Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

JCPA & Reform Orgzns join; New Info on Jewish Part of Climate March

 Climate March Grows! —
JCPA Signs On;
March Plans & Schedu
le Explained Below

Dear friends —

The People’s Climate March in NYC on Sunday, September 21,  may well be at the level of
250,000.  Many many groups and contingents have formed – Faith Communities (within which there will be a Jewish grouping), Businesses, Students, Labor Unions, Environmentalists,
and many many more.

I am especially happy to report that four important Jewish organizations – the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL); the broadest Jewish umbrella organization, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs; the Union for RTeform Jdaism (the American Jewish organization with the largest number of individual members); and the Central Conference of American Rabbis —  have just now jo
ined as endorsers.  Bruchim haba’im, Blessed a
re those who Arrive!

The fullest list we have of Jewish endorsers is on our Home Page, at

To take your own sacred place as an end
orser, please sign up in two places:

For the March as a
whole, please click to:>

To take part in the Jewish contingent on th
e March, please sign on at>1>

This March will be a turning point in our movement to heal Mother Earth and protect the human race, as well as other life-forms, from the ravages of global scorching. Come be a part of history, and —
 even more important – help make the history that will move all our children and grandchildren, as the Great March for Jobs & Freedom in 1963 still moves and inspires us today.

The March in general will assemble beginning at 11:00 on the streets in an area
north of Columbus Circle  (59th Street & 8th Ave). We will march east on 59th Street, south on 6th Avenue, west on 42nd Street, and end at a closing activity on 11th Avenue between 34th and 39th Streets. This route keeps our march in the heart of Manhattan, and we’ll pass along the southern end of Times Square, making our massive numbe
rs visible to the whole world.

There are separate but linked arrangements for the Faith Contingent. As I write, we do not yet have an agreement with the police on the place for the Faith Contingent to gather. We hope it will be a 4-block area of Central Park West, which flows into the Columbus
Circle where the March begins.

The Jewish contingent will be part of the Faith Contingent. It looks as if the Faith Contingent may be between 7,000 and 10,000 people. The multireligious Faith Contingent will be gathering as shown below, and will join the broa
der March between 1 and 1:30 pm.



We are organizing a band of shofar-(Ram’s Horn) blow


 On September 21, thousands and thousands of people will be in New York for the People’s Climate March.  Many of them will need a place to stay ov
ernight on Saturday and Sunday nights.
Consistent with faith communities’ traditions of hospitality, we’re inviting faith communities to offer these out of town visitors a place to sleep.  Please – if you are wi
thin 90 minutes of NYC, will you help?
If your faith community wants to offer housing, please click here:>

3. PLANS FOR Multi-Faith Prayers, Meditations, and Devotions for FAITH contingent B
efore it Joins the People’s Climate March

This plan assumes the following:

The faith contingent will gather on the looooong block of 58th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.
There will be a stage and a large-scale sound system available f
or a multi-faith service.
There will be an interest and desire for a coordinated level of faith activity across the entire faith contingent, along with the possible and theology

Materials to support these activities will be available on-line and will also be available on a singl
e, double-sided sheet of paper.
The faith contingent will be towards the end of the March, and will not actually start
marching till 1-1:30 pm.
There will be 8-10 multi-faith teams of leaders who will volunteer to lead prayers and facilitate activities in their ¼ to ½ block area of assembly.  For each of these teams, we will find Indigenous, Catholic, Protestant/Evangelical, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, UU, and  Humanist leaders, diverse in gender and ethnicity.  Leaders from other traditions will be integrat
ed as they are available.
There will be 2 planning/training sessio
ns for these leaders.
Draft Schedule of Activities   — the basic idea is to both have some religious leaders/ symbols/ practices scattered in multifaith teams thru the Faith contingent at the start of the Faith gathering, AND then the varied faith communities will gather in their
own body of people.  

For the first part, we will need religious leaders who will be willing to work as part of a multifaith team in the earlier part of the event. In the Jewish case, if you are willing to do this please email BOTH me at> and Mirele Goldsmith of Hazon at mire>

Items in BOLD are to be carried out simul
taneously by all groups.

11:00 am – Faith Communities Gather i
n the Faith Assembly Area

11:15 am – Entire faith group in silent
observance for 5 minutes.

11:20 am - In
digenous Prayers offered.  

11:35 am -  Shofarot sound in each g
roup to mark start of mar
ch.  Jewish prayers offered.

11:50 am – Hindu mantras chanted – Hindu leaders teach a mantra to their groups.  Those who wish
join together in chanting.  At 11:45 – all join together in chanting a mantra.

12:10 pm – UU leaders light their chalices in each group,
and offer their presentations.

12:25 pm – Humanist l
eaders make their presentation.

12:45 pm –
Islamic Dhuhr prayers offered.  Entire faith group in prayers in solidarity. Possible to have recitation of Qur’an from multiple bullhorns.

1:00 pm – Entire group signs a song
as part of Global Climate Chorus

1:10 pm – Christian leaders offer their prayers – maybe ring hand bells, sprinkle people with holy wa
ter, share bread with their group?

Once the Faith contingent steps off – probably 1:15 , specific sub-contingents of Faith – Jews, Muslims, Methodists, etc – will gather in their separate communities to take part in th
e Faith section of the broad March.

At conclusion of March

Team of volunteers with smart phones – invite people to sign the on-line petition for – the multi-faith, international campaign for a strong climate treaty – a
nd to offer a prayer for the climate.

 Keep in touch with March plans by clicking to -

Bring th
ings that help communicate the message:
- Make your own signs and banne
rs and t-shirts and flags – be creative
- Carry signs or banners that let people know where you are from – what organiz
ation, what city or state, what country
- Remember: only cardboard tubing or string can be us
ed to carry signs, banners, flags, etc.
- Music that do
es not need amplification is encouraged

Items to bring t
hat will make your day more comfortable:
- Bring some lig
ht food and drinks…it will be a long day
- Wear comfortable shoes
- Check the weather predictions a day or two
before you come and dress appropriately
- If it’s g
oing to be a sunny day, bring sun-screen

What NOT to Bring to the March

Do not bring any amplified sound systems.
- Do not bring signs, banners or flags that are carried on wooden sticks or metal rods, o
nly cardboard tubing or string is allowed.
- Do not weigh yourself down with unnecessary clothing or other items that you will
have to carry all day long…travel lightly.

Are you C
oming By Bus or Other Group Transportation?

Make sure your bus is plugged into our Bus/Train Operation. That way we’ll be able to make the best plans for bus drop-offs, parking and pick-ups at the end of the day. And by connecting with our Bus/Train Operation yo
u will get the most up-to-date information!

Together with Hazon, The Shalom Center has taken responsibility to reach out to possible Jewish participants in the March. The number of Jewish endorsers has continued to grow. We are also helping to shape a multirelig
ious service as the Faith Contingent gathers.

If you have questions, please Email BOTH me and Mirele Goldsmith of Hazon:
Awaskow@theshal> and>

 As you can imagine, undertaking this effort has brought on expenses beyond our usual budget. Please help us do this work by making a (tax-deductible) gift to The Shalom Center: C
lick on the purple Donate button on the left-hand column, and we will
in turn thank you with a gift you’ll treasure!

Blessings of creativity and healing!


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Find YOUR Ferguson -- and Heal It

[Ferguson, Missouri — We are honored to share with you a close-in report and spiritual assessment of events there by Rabbi Susan Talve, who has been taking part in marches and healings in Ferguson. She is the spiritual leader of Central Reform Congregation in the City of St Louis . CRC is the only synagogue that has chosen to stay in the city to face and respond to all its problems of poverty, despair, racism, oppression  — and to help ferment the bubbling-up of hope against all reasonable expectation. When Roman Catholic women sought a sacred space to be ordained as priests despite the official rules, Rabbi Talve and her synagogue stood with them. In 2013 T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights honored her as a Human Rights Hero. —  AW, Editor]

Standing on the steps of the Old Court House in St Louis the night before the funeral of Michael Brown, many who have been on the front line of the protests  stopped marching and chanting, and prayed quietly for his family and for the families of so many black men who have been shot by police.

 In that very place where Dred Scott sued for his freedom and was denied his citizenship and his  humanity by our legal system in 1857, we remembered that the next morning, Michael would not be a cause, but the son of a family who would have to bury their child.  

We stood in silence standing on the very ground that witnessed the Dred Scott case, feeling the legacy of slavery and wondering if the exposure of the disparities of Ferguson had to happen here to redeem the shame of that decision so many generations ago.

Standing with Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy, I thought of how the story of Abraham, Sara and Hagar tried to teach us that if we were willing to sacrifice the child of Hagar, (Ha-ger, the “other,” in Hebrew)  then, in the next moment we would find ourselves sacrificing our own children.

Michael Brown’s death and his mother’s grief touched the nerve that shot across the racial geographic and economic divides of our region.  Enough of us got the message that a threat to our children anywhere is a threat to our children everywhere.  The gun violence was crossing the divide, and it was time for us to do more than talk.

At one of the first community services after the shooting,  I was asked to give a prayer for the Brown family. I offered up the story of Nachshon who at the Red Sea wearied of listening to Moses pray for God’s assistance. —  So Nachshon  jumped into the Sea,  to part the waters that would open the road to freedom and bring the promise of a new paradigm of equality that would level the playing field for all.

 I added that what really parted the waters was all the people jumping in to save him.  Not just his parents and those who knew him, but all of the people risking their lives for that one child.

We have been living under the illusion of separation in America.  Two Americas, two St. Louis-es, two Fergusons.  We are divided by gender, race, and class.  Driving while black, shopping while black, just walking in the street while black, is a crime in many municipalities across the country.  Talk to any parent of a black male and they will tell you about the “talk.” everyone has with their child.  “Keep your head down, be polite, don’t run from the police and lose the attitude.”

It will take all of us to change this culture, all of us to challenge racial profiling and the poison of racism and economic disparities that sicken all of us.

And there is but one fragile degree of separation between us.  On Shabbat afternoon I marched in Ferguson to lift up the voice of the wonderful young people who have emerged to keep the peace on the streets as only they can.

I marched with a tall black 16-year-old who lives in Ferguson and celebrated his Bar Mitzvah and confirmation at our synagogue, Central Reform Congregation.  

As we were marching together, I heard a shout-out from the side of the road.  It was a white ex-marine St. Louis City police officer who had come to help keep the peace.  For a moment I thought, what had I done?

“Rabbi Talve! Don’t you remember me? You did my Bar Mitzvah!”

So there I was marching between two young men who shared common ground in Torah, one a kid of color from Ferguson who just wants to get back to school and the other a police officer whose job it is to keep him safe.  These relationships are what blurs the lines of separation and will eventually help us to change the culture of profiling and militarized policing.

Every week the Torah portions have been guiding us.  The Shabbat of the shooting, V’etchanan, we read about Moses pleading  to enter the land.  “Rav lach, It’s plenty for you, enough already!” God tells Moses.

“Don’t  think about what you don’t have but what you have. It is enough!”  Let go of the illusion of scarcity. In the land there will be enough for everyone if we remember to “Shema,” to listen to the Unity within the diversity.  Just as Moses readied us to turn the leadership over to Joshua and the next generation, just so we supported  the black youth who shaped the protest.

They did their best to keep the peace, to keep us safe on the streets with the protests by directing traffic and giving out water — and now they are focused on registering everyone they can to vote. They have been awakened, and we pray that their empowerment will bring a change to business as usual.

The next week we studied the portion “Ekev”  and were challenged to be warned that when we enter the land we will depend too much on her plenty.  We will forget that  true satisfaction comes from within and from remembering where we came from, and that the way to peace  is through gratitude and service to others.

The text is worried that the wheat, the barley, the pomegranate, figs, olive oil, and date honey will spoil us   — but the answer is not to deny us these wonderful delights.  The answer is to bless them, because without the blessing, without remembering they all come from a Unity of which we are a part but only a part, there is no chance for the ultimate “savata,” the ultimate filling up inside so that we are ready to overflow love and kindness and compassion whenever we possibly can. We learn we can be satisfied without being complacent.  

“Ekev” is a strange term, it can mean “when” but comes from the root for “heel” suggesting that something is coming soon. Live this way because you may be the generation that is on the heels of the messiah, that may bring the age of peace. Everything you do matters, even the little things that fall under your heel that you don’t think are important.  Showing up to be one more body to march, to bring food, to read to the children in the library, to mentor.

We vowed on that Shabbat that we would go to Ferguson, to frequent the businesses that have been struggling through the riots. One of our members who is in a wheel chair said that she couldn’t march but she could go and eat each lunch at a restaurant struggling to stay open. Another woman found a hair salon in Ferguson to get her hair cut, and was the only customer that day.  These acts matter and may tip the scales.  The teachings of Torah pushed us out of the synagogue and out of our comfort zones, to pray with our legs.

And we were ready for the next portion that challenged us to “Re-eh,” to see without our vision being obscured by false assumptions, stereotypes and beliefs —  to see that we can have the vision to choose the blessing over the curse.  In St. Louis the truth has been stripped bare and we are seeing beyond the illusions of the worlds of separation and being called to experience the world of unity, as Rabbi Heschel says, the radical monism where we realize that the world of separation abides within the world of unity.

Then we remember that these children being profiled and endangered by the ravages of poverty and discrimination are — all  of them — our children.  And we realize that we all have an opportunity to do something extraordinary with this challenge.

And as we pray for a just trial of course the portion is Shoftim, the call to appoint judges who will deal fairly with all people. We meet the words “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof, —  Justice, justice you shall pursue.” Reminding us that there must not be two Fergusons, or two Americas any longer.  

And so we will continue to  take on the challenge of racism and antisemitism and all the ism’s that plague us –
and use what we have to be part of the solution.  We will use the energy unleashed as an opportunity to pass the legislation needed to stop the profiling, to train police, to control the guns and welcome the immigrants, to raise the minimum wage and provide jobs and job training and do all the things we know we need to do to heal the divide.

    And we here in St. Louis challenge all of America to find YOUR Ferguson, find that sleepy suburb that is ready to erupt, and jump in together to save all our children.


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Transcendent Moments from the Reb Zalman Memorial

  Dear Chevra, An utterly amazing weekend at the Reb Zalman Memorial in Boulder.  All of us, each of us, experienced — grokked! — some transcendent moments. These were mine:

1.    We sat transfixed and transformed on Sunday morning as we listened to the breath-taking/ Breath-giving  sound of Reb Zalman inviting us to focus on what karma we want to clear, followed by his jazz duet on shofar and flute with Paul Horn at a gathering in India. (Horn died two days before Zalman.)

That recording begins the CDSing Shalom!” that The Shalom Center created seven years ago. Zalman gave us the passage as an act of love and support.  It is followed by some other extraordinary moments from other Ascended Masters — Pete Seeger singing Rainbow Race for the first time, Debbie Freedman, Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield.

And other amazing singers who are, thank God,  still with us:  Peter Yarrow,  Linda Hirschhorn, Shefa Gold,  David Shneyer,  Margot Stein, and many others. Plus me telling the story of learning Freedom songs rooted in the Exodus, from Fannie Lou Hamer during Freedom Summer in 1964, with Reggie & Kim Harris then singing those songs.

You can receive that amazing CD, especially precious to us all now with Zalman’s voice and shofar-music, as a thank-you from The Shalom Center for giving a gift to strengthen our work, as he gave the gift of that  passage to strengthen our work.  Click to> >

2. We read and learned/ shared the Torah passage from the weekly parashah on how our actions can bring on the life or death of rivers and of rain, with Reb Zalman’s midrashic translation. Then I invited everyone to sit in “the Rebbe’s chair” for an open discussion in which to speak the rebbe-spark within, as Zalman used to have us do. And we did! — reviving, renewing, giving new life to the traditional second paragraph of the Sh’ma.  I keep wishing every prayerbook would print that paragraph in bright green letters.

3. We  saw an amazing, deeply moving photomontage of Zalman’s life.  It included that famous photo of Zalman & the Dalai Lama. Everyone loves that photo because of the twinkle in both their eyes. I love it ALSO because there is Eve —-  smiling, both observer and participant. As she was during the memorial gathering. It was a joy to see her, intermittently in tears and in the smile of being surrounded in love — from us to her and from her to us: singing a passionate song to her and our beloved and Beloved. After the ecstasy, the laundry. May Eve’s laundry carry the fresh clean smell of love.

4. Amazing davvening  led by a sacred procession of our davveners on Shabbos morning and then Mincha led by Jeff Roth with a “dialogical dyad davvening” aimed at making us fall in love with each other. Which worked.

5. Another sacred procession of story-tellers Saturday evening: Zalman as davvener, musical innovator, Hassid, Shechinah-feminist, tikkun-olam  transformer, eco-kosher creator.

6. Art Green, Matthew Fox, and other luminaries invoking Zalman, remembering Zalman, bringing him alive again in our midst through their own eloquence.

7. Early early Sunday morning — Chava Bahle leading a deep and creative Shacharit — not only her face but her whole head glowing, radiant.  Reminding us to invoke for Mah Tovu not only Yaakov and Yisrael but also Sarah and Rivka.

About Mah tovu:

When Phyllis & I years ago decided to add “Mah tovu ohalayich Sarah, mishkenotayich Rivka,”  it was not only to add biblical women  — but with a special outlook on these particular women.

We began with Yaakov & Yisrael. They are the same person. Why does one have an Ohel, a tent,  and the other a Mishkan, a Place of God’s Presence? Because the Godwrestle turns the tent into a Mishkan , and only then can Yaakov/ Yisrael reconcile with Esau.   

And in the same way, we thought —  Sarah & Rivka are not the same person, but they have the same tent. (Torah says explicitly that Yitzchak brought Rivka into his mother’s tent: Gen 24: 67.) What turned that tent from Sarah’s “tent” into Rivka’s Mishkan? Rivka’s outcry seeking (lidrosh) YHWH as she felt the wrestle of Yaakov & Esav within her womb: Keyn lamah, zeh anokhi?!)    (Gen. 25:22)  

The point: We ourselves turn our ordinary tents into Places of the Presence by  turning our ordinary struggles against other human beings into Godwrestles  and Outcries that refuse to be imprisoned in What Is to seek instead justice and reconciliation That Could Be.  

Bilaam saw and heard all this, including the “Lamah” of Rivka’s outcry — and that is why he called out, “Mah tovu!”  “How good is this Mah!

As Tirzah Firestone pointed out, we were gathering 45 days after Reb Zalman’s death — 45, the gematria for Mem-Hei, for “Mah.

Our Zalman  Memorial  gathering was indeed a Mah tovu.

Love & shalom, Arthur

P.S — Please remember,
you can receive that amazing CD, with Zalman’s voice and shofar-music, as a thank-you from The Shalom Center for giving a gift to strengthen our work, as he gave the gift of that  passage to strengthen our work.  Click to> >

Site Placement: 

Torah Portions: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

100 Shofarot for People's Climate March! -- NYC Sept 21

This September, just a few days before Rosh Hashanah, there will be a mammoth People’s Climate March in mid-town Manhattan, on Sunday, Sept. 21.

Imagine 100 shofar-blowers sounding forth the Ram’s Horn of warning and transformation at the head of a Jewish/ Multireligious contingent on the March!

(This graphic, “She Blew the Shofar,”  is by Lynne Feldman. See her work at ). All rights reserved. Published with permission.

Weeks ago, I took part in the first planning session for the March. About 230 people showed up –- from religious groups, labor unions, poverty-action groups, environmentalists, students, elders, health-care activists, and many more.
There was a very strong sense of excitement about both the numbers and diversity of people present, and a sense it will be possible to bring 200,000 people or more into the streets around one demand: “Climate Action Now!”  (Participants may have their own signs, etc. There will be no civil disobedience as part of the March; if groups wish to take such action, they should do so the next day.)
Permit negotiations with the NY Police Department continue. Possible line of march (not yet certain) might be from Lincoln Square to Times Square to Union Square. There will be no “rally” with speakers, etc.
Buses, trains, car-pools, etc from beyond the five boroughs of NYC are welcome!

On Rosh Hashanah, just a few days later (starting Wednesday evening, Sept. 24) there begins not only the new year as it does every year, but a special year –- the biblical seventh year, the Sabbatical Year or Shmita (“release, non-attachment”).
The Shmita/ Sabbatical Year is intended to be a year of healing and freedom for the Earth, annulment of debts, an opening beyond the usual economic and political constrictions of human society —  what might be called eco-social justice. (See Lev. 25 and Deut 15.)
How do we prepare to turn the ancient Shmita of farmers and shepherds toward healing for our wounded Earth today? The March itself is a first step – and it must not stop there. The Shalom Center will go forward with the Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet campaign, and is also planning a Ten City project to inspire and help organize nine more local networks of Jewish climate activists like JCAN, the Jewish Climate Action Network, in Boston.
Through study, through ourselves becoming the Great Shofar of history, we can learn to act together to prevent disaster and instead grow seeds of change into a flourishing world of shared and sustainable sustenance.

The graphic of the Shofar-blower in the fruitful fields symbolizes the Shofar that calls out, “Sleepers, Awake!”
“Awake to protect and heal the Earth!”
“Awake to protect the poor, the hungry, assailed by flood and famine!”
“Awake to heal YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life, as it chokes from the overdose of CO2 burned into our world-wide breath, Earth’s atmosphere!”
So action is needed. Yet clear action, effective action, action deeply rooted in our spiritual selves, requires learning. So please take part in one of these learning opportunities. Learn in the midst of joy!


Torah Portions: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Poisoning Torah or Healing Earth?

Dear chevra,

Much of this letter to you is celebratory and joyful. That may surprise you, since tomorrow (Monday) night, we begin the mournful Fast of Tisha B’Av, which comes this year  in the midst of a war between Israel and Palestine, with deep devastation and death in Gaza, deep fear and dislocation in Israel

I believe that the ways both governments are carrying on this war undermine the very moral and ethical foundations on which each claims to stand. I believe that the actions of the Government of Israel bring with them the danger of poisoning the blood stream of Tora

Yet in Torah there is a deep and joyful wisdom for healing our wounded Mother Earth. To have that wisdom poisoned would be a deep disaster for the Jewish people and for all the life-forms of our planet, including our human communiti

The best antidote to poison is learning to heal. The “prophetic voice” both challenges what is deadly and seeks to birth new life. The joy in this letter is about learning to give bi

Long before this war erupted,  Nili Simhai and I planned to co-lead a  workshop from August 11 to August 15 —  “The Prophetic Voice: Healing the Earth as a Jewish Spiritual Practice”  — at Elat Chayyim/ Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Falls Village
, CT.

We would be delighted to have you join us in that delightful nook of nature — amidst the Earth we need to nur

For further information, please click here:>

On the registration website you will find listed the charges for taking part. Elat Chayyim is, however,  committed to providing access to
everybody for this retreat and if financial concerns stand in the way of your joining in the retreat, please email so that Adam can work out a solution.

Why are we doing this? The Earth and Humankind, facing the climate crisis, need our action to heal and nourish us. And the will to action is

Will our actions be haphazard and confused? Or can we learn to act with spiritual focus, wise choices, and practical effectiveness?

This summer presents a unique opportunity for the kind of whole-person learning that leads to action that is wise and vigorous, compassionate and committed — - and practical in making change

 Nili is extraordinarily skilled in shaping experiential education  — hands-on, legs-on. She was for many years director of the Teva Learning Alliance, which has intertwined Torah learning with earthy touching of our growing

 I will be bringing a lifetime of experience in awakening my self and others’ selves to the richer spiritual resources of a Torah that we transform, so as to heal and transform the world around us. And I bring ten years of learning, writing, speaking, organizing on Climate

And together we will be bringing years of work to unite the scientific knowledge of today with the spiritual wisdom of ancient Torah, shaped by an indigenous people of shepherds and farmers.  For example, understanding the Divin
e NameYHWH” as “YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh,” the Breathing that intertwines all life.

And connecting that spiritual insight with the scientific knowledge that the Oxygen-CO2 in-breath/ out-breath of trees and animals — the breathing that keeps our Earth alive —  is now i
n danger.

Prayer is our response to reality in the world of spirit. We will explore as well how to teach in new ways, how to make new kinds of relationships and connections, how to take action: for example, how to Move Our Money to Protect Our Planet. How to apply the practice of “eco-kosher” not only to food but to furnaces, automobiles, trees. How to talk with a City Councilperson or a labor union or a synago
gue board.

These letters are for many people inspiring and informative. But face-to-face learning is
far better.

So we look forward to learning face-to-fa
ce with you.

To register for learning with us, please click here:>

 Our course is aimed at helping would-be activists learn how to draw on Jewish symbols, festivals, and practices so as to bring a fuller, deeper energy into Jewish-community action to he
al the Earth.

 Nili and I hope that participants in this workshop will bond into an effective network of Jewish eco-spiritual activists who know what they are talking about — and how to
talk about it.

 The Earth and human Earthlings are wounded, scorched and overheated, by our overburning of the fossil fuels that choke the B
reath of Life.

 We need the kind of healing that looks beyond the wound, the choking —  to birth a more fruitful Belo
ved Community.

 To become such healers, we need to learn as do all healers — physicians, social workers, spiritual guides. We need the kind of Learning that intertwines Mind and Spirit, Heart and Body to make possible prophetic action for the healing
of our planet.

The graphic below brings the Ram’s Horn of the ancient shepherds,  brings Torah, back from the narrow pews of synagogues to the fruitful fields and rushing rivers. At Isabella Freedman, the beauty of one small sliver of Earth calls us to celebrate the whole round ball of life.  The medium and the message, the means and the
ends, cohere.

The Shofar calls out, “Sleepers, Awake!” —  Awake to danger, Awake to hope, Awake
to Healing.  

“Awake to heal YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life, as It takes physical form in our world-wide breath, Earth’s atmosphere!”

Clear action, effective action, action deeply rooted in our knowledge and our spirit, requ
ires learning.

 Bring your own face to meet Nili’s face, my face, and other faces filled with passion for our planet, an
d for learning.   Learn in the midst of joy!

To learn with us,  please click here:>

Shalom, salaam, peace —  Arthur


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Reb Zalman: His Light is Buried like a Seed –- to Sprout

Reb Zalman w/ Dalai Lama, 1990, w/ Rebbitzen Eve Ilsen between them

As you receive this letter on the morning of July 4th, 2014, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi is being buried  in Boulder, Colorado – and in some deep sense, buried and given new life all around the planet.

Does the death and burial of a Great Teacher mean his light has gone out?  We are taught, “Or zarua latzaddik” — the light of a tzaddik is buried in the fertile soil like a seed.” — It sprouts again and again; and in Zalman’s case, has already and will often again give birth to new seeds of light.

No one else in the 20th/ 21st century  brought such new life, new thought, new joy, new depth, new breadth, new ecstasy, new groundedness, new quirkiness, into the Judaism he inherited –- and transformed.

For me, the learning I absorbed was at two levels: two major new intellectual understandings, and a deeper path of bearing and behavior.

I will get to the intellectual frameworks with which he invited us to create an old/new Judaism. But first, the personal bearing and hearing that made it possible for his friends, his colleagues, his students to absorb new ideas, change them, make the new possibilities our own:

My first real encounter with Zalman came in the spring of 1971, still in the early days of my engagement with Judaism. I had heard about him, and noticed he was coming to lead Shabbat services at a Hillel House in Washington DC (where I was living). So I went on Friday evening.

There were about 40 of us. Zalman gathered us and said, “With your permission, I want to separate the women from the men.”

“No!’ said I.  (Feminism was then not just a strong commitment, but a burning passion that I shared.)

“What?” said Zalman, looking surprised.

“You said ‘With our permission,’ ” I said. “Not with mine.”

“Oh. Hmmmmmm,” said Zalman. “It’s not at all about inequality, pushing women away. I am trying to explore whether there is a stronger spark of Spirit when men and women create a polarity of energy between them.

“Sooooo  — How about if we separate the women and men not physically, not ‘geographically,’ but separate their voices?  Is that OK?”

I said “Yes.” Not just because I was interested in the experiment, but –- and for me this was the real and powerful lesson –- he listened when I objected.

He was clearly a great and knowledgeable teacher – and he listened when a newby said ”No!”

Story within a story, poised upon a story:  Several years ago, the Ohalah listserve of Renewal rabbis was discussing what it meant to be a Rebbe, and how that fit or didn’t fit with a more feminist sense of shared, not hierarchical, spiritual access to God.

I wrote the list, reminding them that Zalman dealt with the question in a unique, powerful, & creative way:

He grew up in Lubavitch, where on special occasions the Rebbe would gather all the men around him at a special Tisch, the Rebbe’s table. He would sit in a special fancy chair, and teach Torah for hours on end as the Hassidim drank L’Chayyim.

Reb Zalman would, Erev Shabbat or the evening before a festival, gather us all –— women and men –— at the Tisch. He would sit in the Rebbe’s Chair, teaching Torah for about 20 minutes.

Then he would stand up, and say –— “Everyone stand!” So we stood.

Then he would say, “Everybody move one chair to the Left.” And we did. So did he.

‘Then he would say to the person who was now sitting in the Rebbe’s Chair: Look inside for the Rebbe-Spark within you – and teach from there.”

And so we moved, person by person, through the night.

This was NOT automatic arithmetic equality, like a voting machine. It saw the possibility that in each of us was a channel for sacred Spirit. The Chair was important. It called us into depth.

That was the way I told the story. Then Zalman wrote me privately, off the list: “I am glad you told the story, “ he wrote. “But I used to say, “Move one chair to the Right. I prefer it should be ‘one chair to the Left!’”

Laughter and Learning. Sharing the Spark.

Why do I think this is the story for now? Because Zalman has moved one chair to the Up, the Down, the Earthy, the Celestial — and beckoned us into the Rebbe’s Chair. Each of us, all of us, welcome to sit there and find the Rebbe-spark within us. And to share our spark.

Now let me turn to the intellectual frameworks he brought into our lives, to enable us to shape a living Judaism:

Reb Zalman drew on the crisis of biblical Judaism swamped by Rome and Hellenistic civilization. and in response transforming through midrash the biblical tradition into a new paradigm — Rabbinic Judaism.

 He spoke in the same way of the crisis facing Rabbinic Judaism and all other religious traditions today as Modernity swamps us all –- and the need once again to transform Judaism into a new paradigm.

In that new paradigm –

  • women and men, people of varied sexual orientations and identities were equal;
  • we could sing a Jewish prayer with the American melody of ”Shenandoah” and the Christian melody of “Amazing Grace”;  
  • we could learn from Sufis and Buddhists and Christian mystics and Kabbalists and feminists and LSD and scientists of Gaia;
  • we could mourn Palestinians as well as Israelis  (when on the 2d day of Rosh Hashanah 1982 we learned about the massacres of Sabra & Chatila, he cried out, “Gevalt, gevalt!’ and set aside a good part of the morning for me to read the newspaper reports aloud, as a Prophetic Haftarah);
  • we could respond to the shriek of pain that for years he could hear coming from the Earth herself, and explore what “eco-kosher” might mean, not for food only but for the coal and oil and plastics that we “eat”; 
  • we could see the trajectory from the angry ancient Prophets into the fiercely loving nonviolent activism of a Prophet like Martin Luther King.

The other framework was his way of celebrating the Kabbalistic/ Hassidic teachings of the Four Worlds and the Sphirot (emanations of God) as they appeared within us –- not in an ethereal  other-worldly Divine Mystery.

 I will always remember –— in my body, not only in my mind —- how he transformed the seven Hakkafot of Simchat Torah – the seven dances with the Torah Scroll.

He explained that in the Lubavitch Hassidic world where he grew up, the seven dances were dedicated to the seven Sphirot –— Overflowing Loving-kindness, Rigorous Judgment, Compassion, Eternity’s Rhythmic Beat,  Beauty’s Melodic  Sweetness, Generative Foundation, and Collective Ingathering.

But, he said, the dances he was taught were all the same. How could the Dance, the music, the poetry, the color, of Overflowing Loving-kindness be the same as the Dance of Rigorous Judgment?

So he invited us to meet in seven clusters to create the seven Dances that spoke within us of the different Sphirot. Each cluster taught the whole community its Dance. And as we danced through the night, it became clear that all seven Sphirot were within us, not beyond us. All seven within each of us.

Our bodies joined our minds, our own “I” joined the universal “I.”

And that’s still another story, the story of how I stood at the foot of Sinai hearing the great Anokhi, the Universe speaking “I”  — with Zalman as my guide and guard.

But that’s enough. As Zalman’s body folds into the earth below, right now — his light is glowing,  seeding from the burial field new fields of light.

The memory of this tzaddik IS a blessing.

A blessing for shalom, salaam, pax, peace –


Site Placement: 

Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Earth and Climate Speak: MLK & the Fierce Urgency of Now

{By Reverend Oscar Tillman and Rabbi Arthur Waskow. This essay  appeared on Memorial Day, May 26, 2014, in the “Root” section of the Washington Post. Many thanks to Jacquie Patterson and other NAACP staff who facilitated its writing and placement. Reverend Tillman is a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors and chairs its National Black Church Leadership Initiative on Climate Justice. Rabbi Waskow is director of The Shalom Center and a member of the steering committee of Interfaith Moral Action on Climate.]

Fifty years ago in Washington DC, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about race in America and implored justice to “roll down like a mighty stream”. Five years later he said he was “standing on the mountaintop, looking into the Promised Land” just hours before his untimely death.
If Dr. King were alive today, he would perhaps have a more direct message about the mighty streams and soaring mountaintops of this country that he invoked to inspire awe and encourage collective action. Our American geography – our soaring mountaintops, our mighty streams, our “amber waves of grain, our purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain” are in grave danger. So are the communities that rely on them.
Our cornfields are parched from years of drought and then drowned in monsoon rains. The seagulls, fish, and fisherfolk of an entire region are smeared with oil. Our coastlines are drenched and even our subways flooded.  Our mountaintops are destroyed for the sake of the coal that lies beneath them. Our public lands are threatened by hydrofracturing that endangers our drinking water and that has by deliberate legal loopholes been exempted from independent scrutiny.  

What effects do these disasters have on human communities? Our small towns are despoiled and homes destroyed by breaks in oil pipelines that warn against the even more destructive Tar Sands Pipeline. Low-income neighborhoods become the politically easy place to put coal-burning plants, and their smoke turns the children of the poor into epidemics of asthma.  In Bangla Desh, millions of the poor who live bare inches above sea level will see their whole country flooded as the oceans rise. New York City is already planning to spend billions in bulwarks against the ocean that could have been invested in decent public schools with inspiring teachers. When the cornfields of America are withered by drought, the price of food rises here and around the world. Everyone suffers, but of course the poor and the hungry become the starving and the desperate.  In Africa, global scorching turns fertile lands  into deserts, and the desperate search for food fuels ethnic wars and genocide.

On April 4, 1967, exactly a year before he was killed, Dr. King named “materialism” as one of the deadly triplets afflicting America: “We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

At that point, he did not yet know how deadly to all of Earth materialist greed would become—the materialist greed of giant corporations selling fossil fuels the way a cabal of drug lords would sell their deadly drugs. And, like other drug lords, using their wealth and power to try to prevent the urgently-needed shift to wind, solar, and truly clean sources of energy.

Half a century ago, it was the murder of civil rights workers, deaths in Vietnam, the suffering of garbage workers in Memphis — as well as the Dream of racial justice — that called Dr. King into action. Today it is the climate crisis that has come upon us, — bringing famines, floods, fires, asthma,  and devastations on whole nations  — and the Dream of a shared and sustainable abundance that must call us into action, walking the path he walked.

In that same speech one year before his death, Dr. King said, “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.  Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’”

Today we must indeed cry out with the fierce urgency of Now. Now is the time for the fierce urgency of our convictions, for us to break our silence on all these disasters. Now is the time to raise our voices for our Dreams  — the ones we understood fifty years ago, and the ones we are discovering today.




Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Preparing for Sinai: Uniting Earth & Heaven, Words and Wheat

From the evening of Tuesday June 3 through the evening of June 5, Jews will be celebrating the festival of Shavuot, which in most of Jewish life today is focused on the revelation and acceptance of Torah at Mount Sinai.

During the next weeks, the Shalom Report will be suggesting ways to enrich what has become a somewhat forlorn festival in the Jewish calendar.

And since Shavuot became transcribed in Christian tradition into Pentecost, perhaps Christians as well as Jews might learn from reexamining this holy day.  (More about Pentecost below.)

The Hebrew word “Shavuot” means “Weeks.”  Its name comes from the festival’s timing in regard to Passover: It comes after a “week of weeks,” seven weeks and one day, beginning on the second night of Passover.

In Biblical Israel, Shavuot was the celebration of a successful spring wheat harvest. For seven weeks, the community anxiously counted its way into the precarious abundance of harvest.  The counting began on Passover as each household brought a sheaf of barley to the Temple, for the barley crop ripened before wheat.

On the 50th day, there was a unique offering at the Temple — two loaves of wheat bread –— regular leavened bread, not unleavened matzah, on the only occasion all year when leavened bread was offered. 

This agricultural celebration of Shavuot fit into the broad pattern of Biblical Judaism. During the Biblical era, spiritual leadership of the People was held by a hereditary priesthood defined by the body from birth and skilled in the body-rituals of bringing various foods  (beef, mutton, matzah, grain, pancakes, fruit) as offerings to a physical place.

Then the People Israel was severed from the land and from its ability to bring earthy offerings of foods of the Land of Israel to the Temple. During the same crisis when the People was deprived of its original, indigenous sacred relationship with the Earth, it was introduced to an alternative form of sacredness. From Hellenistic philosophy, it became clear that adept use of words could make connection with the Divine. And words could be carried from place to place, land to land.

So spiritual leadership was redefined. It was handed to a meritocratic lineage of men skilled in words –- the Rabbis.

In accordance with this profound transformation, the Rabbis redefined Shavuot –— as no longer the celebration of spring wheat, but the anniversary of Revelation of the Word.

Just as  Passover — the anniversary of Liberation from slavery  –- offered the whole people the opportunity to renew its commitment to freedom from the many Pharaohs that haunted Jewish history, Shavuot as Revelation offered the People the opportunity to stand again at Sinai, every year, and make new Torah — midrash.

But  this transformation of Shavuot left the festival almost bereft of ceremony, hands-on ritual that could engage people bodily and emotionally.  Passover has the Seder and its foods; Sukkot, the fall harvest festival, has the building of a leafy, leaky hut; Rosh Hashanah, the ear-filling, heart-stopping blasts of the ram’s horn; Yom Kippur, a 26-hour fast; Hanukkah, the lighting of a growing blaze of candles. Shavuot –- what?

Words. Powerful words, but still only words.  Reading the Ten Utterances of Sinai.  Reading Ezekiel’s weird ecstatic experience of God in the form of a whirling chariot, crowned by a rainbow of flashing colors. Reading the Scroll of Ruth, about the transformation of a poverty-stricken immigrant from a despised pariah people into the ancestress of King David and therefore of Messiah.

When what we now know as Judaism and Christianity were just beginning to diverge, on Shavuot there was a gathering to celebrate the holy day.  According to Christian tradition, in that gathering Words suddenly dissolved and multiplied into hearing and speaking the 70 different tongues of all humanity.

Shavuot became “Pentecost” (which means “Fiftieth Day”). The Holy Spirit –-Ruach haKodesh,  perhaps the Holy Breath that appears in every language —  beckoned the emerging Church to speak to the many peoples in their many tongues.  In following that path, Christianity gained a great deal –—  but left behind, even more than Rabbinic Judaism, the Earth-connection.

In another mystical experience more than a millennium later,  the Jewish mystics in the town of Tzfat (Safed) 500 years ago embraced an all-night “teach-in” of the many faces of Torah. From the all-night learning could come both exhaustion –- emptying out of the ego — and exhilaration – unifying each person’s “I“ into the higher, deeper, fuller, universal “I” of Sinai.

Some Jewish communities practice that all-night learning still. Perhaps for some it does engage the body. Still, the body and the Earth are under-involved — though we live in an era of crisis for the Earth, the Earth we overwork.

So perhaps the time has come to move beyond the word-focus of Rabbinic Judaism – not abandoning words but reintegrating Wheat and Word, the Food that comes into our mouths and the words of Torah that come out of our mouths.

There is a parallel pattern of 7x7+1 in Torah that especially calls us to unEarth the earthiness of Shavuot.

This pattern of seven weeks and the fiftieth day is a microcosm of the pattern of Sabbatical/ Shmita Years and the Jubilee or Home-bringing Year, about which we read and I wrote last week:

In that pattern of a landed, indigenous people, every seven years, the Land and the People rested from organized agriculture and all debts were annulled. Then, in the year after the seventh seventh year -– the fiftieth year –-  there was again a pause from all agricultural work  (which made the Shabbat pause two years in a row).

Going even beyond  this Sabbatical pause,  during this 50th year  there was a total redistribution of land, each family returning to its ancestral holding. The rich gave up being rich, the poor gave up being poor. 

Seven times seven, plus one.  7x7+1=50. Imagine a whirling slingshot, round and round, higher and higher —  and then: Lift-off!

This pattern of 49 days plus 1 day begins by affirming that it comes “B’Har Sinai” – “On Mount Sinai.” So we have an additional powerful reason to connect these patterns.

What can the 49+1 years of both social and eco-social transformation that lead to Jubilee/Home-bringing teach us about the 49+1 days that lead to Harvesting Torah?

How can we unify the earth-Shavuot of wheat harvest with the word-Shavuot of Torah?

One first vision of a tiny practice that could bring new power to Shavuot: Each household bakes two loaves of bread to bring to the communal reading of that Moment on the Mountain.

As we share the bread with each other, touching the loaves and touching the others who are touching the loaves, we share with each other, with our partner the Earth, and with our Highest Selves, the One:

From Earth we receive,

To the One we give:

Together we share,

And from this we live.

For a dozen  creative and transformative essays on Shavuot, see

There will be more that we share with you, in these next weeks approaching Sinai. Harvesting Torah.

Blessings of shalom, salaam, sohl; paz, paco, peace! —  Arthur

Torah Portions: 


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Idolatry & AEPi

 I joined the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity  — AEPi — in my freshman year of college.  In my chapter at Johns Hopkins were mostly what we’d now call “nerds.” Including me: In those days I could imagine a future in which I’d be writing 22 books, but certainly not a future in which I’d be getting arrested 22 times. I enjoyed most of our very tame parties, and most of my  “brothers.”

So I am sorrowful to report that AEPi’s recent behavior is a sad example of what happens when love for Israel sours into idolatry of Israel. In a moment I will explain what I mean.

And I’ll suggest what we could do about it.

This “fraternal” organization —  originally intended to nurture Jewish community –— has turned sour — and worse, idolatrous —  by defining critics of Israel as unacceptable in the community.

 There could be no worse anti-fraternal formula for turning off the brightest, most creative young Jews.  Telling them to stay away from the Jewish community.
That’s what idolatry does. It deadens both the idol-maker and what the idol-maker venerates. As Psalms 115 and 135 say of idols, “They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.  They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not breathe. Those who make them become like them [dead]; so do all who trust in them.”
 A minority of American Jews –-  few in numbers but rich and powerful enough to matter —-  distort our community by supporting whatever policies the Israeli government pursues, without critique or question.
That is idolatry, carving out a useful part of the Flow of Life and elevating it into Absolute Devotion as if were Absolute Perfection.  
This kind of idolatrous behavior is not only spiritually bankrupt.
It not only violates one of the Ten Commands of Sinai.
It not only violates what Hillel called Torah’s central command, to “love our neighbors as ourselves” — by justifying the oppression of the Palestinian community in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.  
It not only is what Jews have called “Chillul haShem,” casting shame upon the Jewish people in the eyes of others.
It not only hollows out (chillul) the Divine Tree of Life so that it may look untouched from the outside, but within, the life-juice of the Tree no longer flows and the Tree of Life begins to die.
Not only does this idolatry —- in the very name of supporting a worthy instrument for protecting Jews and enriching Jewish culture – - weaken Israel by exposing it to all the dangers of unchallenged, unaccountable, domineering over-reach. (Cf. Pharaoh at the Red Sea.)
This idolatry also tears at the fabric of American Jewish life, treating critics as traitors and making a public pretense of what American Jews actually believe.
The most recent horrendous example is what happened when J Street applied for membership in the “Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.”
J Street is devoted to Israel and committed to give real support – not just mouthwash — to a two-state peace settlement that would liberate not only Palestine but Israel itself.  (The jailer who fears and must keep constant watch upon his prisoner becomes a prisoner too — certainly not nearly as despairing as the one behind bars, but a prisoner nevertheless.)
The Conference members voted by secret ballot. That is a shande -– shameful –- in itself. These are not private people in a voting booth. They are more like our Senators and Congressmembers when they vote on bills, whose votes of course are public. We who elected them are entitled to know how they vote.

 Those who vote at the Conference of Presidents are each allegedly representing the organization that sends them, and its members. The members are entitled to know how they voted.
Despite the “secret ballot” rule, a vigorous columnist for the Forward, J.J . Goldberg, was able to find out how most of the member organizations voted.
The large ones, from the centrist mainstream Jewish community –— the Reform and Conservative denominational bodies, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, even the Anti-Defamation League  —  voted to include J Street.
But a larger number of much smaller rightwing Orthodox groups and right-wing political groups voted NO. Since the Conference goes by “One Group, One Vote,” regardless of the size of membership, J Street was rejected.
So outraged were the centrist mainstream groups that Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the million-plus-member Reform denomination, threatened to quit the Conference of Presidents unless there were major reforms.
And oh yes, among the organizations voting No was AEPi.
“My” fraternity, excluding devoted Jews from what is supposed to be an umbrella organization.
So I called AEPi HQ at  8815 Wesleyan Road, Indianapolis, Indiana 46268-1171, email:  phone: (317) 876-1913 fax: (317) 876-1057, and spoke with its executive director, Andrew Borans.
When I said I was shocked and unhappy about AEPi’s vote, the first thing he said was that no one was supposed to know how anyone voted.
Of course! — Then no one could complain! In the great tradition of liberte, egalite, fraternite!

When I pressed him about the content of AEPi’s vote –—  why would a presumably broad-based organization vote with the right-wingers? — he said 90% of their undergrads and 95% of their alumni had urged a right-wing No vote.
“But,”  I said, “I get your emails. I’m a Life Member. I was ‘Master’ (that is, president), of my chapter 60 years ago. I’m even a Rabbi. How come no Email came to ask my opinion?”
“Well,” he said, “we are members of many many organizations and we can’t consult everybody on every vote that comes up.”
(I leave aside whether “every vote” ends up in a major column in the leading Jewish newspaper and in controversy so sharp that the President of the biggest member of the Presidents’ club threatens to quit.)
I asked how many actual flesh-and-blood people these 90% or 95% were. He wouldn’t say. Where did he find them? Well, he met them. Visiting fraternity houses. Raising money. Dinners.
Oh. One more fact. In AEPi’s list of Notable Alumni (see, high on the list is Sheldon Adelson, multibillionaire gambling king and multi-million-dollar supporter of Israeli and American right-wing politicians. Adelson snarled at Governor Christie of New Jersey for daring to call the West Bank “occupied territory,”  when Christie came to beg royal cash and favor for the GOP presidential sweepstakes.
 Also among the “notable alumni” is Michael Schwerner (Cornell, class of 1961) who was one of the Civil Rights workers murdered by the KKK during Freedom Summer, 1964. Now he was a Brother I’d take joy in being Brother with! But you can’t compare Schwerner’s influence to Adelson’s. After all, Schwerner is safely dead. And he never had much money anyway.

So –— what to do? I urge other AEPi members who believe that J Street is a legitimate and valuable part of the Jewish community to say so to the national AEPi leadership and to their own chapters. And I urge us all to say so to any of our kids or grandkids who are thinking about joining a fraternity.
And I urge all of us, AEPi or no, to praise, question, and criticize Israel as we would any other aspect of the world. A more and more flawed aspect, badly needing our work of healing and correction. Not the Perfect One that we may pine for, even worship.

And I urge all of us to resist every effort to squash debate in the Jewish community, about Israel or about the refusal of many of our organizations to face the extreme over-heating of our only planet, or about any other way of driving out those who seek to be truly Yisra’el — to Wrestle God.


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Experimenting toward an American Sabbatical/Shmitah Year

Can we turn our Eco-Wisdom
Away  from Climate Doom,
Into a Joyful Future?

Often the climate crisis is described ONLY as approaching doom. As the official US report on the impact of global scorching (just released this week) makes clear, that is one possible result. Yet the Torah portion we read this week (Leviticus 25, called B’Har) makes clear that we could learn to live more joyfully with the rhythms of the Earth.

Our growing ecological science could enrich the Torah’s teachings and help us on the journey toward a more joyful relationship between adam (humanity) and adamah (the Earth).  Could help us turn what the Hebrew words say — that human earthlings and the Earth are intertwined — into a joyful era, rather than disaster.

Indeed, it is our new scientific awareness of how fully all life on Planet Earth is interwoven that warns us of disaster. That same knowledge could make it possible to turn human and planetary history in a more fruitful direction.

The Sabbatical/ Shmita Year – a year in which the Earth and the human community get to rest —  is proclaimed in this week’s Torah portion. That vision is a teaching about how to affirm the economics of making the Earth do our will in order for human life to thrive, with a time of pausing for the earth and human society to catch our breath — and thrive.

If Shmitah is a worthy vision, how do we begin to make it real? Let us start with an “impractical” vision: creating nine-day Shmitah/ Sabbatical Festivals in all our neighborhoods.

All too few are now “neighborly” as the assumptions of compassion have broken down in the face of both the content and the form of the mass media, the defunding of face-to-face education, despair over permanent impoverishment juxtaposed to quick riches from illegal drugs. How do we transform them?

Imagine this “impractical” scenario:  Our government empowers all our neighborhoods to hold a nine-day neighborly Shmitah/ Sabbatical celebration, once a year from Friday through the Sunday  a week later. We the People, acting through our shared government, give seed grants to neighborhood institutions to plan such events. We make the Shmitah Festival a decentralized but universal event, a universal national “Shabbat” on all but life-preserving emergency services.

We close down highways, trains, hotels, television stations, newspapers, along with factories and offices. We rediscover walking and talking, singing and cooking. We rediscover our nearby neighbors.

Such a festival would give our society in a regular, chosen rhythm what only a few cities now experience, and only in a random, unchosen way. For such “festivals” now occur only when a great blizzard clogs the whole town with snow. Observers report that the first reaction is panic, an hysterical attempt to get to work. When it becomes clear that no one can work, a mood of joy and festive calm spreads across the city. Everyone shares: food, stories, emergency assistance. People play in the snow.

It is a day of unemployment but in a mood of holiday, holy day. Much more a holy day, in fact, than most of the commercialized holidays that have been made occasions not of rest but of turning on the “consumption economy.”

How could we begin a “miniature” Shmitah, before the nation as a whole is ready to “waste” its time?

Suppose that in a few cities, a group of synagogues, mosques,  and churches held a Shmitah Festival for three days (Friday through Sunday), or for nine (Friday through the next week into the next Sunday).

Such a Shmitah Festival would address the economic, political, and spiritual renewal of the city and its neighborhoods ——

  • by inviting co-ops and worker managed firms, innovative small businesses, etc., to explain their work;
  • by demonstrating equipment for energy conservation and the local generation of solar and wind renewable energy;
  • by turning empty lots or part of the church, synagogue, or mosque grounds into communal vegetable gardens;
  • by holding workshops on how tenants can buy apartment houses and turn them into co ops;
  • by setting up a temporary food co op and helping people organize a more permanent one, etc.
  • by sharing home-cooked foods, songs, dances, story telling, , etc.
  • by gathering people to discuss in open town meetings some of the major issues of our society: schools, energy, jobs, climate, prices, families, etc. and how to apply the Shmitah approach to them in national and international as well as local and neighborhood ways.
  • It would encourage all the people of the neighborhood to pool and exchange their talents, skills, and memories.

Obviously this would not be a one-to-one transcription of the Biblical Shmitah, even for nine days; but it would be an experiment in translating the Shmitah into modern terms. Approaches that began or were stimulated by the Shmitah Festival would continue and grow through the year. Their work would intertwine the day-to-day problems of people in the neighborhood with study of both the Biblically rooted religious traditions and the modern analytical knowledge of social relations.

People who experienced just a glimpse of the Shmitah could use that moment to begin imagining how to translate the Shmitah into post modern practice. And they could start building the political power that could bring about the kinds of change that they imagine.

How to get the Shmitah Festival process going? In a given city, some of the rabbis, ministers, priests, imams, and also the lay members of synagogues, havurot, churches, mosques probably know who in the various religious communities share the vision.

If they created a local Shmitah Committee and got a few congregations to agree to host or to sponsor the Shmitah Festival, the project would grow through outreach to co-ops, labor unions, innovative businesses, etc., and to singers, dancers, story tellers, and cooks of the local traditions.

In all these practical proposals, there is an underlying thread of belief: that “ritual” and “politics,” should not be separated from each other, but rather intertwined. This may seem fuzzy-minded to the practical politician and irreverent to the ritually observant; but those responses are both symptoms of the modern age.

The Shmitah passages in the Bible teach that the most effective politics has a powerful ritual element in it, engaging not only material interests but deep emotional, intellectual, and spiritual energies; and that when ritual is made fully communal and focused on reality, it becomes precisely politics.

Luckily, as we tremble on the edge of the Global Scorching precipice, the year that begins this fall with Rosh Hashanah (September 24-26) will be a Shmitah/ Sabbatical Year, according to the ancient count so carefully kept for millennia. The notes below suggest how we can take the time from now till then to study the Biblical sources and modern thought on the Sabbatical/Shmitah cycle, and then to act.

For study is powerful — if it leads to action. Not only Jews but all communities could benefit from  this study — and from the action we can learn from it. For a full chapter on Shmitah and Jubilee from my book  Godwrestling — Round 2  (Jewish Lights, 1996), click here for

  The book is available from The Shalom Center by clicking to

For a treasury of articles applying the principles of the Shmitah/Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee to our own societies, click to

And for other readings from the Hebrew Bible & related materials toward a Shmitah Economics::

Strand on the Sabbatical Year / Shmitah

Ex. 23: 9-12
Lev 25: 1-55
Lev. 26: 33-35, 43-45
Deut. 15: 1-18
Isaiah 58: 1-14
Isaiah 61: 1-11
Jeremiah 32: 6-44
Jeremiah 34: 8-22
II Chron. 36: 20-21

Strand on Shabbat, Eden, and Eden for Grown-Ups

Gen 2: 1-4
Gen. 2: 14-19
Ex 16: 13- 36
Ex. 20: 8-11
Deut 5: 12-15
Song of Songs (translations by Marcia Falk or Chana & Ariel Bloch or Shefa Gold)

Strand on “Corners,” Gleaning, etc.

Ex 23: 20 to 24: 9
Lev. 19: 9-10, 23: 22
Deut 24: 10- 20
Book of Ruth

Abraham J. Heschel, The Sabbath (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1951).
Erich Fromm, The Forgotten Language (1951), Appendix on the Sabbath; You Shall Be as Gods (1966), chapter on the Sabbath.
Arthur Waskow, Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex, and the Rest of Life (Morrow, 1995), pp. 148-152, 162-165, 353-381.
Arthur Waskow, Godwrestling — Round 2 (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1996),  The book is available from The Shalom Center by clicking to

See also Luke 4 in the Christian Gospels and John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, on Jesus’ call for a Shmitah or a Jubilee.

For a guide to study and action in response to the Torah of shmitah, see
For an intensely text-focused analysis of the Biblical tradition of shmitah, Shmitah, and the Eden story, see Rabbi David Seidenberg’s writing at Shmitah-and-the-Land-Ethic


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