Arrested! -- Berman, Waskow, Lulav, Etrog

Phyllis and I and about a dozen others whom we met on the scene took part in honoring the Sukkot festival Monday by bensching lulav at the Hart Senate Office Building as part of a demonstration against confirming Mr. Trump’s nomination of Mr. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. 

Bensching” [blessing] lulav means waving four species of plants -- a branch of palm, myrtle, and willow, plus the lemon-like etrog or citron -- in the seven directions of the world, to connect with the multi-species ecosystem that keeps humans and all life alive.

 “Seven directions”? Surely only six: East, West, North, South, Up, Down!  But the traditional pattern of waving is that we reach out in the different directions and then each time bring the Four Species close to our heart. As Rabbi Shefa Gold teaches, the seventh direction is inward.

Before we did the waving, I explained that Sukkot honors the fragile hut that was the first refuge of the runaway slaves of the Exodus. That hut becomes the symbol of protection for all those in our society who are vulnerable to attack – and that is the deepest root of the campaign to prevent Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. His stance in the world is subjugation of refugees, the poor, minority religions and races, and the concentration of power in the hands of the wealthy and mighty, beginning with his attempting rape and humiliating women when he was 17 and continuing into his adult politics.

The demonstration then moved to Sen. Collins’ office and chanted outside her office for about 30 minutes (e.g., over and over, “We believe Dr. Ford, we believe Deborah Ramirez, we believe Anita Hill”)  before police arrested about 50 of us (Phyllis and me included).

See very brief CNN video in the hallway outside Collins’ office. You can see Phyllis and me come walking across the scene as we look for a place to sit down. Our taleisim are light-colored enough to look as if we are wearing white clothing. 



Another 100 or more demonstrators moved when ordered by police, continuing to chant but not risking arrest.  Other sit-downs at other Senatorial  spaces happened later in the day. Demonstrators were spirited, committed, about 85% women. 

 The Capitol Police were focused, calm, professional, kind to some in difficulties (including me; I need a cane to walk and without it have some balance difficulty).  Just before the arrest, I spoke directly to officers, reminding them that though we understood they needed to enforce the law as they understood it, it was a far worse crime to attempt to rape a 15-year-old girl and to order breast-feeding babies yanked away from their mothers at the border. 

We were bused to a holding building about 15 minutes away, held for about three hours for processing, submitted IDs and $50 collateral which we forfeited in lieu of standing trial.  

 As we move toward the climactic testimony by Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey Ford on Thursday, what standards am I following in urging his rejection? Kavanaugh is not on trial for a felony, where conviction properly requires an assessment of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Rather, he is being examined about whether he merits appointment to one of the most powerful positions in the world, in which treatment of many vulnerable people and our vulnerable Earth are at stake.

 For that job, the level of judgment should be more like “Has he exhibited the highest ethical concerns for justice and compassion, including care for the reputations and bodies of women?”  Besides the accusations from Dr. Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, we already know he sleazily pissed on the reputation of a teen-age girl named “Renate” in his prep-school yearbook page, and boasted of being a big drinker and often drunk.  His classmates remember him as often “stumbling drunk,” and as aggressive when he was drunk.

And as a grown-up judge, he tried to prevent a 17-year-old applicant for asylum in the US who was fleeing family sexual abuse from having an abortion when she discovered at the US border that she was pregnant, probably from incestuous rape. His attitude toward that 17-year-old – trying to take control of her body, raping her in a different way -- echoed his attitude toward Christine Ford when she was 15.

 His bent toward subjugation of the weak does not apply only to women. As a Department of Justice lawyer during the War Against Iraq and since, he never objected to the Bush Administration’s policy of using torture. He has shown strong biases in favor of corporate profits for the Carbon Pharaohs, over healing the Earth and human communities from climate-crisis droughts, wildfires, and floods.

Is that the guy we want deciding our futures? Our daughters’ futures? The fate of Roe v. Wade? The fate of the Earth?

The Senate’s decision may rest in the hands of two undecided women Senators. Please call 202-224-3121 and ask for Senators Collins of Maine and Murkowski of Alaska. Talk with their staff or leave recorded messages.

 Whatever the outcome of this confirmation fight, the November election will make decisions that affect the fate and future of American democracy. Even though we are already in Sukkot, it is still possible to act on The Shalom Center ‘s campaign to “ Share Sukkot  --  Grow the Vote.We have gathered three sets of resources for this work:  (a) Posters of ushpizin, sacred guests we invite into the sukkah as heroes of the struggle to broaden the right to vote;  (b) Brief essays that look at the values of Sukkot to inform people’s decisions as they choose whom to vote for; and (c) Handbooks for registering voters and making sure they can get to the polls. 

To draw on these resources, please click to  https://theshalomcenter.org/ShareSukkotResources

May you and all of us be blessed with the three pillars that the ancient Rabbis taught were necessary to uphold the world:  Truth, Justice, and Shalom

The Day after Yom Kippur: Facing Mr. Kavanaugh

This coming Thursday, September 20, is scheduled to be the final day of hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Mr. Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to a life-time seat on the Supreme Court.

Thursday  is also the day after Yom Kippur.

There is a traditional Jewish practice that on the evening after the break-fast meal at the end of Yom Kippur, the community drives the first nail in building its sukkah. This practice embodies our commitment that –

  • after prayers for compassion from the Breath of Life to us and from ourselves to others,
  • after prayers that we turn ourselves to affirm our deepest inner truth through action,
  • after hearing the outcry of the Prophet Isaiah on behalf of the poor and the prisoners,
  • we actually take action to begin the building of the sukkah.

To build the house that trembles in the wind, the house where refugees were welcome 3000 years ago as we fled slavery in Egypt, the house that is open to the earthiness of wind and sun and rain, the house that welcomes and celebrates the seventy nations of the world.

I think that on Thursday, a strong opposition to Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation would help build the sukkah of an America that is suffering the suffocation of compassion and justice by its government  -- a suffocation that would become worse if Mr. Kavanaugh takes a seat in the Supreme Court.   

So I urge that it is at all possible for you, please come at 9 a.m. on Thursday to the Hart Senate Office Building  at Constitution Ave NE & 2nd St NE, Washington, DC 20002. There will be powerful options for both people who want and people who don’t want to risk arrest in  an act of nonviolent civil disobedience --while in either mode they oppose confirmation of Mr. Kavanaugh..

You can register at bit.ly/nokavanaugh but do not need to. If you are coming from a distance, registration may help the organizers try to provide travel subsidies.

Whether or not you can come to DC on Thursday, please start NOW, today, calling two Republican women senators whose votes could tip the balance. Call 202-224-3121 and ask for Senator Collins of Maine. Talk with her staff or leave a recorded message.  Then call again and ask for Sen. Murkowski of Alaska.

Why do I suggest taking these extraordinary steps?

All the evidence we have suggests that Mr Kavanaugh is a smooth and polite Donald Trump.  

For example:

He has refused to say outright that the Roe v. Wade decision that women have a Constitutional right to choose an abortion is settled law, and he has explicitly said the Supreme Court could reverse its decision.  

He was himself directly responsible for trying to prevent a 17-year-old girl who had applied for asylum as a refugee from having an abortion she desperately wanted and needed, and was reversed by a higher official only after delaying so long that the choice was much more complicated.

Just yesterday afternoon, California professor Christine Blasey Ford told the Washington  Post that Kavanaugh and a male friend of his corralled her in a bedroom during a gathering at a house in Maryland in the early 1980s. She says that both boys were "stumbling drunk" and that the friend watched as Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and clumsily tried to pull off her clothes.

She said she tried to scream and Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand.

Ford says she escaped when Kavanaugh's friend jumped on top of them and they tumbled.

The now-53-year-old Kavanaugh denies the allegation.

Ford says she didn't reveal what happened until 2012 during couples therapy with her husband. The Post’s article included an interview with Ms. Ford’s husband and her lawyer, Debra Katz, and described a therapist’s notes from 2012 in which Ms. Ford told of the attack.

Meanwhile, evidence has emerged that strongly suggests Kavanaugh lied under oath during his confirmation hearings for his present judgeship. The issue is whether he knew of the theft of important correspondence of a Democratic Senator by a Republican Party operative. Kavanaugh denied knowing. Newly found emails suggest he did.

His views about the “previous conditions” provision of the Affordable Care Act and about strong regulations to control CO2 and methane emissions suggest he would probably throw them out.

The Trump Administration has refused to release records about his views on US use of torture when he worked for the Bush Administration during the Iraq War. There is no public evidence he objected, and it is very likely he supported the use of torture.

And his statements about Presidential power suggest he would oppose even subpoenaing the President who has appointed him, let alone indicting him, though he supported such actions against President Bill Clinton.  He refused to commit to recuse himself, even on grounds of personal conflict of interest, if such an issue arose before the Court.  

 All this suggests to me that he holds views directly opposite to those of the Prophet Isaiah whose prophetic words we continue to hear every Yom Kippur, 2500 years after he said them.

I urge us to stand with Isaiah.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace --  Arthur

Yom Kippur: Take Isaiah into the Streets for 18 Minutes!

On Yom Kippur, about 2500 years ago, the Prophet Isaiah broke the conventional pattern of prayer and fasting. What he said then has been lifted into sacred immortality as the Prophetic reading for Yom Kippur.

Today, a group of Jewish teachers,  rabbis, and leaders call us to emulate Isaiah in a new way: Let us walk for 18 minutes beyond our congregational walls. Let us carry Isaiah into our towns and neighborhoods and cities.

“From California to the New York Island” have come together rabbis and teachers to urge our congregations to undertake this effort: Among them are (all affiliations are for identification only):

Dr. Barbara Eve Breitman (Spiritual Direction at RRC & HUC);  Rabbi Sharon Brous (Ikar); Aryae Coopersmith (co-founder, House of Love and Prayer & Coastside Torah Circle); Rabbi Laura Geller (emerita, Temple Israel of Hollywood);  Arlene Goldbard (president,  The Shalom Center);  Abigail Grafton (Shomeret, Aquarian Minyan); Dr.  Susannah  Heschel (Dartmouth University);  Rabbi Burt Jacobson (emeritus, Kehillah); Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie (Storahtelling & Labshul); Rabbi Michael Lerner (Tikkun); Rabbi Mordechai Liebling (RRC); Rabbi Moshe Levin (emeritus, Ner Tamid, San Francisco); Ruth Messinger (founder, American  Jewish World Service) Rabbi Marcia Prager (P’nai Or Philadelphia & dean, ALEPH Ordination Program); Rabbi David Seidenberg (Neo-Hasid, Ecology and Kabbalah);  Rabbi Susan Talve (Central Reform Congr, St Louis); Rabbi Arthur Waskow (founder, The Shalom Center); Rabbi Sheila Weinberg (Inst for Jewish Spirituality); Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz (founder, Uri L'Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice). 

On that walk, each congregation can choose the stance that feels fitting for itself. We encourage awareness that we are not abandoning prayer but carrying prayer and/or the Isaiah Haftarah into public space:

 For instance, perhaps we walk in prayerful silent vigil, wearing the tallitot whose fringes reach out as threads of connection with the world.

 Perhaps we prayerfully sing: “Olam chesed yibaneh! If we build a world with love, then God will build the world with love!”

Perhaps we carry signs quoting from Isaiah or from Rabbi Heschel: ”Some are guilty; All are responsible!” “My legs are praying!” And from Dr. King: “The fierce urgency of Now!”

Perhaps the congregation commissions some of its members to walk forth while others continue in the building, in both physical spaces continuing a Yom Kippur appeal to America’s conscience.

Perhaps (as one congregation in Santa Cruz has already decided), congregants join with those of other religious communities for a public gathering before the Yom Kippur prayer service begins. 

(One year ago, P'nai Or of Philadelphia did carry Isaiah into the streets. Here are a photo of that effort and a close-up of one of the signs they carried.)


 On Yom Kippur, we reawaken the ancient outcry of Isaiah: “What is the fast that God requires of us? Not only to remember by fasting what it feels like to go hungry, but beyond that to feed the hungry, house the homeless, break off the handcuffs and leg-irons fastened on prisoners by wicked power!” 

 Isaiah went beyond the conventional gatherings for prayer and fasting, to demand this commitment of compassion. 

This year we face a plague of governmental contempt for conscience and hatred for the poor; subjugation of refugees and women and prisoners, of minority racial groups and religions, and many other human beings; poisoning of our air and food and water, even of Mother Earth. To our celebration of the God of Truth, we hear the power-obsessed jeer: “Truth is not truth!”

 Already American consciences are reawakening. Let us add our voices.  

Let us do today what Isaiah did: Go beyond our comfortable discomfort as we fast for Yom Kippur.

This is a Time for Transformation. If you are ready to add your name to call forth the American conscience that is already reawakening, please click to Sign Up https://www.ykwalkout.net/?page_id=31 

Blessings of Truth and Turning, individual Tshuvah that becomes Tikkun Olam!

What does Torah teach about Judge Kavanaugh?

 Are you surprised to hear that President Trump and Judge Kavanaugh, his nominee for a lifetime post on the Supreme Court, might appear in a text that is about 2500 years old?

Read Deuteronomy Chapter 17: 14-20 --  a section often called Perek HaMelekh, “Passage on the King.”

The passage is worried about the possibility that an Israelite king might turn himself into a tyrant, like Pharaoh.

So it  starts out by setting limits on the power and behavior of a king, and then it tries to create a way of enforcing these limits. .

The king must not act haughtily toward the people – that is, with contempt.

The king may not multiply gold and silver for himself.

The king may not multiply wives/ women for himself.

The king may not multiply horses. (Horse chariots were the jet bombers of the day, weapons for an aggressive imperial army like that of Egypt’s Pharaoh). 

What’s more, the king may not send the people back into Mitzrayyim (the Tight and Narrow Place, which in Hebrew is the name of Egypt) to buy horses for himself. (That is, he may not oppress the people by imposing taxes or forced service so he can pay for an oppressive army).  

And the king must every day of his life read --  under supervision by the levitical priests --  the Torah passages that restricted his powers and protected the poor. 

 Under priestly supervisionahhh, that is what the Torah hoped would keep him under control. For the Kohanim, the priests, members of the Tribe of Levi, were utterly independent of the king. They had religious power to come close to God, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh -- the Interbreathing Spirit of the world. The Breath of Life.

They were not appointed by the king. They were not members of the king’s family. Not even of his tribe, since they were descendants of Levi, like Moses and Aaron and Miriam, and the kings were descendants of David, of the tribe of Benjamin.

 When the heirs of the Maccabees, the Hasmonean kings, broke this ancient Constitution by merging the priesthood and the kingship, they turned out to be terrible kings. Among other things, they sold out Israelite independence to a foreign power --  Rome.

Why does all this matter? So Torah seeks to limit the power of a king, as do the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Why does this matter to us today?

Because it embodies wisdom that speaks through centuries and millennia  --  not just about a single generation’s crises, fears, desires. It is a wisdom that our culture today often, though not always, seeks to learn from  -- precisely because it embodies what has lasted.

Surely that wisdom, like the US Declaration and Constitution, was flawed. The Bible, for example,  assumes and often seems to endorse the subjugation of women. (In how the furthest reaches of the Bible see the great arc of the human future, not so; but that is another exploration.)  So did the original US framing documents, as well as the subjugation of Blacks.

Yet some wisdom even deeper has kept moving the adherents of both sets of framing Teachings to keep trying to move beyond those subjugations to a fuller sense of human dignity. What we call the “spirituality” of the Bible is a distillation of a wise relationship of a small tribe to all that is greater than itself – to the great round Earth, to the other cultures (“strangers”), to its own future, its great-grandchildren, to the over-arching Mystery of how we came into physical, biological, and cultural existence in the first place.

So it behooves us in our perilous present moment to recall that the Bible was and is worried about the concentration of power in a single human’s hands.

All right. Let us look with eyes wide open at our present.

We have an elected king who speaks of his own people – Blacks, Latinos,  the free and independent-minded press, Muslims, women with contempt (“haughtiness above his kinfolk”).  

Who speaks and sometimes acts toward women as mere objects of his own pleasure (“multiplying wives”).

Who has used his own power before and since becoming “king” to cheat workers and contractors, to make secret deals,  to hide his finances from the public (“multiplying gold and silver for himself”).

Who threatens other nations with ”fire and fury” and who seeks a trillion dollars to “modernize” a nuclear arsenal that can already destroy all life on Earth several times over, and who is planning to erase the bright line between nuclear and other weapons by producing “small” nuclear weapons for battlefield use (“multiplying horses for his army”).

And who now seeks to appoint to the Supreme Court – our nearest effort at inventing the independent check of the Levitical priesthood --  a man whose previous record indicates willingness to support the “king’s” hostility to women’s rights, to workers’ rights, to efforts to heal the Earth.

Whose previous record suggests support for such egregious misuses of kingly powers as the use of torture. A man who is opposed to even the limited possibility of subpoenaing the “king” to testify under oath.

All this while the “king” himself is already under very serious clouds of possible violations of the Constitution and the laws. And when his appointee, if confirmed, would probably be a crucial weigh-in for how this sacred body of the Court would vote.

So for all these reasons, I urge you, all members and readers of The Shalom Center, and all your friends, to call 1202-224-3121. To ask for your Senators and Congressmember.

What could they do? They could oppose with every nonviolent means the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh. They could, for example, use legitimate parliamentary rules to hold all Congressional decision-making in suspense  until the Senate Judiciary Committee tables the nomination. They could demand roll-call votes on “ordinary” business instead of giving unanimous consent. The future of our Constitution and our freedom is at stake; this is no time for “ordinary” measures.  

Demanding this kind of action is not just “politics.” It upholds what the Bible itself taught was and is a crucial part of the spiritual health of a community committed to human dignity.

Call 1202-224-3121.

With blessings of joyful action in this coming new year, this Time of Transformation,  for the sake of human dignity – Arthur

Why “Grow the Vote”? Why “Share Sukkot?”

First Big Question: Why Grow the Vote?

Back in Washington DC in 1967, to oppose the US War Against Vietnam and the draft that fed young men into the war’s devouring fire, I illegally affixed a lock to the door of the national headquarters of the Selective Service System. I illegally refused to carry my draft card. And I made a public political event out of illegally handing my card, among those of a thousand others, back to the government that issued them.

I also sought and won my neighborhood’s endorsement to become a member of an antiwar, anti-racism slate of DC delegates to the planned Democratic National Convention in Chicago. I won the endorsement and our slate, which pledged ourselves to support Bobby Kennedy for President, won election to represent DC.

Some of my friends argued with me about my behavior. They thought it was self-contradictory, incoherent, and confusing.  

One of Kennedy’s leading advisers thought that since my strongest commitment was more to end the war than to elect Kennedy, I should resign from the delegation. (His assessment was cprrect; I DID care more about ending the war. I thought electing Kennedy would best get that done .I didn't resign.)

And on the other side – or was it the same view? – some veteran Gandhian activists said it would confuse people if I supported Kennedy. Either “in the system” or “out of the system,” said some practitioners of each orientation. Not both.

I did not agree then and I don’t agree now. Voting is a nonviolent tool for change just as sitting-in, boycotting, witnessing, marching, rallying, vigiling  are. Now more than ever.

The greater the urgency of the issues, the greater the need for us to use all these tools. And today, the issues are full of what Martin Luther King called “the fierce urgency of now.” The Shalom Center has been saying, even before the 2016 election, that we are facing a movement (now a government) that has all the hallmarks of neo-fascism: Obeisance to the largest, wealthiest corporations combined with a fake appeal to the “forgotten Americans” that espouses the Big Lie (many of them, a dozen a day), racism, subjugation of women,  fear and hatred of immigrants and minority religions, hatred for an independent press, and treatment of the Earth as only an exploitable resource with no concern for the ecological intertwining of all  life.

A politics of subjugation.

To challenge such a tyrannical politics it is necessary to deny the would-be tyrants control of the major levers of power ---  armed forces; police, judges, and prisons; budgets and taxes and tariffs; regulations to preserve pure food, air, water; choices of what sources of energy to encourage.

We do that by winning elections.

So that’s why to “Grow the Vote.” In extraordinary times, it is more and more important for people to vote --  especially people from marginalized communities, who usually have much lower voting rates than those who feel fully part of American society. 

Indeed, the movement to heal, renew, and transform American democracy has been moving into electoral politics as well as the streets, the airports, the collective application of individual power in groups like #MeToo, the offices of ICE and the doorways of prisons holding babies and children.

And not only making sure they cannot use these tools of power to subjugate the people, but creating and winning legitimacy for new forms of society that meet the bodily, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs of the people.

So the vote in November is crucial. Getting people registered to vote, and then getting them to the polls to vote, is crucial.

If the religious communities of America are serious about our deepest spiritual teachings of the profound worth of every human being, Growing the Vote is crucial. For Jews, sharing Sukkot and its profound teachings with the “seventy nations of the world” and drawing on its wisdom to Grow the Vote is crucial.  

Second Big Question: Why “Share Sukkot”?

There are many values hidden in the Sukkot festival that may only show up when you need them. One is hidden in plain sight: Because both Sukkot and the dates of major U.S. elections are connected with the Harvest, Sukkot in every election year always comes several weeks before the election. The festival could become a period of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual preparation for voting. 

Would doing that just steal Sukkot’s richness from the Jewish people? Or could it take the values rooted in and affirmed by Sukkot, giving them a new voice in the broader world? And could that, for many Jews, give richer meaning to and more joy in a festival that has had little intrinsic meaning for them?

We are exploring the second possibility. Let me give an example:

Torah says that the runaway Israelites who had just fled from slavery to Pharaoh sat “in sukkot” (the plural of “sukkah,” the vulnerable “booth” or “hut” in which we sit and eat (and some sleep) for the seven days of “Sukkot”   --  with a capital “S,” the name of the festival.

You shall live in sukkot [huts]  seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in huts,  in order that future generations may know that I settled the Israelite people in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Narrowness [Egypt], I YHWH/ Yahhh/ the Breath of Life --  your God. (Lev 23: 42-43)


 This seems to mean that as frightened refugees fleeing a cruel master, they briefly lived in actual sukkot,

Inside Story Behind the Viral Video“Rabbi Arthur Arrested at 84”

We Offer a Handbook for Your Own ICE Action

Dear friends,

. Many of you were stirred by the story of our nonviolent civil disobedience action confronting ICE. Many have written to ask how you could make a difference in your own communities about the Trumpist attacks on refugees and immigrants, especially at the southern border and especially against families  -- sending little children to prison camps.

So I am writing to describe how our action emerged, how we organized it, and what the results were.

To help you even more to create your own actions, here at The Shalom Center we have set up a small collection of items from the ICE action at which we were arrested: our press release, a “Did you know?” list about the back history of social chaos in some Central American countries, the program we used of chants and songs. We offer it to you as a model, a handbook,  to use and modify if you find it helpful in your own situation. It is at  <https://theshalomcenter.org/ICEActionHandbook

The story begins on June 20.  Someone I had known in the ‘60s in a different city called me to ask whether I would be interested in a possible direct action challenging ICE. I said I was. He said he had been talking with five or six other people who were veterans of the movement to end the US War against Vietnam, and they too were interested.

We worked out a date when somewhere between six and 10 of these people could gather, and we met. Most of the people were new to Phyllis and me, and we were clear about the need to ask how the people in the room whom we did know could vouch for the people we didn't know. They did.

When we were set, a couple of people reviewed some ideas about what we could do to keep alive the issue of brutal treatment of refugees and immigrants. After Trump had issued the Executive Order, some of us wondered whether the energy around the issue would now die out. Phyllis, with great energy, said that the children ripped away from their parents were already being deeply traumatized and that for her the most immediate demand is for the children at once to be reunited with their families. It was already clear that Trump’s executive order did not address that question at all, and she was burning with the need to end the devastation and traumatization of these families.

Most of the people in the room agreed. So then we focused on choosing a specific action

To frightened children, we Sow the Seeds of Compassion ---

And we ask you to join with us.

This past Tuesday, at the invitation of the American Federation of Teachers, Phyllis and I flew to El Paso, TX, on the very border of  Mexico and the USA, to visit a children’s “detention” center (hear “prison”) and to deliver schoolbooks, teddy bears, etc etc as tools of keeping the kids sane and connected to loving care and learning. 

Officials at the prison refused to let us even give them these items for the kids, let alone give them to the kids themselves. Why? Orders from above. Who would forbid giving gifts of love and learning to kids who have been yanked out of their parents’ arms?

We also held a vigil / press conference between the El Paso and federal courthouses, and then a prayer circle at the edge of the prison, at which each of the clergy shared a prayer.  One participant, Harold Levine, videotaped my thoughts/prayers/ citations of American “Torah” & biblical Torah. You can hear me “sing it and say it” here:

<https://theshalomcenter.org/ElPasoJune2018>  (Only 2 minutes, 40 seconds.)

And he caught a fragment of Phyllis’ sharing, a mother’s sharing:


Among us were  Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, and Dolores Huerta, iconic organizer of Farm Workers and the Latinx community more broadly. (I had never met her face-to-face, but she greeted me with a big smile of recognition. Told me she had  read and loved my emails among  our comrades in the US Council of Elders, veterans of the last great upheaval --  of the ‘60s & ‘70s).  

And also among us were several dozen national, international, and Texas-local union teachers; about a dozen Latinx organizers; and a number of multireligious clergy, including six rabbis -- Sharon Kleinbaum, Sharon Anisfeld, Mike  Moskowitz, Stephanie Ruskay,  Phyllis Berman, and me, and Sarah Brammer-Shlay, a rabbinical student  who has an astonishing job as “Rabbinic Research Fellow” for the AFT.

Next, in order to “Reunite Separated Families NOW”  and “Stop Imprisoning Refugees NOW,” will be nonviolent civil disobedience for some of us, including Phyllis and me.   And for many thousands of us this Saturday,  June 30, huge rallies in Everytown, USA.

Click <https://act.moveon.org/event/families-belong-together_attend1/search/> to find your nearest.

As you already know from my email a few days ago, Phyllis & I spent last Shabbat in Washington DC, at the Erev Shabbat and Shabbat morning prayer-and-action  services sponsored by the  Religious Action Center, in close alliance with the Poor Peoples Campaign / National Call for Moral Renewal, and then at the multi-issue teach-in and the march sponsored by the Poor Peoples Campaign. 

Next week at the ALEPH Kallah and a few weeks later at the National Havurah Institute and a week later, at New CAJE --  the Jewish teachers gathering --  I will be teaching on Eco-Judaism and the ways of bringing new life into Torah and drawing new life from her.

Now there are  three moments in Jewish time we are exploring, to give them new vitality and us new strength to face the great crises of our generation :

  • observances of Tisha B’Av as a Lament for Temple Earth;
  • using an existing fast day or proclaiming a special Ta’anit Tzibbur, a Communal Fast in Time of Calamity,  in recognition of the deep dangers to human lives, to  American democracy and to world livability  that we are now experiencing.   The Constitutional walls against tyranny are falling, one by one, to the onslaughts of a mindset as destructive as the Babylonian Empire was when it broke down the walls of ancient Jerusalem;
  • and “Share Sukkot: Grow the Vote.”

We are doing this on a staff of two and budget of less than $150,000.   It is exhausting. It is also exhilarating. We work hard, out of commitment. Our outreach is amazing!  But Money is frozen energy. It must be unfrozen in the service of healing, for change to come.

 We cannot keep doing this without your help.  Do you want us to keep planting the seeds that bear rich fruit in eco-social justice?  If you do, I ask you to click on our maroon “Contribute”  banner on the left-hand margin of this page, and reach deep for your tax-deductible gift. Can you aim at a minimum of $180?

Twelve thousand people have asked to receive the Shalom Report.

Let’s give them – all of us -- the gift they – all of us -- want to receive, the ideas, the emotion, the sacred wisdom old and new that strengthens us to work with compassion, for compassion. Against cruelty.

Thank you. As we bless the Source of Life, so we are blessed.   --  Arthur


A Shabbat Shalom in Action

The 40th Day: Birthing the Poor Peoples Campaign.

A Letter from Rabbis Arthur Waskow & Phyllis Berman

[Rabbi Waskow is director of The Shalom Center. Rabbi Berman founded and for 37 years directed an innovative and intensive school for adult immigrants and refugees from all around the wprld to learn English and America, and has a special concern about attacks on immigrants and refugees by the present US government.]

Dear friends,

The two of us had an extraordinary Shabbat day before yesterday (June 23) in Washington DC, from two perspectives: a Jewish perspective on the vision and work of the Poor Peoples Campaign, and the wonderfully multi-issue, multi-“identity” fusion vision and work of the Poor Peoples Campaign itself.   It was the 40th day and the culmination of the nation-wide work so far, which involved  thousands in nonviolent civil disobedience  in state capitals all across the country.  This day was intended to be a beginning, not an end. 

As Rabbi Jeff Roth taught us, the recurrent "״"40 motif in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels may be rooted in the real length of human pregnancy –- 40 weeks, not 9 months. So the Poor Peoples Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival  began with Mother’s Day and lasted 40 days of pregnant maturation, to be born for a new life yesterday as a continuing movement. 

The Jewish perspective first:  Since the Poor Peoples Campaign had chosen a Saturday for this action, the Reform movement could have chosen either to keep hands totally off (which for some years had been their stance on social-justice actions called for Shabbat) or to enter with a strong Jewish action that flowed from Shabbat and into Shabbat. Their choice did a lot to bring Jewish and even more multireligious and spiritual depth and breadthinto the Poor Peoples Campaign action. We say "even more" because all along, the Poor People's Campaign has shaped itself as a "National Call to Moral Revival."

The Reform movement's Temple Sinai Erev Shabbat service and the 45-minute Shabbat morning service sponsored  by their Religious Action Center were rich and creative. (Full disclosure of one dimension of why we felt good about it: : On Friday evening, to our utter surprise,  Rabbi Jonah Pesner, head of the RAC, singled Arthur out among clergy present for having been a prophetic voice long ago and still. That certainly felt  good.)   

There was fine singing, and pointed comments from old or new tradition (e.g.  a passage from Michael Walzer about living everywhere in some version of "Egypt";  Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s Ahavah rabbah).  As part of the service Friday night, Reverend Barber gave a brilliant sermon on the various aspects of what the Poor Peoples Campaign is doing.  And after he spoke, all the multireligious clergy present (lots!!) were invited to come up and physically bless Rev. Barber with the Priestly Blessing, Birkat Kohanim. Incredibly powerful moment!  

 For  Shabbos morning, for the 45-minute pre-Rally Shabbat service a multitude of rabbis and Rev. Liz Theoharis, the co-chair of Poor Peoples Campaign, were given  roles --  each of the rabbis in tiny slivers, so that many could take part. Arthur was invited to lead the Torah blessings. It seemed to be not an opportunity to teach in any way, till Phyllis suggested he use his responsibility for the Barchu and the brochas to teach the meaning of our new forms of the Brachot, and that we have ready a leaflet with our alternative version of them so that people could use them if they wished. 

So that’s what we did, and he was able to get across at least a hint of why “Ruach Ha'Olam” ("Breathing Spirit of the wprld") instead of “Melech Ha'Olam” (”King of the world") and “Yahhhh” (simply a breathing sound) instead of “Adonai, Lord.” About half the aliyah-niks – called up for one Aliyah honoring people who had done nonviolent civil disobedience for the Poor Peoples Campaign --  used the alternative version of the brochas. 

Then Arthur added one more piece. Why, he asked,  are we doing “Barchu” (the prayer "Let us bless," calling us into community) for the Torah service anyway, after doing it already at the beginning of the Service? Aren’t we already a community? He said it was to teach us that becoming a community is not a one-shot deal, like getting onto a plateau and that’s it. We have to keep growing into an ever fuller community. 

And then he  said that in our case, for our day, we need to grow our community to include Central American families who are fleeing terrible violence,  and he quoted the Torah verse that prohibits sending runaway slaves or serfs back to their masters –- instead,  they must be allowed to live anywhere they choose “within our gates.”  And the Torah adds, "Do not maltreat them!" (Deut. 23: 15-16)  There was a strong murmur of support for that. 

After the brief morning service,  the Poor Peoples Campaign began its “rally” around the 5 major issue-clusters it had proclaimed. Direct front-line victims / survivors spoke.  That was really great.  PPC really tried to and mostly did join “a face” with “a fact.” That is, it was in many ways a multi-issue teach-in, focusing on facts of poverty, racial oppression, eco-devastation, etc., each spoken by someone who was suffering in the result.  Live-streamed nationally & internationally. Interspersed with songs from great social-justice choirs. 

Then there was a two-hour march around the Smithsonian campus. The march was itself a community. We met up with friends from Philadelphia who had come to DC that morning and with a number of people whom Arthur had known when he lived in DC 30+ years ago, and we made connections with folks we had never met before.


Last time we took part in a Poor Peoples Campaign action,  the heat and long walk had exhausted Arthur before we could get to the arrest site. So this time we borrowed a light-weight foldable wheel chair from a temporary-lending collection of the Germantown Jewish Centre.  Phyllis was the chief wheel-pusher, AND a number of people --  some good friends from Philly, some total strangers -- were wonderful about taking a turn to push. Community-building is the destination, community-building is the path.

Tonight, the two of us are flying to El Paso TX to visit one of the refugee child “detention centers” (prisons).   The delegation we are in includes several other rabbis and other clergy. It is being organized by the American Federation of Teachers out of the commitment of teachers to childreen, and its president, Randi Weingarten, will take part. . We’ll write more afterward.

In our joy over this wonderful birthing of the next stage, let us not forget the pain of children and their families ripped apart at the border, not yet reunited. Please link to <https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/petition/sign?sid=25&reset=1> to sign a petition for reuniting them NOW, and for making asylum a reality, as the Bible, US law, treaties the US ratified, and the best instincts of the American people all require. "You who have fled your beloved homes for fear of horrifying violence, come live where you choose within our gates."

May the week ahead be filled with our creating sparks of holiness as we respond to lightning flashes of cruelty---

Shalom,  Phyllis & Arthur

For Families at the Border: IMMEDIATE ACTS OF COMPASSION

[By Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Rabbi Phyllis Berman*]

The American people have stood up! – against an encroaching tyranny that has been forced to take one tiny step not even back, but to one side. Even after the President claimed to change his policy, children as I write are being airplaned around the country, often with  no ID, in a way that will make it almost impossible to reunite them  with their families. The struggle for justice and compassion continues.

 We suggest these action proposals for the immediate next stage of struggle for a spiritually and ethically rooted immigration policy for the United States. And we need to look more deeply into the ethics of “immigration” around the world as it morphs into great waves of refugees desperate for safety, on the one hand, and on the other hand into tidal waves of hypernationalist fear of losing a national culture and sense of identity.

The immediate and the deeper questions are connected. The deep moral collision over ripping children out of their families has been a lightning flash in the dark, lighting up the deeper issues beneath. But like a lightning flash, it may vanish before we can attune our eyes to see the deeper truths and questions.

 We want to pursue those questions without losing sight of the most urgent needs exploding every day along the US, German, and many other borders. Reluctantly, we see the need to separate these immediate action needs from the deeper exploratory needs. Keep tuned!


1. PRAY OR MEDITATE    [ACTION]:  If you wear a Jewish tallit (prayer shawl) wrap it around yourself and say: ”May these fringes be for me always threads of connection  to all humanity and all the Earth.” With or without a tallit, choose your own psalm or whisper, “You Who are the Breathing-Spirit of all life, help me remain conscious that all those who are gathering at our national borders bear Your Image in them, on them. Help the children and the parents who gather there to be nurtured by each other’s breathing as by Your Own.”


Please sign a petition with two demands.  The text and the signatures will be sent to at least one Senator and one Member of Congress to use in debates and discussions and to place in the Congressional Record.Here is the text:

" urgently demand the immediate prohibition of all separations of families and the immediate reunification of all families already separated by ICE and the Border Patrol  in dealing with claims of asylum or efforts to immigrate, and the immediate admission to probationary asylum and welcome into our society --  NOT by new imprisonment -- of families from Central American countries that are under extreme pressure of violence, while their cases are investigated.

"We call upon White House aides John Kelly and Stephen Miller, Attorney-General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, all of whom have brought their power to bear directly on carrying out the recent cruel policy:

“Open your hearts to compassion and turn in a new direction.  Not only ripping families apart but imprisoning families for requesting asylum as they flee unbearable violence is an abomination. Announce that you will no longer carry out a policy built on burnt-out cinder blocks of cruelty. Commit yourselves o finding and reuniting with their families every child you have ripped away.  If that requires quitting, quit.

“We offer you three days’ time for repentant reversal or repentant resignation. If you then harden your hearts like Pharaoh of old, refusing to change, we will seek your immediate impeachment,  removal from office,  and prohibition on ever again holding office under the United States.”

ACTION: Please click to <https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/petition/sign?sid=25&reset=1>

to sign.

  1. [FURTHER ACTIONS: Call your Senator or Congressmember at 202-224-3121 and urge them also to strongly support H.R. 6135, the Keep Families Together Act, which has over 100 cosponsors in the House, while the Senate companion bill has the support of almost 50 Senators. ]

[Action: Call the White House at 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414 and ask for Mr. Kelly and Mr. Miller. Call Homeland Security at 202-282-8400 or 202-282-8495. Call the Attorney-General at 202-514-2000 or 202-353-1555.]

 [ACTION: Wait three days and call Congressperson Jerrold Nadler, 202-225-6906, ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee and of its subcommittee on the Constitution. Point person for impeachments]

###   ###   ### 


  1. Visit an ICE (Immigration and Citizenship Enforcement) office and speak with stubborn compassion and concern to ICE workers who have themselves been carrying out this policy with their own hands.

[ACTION: To find a local office of ICE near you, click to

<https://www.ice.gov/contact/field-offices> and then click on your state.  Note down the local offices that pop up, choose one to visit, visit along with a friend or a crowd, give the agents gifts of child-made crayon card saying  “Kids & families belong together and free!” and start the conversation this way:] 

 “Do you have children? Grandchildren? How would you feel if you and they were living in a town where violence was totally out of control and the risk of rape or murder for you and for them was very very high?

"Would you after years of fear and struggle run away to another country? How would you feel if the choices you were given in that country were being sent to prison or back to death? How would you feel if your children had already been ripped away from you and nobody knew where they were? No contact with you, no information on what happened to them? Who is feeding the baby who was literally yanked off his or her mother’s breast, nursing? Who is changing diapers, holding them when they cry?  

 “Could you bear it if you were the target, not the enforcer? Can you bear it if you are the enforcer? What could you personally do to stop it? Could you talk with your co-workers? Could you get five or six of them, along with you, to simply stop doing it?”


2 . [ACTION: If you live near a child-detention or family-detention center, arrange with members and clergy of your congregation to visit one of them  --  e.g., in Allen, Texas. Ask to talk with the children. Insist as long and as strongly as you feel able. Choose whether to sit at the door and risk arrest if they won’t let you meet the kids. ]

3. Support the lawyers who are trying against great odds to bring the legal system to bear in protecting these families. [ACTION: Click to Central American Legal Assistance in Brooklyn , which has been doing this work since 1985 and deals with thousands of immigrants and refugees every year:  <https://www.centralamericanlegal.info/donate/> ]

4. Get together with your neighbors to read and discuss the article in the left-hand column of the Home Page, which looks at the more basic issues through biblical and spiritual eyes. See -- 


* Rabbi Waskow is the founder (1983) and director of The Shalom Center, a prophetic voice in the Jewish, multireligious, and American worlds. Rabbi Berman was the founder (1979) and director through 2016 of the Riverside Language Program, an intensive and innovative English-language school (six hours a day, five days a week, in multiple six-week sessions) that over the years worked with thousands of newly arrived immigrants and refugees.

Mourning Temple Earth: Tisha B'Av for Our Generation

This summer, Tisha B’Av -- the traditional Jewish fast day of mourning for the destruction of two Holy Temples in Jerusalem --  begins Saturday evening July 21 and ends Sunday evening July 22.  

This timing may offer more space than usual for exploring how to make it not only a memorial of past disaster but a forward-looking practice in the spirit of the closing words of the biblical book that is read that day --  Eicha, the Book of Lamentation:  “Chadesh yamenu k’kedem: “Make our days new, as they were long ago.”

On 9 Av the summer of 2010, the summer of the BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, The Shalom Center held a demonstration at the US Capitol that used an English-language version of the Book of Lamentation. It did "make our days new." It was focused not on the ancient Jerusalem Temples but on Temple Earth today, protesting the lack of government action to control  the Carbon Pharaohs that are scorching our planet, devastating neighborhoods or regions,and killing humans and other life-forms, like this sea gull in the Gulf eight years ago.


This reinterpretation of the ancient Book of Lamentation was written by Rabbi Tamara Cohen, then an intern at The Shalom Center.

Rabbi Cohen’s  “Eicha for the Earth,” chantable to Eicha trope, treats the endangered Earth itself as the Holy Temple of all the cultures of Humanity and of all lthe life-forms of the planet, now under attack by Carbon Pharaohs as the Temple in Jerusalem was attacked by the Babylonian and Roman Empires.

Hundreds of people, including members of other religious communities and also a number of “secular” but spiritually  concerned environmental activists, took part in 2010 -– maybe the first time in history that a sizeable number of non-Jews  observed Tisha B’Av.

We have used “Eicha for the Earth” a number of times in the years since, in various Jewish communal observances of Tisha B’Av. Last year, the National Havurah Summer Institute used it on Erev Tisha B’Av, which fell on the first night of the Institute. People responded with great excitement and involvement.

This summer,  could congregations add the reading of "Eicha for the Earth" to their own observance of Tisha B'Av?  In communities across the country, could Jews join in multireligious groups, working with climate activists, to create public multireligious events similar to what we did in 2010, prayerful and powerful?

There is ancient midrash that looks deeply into Tisha B’Av to see it as not only a uniquely Jewish experience but as a crystal of universal experience. Says the Talmud, “When was the first “Eicha”? 

The answer:  ”Ayekka,” using the same consonants with different vowels.  God’s own wail of disappointment in the Garden of Eden. Obviously pointing to a universal human experience of exile, the ruination of the first Temple of all humanity --- the delightful Garden of all Earth. 

For the text of “Eicha for the Earth” and for the pattern of an observance of Tisha B’Av that includes it and other sources that speak of grief and also of hope and joy, in the tradition that Mashiach is born on Tisha B’Av, see https://theshalomcenter.org/node/1733. 

For an exploration of rabbinic midrash on the universality of Tisha B’Av, see https://theshalomcenter.org/content/mourning-temple-earth

Also,  Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I wrote a midrashic tale called “The Last Tisha B’Av”  about how the Mashiach, in a truly Messianic way, goes about building the Third Temple as an act of Jewish-Muslim reconciliation. On the afternoon of Tisha B’Av, for Mincha when traditionally t’fillin are wrapped and the hope element is renewed, we have told the story, and various communities have used it this way without us, on their own.  You can see it at --

<https://theshalomcenter.org/content/last-tisha-bav-tale-jewish-muslim-reconciliation>.   People have written us that they found it very moving.

 You might want to do in your own community what we did in Washingon in 2010: Bringing together a sizeable multireligious crowd to chant the wrenching words of "Eicha for the Earth" at a public place could challenge political or corporate leaders to go beyond their apathy or greed.

I would be glad to hear  thoughts from any of you-all about these approaches and to hear about any plans you make to use either or both of these resources. Write me at <Awaskow@theshalomcenter.org>. And please,  if you do use "Eicha for the Earth" in any of these ways, let us know. If it is comfortable and appropriate for you to take a photo, we would love to see it.

 Comment on this essay or share it here --  <https://theshalomcenter.org/content/mourning-temple-earth-tisha-bav-our-generation>.


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