Thus Summer, We Face Deep Decisions of Spirit in Society
Dear members and friends of The Shalom Center,
First -- A last-minute addition to this letter: I have just this morning (July 14) been on the phone with a reporter for Haaretz, the leading Israeli newspapaer, interviewing me about my response to the agreement just achieved between Iran and the world's great powers, including the US, for tough, intrusive, and inclusive inspections to make sure that the world knows as fact what Iran has long claimed: that it will not take possesion of nuclear weapons.
[See a copy of the article on our Website at https://theshalomcenter.org/content/haaretz-article-iran-agreement-shalom-center, with photos, etc, on the Haaretz website at http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-news/.premium-1.666129. To see it on the Haaretz website, you may have to register as a reader.]
In the interview, I quoted the Torah (Deut 20:10-11) that says if you besiege a city (which is what the sanctions have been), proclaim SHALOM to it, and if it then agrees to decent terms that meet your conditions and fulfill your crucial needs, make sure it adheres to them and end the siege.
That is what this agreement does.
The Israeli and Saudi governments have denouncd the new agreement. They are profoundly mistaken. There will be attempts by some Members of Congress -- with support from a few "official" Jewish organizations -- to torpedo the agreement. They too are profoundly mistaken.
I understand how it is easy for the Israeli Jewish community, for whom the Holocaust is a constant nightmare in the constant present, to be consumed by fear when an increasingly right-wing government appeals to that fear to increase its own power (as PM. Netanyahu did just before the election). But neither Israel nor the world-wide Jewish people is powerless, a helpless victim, in this generation.
And the great majority of actual flesh-and-blood American Jews know this, and support the agreement with Iran.
Protection of the State of Israel from possible nuclear attack is one major concern of the American Jewish community. And most of the comunity knows that there are only two ways of making sure that Iran lives up to its stated intention not to possess nuclear weapons: to affirm the new agreement with its extraordinarily tough inspections, or to undertake a military attack on Iran.
Such an attack might win a momentary victory. But Iran's government would then seek nuclear weaponry to deter future attacks. Only a continuing, probably permanent, occupation — constantly harassed by guerrilla warfare from a furious and united Iranian people — could prevent their government’s achieving a nuclear arsenal. Such a war would be far worse for the US, Israel, and the whole Middle East than the Iraq War was.”
Yet those who lied us into the Iraq war are pursuing the same disastrous path now. And this time the disaster would be even greater. A foreign-affairs disaster for the US, a domestic American disaster to meeting crucial civilan needs, disastrous deaths for soldiers and civilians in many nations, an ethical and moral disaster.
I urge all our members and readers to call and write your Members of Congress and Senators now, urging them to support the new agreement. I encourage us all to make clear the religious roots of our commitment, and the importance of this decision.
Below you will find
my thoughts -- what I had already written before this morning -- about the inter-relationships of the Iran agreement, the history of nuclear arms races since hiroshima, the memory of the destruction of ancient Temples in Jerusalem, and the hope of preventing the destruction of Temple Earth in the next generation.
In this Shalom Report I want to share some thoughts with you about –
- the end of Ramadan and the coming of Eid-al-Fitr, the break-fast festival, this coming weekend;
- Tisha B’Av, the anniversary of the destruction of two Holy Temples in Jerusalem, 2500 and 2000 years ago;
- and Hiroshima/ Nagasaki Days, the anniversary of the atomic-bombing of two cities 70 years ago.
I especially want to explore the meanings of these sacred times today.
An extraordinary Ramadan – the Muslim month of fasting and spiritual reflection -- comes to an end this week, and the Feast of Eid-al-Fitr – according to astronomical calculations of the New Moon -- begins this Thursday evening, the 16th of July. (Some Muslims follow the ancient tradition of actually sighting the New Moon, and in North America that may mean Eid-al-Fitr begins one day later.)
For centuries in Morocco, Jews have prepared the first meal for Muslims at the end of the Ramadan fast, and Muslims baked the first bread for Jews at the end of Passover. A custom worth renewing in our own country, in our own generation!
In the Jewish calendar, the New Moon means the fateful month of Av is beginning. Tisha B’Av -- the ninth day of Av -- is the midsummer anniversary of the Destruction of two Holy Temples. It is observed by fasting and by chanting in a wailing, mournful melody the Book of Lamentations, called in Hebrew “Eicha – How sorrowful!”
This year, since the Ninth of Av falls on Shabbat when fasting is prohibited, the anniversary will be observed beginning Saturday evening, July 25.
I felt in this Ramadan the best spiritual energy of Islam radiating into the broader world.
On the first day of Ramadan, two contradictory events: the bloody brutal racist massacre of worshippers in Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC, and the giving–forth of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the threat of climate crisis to all Creation, the only home we have.
The Pope went deep into the spiritual roots beneath a scientific, political, and economic analysis of the destructive path of the world economy. The root of these disasters, he said, is the warped misdirection of the human spirit in our generation.
The encyclical was deeply in tune with the best energy of Ramadan; the massacre, of course, directly opposite. But – almost as if Ramadan itself sent forth its healing -- the massacre was turned into the occasion for a national outpouring of grief and of determination to face and move beyond what the President call the “original sin” of the United States – slavery and its racist legacy.
And the President not only invoked but sang the hymn “Amazing Grace,” which itself came from the redemption of a former slave-ship captain into an anti-slavery organizer. God’s grace, the President said, is a free gift to us; and we must use it well by acting to heal the wounds of our inheritance.
And we saw the US Supreme Court act to protect the physical health of millions who need medical care and the spiritual health of millions of gay men and lesbians who seek the spiritual dignity and solace of marriage.
Now we move into a more troubling time of year, fraught with memories of mass destruction, ancient and modern -- and with God’s outcry for us to turn from destruction to creating the Beloved Community.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the only time nuclear warheads were used as an act of war, in the bombings of the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki executed by the US Air Force on August 6 and August 9, 1945. The consequence of these infernoes were the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and victims who are still suffering from resulting illnesses.
In the first years of The Shalom Center, from 1983 to about 1990, we addressed the issue of nuclear weapons as no “normal” issue of war and peace, of arms “races” for “military superiority.” We focused on the truth that these weapons pointed toward the shattering of human civilization, billions of deaths, and even the danger of ending photosynthesis (and therefore all life) by clouding Earth with dust so thick that sunlight could not penetrate.
We drew on ancient Jewish midrash about the danger of a “Flood of Fire,” and we spoke not of nuclear war but of a Nuclear Holocaust. In a “normal” arms race, we pointed out, making more weapons might give one nation a military advantage over another. But with H-bombs, each one would add to the flames that could engulf us all.
The Jewish fast-and-mourning day of Tisha B’Av, the midsummer anniversary of the Destruction of two Holy Temples in Jerusalem, always comes close to and sometimes exactly on either August 6 or August 9 -- Hiroshima and Nagasaki Days.
So long ago we began connecting our mourning for the ancient Temples with our modern mourning for Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Earth. We invoked the “Rainbow Sign” as the symbol of hope and commitment at the end of Noah’s Flood, the anniversary of the Rainbow (27 Iyyar, in the spring), and Shabbat Noach (in the fall) as symbols and action-times for efforts to get rid of H-bombs and prevent a world-wide Flood of Fire.
But instead of learning these lessons and banning these weapons, the great political powers took part in what they saw as an arms race to outdo each other in the numbers of weapons of mass destruction. Other countries tried (and in some cases succeeded) to come into possession of military nuclear technology. And Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), calling for swift and complete disarmament of nuclear weapons, though legally binding has been ignored by the Nuclear-Weapon-States.
On the other hand, today we are at the edge of a great diplomatic step forward in making sure that Iran stands by its own assertion that it will not try to possess nuclear weapons – by arranging for intrusive international inspections.
These are planned to be even more intrusive and thorough than the ones that kept Iraq under Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons. Though the evidence was very convincing that these inspections were indeed working, the Bush-Cheney Administration lied about them to “justify” a war that was overwhelmingly destructive to Iraq and deeply damaging to the domestic life and the foreign policy of the United States, a war that led to the creation of ISIS and to the official use of torture by the US government – utterly unpunished, so far.
Meanwhile, an increasingly right-wing, aggressive government of Israel refuses to discuss proposals for a nuclear-free Middle East in which the sizeable Israeli nuclear arsenal would be ended as part of a broader peace agreement, just as that government refuses to discuss the Arab League’s proposal for a full regional peace treaty.
These refusals endanger Israeli society and real live Israelis, both Jewish and of Palestinian culture. They threaten to subject Israel to the ravages of repeated war and the alienation of wider and wider circles of the friendly world.
And also meanwhile, as the danger of Nuclear Holocaust receded because of the collapse of the Soviet Union, we learned much more about the threat of global scorching to the Earth-wide web of life and of human society. We have learned to take seriously the grim poetic lines from T. S Eliot: “This is the way the world ends – not with a bang but a whimper.” A new version of the Flood of Fire.
So there needs to be a public movement to rekindle efforts to abolish nuclear weaponry and to end the burning of fossil fuels.
For Jews, connecting Tisha B’Av to these events is especially poignant. This can be done both by bringing Tisha B’Av into Hiroshima Day, and by bringing Hiroshima Day into Tisha B’Av,:
- By fasting and chanting parts of Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, in its special wailing melody, on Hiroshima Day, joining it to the traditional commemoration of these destructions by drawing on Japanese custom to fold paper cranes and lanterns, perhaps writing in them prayers for peace, and floating them on the calm and calming waters of a lake.
- By bringing into Tisha B’Av our grief over the ongoing destruction of Temple Earth -- the universal Temple of all Humankind and all the Life-forms of our planet.
Five years ago, during the summer of the BP oil-well blow-up in the Gulf of Mexico, The Shalom Center sponsored a multicultural, multi-religious gathering of rebuke on the steps of the US Capitol. We commissioned Tamara Cohen, then our Barbara Bick Memorial Fellow, now a Rabbi, to create an Eicha for Temple Earth, a lament to be chanted to the ancient wailing melody. Here is how it begins:
Eicha: Alas! -- she sits in danger. Earth, home to multitudes, like a beloved, deep in distress.
Blue ocean, source of life -- Endangered and imprisoned.
Bitterly she weeps in the night Her shorelines wet with tears. Of all her friends, none to comfort her; All her allies have betrayed her.
Checkerspot butterflies flee their homes; Polar bears can find no rest. Because our greed has heated Earth.
Whole communities destroyed To pursue off-shore oil. Lives and dreams have been narrowed.
Coastlines mourn for families, lost homes and livelihoods. Barrier islands lament, desolate;
Wetlands sigh without their song birds …
We invite you to bring this modern analogue into your observance of Tisha B’Av. If you do, please consider helping The Shalom Center to keep developing such resources, with your tzedakah – a gift of social responsibility. Please click on the “Donate” button on the left margin of this page.
With thanks and blessings that your gift for healing Mother Earth will bring a response of healing into your own life.