Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

Tree of Life or Pyramid of Deadly Domination?

Circling round a redwood
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Last night I took part in a joyful Seder to celebrate the midwinter Full Moon – the festival Jews call Tu B’Shvat.  The meal of this Seder celebrates the offspring of trees – fruits and nuts. It is the only sacred meal that requires the death of no living being – not even a carrot or a radish yanked up from the Earth. It is for one night the food of Eden, or of the Messianic Age.

Long ago, that midwinter Full Moon heralded the earliest flowering of trees in the Land of Israel  — the almond tree (called in Hebrew “shakeid, early awakening.”) In that way, it was analogous to the pagan tradition of celebrating the first hints of spring. [For photos pf the almond blossoms, a forest shattered by logging, and a joyful redwood circle, see our attached graphics.]

Indeed, in Celtic pagan/ earth-oriented religious tradition, February 1 was /is the cross-quarter festival of Imbolc. It represents the first stirrings of spring, often celebrating the lactation of ewes, presaging the birth of lambs.

In an analogous way, Tu B’shvat comes four weeks before the next Full Moon, when we laugh our way into the hilarious spring-fever festival of Purim, and eight weeks before the next Full Moon, the lamb-barley-liberation festival of Pesach/Passover.

The ancient Rabbis named this day of flowering almonds as the day for counting how much to tithe from the last year’s fruit – that is, when wealthy tree-keepers were required to give a tenth of their fruit to feed the poor who had no trees. In this way the Rabbis turned a moment of earthy celebration into a commitment to social justice.  With the destruction of the Temple and its tithing, with the loss of the trees of biblical peoplehood, even that aspect of Tu B’Shvat vanished.

Similarly, the Rabbis turned the dark-of-the-year Festival of Light into a memory of either Maccabeean victory or a Temple miracle. They turned Shavuot from a celebration of the spring wheat harvest into a memory of Revelation at Sinai.

Indeed, bereft of a land to revel in and of the political power to shape a land policy, the Rabbis turned their attention from God-offerings of food from the land to God-offerings of words of prayer and Torah. Away from making sure the land could rest each seventh year to shaping a decent Jewish community and social justice.

The earthiness of Jewish festivals was still being ignored by official Judaism when my book Seasons of Our Joy was published in 1982, honoring the earthy roots of all our festivals. The first review in a Jewish magazine condemned it as a pagan distortion of Judaism. It was the folk wisdom, yearning for connections to the Earth, that made Seasons into a classic.

One generation later, even the glacial flow of social change in Established Jewish circles has come to celebrate, not denigrate, this surviving sign of the spirituality of a  once-indigenous people. Almost certainly, this change is connected with the growing sense of an urgent and enormous crisis in the relationship between adam and adamah – human earthlings and our Mother Earth.

The change has not yet gone far enough. Those same circles still have not lifted into full consciousness the danger that the climate crisis poses to human life as well as other-than-human life-forms. It is still hard for them to take the healing of our deeply wounded Earth as their highest priority. Bringing about that change should be high on the agenda of every Jew and every Eco-Jewish group. For The Shalom Center, it is.

Meanwhile, about 400 years ago, Jewish mystics revived Tu B’Shvat by making biological trees into a metaphor for the spiritual Tree of Life in which all life on Earth is interwoven into ONE. Now that this Tree of Life is in mortal danger, what the Kabbalists did offers us a path toward making the day into a time of commitment to heal this wounded Tree.

Not just today: the eight weeks from now till Passover, and of course beyond.

Why and how are we facing this danger?

Trees have a lot to do with it. The climate crisis arises out of a brutal attack on the interbreathing of Oxygen and CO2 between vegetation – especially trees – and animals. That interchange has for millions of years kept Earth’s climate in a balance hospitable to the evolution of the human species and human history.
♣    The interchange has been deeply damaged in the last 200 years, and especially the last 50, in two ways: Deforestation of huge parts of earth, diminishing the biological production of Oxygen;  [See attached photo of shattered forest.]
♣    And the huge increase in the production of CO2 by one animal – Homo not-so-sapiens – through the burning of fossil fuels.

The worsening imbalance is what is forcing the Earth into global scorching and the climate crisis.

The mystics who recreated Tu B’Shvat created its four-course, four-cups Seder as a midrashic riff on the Seder of Passover. If Passover is about facing, defeating, and dissolving the deadly power of Pharaoh, Tu B’Shvat is about creating the alternative, a  miniature Beloved Community devoted to life.

Think of it this way: If we intend to Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet, we need to take seriously where we are moving our money to, as well as where we are moving it from.

Tu B’Shvat and its life-filled Seder is a beckoning to start thinking about a new society. Eight weeks from now, we will confront the truth that we cannot actually move into the Beloved Community — the joy of Shabbat, the abundance of manna, the new eco-social community of Sinai, the year-long restfulness of Shmita, the Promised Land, the grownup Garden of the Song of Songs — until we have dissolved into the Sea of Rebirth the top-down tyranny of Pharaoh.  

Now is the time to imagine  —   not alone, but consulting with each other. To plan:

  • Neighborhoods, cities, states, an entire nation  committed to massive tree-planting;
  • Neighborhood coops to produce solar energy  like the successful food coops we already know;
  • Congregations that insist on buying their electric power from eco-kosher sources like wind and sun rather than from burning coal, and urge their congregants to do the same.  

And we need to start imagining and planning spiritually rooted public action of many sorts – election campaigns, lobbying, moving our money from deadly to life-giving uses, marches, vigils, civil resistance, risking arrest.  All the ways we could be resisting the corporate Pharaohs and Caesars that insist on uprooting great forests and burning fossil fuels.

But on this Tu B’Shvat, few and far between are the communities ready to take action as serious as what the Redwood Rabbis and The Shalom Center did in 1997.

Yet  fuller involvement of the US religious communities in the climate struggle is as crucial to making transformation happen as their/ our involvement in the struggle against racism was 50 years ago

Tu B’Shvat is eight weeks from Passover and from the onset of Holy Week in Christian life.  As we approach Palm Sunday & Passover, that time is when  most US religious communities are most focused on our religious teachings & practices and most responsive to religious  action. It therefore invites the strongest possible expression of religious concern, symbolism, tradition for preventing climate disaster

What is more, the power of this oncoming season comes from its content: For both Judaism and Christianity, it is about resistance to top-down, arrogant, pyramidal Power—Pharaoh and Caesar —  that turns human beings into slaves and brings Plagues upon the Earth.

Pyramid or Globe?  Pyramid or Tree? Top-down arrogance or the loving circles of life intertwined?
[See attached photo of joyful circling round a redwood.]
If we lift the Palm Branches of life, the Matzah of urgency, the Globe of Earth’s community  —  we are challenging the Carbon Pharaohs.  We must raise the issue of power — “the issue behind the issues” — in ways that draw on the Jewish & Christian wisdom about confronting top-down power  — and thus to encourage religious communities to keep addressing that question.

The Shalom Center is raising those issues, organizing toward events that will uproot the Pharaohs and Caesars of today and plant the seeds of new community. To do this we need your help. Please click on the Donate button to your left.

Thanks!

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When Rabbis Helped Save the Redwoods: Tu B'Shvat 1997

[The article that follows was written by Seth Zuckerman for Sierra magazine.]

It was a ritual at once traditional and radical that drew 250 people to an ancient redwood grove ten miles from Northern California’s Headwaters Forest on a stormy January day in 1997. Between rain squalls they were celebrating Tu B’shevat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees. But this ceremony was not just about spiritual connection with the plant kingdom, and included more than the usual ritual meal of fruits, nuts, and wine. The forestry chair of the local Sierra Club chapter gave an overview of the threat posed to the old-growth redwood forests by the Houston-based Maxxam Corporation. Another worshipper chanted the haunting Kaddish, or mourner’s prayer, in memory of creatures displaced or killed by logging.

Most radical of all, the ceremony set the stage for an act of civil disobedience: the planting of redwood seedlings on an eroding stream bank on Maxxam property to symbolize hope for the restoration of land already clearcut and creeks stripped of their tree cover. Maxxam had refused permission to plant, but the worshippers vowed they would break the law and trespass, seedlings and shovels in hand.

The religious action was part of a larger campaign to invoke Jewish traditions in defense of Headwaters Forest, the largest tract of unprotected ancient redwoods in the world, acquired by Maxxam in a hostile takeover of Pacific Lumber Company in 1986. Because Maxxam CEO Charles Hurwitz is a leading member of Houston’s Jewish community, organizers have been seeking to appeal to him by contrasting his actions with Jewish teaching. They’re also working to build a strong Jewish constituency for the protection of old-growth redwoods and other ecosystems, a campaign that’s part of a nationwide interfaith effort to apply spiritual principles in environmental battles.

Such applications are hardly new-the Book of Deuteronomy, for example, prohibited the Israelites from destroying the fruit trees of cities they besieged. Activists tapped this tradition in 1995 by sending a letter to Hurwitz just before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when observant Jews reflect on their actions of the preceding year. A small congregation in northwestern California, B’nai Ha-Aretz (Children of the Earth), wrote to Maxxam’s CEO urging him to repent his destruction of the forest. The lead author, student rabbi Naomi Steinberg, explains: “Repentance isn’t a private, ascetic process. Judaism is a very communal religion, and part of our duty as Jews is to help each other to repent.”

The invocation of Jewish values may have touched a nerve at the top of Maxxam. At an interfaith press conference on Headwaters in the spring of 1996 in nearby Eureka, Rabbi Lester Scharnberg wondered aloud whether “perhaps Mr. Hurwitz has forgotten the faith of his ancestors.” Scharnberg’s remarks, carried on the wire services and picked up by the Houston press, drew a stinging phone call from Hurwitz’s rabbi, Samuel Karff, who disputed whether this member of his congregation deserved rebuke. Karff defended Hurwitz as a charitable man; the Hurwitz family has donated heavily to Karff’s Temple Beth Israel, and the synagogue’s school is housed in the Hurwitz Building. Despite their disagreement, Karff arranged for Scharnberg to speak with Hurwitz directly.

In the 45-minute conversation that ensued, Hurwitz was taken aback to find a rabbi on the other side of the Headwaters battle, recalls Scharnberg. “He didn’t know me, but he has an image of what a rabbi is,” Scharnberg says, “and he expressed surprise that I was aligned with ‘conga drums, dreadlocks, tie-dye, and hippie radicals who threaten to kill, maim,’ and so forth. I said, ‘I’m not aligning myself with people who kill, but I am an environmentalist.’ “

Scharnberg didn’t have an opportunity to confront Hurwitz again until the May 1998 Maxxam stockholders meeting, armed with a proxy signed over to him by another Headwaters activist. Christian and secular speakers addressed issues of science, economics, and corporate responsibility, and left religion up to Scharnberg. That was probably a wise call given that the roster of Maxxam’s officers and board members has a substantial Jewish representation.

Scharnberg asked the board if Maxxam had considered moral questions in the course of its operations, and if not, how the firm could hope to act ethically. The very question provoked a firestorm of response that continued after the 90-minute official meeting. “The directors of Maxxam were outraged that we should introduce religion into this board meeting,” Scharnberg says. In fact, when the rabbi tried to talk with Hurwitz afterward, the CEO directed him to board member Ezra Levin, who began debating Scharnberg in a conversation peppered with Hebrew and Aramaic. “I finally said, ‘You and I could go on all day like this. You quote your Talmud passage and I quote mine. Both of us know there’s no environmental mandate there. But nowhere in the entire Torah does it forbid rape, and that doesn’t make it right. There’s nothing in there that forbids slavery, and that doesn’t make it right either.’ “

Hurwitz, Levin, and Scharnberg left the Houston hotel in a theological stalemate, but the case is being pressed in many other forums. Last summer, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life—which claims such prominent member groups as Hadassah, Hillel, B’nai Brith, and the American Jewish Congress—called for stronger habitat protections in Headwaters and in all remaining old-growth redwood groves. Several other major Jewish organizations have adopted or are considering similar resolutions. And on Hurwitz’s home turf, a group of Houston Jews rented the Jewish Community Center for another ecologically oriented Tu B’shevat. Maxxam reps called officials at the center alleging that the ritual would be “political” and that “activists would be stapling themselves to trees,” says organizer Annette Lamoreaux. But the event went on without incident.

Back in the redwoods in January 1997, a caravan of 100 worshippers—some wearing talliths, or fringed prayer shawls, as Jews have for thousands of years—hiked onto the timber firm’s property and planted two dozen redwood seedlings along a barren stream bank. Some used shovels, some trowels, some their bare hands. Longtime Earth First! activist Darryl Cherney described it as a miracle. “At a place where demonstrators before have been met with billy clubs, nightsticks, and arrests, we are now walking freely,” he said. “It reminds me of the parting of the Red Sea.”

Nearly two years have passed and student rabbi Steinberg—who lives just a few miles away—hasn’t revisited the site. “I’d rather remember the trees beautifully planted than to see that Pacific Lumber has pulled them up or that the whole bank has fallen away,” she says.

At presstime, the fate of Headwaters Forest was hinging on Governor Pete Wilson’s approval of controversial plans for Maxxam to sell 9,500 acres of key old growth to the public while agreeing not to log ten other old-growth groves for the next 50 years. Maxxam stands to gain $480 million from the sale and would be allowed to log on most of its remaining 200,000 acres. The proposed safeguards for coho salmon in this huge remaining tract, though improved over earlier drafts, are still inadequate, says the Sierra Club.

Steinberg reminds activists to look at the big picture. “If you approach a campaign like this as spiritual work, the moments along the way can be transformative to you as an individual soul.” It’s that transformation of souls that will determine whether “the forest trees shout for joy,” as the Psalmist sang.

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Is Murder a “Sacred Practice" in ALL Religions?

The murderous attacks in France last week have called forth a mixture of horror, outrage, disgust, and fear – – all legitimate responses.

One response has been to claim that Islam is – uniquely — a religion of violence, terror, and war. Another has been to claim that the perpetrators of these murders, though they claimed they were acting for the honor of God and of Islam, were acting falsely, betraying the Islam that is entirely a religion of peace.

Both these responses evade the truth.

First of all, within Islamic teachings there are both passages of nurture and streaks of blood.

Some Muslims can authentically quote some bloody words to justify shedding the blood of other-belief believers   — especially those who drip contempt on Islam itself — just as other Muslims – by far the great majority — can quote passages that forbid such behavior.

Secondly, Islam is by no means unique among religions – and atheist societies, too — in having some adherents claim that violence, even aggressive violence not in self-defense, is taught by their sacred texts as in some circumstances a sacred practice.

Some Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs have either called on their sacred teachings or acted as religious communities, invoking communal solidarity, to justify killing “Others,” while other Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs have called on their sacred wisdom to forbid it.

(“Buddhists?? ” you say. “Come on!”  Well, check out what is going on this very moment in Burma, where some groups among a Buddhist majority, with the acquiescence or assistance of a government made up of Buddhists, are carrying on massive pogroms against a Muslim minority.)

It is hard to find a major religion or secular ideology that has not been used by some of its adherents to justify violence against others.

Some atheists have used this fact to accuse religion itself of being the root of violence. But the blood-drenched history of the atheist government of the Soviet Union, drawing on what it saw as “sacred” teachings of Lenin and others about the need to “defend the revolution,” hardly supports that claim. Nor does the blood-drenched history of the non-religious government of the United States, proclaiming the “defense of democracy” as justification for wars against Vietnam, Iraq, and a number of Central American countries.

Why are there streaks of both blood and love in the histories of religious communities?

Most such communities begin with the deep discovery of the One that unites all life, whether that Unity is called “God ” or not. To celebrate that Unity, the community develops practices of compassion and justice, enriched by rituals, text, festivals, and other ways of keeping the knowledge of the One alive into future generations.

Then the community meets another community that claims to be in touch with the One. But this other community has developed different texts, different rituals and festivals and practices, to affirm the One.

There are two different ways of responding to this encounter.

One way is to say that the other community has it all wrong, because “we” know the right texts, festivals, and rituals to invoke the One. Not only are “they” wrong, they are lying when they claim to be in touch with the One. So they must be denigrated, attacked, even killed.

The other religious response is to say with delight that now we’ve learned how infinite is the One, how the Infinite One can only be expressed through many different forms. Through this response, the religious community finds itself drawn toward broadening its arena of compassion.

In most religious communities, both responses emerge again and again and again during generations of encounter with other communities.

We must also take into account that even in communities where the expansive and compassionate response to Otherness has won the day, some specific circumstances can lead to rage and violence. For religious leaders and communities are not immune to rage and violence when their beliefs and symbols are desecrated and they are humiliated.

Thought experiment: Imagine Christian “satirists” in a country with an isolated, low-income Jewish minority putting on a play that includes pouring sewage and pig-offal on a Torah Scroll.

How would various Jews react? Might some demand laws to forbid such versions of  “free speech”? Might some use violence?

In fact, many European countries — remembering how the Holocaust began with such acts of “free speech” (and drawing on a different approach to freedom of expression than the US First Amendment) now forbid certain versions of free speech when used against one or another religion  — such as Holocuast denial. Was Charlie Hebdo immune to these laws because it poured contempt on ALL religions, not just one? 

And then some reasons for the use of violence by some who claim to be acting on behalf of a religious community might not be called “religious” in origin but emerge from the economic, political, or cultural marginalization of a religious community. Religious communities that are kept in poverty or denied a share in shaping the future of their country or even their own community are not immune to feeling rage and using violence.

Does any of this justify violence? No. Does any of it justify the murders of Charlie’s writers and cartoonists or of the Jewish customers at a kosher grocery store?? NO.  Does any of it justify arson attacks on mosques or the criminalization of wearing the hijab? NO.

But these thoughts might point us in the direction of better ways of dealing with outbursts of religious violence. I pose six questions toward that possibility:

Question 1: Even where it is legal to pour contempt on one religion or on them all, is it wise? Is it compassionate?  Should society applaud and encourage such vitriol, or oppose it?

Question 2: In every religious and ideological community, should its leaders be explicitly celebrating the Infinitude of the One, and thus Its manifestations in many different forms – rather than attacking difference as evidence of apostasy and heresy and falsity?

Question 3: Should those who are powerful in every society be acting to ensure that no community – religious, racial, sexual, lingual – be excluded from economic justice, cultural dignity, and political empowerment?

Question 4: Should the same rule be applied internationally and globally, so that no nation, however much a Great Power, can trample on another?

Question 5: Does all this point us in the direction of elevating the principle and practice of nonviolence into a more and more central precept of all religions and ideologies?

Question 6: Should leaders and teachers of varied religions meet once a year to face the bloody streaks of text and action in their own tradition, to publicly make restitution, and to ask forgiveness?

If we answer Yes to this last question and actually make such gatherings happen, we could begin the work that will unfold itself into answering all the questions before.

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Birth of a New Year

2014 has seen a number of political and spiritual disasters: for example, the Gaza War; the election of the most anti-democratic, anti-Earth US Congress in at least the last century and possibly since the pro-slavery Congresses of the 1850s. Why did these things happen? One powerful answer came even before 2014 from Gloria Steinem:

In the fall of 2013, as Gloria Steinem approached her 80th birthday, The Shalom Center not only celebrated her lifetime of transformative activism, but sought to learn from her (and from me), “What does 80 look like for a life-long activist?”

What I recall most vividly from that whole amazing evening was this:

Gloria drew on her long experience as a feminist to remark that American society stands in the same place as a household when a long-abused wife at last decides to walk out.

“That is,” she said, “the moment of greatest potential freedom—and of greatest potential coercion.  Enraged by the wife’s bid for freedom, many abusive husbands at that moment  turn to violence.”

Indeed, in 2014 we lived through both the bubbling-up of new freedom and the danger of greater coercion:

 In 2014, for the first time, 400,000 people flooded New York  to demand “Climate Action Now,” against the Carbon Pharaohs that are abusing Earth itself with modern Plagues. Among the marchers were members of many Jewish organizations that were for the first time speaking out on climate as a Jewish issue.

And in 2014 we saw with fuller clarity how the Earth itself, abused by these Carbon Pharaohs, has rebelled through droughts and floods and superstorms.

And in 2014, we watched as some of the Pharaohs, like the biblical archetype, responded with still more abuse: The burning of oil has resulted in global scorching, the melting of arctic ice, and the beginnings of disaster for all seacoasts. So some oil companies have responded not by changing course but by seeking permits to drill for still more oil to burn, in the very Arctic regions where the melting of the ice has made oil-drilling easier. And oil companies spnt millions to buy a new Congress from he 2014 elections

In 2014, for the first time, social media made possible the bubbling up of a national movement protesting the long-standing abusive practice of police violence against unarmed young Black men. Jews who joined in the movement lit Hanukkah candles in public places like Philadelphia’s 30th Street Amtrak Station. Rabbis were arrested in demonstrations against racism, for the first time since the ‘60s.

In 2014, the attempt of Hillel International to limit the free expression under local Hillel auspices of views about the State of Israel and Zionism –- an abusive imposition made much worse by the far more abusive Gaza War — brought forth a wave of “Open Hillel” resistance, and a national conference of Open Hillel people.

Similarly, efforts by various “official” American Jewish organizations to quash criticisms of Israeli government policies or of the directions Zionism has taken or even the presentation of critical plays written by Israeli playwrights have resulted in still more outspoken resistance.

Other “abused wives” – marginalized and oppressed communities — have also walked out of the abusive structures built by official American society.

What next –- more freedom, or more coercion?

Let us enter 2015 with clarity about the choice, and with conviction to create more freedom and more justice in every sphere where abuse has become habitual.

And as the old year ends, I hope you will follow the example of Rabbi Leonard Beerman and increase your own contribution to The Shalom Center, to help us continue and increase our work to help the abused communities of America and Earth win more freedom, more justice, fuller healing. To do so, please click on the Donate banner in the left-hand column of this page.

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Black Lives Matter, Green Lives Matter, ALL Lives Matter

Multiracial Menorah by Zoe Cohen. See her work on ZoeCohen.com
First, some thoughts about the title of this article: The phrase “Black Lives Matter” was coined by Black women — Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. Some activists have warned that the meme “All Lives Matter” might defuse the intensity and importance of recognizing the  continuing (and in some ways worsening) racism in US  economic, cultural, and political systems. If “All” is used to replace “Black,” it might indeed help people pretend that racism is no longer an issue. But where both “Black” AND “All” are used (and “Green” besides), I think that says two things: Racism remains rampant in the structures of our country, and other aspects, forms, and targets of the Disease of Domination are also worsening.

From the beginning of our reporting on and encouragement of the resistance to one specific aspect of racism that arose out of Ferguson, The Shalom Center has connected the issue of racist police violence with the broader issues of mass incarceration; torture; and political disfranchisement of the poor, old, young, Black, & Hispanic (all heavily intertwined with racism);  along with hyper-enfranchising of the ultra-rich and the burning of the Earth (which have racist results but go beyond race in  attacking their victims). — We have pointed out that the “Pharaohs” of our social system are behind them  all — that the key issue of domineering, unaccountable power is behind and beneath all the issues.

The burning of the Earth has actually —through Superstorms, floods, droughts, and famines — killed many more Black and brown people than police have.  And not just in absolute numbers:  the burning has far disproportionately killed and damaged those communities. The truthful equation is: Racism x CO2 = Mass death.
Yet it is also true, and crucial to realize, that the same structures of power that impose racist oppression also oppress not only “white” human beings but many other life-forms on our planet — all of them sacred and valuable in themselves and crucial to the health and life of the whole human species.

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For millennia — ever since Jews took as central to Jewish identity the story of how a band of runaway slaves toppled Pharaoh’s power and built a new community — the great thrust of Jewish thought and action has been to resist the Disease of Domination.
Sometimes it comes from beyond the Jewish people –— like the Babylonian, Syrian-Hellenist, Roman, Inquisitorial, Tsarist, Stalinist, and Nazi empires; like the racism rampant in American society during and since slavery; like the world-destroying Carbon Pharaohs of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Unnatural Gas.
Sometimes the Disease of Domination has arisen within the Jewish people – but those outbreaks of Domination Disease have been confronted by Jews who were and are committed to the Prophetic vision of justice, peace, and a rhythm of rest for humanity and the Earth. That began with the ancient Prophets who confronted Jewish kings, and it has persisted to Jews in our own generation who have opposed the Occupation  by the Government of Israel over Palestine beyond the 1967 Green Line.

So it is not surprising –-  and it is inspiring –-  that in America today, Jewish outrage over the epidemic of police killing of unarmed Black civilians has sparked new lights for Hanukkah. In many cities, Jews will be gathering at some public place on the last night of Hanukkah –— this coming Tuesday evening, December 23 –— carrying Hanukkiot (the nine-candled Hanukkah Menorahs) to affirm that Black lives matter. The powerful image of a multiracial menorah is by Zoe Cohen. Her work can be seen at ZoeCohen.com

My own Jewish life began in 1969 with my writing the Freedom Seder, an expression of Passover that reached beyiond Jewish liberation to call as well for the liberation of Black Americans and other oppressed peoples from their modern Pharaohs. So I am delighted by “Freedom Hanukkah,” and The Shalom Center strongly supports these efforts.

We support them both for the sake of justice throughout America, and for the sake of enlivening a new Jewish community that sees our festivals both as expressions of the seasons of the Earth and and as spiritual frameworks for political activism.

The upsurge of new grass-roots Black leadership responding to the police violence in Ferguson and Staten Island has posed demands that go beyond police violence. These demands include ending racism in the mass incarceration of Black men, in the devastation and defunding of public schools that serve Black communities, in the economic injustice that destroys Black families even more violently than white families.

We see these post-Ferguson demands for broad and basic change — uprooting racism — as an expression of the ancient impulse to oppose the Domination Disease. And we see opposition to the Global Scorching that threatens the whole web of life upon our planet as another expression of that impulse.

Indeed, at The Shalom Center we take special note of the pattern in which these two “separate” forms of Domination flow together in an even more repressive way. It is Black, Hispanic, and Native communities as well as poverty-stricken white farmers desperate to sell anything, even their own drinking water, that suffer the most from the Plagues brought on us by the Carbon Pharaohs. Asthma, homes destroyed in superstorms, famine arising from prolonged droughts – all these wound worst the most vulnerable.

Poisoning and burning Mother Earth is intertwined with poisoning and oppressing human beings.

So to say that Black Lives Matter is also to say that Green Lives Matter – for their own sake and because the Green Faces of God breathe out what we humans need to breathe in. Without those Green Faces, no animals, no humans, could live. It is to say that All Lives Matter, and that Domination is deadly and disastrous. It is to look behind and beneath specific issues — even the horrors of racism, even the deadly climate crisis — to see the issue behind them and beneath them — unchecked, unaccountable, irresponsible, deadly Domination. Pharaoh. Caesar.

Long ago, the Torah itself, then the Prophet Zechariah, and still later, medieval Jewish artistry all saw the Temple Menorah as a living, breathing Tree of Life.
We — human beings who are committed to create Community and resist Domination —  WE are the light-bearing Menorah of every generation.  Our lights are kept lit by the Breath that breathes all life.

We at The Shalom Center are continuing to keep these lights well lit, and we ask your help to do that. We ask us all to join with each other, including us on The Shalom Center’s Board and staff, in the Green Menorah Covenant to grow from the grass-roots new communities of life, resisting Domination.

On the left is a “Donate” button through which you can strengthen our work, make the Hanukkah vision real, and join in the Green Menorah Covenant.  

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Amer Jewish Committee Declares War on Sioux Nation -- and the Rest of Us

Sioux Nation leading People's Climate March, Sept 21, 2014, NYC

On November 17, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (Sicangu Lakota Oyate) called the U.S. House of Representatives’ November 14 vote for the Keystone XL pipeline an “act of war,” and vowed to block the project from crossing its lands.
 
“The House has now signed our death warrants and the death warrants of our children and grandchildren. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe will not allow this pipeline through our lands,” said Rosebud Sioux President Cyril Scott. “Authorizing Keystone XL is an act of war against our people.”
 
On November 18, the US Senate refused to
pass a bill that would have compelled construction of the KXL Pipeline.
 
On November 19, the American Jewish Committee urged the Obama Administration to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. The AJC said that the pipeline is “critically important for U.S. energy security… “

What is this “energy security”?  For at least a decade, it has been the reason the AJC gave for supporting extreme extraction of fossil fuels: coal from smashing West Virginia mountains, oil from piercing the heart of the Gulf waters, unnatural gas from fracking Pennsylvania shale, Tar Sands from Canada – the dirtiest highest-carbon version of fossil fuel.
 
The AJC has cared nothing for the “security” of the Sioux nation through which the KXL Pipeline is intended to go. Nor for the “security” of Black neighborhoods clouded by a coal-dust epidemic of asthma. Nor for the “security” of oil-drillers aboard deep-ocean-penetrating oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, nor for the “security” of its fisher-folk and the abundance of the Gulf.
 
What “energy security” means to the AJC is that the US should use any energy at all from anywhere in North America – so as to avoid using oil from any Arab state or Iran. And all this is intended to protect Israel from the possibility that US policy in the Middle East might be affected by a US desire to please Saudi Arabia or any other oil-rich Arab or Muslim country.
 
But the AJC policy does not just ignore the security interests of the Sioux Nation, Black neighborhoods, and Gulf fisher-folk. Its policy attacks the future of our planet, because it supports the emission of more and more Carbon Dioxide into our global atmosphere. It puts a chokehold on Mother Earth – out of an addiction to Domination Disease, the same disease that put a chokehold on Eric Garner, killed him, and then concluded that this killing had no criminal implications.
 
That means the AJC urgency to burn Tar Sands worsens the death threat to those who will be as vulnerable in the future as those who in our recent past have been suffering from the unprecedented droughts in California,  Australia, and Russia. It worsens the death threats to those who will be as vulnerable in the future as those who in our recent past have died from Superstorms in the Philippines, New Orleans, the New Jersey shore.
 
And – irony of ironies – the AJC’s support for burning fossil fuels threatens the future of the State of Israel. Already, Israeli scientists have warned that the worsening of CO2 global-scorching effects will in the next 50 years enormously expand the Israeli Negev desert, and that the predictable ocean rises will put parts of Tel Aviv under water.

That is an existential threat to the State of Israel.

So the AJC’s policy actually is a Declaration of War not only against large areas of the USA and many other regions, but against the Israel that the AJC policy was invented to protect.
 
Let’s be clear about one thing. I was taught by my own teacher of US history  — Howard K. Beale at the University of Wisconsin, a fine historian as well as a fine teacher –never to claim to be “neutral” when we wrote history. Each of us, he taught, comes with a bias. The only honest way to deal with it is to reveal it.
 
So let’s indeed be clear – The Shalom Center’s understanding of Torah and of the consensus of the world’s scientists has for more than a decade guided us into strong urgency for shifting our economy, our society, our culture out of the Carbon-Burning Era of human and planetary history. Away from obeisance to the Pharaohs and false gods of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Unnatural Gas. Toward, instead, a society and culture rooted in knowing when Enough really is Enough, one rooted in renewable and sustainable and communally controllable sources of energy.  We have skin – and breath and bone – in this “game.”
 
Indeed, the deepest teachings of  Torah arise from the wisdom of an indigenous people  — shepherds and farmers who felt, saw, touched God through their relationship with grass and trees and sheep and soil and sun. We should be allies with the indigenous Sioux Nation — not enemies.

And since our beginning, The Shalom Center has cared about encouraging a State of Israel that takes seriously the Prophetic Jewish values of peace, justice, and respect for the land itself  — the values on which the State was explicitly proclaimed.
 
So for the sake of Torah, for the sake of all the human and more-than-human life forms of the Earth, for the sake of the very Name of the Holy One Who is YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life, and for the sake of the future of the Jewish people and the State of Israel —   we urge the American Jewish Committee to change direction. To decide that moving swiftly toward the Era of Renewable Energy will best serve its own desire to support Israel.
 
And in urging this, we at The Shalom Center are not alone. As is true of many policies of some of the “major” American Jewish organizations, this AJC policy is not supported by the majority of American Jews.
 
What is supported? Here is a statement recently set forth by thirteen American Jewish organizations. Many, but not all,  are small and young: they represent the future, not the past, of American Jewish life. Their statement was occasioned by the AJC’s renewed call for building the Tar Sands Pipeline, but in this statement is a vision of the necessary future – not a critique of AJC.  Here is their vision:


Thirteen Jewish organizations, under the umbrella of the Green Hevra, have issued the following joint statement publicly calling on the U.S. government to reject the Keystone XL pipeline:

It has become abundantly clear that we are consuming far too many fossil fuels. In this Sabbatical/Shmita year, when the Torah calls for deeper gentleness toward the Earth, we are especially conscious of the dangers to the Earth from the drilling, transporting and burning of tar-sands oil. The resources that would be devoted to the Keystone XL pipeline should be devoted instead to initiatives in clean energy, a fast-growing field in which we hope the United States will take a leading position.

Climate change, worsened by burning more and more oil that the Keystone XL pipeline would permit, poses a grave threat to the security of the United States, Israel and the world.

Jewish tradition is not monolithic, and the issues around the pipeline are complex. But the Jewish community has consistently sought to take a stand in favor of creating a better world for all. It is hard for us to believe that building the Keystone XL pipeline could possibly do so.

This is not the first time that Jewish organizations have taken a stand against Keystone XL http://www.jta.org/2013/03/28/news-opinion/opinion/op-ed-jews-should-work-to-reduce-fossil-fuels-not-ally-with-gas-and-oil-companies>  and we call upon fellow Jewish leaders to join us in encouraging President Obama and Congress to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

Signed by the following members of the Green Hevra:

Amir
Aytzim: Ecological Judaism
Eden Village Camp
Energiya Global
Habonim Dror North America
Hazon
Jewish Climate Action Network
Jewish Farm School
Jews Against Hydrofracking
NeoHasid.org
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College / Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
The Shalom Center
Shoresh Jewish Environmental Programs


You will notice The Shalom Center is among the signers. We agree with the statement, and also believe that an important part of our own task in the “cultural ecology” of a transformative spiritual movement is pointing out when a path risks danger and destruction, as well as heartening all who walk a path that chooses life and Breath.
 
Blessings of truth, justice, life, and shalom –
Arthur
 

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"Ferguson" Protests Shut Down Highways all around USA

"Ferguson"  protest closees major highway in Baltimore

SLATE on-line news magazine reports that in many US cities, protests that begin over the “power racism” of the Ferguson crisis are broadening to address racial injustice at the hands of police in many cities, and are shutting down a number of US highways.

The list of cities includes NYC (the FDR Drive & Hudson Tunnel), Boston, Nashville, Portland, Providence, & Durham. This photo above is Baltimore. (Expand it by clicking on the title of this article.)

Already these protests have become the first nation-wide protest ever, against rampant racist behavior by many police forces.

If these protests remain nonviolent, they might  bring fully into American consciousness the continuing cancer of institutional and structural “power racism.” They might spark a major reexamination of this major aspect of our rampant Disase of Domination, a reexamination committed to face the truth.

Not easy — for this Disease of Domination corrupts and poisons offical US actions not only toward Black, Brown, & Native communities but also toward the Earth, the poor, middle-class workers, women, students and teachers in the public schools, and many other elements of our society

And if the institutions that claim to be the forces of “order”   — the police, National Guard, and the military — refrain from using force and violence against these protests, we might see the beginnings of a profound reconciliation of the deepest chasm in our country — the chasm of race.

The decision whether to smash these protests or respond to them with hope and openness will not be decided by the police and military alone. It will depend on us — all of us. What will we demand?

 Many Americans believe or assume that slavery is over, a thing of the past. Its very worst aspects are. But the system left a scar deep within our body politic,  a subtle but profoundly wounding cancer that  we have pretended did not exist.

Among those who see themseves as masters, there is an arrogance so deep it pretends there’s nothing there. Among those who communites have been directly wounded,  subjugation has taken forms of political restrictions, economic subordination, educational  deprivation — and, of course, the danger that any young Black man could be humiliated, imprisoned, or killed by the police.

Notice that this fear does not affect only those who actually get attacked. Every one who is taught to share the fear is forced either into humiliated self-denial, or rebellious fury.

So together we might all welcome this great upsurge of dignity. We might accept that even if we find it a little harder to reach the dinner-tables where we intend to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, we have  now the opportunity for an even deeper Giving of Thanks.

May we tomorrow thank the God Whose Justice Jefferson feared, for providing us with the possibility of deeper, fuller justice that arises from our turning ourselves toward sorrow, honest self-understanding, confession, and then — only then — reconciliation.

To see the reports of highway-closing protests, click to http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2014/11/25/pictures_of_ferguson_protesters_shutting_down_america_s_highways.html

For my fuller analysis of what the past is and future might be in regard to this crisis, please click to
https://theshalomcenter.org/content/forward-ferguson-how-do-we-change-future

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Pope Will Call MultiFaith Gathering on Climate

Climate & Faith:
Religious Apathy, A Papal Call, & the Need to
MOVE toward New Forms of Community

According to a major Catholic publication, Pope Francis has decided to call for a world multireligious conference of religious leaders on “Climate Change” and to issue a Papal Encyclical on the climate crisis.

I want to begin with celebration of this decision, then address the evidence of deep unconcern or apathy about climate in many US religious communities, and end with my suggestions of what might be causing the apathy and how to get past it – including how the Pope’s action might help.

See  http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/1385/0/pope-francis-to-publish-encyclica....

This report says the news came from Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo,  an Argentinian who is close to the Pope and is Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, when he delivered Cafod’s [British Catholic Agency For Overseas Development]  annual Pope Paul VI lecture on Friday a week ago.

(A Papal Encyclical is a letter to the whole Church or even to the whole world, as Saint Angelo Roncalli (Pope John XXIII), may the memory of this tzaddik continue to be for a blessing —  uniquely did on the dangers of nuclear weapons for Easter 1963.)

The Shalom Center and Interfaith Moral Action on Climate have called for both these actions in letters to Pope Francis.  (I am not claiming we were the key factors that led to that decision; but perhaps our letters helped.) If the reports are accurate, these actions by the Pope could be a major turning-point in religious involvement.   Hallelu-YAH!  — Let us praise the Breath of Life!  

To truly celebrate the hope of such actions by the Pope,  we need to face a darker undertone that explains why these actions by the Pope could be so important. A recent national survey of opinion about climate in the US by the Public Religion Research Institute http://publicreligion.org/research/2014/11/believers-sympathizers-skepti... shows that in most US white religious communities, there are low levels of concern over climate change:

Climate Change Concern Index by Religious Affiliation
Source: PRRI/AAR, Religion, Values, and Climate Change Survey, November 2014
The numbers below correspond to these four categories: Very
concerned; Somewhat concerned; Somewhat unconcerned; Very
unconcerned
All Americans 29 21 29 21
Hispanic Catholic 43 30 21 6
Unaffiliated 38 22 26 14
Black Protestant 37 21 26 14
Non-Christian 43 22 35 9
Jewish  27 26 35 13
White Mainline  Protestant 22 21 31 26
White Evangelical 18 17 34 30
White Catholic 17 24 32 28

Moreover, it is very rare for white Christian clergy to give sermons about the climate crisis. (There is no report on Jewish clergy.) Interestingly, Black and Hispanic clergy do much better.  So much for the white-environmentalist self-flattering thought that the non-white communities don’t care!

The involvement of religious and spiritual communities at a new level calls for us to address not only moving away from the Carbon-Pharaoh economy but moving toward a new kind of world community, rooted in compassion and community: a world community of sustainable and shared abundance:

A world community that addresses the needs of disemployed and low-income workers, of the desperately poor as well as the desperately overworked –— poor or affluent; of those denied the possibility of creating their own music, dance, art, poetry; of those denied public health uncorrupted by poisons in the air and earth and water, and those denied the individual healing of a shared medical system; those denied privacy by an intrusive corporate market, and those denied liberty by an encroaching government.

These people are being ill-served now by the top-down economy, ecology, and culture of the Carbon Pharaohs; but I think they are not so much “unconcerned” as frightened and baffled by what it will mean to them to move into a different world. So any transition to a post-carbon society must for both political and moral reasons meet their needs.

This is a new understanding of the Bible’s Sabbatical Year, the Shmita Year of “Release” in which organized agricultural bossiness paused, the free growth of the Earth was freely available to all, and debts were annulled. It is the world of “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”  It is the world of “right speech, right action, right livelihood” in the Noble Eightfold Path.

This is Martin Luther King’s “Beloved Community.” For those ancient visions must today be translated for a world not only of agriculture, as was their original context, but of high-tech mining, drilling, communication; of new ways to draw on the ancient wind and solar sources of energy. What are jobs and income and restfulness in that world? What are schools and the arts and health in that world?

Our world.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such new communities already among us. We need to lift them up and multiply them.

If a Papal Encyclical on Climate addresses these questions; if a  multireligious conference called by the Pope to address the climate crisis includes not only the official leaders of religious communities but at least some of the grass-roots and pavement-top prophets and practtitionrs of hope, then it can truly address the apathetic, “unconcerned,” among the religious communities reported in the PRRI study. 

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Torah of Truth vs. Torture: Sen. Udall's Sacred Task

Prisoner tortured by US Army under offfical orders, Abu Ghraib 2004

File Attachment: 

For a brief moment of sacred opportunity RIGHT NOW, the American people has a chance to learn the truth about our government’s deliberate use of torture as an act of policy. Senator Mark Udall holds that moment in his hands. We can all encourage him by calling his Congressional office at 202-224-5941.

What is at stake? Memory itself.  Truth itself.

This iconic photo of a US prisoner being tortured by US troops in Abu Ghraib prison broke open the story of our government’s deliberate use of torture as an act of policy. 

 (Also attached to this essay are a few additional photos, even more graphic and heart-breaking. If you believe that a broken heart becomes a heart more open to the Spirit and to each other and all life, you may want to take the risk of looking at these photos. To do so, click on the title of this article and then on the two attachments.)

 The policy-makers who ordered this done are still being shielded from the legal consequences of their criminal acts –-  and even from full public knowledge of the American people, in whose name and by whose authority they acted.

 But for a brief moment of sacred opportunity RIGHT NOW, the American people has a chance to learn the truth about our government’s deliberate use of torture as an act of policy. Senator Mark Udall holds that moment in his hands.

 What should happen?

Jewish tradition teaches that torture is utterly forbidden  — for it destroys the Image of God in human beings, installing instead Caesar’s image of subjugation and despair.

 Every Yom Kippur we read in tears the story of ten great Rabbis tortured to death by the Roman Empire. Our tradition decided to keep our memories clear, so that we would forever remember to prevent such crimes.

 For the same reasons, the American people must learn the full truth of torture committed in our name, by an Administration that wanted the USA to be an Empire, not  a democracy.

 Senator Mark Udall has a sacred opportunity & task to let us know the truth — for the truth alone can set us free. The Senator has an absolute right under the Constitution to read into the Congressional Record the full Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA use of torture, but must do it NOW in this “lame duck” session of the Senate.  (He will not serve in the next Senate, which convenes in January.)

I urge Senator Udall to turn this session from a “lame duck” to a free-flying bold Bald Eagle! We can all encourage him by calling his Congressional office at 202-224-5941. 

May we receive blessings of truth, of memory, of celebrating God’s Image in ourselves and in all life.

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Global Scorching & Climate Justice

Where do the Carbon Pharaohs Wreak the Worst Damage?

By Jacqueline Patterson

 [On October 26, 2014, the Pennsylvania chapter of Interfaith Power and Light held its annual state-wide gathering. Among the keynote speakers was Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program. Below is a condensed version of Ms. Patterson’s keynote for IPL.  After the text of her talk, I will comment on why I think what she said is crucial both to the "climate movement” and to organizations working for “social justice.”  --  AW, editor]

In my work throughout the country, I see that climate change and the overheating of the Earth come down worst on communities of color and low-income communities. The climate crisis itself is driven by corporations with the systemic aim to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a privileged few. And they operate in the context of a larger social system with the same aim --  to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a privileged few.  So the impacts of climate change worsen a broad set of social, political, and economic inequities that already exist.

In Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, in 2005 communities were hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. When I first visited the community in 2010, they were still recovering from Katrina and had just been re-assaulted as they were inundated by the BP Oil Drilling Disaster. Many of the community members had lost their livelihoods as oystermen and with that, lost their way of life.

Then, in 2012, I found the same communities under siege again by Hurricane Isaac as the levees were overtaken by the storm surge and the communities were completely overtaken by flooding.  When Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana asked the Army Corps of Engineers why the levees, weren’t fortified after Katrina, they stated that they used formula to decide where to prioritize levee fortification which assigned points to various areas based on economic impact.  With these measures of “value” it will always be the most marginalized communities who will be on the losing end of the climate adaptation equation.

I’ve visited Navajo reservations in New Mexico and Arizona and met with multiple families living in the shadow of coal plants within a 50-mile radius of communities like Shiprock, NM. The electricity from these plants powers Las Vegas and Los Angeles, while 70% of those living on the Navajo reservation have no electricity or running water. Though these plants were built on the promises of bringing new jobs to the area, many of the men in the Navajo families have to live in another state in order to work.

Coal plants emit mercury, arsenic, lead, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.  While many Navajo  families don’t have the basic necessities of life, what they do have are respiratory illnesses from ingesting pollution-laden air from these coal plants, every hour, of every day, of every week, of every month, of every year.

Then, right here in the Eastwick neighborhood of Philadelphia, we got a call last year about flooding in that community.  As in many communities I’ve visited from Tunica, MS to Irvington, NJ, a developer sold a swathe of homes in a flood plain to low income families of color who, within weeks in some cases and months in others, found themselves inundated by flooding.  Exacerbated by climate change, flooding from storm-water management failures and from the frequent overtaking of Cobbs Creeks’ banks, cause chronic problems for the folks in Eastwick.   They have yet to be able to negotiate a comprehensive flood management plan with the powers that be.

These issues are directly linked to other issues such as voting rights and political representation. Zoning boards, public utilities commissions, and city councils are key offices. Their officials make decisions about where toxic facilities are cited; the extent to which our utilities are actively pursuing advancement of energy efficiency, lowering rates, and transitioning to clean energy. These are also the bodies that decide on permitting of large scale development projects.

The institutionalization of these systemic inequities is why, in my work, advancing solutions is about system change by shifting power and resources from the privileged few to “the people.”  Therefore, in addition to working with EPA on regulations to control CO2 emissions,  my work is about voting rights and campaign finance reform. It’s about making sure we have representative and accountable people in the zoning boards, the Public Utilities Commissions, and the City Councils.

We are working with communities across the country to build local economies where instead of big industry control, we have community owned solar, community owned food, community recycled waste, community initiated green schools, community organized equitable transportation systems, etc.

We are also members of groups like Interfaith  Moral Action on Climate Change with our Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet campaign to move purchasing, banking, and  funding from fossil fuel companies  and to move fossil fuel subsidies that subsidize the ruination of our planet, into funding earth and life affirming practices like energy efficiency and clean energy!

For me as a Christian, there is no more apt model than Jesus in the Temple with the money changers -- as the example I follow in my work to ensure that profiteering does not continue to be the dominant force that trumps human, civil and earth rights as it pervasively does now. Otherwise my work is undergirded by my faith tenets of justice, mercy, altruism, and stewardship.
^^^^^^^^^^^^
[I first met Ms. Patterson when I became a co-member of the Steering Committee of Interfaith Moral Action on Climate. This past summer, she pulled together workshops on Climate Justice for the 50th Anniversary observance of Mississippi Freedom Summer. When I saw these workshops on the program announcement,  I was drawn to go the gathering in Jackson, Mississippi.

[The workshops clarified for me the relationship between “social justice” and “ecological sanity.” The connection needs to be emphasized because many ”social justice” organizations, including many in the Jewish and other faith communities, act as if the climate crisis has nothing to do with social justice. At the same time, many “environmental” organizations ignore social justice. Ever since Ms. Patterson’s Freedom Summer workshops, , I have been using the phrase “eco-social justice” to describe our work.

[This condensed version of Ms. Patterson’s keynote for IPL makes the connection clear, and points out its importance. Indeed, if the “climate movement” and its religiously and spiritually rooted elements are ever to win the crucial cultural and political transformations that we seek, drawing together these “separate” concerns and constituencies will be necessary. Out of such connections can come the new communities of both resistance and resilience: Resistance to the onrush of climate disaster, resilience when the effects of global scorching crash into us, as did Superstorm Sandy and the California drought.--  AW, editor.]


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