Shabbat Nachamu & Scorpions on parade

Shabbat Nachamu & Scorpions on parade

What is the comfort that comes from the Shabbat after Tisha B'Av, the anniversary of the Destruction of the Temple? What does it have to do with feeling comfortable, and what does it have to do with scorpions?

Rabbi Shefa Gold taught here (Elat Chayyim) on Erev Shabbat Nachamu ("Comfort") that the deep place of comfort that God offers and we seek (see the Isaiah chapter 40 haftarah for this past Shabbat) is comfort so deep that we can live with discomfort — not live with other people's pain as if it needed no healing, but live with the discomfort we bring into our own lives if we seek to make healing happen.
As for scorpions — see below. I'll come back to the "comfort" question.

On a local list of fairly independent-minded Philadelphians less than a week ago, one of the pieces of evidence cited for finding the Republican Natl Convention protesters less deserving of help than other (unnamed) folks in trouble, and one of the pieces of evidence cited as proof that the Ruckus Society was not really nonviolent, was that the protesters had brought dozens of scorpions, tarantulas, etc into the city —
If not to mount a vicious attack, what for?
We now know the answer to this question.The Philadelphia Inquirer of Saturday Aug 12 reports:
Clergy question treatment of protesters
By Julie Stoiber and Linda Loyd
On Day 2 of the Republican National Convention, Marc Miclette was making a delivery to a pet store in a bright red school bus crammed with snakes and lizards. Without warning, Philadelphia police pulled him over on Frankford Avenue in Mayfair, and, with guns drawn, ordered him out and confiscated his bus and cargo.

Yesterday, Miclette got his bus and most of his 1,000 animals back. Police said they mistakenly believed he was another protester in town to add to the mayhem that erupted across the city Aug. 1.

Miclette was "a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Sgt. Earl Schoen of the Northeast Detectives. "It's unfortunate he was caught up" and associated with the RNC protests.

"He wasn't involved at all with these groups," Schoen said, "but we didn't know that at the time."


Miclette, 39, who owns a reptile wholesale business outside Burlington, Vt., was among those rounded up by police, along with a colleague, Walter Collins.

"They were in our face," said Miclette, who spent the night of Aug. 1 in police custody. "They thought we were terrorists."

A red bus similar to Miclette's was used in violent protests in Seattle in December during the World Trade Organization meetings. Police stopped his bus after spotting pipes and other ventilation equipment in its back window which they believed were to be used in street protests, Miclette said.

After police pulled Miclette over, they ordered him to turn off the bus, despite his protests that the animals would die in the heat. When several animals became dehydrated, and one died, police charged him with animal cruelty, Miclette said.

The charge has been downgraded to a summary offense.

After paying a fine to the Pennsylvania Game Commission yesterday, he recovered most of his menagerie from the Philadelphia Zoo, where the animals had been kept.

He was prohibited from taking 12 skunks, which are barred by law from being brought into Pennsylvania, and 17 scorpions and three tarantulas, which are barred in Philadelphia under a city ordinance.

Miclette said he planned to head for Virginia to make more deliveries.

"I've got to continue, or I'm going to go bankrupt," he said. "It's been a nightmare."

The story goes on. More about that later.
Phyllis & I had quite a conversation about this story and the Email list discussion behind it.
When I read the story I was beside myself.

First, for what it said about the Philadelphia police that they made this outrageous arrest in the 1st place, and then their blase, screw-you comment on releasing this businessman's business they had caught up in their wildness.
Second, please note that even in this report, showing how screwed up the police were, the reporters just casually refer to "violent protests in Seattle in December " as if that were the unquestioned truth — why, everybody knows the Seattle protests were violent. How do we know? The police said so.

But 99+% of them weren't.
But far worse — what does it mean that people who are independent-minded, some of whom have records of social protest, took whatever the police said & the media parroted as obvious and unquestioned truth? — even in the midst of protest where the police had a strong interest in making the protesters look as bad as possible?
Why, I said to Phyllis, is it so hard for people to believe that the police MIGHT be lying, that the media MIGHT be lying???

She said: "Because then there is no solid ground under our feet." When I looked stunned, she repeated it: "Where then do we find solid footing for our lives?"

I understand her answer. But I think that if that's it, then we need to go the next step.

Our tradition, including the intense challenge of the Prophets, including BOTH last week's warning passage from Isaiah chapter 1, "Hazon," Vision, and this week's haftarah from Isaiah chapter 40, "Nachamu," Comfort, provide an answer:
The ground beneath our feet is God, YHWH, the deeply mysterioous design embodied in the cycles of the grass beneath our feat, the cycles of the galaxies above, and the cycles of corruption and cleansing in even God's holy city of Jerusalem.

We can stand on the place of high perspective, says today's Prophetic reading, and see what it means for the hills to be made low and the valleys high, what it means for great empires to fall and the humiliated to arise.
And what did we read last Shabbat? — not a paean of praise to "elected officials" but a Prophetic outcry to —
Seek justice!
Help the oppressed!
Defend the orphan!
Befriend the widow!

and a news report on current conditions:
the city that was once fulfilled with transformative justice,
Where upright fairness dwelt —
Now murderers live.

Your rulers are rogues
And cronies of thieves —
Every one avid for bribes,
Greedy for payoffs.
They do not plead for the orphan,
And the widow's case remains lost in the dockets.

Says God of hosts:
I will turn My hand against you,
Smelt out your dross in a crucible,
And remove all your slag.
Then I will restore your judges as of old
And your mayors as in the early days.
Then once again you can be called
City of Upright Justice, Faithful City.

(Above from Isaiah 1, various verses)

We are taught to read this passage just before we remember with grief the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, when the Jewish community of the Land of Isael lost both its sacred comnnection with the land and its sovereign ability to exercise political power in a just and responsible way.

On Tisha B'Av itself, as we recall the Destruction of the Temple, we are supposed to remember that stark equation: If we do not act justly, we lose the power to bring justice about. If we alienate ourselves from the earth, the earth treats us as aliens: we lose touch with her.

THAT, says Isaiah on behalf of God, is the ground beneathg our feet. Not even, not ever, says Isaiah 40, is the ground beneath our feet even the most beautiful, intricately designed statue. Not the most gorgeous, complex, swift, & computerized automoble.

And even the most intricately designed set of public officials — for a city government can become just another beautiful idol, if we stop questioning it.
What does it mean to question the officials of "Jerusalem" — in this case, Philadelphia?

Back to the story in the Inquirer:


In related events yesterday, clergymen from three faiths who visited protesters at prisons in the Northeast said they believed demonstrators' accounts of being roughed up at Police Headquarters and in precinct houses immediately after their arrests.

Police Commissioner John F. Timoney again denied allegations of police brutality, calling the protesters' stories "so much propaganda."

Police arrested 391 protesters during the convention. Yesterday, 38 were still in custody, prison spokesman Robert Eskind said. Court proceedings continued yesterday for protesters jailed during the convention, but some remained in prison, unable to make bail or unwilling to give their names.
Clergy members who visited protesters said the stories they heard yesterday and in the last week seemed too consistent to be fabricated.

"We're fairly sure, from the stories we've heard, that there were abuses," said the Rev. Benjamin Maucere of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia.

"I don't think, in the Roundhouse, we can doubt there was police brutality," Rabbi Mordechai Liebling said after talking with two protesters at the House of Corrections. "There's no way those people could coordinate their stories."

"The stories just all match up," said David Watt, of the Society of Friends, who visited a protester at the House of Correction, and who has met with dozens of demonstrators at the Friends Meeting Center in Center City. "The cops were pretty good out on the streets, but once out of the public eye, there are outrageous stories of abuse."

Clerics said protesters told them they saw people dragged, stomped and threatened with rape at the Roundhouse.

Timoney disputed those reports.

"I can't say what every cop was doing 24 hours a day, but we had supervisors down there," he said. "We allowed lawyers and medical people to visit them."

One protester, Darby Landy, who was being held on $450,000 bail at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on felony charges of attacking Timoney and another officer near Rittenhouse Square, told Mr. Maucere that a gash on his forehead sustained during his arrest went untreated for half a day. During that time, he said, he was made to sit on a concrete floor in handcuffs.

Timoney denied Landy was injured during his arrest. "I was in court with him the other day and there was not a mark on him."

The religious contingent of five clergy went to the prison complex yesterday at the urging of two groups: Unity 2000, which organized a peaceful march at the start of the convention, and Training for Change, which taught nonviolent protest tactics to demonstrators before the convention.

Rabbi Brian Walt met with a male prisoner at the Detention Center who is on a hunger strike.
That inmate told Rabbi Walt that at the Roundhouse, he saw a police officer step on a woman's neck until she turned blue.

Also yesterday, during a news conference in Center City, several women recently released from jail described what they said were excesses by police.

They said some protesters had offered to give their names but were ignored for several days and were automatically assigned as John Does and Jane Does.

Sandra Barros, 29, of New York, said she was arrested inside a warehouse in West Philadelphia during a raid Aug. 1, then was charged with blocking an intersection.The women said they were not read their rights and were not informed that they were under arrest until two or three days into their detentions.


Thank God — I mean this literally, of course — for Rabbis Liebling & Walt, Rev Maucere, and Friend Watt.
Shavua tov, Arthur

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