Sacred Memories, Sacred Futures

[We are sharing with you today a poem by Rabbi Mike Rothbaum that powerfully addresses Yom HaShoah, the Memorial Day for the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Rabbi Rothbaum is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton, Mass. His poem, as its title points out, treats Yom HaShoah not only as a memorial for them but also as a warning to the future – and not for Jews alone. See my further thoughts along these lines after Rabbi Rothbaum’s poem. --  ED]

A Poem on a Day that I Saw Another Man Learn He Was Being Deported --  A Day that is also Yom haShoah:

By Rabbi Mike Rothbaum

The word/in Hebrew 
for/Hebrew is Ivri

Border crossers/cross borders

Hebrews/Jews have been crossing
borders ever/since there have

From Abraham and/Sarah
He and her/up from Ur to
Haran to/Canaan to/Egypt
Back/to Canaan.

And ever/since
Ever since/Babylon
Cross/ing borders
The Rhine/The Seine/Sana/Seville/
Ellis Island/Long Island/
Long Beach/Miami Beach


And as it is/the time
as it has/been time
to cross/borders

Before we/cross
the/border from 
freedom/to Pharaoh

refuse/the fear
refuse to/obey
order out the/nightmares
the knocks in/the night
that wake the/babies
sew your/soul into
the lining of your/coat
smuggle the children/out
under a heavy/wool blanket
of passion and/principle
know your/limits
and the/borders you
won’t cross/for

If you’re a Hebrew/Jew
you already know/what this hour means.
Your ancestors saw/it and
they buried it in/your body
for a time/such as now.

They call/to/you.

Cross the/border
cross/the aisle
break/the bonds
a manic/run for it
don’t turn/around
or see who’s/behind you
the hour/is late
and the Master/of the
House/is pressing.

You carry in your/hand
an Executive/Order
Written by the/Eternal
and stamped by/your ancestors

The word/in Hebrew 
for/Hebrew is Ivri
Cross the/border
Show them the/order
Carry/it out

In Pharaoh’s mouth, “ivri” was contemptuous, like “rootless cosmopolites” on Stalin’s tongue  (about Jews) and like “wetbacks” in US vernacular, about Mexicans crossing the Rio Grande to enter the  United States.

Leaping back three millennia, notice that Pharaoh faced Egyptians who had lost their farms and homes as all power became centralized in Pharaoh's throne. (Gen 47:13-26) They were probably angrily muttering  about their dispossession. So Pharaoh distracted them by pointing at a "foreign" community. He warned them about a community of immigrants, “border-crossers,” who spoke a strange language and observed a strange religion. There were too many of them, he said. They might side with Egypt’s enemies and become an internal threat. Even terrorists.  Time for genocide. And it was two women -- midwives -- who were the first to birth Resistance. (Exodus I: 8-22)

Sound familiar?  Just the past?


Rabbi Rothbaum’s poem invites us to see the sacred day of a much more recent “history” as beckoning us to see the possible future.  And not just a Jewish future. Walking this path, sacred days become not times for rote recitation of memories, but beacons of deeper spiritual activism for social, cultural, and political transformation.

That is one of the crucial aspects of a living, growing, self-transforming religion and culture. If we do this, members of our communities who have been sleepwalking through our sacred memories or who have out of boredom simply walked away from churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples can become “woke”  to the energy within them. They – we! – can draw on that energy to save our lives and Mother Earth.

In these last weeks, The Shalom Center has joined in reawakening the energy of Dr. King’s wisdom by lifting up his 5Oth death-anniversary and connecting it to the vision of Passover, the agony of Good Friday, and the life-affirming joy of Easter.

We welcome you to read and see what these reawakenings have done:

For an on-line Tikkun Magazine article by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Feb 2017,  on preparation for MLK’s 50th yahrzeit:



For an online Sojourners magazine essay in March 2018 by Rabbi Arthur Waskow  on historic crises in 1968 and 2018 and their impact on Freedom Seders:

< https://sojo.net/articles/freedom-seders-old-and-new-crises-1968-and-2018>


For a Philadelphia Inquirer report on the relationship between the new MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder and the sixth annual “Freedom Seder Revisited” program of the National Museum of American Jewish History celebrated in Philadelphia:



 For a Washington Post review of the meaning of the original Freedom Seder and a report on the new MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder celebrated in the Washington DC area:


The Prophet Martin Luther King, Jr:: A ReAwakening

"We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values."

Today (April 4, 2018) is the 50th anniversary of the death -- the murder, to be honest -- of Dr. Martin Luther King. To honor, reawaken, and renew the wisdom he taught, two cantors have created Haftarot -- the prophetc passages chanted on every Shabbat in Jewish congregations -- that are woven from his prophetic teachings and chanted according to haftarah melodies.

One, woven of passages from his speech “Beyond Vietnam,” has been chanted by Cantor Abbe Lyons. Both her chanted recitation  and her annotated text, with trope marks, can be found here:


 The other, by Hazzan Jack Kessler, is woven of passages from several different speeches by Dr. King. Both trope-marked text and his chant of the Haftarah can be found here:


“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.“

(Dr. Martin  Luther King, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” April 4, 1967)


"A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to humankind 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.

“Love has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of humanity.

“We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.

“We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.”

                                                                        (MLK, “Beyond Vietnam,  April 4, 1967)



“The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. One thousand, three hundred sanitation workers are on strike. Now we're going to march again, and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God's children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. And we've got to say to the nation: We know how it's coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.”

                                                                        (MLK in Memphis, April 3, 1968)


I have been to the mountaintop. … I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”                   

(MLK in Memphis, April 3, 1968)

Passover should make us uncomfortable

Freedom Seders Old & New

Remember the Maxwell House haggadah?

How about Bartons’ Candies Haggadah?

Those were the haggadot of my childhood – and, if you are of a certain age, yours as well.

I don’t remember anything about those haggadot, other than some of the illustrations, and the matzah crumbs and the wine stains that gave silent testimony to the family seders of the past.

I certainly don’t remember the texts being particularly meaningful. They were not intended to be; you brought your own meaning to the seder.

No one thought about “meaning” in those days, anyway.

That is – until the creation of what might be called the first “meaningful,” “relevant” haggadah – the Freedom Seder, written almost fifty years ago by Arthur Waskow.

Arthur Waskow is a true American Jewish original – the alte zeyde (sorry, Arthur – the old grandpa!) of radical Jewish social activism.

It remains a powerful witness to turbulent times.

Think of it: the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 – which, that year, was only five days before Pesach.

Waskow’s Freedom Seder was originally published a year after Dr. King’s assasination (and the subsequent urban riots).

It came out in 1969, in Ramparts Magazine (of blessed memory; I would love to find some copies on Ebay) – to coincide with Dr. King’s first yahrzeit.

The Freedom Seder successfully connected the original story of the Exodus with the social issues that were gripping American during those dark days.

Many of which — racism, materialism, militarism, and sexism – continue unabated.

To thumb through the original Freedom Seder is to encounter the voices of Dr. King, Thoreau, Gandhi, Emanuel Ringelblum of the Warsaw Ghetto, Nat Turner, among others.

Today, some of the haggadah’s voices, such as Eldridge Cleaver and Allen Ginsberg, would be considered problematic.

Arthur could not have known that he was creating a whole new Jewish cottage industry.

In the wake of the Freedom Seder, there was a spate of new haggadot and new rituals: anti-Viet Nam war seders, Soviet Jewry seders, feminist seders, environmental seders, LGBT seders, etc.

Arthur, undaunted and unfaded at 84 years old, has just come out with a new version of the Freedom Seder

It is a worthy successor to the original version –- if only because the issues, half a century later, are no less urgent.

Because the plagues are no less pervasive. Consider the plague of climate change and sea level rise – which this reading addresses.

Let us leap forward for a moment to our own generation:

The stones are crying out.

The icebergs are groaning as they melt.

The mountains of West Virginia are moaning as they are destroyed in order to produce more coal.

The Coral Reefs are wailing as they blanch and die.

As the planet scorches and the corn parches, the price of food climbs.

Those who were hungry, starve.

The children whose bellies swelled from hunger, whose voices wailed from famine, grow silent.

Dying. Dead.

And all these silent, silenced voices call on us to speak.

Not only to speak but to act…


They are the Caesars of our day, the Pharaohs of our day.

The Pontius Pilates and Abu-Jahls of our day—

The Empires of Oil, Tar, Coal, Unnatural Gas.

The Pharaohs of Pharma, Fracking, and Banking.

Granted: this might not be everyone’s taste. We sometimes flee from an overdose of relevance, which some people call “political.”

But (and this is key):

  • Do we really think that God liberating a nation from the grip of oppression — and creating a covenant with that nation — saying, in essence: “You work for Me, not for Pharaoh!” — can that be anything other than political?
  • And — if we fail to update the texts, words, and ideas that originally animated Pesach for our ancestors, we will have petrified the tradition.

That is simply not what our sacred texts are supposed to be. Neither are they what those texts have ever been.

We are not the frozen chosen.

Personally, I would risk pushing the envelope and bringing our festival of freedom into the present, and making it relevant. If people want to yell and scream and argue about those texts at the seder table — well, that’s what Jews do.

The alternative?

The seder goes forth without any meaning. Oh, maybe the four questions — to give the children something to do.

The seder becomes a mere Jewish spring time Thanksgiving meal – a nice dinner with family, but with no real content.

Because these are two passages that Waskow includes in the new haggadah – and they speak to me, deeply.

First, Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1970)

And, Dr. King:

 We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people,  are incapable of being conquered. (Dr. Martin Luther King, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” April 4, 1967)

 Yasher koach, Arthur.

In the words of Rabbi Bob Dylan: “May you stay forever young.”

And may we continue to keep Pesach — forever young.

YOUR Copy of the New "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder"

 Here is your copy of the new "MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder." Click on the title of this article. You will see a bold black bar and just below it, a small red link. Click on the red llnk to reach the Seder, download it, and print your own copy. It's in PDF and will fit on 12 sheets of paper, 24 pages back to back, with some gorgeous graphics.

This Seder was woven by The Shalom Center of three strands: the ancient Passover stories of the freedom struggle of Israelites against slavery under Pharaoh and the echoes of Passover in the Christian Holy Week; the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, to reawaken and renew his teachings for the fiftieth anniversary of his death on April 4, 1968, in the midst of a year of intense crisis in the difficult history of Americcan democracy; and the struggles and wisdoms of our own generation, living in the midst of an even deeper crisis in whether American democracy can survive.

We welcome you, {contact.first_name}, and your friends to use this Seder in any of several ways: You miight gather friends and family to celebrate it before or during the coming spring festivals of liberation, perhaps on April 4 itself. You might leave spacious time for conversation about its teachings, songs ,and graphics. You might work with a gathering of Resisters, perhaps with a religious community or an interfaith group, to use it the same way. You might draw on some passages to insert into your own Seder. Feel Free! -- That's the point!

In any of these cases, please cite the copyright and authorship information that appears after the tite page. Please let The Shalom Center know in advance what plans you have to use it, and please make a (tax-deductible) contribution to The Shalom Center as suggested in the Seder itself. Afterward, please send us photos of your Seder, perhaps notes about how it went, recordings of a song you loved singing, etc.

Click on this link:  PDF icon mlk50_interfaith_freedom_seder_pdf-_b_copy.pdf

Have a joyful and liberating Seder, have a joyful and liberating year ahead of active work to Resist the modern Pharaohs and birth the Beloved Community  --  Arthur

Freedom Seders, Old & New: Crisis 1968 & Crisis 2018

The Shalom Center has created a new MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder, to reawaken and renew the wisdom of Martin Luther Ling – who was murdered 50 years ago. This new Freedom Seder –- connects Dr. King's teaching both with the ancient story of resistance to Pharaoh and the continuing story of resistance to racism, materialism, militarism, and sexism in America right now.

We welcome you-all to make the new Freedom Seder a family or communal Seder of your own. We welcome you to

<mlk50_freedom_seder_pdf_2-26-18._copy.pdf> where you can read it, see its graphics, sing its songs. You can use the whole Telling or draw on passages.

And we will be delighted for you to send us photos of your Seder, a description of what you did, perhaps a brief tape-recording of your memories of how it felt. Send them to  <Seder@theshalomcenter.org>.  We will share them with our friends and members, noting your name and home town.

 Why did we create this new Freedom Seder? It is the legitimate heir of the original Freedom Seder that I wrote fifty years ago. (Here are its front and back covers:)

 In 1968, American democracy was in crisis – caused by its inability to go beyond “civil rights” to cure ourselves from the “original sin” of racism, and its inability to end the Vietnam War that was convulsing the country.

 One result of that crisis, and one cause of the worsening of the crisis, was the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King a week before Passover. The original Freedom Seder was actually celebrated on the first anniversary of his death, April 4, 1969.

  Now, 50 years later, the crisis of American democracy is even deeper than it was in 1968 -- perhaps the deepest since the Civil War. We are living through an anti-democratic power grab by the Hyper-Wealthy and modern Corporate Pharaohs. This power grab is being made politically possible by whipping up rank racism, hatred toward foreigners and “strange” religions, hostility toward women, and contempt toward the Earth.

This power grab by the modern Pharaohs is much like the power grab by the ancient Pharaoh – who incited fear and hatred toward foreigners and a “strange” religion, and through his egomania and cruelty brought plagues upon the Earth and famine and death on his own people.

 And we are also living through the sprouting of an amazingly broad and deep grass-roots Resistance movement.

 We face new pharaohs.  When the Jews living under Roman tyranny saw that they were facing new pharaohs, some of them in several different generations chose Passover-time to lift up their resistance.

Rabbi Jesus chose the days before Passover for a demonstration against the Imperial regime and its local puppet government. His supporters marched from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, waving palms and chanting psalms of transformation. A few days later, the inner leadership celebrated the Passover Seder in what Christians have named the Last Supper.


Several generations later, Rabbi Akiba led a Seder that according to oral tradition may have been a conversation about the rebellion against Rome led by Bar Kochba -- a Seder that lasted till morning and according to some,  ended with a warning that Roman troops were scouting out the neighborhood.


These Seders were themselves moments of freedom, where old and young could learn from and with each other, where they could talk freely about how to win and shape their freedom. They were moments of living in what Dr. King called the "Beloved Community" --  a "Promised Land" beyond all boundaries. And along with many other forms of struggle in concert with the Spirit, they helped give birth to new spiritual communities – embodied in Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.

So now is again the time to celebrate anew the archetypal moment of resistance to Pharaoh: Passover --- and the Christian Holy Week that began as intimately intertwined with Passover.

 When tyranny threatens, the Passovers of the past remind us to draw on their wisdom and their passion. It is time for a new Freedom Seder. So The Shalom Center has woven the new “MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder.” You can access the new Seder here.

On April 4 we will live through the 50th anniversary of the murder of Dr. King.  So the new Seder draws on Dr. King’s wisdom as it connects with

The Prophetic MLK & the Prophetic Festivals of Spring

The deepest roots of The Shalom Center’s work to revitalize the deep connection between the Spirit and social justice were my weaving in 1968 and ’69 a new kind of Passover Seder –- the Freedom Seder. My sense of the need to create the Freedom Seder grew from the deep crisis of American democracy in those years.

For me, one crucial aspect of that crisis was the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968. An act of violence ending the life and disrupting the work of our foremost teacher of nonviolence.

And the whole year followed in that bloody vein.

Today we are facing an even deeper crisis -- a threat from our own government to the flesh and bones of American democracy.  It is time for a new Freedom Seder -- one that looks forward, not backward, by drawing on the most prophetic teachings of the Prophet Martin. You can access the new Seder at


AND --  The Shalom Center has worked to sow the seeds of Seders that speak not only to the past but to the future. Those seeds are sprouting once again. In several different cities already, with more perhaps to come, we are seeing them flower. We welcome you, our members and friends, to  join in the events we are reporting below and to make your own new Seders happen. Todaay -- these reports. Later -- I will share with you the underlying thought that has stirred our work. 

The first of a series of connections will come on March 25,  at 6 pm in New York City. The Center for Jewish History (15 West 16th Street) will hold a symposium, “The Freedom Seder: 49 Years Later, with Arthur Waskow.”  Details are at <https://programs.cjh.org>. Scroll down the page of Center programs to March 25.

I will speak.  Then there will be a panel of historians to discuss the meaning and future of the Freedom Seder. (I will be speaking much more about the future than the past.) The panel will include:

Anthea Butler, Professor of Religious and Africana Studies at University of Pennsylvania;  

Hasia Diner, Paul and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History at New York University and Director of the Goldstein-Goren Center;

Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth University;

Shaul Magid, NEH Senior Scholar at the Center for Jewish History and Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Chair in Jewish Studies at Indiana University.

At noon the next day, in Boston on March 26, a muitireligious / interfaith group inspired by the work of The Shalom Center will draw on the symbols of Holy Week and Passover to confront the Governor of Massachusetts. Their action is called "LET MY PEOPLE GO!  -- Exodus from Fossil Fuels: An Interfaith Witness for Climate Action."

It will begin at 12:00 noon at the State House

WANTED -- Suspects in Conspiracy to Aid & Abet Mass Murder of Children


WANTED --  Alive & Under Arrest,

Unofficial Suspects in Conspiracy

To Aid & Abet

Mass Murder of Children

(These suspects are defined by our understanding of religious and ethical morality, not yet by formal legal process. See below the Torah of selling weapons to people prone to violence and of conspiring to do so.)




Suspect: Donald Trump

Known recent locations:

1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW,

Washington DC.


Mar a Lago Club

1100 S Ocean Blvd, Palm Beach, FL 33480


Suspect: Mitchell McConnell

Known recent locations:

 United States Senate

317 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Fax: 202-224-2499

601 W. Broadway, Room 630, Louisville, KY 40202

Phone: 502-582-6304



Suspect: Paul Ryan

Known recent locations:


United States House of Representatives

  H-232 The Capitol

Washington, DC 20515

Phone: (202) 225-0600

Fax: (202) 225-20125

1233 Longworth House Office Bldg
Washington, DC 20515

Phone: (202) 225-3031

Fax: (202) 225-3393

5031 7th Avenue
Kenosha, WI 53140

Phone:  (262) 654-1901

Fax:  (262) 654-2156

Anyone having information on the present whereabouts of these suspects should call the FBI.

Evidentiary elements:

A reported $9.6 million went from the National Rifle Association  during the presidential campaign of 2016 towards pro-Trump ads and promotional material, and another $12 million went on ads attacking Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Other sources put that figure even higher, closer to $30 million.

Trump speaking to NRA: Donald Trump marked his 99th day as US president (April 27, 2017) by making a pledge to the National Rifle Association: “You came through for me and I am going to come through for you.”


Other suspects: US Senator for Florida Marco Rubio  has received $3,303,355 from the NRA as a politician.

US Senator for Iowa Joni Ernst, has received $3,124,273 from the NRA over the course of her career.

For details on other NRA contributions to politicians, see




 Maimonides (Mishneh Torah,  Laws of a Murderer 12:12, paraphrasing Babylonian Talmud Avodah Zarah 15b) declares: “It is forbidden to sell weapons of war to [those with an inclination to violence]. Nor is it permitted to sharpen their spears, or to sell

Lessons from the Wisdom of Marc Raskin

Eulogy for Marcus Raskin (1934-2017)

 Delivered by Congressman Jamie Raskin

[Editor's Note: On February 12, I took part in a memorial for Marc Raskin, co-founder of the Institute for Policy Studies and an old friend of mine, going back to 1959 when he and I were both legislative assistants to Congressman Robert W. Kastenmeier of Wisconsin,  and then were colleagues from 1963, when the Institute began, into 1977.  The beacon-light of the memorial was an extraordinary distillation of Marc's wisdom, filtered through the experience of his son, newly elected Congresmman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. With his permisssion, I am publishing his Eulogy here and will be sending it to the email lists of The Shalom Center. --  Rabbi Arthur Waskow, editor]

Eulogy for Marcus Raskin (1934-2017)

Delivered by Congressman Jamie Raskin

February 12, 2018, at Sixth and I Synagogue
 in Washington DC

Lesson One: My father taught us that, when a situation seems hopeless, then you are the hope.
  When everything looks dark, you must be the light.
Thank you for being the hope and bringing us the light today.

That’s your first lesson. Dad taught us a lot about every stage of life, from birth to the time of what he called “shooting on through.” He was a philosopher and we need his teachings more than ever, so I’m going to honor my Dad by sharing these Marcus Raskin life lessons with you.

** Lesson Two: Spoil children with love and wisdom, not with things.

When we were kids, he’d take us places—not like baseball games or ski trips or the Virgin Islands but, you know, conferences on reconstructive knowledge at MIT, national political conventions, civil rights marches. Once he took me with him to Kenyon College where he debated a human being named Midge Decter. And she said something about how my Dad’s friend Dr. Spock had spoiled the children of the 1960s and these spoiled children were all liberals now because of it. And Dad said, no, they were liberals because they loved freedom but, yes, he was absolutely for spoiling children—spoiling them with love, the only thing that works, he said, to raise healthy adults. And he said, “It never occurred to me to spoil them with money because I never had any, but no, it doesn’t sound like a very good idea.”

My Dad delighted in children and saw the best in them—his four children, his nine—soon- to-be ten grandchildren, and his first great-grandchild, and all the others. He saw qualities in us we could not see and nurtured them until we did see them and then they became part of us. He loved us unconditionally and dreamed for us boundlessly.

He was a famously subversive grandfather. He and Lynn called for a pizza slumber party with a mass of grandchildren when their average age was somewhere around 8. Then, after Lynn went to sleep, he let them watch, without parental permission, Wedding Crashers, and when all the parents were in an uproar the next day, he led a long inter-generational insurrection and debate, rallying the kids to argue that there was no such thing as a “bad word.”

Dad transmitted his natural anarchism to a lot of this third generation. Take the case of, Tommy Raskin, the middle child belonging to Sarah and me who actually interned with Baba. When he was 10, a boy in our neighborhood was suspended for school for three days for acting up in class and when I was walking Tommy to school the following Monday, I noticed the boy was walking back to school too. And I said, “Tommy, look there’s Julian. They let him out of jail.” And Tommy corrected me, saying, “No, you mean, they let him back into jail.” I don’t know whether it’s nature or nurture but that’s pure Marcus Raskin and I’m telling you guys, it lives!

** Lesson Three: Whatever the background noise, follow the music in your head and the dreams in your heart.

He was born in 1934, the year Hitler declared himself dictator of Nazi Germany. While my Dad’s older brother, our Uncle Mel, fought with valor in World War II and flew bombing missions over Germany, Dad was in 5th Grade.

Every day the piano prodigy would march off to Whitefish Bay Elementary School, and when the teachers spoke, he couldn’t hear them. Literally couldn’t hear them. He could hear only Bach and Schumann and Beethoven and Chopin playing concertos of human longing in his head. It was as if this tiny little boy was keeping the romantic dreams of the 19th Century alive in his mind as the 20th Century became drenched in blood and genocide.

When I was a kid I asked my Dad if his teachers sounded like the teachers on Charlie Brown—wah, wah, wah—but he said no, he couldn’t hear anything at all. Nothing. Just the music in his head.

When he turned 16 he left his home in Whitefish Bay—which by then he was calling White Folks Bay—and said goodbye to his parents—my grandfather Benjamin the plumber, after whom I was named, and my grandmother Anna the seamstress— and to his favorite childhood chum, Jerry Silberman, who would leave Whitefish Bay soon thereafter himself and change his name to Gene Wilder.

He followed the music in his head to New York to study piano at Julliard. There he befriended yet another budding young comic, his roommate Nipsy Russell. It was as if my Dad, who felt the tragic weight of history in his bones, always had to have on his side a comedian, Gene Wilder, Nipsy Russell, later Dick Gregory, a friend who could level the conceits of power with clowning and laughter. Dad loved to laugh and never surrendered his absolutely juvenile sense of humor which you can blame on Willy Wonka.

After a year, Dad decided, against the urgings of his piano teacher, Rosa Levine, to leave the path of a professional musician and to study at the University of Chicago.

He later told the press he was too lazy to pursue music but that’s an unlikely story for a man who never took a single day’s vacation in his life, at least vacation in the sense that the rest of us would think of it where you actually stop working. For my Dad, work and play were fused every moment of every day, and the harder he worked, the more playful he got. He didn’t even stop working in the hospital when he got sick with something serious but insisted on wearing regular street clothes—well, regular for him——and his hospital room always ended up looking exactly like his office, with books, papers and pink phone messages strewn everywhere.

No, it wasn’t laziness. At the time of Joe McCarthy and fallout shelters, Jim Crow in Washington and apartheid in Johannesburg, the teenaged Marcus Raskin decided against a full- time career in classical music because I think he heard something else playing in his head now: the music of a new political language that he would come to help develop and express, the language of what he called the “civilizing movements” of the second half of the 20th Century:

The Civil Rights Movement;
 the peace movement and SANE/FREEZE; 
the movement for human rights and international law; the labor movement;
 the women’s movement;
 the LGBT movement;
 the movement for environmental justice; and
 the movement for immigrant rights

—all the movements for human liberation and dignity, freedom and peace that would become his lifeblood, the driving spirit of his beloved IPS, and the humanistic counterpoint to a century of war and oppression.

The musical contributions today are a sampler of the music in his head and the dreams in his heart: both the classical pieces that stirred his boyhood imagination and the music of the civilizing movements that infused his passion for freedom.

** Lesson Four: Go to school to teach as well as to learn and never let your schooling interfere with your education.

A high school friend of my father’s wrote me to say the other kids used to take notes in class when my Dad spoke. In college, he taught a kid on his floor named Philip Glass how to play the piano, which some people say explains everything you need to know about Philip Glass’ wild and paradigm-busting music.

** In law school Dad was research assistant for Quincy Wright, the professor who advised the Judges at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. Dad wanted to figure out, in the aftermath of Auschwitz and Treblinka, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how international law could be used to prevent genocide and war crimes and end what he was calling even then “the war system.”

Think of this for a second: my Dad went to law school for a reason. He had a purpose for being there. He didn’t care about most of his classes and, let’s be honest—kids cover your ears— he didn’t go to most of them. Indeed, when he received an Alumni Award from Chicago, we learned that his corporations professor, who practiced the Socratic Method, would actually call on Dad at the start of each class as a raucous crowd-pleasing joke because everyone knew he wouldn’t be there. Dad’s selective approach for going to classes did no wonders for his GPA and he proudly graduated last in his class of several hundred. He had gone to law school for a different reason, to solve a problem—how to use law to prevent the recurrence of war and genocide.

** Lesson Five: Bring your full intelligence and ethics to work every day and if you can’t, you may need to find a new job.

When President Kennedy took office in 1961, Dad left Capitol Hill to join the Special Staff of the NSC as McGeorge Bundy’s assistant for national security and disarmament. He had been recommended by Harvard professor David Riesman, who promised the 26-year old Raskin would become the “conscience” of the Kennedy team. Upon meeting him, as recorded in The Color of Truth, Kai Bird’s biography of the Bundy brothers, Bundy took to my Dad immediately, writing tothankRiesmanforthereferral. “He has a remarkably powerful and lively mind,and it is flanked by both moral and physical energy,” he wrote, “I think we shall probably have some disagreements. . .”

Of course, the disagreements came right away, in fact on his first day of work. It was April 19, 1961, the day of the Bay of Pigs. My Dad quickly prepared a Memo for President Kennedy saying the military base at Guantánamo Bay should be closed and converted into a hospital and health clinic and given to the people of Cuba as a gift from the American people. This Memo remains unanswered to this very day.

In 1962, Dad represented the U.S. at disarmament talks with the Soviet Union in Geneva where he pressed for negotiation of the first atmospheric test ban treaty, something that would come to pass within a year, after the Cuban Missile Crisis. While he was in Geneva, Republican Senator Barry Goldwater and other conservatives attacked The Liberal Papers, a book my Dad edited while working on Capitol Hill.

Bundy wrote JFK a Memo to alert him that Dad had come under fire for his liberalism but that he wanted to keep him on. He wrote: “That young menace, Marcus Raskin, has returned from Geneva. . .you may be curious about Raskin, who has been a good staff officer in spite of—and perhaps partly because of—his insistent effort to find ways of making progress in this most unpromising field (of disarmament).” He warned the president that “critics of the Liberal Papers may be trying to focus attention on Raskin, and in that event we may have a small fuss.”

Dad survived that small fuss but his early criticism of the Vietnam War proved too much for Bundy. Dad was sent to the Bureau of the Budget to work on education, where he moved to block nuclear fallout shelter drills in the schools and press for massive funding of schools in poor communities. Observed Kai Bird, who is here today and whose book tells the story of how the “best and the brightest” plunged America into the quagmire of the Vietnam War: “For McGeorge Bundy, it may well have been a tragedy that this troublesome twenty-six-year old was no longer by his side to serve as his ‘conscience.’” By the end of 1962, Dad had left the administration to create IPS with Dick Barnet.

But Dad used that episode to teach us about power and conscience. When David Riesman said my Dad would become the “conscience of the Kennedy administration,” Bundy quickly adopted that tag-line and introduced him to everyone as the “conscience of the White House,” a putative compliment which Dad completely rejected.

As he explained, if he was going to be their conscience, then what would happen to their conscience? It would atrophy and shrivel away. Outsourcing your conscience is an alibi for irresponsible decision-making. If he was going to be assigned the role of conscience in the White House, Dad said, it would mean he would never have any power and they would never have any qualms.

So never allow yourself to become the conscience for other people, Dad said, and never allow other people to delegate their moral decision-making to you. All of us must exercise conscience together and all of us must exercise power together. In Democracy, he would say, the highest office is that of citizen and we must bring all our faculties to the task. And those of us who aspire to public office, whether President or Congressmember or Governor, are the bosses of no one. We are nothing but the servants of the people.

**Lesson Six: Hate war and work as citizens for peace and justice.
He was a leader in the movement to stop the Vietnam War, the crucible where he shaped both his intellectual authority and his fierce political courage. The book he wrote with Bernard 5 Fall, The Vietnam Reader (1965), became the bible of the peace movement which used it to organize thousands of “teach-ins” across America.

Imagine that—a book about foreign policy designed not for the Establishment but for the people. Like Tom Paine’s Common Sense, it was a popular book that galvanized a movement.

Why is Purim Close to Passover?

Dumping Despots, Then & Now

Long ago, when the Rabbis shaped the Jewish calendar, they decided that seven times in a cycle of 19 years, we must insert an extra lunar moonth of Adar, to keep the Jewish calendar in tune with the solar year as well as the lunar moonth. 

Why was that important? They said it was to keep Passover in the spring. Otherwise,  it would circle through the solar year the way Ramadan does in the purely lunar Muslim calendar.

They also decided that whenever there was an extra Adar, the hilarious spring festival of Purim should always be in the  second Adar, to keep it  close to Passover.  (This year, Purim begins the evening of Wednesday, February 28.)

This raises two questions: Why did they think Passover must always come in Spring; and why did they think Purim should stay close to Pesach?

 I think they had politico-spiritual reasons for both decisions. Let's take up the second question first:

Both festivals are about the overthrow of a tyrant: Purim in early spring when the trees are putting on their fresh costumes, at a time when the Earth and human earthlings are redolent wth bawdy laighter — and Megillat Esther -- the Scroll of Esther --  is a doubling of a classic bawdy satirical joke  — the first Purimshpiel.

(Purimshpiels are plays, usually satirical and sometimes bawdy, that for centuries have been each year created and performed in and by Jewish communities.  Some modern scholars  suggest that the Scroll of Esther was by no means a history but a satire and parody on tyrannical rulers. They suggest that the hilarious spring festival of Purim led to the creation of the Scroll of Esther as the first and still the greatest of all Purimshpiels -- not that the story of Esther calls forth a new holy day.)

(In this painting by Ari Gradus, we see the first comic reversal in the story: the anti-Semitic genocidal Prime Minister Haman is forced to honor the Jewish leader Mordechai. For Gradus' work, see <http://rogallery.com/gradus_ari/gradus_hm.htm>)

In that sense, Purim is an experiment in overcoming tyrants through laughter — as Saturday Night Live and much of our late-night TV comedy these days is aimed at our own pompous, cruel, and vicious rulers.

That is the nusach, the melody, of early spring. Then comes the nusach of “serious” spring. With Passover, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change,  becomes a Hurricane of Transformation. Is the sequence a reminder that we should began overthrowing our tyrants with laughter and if that is insufficient, we need to turn to more “serious" measures of Resistance?

Just to clarify why I said the Megillah is a double joke:  

The genocidal "white-nationalist" Prime Minister Haman starts the anti-Jewish action that ends up destroying him. (Even the same gallows he had intended for the Jewish leader Mordechai ends up hanging him). A bloody joke, of the classic "hoist on his own petard,” "trip on your own banana peel" form.

AND — there is in the Megillah another joke of the same form, less bloody: King Ahasuerus starts the action going with his put-down of Queen Vashti — women must not disobey men. And the result of his own anti-feminist tyranny is that he abjectly obeys what a woman -- the new Queen Esther -- tells him to do.



(Look carefully at the King. Here we see what Ahasuerus looks lke in our generation, with Haman lurking just behind.)

Anti-Semitism & anti-feminism go hand in hand (as they do in our present White House). Indeed, there is ancient midrash that says the courtier Memucan, who advised the King to get rid of Queen Vashti, was Haman in disguise! Ahasuerus may seem to be a pompous, empty-headed, self-obsessed fool -- but remember, he affirms Haman's tyrannical plot.

Please help The Shalom Center continue to bring new life-energy into ancient Torah and thereby encourage new action to heal the deep wounds of our society, by making a contribution through the maroon "Contribute" button on the left-hand margin.

Thanks! Blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace to all of Earth and all her myriad earthlings --   Arthur

Tu B'Shvat/ YAH B'Shvat: 4 Teachings, 4 Worlds, ONE Tree

The Jewish festival of Tu B'Shvat celebrates the ReBirthDay of earthly trees and of the sacred and supernal Tree of Life. It is celebrated with a Seder in which the menu is the fruits and nuts that are given birth by trees.

The festival comes on the Full Moon of the midwinter lunar moonth, when in the Land of Israel the sap begins to rise in almond trees, and in Vermont it begins to rise in sugar maples. In ancient times, that day was counted as the end and beginning of the fiscal year for tithing fruit, so that the poor could eat. This year Tu B'Shvat falls on Tuesday evening January 30/ Wednesday January 31.

In our generation, rapacious corporations have deforested huge areas of the Earth. Since trees breathe in CO2 and hold it out of the atmosphere,  deforestation has contributed a great deal to the climate crisis. And then such climate-caused disasters as the California wildfires and Superstorm Sandy kill still more trees, and the feedback loop of global scorching worsens.

Many religious festivals can be authentically focused to address one or another aspect of the climate crisis   -- conserving oil and energy at Hanukkah, resisting the Carbon Pharaohs that bring Plagues upon the Earth at Passover, mourning the destruction of Temple Earth at Tisha B'Av. For Tu B'Shvat, the most authentic focus would be reforestation.

So for Tu B’Shvat this year, as a special aspect of our climate-crisis work, The Shalom Center invites  you to join in creating a special Trees of Life Fund for reforestation in the US, You can contribute by clicking here
and writing "Trees" in the "Honor of" box. -

We will then send the funds gathered to  American ReLeaf,  which funds treeplanting projects across the United States.

They have kickstarted forest regeneration after severe wildfires in the American West,  restored Michigan habitat for an endangered bird species,  and planted trees along waterways in the Northeast damaged by Superstorm Sandy. They have planted more than 40 million trees in all 50 states through more than 800 different projects.
By gathering individual contributions into a larger fund, we can make a bigger impact on growing forests to heal our Mother Earth.

This is a  practical step with spiritual roots and a spiritual meaning. One of the Sacred Names of God, YHWH, with no vowels, can only be "pronounced"  by breathing ---  YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Interbreath of Life that we now know comes from interbreathing Oxygen and CO2. That Interbreath is in danger because forests are being destroyed and burning carbon fuels pours scorching amounts of CO2 into the air.

So restoring forests helps renew the Interbreathing Name of God.

The Kabbalistic mystics of 16th Century Tzfat (Safed) and the climate scientists of today join hands.

Those Kabbalists marked the Four Worlds of reality --  Physical Actuality, Emotional and Ethical Relationship, Intellectual Creativity, and Being/ Spirit  --  by shaping a Tu B’Shvat Seder with four courses of different sorts of fruit, nuts, and wine, .

In that way, Tu B'Shvat expresses the belief of Jewish mystics that the earthiness of trees, of food, and of making sure the poor get to eat were aspects of the Tree of Life -- God's own Self.  Mysticism and spirituality were not divorced from care for the Earth and eco-social justice: they were indeed interwoven in The One. The mystics taught that to eat without sharing was to rob God.

In our own era, Tu B'Shvat has been celebrated as a challenge to the US government's use of Agent Orange to destroy the forests of Vitetnam, and as a challenge to corporate desecrations of ancient Redwoods and of the Everglades for the pursuit of corporate profit. This year, as we watch the Environmental Protection Agency turned into the Earth Poisoning Atrocity, we might focus Tu B'Shvat on some aspect of healing our wounded Mother Earth from global scorching.

In an anthology I co-edited for the Jewish Publication Society, Trees Earth and Torah, there is a rich gathering of Jewish wisdom about trees and an overview of the changing ways in which Tu B'Shvat has been celebrated and observed for the last two thousand years, wth many original texts and sources. You can purchase it by clicking here:<https://jps.org/books/trees-earth-and-torah/>

Here are some additional thoughts to insert during the four courses of fruit and wine that evoke the Four Worlds of Reality.

1. Asiyah, Physical Actuality (earth): The foods of the Tu B’Shvat Seder are nuts and fruit, the rebirthing aspects of a plant's life-cycle. They are the only foods whose eating requires no death, not even the death of a plant (like the radish or the Bitter Herb in the Pesach Seder).  Our living trees send forth their fruit and seeds in such profusion that they overflow beyond the needs of the next generation. This is the sacred meal of Eden, the Garden of Delight. The sacred meal of Mashiach-zeit, the Messianic Age.  

(The "Tree of Life," by Wendy Rabinowitz, a Judaic weaver/ mixed-media artist, eco-feminist & peace activist. She returned to Judaism through 'hiddur mitzvah', creating beauty in the world to reflect G-d's oneness with & within us. Wendy works out of her studio, LIVING THREADS Judaica. See her website at <http://www.livingthreadsjudaica1.com/page/page/3184669.htm>)

2. Yetzirah, Relationship (water): The four cups of wine for the Tu B’Shvat Seder are white; white with a drop of red to become pink; red with a drop of white to become rose;  red. Red and white were in ancient tradition seen as the colors of  generativity. To mix them was to mix the blood and semen that to the ancients connoted procreation. The Seder celebrates rebirth in all its forms throughout the world.  

3. Briyyah, Creative Intellect (air): In two separate epiphanies, Rabbi Phyllis Berman and Ari Elon pointed out that the conventional name for the festival of the Trees’ ReBirthDay names it in a constricted, fearful way. The festival comes on the 15th day (the Full Moon) of the midwinter lunar “moonth” of Shvat, and “Tu” is  made up of two Hebrew letters, Tet and Vav, that numerically are “9+6,” making 15. But this way of counting is an anomaly. Normally with numbers in the teens we say the letters for “10+x,” not “”9+y.”  That would mean “Yod-Aleph” for 11, “Yod-Bet” for 12, and so “Yod-Hei” for 15.  But “Yod-Hei” is “Yah,” one of the Names of God (as in Hallelu-YAH.).

So out of fear and reluctance to say God’s Name when we name the festival, we use “9+6,” “Tu,” instead.

But – “What might happen if we joyfully proclaim God’s full Presence on that day of God’s Rebirth, YAH B’Shvat, and on every Full Moon of each month?” said both Phyllis and Ari.  

4. Atzilut, Spirit (fire).  At a Tu B’Shvat Seder held in a grove of ancient and majestic redwoods  to protest the logging of such redwoods for corporate profit, then rabbinical student Naomi Mara Hyman (now a rabbi) gestured at the tall-reaching trees around us  — the tallest living beings on the planet —  and said, “These are eytzim [“trees”], yes?  And the wooden poles that hold a Torah scroll, we also call them eytzim, yes? Imagine a Torah Scroll so majestic that these redwoods were its eytzim! In that Torah, each of us would be just large enough to be one letter in that Torah!” And that is what we are: each a letter making up together the words, the wisdom, of that Great Torah that is indeed the Tree of Life.

Comment on this article at The Shalom Center web site. Also there you can share this article with others.

And please help The Shalom Center continue to bring the "spiritual" and the "political" together in one sacred process by helping reforest our Earth --  by contributing to the Trees of Life Fund.  You can do this by making a special contribution through the maroon "Contribute" button in the left margin on this page,  and writing "Trees" in the "Honor of" box.  .

Thanks!  And just as you take steps of healing, may you find healing from your own wounds and hurts -- with shalom, salaam,  paz,  peace for you, for Mother Earth, and for all her myriad earthlings --  Arthur


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