hurricane. We will turn our own hearts to the lives of our grandchildren; we will work to create for them a world as fruitful and as beautiful as the world of our grandparents. We invite their hearts to learning from the deepest teachings of the Wisdom we inherited -- that together we can yet avert the utter devastation of Your Earth."

Let us search more deeply into Malachi’s Prophetic outcry:  Why this danger and this chance for healing?

"You are defrauding Me!" says God. "You fail to share My abundance with the poor and landless, you will not bring the common wealth into the common storehouse. Only if you turn back to My teaching will the locusts vanish from your fields. Only then, if you will share My rain of blessings on your harvests, will I pour those blessings down from Heaven." (Malachi 3: 8-11)

Let us open our ears and hearts to Malachi speaking to our own generation:

"Here! If you oppress the poor, impoverish workers, and wring super-profits from the earth to plump the rich and powerful, the Earth itself will suffer a planetary scorching. If you turn My Breath, My Air, into a furnace, not only the arrogant pharaohs of your day will suffer, but also all life and humankind, as all Egypt suffered from the arrogance of Pharaoh long ago.

"Already droughts scorch your continents, already your waters boil into typhoons and hurricanes, already the ice melts and your sea-coasts flood, already your birds and insects and diseases migrate where there is no place to weave them into the healing web of life.

"Yet even now you can turn away from arrogance and greed, from the fires of coal and oil and unnatural gas; even now you can turn to sharing the abundance that still flowers from the Earth, even now you can turn to the solar energy and the winged wind that rise from a sun of justice and tranquility to heal your planet.

“Most urgent: BE Elijah, turning the hearts of the  generations to each other, to save the Earth from devastation!”


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Till Next April 4: Creating #MLK50Awake -- A Jubilee Year of Truth and Transformation

Dr. King Beckons Us:

Beginning a Year of Truth & Transformation

Toward the 50th Anniversary of his Death

April 4, 2017, marked the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s prophetic sermon, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” at The Riverside Church in New York.  April 4, 2018, will b the 50th anniversary of his assassination.

During the last year of his life, he struggled in the midst of war and governmental abandonment of the poor to create new multiracial, multi-religious coalitions of action -- coalitions rooted in the spiritual vision of a society committed not to "things" but to people.

This was the heart of his prophetic gift to America:

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. . . . . When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. … We are confronted by the fierce urgency of Now.”

As he faced a government obsessed with an immoral and destructive war, today we face the US government's extraordinary efforts to expand the overwhelming wealth and power of the few, and to subjugate the poor, Black and Brown communities, Muslims and oher religious minorities, immigrants, women, those who identify as LGBTQ, those who need medical care, the press, the working and middle class, and even our all-nurturing Mother Earth.

The speech and many thoughtful comments on its meaning and its history are at the website <>

In Washington DC, on  April 4, we gathered at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church for a teach-in: reflection on Dr. King’s message, followed by action.  We began with an intergenerational and interfaith conversation about our current moral crisis with Sister Simone Campbell (“Nuns on the Bus”); Rabbi David Saperstein (former Director, Religious Action Ctnter of Reform Judaism); Imam Talib Shareef (Masjid Muhammad); and Rev Anthony Grimes (Fellowship of Reconciliation & Black Lives Matter).

Workshops and teach-ins on the triplets of racism, materialism and militarism followed. 

The day culminated with a multi-religious Call to Prayerful Action by leaders from Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, and Bahai communities, and then rousing calls by Rev. Aundreia Alexander (Associate General Secretary, National Council of Churches) and Bishop Dwayne Royster (Political Director, PICO National Network)  sending the community forth on a March to the White House where we held a Vigil till a minute of silence at 6:01 pm, the moment of Dr. King's death 49 years ago.

Around the country —at Riverside Church in New York with Rev. William Barber and Ruby Sales and Michelle Alexander, in Memphis with Rev. Barber again, in Boston and a myriad other places, in the pages of the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Washington Post and Tikkun and Sojourners and with Democracy Now, the Stony Point Center and the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the National Council of Elders and the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee and the “US Department of Arts and Culture” (not a government agency!) and Interfaith Moral Action on Climate and in many many more places — the “Beyond Vietnam” prophetic utterance was lifted up. Later this month the Ecumenical Days of Advocacy by many Christian leaders will focus the triplets of Racism, Materialism, and Militarism.

 I see this as a beginning for all of us. I hope we will keep in touch with each other . I invite each and all of us to send our thoughts and plans to <> as we continue to unfold the meaning of Dr. King's prophetic outcry into this year ahead, the Jubilee Year of Truth and Transformation.

And I hope we will start planning now for one year from now at the fifieth anniversary of Dr. King's death. It is already clear there will be a great outpouring.  Let us make sure it will address the profound and prophetic depth of Dr. King.

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Jewish Gravestones Toppled, Mosques Torched, Sioux Water Endangered, ICE Cops Go Wild: How Come?

How Come?

Are these moments connected?

In Philadelphia yesterday, hundreds of gravestones in a Jewish cemetery were toppled.

In Tampa yesterday, a mosque was burned.

In Standing Rock, North Dakota, a careful legal memo written by a Justice Department lawyer detailing the right of the Sioux Nation to protect its land and water was thrown in the garbage by command of the White House and bulldozers resumed tearing through Sioux graves and driving out the Water Protectors.

In the Fort Lauderdale Airport,  Muhammad Ali’s son – a US citizen -- was detained and  grilled for hours by federal agents about whether he was a Muslim.

In the Philadelphia Daily News, columnist Will Bunch drew together reports of Immigration officers reveling in cruel and pointless humiliation of American Muslims and brownish “foreigners.”  See <>

Are these moments connected? Indeed they are. When a fish rots, the stink begins at the head.

The stink of cruelty and subjugation begins in the White House, and it infects not only those under direct orders but those “volunteers,” those civilians whose worst bendings of the soul are glorified by the White House, and whose best impulses toward compassion and truth are met with sneers and contempt.

These moments are indeed connected. And so must be our response, as it already has been. Muslims raised money and brought their bodies to repair Jewish gravestones. A Jewish woman suffered the mangling of her arm by a police-fired concussion grenade because she steadfastly insisted on being a Water Protector for the Sioux of Standing Rock. And those are but a few of the glowing lights of love.

For years, The Shalom Center has focused most of our attention on those whose greed for Hyperwealth and drive for domination are destroying our common home, the Earth wherein we live. We call them the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs because, like Pharaoh in our ancient story in the ancient Bible, they subjugate human communities and they bring Plagues upon the Earth.

As the Bible tells the story --

“Then a new king came to power in the Land that became Tight and Narrow. ‘Look,’ he said to his people, ‘The Godwrestling People have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous And, if war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us, and rise up over the country.’

“So they put police over them to oppress them.”

 Sound familiar? The morning papers report – The White House is preparing a Federal budget that will slash civilian spending   -- on pure water, truthful teachers, swift railroads, skilled doctors, justice-pursuing lawyers -- and ramp up the military money that already outdoes all the other  military establishments and terrorist arsenals in the world, put together.

 Racism, militarism, and materialism are the three deadly “triplets” endangering America, said Martin Luther King on April 4, 1967, fifty years ago, exactly one year before he was murdered.

We need “a radical revolution of values,” said Martin Luther King on April 4, 1967, fifty years ago. 

We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society [where] machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people -- to a “person-oriented” society,” said Martin Luther King on April 4, 1967, fifty years ago. 

We are confronted by the fierce urgency of Now,”  he said.

Today the urgency of Now is even fiercer.

We must end the subjugation of the Earth, of women, of Blacks and Muslims and Mexicans and Jews and Sioux and of the white working-class and lower-middle class people who in despair and rage voted for their enemy.

The fiftieth anniversary of Dr. King’s most profound and prophetic sermon-speech should be a time for us to gather, to relearn his wisdom and to act with as much courage as he did. Already networks are gathering to do this. (See

We are in this together. That is the only truth the White House is trying to teach us, precisely with its myriad lies. If we focus on different issues, it is because the issues are different the way the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle are different. They fit together in a wholeness of Truth.

And so must we.

With blessings of Truth, Justice, and Peace –-- the three pillars which, the ancient Rabbis said, make it possible for the world to stand. And then one of them added, “These are not three, but one!”   --  Arthur

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Thank you!

Thank you for connecting these acts of violence and hatred with the new administration's actions and tone. We must, as Americans, stand for love and reconciliation, and work to build true justice in the United States.

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Torah for Tumultuous Times: April 2017

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory with desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”

So said T.S. Eliot, riffing on Walt Whitman’s

"When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd ...

I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring"

about the April death of Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln was our greatest President because he was the one who did the most — not then or yet enough — to wrench America loose from the inheritance of slavery and to breed an expanded democracy out of the bleeding land.

Mixing memory with desire: The recipe for the Pesach Seder, usually in April, breeding freedom, past and future, out of the Narrow Land and its Narrow Pharaoh.

April — the cruellest month of American history, the yohrzeit month of Lincoln, FDR, and Martin Luther King,

This April,  we face our own Pharaoh, the American President who is already the worst, stifling democracy and choking Earth at every breath:

Then a new king came to power in the Land that became Tight and Narrow.

“Look,” he said to his people,

“The Godwrestling People have become far too numerous for us.

Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous

And, if war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us

And rise up over  the country.”

So they put police over them to oppress them.

So this April, there will be a series of Shabbatot that beg for focusing Torah on tikkun olam, the healing of our country and the wounded Land of every country  --  Earth.

(1) April 1,  Vayikra.  This Shabbat immediately precedes the 50th anniversary (on April 4) of Martin Luther King's most  profound & prophetic sermon, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” given at Riverside Church in NYC with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel beside him on the bima.

I recommend using passages from this sermon as Haftarah. Do we need a warrant to name MLK a Navi? — Almost a year after the prophetic "Beyond Vitnam" sermon, Heschel spoke to the Rabbinical Assembly, introducing MLK and saying:

"Where in America do we hear a voice
Like the voice of the prophets of Israel?
Martin Luther King is a sign that
God has not forsaken the United States of America. …
Martin Luther King is a voice, a vision and a way.
I call upon every Jew
To hearken to his voice,
To share his vision,
To follow his way.
The whole future of America will depend upon
the impact and influence of Dr. King.”

And ten days later, on April 4, 1968, completing precisely a year from that Prophetic sermon,  Dr. King was murdered. Was that "America's" response to him? Did that murder define the whole future of America? Or is that future once more in our hands?

The whole “Beyond Vietnam” sermon, comments on it, and suggestions for action are on the new website <>. I hope that our congregations and all congregations and communities will on that weekend and/or on April 4 itself gather to read King’s prophetic words, discuss them in the light of our own lives, and decide together what actions we could take that would be worthy of King’s wisdom and his courage.

2)  April 8, Shabbat HaGadol. Check carefully the “HaGadol” haftarah, which warns of the Earth being consumed in a furnace of heat but says the “wings” of a just and righteous sun can remedy the danger (solar & wind energy?). The very end calls for the Prophet Elijah to turn the hearts of parents & children to each other lest the Earth be utterly destroyed.

    • Perfect text for  climate crisis, leading into Pesach & the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs of today, bringing Plagues upon the Earth.  
    • Perfect text for calling pre-B'nei Mitzvah kids & the rest of the congregation to stand and face each other, and to have both generations pledge to become Elijah so as to heal the Earth from danger.  
    • Perfect text to welcome Elijah to the Seder.

3)  April 16, Shabbat Chol Ha’Moed Pesach. The Haftarah is Ezekiiel’s “Dry Bones,” given new life by oft-repeated “Ruach" — obscured by most translations by using “breath," “wind” & “spirit” in different contexts, making it hard to realize they ae all the same. This can be used in many ways — the desiccated bones of US democracy needing Ruach to revive, the planet afflicted by drought as well as flood, etc etc.

(4) April 22,  Shmini and Earth Day. The parashah defines what is kosher. It would be relatively easy to craft divrei Torah about eco-kashrut. In doing that, it would be important to keep in mind that what Reb Zalman z’l and I had in mind was NOT just about food but about other elements that we humans (who are no longer chiefly shepherds & farmers) “eat” from the Earth.  — e.g. coaL, oil, uranium.  In our generation, energy is “food.”

What are the rules for the kosher eating of this food? (See my chapter, “What Is Eco-Kosher?” in my book Down-to-Earth Judaism.)

(5) April 29:  Tazria/Metzora and People’s Climate March/ Movement Shabbat.

I think the most relevant texts would be the two Haftarot.

(a) One is about how the lepers who are living (starving) on the margins of Israelite society end up becoming its saviors. It could be the focus of an affirmation of our various "outsiders” and a warning  not to squash those people because “the stone that the builders rejected is the cornerstone of the House.”   Warning: Don't make Muslims pariahs.

(b) Directly relevant to Climate concerns is the other Haftarah, in the context of Standing Rock’s “Water is Life.” General Naaman’s life is saved by dunking him in the Jordan River. At first he is scornful of the life-giving powers of such a piddling stream, but It Works!   Water IS Life!!  

Last week I sent out a mailing that calls for us to walk three paths in the period of the Trump-Bannon-Pence presidency: Resist, Rethink, Recreate. I hope these thoughts about the Shabbatot of April  will help stir our juices to the Rethinking that both Jewish and American peoplehoods need today.


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The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives Who Gave Birth to Freedom

The Short Colorful Passover Gift-Books for Kids & Their Grown-Ups
As Passover approaches, you may find especially delicious a colorful way to share the story with your children or grandchildren, your friends' kids, your Seder hosts and guests, and for that matter with grown-ups who are open to laughng at loooong narrow pharaohs of the past as well as the present.  


That’s what our words and the wonderful pictures by Avi Katz (a creative illustrator for the Jerusalem Report)  do with this new brief and colorful book --  The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives  Who Gave Birth to Freedom.  We share a new story of both resistance to a cruel ruler and the birthing of a new community.

(Or maybe it's not just an old story, since the Pharaoh tried to incite hatred of an immigrant community who talked a strange languag and had a different religion. Uncannily familiar, maybe? )

(Anyway, the story we tell sure is new --  Like, Did you ever hear it was really the midwives who inspired and led the Exodus itself? Was that a secret, long kept hidden by the men who wrote our Bibles?  Or was it --- shshsh!)

The long narrow Pharaoh ordered two midwives, Shifra and Puah -- to kill the boy-babies of that immigrant community, the Cross-Over People.  BUT ---


AND THEN --  (Sh-sh-sh, you remember that Women's March last January, all over America and all around the world?)

But we don't want to spoil the story by telling what happens next.  Get the book to find out!

You can order The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives  Who Gave Birth to Freedom  by clicking here:


At the bottom of the same Amazon page you’ll find another of our books,  The Rest of Creation, and you can buy them both together.  Here’s a page from that one:

So —  who explained to God why there needed to be a day of resting from Creation? And who came up with exactly the right name for the day? Read the book to find out!

If you want to make an extra gift to The Shalom Center without any additional cost to you, you can start -- before you begin shopping -- by going to  AmazonSmile (, and naming The Shalom Center (the one in Philadelphia) as  the organization to receive Amazon’s donations of a percentage of your purchases.

We promise that you and your kids and grandkids, nephews and nieces,  your neighbors' children -- will enjoy the time you share reading and  looking together at the colorful pictures in these books.

 We've tested the books by telling them as stories in many synagogues on Friday evening and some churches on Sunday morniing, and find that adults enjoy them too.

Grown-ups, kids, and YOU will enjoy learning how “the Bible, “the Torah,” can become seeds of creativity rather than narrow strictures of rigidity. We ourselves can leave behind our own Narrow Pharaoh to become the midwives of our freedom.

Remember -- you can order the book through Amazon by clicking here:

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