Heart and Soul

My small personal crisis and the Great American Social Crisis


Dear friends,

This past Wednesday afternoon, I found all my leg muscles very weak and my speech slurred. Seemed like it might be a stroke, so Phyllis with the help of wonderful friends hurried me into an ambulance to a hospital. The hospital found there was nothing at all wrong with my brain, but something was wacky with my liver. During the next 24 hours my liver calmed down. The medical hunch was that there had been a stone interrupting the internal processes of the liver, the stone passed,  the processes worked right, and I felt fine. On Friday afternoon they sent me home.

It was a powerful lesson: In the Hierarchical picture of the world, my Brain is in charge. The liver is deeply subordinate. But that is just not so. In an Ecological picture of the world, the liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, belly – – including even the million microscopic creatures living in my belly that are not even me – – as well as my brain work together to keep me alive and making sense. If I were to act as if my liver were unimportant, a mere appendage, disaster. Domination, subjugation can kill me.

There was another powerful lesson. The official ethic of the hospital was honesty and transparency with patients. But over and over during those 40 hours, particular medical professionals withheld vital information from me. Their refrain: "We didn't want to scare you." My refrain: "I'm a grown-up. I want to know the truth." It was only because I pushed and challenged that I found out what was going on.

"Easier" for them to control the information, even if that meant I didn't get fed dinner and didn't get medicine pills I needed. It was only because I pushed and challenged -- made them uneasy -- that I found out what was going on.

In the great American social crisis we are living through, the official ethic of America is democracy and honesty in government. But the White House has chosen Domination, Subjugation, and a flood of lies to support them as the mode by which to lead America. It has viewed with contempt and oppressive behavior the liver and the kidneys and the lungs of American society. It has done that literally in the face of a virus that is saying, “Pay attention to all the organs!” And so Americans are dying by unnecessary tens of thousands.

More metaphorically, the Black community which has always been treated like an unimportant liver in the American social system has wakened not only itself but many other organs of the system who understand the Ecological rather than the Hierarchical way of keeping America healthy. So there has perhaps for the first time, or perhaps for the first time since the Civil War, been a multiracial uprising against racism.

The White House, in its obsessive commitment to Dominate and Subjugate, is trying to deal with at uprising by making an American police state. That may create chaos, but it will not create health and prosperity.

That obsession with Subjugation is the politics of Pharaoh. It ended up drowning Pharaoh himself in the Sea of Reeds, but it took tens of thousands of Egyptians with him. First in ecological upheavals we call the Plagues, finally in the death of the firstborns.

What can we do? Nonviolent action both inside and outside the system are necessary. The House of Representatives should be refusing to appropriate any money at all for the Department of Homeland Security without a physical withdrawal of all its police forces from American cities, and with legislative provisions to prevent what has happened in Portland and now in Seattle. Senators committed to democracy with a small “d” should be filibustering every so-called “must-pass” bill until no American city is under Pharaoh’s occupation. The ACLU should be going to court everywhere to restore and renew the right to vote freely and to demonstrate freely.

And I do not think that this kind of action will happen, or will matter without nonviolent direct action by the people. I emphasize nonviolent. Even where a particular building is itself a repository of Subjugative violence, it will make more sense in this situation to avoid attacking that building. We should be enforcing a nonviolent discipline in order to gather against Pharaoh’s violence.  Closing the roads around such a building, closing the highways, creating a campaign for “denial of service” to computers in Department of Homeland Security and the White House – – all those will be necessary to protect us in our myriad vital organs of society from Pharaoh and from the Plagues that Pharaoh has brought upon us.

I want to come back to my own personal crisis of life and death. In October I will be 87 years old, and as one of those who is most vulnerable to terrible torment or death by the Coronavirus, I have been extraordinarily careful to protect myself and my immediate family.

In early October, what I think may be the most important work I’ve done since the Freedom Seder in 1969 will be published. It’s a book entitled Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. It’s an effort to reimagine Judaism, Christianity, and other religious communities as committed to an Ecological rather than Hierarchical vision of the world. I very much hope to be here, able to speak and to write and to teach what that book is saying.

Yet if between now and January 20, 2021, it is necessary to bring all my organs, all my body, into the struggle to prevent a police state under Pharaoh, then I will.

With blessings for each and all of us – – each human being and all life forms, free and unique organs to give life to the Loving and Beloved Community, the ONE –
 Arthur

Transformative Rebirth of The Shalom Center

The Shalom Center was born to play defense. Now it is time to play Transformation.

We were founded in 1983, specifically to speak a Jewish voice against the Reagan-Kosygin renewal of the nuclear arms race. Through the’ 90s until now, we have struggled against the poisonous disregard of various US governments and corporations for healing the wounded Earth. And since early 2017 we have been strengthening struggle against the would-be fascist government of Donald Trump.

All this time it has become clearer and clearer that we are struggling against one of the oldest and deepest tendencies of American culture and society – – the tendency to Dominate, Subjugate, encoded in racism against the Indigenous Peoples and the Black community. We have been struggling to support and redefine the other great impulse – – toward inclusive democracy, love for each other, and love for Earth.

Now we are seeing a great wave of that love – – especially in the form of a multiracial Uprising against racism. And we are also seeing the real danger of a violent attempt to negate democracy altogether, coming from a frustrated would-be fascist President.

When you are standing at the edge of a precipice, at the edge of the Red Sea, with an army of Subjugation right behind you, that is not the time for small and “incremental” steps that will simply drop you into the precipice, into drowning in the sea of the unknown. It is the time for the great leap across the precipice toward justice, toward compassion, toward the Beloved Community. So we are making the turn to Transformation.

Meanwhile, we are facing the need for rebirth in more mundane, more internal ways as well. Our remarkable nine-year-veteran Program Coordinator, Viv Hawkins, has decided to pursue a new life-career as a life coach. So we are looking for someone to fulfill that Program Coordinator role.

And even more intimately, my old computer has worn out its career. I have begun to work with a new one -- both a painful and a joyful experience.

Most intimately of all, I am in the midst of working on two books. One of them is Dancing in God’s Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. That one is already written, working its birthing process in the womb of its publisher, Orbis Books. It will be born in early October, just in time for Sukkot, the Harvest Festival. It is intended to harvest all the experience, “spiritual” and “political,” of my life – – and like a good harvest, to feed the future.

The other book, How to Liberate Your Passover Seder, is a collection of essays that my beloved Rabbi and life-partner, Phyllis Berman, and I are editing together. That one has about 40 essays, written by people who have actually enlivened and liberated their Seders, public and familial-friendly. The essays have been written, and that book is ready to find a publisher.

The most urgent of all these internal rebirths is our search for a new Program Coordinator. We are looking for someone who has the skills in a wide range of social media and the ability to grow the seeds of new ideas into sprouting, vital plants.  Details are at

https://theshalomcenter.org/content/seeking-program-coordinator-shalom-center-position-description

Please check it out if you seem to fit, or pass this message to your friends who seem to.

Shalom,  salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --  Arthur

Seeking Program Coordinator for The Shalom Center: Position Description

Seeking Program Coordinator for The Shalom Center: Position Description

The Shalom Center sees itself as a prophetic voice for a spiritually rich world-view committed to active work for justice, peace, and the healing of Earth-Human relationships.  We work in the Jewish, multireligious, and American worlds.

We see ourselves as a tugboat helping much larger organizations to change direction; as a seed-sower of new ideas to be carried out by others; and as an idea factory that seeks to get the ideas implemented.

We seek a full-time Program Coordinator who can improve or introduce a set of procedures to the work of The Shalom Center and use these tools and procedures to help its Executive Director --  Rabbi Arthur Waskow -- use his time for the unique work he does. 

There is a need to help Rabbi Waskow, people in his networks with whom he works, and the Board of The Shalom Center do strategic organizational planning to maximize impact and assure that daily work and special projects are done on an agreed schedule and help to advance the issues we engage and the position of the organization.

We are seeking a Program Coordinator who has demonstrated knowledge, skills, and experience in the following areas:

  • Jewish and other spiritually rooted values, rituals, and practice.
  • Policies to transform social relationships in regard to subjugation of Earth, racism, sex and gender discrimination, and economic inequality -- all to bring about an inclusive democracy, and a Beloved Community that embraces Earth and human earthlings, based in an Ecological worldview rather than one of Hierarchy and Subjugation.
  • The use of “soul-force” through the vote and vigils, sit-ins and stand-ups, empowerment of the powerless, in achieving social change.  
  • Strong experience in how to use social media platforms. Specifically, we now use but need to augment a Website, FaceBook,  email blasts including a blog, and Twitter.  We barely use Instagram, Reddit, YouTube, podcasts ,and other forms of social media management.
  • Ability to manage an email list of more than 10,000 names and on-line fundraising campaigns, requiring efficient database organization and management. There is a constant flow of emails that need responses or acknowledgment, scheduling, calls and reconciling of contributions, changes of credit cards, changes of address and the general administration of the organization.
  • The ability to work with Rabbi Waskow to help him get the work he wants to accomplish done, while making sure that work is being done on a predictable schedule.
  • The ability to participate and coordinate strategic planning efforts.
  • The ability to monitor and supervise a part time bookkeeper and intern.
  • The ability to assist in fundraising efforts.

The Shalom Center has a limited budget and limitless goals. We will pay a salary of $40,000 with annual cost-of-living increases,  necessary withholding, accrued vacation and sick leave, paid time off for civil and Jewish holydays, and a contribution towards health insurance.

Although a Philadelphia residence for the Program Coordinator would probably be more convenient, we do not believe it is essential,

We are asking for candidates to make a two-year minimum commitment to the position. We also want someone who can start in the position by August 15th at the latest to support a smooth transition with the current staff person who will leave in October.

Please send a letter of interest, a CV and supporting materials you believe will show your unique qualifications to: Awaskow@theshalomcenter.org with “Program Coordinator” in the subject line.

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.

Marc Raskin: Mentor to me and to the World

Marc Raskin died this past weekend.  He was one of the great progressive universalist-Jewish thinker-activists of the 20th & early 21st centuries in the United States, co-founder of the Institute for Policy Studies where I was one of the original Resident Fellows from 1963 till 1977.

 I am deeply saddened by his death.  Since 1959, Marc had been my friend, my teacher, one of my heroes, even when we disagreed. When my wife Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I visited him in October, the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the Siege of the Pentagon, he was gaunt of body and gaunt of words and thought. Truly the lion in winter. Even so, losing  him altogether leaves me shaken.

He could not take part in the 50th-anniversary commemoration, and I spoke in his name as well as my own when I spoke about the challenge to the Dept of Justice during that action, when we sat side by side,  with Benjamin Spock & Bill Coffin,  to turn in a thousand draft cards to protest the draft and the Vietnam War. Marc and I were there because we had co-authored the Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority, in support of draft resistance.

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