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EMERGENCY 2: PREVENTING MASS DEPORTATIONS

Every Shabbat morning, I act as the "Weaver" for an hour’s conversation about a passage from the Torah reading of that Shabbat. This past Shabbat, as I read the weekly portion, looking for a passage we could focus on, I had ringing in my ears and in my heart the president's announcement that he had ordered a mass round-up of immigrants living in clusters in several major American cities, for mass deportation.

So I was happy to find that in the very Torah portion we were about to read, the Torah was already prepared with a challenge to this piece of subjugation:

 “Now when immigrants sojourn with you and wish to make a Passover-offering to YHWH  / Yahhh/the Holy InterBreath of Life, in this way shall they make it: according to the law of the Passover offering and according to its regulation. One law is there to be for you, for immigrant sojourners and for the natives of the land.” (Num 9: 14)

My understanding of this teaching is that if foreigners want to join with you in the Festival of Freedom, in celebrating the liberation of slaves from slavery to Pharaoh, welcome them! –for only by affirming one law for foreigners and natives can your land continue as a land of Freedom. 

Chant: ONE LAW / FOR IMMIGRANTS AND NATIVE-BORNS

And this passage reminded me to look up another passage from a Torah portion we will be reading in mid-September:

“If those who are oppressed {“serfs,” “servants,” slaves”} seek refuge with you from their masters, you are NOT to hand them over to their masters. Let them dwell beside you, among you, wherever within your borders seems good to them. Do not mistreat them!!” (Deut. 23:16-17)

Chant:  WELCOME REFUGEES/ DO NOT MISTREAT THEM

Do I invoke these ancient texts just because they are written in Torah?  No, I invoke them because they show that this question of the treatment we owe to immigrants and refugees has stirred the moral heart of our communities for at least 2500 years, and our moral forebears came down on the side of love, not fear.

The community in which this writing emerged saw itself as a whole nation of runaway slaves seeking freedom. So it was clear that other runaway slaves and all who celebrated freedom from Pharaoh’s slavery were to be welcomed, not excluded.  And notice that this applied to “economic refugees” fleeing a tyrannical boss as well as those fleeing a tyrannical government.

If we wish to see America as “sweet land of liberty” we must be open to these freedom-seeking immigrants and refugees, welcoming them to wherever THEY choose to live.

Not deported, not imprisoned in concentration camps, not tearing children, even babies,  from their mothers’ breasts, their fathers’ arms, to throw them into cages.

Oh yes, these ARE concentration camps. Not extermination camps, not yet. Those politicians who have denounced the use of that word as if it meant the same as “death camp” ignore the history that genocide happens in stages.

Those politicians claim that to use those words, “Concentration camp,”   demeans the Holocaust.

That is a lie. Using the words “concentration camp” HONORS the Holocaust, by learning from it. I am a Rabbi who knows it is the Teachings we learn from the Holocaust that are sacred, not the word itself. 

We are still early in the process of our rulers’ campaign to dehumanize foreigners who have brown skins and Spanish tongues.

It took five years for the Nazi state to move from a "concentration camp" at Dachau and a policy of humiliating Jews, forcing them out of jobs and schools, beating some of them, killing some of them  --  to a concerted mass attack on Kristallnacht. Even then, it took another four years to formally decide to mass murder millions in death camps.  

Is the mass round-up that Trump has threatened an analogue to Kristallnacht? Or one stage short?

Later this past Shabbat, Trump announced a two-week postponement of the mass deportations.  Did the Breath of Life whisper a line of Torah in his ear? (Very likely that the whisper came; not so likely that he heard it, or paid attention.) Did ICE tell him they couldn’t do it yet, needed more time; he would look foolish?

What matters is that we have more time to organize. Time for synagogues, churches, mosques, temples, to organize a presence in their Congressmembers' offices. And to close down the doors of frozen-hearted ICE in every city. Chanting these biblical verses or other teachings, each from its own tradition. And to offer sanctuary.

Because this dehumanization happens in stages, it can be stopped before it reaches genocide. Stopped IF we act. That is our job. Our religious commitment. Our moral obligation. Our spiritual fulfillment.

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

Toward a future Judaism: A Retreat This July

Include on the list of inspiring retreats for Jewish Earth-lovers (mystical and activist) this summer's Ruach Ha'Aretz retreat July 8-14 at Stony Point Interfaith Retreat Center in Stony Point, NY.That’s 37 miles from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, 130 miles from Philadelphia, 137 miles from Boston, and 50 miles from Newark Airport.

 

  Stony Point has a residential multireligious community of Christians, Jews, and Muslims and organic gardens that supply fruits and vegetables to the dining room and neighboring communities.  The Ruach Ha'Aretz retreat, sponsored by Yerusha, is kosher vegetarian/vegan and is focused on healing Mother Earth.  Meditation, chanting, transformative prayer, and great teachers make this a week not to miss.  For more information, go to yerusha.org/ruach.haaretz.

My dear friends Shefa Gold, Diane Elliott, Shaya Isenberg, Bahira Sugarman,ill  Lynn Iser, and Jeff Roth will be among the teachers, and my beloved Phyllis will be the resident spiritual director.  Join us!

 I will be weaving a four-session participatory and conversational course that will look toward a Judaism of the future.

In shaping new versions of Judaism and other religious communities for our own and future generations, we are already turning some of what were biblical blessings or commands, like the subordination of women, into sins; and turning old sins, like male-male sex, into blessings like same-sex marriage.

At the same time, one major blessing of the Hebrew Bible was its wisdom as the spiritual experience of an indigenous people of shepherds and farmers close to the Earth.  That aspect was minimized in 2,000 years of Rabbinic Judaism. But it has become newly crucial in our generation as we face a profound crisis in humanity’s relationship with Earth.

The course will address these two crucial issues -– sexuality/ gender issues and Earth/human-earthling relationships -- and will pay special attention to biblical passages that themselves point toward a future version of Torah quite different from the over-all tenor of the Bible. (For example, the Song of Songs is a vision of a future of gender relationships utterly different from the biblical norm.)

Four sessions:

SESSION 1: Gender relationships: Reading & open conversation on Biblical texts.

SESSION 2:  Gender relationship: Reading & open conversation on theory, practice, poetry of feminist and LGBTQIA Judaism.

SESSION 3: Relationships between Earth & human earthlings: Reading & open conversation on Biblical texts.

SESSION 4: Sexuality/ gender relationships AND relationships between Earth & human earthlings. Reading & open conversation on Song of Songs.

The Ruach HaAretz retreat is itself aiming to create a week-long village, living as what Dr. Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community. Like a village, we will address such aspects of our lives as food and dance, aging and childrearing, meditation and prayer, trees and sexuality. Among the teachers and weavers will be Rabbi Shefa Gold on new forms of prayer, Rabbi Jeff Roth on Jewish meditation, and Rabbi Phyllis Berman as Spiritual Director in Residence. And as with any healthy village, there will be joyful learning for the children.

 

       Here:  yerusha.org/ruach-haaretz

In these very days, we are counting our way from the Passover of the past to the Sinai of the future. We look forward to your joining us, our joining you, in this journey.

Shalom, Arthur

Dear MoveOn: Saturday Protests Exclude Jews; I Urge You, Change!

[Dear Shalom Center friends, The letter below to MoveOn's leadership explains itself. If you agree, please write them yourself at

https://moveon.desk.com/customer/portal/emails/new  and please cc us at Office@theshalomcenter.org  .

Thanks! Shalom, salaam, sohl, paz, peace! --  Arthur]

Dear MoveOn leadership:

Yesterday’s pro-impeachment rallies, scheduled by MoveOn for noon local time on Saturday, were timed in such a way as practically to exclude participation by religiously caring Jews.

This was not necessary, and the planning raises questions of whether MoveOn was utterly ignorant of Jewish Shabbat/ Sabbath practice or consciously chose not to involve religiously caring Jews.

The basic issue is this: Traditional Jewish practice for Shabbat affirms prayer services on Friday evening and Saturday morning, and prohibits spending money and traveling other than by walking, from slightly before sundown Friday to slightly after sundown Saturday.

Some religiously caring Jewish communities have to some extent modified these concerns, especially to countenance travel and money-spending to take part in activities to heal the wounded world –- but only later in the day on Shabbat, once they have been able to gather for prayer, song, meditation, and encounter with ancient and modern Torah wisdom.

For many Jews, these practices are not mere mechanical regulations but the affirmation of profound respect for a rhythm of Doing and Being. This kind of Sabbatical practice can call forth deep inner spiritual renewal, can by refraining from commerce express strong interpersonal respect for other human beings and for a society rooted in love rather than money, and can embody strong outward reverence for Earth, to refrain from coercing and wounding her by pouring carbon dioxide into the air and water.

A case in point:  The same Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who walked steadfastly with Dr. Martin Luther King and with Fathers Dan and Philip Berrigan against racism and against the Vietnam War wrote a brief and lyrical book, The Sabbath, celebrating this aspect of Jewish wisdom.

Christian observance of Sunday as “the Lord’s day” almost always focuses on Sunday-morning prayer, rarely carrying with it the same broad weave of refraining from ordinary business practice.

So in planning for political actions, in most situations a Sunday mid-afternoon schedule would free all Jews, all Muslims, and almost all Christians to take part. Any such event on Shabbat would exclude a considerable number of Jews. And an event scheduled as early as noon on Shabbat would exclude practically all Jews who want to take part in Shabbat-morning prayer. Even delaying till about 2:30 pm would make such events accessible to Jews who were willing to define them as a way to heal our world from injustice, war, and destruction of the web of life on Mother Earth.

If yesterday’s rallies had been scheduled for today, or even for 2:30 pm yesterday instead of noon, I would have taken joy in joining with people of other religious, spiritual, and ethical communities.

On two fairly recent occasions, planners of gigantic protest marches took these concerns into account. The enormous march opposing the onrushing US war against Iraq was held on Sunday, February 15, 2003, in New York City. So was the gigantic New York City march for climate awareness, held on Sunday, September 22, 2014. For both these actions, many thousands of people poured into the streets from New York church services and many thousands of religiously concerned Jews also took part.

When marches are scheduled for Washington, DC, planners face a somewhat different calculus. Churches that house hundreds of thousands of progressive celebrants are far from the National Mall, and scheduling a march for Sunday would lose many of them, gaining a considerably smaller number of Jews. So it makes more arithmetically political sense to schedule such marches on Saturday and plan to include time and space for Shabbat services as part of an adjunct to the process, reluctantly acknowledging that many Jews will be unable to take part but making some effort to include as many as possible. And honoring Jewish concerns.

But when rallies are deliberately scheduled for many locales around the country, this calculus does not apply. On Sunday afternoon, church worshippers can take part – and many progressive churches might encourage members to go from church to a rally. Jews, Muslims, and all other religious folk can take part. Multilocal protests were the framework MoveOn planned for yesterday. It could have worked this (Sunday) afternoon. Sad that MoveOn did not make that choice.

As a supporter of MoveOn, I am taken aback by what seems either its ignorance of or its disregard for Jewish concerns on these questions. So I address you with loving hope that my letter will alert you to the importance of them.  I welcome a response from MoveOn’s leadership.

Shalom, salaam, sohl, paz, peace! –

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The Shalom Center <theshalomcenter.org>

###  ###

 [Dear Shalom Center friends,  If you agree with the letter above, please write MoveOn yourself at

https://moveon.desk.com/customer/portal/emails/new  and please cc us at Office@theshalomcenter.org  .

Thanks! Shalom, salaam, sohl, paz, peace! --  Arthur]

Facing the White House in Moral Witness: great photos!

Dear friends of Truth, Justice, and Peace, the three pillars that hold up the world  --  

My life-partner Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I came home from Washington on Wednesday night both exhausted & exhilarated. We had prepared to risk arrest and were sorrowful that the Secret Service acted in such a way as to prevent anyone from doing that. -- And we were also persuaded that their very action was a sign of how much the White House feared how powerful this Moral Witness was and would be.

We had come determined to persist in our prophetic speech even if that meant risking arrest. The White House decided to fence us in, to prevent any acts of nonviolent civil resistance because the White House did NOT want to arrest one hundred clergy and other leaders of their faith communities.  They were afraid of that profound engagement of the Prophetic community. Their response was a signal of the strength of our protest.

We gathered Wednesday morning at a church near the White House – a church with a strong history of prophetic religious involvement. There were about 400 of us. There was a brief speech by Rev. Dr. Barber about the origins and purpose of the ”Moral Wednesday” action, in which he gave full honor to Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50  as its origin and to The Shalom Center for organizing that and for our involvement in the planning of this Moral Witness Wednesday.

I introduced a litany in which Sahar Alsahlani, Rev. Jacqui Lewis, and Rabbi Alana Suskin led the whole assemblage to take the purpose into itself. [In this photo, Reverend Dr. Barber is on the left, I'm on the right, and the three women leaders in between.]

(Two other members of our Board and one former member were present – Rabbis Jeff Roth and Mordechai Liebling, and Jeffrey Dekro. Mordechai and I, who had been deeply involved in the Planning Committee and in the Prophetic Council that emerged in the process,  were both speakers later at Lafayette Park across from the White House.) 

 There was a very strong representation of Jews, almost all Rabbis, many many of whom  came up to me to thank The Shalom Center for putting energy and outreach into the action. So did at least 20 Christians and Muslims who were among the many more who receive our Shalom Report letters. Truah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights --- also had a strong presence. Mordechai Liebling, who is on their Board, had a strong influence in persuading Truah to endorse the action.

 There had been detailed negotiations for more than a week between organizers for “Repairers of the Breach,” the home organization for Dr. Barber, with the US Park Police, who are responsible for Lafayette Park. The Park Police explained in detail when and where insisting on speaking would bring arrests. All seemed arranged. But they warned that there was a chance that if someone under Secret Service protection (i.e. the President, his family, or a foreign dignitary staying at Blair House very close by) came out of the White House or Blair House, the Secret Service might keep us out of the Park, in theory for security reasons.

We undertook a 20-minute Procession from the church to Lafayette Park.

When we arrived, the Secret Service had indeed closed the Park. (We think but are not sure, that was because someone from the White House came out.  That may have been a deliberate effort by a family member to keep us away; we don’t know.) Meanwhile, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running for President and has made a point of his commitment to a prophetic religious outlook, showed up unbidden. The organizers took steps to ensure we would not look as if this Moral Witness were supporting a candidate.

After some waiting, the organizers started with the list of speakers on a bullhorn much weaker than the P.A. system already prepared on a platform/stage in the Park.  Rabbi Simcha Zevit -- who had at the Freedom Seder chanted in Hebrew the brief passage of Jeremiah (22: 1-5) that had inspired Dr. Barber to call for this action –- did so again at his request. This time she chanted both Hebrew and English in Haftarah melody.  Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Reform Jewish community’s Religious Action Center,  blew the shofar (ram's horn) and later spoke.  Reverend Traci Blackmon of the United Church of Christ spoke, especially about the attempts of this White House to subjugate women.

Then I gave the three-minute talk that I hope you saw in my Shalom Report letter on Tuesday.

(See  --  https://theshalomcenter.org/content/rabbi-arthurs-talk-white-house-jeremiahjusticejune12 )

I called us to respond with the fierce urgency of NOW to this Adninistration's enabling of the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are burning Earth and poisoninhg neighborhoods. 

How should we respond to their deadly all-consuming fire? With a different kind of fire:  the inner fire of the Burning Bush, the inner fire of life and love and liberation. The inner fire that did not consume the Bush in which it burned. The Burning Bush that lit up the way to the Sea of Reeds, to Sinai, to the Cross, to Mecca, to Selma and to Memphis. The inner fire to defeat all pharaohs and their sins of subjugation and to heal the plagues they bring on Humankind and Mother Earth. The inner fire of the Burning Bush that we must carry home within us.

Then the Secret Service opened the Park. Rabbi Avruhm Addison spontaneously led many in the crowd in a song from the Psalms about opening the gates to praise the Breath of Life –

Pitchu li sha'arei tzedek
Avo vam odeh Yah.
Zeh hasha'ar YHWH/ Yahhhh
tzadikim yavo'u vo.

 

Open to me the gates of justice;
I will enter into them, giving thanks to Yahhhh,, the Breath of Life.
This is the gate of the Interbreathing Spirit of the world;
Those committed to justice shall enter into it.

 We heard the rest of the speeches, which ended with Mordechai Liebling speaking on this Administration’s violations of the Constitution. We were ready to cross Pennsylvania Avenue and risk arrest at the edge of the White House. But at that point, we discovered that the Secret Service had entirely superseded the Park Police, were not even pretending to physically protect some person from the "First Family" of Subjugators. Instead they were providing political protection.

They had sealed off Pennsylvania Ave, emplaced barriers on the edge of the Park and deployed officers on the Avenue.  They made it impossible to risk arrest.

(I remembered that Mr. Trump at the same time he had dumped leaders of the Department of Homeland Security and the Border Patrol for not being cruel enough, had replaced a career chief of the Secret Service with a personally chosen favorite. "Caesar's Praetorian Guard?" I wondered at the time.)

So the organizers decided to pin our petitions to the barriers and end the protest. 

 Before we left, however, I decided to speak to the police officers of the Secret Service, as I have on a number of occasions just before getting arrested.

 

 I said,

 “We recognize that you are acting under orders that are intended to deny us the full use of our First Amendment rights to speak the prophetic truths of Jeremiah. But we say to you: Remember that you are not only police officers, you are both human beings and Americans. Many who work in that building, that White House, are doing criminal acts that destroy lives.

 “As human beings, remember that they are burning Earth, where our children and grandchildren need to live. As Americans, remember they tore children from their mothers’ arms and put them in cages; and they have broken the Constitution in plain sight.  Remember you are more than police officers, you are human, you are Americans. Over the next days and weeks, remember who you truly are and figure out some ways to oppose these crimes committed inside the White House!  Remember!”

Rev. Jacqui Lewis, standing next to me in the photo above, picked up the theme, “Remember your souls!” and for several minutes the whole crowd of faith leaders picked it up:Remember your souls!” Remember your souls!” Remember your souls!”

As I said to start with, when the White House decided to weaken our protest by preventing nonviolent civil disobedience, that was a signal of the strength of our protest. The White House did NOT want to arrest one hundred clergy and other leaders of their faith communities.  They were afraid of that profound engagement of the Prophetic community.

And we should stay aware that the Secret Service is now doing the political bidding of the President, not only his physcal protection. Another measure of the passion for subjugation that now defines and dominates this White House. The Sin of Subjugation is the opposite of Democracy. It is the opposite of Love.

Now we must carry the inner fire of the Burning Bush back home.

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

Rabbi Arthur's Talk at the White House for #JeremiahJusticeJune12

The Fires that Destroy -- or the Burning Bush:

The Inner Fire of Love and Liberation

[At about 11:30 am or Noon EDT on Wednesday June 12,  hundreds of faith leaders from many diverse communities will gather at the White House to challenge an Administration that has violated two Covenants: the Constitution and the moral Covenant at the heart of every religious, spiritual, and ethical tradition and community. We are gathering at what Jeremiah (22:1-5) called the royal palace, called together by Reverend Doctor William Barber when he spoke at the #FreedomSeder50 organized by The Shalom Center on April 7. Many of us intend to risk arrest if necessary to freely speak our prophetic message as the First Amendment provides. Below is what I intend to say. (I may need to drop a couple of paragraphs to fit the tight time allotted to each speaker) --  Reb Arthur, editor]

Invocation for #JeremiahJusticeJune 12,  at the White House

We are the generation
That stands between the fires.



Behind us as Americans
Are the flames of burning crosses lit by hate  


to choke our people in the smoke of terror;
Still worse – the burning bodies hung from trees,
Strange burning fruit.

Behind us the fire that consumed the Triangle Shirtwaist factory,
Killing 145 immigrant women workers because its owners locked the exit doors;

Not yet behind us the glare of gunfire exploding in our children.
 
Behind us as human beings
The fire and smoke
That rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima,
From the burning forests of the Amazon,
      torched for the sake of fast hamburger.
 
Not yet behind us the hottest years of human history
     that bring upon us
Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.
 Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.
 
Before us we among all life-forms
face the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

Where are we now, right now? ?

We face inside the White House the fires of the sin of subjugation –- threats to destroy millions of people in “fire and fury,” the deliberate encouragement of burning still more coal and oil and unnatural gas to scorch and burn our Mother Earth for the sake of hyper-wealthy Corporate Carbon Pharaohs  --  all for the sake of the sin of subjugation, misbegotten from greed and arrogance, cruelty and hate:

Subjugation of racial, religious, ethnic, sexual, and gender minorities; of women denied the freedom of their own consciences; of children ripped from their parents’ arms; subjugation of the suffocating middle class, of workers, of family farmers, of the poor, and of people who fall sick; of immigrants and refugees; of the free press; subjugation of the Congress and of the Constitution; subjugation even of Earth, our common home.

The worst threat to American democracy since the Civil War.

The worst threat to human survival since our earliest human forebears ventured forth out of our African birthplace. 

What must we do? We must light again in our own hearts the fire of love and liberation that burned in the Burning Bush. The fire that did not destroy the Bush it burned in, the Fire that never was extinguished, can never be extinguished. The fire of the Burning Bush that lit the way to Sinai, to the Cross, to Mecca. The fire in the heart of every community and all Creation.  The fire that still lights the way to the Covenant for justice, compassion, healing and the empowerment of all.

It is our task to make from that fire
Not an all-consuming blaze
But the light in which we see more clearly
The Rainbow in the many-colored faces of all life.

We must relight the inner fire of the Burning Bush that lit the way to Rabbi Heschel, “Where some are guilty [of terrible acts], all of us are responsible [to stop them].”  The fire of love and liberation that called on Brother Malcolm to give his life in pursuit of his new and deeper understanding of the universal message of Islam.  The inner fire that called Dr. King to give his life for love of Blacks killed for daring to vote, of Vietnamese farmers burnt by napalm,  of American soldiers sent to die for the sake of subjugation, of garbage workers treated as if they themselves were garbage, of the first multiracial Poor Peoples Campaign  --  all and always, in pursuit of the Beloved Community.

It is the Burning Bush that burned and burned and was not consumed that brings us here today and that we light again  --

 So that we leave here with the Burning Bush aflame within us, to ACT for love and liberation.

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