Spirit Unites Us; Fringes Connect Us

The letters we send our members, friends, and readers as "The Shalom Reports" are different from most blogs from activist organizations --  because The Shalom Center is an activist non-profit with a difference. The difference is why we call ourselves a “Prophetic” voice in Jewish, multireligious, and American life.  The difference is that we root ourselves not in political tactics or strategy but in a sense of Wholeness in the universe. Most of these Letters have come from me –-- and some have come --

  • from Dr. Barbara Breitman on how brain chemistry connects with the spiritual damage of trauma;
  • from Rabbi Susan Talve on the spiritual energy it took her and gave her, to walk the fearful, angry streets of Ferguson Missouri;
  • from Arlene Goldbard on how the arts, springing authentically from communities, invigorate democracy;
  • from Rabbi Tamara Cohen, on “Bodies in Fear” – from the Binding of Isaac to Black Lives Matter;
  • from Rabbi Mordechai Liebling on the deep history of racism in America and its reverberations inside our own lives and spirits; and more. 

  The difference was embodied, for instance, when I have written about ReNaming God as YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh,                                                          the Breath of Life, when we think --  and when we pray. What on Earth (or, what in Heaven!) does prayer have to do with healing the Earth, with creating racial justice, with honoring Islam, with dissolving modern Pharaohs in a Sea of nonviolent resistance? Real prayer may happen in a synagogue, a church, a mosque, a temple  -- or somewhere else. Real prayer opens our selves to what includes our selves but is larger than our selves. Sometimes the “larger” stops halfway -- at our own family, our own religion, our own nation, our own ethnic group, our own species. Sometimes it embraces the Wholly Holy One. Half-steps to Wholeness often lead to bloodshed. The fuller step embraces the Infinite in joy    -- and realizes that Infinitude can only be expressed through flourishing diversity.  And that this diversity, like the many different species and niches in an eco-system, makes a Whole. Out of this can indeed come a commitment to heal the Earth, create racial justice, honor Islam, dissolve modern Pharaohs in a Sea of nonviolent resistance. At The Shalom Center, we are committed to revivify a sense of connection with the Spirit in the fullest sense  — creating a  spiritual renaissance & transformation of the Jewish people. And the letters of praise and gratitude that we get back from you-all do not come only from Jews. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Bahais, Wiccans write us that one or another or many of our Shalom Reports have nourished their spirits on their own journeys.  This happens because we choose to stand on the fringes of Jewish wisdom --  knowing that it is the fringes on the corners of a tallit, a “prayer shawl,” that make the tallit sacred. These fringes are threads of connection. Not good fences but good fringes make good neighbors. So we look to “the fringes” in teachings ancient and modern:

  • Teachings like the Song of Songs, a subversive celebration that is both earthy and erotic – a critique on the fringes of “regular” biblical and rabbinic worldviews. 
  • A subversive understanding of God’s Name as not “Lord” but “Breath of Life.”
  • “Feminist Hassidism” and “Transformative Judaism” on the fringes of what we call “Jewish renewal,” which itself began as a conscious fringe.

It is people on the fringes of a society, a culture, who make a worldview healing and holy. At The Shalom Center we look to teachers on the fringes of acceptable thought --  --  Martin Buber, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Judith Plaskow, Ahad Ha’Am, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi,  Jeff Roth, Marge Piercy, David Grossman, Rachel Adler, Jerome  Rothenberg,  Shefa Gold, David & Shoshana Cooper, Adrienne Rich,  Giuseppe Roncalli, Oscar Romero,  Dorothy Day, Badshah Khan, Martin Luther King, Rachel Carson, El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, Thich Nhat Hanh, Ali Shariati, Vincent Harding, Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid, Tenzin Gyatso.  We walk in their footsteps, and some of them walk in ours. The very fact that we affirm learning from all these teachers who are on the fringes of their own traditions points to our wearing with joy the fringes on the corners of our own. And in that spirit, let me welcome the surge of spiritual energy that rises on our planet this week as more than two billion of us celebrate the birth of a transformative teacher who lived on the fringes of his own tradition. So if you have found yourself encouraged, inspired, troubled by these Shalom Reports themselves – we ask for your help. We need your help, and I am chutzpadik enough to say that if we have inspired and encouraged you, if we have troubled you into deeper thought and feeling -- we deserve your help. Please click on the maroon “Donate” button in the left-hand margin of this page, and when you’ve reached the “Donate” page, please actually give a Spirit-laden gift. Thank you!

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