Living inside the Book of Exodus; Make the Seder activist again!

Today all Americans and most life-forms on Planet Earth are living inside the Book of Exodus --  our health and livelihoods, our freedom and our lives, endangered by modern Pharaohs.

One vigorous response: Turn the Passover Seder from a commemoration into an incitement.

In 1969, in the midst of a crisis over racism and war, we created a new kind of Seder. We called it the Freedom Seder. We held it on April 4, the first anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King.

This coming April 7, fifty years later, in the midst of an American and a planetary crisis even sharper, The Shalom Center is sponsoring a new Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50.

Among its leaders will be Reverends William Barber and Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign;  Ana Maria Archila, who challenged Senator Flake in the famous elevator and who heads the Center for Popular Democracy; and Debbie Almontaser, who has both suffered from Islamophobia and transcended it.


There has been a rush of registrants in recent days. Space is limited, The time to register is NOW.


Fifty years ago, the Freedom Seder was held at an African-American church in Washington, DC. This year, the new Seder will be held at an African-American mosque in Philadelphia.

Fifty years ago, the Freedom Seder wove together the ancient story of liberation from slavery to Pharaoh with the story of the liberation struggle of Black America against racism. This year, it will address four overarching oppressions: racism, militarism, materialism, and sexism. 

Fifty years ago, it was broadcast by WBAI in New York and by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. This year, it will be live-streamed to groups around the country, large or small, that want to connect their own  Seders  with the Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50.

Why do we need to hold this Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50? Not to commemorate the past, but to once again change the future. And this year the Seder is even more appropriate as a form than it was fifty years ago,

We are dealing with a Pharaoh who has defined US citizens who are descendants of legal Spanish-speaking immigrants as a dangerous minority ethnic group, and US citizens who are members of at least one minority religious community as dangerous outsiders, likely to side with America's enemies, harboring terrorists.

A Pharaoh who is willing to subject hundreds of thousands of government workers to slavery, as they were required to work without being paid.

A Pharaoh who was willing to rip children from the arms of their parents because they were from a wave of "foreigners" he despised, and who created prisons for those children that have resulted in the deaths of at least two.

And a Pharaoh who is deliberately acting to worsen the climate crisis and bring far more Plagues than ten upon the Earth and all humanity. Who responded "I don't believe it" when a broad network of his own officials submitted a well-researched, comprehensive report that the suffusion of our atmosphere with CO2 and methane were already bringing about unnatural disasters and were sure to create climate chaos, deep economic dislocations, and massive medical emergencies unless major healing action were taken immediately. Just "I don't believe it."

And a Resistance emerges. On January 21, 2017, women, as in ancient times, were the first to challenge this despotic power.

Please take 3 1/2 minutes to watch this video of a street-theater action against the Carbon Pharaohs at


 All this is stunningly reminiscent of the Pharaoh in the first chapters of Exodus who tells his people that the Israelites living in an Egyptian province -- the grandchildren of immigrants to Egypt – – are having too many children of their own. He calls them Ivrim, “Cross-Overs,” a word of contempt analogous to “wetbacks, “rootless cosmopolitans,” or “globalists.”

Then he moves from words of hatred and contempt to acts of violence.  These Ivrim must be subjugated into slaves, and must be controlled by overseers who, we soon learn, are free to kill the Ivrim on a whim or a bias of their own. He sets up a program to murder their children.

When resistance begins, it is led by women -– Shifra and Puah, the midwives who invent a first stage of nonviolent resstance by refusing Pharaoh’s order to murder the boy-babies. Then Miriam and Pharaoh’s Daughter take positive rebellious action in a kind of international feminist conspiracy to save Moses’ life and nurture him.

And then there emerges a resistance movement, led by Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. When they challenge Pharaoh,  his stubbornness and cruelty and arrogance bring disasters – Plagues --  upon his own country. When his own officials urge him to let the Israelites go free because his stubbornness is wrecking Egypt, he keeps refusing – – and his refusal brings on more ecological disasters.

So the Exodus story is perhaps the first understanding of a linkage: what we at The Shalom Center today call “eco-social justice.” Racial, economic, and social justice cannot be separated from  ecological sanity.

 Today Corporate Carbon Pharaohs and their governmental enablers are using their Hyper-Wealth to choke the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, and Its efforts -- our efforts -- to heal  the planet and our neighborhoods from abject economic inequality, deep racism and many dfferent phobias, endless war, subjugation and destruction. And their depredations harm and kill the poorest first and worst. These realities are the ultimate in eco-social INjustice.  

What to do? Today we need to create a new Resistance to these new Carbon Pharaohs.

The Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50 will gather people who are ready to resist the new Pharaohs with a new band of Resisters demanding eco-social justice. Register now at


And please begin paying attention to a new and brilliant campaign fpr eco-social justice called the Green New Deal.

It points to what Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of Now,” a fierce urgency that in the Exodus crisis we embodied in matzah – for there was no time for the bread to rise. It demands a swift transition to renewable energy with great numbers of well-paid green jobs, with special care for workers displaced as we move out of coal and oil and fracking. It demands special attention to the forgotten and forsaken in big-city neighborhoods and rural enclaves, and to the battered but resilient Native communities.

The Shalom Center has signed on as one of an array of organization supporting the Green New Deal.

I see this as the best hope for breaking through the greed of the Carbon Pharaohs and the despair of many people.

Can the Jewish community join this effort as our own generation’s renewal of the meaning of the Exodus?

The answer is blowing in the Wind -- the Wind of Change, the Breath of Life -- the breath we breathe into our own words and songs and arms and legs of action:

Go down Moses,

Way down in EVERY land --

Tell all Pharaohs --

Set My Creation free!

Please join us in eating together, singing together, learning together, taking action together --

Please register NOW at


MLK, Rev. Wm Barber, & new Freedom Seder + 50

Today, Dr. Martin Luther King’s official Birthday, and the day after the third great Women's March, we are living in the midst of a national and a planetary crisis that echoes his passionate commitment to freedom and justice.

So I am writing today to invite you to an event on April 7 that will link Dr. King to the long history of liberation struggles before him and to the “fusion struggles” for liberation we are living today.

For 3000 years, ancient Israelites and their Jewish descendants have each year, at the full moon of the moonth of spring, remembered and renewed an ancient liberation movement through the Passover Seder. It is a sacred ritual meal, framed by the Telling (in Hebrew, Haggadah) of the story of the ancient liberation of the children of Israel from slavery to Pharaoh in Mitzrayyim, the Hebrew for the “Tight and Narrow Place”  -- the Hebrew name for ancient Egypt.

The meal includes several ritual foods – among them a Bitter Herb in memory of the bitterness of slavery and Matzah, the unleavened bread that the runaway slaves baked and ate on the night of Exodus. – unleavened because there was no time to wait for the dough to rise. The matzah embodies what a half-century ago Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of Now.”

For all those centuries, the Passover Seder celebrated only moments of Jewish liberation. Fifty years ago, on April 4, 1969, for the first time in all those 3,000 years, we celebrated a “Freedom Seder” that wove together the Jewish liberation struggle with other struggles for freedom -- especially Black America’s struggle against racism. 

I wrote it because I was possessed by the gripping memory of the murder of Dr. King just a week before Passover 1968, and by the gripping memory of the military occupation of Washington DC by the US Army the day after Dr. King’s death – sent to put down an uprising of the grief-stricken, outraged Black community. “Pharaoh’s army,” it felt to me at the time.  

The next year, on the first anniversary of Dr. King’s death, the Freedom Seder that I wrote was held in the basement of a Black church in Washington, with 800 people  -- about half Jewish, the rest both Black and white Christians. It won a broad audience across the country.  

Fifty years later, we are in crisis again, facing four aspects of tyranny: the onslaught of racism, hatred of foreigners, and
religious bigotry; of militarism at home and overseas; of worsening poverty and overweening materialistic greed that extends even to wrecking all Earth for the sake of hyperprofits; and worsening official efforts to subjugate women and LGBTQ communities.

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.

We expect hundreds of people at the Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50 and at the dinner that precedes it.  Pre-registration is necessary – NO walk-ins. 
Dinner - 5:00-6:45pm Halal (fish and vegetarian with vegan, gluten-free option)
Seder -  7:00-9:30pm 
You can register through the link  TINYURL.COM/FREEDOMSEDER50

Congregations and other organizations can arrange a co-sponsorship bearing special benefits by writing Seder@theshalomcenter.org  We are planning a live feed for distant communities where you could link to your own Seder; write Seder@theshalomcenter.org  to make arrangements.

I look forward to celebrating with you!

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace --  Arthur

Trees, Earth, & Justice: Tu B'Shvat Seder as if all 3 Really Matter

Pray as if Trees, Earth, & Justice Truly Matter:

A Tu B’Shvat Seder

Created by students of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

and Rabbi Arthur Waskow


Written by Sarah Barasch-Hagans, Sarah Brammer-Shlay, Miriam Geronimus,

Lonnie Kleinman, Chayva Lerman, Michael Perice, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, May Ye

Formatted and Edited by Sarah Barasch-Hagans

As We Begin…

...We Pause and Ground Ourselves.


Leader: Tonight we are engaging in a 500-year-old tradition.

In some ways, the tradition is older than that. As Rabbi Rami Shapiro explains, “Tu B’Shvat, the full moon of midwinter, had been important only in Holy Temple days, in the calendar of tithing. It was the end of the “fiscal year” for trees. Fruit that appeared before that date was taxed for the previous year; fruit that appeared later, for the following year."

The Talmud called this legal date the “New Year for Trees.”

But the kabbalists [of Tzfat/ Safed in the sixteenth century] saw it as the New Year for the Tree of Life itself -- for God’s own Self, for the Tree whose roots are in Heaven and whose fruits are the world itself and all God’s creatures. To honor the reawakening of trees and of that Tree in deep midwinter, they created a mystical seder. The tradition of this Seder survived mostly in Jewsh communitiees of the East --  Iraq, Iran, India. It was not obseered in Western jewosh communities

In the late 19th/early 20th century, the Zionist movement created a new ritual for Tu B'Shvat: the planting of trees in the Land of Israel. This practice restored the physicality of what had anciently been the date of tithing fruit, and the physicality of connection to the Land of Israel.

Leader: Tonight, we are creating a similar seder to the Kabbalistic Seder that emerged from Tzfat. We will ascend through the cosmic tree from our material world to the spiritual realm. Our journey will take us through the world of Assiyah (action), the world of Yetzirah (emotion, formation, relating), the world of Briyah (thought, creation, knowing), and finally, the world of Atzilut (spirit, emanation, being). We will enact these four worlds through four cups of wine and four courses of nuts and fruit.

Leader: We are also engaging in another, newer tradition -- that of connecting Tu B’Shvat with a commitment to the physical health of  our entire planet, a commitment to act to protect trees and the Interbreathing of all life in which trees  and all vegetation breathe in the CO2 that humans and all animals breathe out, and all animals breathe in the oxygen that vegetation breathes out.

For some  of our communities, that Interbreathing is evoked by undeerstanding the ancient Name of God, YHWH,  as the sound of Breath, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh. And that Interbreathing is now endangered by the unrestrained burning of fossil fuels.

So our Seder will conclude with our taking action to heal our planet  -- its trees and The Tree that encompasses all life -- by appealing to officials who make public policy to free themselves from subservience to the Fossil Fuel industry that is endangering the web of life and human civilization.

And in line with this renewed concern with the physicaliity of earth, our Seder will celebrate each of the four elements -- Earth, Water, Air, and Fire  -- that were traditionally associated with the Four Worlds of the Kabbalists..

Leader: As Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes, “Tu B’Shvat is not a call to go back to Nature…. [It] is a call to return to our nature.” Let us remember that we are of nature, not apart from it -- for we are adam, earthling, and we are made of adamah, earth.


Olam Ha’Asiyah

עולם העשייה

The World of Action // The World of Rootedness

Learning from the Forests

From The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben


But why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of the wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age. [...]

            Every tree, therefore, is valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible. And that is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished until they recover. Next time, perhaps it will be the other way round, and the supporting tree might be the one in need of assistance. When thick silver-gray beeches behave like this, they remind me of a herd of elephants. Like the herd, they, too, look after their own, and they help their sick and weak back up onto their feet.


Meditation with the Trees

Feel free to join a tree outside for this meditation if weather permits.

Leader: We start by seeing our foundation, our earth, and how it is lain out beneath us. Its composition affects everything that sits above it. Stone, rocks, dirt, mud, water, life.

We turn our attention to the trees in harmony with the earth...

Breathing in and out, lung to lung resuscitation between us. Our lungs to their leaves. And when their leaves are gone, our lungs look alike, winnowing from tracheal trunks down to the most minute of passages. But what will happen if their lungs, our partner lungs, disappear? Love their presence. Breathe all the way in, loving their gift.

Imagine you are…

A tree among many, roots entangled below

A sapling reaching, yearning for light and growth

An oak, branches gnarled, left standing but lonely in a concrete playground

A flowering dogwood, the belle of the forest ball

A redwood. The majestic. You have seen all and will see the rest. Not even the earth beneath you can shake you in its quaking. You and the earth are equal partners now.

As you sense the trees around you - see them for who they really are as individuals - feel the earth beneath you too. Root your feet into the soles of your shoes, feel the energy through the floor and through the building’s foundation all the way to the foundation of everything.

Dear God, our Rock and our Foundation, be still and firm underneath our feet. Be present for us, that we may remember the holy work of nurturing and defending the life that grows from You.

Take a moment and then return to your table.


Blessings and Nourishment

Fill your glass with white wine or juice  and gather some fruit with a tough outside and soft inside.

Leader: Tonight we eat the fruit and nuts that you have protected with a tough skin.

Through this act, we acknowledge that we need protection in life, both physical and emotional, as do all of Your creation. Our first cup of wine or juice is pure white. We see clearly through it, as through the leafless branches. But they are not lifeless. Blessed are You, Source of Life, who brings nature through its cycles.


בְּרוּכָה אַתְּ שֶׁחִינָּהּ אֱלֹהֵינוּ רוּחַ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵאת פְּרִי הַגָפֶן

B'rukhah At Shekhinah Eloheynu ruakh ha-olam boreit p'ri ha-gafen.

You are blessed, Shekhinah, Indwelling Spirit of the World, who creates the fruit of the vine.

Drink wine or juice, making sure to leave some of it.

בְּרוּכָה אַתְּ שֶׁחִינָּהּ אֱלֹהֵינוּ רוּחַ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵאת פְּרִי הָאֵץ

B'rukha at Shekhinah Eloheynu ruakh ha-olam boreit p'ri ha'etz.

Blessed are You, Shekhinah, Indwelling Spirit of the World, who creates the fruit of the tree.

Eat fruit.

Olam HaYetzirah

עולם היצירה

The World of Formation // The World of Water

Leader: As the Lakota People at Standing Rock have taught us: Water Is Life / Mni Wiconi.

Abridged from “Water Is Life”

By Craig Santos Perez, indigenous poet and professor of the Chamorro people of Guam

Poem in solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all peoples protecting the sacred waters of this earth, September 10, 2016

Water is life

becuz my wife labored for 24 hours through wave contractions

becuz water broke forth from her body

becuz amniotic fluid is 90 percent water

becuz our daughter crowned like a coral island

becuz our blue planet is 70 percent water

becuz some say the ocean formed within the earth from the beginning

becuz we wage war over gods and waters

becuz we say stop, you are hurting our ancestors

becuz we say keep it in the ground

becuz we say stop, water is sacred

becuz we call ourselves protectors and water warriors

becuz they bring their banks and politicians and lawyers

becuz we bring our songs and prayers and ceremonies

becuz we bring all our relations and generations

becuz someday my daughter will ask me where the ocean ends

becuz we will tell her that the ocean has no end

becuz we will tell her that the ocean blesses the mountains with rain

becuz we will tell her that the rain feeds lakes and reservoirs

becuz we will tell her that water connects us to our cousins at Standing Rock

becuz i will whisper to her, while she is sleeping, hanom hanom hanom, my people’s word for water, so that in her dreams water will call her home

Please add, popcorn style, any lines you’d like to add for why you feel water is life.


            Becuz …

            Becuz ...



Reader: 60% of an adult human body is made of water. Every single cell in our body needs water to function. Without water, a human can survive for a week, at most. Three to four days is more likely.


In fact, every cell of every being needs water to function. Bacteria, plants, and animals, including humans, are all connected by this common necessity.


Reader: As climate change increases the frequency and severity of droughts across this planet, every life form is affected. For humans, this not only means less access to drinkable water, but also more chance of famine. Across Africa and the Middle East, water crises partially due to climate change have helped trigger civil unrest, mass migration, insurgency and war.


Reader: Climate change threatens the oceans and the life within them as well. As rising atmospheric temperatures raise sea surface temperatures and the oceans absorb CO2 and thus become increasingly acidic, coral reefs are dying. Teeming with life, coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet and are home to almost one-third of all marine fish species. Corals provide the foundation for a complex web of life, of interdependent species who rely on each other for shelter and food. From one angle, the coral reef is made up of many individual organisms. From another, it is a single entity.


Reader: While we cannot drink salt water, the ocean and coral reefs are vital to our well-being as well. Almost 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of a coast, and many of these people live in developing countries and are dependent on coral reefs for food and income. Coral reefs provide shelter, food, and breeding grounds for many fish that people eat. They serve as a natural barrier to tsunamis and hurricanes. They prevent coastal erosion by breaking waves and providing sand. They are a source of medical discoveries. And they attract millions of tourists to reefs and beaches every year, providing a substantial amount of revenue for tropical countries.


Reader: At the same time, rising temperatures are melting the ice caps, causing the sea level to rise, submerging island nations and flooding coastal cities.


While we are all impacted by the various ways that climate change is affecting the Earth’s waters, poor people and people of color across the globe are being hit first and hardest.


Together: There are so many ways, often invisible, that life on this planet is dependent on and connected by water. There are so many ways that those connections are endangered by human actions. We pray to YHWH, the source of becoming, for the world’s ability to regenerate itself. We pray for the awareness, wisdom, and strength to keep on fighting for the health of our planet and ourselves. We acknowledge with gratitude the ways that waters, fresh and salty, sustain our bodies and our souls. May water continue to be a source of life and a womb that nurtures us.


Ritual of Water

Leader: I’d like to share a water ritual I participated in when I was at Standing Rock. As the sun rose, we walked down to the water that surrounds Turtle Island. We each carried small jars filled with water from wherever on this planet we had come from. We brought water from Michigan, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Texas, the Sudan, Peru, Israel, and New Zealand. This was the end of November and the river was frozen. We broke a small hole in the ice and we poured the water from our jars, showing how each of us and this whole planet is interconnected by water.

Tonight, we also recognize the ways we are connected by water. Our bodies are 60% water but that water isn't stagnant. It is constantly flowing within and between us, evaporating and reabsorbing.

As we pass this goblet around the table, I invite you to pour a little water from your cup into the goblet. As you do this, think of the water you have brought with you tonight in your cells. Think of your ancestors and welcome them into this space. From what corners of the world did they find and absorb water? Imagine how water flows through and between all of us on this planet.

Pass around goblet and everyone adds a drop of water while singing.

We Sing Together

“As I Went Down in the River to Pray”

As I went down in the river to pray

Studying about that good ol’ way

And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord, show me the way!
            O sisters let’s go down

            Let’s go down, come on down

            O sisters let’s go down

            Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray

Studying about that good ol’ way

And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord, show me the way!

Once the goblet has made it around the whole table:

Together: Just as we have each contributed a drop of water to this cup, so are we interconnected by the water on this planet. May we continue to stand by the water, as it nourishes us.

Leader: Let us say Miigwetch, thank you, in whatever language, spoken or unspoken, is meaningful to each of us.

We all say thank you in the language of our choice.


Blessings and Nourishment

Add a little red wine or juice to your white wine or juice and gather some fruit with a tough inner core (such as a seed or a pit) surrounded by a soft outside.

Hold up wine or juice.

Leader: Red is the color of love -- may our love for the Earth overcome our fear and spur us to action.

Leader: Red is also the color of determination. As we bless and drink this wine, let us set our kavanot (intentions) and refocus our attention on the holy work ahead.


נְבָרֵךְ אֶת עֵין הַחַיִּים מַצְמִיחַת פְּרִי הַגָפֶן

N'varekh et Ein Ha-khayim matzmikhat p'ri ha-gafen.

Let us bless the source of life that nurtures the fruit of the vine

Drink some wine or juice, making sure to leave some behind. Pick up a piece of fruit.

Leader: The fruit you are holding is like a microcosm of this planet. Just as the earth’s crust is covered, on most parts, by water, so the pit of your fruit is covered by a watery flesh.

Leader: While the flesh of your fruit appears solid, it contains much water. Similarly, most of the water on this planet is hidden from plain view, whether it is in our cells or lies a few feet beneath the ground.

Leader: And, just as your fruit is exposed, without a shell to protect it, so too are the Earth’s waters vulnerable to pollution, easily absorbing excess CO2  from the atmosphere, excess fertilizer from our farms, and excess chemicals from our factories.

Leader: We bless and eat this fruit to remind ourselves of the centrality of water, seen and unseen, to our lives.


נְבָרֵךְ אֶת עֵין הַחַיִּים מַצְמִיחַת פְּרִי  הָאֵץ

N'varekh et Ein Ha-khayim matzmikhat p'ri ha-eitz.

Let us bless the source of life that nurtures the fruit of the tree

Eat the fruit.


Olam HaBriyah

עולם הבריאה

The World of Creation // The World of Air


”Who Has Seen the Wind?” by Christina Rossetti


Who has seen the wind?

Neither I nor you:

But when the leaves hang trembling,

The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?

Neither you nor I:

But when the trees bow down their heads,

The wind is passing by

“On Air” by Ellen Bernstein


Then YHWH God formed the human [adam] of the dust of the ground [adamah], and breathed into the human's nostrils the breath of life; and the human [adam] became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)

            In Arabic, the wind is ‘ruh’ and the same word also means ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’, while in Hebrew “ruach” enlarges the sphere of influence to include wind, breath, spirit, and concepts of creation and divinity. And the Greek “pneuma” and Latin “animus” and "spiritus" are redolent, not just of air, but of the very stuff of the soul.

            Without wind, most of the Earth would be uninhabitable. The tropics would grow so unbearably hot that nothing could live there, and the rest of the planet would freeze. Moisture, if any existed, would be confined to the oceans, and all but the fringe of the great continents along a narrow temperate belt would be desert. There would be no erosion, no soil, and for any community that managed to evolve despite these rigors, no relief from suffocation by their own waste products.

            But with the wind, Earth comes truly alive. Winds provide the circulatory and nervous systems of the planet, sharing out energy information, distributing both warmth and awareness, making something out of nothing.


Story and Art Activity

The leaders of this section now lead us in a creative activity connecting us to Olam Ha’Briyah.  [For example: using crayons, draw what for you is a represenatation or a symbol of the winds that bring life.]


Raising Our Voices in Song

“Blowin’ in the Wind”

by Bob Dylan

[Verse 1]

How many roads must a man walk down

Before you call him a man?

Yes, and how many seas must a white dove sail

Before she sleeps in the sand?

Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly

Before they're forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

The answer is blowing in the wind

[Verse 2]

Yes, how many years can a mountain exist

Before it is washed to the sea?

Yes, and how many years can some people exist

Before they're allowed to be free?

Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head

And pretend that he just doesn't see?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

The answer is blowing in the wind

[Verse 3]

Yes, How many times must a man look up

Before he can see the sky?

Yes, and how many ears must one man have

Before he can hear people cry?

Yes, and how many deaths will it take till he knows

That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

The answer is blowing in the wind



Blessings and Nourishment

Gather fruits that are soft on both the outside and inside and pour a bit more red wine or juice into cup:


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ חֵי הָעוֹלָמִים בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָפֶן

Baruch atah Yahh Eloheinu chey ha-olamim boreih p’ri ha-gafen

Blessed Are You God, Breath of Life in all the Worlds, Creator of the Fruit of the Vine

Drink all of your wine or juice.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ חֵי הָעוֹלָמִים בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֵץ

Baruch atah Yahh Eloheinu chey ha-olamim boreih p’ri ha-eitz

Blessed Are You Our God, Breath of Life in all the Worlds, Creator of the Fruit of the Tree.

Eat fruit.


Olam Ha’atzilut

עולם האצילות

The World of Essence // The World of Fire

A Prayer for Kindling Candles of Commitment

“Between the Fires”


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.


"Here! The day is coming

That will flame like a furnace, “

Says the Infinite YHWH / Yahhhh,

The Breath of Life --

when all the arrogant, all evil-doers, 

root and branch, 

will like straw be burnt to ashes. 

Yet for all who revere My Interbreathing Name, 

a sun of justice will arise 

with healing in its wings, its rays, its winds. . . . 


“Here! Before the coming 

of the great and awesome day

 of YHWH/ the Breath of Life,

 I will send you the Prophet Elijah

 to turn the hearts of parents to their children 

and the hearts of children to their parents,

 lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction."

 (Malachi 3: 20-21, 23-24.)


Here! we ourselves are coming

Before the great and terrible day

of  smiting Earth — 

For we ourselves shall turn the hearts

Of parents to their children

And the hearts of children to their parents

So that this day of smiting

Does not fall upon us.


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 fires to see more clearly 

That the Earth and all who live as part of it

Are not for burning.                             

We light these fires to see more clearly

The rainbow in our many-colored faces.


Blessed is the One within the many.

Blessed are the many who make One.


Blessed are You —  our Source of Being, 

 Interbreathing Spirit of all life,  

Who makes us holy through connection with each other

And directs us to connect the past and future generations

By kindling the candles of Elijah’s Covenant.

(Light candles of commitment)

Baruch attah YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh /Yahhh 

elohenu ruakh ha’olam  

asher kidshanu b’mitzvot, 

vitzivanu l’hadlik ner shel brit Eliyahu

Beyn haDorot.


Singing Forth the Light

“This Little Light of Mine” // Or Hadash

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine

Let it shine, shine, shine

Let it shine!

[To same melody:]

Or chadash al tzion ta’ir

Or chadash al tzion ta’ir

Or chadash al tzion ta’ir

v’nizkeh chulanu m’hera l’oro


Fire in Our Time

Reader: “A messinger of YHWH appeared to [Moses]  in a flame of fire from within the bush, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not being consumed” (Exodus 3:2).

"But the bush was not being consumed." For the flame was a nondestructive source of power. When fossil fuels are burned to produce energy, they emit harmful gases that are the primary cause of air pollution and climate change. With every burning of coal or unnatural gas to generate electricity , every burning of gasoline to power a car ride down the street and heat a hot shower, we harm our planet.


But there is  a life-giving way, a sacred way, a way of love: At the same moment when we honor the rebirth of trees, the rebirth of the Tree of Life,  we honor the birthday of Martin Luther King and the rebirth of the energy he symbolized:
"A genuine revolution of values means that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to humankind [and the Earth] as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.


"This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all [life].


"Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.


"We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late.


"Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late."  We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.


"If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.


"Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter but beautiful  struggle for a new world. The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history."


Renewable resources such as solar and wind provide us with natural, clean energy. Solar power is the conversion of energy from sunlight into electricity, and wind power is the use of airflow through wind turbines to produce electric power. However, as of 2018, wind power makes up only 2% of the total worldwide electricity production, while solar power makes up only 1.5%. But in some countries, these sources of energy have become much more fully used. The potential is great.

Reader: Throughout our history, in times of great sorrow and vast uncertainty, the power of hope has sustained the human spirit from complete and utter despair. That precious gem of human ingenuity remains our greatest dictum of ascendancy. But where does it come from?

In Jewish tradition, the Ner Tamid, “eternal flame,” is a light that shines in front of the ark in Jewish houses of worship.  It is said to represent G-d’s eternal presence in our holy sanctuary. However, it could also be said that we too have an eternal, or internal flame. Our eternal flame ignites our passion and desire to seek justice -- not only in the world but also for the world. In the Torah, God tells Moses that the Israelites will be a light unto all nations. That light represents a beacon of hope. It is thus our sacred responsibility to speak outan act n behalf of all  Earth and the sustainable management of its resources both in public policy and individual behavior. Only then can we truly be a light unto all nations. Only then will be worthy of calling this planet, our home.

A Leader:  We will distribute pens, paper, envelopes, and stamps, and invite each of us to write a public official to urge some action to protect our Earth. One possibility is to write a Senator, asking him or her to sign a pledge to take no campaign contributions from Fosssil Fuel companies.


Blessings and Nourishment

At the level of Spirit and the Will to Create, the fruit we eat is utterly perrmeable, beyond physicality , emotion, or intellect. We pause in contemplation of the Universe as the fruit of the Tree of All Life, and we eat no fruit.

Pour red wine or juice into your cup.


נְבָרֵךְ אֶת עֵין הַחַיִּים מַצְמִיחַת פְּרִי הַגָפֶן

N'varekh et Ein Ha-khayim matzmikhat p'ri ha-gafen.

Let us bless the source of life that nurtures the fruit of the vine.


Birkat Hamazon

ברכת המזון

Blessing After the Meal


V’akhalta ואכלת

Hebrew: Deuteronomy 8:10

English: Hanna Tiferet Siegel, hannatiferet.com

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ

V’achalta, V'savata, Oo-vay-rach-ta

We ate when we were hungry

And now we’re satisfied

We thank the Source of Blessing

for all that S/He provides

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ

V’achalta, V'savata, Oo-vay-rach-ta

Hunger is a yearning

In body and soul.

Earth Air Fire Water

And Spirit makes us whole.

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ

V’achalta, V'savata, Oo-vay-rach-ta

Giving and receiving

We open up our hands

From Seedtime through Harvest

We’re partners with the land

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ

V’achalta, V'savata, Oo-vay-rach-ta

We all share a vision

Of wholeness and release

Where every child is nourished

And we all live in peace {Ameyn!)

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ

V’achalta, V'savata, Oo-vay-rach-ta


This ceremony for the Tu B'Shvat Seder, created in 2018,  has been modified in 2019 to honor the confluence pf Martin Luther King's Birthday with Tu B'Shvat.

Resources for the history, spiritual evolution, and practical celebration of Tu B'Shvat: See Trees, Earth, and Torah: A Tu B'Shvat Anthology, edited by Ari Elon, Naomi Mara Hyman, and Arthur Waskow (Jewish Publication Society, 1999).

Save the Date! 50th Anniversary of Interfaith Freedom Seder

    Save the Date!

Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50

Sponsored by The Shalom Center 


Sunday April 7, 2019

Dinner - 5pm, Seder - 7pm


7401 Limekiln Pike, Philadelphia 19138

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



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. 

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!

8 Nights of Hanukkah, my True Love sang to me: "Please heal My Earth!”

Beforehand: Start Now. If you don’t have Seasons of Our Joy and/ or want the newly updated 4th edition, published by the Jewish Publication Society, plan NOW before Hanukkah to go on-line at https://jps.org/books/seasons-of-our-joy/ to order it,  or call Longleaf Services at 800-848-6224 or 919-966-7449, or Email customerservice@longleafservices.org

Prepare for Learning Early --  Right Now!: The next Jewish festival will be Tu B’Shvat, the ReBirthDay of Trees and of the Sacred Tree of Life. It will come on Sunday evening January 20 and daytime Monday January 21, which this year is also Martin Luther King’s Birthday and comes right after the Women’s March on January 19. How do we connect the Earth-oriented Tu B’Shvat with the activist-oriented MLK Day? Maybe by focusing on defeating environmental racism?

You can do early learning for your way into Tu B’Shvat in two ways:  

       Click to  https://jps.org/books/trees-earth-and-torah/    Explore the book after Hanukkah. It will help you think, and plan.

The book  and the Webinar will help you gather friends for a Tu B’Shvat Seder with four courses of fruit and nuts, four cups of wine, and a commitment to heal earth, water, air, and fire (energy).


Overview: These suggestions are not intended to be commands or strictures. They are intended as pointers toward a way of making Hanukkah both serious and joyful, a grown-up time to bring people together using a Jewish festival to help heal the Earth from the climate crisis. Add or substitute your own ideas as you feel moved.

Sunday Evening Dec 2. Candle 1:  Learn and Build Community: Invite friends over. From my book Seasons of Our Joy, read aloud together the chapter on Hanukkah.  Each person around the circle can read a paragraph, and pause to discuss whenever anyone has a question or a suggestion.  Sing some Hanukkah songs, share latkes and doughnuts fried in olive oil.

Monday daytime, Dec 3, first day Hanukkah: Call your electric-power utility to switch your own home to wind-powered or solar-powered electricity. (For each home, 100% renewable power reduces CO2 emissions the same as not driving 20,000 miles in one year.)  Call your friends and suggest they also call your local utility.

Mon eve Dec 3, Candle 2:Click to https://www.solarunitedneighbors.org/  for background information on what it means to organize a solar energy co-op,  

Daytime,  Tuesday Day 2, Dec 4.  Invite about five friends or neighbors, to gather on Tuesday evening for a conversation about organizing a neighborhood Solar Co-op.  Maybe include your rabbi or leaders of your congregation.

Tues evening Dec 4: Candle 3: Gather with the people you invited.  Click again to https://www.solarunitedneighbors.org/  for background information, and spend the first hour reading and discussing what’s there. Then spend an hour talking about how to call a larger meeting of 20 to 50 people, with perhaps a speaker or panel. Set a date and each one of you jot down whom you will call.

Daytime Wednesday, Dec 5, Day 3. Start listing whom you want to call for the larger gathering, and make a few calls to speakers you agreed on.

Weds eve Dec 5, Candle 4: Play dreidl with kids, your partner, and/or close friends. Relax and have fun.  

Daytime Thurs, Day 4, Dec. 6. Write a letter to your own State Senator  and/or Delegate urging them to reduce subsidies for highways, increase them for mass transit. In states (like PA, NY) where high-profit oil/ gas companies are trying to “frack” Oil Shale deposits,

Linda Sarsour writes on the Women's March & Facing Anti-Semitism

Dear Shalom Center members,  friends, and readers,

In recent days there have been some calls from some people in the Jewish community to boycott the planned Women’s March on January 19. This call has been explained on the ground that some of the March leaders have been unwilling to specifically denounce Minister Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam for his many blatantly anti-Semitic views and speeches.

One of the March leaders cited in this call has been Linda Sarsour, an important leader of the Women’s March movement that became powerful the day after Mr. Trump’s inauguration as President, and onward from then.  I know that Ms. Sarsour has not only spoken words but also taken action strongly condemning anti-Semitism.  She has, for example, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help repair desecrated Jewish cemeteries and to assist the survivors of the “Tree of Life” synagogue mass murders in Pittsburgh.

[In this photo, Linda Sarsour is at the far right, next to Gloria Steinem along with other leaders of the Women's March in 2017]

So I was very surprised by these attacks, and very open to hearing Ms. Sarsour’s views on them. When I received a privately circulated letter from Linda Sarsour explaining her views on these matters, I was and am deepy moved by it, and asked her permission to share it with The Shalom Center‘s community.  She wrote back, “Please share as you see fit. Hope it brings some healing to broken hearts.  – Linda”

Here is her letter: Shalom, Arthur Waskow

I am requesting for all who read my email to approach it with an open mind and an open heart with the understanding that you may not agree with what I will put forth and that is okay with me. This is not an email to persuade or to convince, it is an email with my voice and my experience and my truth - one that may not be comfortable for some.

I know and recognize that our Jewish family is experiencing real pain, hurt and trauma. I know this stems from generational trauma and history of genocide and that these past few weeks have triggered insecurity, fear and anxiety. This is a difficult time and it requires us to be clear-eyed and also recognize the real threats so we can protect each other. We are all we got and this movement is all we got. 


The Farrakhan controversy began 8 months ago when Jake Tapper and Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL "exposed/ promoted" a video of the Minister Farrakhan at an annual gathering for the Nation of Islam called Saviour's Day where Tamika D. Mallory was present along with 15,000 other people including many Black celebrities, business people, dignitaries and pastors. She was not a speaker.

Tamika has already discussed in length her longstanding relationship with the NOI after the brutal murder of her son's father 17 years ago and the positive role NOI played in this Black single teen mother's life. I won't rehash this but note it here for context. We heard painful and yet loving critiques from our Jewish friends, we had conference calls, meetings, we put out a statement that came out a few days late BECAUSE we have Jewish women on our staff who were impacted personally and working through a statement that was going to speak to all the concerns was not something that could happen overnight. Since then conversations continued and our important work continued.

Then the horrific Tree of Life shooting happened that took the life of 11 innocent Jewish Americans and all of a sudden Women's March was being asked to condemn the Minister Farrakhan. There was nothing new that happened between Women's March and the Minister. Folks decided to rehash 8 months ago. A white supremacist walked into a synagogue and killed 11 innocent people and the focus became the Minister Farrakhan and the NOI.

A few days before that a white supremacist sent dozens of pipe bombs to notable figures and a day before that a white supremacist killed two Black people at Kroger's (my Muslim American community also raised funds for these two innocent souls as well) after he could not get in to a locked Black church but here we were three women of color who are leading a powerful effective movement with millions of members being demanded to denounce Minister Farrakhan who had no relation to these white supremacists or these acts of violence.

Instead of coming together as a country to call out white supremacy and the violence being inspired by this Administration --- the deflection went to a Black man who has no institutional power. ---  This is a feature of white supremacy. 

This is not an email in defense of Minister Farrakhan. He can do that for himself. We have been CRYSTAL CLEAR in BOTH of our statements that we REJECT antisemitism and all forms of racism. We have been CLEAR that Minister Farrakhan has said hateful and hurtful things and that he does not align with our Unity Principles of the Women's March that were created by Women of Color. Minister Farrakhan will tell you himself that he does not belong to nor adhere to our progressive movement or yours. 

We are trained in Kingian nonviolence, the ideology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that at its core calls us to attack the forces of evil not those doing evil. We believe in redemption for people of color who have been discarded, denounced and condemned for centuries in this country. People who engage in acts or behaviors or hold beliefs based on their own historical trauma. It's why we are not ashamed to work with formerly incarcerated individuals who have committed crimes that for some in society would have determined and decided to give them death. We have been slandered for working with criminals - but we are committed to a movement that leaves no one behind.

Some folks who claim to be in the resistance or represent the resistance have no ideology or theory of change and have no understanding of the nuance that comes with organizing with communities of color because they have not done the work - and I pray that they do meet, build and learn because it will transform how they show up so they can help and not harm. 

Last year when a St. Louis Jewish cemetery was desecrated, with no hesitation I raised close to $165K for its restoration and because of the generosity of many in my community it allowed for the restoration of another Jewish cemetery in Colorado that was neglected for years. Immediately after the Tree of Life shooting, my colleague Tarek and I (through MPower Change) raised $206K to pay for ALL the funerals of the 11 innocent Jews that were killed. My role as a movement leader is not just to say profound words it is to set an example of what meaningful allyship looks like that is beyond thoughts and prayers. This was all erased.  oped after oped after oped after quotes from people who want to see their names in print and barely any mention of our contributions when they decided to tear us down. 

The labels of antisemitism were here before the Minister Farrakhan controversy 8 months ago. Who remembers when a campaign was started by the alt-right and right-wing Zionists to get me disinvited from a CUNY commencement speech last June? Who remembers the campaign against me last fall around my participation in a New School panel about the importance of combatting antisemitism in this moment with Jewish Voice for Peace and Jacobin Magazine? Minister Farrakhan was not even a factor yet in the conversation. I was already being labeled an antisemite and by extension the Women's March.

It's very clear to me what the underlying issue is - I am a bold, outspoken BDS -supporting Palestinian Muslim American woman and the opposition's worst nightmare. They have tried every tactic at their disposal to undermine me, discredit me, vilify me but my roots are too deep and my work is too clear and they have not succeeded so by proxy they began attacking my sister Tamika Mallory - knowing all too well that in this country the most discardable woman is a Black woman.

Tamika has been disinvited from some things, and her twitter account that I have access to is full of hate that is unfathomable, saturated with the N-words and worst things said to Black women. I will NEVER throw Tamika away. My loyalty to Black women who have risked their lives for all of us is and will be unshaken. I will continue to hold Tamika up because she has done that for too many people that society has written off. 

Tamika and I are women with our own agency. We speak for ourselves and ourselves alone. We are being stripped of our agency when every few months we are asked to condemn the Minister about words that we did not say, nonetheless the words of a man who did not consult us on his words. We are being held to standards that no one would hold themselves to.

I can share numerous examples of times when movement leaders could have said more and done more for various communities or in response to hateful things that have come from their communities and their "leaders"- blatant anti-blackness,  Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian rhetoric -  yet that is UNFAIR which is why I don't expect it nor demand it. As a Muslim, I know all too well that I am expected to answer for other Muslims’ actions when white folks never have a second thought about having to do that. ---  This is a feature of white supremacy. 

Let's also recognize who the majority is that leads the attacks against women of color leaders - not people of color led institutions or activists.  Wonder why. Who benefits when a powerful, effective and proven organization is attacked? Who benefits when the movement is divided? Who benefits from the confusion and the fractures? Not us. Not marginalized people. Not those who are counting on us to win.

Let us not fall for the longstanding tactics of white supremacy of divide and conquer. Unity is NOT uniformity. I am not building a unified movement where we will all agree on every single point and issue. I am building a complex, intersectional movement with the clear understanding that it will be messy and uncomfortable because if it was going to be easy someone would have done it a long time ago and we would all have our rights and be enjoying our lives in a free democratic country that treats us all with dignity and respect. But here we are.

We have seen UGLY. I pray that none of you have to experience what we have. A litany of death threats, unsolicited hate mail some with threats of violence. FBI visits to notify me of credible threats to my life that I had not even seen, the need for security detail, surveillance systems for my home - I don't say this for any pity or sympathy because I am NOT a victim, I am a survivor of a white supremacist system that wants to ban and rid itself of people like me and Tamika, I say this to say that these public toxic conversations invite these things to happen to us and we all have a responsibility to want us to be safe and out of harm's way. Tamika and I did not choose to be activists, this work chose us.

This is not a side job, or a labor of love - this is a matter of life and death for the communities we love and come from. 

I ask you all to model how we approach each other in the movement. Have conversations, reach out, ask questions, give benefit of the doubt, contextualize moments outside of your own personal feelings, remind yourself of the good this person or persons or organization has done. Use critical thinking skills.

Be honest with your feelings, speak from the I, propose solutions and not demands. Challenge people in your circles, engage people. Tearing down, threatening movement leaders with "say this or else we won't do this or if you don't say this then its meaningless" is not the way. 

The Women's March is an important institution in this resistance. We have organized the largest single day demonstration in American history, we have been the catalyst for 20,000 women to run for office, we have trained thousands of women in civil disobedience and direct action, organized the largest women led civil disobedience back in June around family separation, co-led close to 30 days of organizing around Kavanaugh and shifted the entire narrative, worked diligently with many of you on elections in key states winning back the House and NOW we are in the midst of organizing another HISTORIC mobilization to remind the Administration that we are still here as a resistance and send a message to Congress and yes to our friends in Congress that we will create the political will for them to be brave and hold them accountable to the platforms they ran on. 

Thank you for reading this far. I know for some this may not have been easy and may have triggered you and I see you. Sit with this. Absorb it from a place of love and commitment to making this movement work. I pray that our Jewish family recognizes that this resistance is for you too and that you embrace the solidarity we have shown because we have a lot more to give. I am available for one-on -ne conversations and am committed to making the time. 

Stay focused. The real threat is white nationalism and white supremacy. They want to destroy us all. We are all we got and you know that you can count on me and the Women's March leaders to continue to be bold and put it all on the line. We hope to see you on January 19th, 2019. We promise you that we have remarkable things in store and you will leave inspired once again. 

I will leave you with a quote that guides the way I show up in this work and I hope that it speaks to all of you. It is by an aboriginal woman by the name of Lila Watson and she said:

"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you have come here because you believe that your liberation is bound up with mine, let us work together."

My liberation is bound up with all of yours. 

In solidarity, 

Linda Sarsour 


*** *** ***

(Arthur back again:) As I said, I am deeply moved by this letter. Yet I do not agree with all of Ms. Sarsour’s views. I have, for example, publicly disagreed with the call of the “official” BDS [“Boycott Divest Sanction”] movement for total boycotts of all Israeli institutions, and I have publicly debated with its Palestinian leaders. (At the same time, I have supported boycotts of companies that are directly supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories on the West Bank.)  

My own opposition to a total BDS directed against all of Israeli society, along with my strong opposition to the Israeli government and the Occupation, comes from my own ties to the decent elements in Israeli society. So from my own rresponses I learn to respect the responses of a Palestinian-American with strong ties to the Palestinian community under Occupation in its homeland, and to understand why such a person would feel drawn to BDS. In this way I honor our disagreement  --  both sides of it – even while I hold strongly to my own view.

Should my disagreement on this question push me toward boycotting a movement that I strongly support – the Women’s March -- in which Ms. Sarsour is a leader? God forbid!

Indeed, just the opposite.  Contempt for women and their subjugation is an aspect of the white nationalism that also encourages fear and hatred of immigrants and refugees, Muslims, Blacks, Latinx, Native Americans, and the free press; that emboldens anti-Semitism; and that through the Trump-Netanyahoo alliance subjugates Palestinians. Resistance to white nationalism connects the fuller liberation of American women from sexism with the fuller liberation of the Jewish community from anti-Semitism.

In our very diversity, our different cultures, our disagreements, we are the rainbow refractions of ONE light. The Quran teaches that humanity was created in many different cultures precisely so that we can learn to understand each other. Jews affirm in the Sh’ma that the Divine Interbreath of Life is ONE. The Torah’s call that we pursue “justice, justice” – in its different voices --  is ONE. The love we owe each other is ONE.

To Lila Watson's and Linda Sarsour's challenge, I respond: We have indeed come together because we do believe that "your" liberation is bound up with "mine."  So let us work together!

Ashes, Stones, & Flowers: A Litany For Armistice Day or Memorial Day

In Memory of All Victims of War and Terrorism

[The litany requires either actually standing at a running river or a lake, or if that is not feasible bringing a large basin of water into the center of a church, synagogue, mosque, or temple. If the basin, change "river" to "water" in the litany. At best, it includes having a list of names of people of various countries who have died and are dying as victims of war and terrorism. If these are not yet available for a particular act of violence, drop the recitation of names.]

Ashes, Stones, and Flowers:

For vibrant lives suddenly and shamelessly sacrificed, we lift up the ashes of our loss,

O Source of Life.

For the lives that continue, haunted forever by the pain of absence,

we lift up the ashes of our remorse, O Wellspring of Compassion.

For the conflagration of flames and nightmare images

forever seared into our memories,

we lift up the ashes of our pain, O Breathing Spirit of the World.

For the charred visions of peace and the dry taste of fear,

we lift up the ashes of our grief, O Infinite.

For all the deaths that have been justified

by turning the love of God or country into fanatical arrogance,

we lift up the ashes of our shame, O God.


As we cast these ashes into the troubled water of our times, Transforming One,

hear our plea that by your power they will make fertile the soil of our future

and by your mercy nourish the seeds of peace.


[The people recite the names of the dead.]


In silence, the people cast the ashes into the river

[or a bowl of water].



For the ways humanity pursues violence rather than understanding,

we lift up the stones of our anger, O Breathing Spirit of the World.


For the ways we allow national, religious and ethnic boundaries

to circumscribe our compassion, we lift up the stones of our hardness, O Wellspring of Compassion.


For our addiction to weapons and the ways of militarism we lift up the stones of our fear, O Source of Life.


For the ways we cast blame and create enemies we lift up the stones of our self-righteousness, O God


As we cast these stones into this ancient river, Transforming One, hear our plea:


Just as water wears away the hardest of stones,

so too may the power of your compassion soften the hardness of our hearts

and draw us into a future of justice and peace.


[The people recite the names of the dead.]


In silence, the people cast the stones into the river

[or a bowl of water].



For sowing seeds of justice to blossom into harmony,

we cast these flowers into the river, O Source of Peace.


For seeing clearly the many rainbow colors of humanity and earth,

we cast these flowers into the river, O Infinite.


For calling us to life beyond our grieving,

we cast these flowers into the river, O Breathing Spirit of the World.


As we cast these flowers into this ancient river,

Transforming One, hear our plea:


Just as water births life in a desert and gives hope to the wounded,

so too may the power of your nurturing renew our commitment to peace.


[The people recite the names of the dead.]


In silence, the people cast the flowers into the river

[or a bowl of water].



Litany by Rev. Patricia Pearce, former pastor of Tabernacle United Church, Philadelphia,

and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center.

Pittsburgh: Grieve, Heal, VOTE!

There are many disastrous levels to the murderous massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

There is the immediate personal disaster of eleven lives destroyed, others wounded, families and friends bereft, a neighborhood traumatized. To all these, The Shalom Center as a body and I individually send blessings of swift refuah (healing) for the wounded,  deep respect and grief for the dead, and loving care for those bereaved.

There is the broader disaster of shock to the American Jewish community, until now so profoundly joyful to have found full acceptance in America these last several generations, after millennia of persecution elsewhere and elsewhen. 

Some of us took from that safety acceptance in becoming affluent, even wealthy, even powerful. Some of us took from that safety acceptance in becoming social critics, progressives, even radicals.

Less comfort as critics than as powerful, of course – but comfortable that all the clauses of the First Amendment affirmed our worth as Jews, as sacred fringes on conventional assumptions, as challengers who could wrestle not only with God (as our name “Yisrael” describes us) but with the rigidified habits of ourselves and others.  

And even worse, the broader disaster of facing an American government that our immigrant forebears who came here for freedom’s sake could not have fathomed:

 A government honeycombed with white supremacism, moving into neofascism,  calling forth from the shadows into boastful visibility those who concoct bombs to enforce their racism, who can openly revel in their contempt for women, who can turn hatred of foreigners into willingness to rip babies from their mothers’ breasts,  who can turn their greed for hyperwealth into willingness to torch the Earth that is our common home, our only home  -- and who can turn their latent anti-Semitism into mass murder.

How do we respond to these layered levels of disaster?

There is a time to wail and a time to pray.

There is a time to sing in sadness, and a time to sing in solidarity, and a time to sing in both:   --

Sing along with Holly Near, “It could have been me but instead it was you”:


 There is a time to learn, and a time to act.

 There is a time to act by marching bold, and a time to act by sitting-in.

 There is a time to VOTE.

 Yes, we still have time – but not very much – to change this government controlled by hate-mongers and their toadies.

 Already millions have been casting early votes. Nine days from today, the Congress will be reshaped – or not. Or partly.

Either for the first time this corruptly rotten government will face a check upon its power – or its power will be authorized, unchecked.

Either we prepare for more tears as our goverrnment encourages more bombers, more bullies, more killers --

OR we change our government, by voting in great numbers:

We have but eight days to Grow the Vote – Grow it numerically, and Grow it in wisdom.

Long ago, the story tells us, at the edge of the Red Sea, the People paused in terror of the choices that they faced. Moses lifted his staff and prayed to God, the Breath of Life.

And God said, “Moses! My people are caught between Pharaoh’s Army behind and the tumultuous Sea ahead – and you stand there, piling prayer on prayer?  Tell My People to move forward!”

The People moved -- became truly a movement into freedom. The future opened, and the Breath of Life became a Hurricane of Change.

So may it be for us.

Four months ago, The Shalom Center began preparing teachings and symbols for "Share Sukkot: Grow the Vote!" We bumped into several unexpected concerns: "As a nonprofit, we can't do that." (Yes we can, as long as we don't name a specific candidate or party to support.) "There's a wide spectrum in our congregation; some people might get mad." (Maybe the agreement is broader after Pittsburgh. And who can oppose encouraging people to vote?)  "Blacks and Hispanics may have a stake in this election, but we don't. We're fine, regardless."(Gulp. Yeah, right.)

In the Jewish community, after Pittsburgh there should be no synagogue, no havurah, no Hillel, no organization of any sort that holds back from Getting Out The Vote and teaching the issues that grow from millennia of Torah.

And in the other communities of ethics and of Spirit, the same. We stand together -- Black churches, Muslim mosques, Sikh temples, Jewish synagogues have all been desecrated, violated. In all of them, blood has poured into the sacred vessels.

Our Grow the Vote resources are still useful. Click to  https://theshalomcenter.org/ShareSukkotResources

On  Saturday night,  I spoke for and to a vigil / action rally of about 300 Jews and other people in a Philadelphia park, allies in this moment of disaster and beyond.  We persevere. We mourn. We organize. We speak the truths we are able to discern.

We need your help to do that.

Please help The Shalom Center continue our work to heal our society’s deep wounds by clicking on the maroon “Contribute” button on he left-hand margin of this page.


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