Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

Spread over All of Us a Sukkah of Shalom!

Words by Reb Arthur; melody by Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfeld, may his meemory be for a blessing

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Blessings to us all as the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot begins tonight — a festival rich in meaning for all Humanity and all of Earth.

(To expand on the song graphic,click on it.)
There are two major symbols of Sukkot – both evocative of a close relationship between human beings and the Earth. (In Hebrew, “earthy humus” is adamah, which gives birth to adam – human earthlings. See Gen 2: 7.)

One of these symbols is that we build  sukkot — fragile, temporary “homes” with leafy, leaky roofs.

Traditionally, families would eat and sleep in these fragile huts for seven days.

Our evening prayers say to the Holy One Who is the Breath of Life — Ufros aleinu sukkat sh’lomecha; Spread Over Us the Sukkah of Your Peace.”

Why does the prayer seek a “sukkah of shalom,” rather than a strong fortress, a tower, a palace, a temple, even a more stable, solid house of shalom?

Precisely because the sukkah is a vulnerable hut —  vulnerable in space and time. See attached a poster from 40 years ago, redolent of that teaching in one of the earliest actions sponsored by The Shalom Center.

In political-military fact and in spiritual truth, we all live lives that are vulnerable, though we often pretend that steel and concrete and toughness will protect us. (See 9/11/01 for evidence to the contrary.) If as the Prophet Dylan wrote, “A Hard Rain Gonna Fall,” no tower will shield us.

Only if we can all recognize that we all live in a vulnerable sukkah can we be at peace with our selves and each other. Our graphic of a Sukkot song that celebrates this vulnerability can be expanded by clicking on it.

(Please note — The words of this song are mine, but the melody is not, despite the  note above. It follows, with different words,  the melody of a sukkah song by Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfeld, whose memory is a blessing.)

The other symbol is that we wave a bundle of three sets of branches and one fruit in the seven directions of the universe  — left, right, up, down, forward, behind – and Inward.  (Seeing it as seven directions, not just six, is the teaching of Rabbi Shefa Gold.)  This wave-offering on Sukkot is the last survival of the many wave-offerings at the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.

The branches of myrtle, willow, and palm are held in one hand;  a small lemony fruit – the etrog or citron in the other. Then they are ceremoniously united by bringing the two hands together.

There is clearly some erotic/sexual/ earthy/ ”pagan” element in this unification of what is long and wavy with what is small, juicy, and fragrant.  (As Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi once said, “If we do it, it’s not ‘pagan.’”)

The etrog looks like the Hebrew letter “Yod,” which is a small dot-like letter. (Its name gave rise to the words “iota” and “jot” to denote something tiny.)  The long stiff palm branch looks like the Hebrew letter “Vav.”  The myrtle and willow branches, soft and curvy, look like the Hebrew letter “Hei.”  So together these four make the “word” Yod-Hei-Vav-Hei, the four-letter name of God – YHWH.

Waving the four in unison, the ancient Rabbis taught, made visible and tactile and earthy the name of God.

But there’s an oddity. The way the four species are held in the hands of the waver, with the etrog for “Yod” in the left hand, if the letters are read from right to left as they should be in Hebrew,  they would spell the Name backward – HWHY.  That word, pronounced “Hawayah,”  means “Being, Existence.”  One fitting metaphor for God, but not the same as the traditional Name.

The only way in which we can see the name in its ancient form is if someone else is watching as the waver waves. Seen from “opposite,” Encountering, the Name does read from right to left as “YHWH.” Only in I-Thou relationship does the Name appear.

For me, one of the richest teachings of this wave-offering came from my son, David Waskow, when he was ten years old and waved the branches for the first time. I asked him how it felt, and he answered: “I felt like I was a tree. I could hear the wind in my own branches, I could smell my own fruit!”

When the Torah forbids the wanton cutting-down of the “enemy’s” trees in time of war, it asks the question, “Is the tree human?” (Deut. 20: 19–20.)

The answer is Yes. A teaching for our generation.


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Yom Kippur/ St. Francis/ Eid al-Idha: Invoking Universal Unity

In every year, Yom Kippur calls us beyond the ordinary. Jewish tradition calls it Shabbat shabbaton: sabbatical rest to the exponential power of reflective restfulness.

Yet this year, even fuller: For Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat. And this whole year, the Shmita year when adam (human earthlings) are to share rest with adamah (earthy humus), is called by the Torah Shabbat shabbaton. To how many exponential levels does that take us?

And this year, it doesn’t even stop there. For just as Jews are observing the Great Fast, Muslims are observing their Great Feast – Eid al-Idha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, in memory of how Ibrahim prepared to offer up his son Ismail in response to God’s calling, when at the last moment the Holy Voice told him to relent and he offered up a ram instead. This memory, of course, shares the story that Jews have just told on Rosh Hashanah– with the differences that often arise in how different branches of a family remember a powerful family story.

Traditionally, on Eid al-Idha Muslim families buy a lamb to be slaughtered and divide its meat in thirds — one-third to the immediate family, one-third to the extended family, one-third to the poor — a teaching that might be heard as “Do not kill your children; feed the poor!” A teaching to us all about war and compassion. A physical act carrying the same message as the Isaiah Haftarah for Yom Kippur.

And even more! October 4 is for Catholics and many other Christians the day for remembering and honoring St. Francis of Assisi. The present Pope chose to affirm Francis not only in naming himself but in living simply and preaching compassionately. St. Francis went to Cairo to study with Muslims how they prayed, in order to deepen his own prayer. He committed a holy act of both heresy and treason by opposing the Crusades. And he was deeply in touch with the more-than-human life of all the Earth.

What’s more –- I can hardly believe the fullness of this convergence – this coming Sunday, October 5, is in the practice of the World Council of Churches “World Communion Sunday.” The different Protestant churches view Communion in different ways, but all the members of the WCC have agreed to celebrate and honor it once a year on the same Sunday.

So this is a moment when the Abrahamic communities all yearn toward a universal Unity. And this is the year when we see the beginnings of a Great Turning toward healing of the Earth, in societies — especially the United States –— that have before this shrugged off the unifying connection between adam and adamah.

In honor of this deep tug toward the truth of our interconnectedness, I have written the Invocation that follows. It is rooted in the Jewish invocation of God’s Oneness, called the Sh’ma – but goes even further into a universal phrasing. It draws especially on the second paragraph of the Sh’ma, which insists that the Flow of life in rain and rivers, wind and wheat, continues only if we stay aware and act upon the Interbreathing of all life.

We offer it in the hope that all communities of faith and Spirit might find it healing in this weekend, this year, this life.

Invocation of the Universal Unity:

Hush’sh’sh and Listen, all peoples –
Pause from your busy-ness
and hush’sh’sh
To hear — Yahhhhhh,
The One Breath of Life –
For all breath is One:

We breathe in what the trees breathe out,
And the trees breathe in what we breathe out.

Hear in the stillness the still silent voice,
The silent breathing that intertwines life.

If we Breathe in the quiet,
Interbreathe with all Life
Still small Voice of us all ——
We will feel the Connections;
We will make the connections
And the rain will fall rightly
The grains will grow rightly
And the rivers will run:
All creatures will eat well in harmony,
Earthlings / good Earth.

But if we break the One Breath into pieces
And erect into idols these pieces of Truth,
And choose these mere pieces to worship:
gods of race or of nation
gods of wealth and of power,
gods of greed and addiction –
Big Oil or Big Coal –
If we Do and we Make and Produce

without Pausing to Be;

If we heat the One Breath with our burnings —
Then the Breath will flare up into scorching,
The corn will parch in the field,
The poor will find little to eat,
Great ice fields will melt
And great storms will erupt:
Floods will drown our homes and our cities,
And the Breath, Holy Wind, Holy Spirit
Will become a Hurricane of Disaster.

What must we do?
Connect what we see with our eyes
To what we do with our hands.
Turn to sun and to wind
To empower all peoples.

Then the grass will grow,
The forests will flourish,
And all life will weave the future in fullness.

Honor the web that all of us weave —
Breathe together the Breath of all Life.

[The community simply breathes quietly for several minutes, staying aware that each breath comes from all Breath.]


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

The Ocean of Humanity: 300,000+ call for Climate Action Now!

This photo by Jon Fein, echoing one of the prayers of Yom Kippur, shows Reb Arthur with Terry Kardos and her sign aboard Noah’s Ark at the People’s Climate March, 9/21/14]

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My heart is full.

Yesterday, the great People’s Climate March felt to me like Shabbat Shabbaton – –  Sabbath to the exponential power of Sabbath. Not a Shabbat of contemplation only,  but of contemplation and celebration woven of joy in doing the deepest work.

(Click on the photo to expand it. In addition to the photos here, see others at> and>)

I took joy in joining with more than 300,000 people  — some mainstream media are saying 400,000! —  including my son and two of my grandchildren, to do what my heart, my mind, my body had been yearning to do for many many years. (The grandchildren are not incidental; I have them always in mind as I do this work.) That is, to awaken the Jewish people, all communities of faith and spirit, and all peoples to the truth that we are facing the deepest crisis of all human history and that our traditions, ancient and renewed, carry the wisdom of how to meet that crisis.

First came the emergence of a branch of the March for involving Communities of Faith and Spirit. Pat Almonrode of was crucial in bringing us together, and Rev. Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith was superb in guiding our planning. Mirele Goldsmith, director of Hazon’s Jewish Greening Fellowship, joined with The Shalom Center to begin the organizing of the Jewish contingent — which we grew into more than 80 organizations, ultimately including the Union for Reform Judaism,  its Religious Action Center, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Then a small subcommittee of us shaped an extraordinary prayer service. It began with celebration of our awesome Earth, continued with lamentation for her wounds, and went from there into active hope – – our commitment to act to heal our Mother Earth. The service was skillfully led by Fletcher Harper and was infused with music  — the world-renowned cellist Michael Fitzpatrick, gospel singer Roosevelt Credit, Peter Yarrow, Neshama Carlebach.

I had the role of chanting  an English-language lament for the Earth,  written by Rabbi Tamara Cohen  for The Shalom Center several years ago,  in the mode of the ancient Hebrew Book of Lamentations, mourning the Babylonian Empire’s destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem 2500 years ago. That destruction was repeated by the destruction of the rebuilt Temple by the Roman Empire 2000 years ago.

I prefaced my chanting of the Lament first, as I always begin when I speak, by welcoming the gathered community  — ‘Shalom  — —  salaam — —  peace   —.”  The crowd responded  “Shalom  — —  salaam — —  peace   —.” And then suddenly it came to me to add something new: I added “Earth– – Earth– – – Earth– – – – “ and to this too, to each “Earth” with fuller force and energy, the assembled community responded “Earth!” I think I will be doing this from now on.

Then I  explained about the ancient Book of Lamentations. I said that it is the habit of great empires to destroy what is sacred in all worlds. I said that today we face Imperial corporations, corporate empires, that are wounding and destroying the One Temple of all cultures, traditions, all our communities, and all life forms – – the Temple of our Earth. There was a roar of response from our assembled community of worship when I said that.

I turned to the 30 or so shofar-blowers who had assembled at the foot of the stage. I called out “Tekiah!” and they blew the long blast of the Ram’s Horn to say, “Sleepers, Awake!”  At the end of the Lament I called out “Tekiah gedolah!” and there came an even longer blast. And of course our whole March was a great “Tekiah!”

In the service, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling  led an an extraordinary moment of silent meditative visualization — for each of us, picturing of our most beloved place and time on Earth — the place we would most deeply grieve if we were to lose it as the Earth’s wounds worsen. Two minutes of utter silence of thousands of people gathered in the busy, noisy, hypermetropolis of New York City — an amazing moment Reb Mordechai induced!

And when our service was completed, the 10,000+ of us who had assembled on a long long block of New York City as Communities of Faith and Spirit joined the larger March. We were led by an extraordinary Noah’s Ark, built by students of the Auburn Theological Seminary under the leadership of Isaac Luria. I was able to join the thirty people who actually rode aboard the Ark. From that vantage point I was able to see the ocean of humanity that was pouring out to heal the oceans, the rivers, the clouds and mountains, the air and earth, the many many species, that make up the interwoven ecosystems of our planet.

I was able to see and often to reach out and clasp hands with people walking in the great March whom I had taught, whom I had learned from,  whom I love and who made clear that they love me. Jay Michaelson, who was also aboard the Ark, told me to look out upon my legacy. I laughed and quoted – – I think it was Muhammad Ali – – who said “I ain’t dead yet.”  But if I were, that extraordinary yesterday would leave me feeling well fulfilled.

My heart indeed is full.

But indeed I ain’t dead yet, and my mind continues to stir forward into what we need to do. The March can become a turning point, but only if we make it that by our actions in the months and years ahead.

The day before the March, Phyllis and I took part in the gathering of about 250 religious leaders from all around the world, a gathering called “Religions for the Earth,” sponsored by Union Theological Seminary, the World Council of Churches, and several other major religious organizations. The gathering was wonderful in making possible, both in formal sessions and in lunchtime shmoozing, the sharing of perspectives from the many traditions, both the “world religions” and indigenous peoples.

One aspect of it was disappointing. The original invitation had said the gathering would come forth with a call to the religious communities of all the world concerning the crucial international session in Paris at the end of 2015 at which all governments will decide or fail to take the steps necessary to begin the healing of our wounded Mother Earth. But it turned out that the effort to draft such a statement beforehand became, in the view of the organizers,  too complicated. So there was no way to come to a collective affirmation of what we need to do. The WCC did issue a statement and invite signatures, with a call for action by communities of faith and spirit, but without a clear plan or even suggested specific alternative suggestions for action.

Religions for the Earth also sponsored an evening prayer service after the March. It was held in the towering Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and about 3000 people took part. Its central theme was an individual and collective commitment,  a covenant among us to go forth and act. As a symbol of commitment, each of us was invited to pick up stone from a collection of hundreds that had been prepared ahead of time, and to then take our stone to a place of commitment, the stone a symbol that we were committed to act in accord with an intention that we had  placed upon the stone.

My stone was sharp and powerful, and what came to me was that with this stone, David slew Goliath. The young, small, almost naked shepherd boy destroyed the giant clothed in armor, carrying a giant sword. The commitment I placed upon my stone was to kill no human being, but to resist and dissolve those giant armored, beweaponed corporations that are wreaking havoc on our Earth. Despite the US Supreme Court, corporations are not persons. They were not created in the image of God, as human beings are. We must make them serve YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life, and not destroy it — and those corporations that are irreparable versions of Pharaoh we must dissolve as Pharaoh’s Army dissolved in the red Reed Sea.

Yesterday 300,000 of us gathered unarmed, unarmored, open to sun and wind. We were, we are, an ocean of Davids. We celebrate the Breath of Life, and we must act to end its being choked and strangled by the burning Carbon Pharaohs of today.

The specifics of what we can do I will leave till tomorrow. Today — a time to kvell, to celebrate what we have done already.

Shalom, salaam, peace; Earth, Earth, Earth!  —  


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

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> >

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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: 


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