Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

Tu B'Shvat/ YAH B'Shvat: 4 Teachings, 4 Worlds, ONE Tree



This year the festival of Tu B'Shvat -- the ReBirthDay of earthly trees and of the supernal Tree of Life, falls on Friday evening Febuary 10/ Saturday February 11.  For a unique treasury of history, wisdom, and practtiuice of Tu B'Shvat that will help ylu celbrate Tu B'Shvat, see the book Trees, Earth, and Torah (publ by Indiana Univ Press for the Jewish Publication Society, ed. by Ari Elon, Rabbi Naomi Mara Hyman, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow). Available from Amazon.

These four teachings might be included in the passages read for the four courses of the Tu B’Shvat Seder, marking the Four Worlds of reality through which the Kabbalists of Tzfat 500 years ago shaped the mystical Seder of God’s ReBirthDay on the full Moon of Midwinter.  

1. Asiyah, Physical Actuality: The foods of the Tu B’Shvat Seder (this year, Sunday evening  January 24) are nuts and fruit, the rebirthing aspects of a plant's life-cycle. They are the only foods whose eating requires no death, not even the death of a plant (like the radish or the Bitter Herb in the Pesach Seder).  Our living trees send forth their fruit and seeds in such profusion that they overflow beyond the needs of the next generation. This is the sacred meal of Eden, the Garden of Delight. The sacred meal of Mashiach-zeit, the Messianic Age.  

2. Yetzirah, Relationship: The four cups of wine for the Tu B’Shvat Seder are white; white with a drop of red to become pink; red with a drop of white to become rose;  red. Red and white were in ancient tradition seen as the colors of  generativity. To mix them was to mix the blood and semen that to the ancients connoted procreation. The Seder celebrates rebirth in all its forms throughout the world.  

3. Briyyah, Creative Intellect: In two separate epiphanies, Rabbi Phyllis Berman and Ari Elon pointed out that the conventional name for the festival of the Trees’ ReBirthDay names it in a constricted, fearful way. The festival comes on the 15th day (the Full Moon) of the midwinter lunar “moonth” of Shvat, and “Tu” is  made up of two Hebrew letters, Tet and Vav, that numerically are “9+6,” making 15. But this way of counting is an anomaly. Normally with numbers in the teens we say the letters for “10+x,” not “”9+y.”  That would mean “Yod-Aleph” for 11, “Yod-Bet” for 12, and so “Yod-Hei” for 15.  But “Yod-Hei” is “Yah,” one of the Names of God (as in Hallelu-YAH.).

So out of fear and reluctance to say God’s Name when we name the festival, we use “9+6,” “Tu,” instead.

But – “What might happen if we joyfully proclaim God’s full Presence on that day of God’s Rebirth, YAH B’Shvat, and on every Full Moon of each month?” said both Phyllis and Ari.  

4. Atzilut, Spirit.  At a Tu B’Shvat Seder held in a grove of ancient and majestic redwoods  to protest the logging of such redwoods for corporate profit, then rabbinical student Naomi Mara Hyman (now a rabbi) gestured at the tall-reaching trees around us  — the tallest living beings on the planet —  and said, “These are eytzim [“trees”], yes?  And the wooden poles that hold a Torah scroll, we also call them eytzim, yes? Imagine a Torah Scroll so majestic that these redwoods were its eytzim! In that Torah, each of us would be just large enough to be one letter in that Torah!” And that is what we are: each a letter making up together the words, the wisdom, of that Great Torah that is indeed the Tree of Life.

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Wanted for Arson --

 Wanted for Arson  --

NOT for Secretary of State



Rex W. Tillerson

President and chief executive of Exxon Mobil.

Nominated by Donald Trump  for Secretary of State

Burn one home, you’ve prison years to count.

Burn our common home, the Planet Round –-

With billions in your bank account,

It’s to High Office that you’re bound.

If you believe that world-wide arson is a crime:

1) Turn the upper part of this message into a poster and the whole thing into a flyer (adding a local contact); gather others; and picket a high-visibility Exxon station in your community.
 2) Call 202-224-3121, ask for each of your Senators, and urge them to refuse confirmation of Tillerson to be Secretary of State. Ask the offices for their fax numbers and send a letter of your own to each Senator.
3) Invite your friends and neighbors for a conversation about forming a neighborhood solar-energy co-op. Click to  <> and

    <> for more information

4) Please drop us a note at about what you are doing, and please contribute to support our work.       Click on the maroon "Contribute" banner on the left margin of this page.

5)  Forward this message to your friends and community leaders.


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about Rex Tillerson

Dear Arthur, I rarely write comments but I want to ask you to change a bit from who you have been. Your mind is deep and thoughtful and often angry. That anger may be just but may not be helpful for the stage the world is now in at this moment. The use of the words arson and polarizing to the far angry left seems to just keep the cycle of dismissal on both sides happening. Just getting the regime that will be in power to acknowledge climate change is actually where the reality is. Forget for now getting the viewpoint of stopping oil production and use and back it down many notches. Your second and third suggestions fit into the more centrist ways of helping the world stay in some not totally insane range, so long as the letters are deeply constructive and NOT polarizing with anger and righteousness. This is where you are needed. Deep thought on what to say that MAY actually make an impact on the congressional reader who reads it as opposed to a knee jerk labeling of just another letter from an angry lefty. This is where i need your guidance because you are well read and informed in depths i do not know. Sincerely and with love Shoshana

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Hanukkah and Christmas: Spiritual Siblings in a Time of Dark

The Deeper Story of the Dark-Time Festivals of Light

This coming Shabbat, we will have the opportunity to explore anew the meaning of Hanukkah. I hope we will go deeper than the Hanukkah story that is now most often shared --  the Talmudic legend of the  oil that should have been enough to last for one day but instead lasted for eight.

The story has its uses today in a time when we desperately need to conserve the use of  oil and other forms of carbon-burning energy in order to heal our wounded planet – but  there are deeper meanings to the festival  that may speak more deeply to our people, hungry for  connection to the Spirit in a time of Darkness.

This year, the first night of Hanukkah coincided with Christmas Eve. Hanukkah begins each year on the 25th day of the Jewish lunar month of Kislev. Christmas comes each year on the 25th day of the Western solar month of December. Since both Kislev and December are timed for early winter, both festivals come close to the day of the winter solstice, the darkest time of year in the Northern Hemisphere.

Is all this a coincidence? I think not.

What do we know about the origins of each of these festivals?

In Jewish lore, Hanukkah is connected with the desecration and rededication of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Its desecration by order of Antiochus, ruler of a Hellenistic Empire, came on the 25th of Kislev in the year we would now call 168 BCE. Three years later, the guerilla uprising led by the Maccabee brothers was successful in beginning the rededication of the Temple on the same day, 25 Kislev.

According to I Maccabees, a sacred book in Christian but not Jewish tradition, when the uprising succeeded in establishing control of the Temple once again, the victorious guerillas decided to celebrate the eight-day harvest festival of Sukkot that had not been possible to observe during the three years of Imperial control. (Sukkot was traditionally the time of year when King Solomon dedicated the First Temple; a good time to rededicate the second one.)

But the Rabbis, about 200 years later, were worried that lionizing the Maccabees might lead to disastrous violent rebellions against the Roman Empire. (That’s why they never decided that the Books of the Maccabees were sacred for Jews.) So they put forward a legend about a bottle of olive oil that was supposed to light the Temple for one day but lasted eight – and thus explained the eight-day festival of Hanukkah.

But let’s go back to the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus’ army on 25 Kislev back in 168 BCE.  Why on that day?

Here let me make a leap of “midrashic history” or “imaginative historical reconstruction.” The 25th of a  lunar “moonth” is the time of any month at which the moon diminishes and then vanishes.   And Kislev is the month in which the sun is also at its darkest. This is a perfect time for a spiritually awe-struck ceremony affirming the dark-time and imploring both the light of the moon and the light of the sun to return –-- which it does, year by year, confirming that it is a good thing to honor the gods at that moment.  (And perhaps in terms we might today find more palatable, successful because the ceremony helped dispel dark depression and despair.)

So perhaps what for the Jews was Antiochus’ desecration of the Temple was for the Hellenistic Empire a celebration of this sacred moment in its own spiritual calendar, facing and transcending the dark of moon and sun --using practices that for the Jews were desecration?  

Perhaps it was not only the memory of a guerrilla victory but the attractiveness of celebrating this moment of Light Renewed  that drew the Jewish people into adopting and celebrating the festival? And perhaps the Talmud’s legend of the miraculous Light-bearing Lamp was a way of connecting the two  -- celebrating both Light Renewed and the breakthrough of political joy and Rededication in a time of darkness?  

Now let us turn to the origins of Christmas. In the first few centuries of Christianity, there was no celebration of Jesus’ birth. The Gospels did not give the date of his  birth. And some modern commentators have pointed out that the descriptions of society at the time sound more like fall than winter.

Then in the Fourth Century, as Christianity was becoming the Established Church of the Roman Empire, the Church decided to make a major spiritual holy day of Jesus’ birth. But –- what day?

In Rome during those centuries, one of the most widely celebrated festivals was the Birth of Mithras, the god of a “mystery religion” with origins in Persia and the Eastern Mediterranean. And Mithras’ birthday was December 25.

The Christian Church adopted this day for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. One might see this as “surrendering to paganism” or as “cultural appropriation” or as a way of recognizing and affirming the spiritual power inherent in some aspects of another tradition.

Yet –- why, of all possible days in December, was the festival marked on the 25th? The Roman calendar was solar, not lunar or lunisolar.  Was “December 25” an effort to transcribe the lunar  “Kislev” date when the moon was vanishing, into a solar calendar?

I would called Hanukkah and Chrstmas “siblings” because they were both born from a “pagan” mother, celebrating Mother Earth. Though they are not twins, they share some DNA -- the theme of kindling light in a time of encroaching darkness.  They even share the notion of a Tree of Light – though our trees are very different. Both also emphasize joy at a time of what for many may be “SADness:  --  Seasonal Affective Disorder.”  

And there is a shared theme of spiritual or political resistance to the forces of Imperial oppression. In Hanukkah this theme is boldly lit, in the story of the Maccabeean revolt led by a small-town family. In Christmas it is muted, but Caesar Augustus and the murderous King Herod are the dark forces in the world when light is born in Jesus  -- the child of a working-class carpenter so poor the family could not find a hotel room for his birthing.

So what does this mean for me and for us?

First of all, as in 1981 I wrote the handbook of Jewish festivals called Seasons of Our Joy, it became clearer and clearer to me that the “seasons” celebrated by the festivals were rooted in the dance of Earth with Moon and Sun. When the book was published, its first review by a Jewish magazine dismissed it as a “pagan” distortion of Judaism. Yet, just as I freed myself from that kind of stifling darkness, the Jewish world began to free itself as well to dance in a warmer light. Seasons of Our Joy came to be called a “classic,” rather than a  travesty.

(Indeed, it is now in its third edition, published by the Jewish Publication Society with a new section on how even since its original publication there continue to be creative birthings of new ways of celebrating . You can get a copy through  <,675595.aspx>)

And finally, the wide world. We are certainly living in a dark time. We have a President-Elect who threatens the press, who appoints a racist to be Attorney-General and a White Supremacist to guide his over-all strategy, who dismisses the climate crisis as a hoax and turns over Earth policy to the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs to commit their profit-obsessed arson against our common home.

But the Maccabees did win over a swollen Elephantine Empire. This year we can begin our Resistance right now: No Bannon, no Jeff Sessions, no registry of Muslims, no deportation of undocumented millions.  Into every local gas station of the planetary arsonist Exxon as well as into every Senator’s eyes and ears we can carry the message: “No chief of Exxon, father of lies about the Earth and oil, to be Secretary of State.

 By Resisting with active and assertive nonviolence, we can embody the wisdom of the Prophet Zechariah (4: 6), in the Haftarah the ancient Rabbis taught us to read for Shabbat Hanukkah: “ ‘Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit,’ said the Infinite Breathing Spirit of the world.”

Zechariah also envisions that in the rebuilt Temple, the light-bearing Menorah, itself a Tree of Light with branches, calyxes, flowers shaped in gold, will be flanked by two olive trees. Already a break with tradition!

And then Zechariah (4: 11-12)rises to Prophetic ecstasy when he sees those two trees feeding their oil directly into the Menorah. This tiny forest of three trees – a forest that both grows from earth and is carved out by human hands --  reminds us that our human species began, the Torah teaches, when adam was born from adamah  (Gen. 2: 7). The story reminds us that just as the two words are intertwined, so Earth and human earthlings are intertwined. Zechariah gives us a physical symbol  of that Truth, at the heart of our most sacred space.

As Hanukkah promises, The Light does glow again each year as the darkness dissipates. This year at Hanukkah we can breathe deeply in the Breath of Life Whose “Name” is YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, which can only be “pronounced” by simply breathing,. We can look into each others’ light-filled eyes, and light our varied lights against the stifling darkness.

Shalom, salaam, peace, Earth!  --  Arthur


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Chanukah and Christmas

Actually, I believe that the date of Jesus' birth is sometime in FEBRUARY since Joseph and Mary were travelling to pay their taxes. Tax day was March 1st at that time. Therefore, Jesus was a Pisces and not a Capricorn.

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Book Party @ Big Blue Marble Bookstore: The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh


Dear friends,

At 10 in the morning on Sunday, December 18, one week before both Hanukkah and Christmas, you can enjoy two new books with a hippopotamus  and a peacock, two gutsy midwives and a Lonnnnng Narrow Phaaoh -- all at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in West Mount Airy (551 Carpenter Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19119). 

Hanukkah and Christmas,  those two festivals of Light in a time of Dark, have become a commercial bonanza, mostly devoid of spiritual meaning. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Giving gifts should be an avenue of joyful sharing --  filled with Light.

For Phyllis and me, the best way of sharing the Light of Bible and Torah is with a light touch and gentle laughter --  for deep meaning. (“Phyllis” is Rabbi Phyllis Berman, my life-partner and a creative teacher, prayer-leader in new modes, and midrash-maker. )   And for us, the touch of Light is also the touch of Color.

 So that’s what we’ve done with these two new brief and colorful books: The Rest of Creation -- why we pause for Shabbat; and The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives  Who Gave Birth to Freedom, in which we share a new story of both resistance to a cruel ruler and the birthing of a new community. (Did you know it was "really" the midwives who inspired and led the Exodus itself? A secret story, long ignored by the men who wrote our Bibles!))

For both books, we sought illustrations by Avi Katz, whom I got to know as a creative illustrator for the Jerusalem Report.

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

 AND --  Now the story really goes somewhere new!


We promise that you and the kids and grandkids, nephews and nieces,  whom you know 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 sharing how “the Bible, “the Torah,” can become seeds of creativity rather than narrow strictures of rigidity. We ourselves can leave behind the Narrow Pharaoh to become the midwives of our freedom.

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In late October, The Shalom Center began organizing a Rabbinic Statement to respond to the crisis in North Dakota over a dangerous oil pipe-line and the efforts of several Native Nations to stop it. By the morning of November 28, more than 300 Rabbis and about 80 other Jewish spiritual leaders had signed the statement.

Why did we decide to do this? Because Torah speaks to the crucial importance of protecting the Earth and seeking eco-social justice. And -- even more urgently  -- life and death are now  at stake, as prayerful Native gatherings are violently attacked. You can see this clearly in these two photos -- one of the peaceful, prayerful march of the Water-Protectors; the other, of the police response.




Meanwhile, a Jewish protest against a Philadelphia bank that has invested in the Dakota Oil Pipe Line resulted Wednesday in nine arrests. About fifteen rabbis and rabbinical students, with sixty other Jewish activists, held a "Water is Life" ceremony at the bank to celebrate the New Moon  that began the month of Cheshvan. The protest forced the bank to close its doors, after nine protesters had been able to get inside and then were arrested. (See photo.)


And one Rabbi, Linda Holtzman of Philadelphia, has been arrested at Standing Rock, North Dakota, as part of a multireligious demonstration of support for the Native Water-Protectors. 


Why is this happening? The Torah in many ways embodies the spiritual experience of an indigenous people ---  shepherds and farmers in the ancient Land of Israel -- with a sense that the Earth itself is sacred. So it is no surprise that today, in the midst of a global crisis endangering the Earth, some Jews respond with special caring to an indigenous People -- the Native American Nations -- who are struggling to protect our Earth, our water, against rapacious Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are bringing modern plagues upon the Earth.

If you are a Rabbi, Cantor, Rabbinic Pastor, Chaplain, Kohenet, or Rabbinic or Cantorial student, Jewish musician, artist, writer, professor, or other form of spiritual leader and wish to join in signing the Rabbinic  Statement, you can click to




 We are living in the midst of a profound spiritual crisis in American society, expressed in the current election campaign and in many other forms as well.

 One of the most poignant is the nonviolent protest in North Dakota, led by people of the First Nations, against the imposition of the oil-bearing Dakota Access Pipeline upon the sacred ancestral lands of the Sioux Nation. The pipeline is desecrating their graves, threatening to poison the water of the Missouri River, and endangering the entire web of life of Mother Earth by increasing the burning of fossil fuels.

 Already hundreds of representatives from many of the First Nations living in the United States, gathered for the first time in history beyond all previous divisions and alliances, together with growing numbers of other Americans and of indigenous peoples from other countries, have gathered to face this onslaught with prayerful nonviolent resistance. 

 Yet as they pray, police with rifles loaded and lifted threaten to use deadly force to impose this destructive pipeline on the region, on the nation, and on the Earth.

As spiritual leaders and teachers of the Jewish people, we affirm Torah’s commitment to protect the Earth from which the human race was born (Gen 2: 7) and which we are commanded to allow to rest in rhythmic celebration of the Creator (Lev. 25: 1-12, 23).

Indeed, Torah adds that if we block this rhythmic rest, the exhausted earth will erupt against us (Lev 26:  34-35, 43). These commands and warnings were rooted in our ancestors’ deep experience of the sacred unity of all life; they are confirmed by scientists today.

And already in higher rates of asthma and cancer where coal, oil, and fracked unnatural gas are extracted, refined, and burned; in unprecedented floods and droughts and superstorms all around the planet – we are seeing these ancient prophecies and modern scientific predictions come to life.

On April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel stood together in Riverside Church in New York City. Dr. King spoke out not only against the Vietnam War but even more deeply against what he called the deadly triplets afflicting America --  racism, militarism, and materialism.  And he called for a commitment to nonviolent activism to bring about a “revolution in values” for America.

In the Dakota confrontation, all three of those triplets have borne monstrous offspring in one clarifying moment:

Corporate greed has in this case taken the “materialism” triplet to its extreme; the armed police have brought militarism home; the trampling on Native rights and needs echoes the earliest racism of our past.

For all these reasons, we urgently call on President Obama as Commander-in-Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers to firmly and clearly prohibit the Dakota Access Pipeline from encroaching on the Missouri River, and we urge all state and federal agencies to affirm and respect the role of the Native communities in defending the weave of life upon the continent we know as North America, and they have for centuries called Turtle Island.

And we call on Jewish communities and their leaders throughout our country to speak out in congregations and publicly, to gather in prayerful vigils in our own communities, and to assist the Lakota protest as it moves into a stern Dakota winter by sending money to buy clothing, food, and other supplies for a lengthy steadfast stay.  Please send your gifts by clicking here: <>

We encourage our communities to call North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple at 701-328-2200 to leave a message stating your opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline; to call the White House at (202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-1414 to tell President Obama to rescind the Army Corps of Engineers’ permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline.; and to call the Army Corps of Engineers (202) 761-5903 -- and demand that they rescind the permit.

In his Riverside speech, Dr. King lifted up “the fierce urgency  of Now.” And in our lives today, facing both a spiritual crisis in America and a world-wide spiritual crisis in the relationship between adam and adamah, humanity and Earth, the urgency of Now is far more fierce.

Initiating Signers [All affiliations are noted for identification only; all signers are signing as individuals]: 

Rabbi Ellen Bernstein  (Founder, Shomrei Adamah)

Rabbi Denise L. Eger (President, Central Conference of American Rabbis)

Rabbi Everett Gendler (Emeritus, Phillips Academy, Andover)

 Rabbi Arthur Green (Rector, Rabbinical School of Hebrew College)

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg (Founder & President Emeritus, CLAL)

Rabbi Jill Hammer (Co-founder, Kohenet)

Rabbi Jill Jacobs (Executive Director, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights)

Rabbi Raachel Jurovics (President, Ohalah: Rabbinic Association for Jewish Renewal)

Rabbi Peter Knobel  (Past President , Central Conference of American Rabbis)

 Rabbi Mordechai Liebling (Director, Social Justice Organizing Program, ,Reconstructionist Rabbinical College)

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann (Kolot Chayeinu, Brooklyn)

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld (Executive Vice President , Rabbinical Assembly)

Rabbi Lawrence Troster (Kesher Israel Congregation, West Chester, PA)

Rabbi Arthur Waskow (Director, The Shalom Center) Rabbi Deborah Waxman (President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College)

Rabbi Elyse Wechterman (Executive Director, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association)

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz  (President & Dean of Valley Beit Midrash)

As of the morning of November 28,  381 more signers have joined these 17 Initiating Signers, and the numbers are growing.


If you are a Rabbi, Cantor, Rabbinic Pastor, Chaplain, Kohenet, or Rabbinic or Cantorial student, Jewish musician, artist, writer, professor, or other form of spiritual leader and wish to join in signing the Rabbinic  Statement, you can click to



 The names of the additonal 291 Rabbis and 42 other spiritual leaders of the Jewish people  ae signed below  -- click on "Read more" to see them.

Rabbi Rachel Ackerman- Washington, DC
Rabbi Alison Adler- Beverly, MA
Rabbi Adina Allen- Berkeley, CA
Rabbi Katy Allen- Wayland, MA
Rabbi Alana Alpert- Detroit, MI
Rabbi Nelly Altenburger- Danbury, CT
Rabbi Tsurah August- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Guy Austrian- New York, NY
Rabbi Ethan Bair- Reno, NV
Rabbi Justus Baird- New York, NY
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat- Williamstown, MA
Rabbi Benjamin Barnett- Corvallis, OR
Rabbi David Basior- Seattle, WA
Rabbi Eliot Baskin- Greenwood Vlg, CO
Rabbi Micah Becker-Klein- Hockessin, DE
Rabbi Lisa Bellows- Glenview, IL
Rabbi Marci Bellows- Chester, CT
Rabbi James Bennett- Saint Louis, MO
Rabbi Philip Bentley- Hendersonville, NC
Rabbi Arlene Berger- Rockville, MD
Rabbi Joseph Berman- Silver Spring, MD
Rabbi Marjorie Berman- Clarks Summit, PA
Rabbi Phyllis Berman- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Leila Gal Berner- Rockville, MD
Rabbi Shmuel Birnham- Vancouver, BC
Rabbi Marc S Blumenthal- Long Beach, CA
Rabbi Rena Blumenthal- New Paltz, NY
Rabbi Neil Blumofe- Austin, TX
Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton- ON, Canada
Rabbi Stephen Booth-Nadav- Denver, CO
Rabbi Anne Brener- Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Caryn Broitman- Vineyard Haven, MA
Rabbi Daniel Bronstein- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Deborah Bronstein- Boulder, CO
Rabbi Samuel Broude- Oakland, CA
Rabbi Sharon Brous- Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Rachel Brown- Greensboro, NC
Rabbi Simcha Daniel Burstyn- Kibbutz Lotan, Israel
Rabbi Meredith Cahn- Petaluma, CA
Rabbi Nina Cardin- Baltimore, MD
Rabbi Kerry Chaplin- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Paul Citrin- Albuquerque, NM
Rabbi Ayelet Cohen- New York, NY
Rabbi Debrah Cohen- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Howard Cohen- Bennington, VT
Rabbi Tamara Cohen- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Shahar Colt- Watertown, CT
Rabbi Mike Comins- Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Shoshanah Conover- Chicago, IL
Rabbi Mychal Copeland- Mountain view, CA
Rabbi Gabriel Cousens, M.D.- Patagonia., AZ
Rabbi Rachel Cowan- New York, NY
Rabbi Meryl Crean- Glenside, PA
Rabbi Robin Damsky- Melrose Park, IL
Rabbi Julie Danan- Pleasantville, NY
Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz- Millburn, NJ
Rabbi Getzel Davis- Cambridge, MA
Rabbi Shoshanah Devorah- Ukiah, CA
Rabbi Robert Dobrusin- Ann Arbor, MI
Rabbi Judith Edelstein- New York, NY
Rabbi Laurence Edwards- Chicago, IL
Rabbi Amy Eilberg- Los Altos, CA
Rabbi Mark Elber- Fall River, MA
Rabbi Susan Elkodsi- Trumbull, CT
Rabbi Diane Elliot- El Sobrante, CA
Rabbi Barat Ellman- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Andrew Ettin- Pfafftown, NC
Rabbi David Fainsilber- Morrisville, VT
Rabbi Ted Falcon- Seattle, WA
Rabbi Susan Falk- Princeton, NJ
Rabbi Charles Familant- Menlo Park, CA
Rabbi Charles Feinberg- Washington, DC
Rabbi Fern Feldman- Santa Cruz, CA
Rabbi Daniel Fellman- Syracuse, NY
Rabbi Brian Fink- New York, NY
Rabbi Tirzah Firestone- Boulder, CO
Rabbi Adam Fisher- Port Jefferson Station, NY
Rabbi Nancy Flam- Northampton, MA
Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Dayle Friedman- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Stacy Friedman- San Rafael, CA
Rabbi Pamela Frydman- Beverly Hills, CA
Rabbi Gordon Fuller- Columbia, MD
Rabbi Jack Gabriel- Fort Collins, CO
Rabbi Rachel Gartner- Washington, DC
Rabbi Ruth Gelfarb- Boulder, CO
Rabbi Laura Geller- Los Angelels, CA
Rabbi Elihu Gevirtz- Santa Barbara, CA
Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg- Ann Arbor, MI
Rabbi Gordon Gladstone, D.D.- Springfield, NJ
Rabbi Ilan Glazer- Memphis, TN
Rabbi Bob Gluck- Albany, NY
Rabbi Shefa Gold- Jemez Springs, NM
Rabbi Aviva Goldberg- Toronto, ON
Rabbi Elisa Goldberg- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Dan Goldblatt- Danville, CA
Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg- Forest Hills, NY
Rabbi Yosef Goldman- Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Andrea Goldstein- Saint Louis, MO
Rabbi Justin Goldstein- Asheville, NC
Rabbi Lisa Goldstein- New York, NY
Rabbi Meir Goldstein- Burlington, NC
Rabbi Seth Goldstein- Olympia, WA
Rabbi Daniel Goodman- Bronx, NY
Rabbi Maralee Gordon- Woodstock, IL
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb- Berkeley, CA
Rabbi mel Gottlieb- los angeles, CA
Rabbi Sarah Grafstein- Scottsdale, AZ
Rabbi Rachel Grant Meyer- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Julie Greenberg- Phila, PA
Rabbi David Greenstein- Montclair, NJ
Rabbi Tamar Grimm- Mendota Heights, MN
Rabbi Rebekah Gronowski- Edinburgh, ELN United Kingdom
Rabbi Nadya Gross- Erie, CO
Rabbi Victor Gross- Erie, CO
Rabbi Andrew Hahn- High Falls, NY
Rabbi Laurie Hahn Tapper- Redwood City, CA
Rabbi Kevin Hale- Leeds, MA
Rabbi Edwin Harris- Playa Vista, CA
Rabbi Rachel Hertzman- Montclair, NJ
Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann- Chicago, IL
Rabbi Jay Heyman- Seattle, WA
Rabbi Erin Hirsh- Glenside, PA
Rabbi Cynthia Hoffman- Fremont, CA
Rabbi Heidi Hoover- Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Mark Hurvitz- New York, NY
Rabbi Naomi Hyman- Easton, MD
Rabbi T'mimah Ickovits- Santa Monica, CA
Rabbi Shaya Isenberg- Gainesville, FL
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Standing with the Lakota

Standing with the Lakota Nations, the other Rabbis and Clergy against the pipeline!



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Toward Eden: The Earth gives birth to the Human Race

Can WE turn the barren place to Eden?

In a generation when human intervention is deeply wounding the web of life on Earth and with it the patterns of human community and prosperity, we may see a new facet of the story of Eden, the Garden of Delight.

The story begins by pointing us toward the close relationship between the human race and the Earth:

"And YHWH [the Name of God that can only be pronounced by breathing with no vowels, thus "Yahhh, Breath of Life"] formed the adam [human earthling] from the adamah [humus-earth] and blew into her/his nostrils the breath of life; and the human-earthling became a living being." (Genesis 2: 7)

I have inserted these odd translations of adam and adamah in order to heighten in English the interrelationship that Torah -- indeed, the Hebrew language itself – teaches so simply. Indeed we do have in English the word "earthling" to mean "human being" and the word "humus" to mean a kind of earth, but each of them is a highly specialized word.

What "adam" and "adamah" teach is deeply different from what the word "environment" we use so often nowadays teaches. The "environment" is in the "environs" -- out there, separate from us. The very words "adam" and "adamah" are intertwined, and they should teach us not only about language but about the reality that language tries to word.

And as if the bare words might still not be enough to teach us, the Torah then explicitly says that we were deeply intertwined at the earthy birthing of the human race.

Notice that in moving from earthiness to humanness, the human lost the "ah" -- a breath-sound --- at the end of Adamah, and then received from God a more conscious independent breathing.

This replicates the process of each human birth – indeed, each mammal's birth -- in which at first the fetus has an unconscious gift of breath from Mother through the placenta; loses this breath as s/he is born; and regains a separate, more conscious breath -- for humans, often by a tap from an attending adult.

What we know from our own experience in every individual birth, says Torah, we should understand is true about our species' origins and our continuing relationship with Mother Earth.

And Torah proceeds to the story of Eden, which this year will be read on October 29.

God – the Truth and Reality of life -- says to the human couple who together make up the human race: "Here there is overflowing abundance. Eat of it, of every tree of the Garden, in joy! – But you must also learn self-restraint. Do not gobble up all this abundance. The fruit of one tree you must not eat."

 [For the origins of these portraits of Eve and Adam and for a remarkable invitation from The Shalom Center, see the end of this essay.]

But the Humans abandon self-restraint. They eat of the one tree they have been told to leave uneaten.

And their greed ruins the abundance. So -– says God/ Reality -- they must work with the sweat pouring down their faces just to wring from the earth enough to eat, for it will give forth thorns and thistles.

Did God, or Reality, rejoice at this reminder that actions bear consequences? Hardly! God wails, "Ayekka, Where are you?" -- which rabbinic midrash understands as the first "Eicha," the word that begins the Book of Lamentations about our exile when the Temple was destroyed. The first exile was the exile of adam, humankind, from adamah, the earth.

This ancient archetypal story is the story of today. The story of the BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. The story of rapacious Big Oil desecrating the graves and poisoning the water of the Sioux Nation in North Dakota, to drive a pipeline though Native land and release more fumes of CO2 to burn our Mother Earth. Our modern Corporate Carbon Pharaohs in their greed bring Plagues upon humanity and the Earth, rejecting self-restraint: super-droughts in California and Australia and Syria and central Africa,  unheard-of floods in Pakistan and North Carolina, superstorms in the Philippines and the Jersey shore. 

Yet there are ways to redress this disaster. It happens, says the story of the Wilderness, just after the Breath of Life frees ancient Israelites from the ancient power-greedy Pharaoh.The first discovery of these runaway slaves is the Shabbat that comes with manna -- a gift from the abundant earth and a taste of rest from endless toil.  Shabbat comes as a new form of self-restraint --  filled with joy, rather than ascetic self-denial. The curse reversed. A taste of Eden once again.

In Jewish theology, Shabbat, a foretaste of the Messianic Age, is the redemptive gift that begins the annullment of the "original sin" of Eden -- the sin of abusing Mother Earth. Begins, but only begins. We still must yearn toward "yom sheh-kulo Shabbat, the day that will be wholly Shabbat" -- toward "Eden for a Grown-up Human Race," depicted in the Song of Songs, when love among human beings and between Humanity and Earth, adam and adamah, is freely flourishing.

Says Isaiah (51:3): "Vayasem midbarah k'eden v'arvatah k'gan Yahh. You turn the barren place to Eden, and the desert to a garden breathing Life."

Who is this "You"? Can it be "We"?

Only if we sow the Garden's seeds among us now, with miniature communities of Eden -- and in the same breath, breathing the Great Breath, act to free adam and adamah from domination by the Pharaohs of our day.

*** *** *** ***

The framed "portraits" of Eve and Adam in the Garden that we have presented above are paintings by  Zvi Livni , a renowned artist in the mystics' town of Safed  (Tzfat) in Northern Israel. He co-founded the famed Artists' Colony there. His paintings hang in the Brooklyn Museum, the Toronto Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art at Brandeis University, the Museum of Art at Yale University, and many other museums and galleries.

The originals of these paintings were presented as a wonderful gift to The Shalom Center, with the intention of helping to support our work to bring the Garden closer. We offer these paintings, fully framed, with certified venues, to our readers and members for a minimum gift to The Shalom Center of $3600 (the total for both paintings) or more if a higher offer comes in. If you are interested, please write me directly at <> with "Eve and Adam" in the subject line.


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Your words inspired me to realize that Shabbat is a day of meditation, and meditation is a return to the Garden. Many thanks from a mostly non-observant (at least in the conventional sense) Jew.

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Yom Kippur at Standing Rock, Dakota -- and Sukkot Everywhere

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[This report from the Lakota Native encampment in Standing Rock, ND, is by Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, who is director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the  Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and a member of the Board of The Shalom Center. Below his report is a song for Sukkot with words written by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, set to a slightly modified melody by Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield of blessed memory. The song can be seen in full and more readable size by clicking on the title of this article and then clicking on the caption "Sukkat Shalom song" just below the black bar called "Attachment." Rabbi Liebling's report follows:]

We are camped at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball Rivers, with high winds and sub-freezing night-time temperatures, preparing for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.   Why did I, a rabbi and son of Holocaust survivors, travel to the Standing Rock encampment to support Native Nations in halting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL)?

This pipeline is slated to carry Bakken Crude Shale Oil, fracked in North Dakota, beneath 200 different waterways to a refinery in Chicago.  The original plans called for it to cross under the Missouri River close to Bismarck, ND.  The local (white Euro-American) leadership objected and the Army Corps of Engineers decided to reroute it through lands sacred to the Lakota Nation.  The Nations have claimed in several law suits that the Army Corp did not go through the legally required consultation process.  The courts initially ruled in favor of the Army Corps, but the Obama administration has intervened to call for a halt in construction twenty miles on either side of the sacred grounds until the consultation process is completed.

At 2:00 AM the day after Native Peoples' experts filed maps in court showing where the sacred grounds were, the Enbridge Energy company ordered its bulldozers to cross into the legally mandated no-go area. They dug a trench right through the sacred areas that the pipeline crossed.  They have not been penalized.

The Native Peoples are defining themselves as water protectors and not as protestors.  The Missouri River provides drinking water to 18 million people. No man-made thing lasts forever, pipelines routinely leak. It is not a question of if, but of when this pipeline will leak.  They are protecting the water; their call is “Water is Life.” I have come to understand that they are fighting for all of us. They are first and foremost protecting the Earth and are on the frontline against global warming, willing to risk their lives. It would be fully consistent with American history for some Native leaders to be murdered in these actions.

Everyday at the camp there is two-hour non-violent training session. On a day that I attended there were over 50 people, mostly new arrivals from the Comanche Nation in Oklahoma.  It was repeatedly stressed that this is non-violent, peaceful action and that is under the rubric of Ceremony. The primary mode of action is going to the construction sites and praying.  Women are asked to wear long skirts, as this is ceremony, and that for those who need one there is a sewing machine and fabric available to make one.

There are about 40 teepees and hundreds of tents at Standing Rock, housing about 1500 people. Over 300 Native Nations have sent representatives at different times in this unprecedented show of unity.  Each time a delegation arrives they are invited to the main circle to share a dance and a sacred song. The challenge now is how to winterize for the brutal North Dakota winter.

Several times during Yom Kippur we collectively confess a long list of misdeeds against other. It is always we have stolen, we have lied, we have spoken slander, and the list goes on, but never “I” alone.  It acknowledges that we all make mistakes and that each of us bears responsibility. We intone throughout the day the compassionate qualities of the Divine as we pray for forgiveness for our transgressions against other people. White America has stolen, lied and spoken slander about Native Nations for over 500 years.

This year Yom Kippur is October 12 the original Columbus Day.  Christopher Columbus sailed to the West under the Vatican’s Doctrine of Discovery, which gave him the power to “capture, vanquish, and subdue the Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ," to "put them into perpetual slavery," and "to take all their possessions and property.” 

After Columbus’ voyage of 2493, Pope Alexander VI further defined the Doctrine of Discovery and granted control over all non-Christian lands newly or soon to be “discovered” to the Spanish monarchy, for the purpose of converting the residents there to Christianity -- and to encourage trade.

The Discovery Doctrine became official U. S. law in 1823 when Chief Justice John Marshall cited it in writing for a unanimous court in the case of  Johnson v. McIntosh.  It enshrined in law that the nations of the Native Peoples were subject to the ultimate authority of the nation of Christendom -- in this case the United States –--  that was first to claim possession of a given region of “Indian” lands.  As recently as 2005, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg cited this as precedent in a majority opinion.

The original sin of White America is racism, its first victims were the Native People and it has never stopped.  By any measure they are the poorest, least educated and least healthy of any group in our country. America must atone for the ongoing genocide of our First Inhabitants, genocide is legally defined as the intentional destruction of a people and that is what the policies and practices have been intended to do.

How to atone for the pain inflicted on others that we did not directly cause, but benefit from? In Judaism the deepest form of atonement is to change our actions, next best is by doing our best to make sure that when the situation arises again we will act differently; each are accompanied by reparations for the harm we have done.  We cannot change our lives to stop benefitting from the systemic and institutional oppression of Native People.  We can act to change the situation.


[A note by Rabbi Arthur Waskow:

As we respond to Rabbi Liebling's challenge, we move past Yom Kippur and live into one of the powerful teachings of Jewish tradition for the protection of all peoples and all life-forms: the practice of building the Sukkah -- a fragile hut wth a leafy, leaky roof. It is one of the most profound remnants of the ancient Israelites living as a land-based people, like the Lakota Nation in the continent the Native Peoples call "Turtle Island" -- and like other indigenous peoples around our shared Earth today. I offer the words of this song, set to a melody by  Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield of blessed memory, as we greet the last few days of the Festival of Fragile Huts --  Sukkot.]



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Harvesting: Help Build the Sukkah of Shalom

The Harvest festival of Sukkot begins tonight and lasts for seven days. It is named after its most prominent symbol –-  more than a symbol, an active practice: the Sukkah, a fragile hut with a leafy, leaky roof. 

What is the active practice? Traditionally, Jews slept in the sukkah for a week. Now, fewer sleep but many eat there.

I am writing you today to ask for a harvest – a Harvest of contributions to help The Shalom Center do our fragile, vulnerable, crucial work in the world.

Not just because it happens to be Harvest time. Also because we ourselves, The Shalom Center, are fragile, vulnerable, embodying the wisdom of the Sukkah.

In our earlest efforts, focused 33 years ago on the danger of the nuclear arms race becomng nuclear holocaust, we called on the wisdom of the Sukkah. This poster called together one of our earliest spiritually-rooted public actions:

The Sukkah -- your Sukkah of Shalom, The Shalom Center --  is fragile, open to wind and rain. Yet it needs to be built. No one can shelter under a tree or in a cave and call it a Sukkah. And we need you to gather the leafy roof and help us drape the wood or canvas that make our fragile walls.

You can do that by clicking on the maroon Contribute banner on the left margin of this page, and following through with the (tax-deductible) gifts that will keep the leafy roof above our heads.

It is clear the sukkah is fragile, vulnerable. What makes the sukkah crucial? One of the traditional Jewish evening prayers says, “You Who are the Breath of Life, spread over us the Sukkah of Your Shalom.”  Why a fragile, vulnerable sukkah of shalom? Would shalom not be safer in a fortress, a palace, a temple, even a sturdy house?

No, our ancient wisdom says. –-- Not despite fragility but because of it, the sukkah safeguards shalom.  A full shalom will come only when all human beings learn that we are all vulnerable. That we can only be at peace with each other not when we build Pentagons and Kremlins of power but when we fully grok that all those fortresses beckon attack.

Has that moment come? Not yet, but Sukkot beckons us toward it. That is why it is crucial. Indeed, it is understood as the festival that looks toward Messianic time, the days of Peace and Justice.

The Shalom Center is like a sukkah. We are tiny, fragile. We have a staff of two and besides the two of us, two part-time consultants who deal with glitches in our computers, website, and Email software. And yet –- or therefore!– we carry out a crucial role.

  • We have for 33 years been pioneers, a prophetic voice, in the Jewish, multireligious, and American worlds. When no one in the Jewish world was facing the danger of the nuclear arms race, we came into being to do so.
  • When few in the Jewish or other religious communities were willing to reinterpret our traditions to call for full equality for gay men and women, including the right to civil and religious same-sex marriage, we did.
  • When not a single Jewish organization would condemn the impending invasion of Iraq as ethically monstrous and practically disastrous, we did.
  • When after 9/11 there was a wave of Islamophobia, we organized the Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah, to bring Jews, Christians, and Muslims together not only for shared prayer and dialogue, but shared action.
  • When no one in the Jewish world yet dared to stand against Prime Minister Netanyahoo and AIPAC to support the diplomacy that has prevented Iranian nuclear weaponry without the self-destructive disaster of a war, we organized rabbis to support diplomacy, made our outlook known to  Members of Congress, and paved the way for other, larger Jewish organizations to do the same.

And we are still the only Jewish organization that has made the climate crisis that threatens all human civilization into the highest priority for our work. Our own work has become a crucial wellspring of thought and action as other Jewish and multifaith groups begin to take up that concern.

Now we have begun the work of making the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s last year alive into “MLK + 50 — A Jubilee Year of Truth and Transformation.” Already others are following that lead.  More news to come!

 Because we are like a sukkah, we can act when larger fortresses cannot. And as we have done in the past, we can affect the larger, ponderous organizations by proving there is good sense in pioneering.

So we need your help to keep our sukkah,  your sukkah, able to keep  on being The Shalom Center, the Sukkah of Shalom.  Please click on the maroon Contribute/ Sustain banner on the left margin of this page, and follow through with the (tax-deductible) gifts that will keep the leafy roof above our heads.


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Franz Kafka, the Leopard, & Yom Kippur

There is a wonderful two-line short story by Franz Kafka, more or less like this:

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

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

Our task, in every generation, every year, is to let the leopard out of the cage of liturgy.

Scary, and full of life.

For example: How do we treat the Yom Kippur prophetic reading in which Isaiah calls on the crowd not just to fast but to share their bread with the hungry, their homes with the homeless, their clothes with the naked, and then to go one huge and highly political step further and break off the handcuffs put on by wicked power?

On Yom Kippur morning, that Haftarah can be read in any of four ways.

One way is to treat it as part of “the liturgy.”  Someone chants it in a droning Hebrew or reads it in a listless English.

Or we could read it with passion, even with strong music and powerful graphics.  For my own impassioned translation and a YouTube art-and-music video of “Isaiah Lives!"  click here:


OR –--  On this coming Yom Kippur, we could let the leopard leap from the page, roaring. We could notice that Isaiah disrupted the official Yom Kippur liturgy, that he says people yelled at him and shook their fists when he broke into the pleasant Levite chanting.

Today someone could actually break through Isaiah’s words for the sake of Isaiah’s truth –- perhaps suddenly in the middle of the Haftarah shouting out a headline about a homeless old man found frozen to death on a wintry downtown street; then, a few verses later, another headline about 300 people lining up in hope of a job when the Postal Service announced three vacancies;

Or someone could read a brief paragraph (just after the verse about the handcuffs) describing how an Arizona sheriff  deliberately feeds rotted food  to immigrants he has imprisoned and forces them to work outside in 130-degree heat.  Or a paragraph about how the US government has explicitly refused to put on trial those who ordered the torture of prisoners.

OR – We could break through the cage of words altogether, and actually do what Isaiah tells us that God, the Breath of Life,  demands:

 How? First someone could read aloud these words:

"In North Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux and hundreds of others -– the largest gathering in US history of Natives from all their many nations, plus many Americans of other communities --  have gathered to protect the sacred ancestral lands of the Sioux and the Missouri River from the proposed route of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

"Native people have gathered since last Spring to protect both the graves of their forebears from desecration and their water from poisoning, with the call that "Water is Life" -- Mayim Hayim.

"They are protecting our beloved Mother Earth for the sake of all of us, all life and future generations.

 "For the pipeline will mean still more emissions of CO2 and methane to burn our Mother Earth.

 "The encampments are peaceful, drug and alcohol free, where the elders and tribal leaders conduct daily ceremony and prayer.

 "Yet they face soldiers with rifles loaded and pointed at them as they peacefully pray.

 "They have pledged to camp all winter -- to insure that the pipeline does not get built through their tribal lands.  They need donations to purchase winter supplies, food, tipees, and other necessities."

AND THEN --  as God and Isaiah cry out to us, to feed the hungry and clothe those exposed to wintry chill, to help them face with brave nonviolence the weapons aimed at them by domineering power, come to prayer on Yom Kippur ready as the break-fast begins on Tuesday night to write a check made out to  "Standing Rock Sioux Tribe --- Pipeline Protest Donation Fund." Collect the checks and send them that very night to  Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Attention: Donations, PO Box D, Building #1, North Standing Rock Avenue,  Fort Yates, ND 58538


Another leopard we could free: On Rosh Hashanah we read two painful stories –-  one about Abraham’s expulsion of Ishmael his son and Ishmael’s mother Hagar from Abraham’s family, into a wilderness where they were on the point of death from thirst; and the other, about Abraham preparing to put his son Isaac to death at what he thought was God’s command. For both of Abraham’s sons, at the very last moment, God intervenes –-- and both their lives are saved.

Their story does not end with bare survival. Later in the Torah (Gen 25: 7-11), on a Shabbat when many fewer people will be in synagogue to hear, we are told that after twenty years apart, Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury their dangerous father, and then Isaac went to live at Ishmael’s wellspring.

This Yom Kippur, what about lifting up and reading this passage of tshuvah and slichah, “turning” and “reconciliation”? For Yom Kippu is precisely the festival that is supposed to bring us to tshuvah and slichah.

After reading the brief passage from the Torah Scroll, what about then having members of the community pair off, one in each pair to become “Isaac” and one to become “Ishmael”?  They could have the conversation the two brothers might have had at Abraham’s graveside.

Perhaps they would find themselves discussing how we in our own families might achieve reconciliation before our relatives die. Or perhaps they would talk about their modern descendants. Could Jews and Arabs achieve reconciliation if we mourned those dead among both our peoples who have died at each others’ dangerous hands?

Still another leopard: Traditionally we read Eleh Ezkereh, “These we remember,” often called the Martyrology, about ten great Rabbis tortured to death by the Roman Empire.

What about adding martyrs of our own generations who were killed (often along with non-Jews) for upholding values that are profoundly Jewish? –-  like Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, murdered by the KKK in Mississippi; like Ronni Karpen Moffit who along with Orlando Letelier was murdered on the streets of Washington DC by the fascist junta that overthrew an elected Government of Chile; like David “Gypsy” Chain, killed because he was trying to prevent the logging of magnificent ancient redwoods for the sake of corporate profit?

For the stories of ten such modern “martyrs,” please click to


Every year we read by rote the prayerbook’s printed list of sins or misdeeds that we promise to leave behind.

Suppose that before Kol Nidre we wrote on four little cards of different colors our own sins: on a pink card, our sins against our family; on a green card, our sins against the Earth; and so on. All unsigned. For each  Al Chet, each recitation of our sins, we would shuffle and hand out the collection of the cards of one of these colors, and then each person would call out the sin of an unknown someone else.

As the prayerbook says, “We have sinned by …” The community would see what its own failings had been this very year, without shaming any particular person. A true invitation to do tshuvah, to turn our lives around

At the end of the long day, all these cards could be collected and burned, kindling a fire to light up our path into the future, turning ourselves toward life.

Finally: At the very end of Yom Kippur, we blow and hear one last long blast upon the Shofar.

We blow our breath into the small end of this Ram’s Horn, and out of the other, larger end emerges a blast of uncanny, eerie, untuned sound –--  or a music we train ourselves to shape.

“Awake!” Awake to the radiant beauty of our Earth! Awake to the scorching that hangs over us! Awake to the hurts we have suffered, the hurts we have caused, the hurts we have seen and turned away! Awake to the loving warmth we have slept through, oblivious!

This is a metaphor for every human being. Hearing the Shofar, each one of us could turn our hearts to hearing our own self as a Shofar.

The Breath of Life, the Interbreathing of the world, blows into us. A "still, small, voice" –-- blown into our small openings of nose, of mouth, of throat.

And then comes forth from the larger opening that is our life-time a far larger sound to shape the world. Words, actions – our whole lives  --- that may be untuned, discordant  --  or a music of loving care.  The music of a loving future, calling from our children to ourselves.

To hear our own selves become a Shofar -- our own selves call out “Awake!” --  would free the Leopard from the cage of liturgy.

Indeed, all these acts would fling open the cage of “liturgy,” let the Leopard out to roar and lash Her tail, let ourselves be shaken by His passion and compassion.

If we do this when we gather, we may find when the gates are closing at the end of the long long thirsty day that we have indeed experienced the transformation Yom Kippur was intended to make happen. 



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Rosh Hashanah: New Year & Transformation-time

The Shofar: Awake! Sob! Breathe! Transform!

Rosh Hashanah – the New Year and (in another translation) the Beginning of Transformation -- begins tonight.  It comes with the glimmer of a reborn moon, the sacred seventh New Moon from the rebirth time of spring.

One of the profound practices of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the Shofar, the Ram’s Horn.

We blow our breath into the small end of the Shofar, and out of the other, larger end emerges a blast of uncanny, eerie, untuned sound –--  or a music we train ourselves to shape.

This is a metaphor for every human being. The Breath of Life, the Interbreathing of the world, blows into us –--  and out come breath, words, actions, lives  that may be untuned , discordant  --  or a music of  loving care.  The music of a loving future, calling from our children to ourselves.

The different notes we learn to sound out on the Shofar have different meanings.

One calls out, “Alarm!”  --  “Awake!”

Another evokes sobs of grief as we realize how far we have wandered off the path of a loving life, the hurt we have caused others and ourselves.

Still another is a series of deep breaths as we begin to heal ourselves by healing those around us.

And still another is the joyful news of Transformation. We are taught that at Sinai,  the sound of a Shofar flooded the world  as the Breath of Life breathed words and music of Transformative Teaching.  -- And we are taught that the Shofar will sound again when we enter the Messianic days of peace and justice.

 It is a Jewish custom to wish that the Year ahead, the Transformation ahead, be “good and sweet.”

I am writing to send all of us –-- all of us, whether we celebrate these particular holy days or not --– this blessing:

That the year ahead will be sweet & good for a reason:

Because the glimmers of Transformation we are seeing within us and around us grow into a glow. And that even some of the darkness we see on the path teaches us how to keep moving

And above all, the blessing that we ourselves, each of us,  take a hand in growing that light within us and around us.

Although the holy days on which we are about to embark have been enriched by layer on layer of Jewish wisdom and practice, the underlying point is universal:

Face our mistakes, our misdeeds, the ways in which we have aimed the arrows of our actions toward lives of justice, peace, and healing but have missed the mark --- and turn ourselves in a new direction that, deep within us, is the “old” direction --- love.

That goes for us as individuals and also as members of a society.  When a whole society turns in an unloving direction, we call it a systemic failure – systemic racism, systemic militarism, systemic materialism, to face the “deadly triplets” that Dr. Martin Luther King named in a speech at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his death.  (This new year we are beginning includes the April that will be the 50th anniversary of that speech; April 4, 2018, will be the 50th anniversary of his death.)

When we recite our misdeeds on these holy days, we deliberately say “We.”  “We have slandered, we have cheated, we have stolen, we have murdered.” I myself have not done all these things, but as a member of society, I have been complicit in them all.

This year, as the new year begins, we are hearing the Shofar-note of “Awake!” more deeply than for generations. We can hear the grinding, clashing sounds of a chasm in American society,  one that has been widening and sharpening for years but has been made far more visible and audible by an extraordinary election campaign.

And it is not only Americans who face that chasm, but all human communities and all the life-forms on our planet.  

So may we all, this Beginning–time, turn the Shofar-call of Alarm into the response of Transformation.

May all of us  -- Board, staff, members, friends of  The Shalom Center –-  bless each other: May the coming year be filled with goodness and the sweet taste of loving Transformations.

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