Solar Co-ops: Healing Home, Neighborhood, & Planet

Repairing the World with Solar

By Anya Schoolman*

[This is the second in our series on how congregations can take steps to heal the Earth from the climate crisis.

[Anya Schoolman is now the executive director of Solar United Neighbors, a network that began in Washington DC and has now spread across the country as an inspiration and guide to the creation of many local neighborhood or congregation-based solar co-ops. This is her story of how SUN began and grew.

[Inspired by SUN’s work, The Shalom Center in 2013 sparked the creation of a solar-co-op in our neighborhood in Philadelphia – the Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op (NAPSACK for short).   For information on and from SUN, click to  https://www.solarunitedneighbors.org/  -- AW, editor]

I live in Washington, DC. Solar United Neighbors began in 2007 when my son Walter was searching for a Tikkun Olam project for his bar mitzvah. Shortly thereafter, he and his friend Diego saw the Al Gore film “An Inconvenient Truth”  They decided they wanted to install solar panels on their homes. When I looked into going solar, though, I discovered it was complicated and expensive.

But Walter and Diego would not be talked out of it. I wondered if some sort of bulk purchase might make solar affordable. Diego and Walter knocked on doors throughout their neighborhood. In just two weeks, they signed up 50 neighbors who also wanted to go solar.

That group, the Mt. Pleasant Solar Cooperative, helped 45 neighbors go solar. Participants worked together for their rights as energy producers. They persuaded the D.C. Council to pass legislation that created a local market for solar. They also shared their success with friends and neighbors. Soon after, other neighbors from across the region started organizing solar co-ops and fighting for better solar policies together.

Solar United Neighbors grew out of this movement. The organization has expanded across the country, doing on-the-ground projects and helping communities everywhere take control of their energy. Today, through the implementation of a group purchase—known as a solar co-op --  Solar United Neighbors has helped more than 3,500 homes go solar.

A solar co-op is a group of homeowners in a defined geographic area who use their combined purchasing power to ensure they receive the most competitive solar installation. Solar installers face significant costs finding, qualifying, and educating solar customers.

By forming a group of interested buyers, co-op members ensure the most competitive pricing because the co-op has already done some of the work of finding customers for the installer. Furthermore, solar co-ops allow neighbors to work together to eliminate barriers to roof top solar, like cumbersome permitting requirements, shortsighted HOA rules, or unfair compensation from utilities.

The basics of a solar co-op are simple. Get a group together and learn about solar. Run a competitive bidding process to choose one installer to work for your group. Each participant gets a site visit from the installer and makes an individual decision about whether solar is right for them.

By working in a group, people can support each other, get better prices, get better service, and address problems if they come up. Solar United Neighbors provides technical support to groups hoping to start a solar co-op. In states where they have staff, they can provide complete support for the process from beginning to end. Solar United Neighbors provides educational resources, public information sessions, and one-on-one support for all co-op participants.

Solar United Neighbors has also helped a number of congregations go solar. Many congregations will do a combination of going solar themselves and then organizing a group purchase for their congregation. Others use a solar co-op as a way to introduce the idea of solar to a congregation and help people get comfortable with the technology before the more complicated project of solarizing the congregational building itself.

Robyn Miller-Tarnoff first got interested in solar in high school when she attended a parade featuring solar-powered cars. This sparked her interest in the impact various sources of energy have on the environment.

Fast forward several years: Now a member of Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C., Robyn encouraged her synagogue to decide to install solar on its building. Temple Sinai worked with several other area congregations that were also interested in going solar. Temple Sinai had a 124 KW solar system installed on its roof in 2016. Here is how it looks:

But Robyn and others at the synagogue wanted to do more. Using the synagogue’s installation of a new rabbi as a “teachable moment,” they launched a solar co-op to spread solar not just to congregation members, but to friends and family as well. They worked with Solar United Neighbors, as well as with Congregation Beth El in Bethesda and St. Mark’s Church on Capitol Hill to recruit and educate co-op members.

In total, Robyn estimates more than 225 people were educated about solar by the co-op through information sessions and peer-to-peer contact.

“It felt like a reunion,” Robyn said of the info session, noting how many of her friends and neighbors attended.

More than 50 homes went solar with the group, including Robyn’s.

She had a 12 kW system installed on her roof and estimates that it will offset just about all of her electricity needs.

“We could invest in a mutual fund where you don’t know where your money is going,” she said. “If you’re buying solar, it’s the ultimate local investment.”

Robyn opted for dark-blue panels so that they stand out on her roof. She wants the panels to be a conversation starter.

The conversation has already started within Robyn’s own family. She said she inspired a cousin who lives in California to look into starting a similar solar co-op group in her neighborhood.

Organizing a solar bulk purchase is one of the easiest things a congregation can do for the environment. Going solar isn’t complicated. Going as a group makes it possible to share the work, fight against barriers in the market, and join together for more impact. It is an important step in helping repair the world.

[To add just one more note: We urge that solar co-ops see themselves not only as energy-saving and money-saving groups, not only as planet-healing work; not only, in neighborhoods with high levels of coal dust or oil refineries, as ways to heal from asthma and cancer epidemics; not only as political groups to press for governmental action to heal the planet;  but ALSO as communal groups that gather perhaps once a month to sing, share home cookery, tell stories of their lives. The co-op should be a place of joy as well as justice.--  AW, ed.]

Ring the bells that still can ring!

This line from the Prophet Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem”  goes on ==

Ring the bells that still can ring . . .
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in!

We still can ring the Liberty Bell, but a great crack in the bell prevents our ears from hearing it. It rings in our minds and hearts and souls. The Shalom Center pours light through its crack – the light of the Torah that is quoted on the Bell – the Torah of Leviticus 25, the Shmita/ Sabbatical Year and Jubilee, the light of liberty for all humanity and all the Earth, the liberty of time to rest.  Time for humans to rest from crushing debt. Time to let the Earth rest from burning the carbon that burns the Earth.

 

We devote ourselves to shining new light into and through the cracks in our wounded religious life, our wounded country, our wounded Earth.

And we need your help to do it. With the official “tax year” coming to an end, we need to ask for your tax-deductible contributions for us to go forward in that healing.

Money is frozen energy. It comes from the unfrozen work that you and we do every day. We set it aside, freeze it, ready to thaw and pour into action. To change society, we must unfreeze the energy again. You can unfreeze that money by contributing some to The Shalom Center. Without it, we can’t do that work for change.

I have always made a point of explaining what work we will do with the contributions that you-all send us. I did that in detail a week ago, but I noticed that then the Shalom Report got long and the point got lost. So I want to be brief and pointed:

We put our bodies and our minds on the line. From a spiritual perspective, we inspire new ways of thinking about the great issues of our time. Those new ways of thinking distressed and angered some people, and energized many more.

 We don’t stop there. We initiate new actions that fuse “the spiritual” and “the activist” into one, or One. When we put our bodies on the line, we risked arrest and often actually got arrested. Even in the moment of arrest, we reminded the police that far worse crimes than a nonviolent sit-in are being committed by people who work in the White House, and we asked the police to keep that in mind when they act as citizens doing their civic duty. As the Prophet Leonard also sang:

. . . I can't run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But, they've summoned up
A thundercloud
And they're going to hear from Me.

From us.

There are two closely related Hebrew words: Tzedek means “justice.” It names the work we do to change an unjust law, to create a just community. Tzedakah means “the money we give to help others work for a just society.” Notice that “tzedakah” adds a breathing sound. It is a softer, gentler word than “tzedek.”

The Shalom Center strives to do tzedek. To do that, we need your tzedakah.

Please click on the maroon “Contribute” bar on the left-hand margin of this page.

Thanks! And blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace --  Arthur

Save the Date! 50th Anniversary of Interfaith Freedom Seder

   Sponsored by The Shalom Center 


A treasury of materials from this event is available at https://theshalomcenter.org/freedomseder50
 
 

Sunday April 7, 2019

Dinner - 5pm, Seder - 7pm

Masjidullah

7401 Limekiln Pike, Philadelphia 19138

 Pre-registration required. It will start mid-January at 

https://tinyurl.com/freedomseder50

 


Come co-create an interfaith pre-Passover Seder that transforms the ancient struggle of Israelites from slavery to Pharaoh to confronting the Pharaohs of today:

  • Racism – in official policies of white nationalism, religious bigotry,  and immigration injustice
  • Materialism – in the form of extreme economic inequality and devastation of the Earth
  • Militarism – overseas and at home
  • Sexism – the subjugation of women and LGBTQ people


This Seder’s central symbol is the Globe reframed as matzah, the unleavened bread of fierce urgency for freedom. It symbolizes our sense of the urgent need for global liberation.

 

Seder leaders include: 

  • Reverends William Barber and Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign
  • Ana Maria Archila, director of the Center for Popular Democracy, who confronted Senator Flake in the US Capitol elevator during Kavanaugh nomination hearing
  • Debbie Almontaser, founder of the Khalil Gibran School, survivor and “transcender” of bitter Islamophobic attacks, and founder / director of Bridging Cultures
  • Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center and author of the original Freedom Seder 

 The original Freedom Seder was held in 1969 on the first anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King. It was the first Seder in 3,000 years to weave together the Jewish liberation struggle with other struggles for freedom, especially Black America’s struggle against racism.  


On this 50th anniversary, we will move forward again – taking Dr. King’s clarity, his courage, his commitment into new worlds of freedom, to birth the Beloved Community we all call for.

 Organizations and congregations can co-sponsor.  Email Seder@theshalomcenter.org to learn      about co-sponsoring, live streaming to distant communities, or when registration opens. 

A Tale of Two Pharaohs, Ancient & Right Now

When an ancient story and a modern reality follow the same plot line about unchecked, unaccountable power, you  know you are in the presence of an archetypal insight into the patterns of society. When the ancient story ends in the self-destruction of that tyrannical power by its own over-reach, you know you are in the presence of a profound ethical question: How will we ourselves end the modern story?

Ancient Pharaoh, ca. 2500 BCE  [Translation slightly modified from Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses (Schocken Books)]

"Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh. They said to him: “Thus says YHWH [pronounced without vowels by just breathing, hence the “Breath of Life, the Hurricane of Change], ‘Send free My people, that they might serve Me. But if you refuse to send My people free, here! – Tomorrow I will bring the locust-horde within your territory. They will cover the face of the ground; they will consume all the trees that spring up for you from the field; they will fill the houses of all Egypt.”

"Pharaoh’s officials said to him: “How long shall this one be a snare to us? Send the people free, that they may serve YHWH [the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change]. Do you not yet know that Egypt is ruined?”

"But YHWH made Pharaoh’s heart strong-willed, and he did not send the Children of Israel free.

 

Modern Pharaoh, 2018 CE: [New York Times, Nov. 23, 2018]

WASHINGTON — A major scientific report issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday presents the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States, predicting that if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end.

... [UK Guardian, Nov. 26, 2018]:
“Trump on own administration's climate report: 'I don't believe it. I’ve seen it, I’ve read some of it, and it’s fine,’ he said outside the White House on Monday. “I don’t believe it.”

 The same story, merely separated by 4,500 years of human history.

The Torah reports that after each of the first several plagues, Pharaoh hardened his own heart in defiance of the deep natural process, the consequences of disaster brought on by his own stubbornness and cruelty.

Then after each of the later plagues, Torah says that YHWH, the deep process of the InterBreath of Life, made Pharaoh’s  heart stubborn. This is the process of addiction: First someone makes the choice of heroin or fentanyl, and after several such “choices” Reality takes over: Addiction reigns.In both the cases we are examining, the ruler’s addiction to his own power takes over and he ignores the ruin he is bringing on his own people. In both stories, his own officials, his “Administration,” warn him in despair. In both stories, he cannot waver: He is addicted. Power becomes tyranny, tyranny becomes cruelty.

 In the Torah story, the Resistance rises in courage, in clarity, and in  commitment. The Godwrestlers remember to wrestle History by hastily baking unleavened matzah-bread to mark the fierce urgency of Now  -- for there was no time to wait for the bread to rise. They rim their doorways in blood so that when they walk through them they are leaving a womb, birthing themseves anew. When they act, Nature itself responds, for all life is interconnected. The Bible's metaphor for the interconnection is "YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh." (This Name can only be "pronounced" without vowels by simply breathing.)   So the Breath of Life Itself, the Hurricane of Change,  sweeps over the waters of the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s power is drowned in his own over-reach, and the People  move forward to create a new kind of community.

 In the story of Today, the question is still open. Will we let the Spirit move us to dissolve Trump’s unaccountable and destructive pharaonic power, to save our country and our planet from ruination, and to create a new kind of national and planetary community? ?

Some suggested answers to that crucial question are in the continuation of this Shalom Report, You can access the rest of this Report, comment on it, and share it with your friends by clicking on "Keep Reading" and then to "Comments" below.

The Shalom Center is committed to keep working to free our society and to heal the deep wounds of our country and our planet. We need your help. As the "civil" year ends, please help us make the next year far more civil and more compassionate by making a (tax-deductible) investnent in the physical and spiritual future of your grandchildren. All our grandchildren.   Please click on the maroon “Contribute” button on the left-hand margin of this page.

Thanks! ~ Through the grace of your gift, may the blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace come to you. Remember: Keep reading! --  Arthur

We have the whole world in our hands!

Dear  friends,

Please look again at our logo, at the very top of this page. It’s a graphic symbol for this truth,  this song, this covenant:

 We have the whole world in our hands!

We have the trees and the honeybees in our hands,

We have our children and their children in our hands,

We have the whole world in our hands!

And there is a reason for the tree just below:

A Tree of Life, for Those Who Hold Her Close

In Jewish tradition, the Torah is the Tree of Life. In the mystical wisdom of Kabbalah, the Tree of Life is the whole of God’s Creation, with its roots in Heaven and its fruit –- us. And modern science teaches that we breathe in what the trees breathe out, and the trees breathe in what we breathe out. YHWH is the Interbreath of Life.

 These spiritual symbols are intended to convey a practical truth, an emotional truth: Let trees die, let myriads of honeybees die, let dolphins and whales die, and we die with them. Heal the planet that grows from them and through them, and we can create a joyful Beloved Community. Struggling to heal our climate, our planet, is not just symbolism. Our lives, our joy, depend upon that struggle.

 As the end of 2018 approaches, I am writing both to share  with you what the next stages of The Shalom Center‘s work will be, and to urgently ask your help in getting that work done.

 On many of the official oppressions of our time  --  White House encouragement for white nationalism and anti-Semitism; ripping children from their families; subjugating women -- The Shalom Center, along with other Jewish organizations, has not only spoken up but even been arrested in protests. We see all these and many other cruelties as part of the same over-all policy.

 One of those cruelties is helping modern Carbon Pharaohs poison the Earth by burning fossil fuels. Why? – To boost their Hyperprofits. That one endangers the very future of the planet,  human civilization, and the lives of our grandchildren. It demands action as a high priority.

 Yet in regard to the climate crisis, The Shalom Center is still the only national Jewish organization that sees the climate crisis and healing the Earth as Priority Number 1.

 During the next year we have four major projects on our planning table:

1.  Creating a new multireligious, multiracial pre-Passover Interfaith Freedom Seder that brings new insight and new “incite” to renewing our freedom in our generation and ending the plagues that modern Corporate Carbon Pharaohs and their governmental toadies are bringing on our Earth. It will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original Freedom Seder –- then an unprecedented transformation of the conventional Passover Seder -- which I wrote and helped to organize in 1969. Beyond celebration of the past, we will transform the future.


Reverends William Barber and Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign; Ana Maria Archila, who is the director of the Center for Popular Democracy and was one of the women who famously confronted Senator Flake in the US Capitol elevator; and Debbie Almontaser,  founder of the Khalil Gibran School in New York City, survivor and “transcender” of some bitter Islamophobic attacks, and founder /  director of Bridging Cultures. have agreed to join in leading the new Freedom Seder, next April 7. We intend to live-stream parts of it to faraway communities that hold their own Freedom Seders that evening. Save the date! More information later. 

[This globe will be the central symbol of the Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50. It is reframed as matzah, the unleavened bread of fierce urgency for freedom. It symbolizes our commitment to global liberation. It was designed by Avi Katz fpr The Shalom Center.]

2. Holding a series of Webinars on “Sacred Seasons of the Sacred Earth” to stimulate the celebration of Jewish festivals (which are all rooted in the rhythms of moon, sun, and earth) in ways that protect and heal the Earth that gave birth to the festivals themselves.  We have already held one Webinar on Sukkot and one on Hanukkah. Upcoming: Tu B’Shvat and Passover. Others will be scheduled throughout the year. You can register online at https://tinyurl.com/ss4seinfo

3. Persuading congregations --   Jewish and other – to become seeds of creating neighborhood solar co-ops. Solar co-ops can save householders money by slashing their electricity bills; can reduce asthma from burning coal and oil; can make serious cuts in CO2 and methane emissions that are burning Earth; can build local community resilience as local unnatural disasters multiply; and – above all – can become centers of political challenge and change to move us beyond the Carbon Pharaohs and to restore a  healthy, life-giving planet. A planet as life-giving for our grandchildren as it was for our grandparents.

4. Planning a multireligious Training Institute for organizers to learn how to draw powerfully on their own religious traditions and speak powerfully to their own religious communities to heal our wounded Earth by vigorous action.

 

All this costs money. Is it worth it? We face what Dr. Martin Luther King called “the fierce urgency of Now.” Thousands of the world’s scientists through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and even the consensus of US civil servants across the whole Federal government – despite their President’s frantic denials – have reported the hot facts of far more expensive food, economic ruin, and major widespread medical problems that will result from global scorching. The California wildfires have already shown that hundreds of deaths and thousands of destroyed homes and businesses are fierce truth in the Now, of what will get far more frequent in the future.

 Yet the same scientists and experts say that we can heal the planet – if we act quickly. That is why The Shalom Center has made this our first priority. We hope that with your help, we can awaken the sleeping giants of the Jewish and other religious communities to become active energies for change. A change as necessary – and urgent – and achievable – as the US shift to a war footing in the early 1940s.

At The Shalom Center , we have responded by drawing on Torah teachings that have the power to move hearts and minds and inspire action as they speak of Earth in the voices of indigenous shepherds and farmers.

If you feel moved by what we are planning, please make as substantial a contribution as you can, by clicking on the maroon "Contribute" button in the left-hand margin.

 With a full heart, we say “Thank you!” The burning trees of California and the drowning towns of Florida thank you. The suffering refugees who are fleeing droughts and starvation caused by global scorching thank you. The food plants that cannot grow without bees to pollinate them thank you.

 May the seeds of healing that you have sown and keep on sowing,  flower and be fruitful for you yourselves and for our world in blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace! -- 

We have the whole world in our hands!

We have the seeds and the sowing in our hands,

We have our children and their children in our hands,

We have the whole world in our hands!

Trump Tweets: “Khasoggi Murder Too Small”

Trump Tweets: “Khasoggi Murder Too Small”

By Arthur Waskow, White House Reporter for Dissociated Press

Washington DC/ December 24, 2018

In a Christmas Eve tweet to the nation, President Trump wrote today:

      ”Only problem with Saudis’ murder of Mr. Khasoggi‫    was it was too small. We sell weapons to the Saudis –-  thousands of  

      Yemeni kids die. We buy oil from Saudis – Earth burns and millions die in floods and fires.

      Nobody complains. America Great."       

 

Interviewed this afternoon by Sean Hannity of Fox News, Mr. Trump explained:

“Hitler and Goebbels got it right -- A Big Lie is more believable than a little one. Same way, Big Murder -- killing a lot of people all at once, If I can get it for you wholesale, a lot cheaper – a lot less trouble. Hardly gets anybody angry.  One murder at a time – “Little murder” – retail, you might say – everybody goes crazy. Costs a lot more for PR.

“Take Khasoggi. (Did I spell that right? If not, they’ll ll make fun of me for not knowing how to spell this weird foreeigner's weird name right, like that matters --  they keep missing the point in order to get their rocks off insulting me. ) I said it was worth smooshing over the Crown Prince murdering him, for us to get the Saudi money. – 'Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t'  --  one of my best lines ever, made everybody crazy so they still missed the real point --  Everybody sneered at my giving up morals for money. But nobody noticed --  the tradeoff was for Big Murder.

“I’m a little worried – the Senate just got a whiff of it, tried to stop my sending our troops to help Prince MbS do the Big Murders in Yemen. But it’s OK, the House will fall in line.  Murder for Money, it’s practically the slogan of the real-estate business in New York.

“The Oil we bought makes global scorching. You think I don’t know that? How dumb do you think I am? So dumb I couldn’t get elected President?

“Prince MbS --  by the way, a great guy, throws great parties! When he threw the royals in jail to extort them, the jail he chose was the fanciest hotel in Riyadh, Brilliant! – When MbS murders Khasoggi, everybody screams. But when Exxon murders millions, those guys make billions of dollars. If a Senator just mutters a complaint, even just a question, they have plenty cash to buy him.

“In the Saudi mess, I made sure we keep getting more Oil to burn.  Trouble with solar and wind, doesn’t kill anybody. How much fun can that be, how much money can that bring in?

“Same thing with selling the Saudis all those fancy weapons to use on Yemen. The Fake News says 85,000 kids died of hunger from Saudi attacks. True, of course. So many, nobody believes it.”

“My stupid politics is: I’ll take the heat off my pal Putin, my pal MbS, for the one-off murders of their enemies here and there -– so long as I can sell the Big Murders for Big Cash.”

At that point, Sean Hannity ended the interview: “Thank you, Mr. President. Does that mean Jim Acosta of CNN is safe from, umm, a dose of polonium?”

Trump Tweets: “Khasoggi Murder Too Small”

Trump Tweets: “Khasoggi Murder Too Small”

By Arthur Waskow, White House Reporter for Dissociated Press

Washington DC/ December 24, 2018

In a Christmas Eve tweet to the nation, President Trump wrote today:

      ”Only problem with Saudis’ murder of Mr. Khasoggi‫    was it was too small. We sell weapons to the Saudis –-  thousands of  

      Yemeni kids die. We buy oil from Saudis – Earth burns and millions die in floods and fires.

      Nobody complains. America Great."       

 

Interviewed this afternoon by Sean Hannity of Fox News, Mr. Trump explained:

“Hitler and Goebbels got it right -- A Big Lie is more believable than a little one. Same way, Big Murder -- killing a lot of people all at once, If I can get it for you wholesale, a lot cheaper – a lot less trouble. Hardly gets anybody angry.  One murder at a time – “Little murder” – retail, you might say – everybody goes crazy. Costs a lot more for PR.

“Take Khasoggi. (Did I spell that right? If not, they’ll ll make fun of me for not knowing how to spell this weird foreeigner's weird name right, like that matters --  they keep missing the point in order to get their rocks off insulting me. ) I said it was worth smooshing over the Crown Prince murdering him, for us to get the Saudi money. – 'Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t'  --  one of my best lines ever, made everybody crazy so they still missed the real point --  Everybody sneered at my giving up morals for money. But nobody noticed --  the tradeoff was for Big Murder.

“I’m a little worried – the Senate just got a whiff of it, tried to stop my sending our troops to help Prince MbS do the Big Murders in Yemen. But it’s OK, the House will fall in line.  Murder for Money, it’s practically the slogan of the real-estate business in New York.

“The Oil we bought makes global scorching. You think I don’t know that? How dumb do you think I am? So dumb I couldn’t get elected President?

“Prince MbS --  by the way, a great guy, throws great parties! When he threw the royals in jail to extort them, the jail he chose was the fanciest hotel in Riyadh, Brilliant! – When MbS murders Khasoggi, everybody screams. But when Exxon murders millions, those guys make billions of dollars. If a Senator just mutters a complaint, even just a question, they have plenty cash to buy him.

“In the Saudi mess, I made sure we keep getting more Oil to burn.  Trouble with solar and wind, doesn’t kill anybody. How much fun can that be, how much money can that bring in?

“Same thing with selling the Saudis all those fancy weapons to use on Yemen. The Fake News says 85,000 kids died of hunger from Saudi attacks. True, of course. So many, nobody believes it.”

“My stupid politics is: I’ll take the heat off my pal Putin, my pal MbS, for the one-off murders of their enemies here and there -– so long as I can sell the Big Murders for Big Cash.”

At that point, Sean Hannity ended the interview: “Thank you, Mr. President. Does that mean Jim Acosta of CNN is safe from, umm, a dose of polonium?”

Hanukkah Candles or California Fires?

Have the California wildfires and other events in the past month melted public apathy? Have we reached the threshold of public awareness necessary to force changes in climate and energy policy? Changes big enough to save our common home, our Planet Earth and all humanity, from global scorching, climate chaos?

And for the Jewish community, are there spiritual and political depths to Hanukkah that we can use to challenge the burning of our planet?

Hanukkah begins next Sunday evening, December 2, as we enter the 25th day of the wintry lunar moonth of Kislev, when moonlight is shrinking and sunlight is shortening.  As darkness grows, we light candles and we remember the Menorah in the ancient Temple, patterned on a tree -- with branches and twigs and flower-buds of sacred fire, lit with olive oil.

Let us light the candles on these eight nights with an intention, a focus:

 

Between the Fires:

A Kavvanah (Focus) for Kindling Candles of Commitment

We are the generation that stands  between the fires:

Behind us the flame and smoke 

that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;

From the burning forests of the Amazon,

From the hottest years of human history

That bring upon us Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.

 Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.

Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,

The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

 

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze

But the light in which we see each other fully.

All of us different, All of us bearing One Spark.

We light these candle-fires to see more clearly 

That the Earth and all who live as part of it are not for burning.

We kindle these fires to see more clearly

The rainbow in the many-colored faces of all Life.

Blessed is the One within the many.

Blessed are the many who make One.

 

And after we look at the other question – has the moment come when at last the American public is ready to demand change? --  we will come back to Hanukkah.

In the last month, four events have opened the channels to a reinvigorated movement to end our climate crisis and prevent climate chaos.

1)  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  -- the world’s climate scientists --  agreed on a report that warned us we have a dozen years to reverse greenhouse gas emissions fully enough to prevent widespread climate disaster. Their fever thermometer sets a danger point at our planet’s reaching the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. That level will precipitate extreme drought, wildfires, floods and famines for hundreds of millions of people.

2)  The California wildfires in the fiercely urgent present, not a vaguely possible future, destroyed thousands of homes and businesses and killed hundreds of people –- the result of climate-driven extreme drought turning forests into kindling wood.


3)  Opponents of the Trump policies won control of the US House of Representatives and its real though limited ability to hobble Trump. Most of them had focused their public campaigns on other aspects of Trumpist  subjugations – especially Congressional attacks on health care – but they understand the breadth of arrogance and cruelty that infused other specific policies as well. Those included the Trumpist policy of encouraging the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs who make   Hyperwealth billions in profit by stoking the fiery fever of the Earth.

 Serious interest is growing in at least two proposals:  One is a Carbon Tax and Dividend,  in which the US would tax carbon emissions and the money raised would go either to support a transition to renewable energy, or be provided in a dividend to every resident of the US. The other is a “Green New Deal,” which focuses on creating millions of well-paying jobs to provide a national network of renewable energy, comfortable and convenient mass transit, etc. The Green New Deal has not yet been shaped into policy proposals. The two approaches could be linked.

4)  And then --  despite anti-Earth lies and actions by high-up Triumpist officials – civil servants scattered in many agencies throughout the US government, empowered by a law requiring a quadrennial report on the estimated effects of global scorching, published a clear statement: If we do not change course in energy policy, millions of Americans will in the next few decades suffer from diseases and many from deaths caused by global scorching; millions of jobs will be lost as fires and floods decimate the economy.

Will these four events make a difference? For me, one index to a powerful change of mood was that 200 young people sat-in on Speaker-in-waiting Pelosi’s office to demand action for a Green New Deal from the next House of Representatives.

It is time for the Jewish people to awaken ourselves to our own ancient wisdom, rooted in the spiritual experience of farmers and shepherds and orchard-keepers with a single slender sliver of land. Now we need to gather the flowers and fruit that grow from that wisdom to join with others in a struggle to heal the whole round Earth and re-energize a far more human civilization.

We have been caught in a commitment that is worth great praise, a commitment to “social” justice that has drawn our attention away from our ancient ecological wisdom. These two are no longer separable: The burning of our Earth makes worse two aspects of social injustice: At the top, the arsonists gather in enormous unjust wealth. At the bottom, the poor suffer from that burning first and worst. It is eco-social justice we must pursue.

We can draw on four distinct but linked aspects of Hanukkah to inspire us:

  1. In a time of darkness and fear, Hanukkah beckons us to light up active hope and new commitment. The seasons of the Earth shape the Seasons of Our Joy and Justice.
  2. Though Antiochus the Idolator reigns in the White House, we know that bands of nonviolent Maccabees of many diverse communities can empower ourselves to dissolve his arrogance and his idolatry.
  3. The legend of the Menorah that burned for eight days’ light on the oil that should have kept alight for just one day reminds us that with devotion, we too can conserve energy and fulfill our vision of a more enlightened world.
  4. In the Haftarah we read on Shabbat Hanukah, the Prophet Zechariah proclaims the meaning of the Great Menorah – “Not by might and not by power but by My Breath/Wind / Spirit,” says the Infinite Breath of Life. (Zech 4: 1-7).  And Zechariah proclaims the ecstatic vision that in the rebuilt Temple there will be one olive tree on the left and one on the right of the Great Menorah. Each of the trees will pour its golden treasure of olive oil directly into the gold Menorah, without the need of human intervention. (Zech 4, continuing till verse 12.) This is the ultimate vision of the deep and direct connection of adam and adamah, Earth and human earthling – the deepest meaning of Hanukkah.

Here we see, as the Hebrew says, the Hanukkah menorah made by the Creator of the World:

 

Tomorrow I will share with you some suggestions about how to use the Eight Days of Hanukkah to learn, connect, and act in this moment. We can imagine a new song: “The Eight Nights of Hanukkah, my True Love said to me: Please heal My Earth!”

Blessings of light in a month of dark, hope-filled action in a time of doubt.— Arthur

Giving Thanks, Arlo Guthrie, & My 1st Yarmulke

A Ritual of Joyful, Thankful  Resistance

Dear chevra, Just five minutes before noon today, I took part in a wonderful ritual. One of the members of a men’s group that began 30 years ago – - Jeffrey Dekro, founder of the Isaiah Fund – called me and the other men's group members to remind us to turn on our radios. He has been doing this, year after year on Thanksgiving Day, for almost all those thirty years.

Why?

 Every year at noon on Thanksgiving, WXPN Radio in Philadelphia (and many other radio stations around the country) play Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” about a Thanksgiving dinner in Stockbridge Mass. in 1967; about obtuse cops; and about nonviolent resistance to a brutal war.

 And every year, this seemingly non-Jewish set of rituals stirs in me the memory of a moment long ago when my first puzzled, uncertain explorations of the “Jewish thing” inside me took on new power for me. The moment when I came to understand the power of a yarmulke.

By now it is a tradition for me to retell the Yarmulke story every Thanksgiving. It carries deeper meaning this year, as we build a new Resistance, than it has for decades.

In 1970, I was asked by the Chicago Eight to testify in their defense. They were leaders of the movement to oppose the Vietnam War, and they had been charged by the Nixon Administration and Attorney-General John Mitchell (who turned out to be a criminal himself – see under “Watergate”) with conspiracy to organize riot and destruction during the Chicago Democratic National Convention in 1968. 

 I had been an alternate delegate from the District of Columbia to the Convention – elected originally as part of an anti-war, anti-racist slate to support Robert Kennedy. After he was murdered, we decided to nominate and support as our “favorite son” the chairperson of our delegation – Rev. Channing Phillips (may the memory of this just and decent leader be a blessing), a Black minister in the Martin Luther King mold.

 Our delegation made him the first Black person ever nominated for President at a major-party convention. The following spring, on the first anniversary of Dr. King’s murder, on the third night of Passover in 1969, his church hosted the first-ever Freedom Seder. (Its 50th anniversary comes this spring. Save April 7. Stay tuned!)

 AND – besides being an elected delegate, I had also spoken the first two nights of the Convention to the anti-war demonstrators at Grant Park, at their invitation, while the crowd was being menaced by Chicago police and the National Guard. This is what the demonstration looked like, clustered nonviolently in the park: 

 

Across the street were the police and the National Guard, poised to attack. Scary to watch them.  

 

 On "Bloody Wednesday," the third night of the Convention, the police – not the demonstrators – finally did explode in vicious violence.

 

 

 


Although the main official investigation of Chicago described it as a “police riot,” the Nixon Administration decided to indict the anti-war leaders. So during the Conspiracy Trial in 1970, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger, Abby Hoffman, and the other defendants figured I would be reasonably respectable (as a former delegate) and therefore relatively convincing to the jury and the national public, in testifying that the anti-war folks were not trying to organize violence but instead were the victims of police violence.

 As the trial went forward, it became clear that the judge – Julius Hoffman, a Jew – was utterly subservient to the prosecution and wildly hostile to the defense. (Some of us thought he had become possessed by the dybbuk of Torquemada, head of the Inquisition. --- How else could a Jew behave that way? We tried to exorcise his dybbuk. It didn’t work.)

 Judge Hoffman browbeat witnesses, ultimately literally gagging and binding Bobby Seale, the only Black defendant, for challenging his rulings – etc. Dozens of his rulings against the Eight were later cited by the Court of Appeals as major legal errors, requiring reversal of all the convictions the prosecution had achieved in his court

 So when I arrived at the Federal court-house in Chicago, I was very nervous. About the judge, much more than the prosecution or my own testimony

 The witness who was scheduled to testify right before me was Arlo Guthrie. 

 In Grant Park, among the antiwar demonstrators pictured above, Arlo had sung “Alice’s Restaurant,” a joy-filled, funny song about resistance to the Vietnam War and to the draft, and about the perverted priorities of "justice" in America. In 1968 the song was only a few years old, but millions knew it. 

 

 Why did the defense want to call Arlo as a witness? To show the jury that there was no incitement to violence in it.

 So William Kunstler, z’l, the lawyer for the defense, asked Guthrie to sing “Alice’s Restaurant” so that the jury could get a direct sense of the event

 But Judge Hoffman stopped him: “You can’t sing in my courtroom!”

 “But,” said Kunstler, “it’s evidence of the intent of the organizers and the crowd!”

 For minutes they snarled at each other. Finally, Judge Hoffman: “He can SAY what he told them, but NO SINGING.”

 And then – Guthrie couldn’t do it. The song, which lasts 18 minutes, he knew by utter heart, having sung it probably more than a thousand times – but to say it without singing, he couldn’t. His memory was keyed to the melody. And maybe Judge Hoffman’s rage helped dis-assemble him

 So he came back to the witness room, crushed.

And I’m up next. I start trembling, trying to figure out how I can avoid falling apart

I decide that if I wear a yarmulke, that will strengthen me to connect with a power Higher/ Other than the United States and Judge Hoffman. (Up to that moment, I had never worn a yarmulke in a non-officially “religious” situation. I had written the Freedom Seder in 1969, but in 1970 I was still wrestling with the question of what this weird and powerful “Jewish thing” meant in my life.)

So I tell Kunstler I want to wear a yarmulke, and he says – “No problem.” Somewhere I find a simple black unobtrusive skull-cap, and when I go to be sworn in, I put it on.

For the oath (which I did as an affirmation, as indicated by much of Jewish tradition), no problem.

Then Kunstler asks me the first question for the defense, and the Judge interrupts. “Take off your hat, sir,” he says.

Kunstler erupts. – “This man is an Orthodox Jew, and you want – etc etc etc.” I am moaning to myself, “Please, Bill, one thing I know I’m not is an Orthodox Jew.” But how can I undermine the defense attorney? So I keep my mouth shut.

Judge Hoffman also erupts: “That hat shows disrespect for the United States and this Honorable Court!” he shouts.

“Yeah,” I think to myself, “that’s sort-of true. Disrespect for him, absolutely. For the United States, not disrespect exactly, but much more respect for Something Else. That’s the point!”

 They keep yelling, and I start watching the prosecutor – and I realize that he is watching the jury. There is one Jewish juror. What is this juror thinking?

Finally, the prosecutor addresses the judge: “Your Honor, the United States certainly understands and agrees with your concern, but we also feel that in the interests of justice, it might be best simply for the trial to go forward.

 And the judge took orders!! He shut up, and the rest of my testimony was quiet and orderly

It took me another year or so to start wearing some sort of hat all the time –- a Tevye cap or a beret or an amazing tall Tibetan hat with earflaps and wool trimming, or a multicolored Jamaican cap with a zippered pocket (probably originally for dope; I used it to play Yankee Doodle with my grandchildren: "Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni!"). Or a rainbowy yarmulke, like this:

 

And whatever its shape or color, the hat continues to mean to me that there is a Higher, Deeper Truth in the world than any judge, any boss, any Attorney-General, any President, or any Pharaoh.

 It’s my – our – “Alice’s Restaurant.” Or maybe “Alice’s Restaurant” is Arlo’s yarmulke. And not only Arlo’s, but the yarmulke for all of us.

Let us face the truth – This Thamksgiving, we haveIn  the White House itself a rhetoric and policy rooted in white nationalism. It has poured a fire of hate across America. Latinx, Blacks, women, Muslims, Jews, GLBTQ people, refugees, news reporters, even the Earth itself, have felt the fires.  In California, the fires have been physical, and murderous. Elsewhere, the fires have been words that beckoned murder – as in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. 

 That combination -- racist hate in major speeches, incitements to street violence -- has a well-known pedigree. When a society has lost its way, when its accustomed imperial army is failing and yet is eating up the country's own substance like a cancer, when a rising proportion of its people feel left out economically and culturally, and when demogogues define "the foreigners," "the wetbacks," "the slant-eyes," "the kikes," "the niggers," "the ragheads," “the nasty, uppity women,” “the fake-news press,” the “lying scientists,” as the enemy -- we are in the presence of a neo-fascist movement.

 It will take concerted resistance and the sprouting of a new America of joyful solidarity to meet this challenge

 Resistance to what? Carbon Pharaohs. Billionaire election-buyers. Racist politicians. Hate-mongers in the White House, sending the Army to fire on bedraggled refugee families.

 And what is a New America? From the bottom up: 

 Neighborhood solar-energy coops. Public gatherings of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists -- Black, Hispanic, Native, Asian, Euro -- to pray, sing, meditate, and vigil together. Sanctuaries for refugees. Schools, colleges, and universities that celebrate Black songs, Black poetry, Black wisdom, Black visionaries. Release from prison of all nonviolent drug offenders, and active groups working for the full rehabilitation of "returned citizens." The Dreamers. Sanctuary cities. Cities and states that enforce a $15 minimum wage, with automatic cost-of-living increases. #MeToo as women take on an engrained rape culture that has its hero in the White House, and as hundreds of women run for public office for the first time – and win. “Fusion politics” and a national campaign for moral renewal by the Poor People’s Campaign. Boycotts of global corporations that escape US taxes by pretending to "move" overseas. Demands for Medicare for All. Massive civil disobedience in the very halls of Congress to demand public financing of election campaigns.

 So the Arlo Guthrie story speaks today in a stronger voice than it has for decades.

 So I invite you to celebrate Thanksgiving (or if you are too busy today, tomorrow -- on the “second day of the Festival”) by thanking the Spirit that calls us to resist those who wound our world and to celebrate those who work to heal it; by lifting your own spirit and encouraging your own commitment to freedom, peace, laughter, and nonviolence. 

For Arlo’s recording of “Alice’s Restaurant” for our own generation with an audience joining in, click to 

https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=B_tMzSxvoeA&list=RDAMVMB_tMzSxvoeA

 And if you take joy and sustenance in the work The Shalom Center does –- including this way of celebrating ritual as joyful social action and turning social action into joyful ritual –- then please make a (tax-deductible) donation by clicking on the maroon “Contribute” banner on the left-hand margin of thos page, or just below..

Thanks!  And blessings of a joyful Giving Thanks not only today, but as we keep moving, building a multifaceted movement to create a new and deeper, fuller, democratic America. ---   Arthur

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