On Presidents Day I spoke to a crowd gathered at the City Hall of Philadelphia to protest the “Fake Emergency” proclaimed by Donald Trump to enable him to bypass Congress’ refusal to appropriate money to build a Wall and further militarize our Southern border. The protest was live-streamed, and the recording is at --
My own speech begins exactly one hour into the recording -- !:00:00 -- and lasts till 1:12:00.
Since various other sounds partially intrude, I have included, below, the text I used. I skipped a few parts of my text and ad-libbed occasionally beyond it. I hope you will take the time to see and listen live.
With blessings to you and to us all of the strength and perseverance to stand tall for democracy, for justice and compassion, against all their enemies -- Arthur
[Photo by Rabbi Mordechai Liebling]
Why am I here today? [I ad-libbed some remarks about the Passover Seder as both a commemoration of ancient struggles against a tyrant, Pharaoh, and at its best an activist teaching and reaching toward future transformation: for example, what it means for The Shalom Center to be sponsoring a pre-Passover Seder in which Rev. William Barber of the Poor Peoples Campaign will be one of the leaders. I moved from that holy time of challenging tyrants into ---]
And I am here today because this too is a holy day – a holy day in the American calendar. Today is Presidents Day. Not Dictators Day. Not King George III’s Day. This holy day is known as Presidents Day in honor originally of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and more recently to honor all the honorable Presidents of the United States. And when necessary, as it is today, to challenge a dishonorable President.
What does it mean to be a US President, not a king or a dictator? It means to live in and under the Constitution of the United States. It means you swear an Oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Not even to defend the physical safety of the United States, but its moral and spiritual and political Truth -- the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES. Imperfect, evolving – toward democracy, not away from it.
And that includes --
“Article. I. Section. 8. ... No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law -- by Congress.”
No President can take our tax money to use any way he feels like, for something that Congress refuses. This teaching – We the People have no Dictator, no King – goes deep not just into our Constitution but into the moral fabric that preceded it by about 2500 years. Even when people chose kings, the Bible taught that even a king, especially a king, must have his powers limited.
“If yousay, “I will set over me a king like all the nations round about us, you may set, yes, set over you a king – one that YHWH[Yahhh – the Breathing Spirit pf the World ] your God chooses....
“Only: He is not to multiply cavalry [the jet bombers and H-bombs of that day] for himself, or make the people return to the Tight and Narrow Place [of slavery] in order to multiply his cavalry, since YHWH [Yahhh – the Breath of Life] has said to you, ‘You will never return that way again!’
“And he is not to multiply sexual partners for himself, lest his heart be turned aside. And silver and gold he must not multiply for himself.
“But it shall be when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself with his own hand, a copy of this Teaching in a scroll. [He shall write it sitting] face to face with priests of the tribe of Levi. It is to remain beside him, and he is to read out of it every day of his life, so that he may learn to have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life] his God and to be fully caring for all the words of this Teaching and these laws, to observe them, so that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”
I do not want to make the Bible into American law. God forbid!! Truly, God forbid! I do want to learn from that last line --- the moral and spiritual line about the danger that kings will lift their hearts above their community, not turn their hearts toward their community. That warning is at the heart of all the political rules that aim toward democracy. For us as well.
The only emergency Mr. Trump has proclaimed is his own desperate raw emotional and political need to subjugate everyone who will not bow down to him. He kidnaps children from their families, he brings wildfires and hurricanes and famines on all living beings. He is doing exactly what the Bible forbids: “that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”
[Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY]
In our country, We the People – the whole People -- are the “priests of the tribe of Levi.” We ALL breathe the Breath of Life. We –- along with all the life-forms of our planet, the life-forms that this President is radically endangering. We demand that this President obey our Constitution.
And more! Mr. Trump, we demand that you stop lifting up your heart in contempt and arrogance and cruelty above and against your people, all peoples, and all life; and turn your heart instead toward justice and compassion.
Or == Mr. Trump, if you will not, cannot, turn your heart to justice and compassion, if you cannot turn your heart to being worthy of this Presidents Day, leave. Leave the Presidency you are trying to make into a personal dictatorship.
You are not our King. We have no King! [Crowd joins in: “We have no King!We have no King!We have no King!’] And if Congress will not stop you, We the People must. We here, everywhere in America today, meeting at Noon in every time zone from Philadelphia to Hawaii, must stop you.
Tomorrow (February 18) is Presidents Day. Not Dictators Day. Not King George III’s Day. The holy day is known as Presidents Day in honor originally of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and more recently to honor all the honorable Presidents of the United States. And when necessary, to challenge a dishonorable President.
Throughout the United States, at Noon local time tomorrow, Monday, February 18, there will be solemn rallies of protest against the so-called “National Emergency” just proclaimed by Mr. Trump.
The Shalom Center has endorsed the national wave of protests, and I will be speaking at the one in Philadelphia. It will gather at NOON Monday at SOUTH SIDE of City Hall.
We the People chose to bind our President by a Constitution. Here is what that means:
CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES
Article. I. Section. 1. All legislative Powers herein granted
shall be vested in a Congress of the United States,
which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
Article. I. Section. 8. ... No money shall be drawn from the Treasury,
but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law
Article II. Section 1: He [The President] shall ... take the following Oath or Affirmation: --
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute
the Office of President of the United States,
and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend
the Constitution of the United States.
This teaching – We the People have no Dictator, no King – goes deep not just into our Constitution but into the moral fabric that preceded it by about 2500 years. Even when people chose kings, the Bible taught that even a king, especially a king, must have his powers limited.
“When you enter the land that YHWH [Yahhh, the Interbreathing spirit of all Life] your God is giving you, and you possess it and settle in it, should you say, “I will set over me a king like all the nations around us,” you may set, yes, set over you a king that YHWH[Yahhh] your God chooses....
“Only: He is not to multiply cavalry for himself or make the people return to the Tight and Narrow Place [of slavery] in order to multiply his cavalry, since YHWH [Yahhh] has said to you, “You will never return that way again!” And he is not to multiply wives for himself, lest his heart be turned aside. And silver and gold he must not multiply for himself.
“But it shall be when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself a copy of this Teaching in a scroll, face to face with priests of the tribe of Levi. It is to remain beside him, and he is to read out of it every day of his life, so that he may learn to have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life] his God and to be fully caring for all the words of this Teaching and these laws, to observe them, so that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”
[Translation by Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses (Schocken Books, 1995), with a few modifications by Rabbi Arthur Waskow]
That last line about the danger that kings will lift their hearts above their community, not turn their hearts toward their community, is at the heart of all the political rules. For us as well.
Back to the "political": No previous invocation of a "national emergency" has purported to usurp the sole power of Congress, by “withdrawing from the Treasury” money that has NOT been drawn “in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”
Moreover, in the very proclamation of this “emergency,” Mr. Trump said, “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster. I just want to get it done faster, that’s all.”
That's the very definition of a non-emergency –-- except to meet the raw emotional and political needs of the proclaimer to subjugate everyone who will not bow to him. He kidnaps children from their families, he brings wildfires and hurricanes and famines on all living beings. Doing exactly what the Bible forbade: “that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”
In our country, We the People – the whole People -- are the “priests of the tribe of Levi.” We ALL breathe the Breath of Life. We –- along with all the life-forms of our planet, the life-forms that this President is radically endangering. We demand that this President obey our Constitution.
We demand that he stop lifting up his heart in contempt and arrogance above and against his people, all peoples, and all life; and turn his heart instead toward justice and compassion. Or leave.
(This is satire from the well-known Satire News Agency, the Dissociated Press. Satire reports not the immediate facts but the deeper Truth that emerges from understanding the immediate facts.)
Trump Mulls: Burn the Constitution, the Planet, or Both?
Dissociated Press [Washington DC, February 15, 2019] A member of the Trump family has described to our reporter a private meeting of the Trump Family just before Donald Trump decided today to proclaim a national emergency on the Southern US border so as to build the Wall.
The family member reports that Donald said,
“I’m considering burning the Constitution by ignoring its provision that only Congress can appropriate money, and grabbing money from various agencies to start building that Wall. I want your advice: Will we make more money for the Family if I do this “national emergency” thing, or if I just focus on burning the Earth?
“I’ve already been doing my best to burn all Planet Earth. I’m encouraging the burning of as much coal, oil, and unnatural gas as possible, ending limits on automobile CO2 emissions, allowing coal-burning power plants from spewing their poison into the air.
“The GREAT thing is, all that carbon-burning also multiplies weird cancers and terrible asthma epidemics in the Black and Brown neighborhoods, who don’t belong in our country anyway and harbor thousands of would-be terrorists. We protect America by keeping them busy with their kids in hospitals.
“Of course there is no national emergency on the border. The real emergency is that I might lose the 2020 election if I don’t get that Wall built.
“I notice just today, my Trump Organization announced that so many elitist and globalists are angry at me they won’t stay in my Hotels any more. The new hotels we planned will have to wait.
“So those 'globalists' like Soros and Steyer (you know who I mean, but I can’t say the whole truth about them out loud – yet!) are going to explode if I burn the Constitution too. But my loyal followers will love me even more, so it’s my best chance to win in 2020.
"The Dems will go to court, of course. But so what if they win? Once I’ve burned one part of the Constitution, what’s to stop me for burning more? As my hero Andy Jackson when the Supreme Court tried to stop him from forcing those Pocohontas Cherokees to move their asses out of Georgia, ‘John Mashall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!’
“And besides, it’s such a thrill to see McConnell so scared! He’s so scared I’ll support somebody to beat him in the primary, I bet if I got the actual original copy of the Constitution out of the Archives and told him to light the match to burn it on the White House lawn, he’d swallow hard and do it.
“But if it will hurt the Hotels, should I do it? Win the Presidensity, lose a few hotels -- is it worth it to our bottom line?”
Dear friends, “Sunrise” is the mostly young-people movement that first put the Green New Deal on the map. I am sharing with you an invitation to an “emergency mass phone call” at 8 pm EST THIS evening (WEDNESDAY Feb 13) to plan an effort to win as many votes as possible in the Senate for a resolution by Senator Markey of Massachusetts in support of the concept. (See below for why this vote is coming and why to press for support.)
My own view is that the Green New Deal offers by far the best chance of success in our struggle to prevent climate chaos, because it joins the struggle for social justice with the struggle for eco-sanity.
This is rooted in our best religious and spiritual traditions – for instance, the biblical Shmita/Sabbatical Year both releases the Earth from overwork and releases debtors from their debts.
-– AND it flowers with the most effective possible political energy, for it responds to all the pent-up desires in American life for well-paid working-class jobs that will be needed to create the green renewable-energy society. And it addresses the need for a just transition from Carbon to renewable energy by affirming the need for new jobs for those now locked into Carbon industries and for special aid to depressed and isolated communities, rural and urban.
So I hope you will join in the call tonight. For the link to register, see here & below.
Yesterday, Mitch McConnell announced he’s bringing the Green New Deal resolution to a vote in the Senate. Tonight we'll hold an emergency call to chart out our response.
Yesterday, Mitch McConnell announced he’s bringing the Green New Deal resolution to a vote in the Senate. He’s wagering that he can use this to destroy the momentum for the Green New Deal before we are able to build support in the Senate.
McConnell made this call because he works for the fossil fuel billionaires, not our generation, and they are scared. They see the movement we’re building: the thousands of people visiting offices this week, the bipartisan support for the Green New Deal in the polls, and the wall-to-wall media coverage about a real solution to climate change.
This vote raises the stakes higher than ever. We don’t expect to win this vote: fossil fuel money still runs Washington -- for now. But, it is a huge opportunity. It forces every member of the Senate to make a choice: will you vote for a plan to guarantee every American clean air and water, a stable climate, and a good job? Or will you stand with Mitch McConnell and the fossil fuel billionaires who are willing to put millions of lives in peril so they can pad their profits?
Mitch McConnell thinks he can win this fight in 2019 -- but he’s actually just starting the process of losing it in 2020.
Once Senators on the record, we can hold them accountable, and begin the process of turning over our democracy to the people who are willing and able to fight for all of us - not just the billionaires. We’ll build a youth-led electoral army that will help our friends and punish the members of Congress working against us.
It starts tonight, when we’ll meet to talk about our plan to push as many Senators to side with us before the vote, and our 3 year plan to take back power and pass a Green New Deal - no matter what happens in the coming weeks.
Mitch McConnell and his allies have no plan to stop catastrophic climate change. They have nothing like this movement. All they have is fear, division, and distraction. Their time is over. It’s not going to be easy, but I believe that we can do this.
Today all Americans and most life-forms on Planet Earth are living inside the Book of Exodus -- our health and livelihoods, our freedom and our lives, endangered by modern Pharaohs.
One vigorous response: Turn the Passover Seder from a commemoration into an incitement.
In 1969, in the midst of a crisis over racism and war, we created a new kind of Seder. We called it the Freedom Seder. We held it on April 4, the first anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King.
This coming April 7, fifty years later, in the midst of an American and a planetary crisis even sharper, The Shalom Center is sponsoring a new Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50.
Among its leaders will be Reverends William Barber and Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign; Ana Maria Archila, who challenged Senator Flake in the famous elevator and who heads the Center for Popular Democracy; and Debbie Almontaser, who has both suffered from Islamophobia and transcended it.
Fifty years ago, the Freedom Seder was held at an African-American church in Washington, DC. This year, the new Seder will be held at an African-American mosque in Philadelphia.
Fifty years ago, the Freedom Seder wove together the ancient story of liberation from slavery to Pharaoh with the story of the liberation struggle of Black America against racism. This year, it will address four overarching oppressions: racism, militarism, materialism, and sexism.
Fifty years ago, it was broadcast by WBAI in New York and by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. This year, it will be live-streamed to groups around the country, large or small, that want to connect their own Seders with the Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50.
Why do we need to hold this Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50? Not to commemorate the past, but to once again change the future. And this year the Seder is even more appropriate as a form than it was fifty years ago,
We are dealing with a Pharaoh who has defined US citizens who are descendants of legal Spanish-speaking immigrants as a dangerous minority ethnic group, and US citizens who are members of at least one minority religious community as dangerous outsiders, likely to side with America's enemies, harboring terrorists.
A Pharaoh who is willing to subject hundreds of thousands of government workers to slavery, as they were required to work without being paid.
A Pharaoh who was willing to rip children from the arms of their parents because they were from a wave of "foreigners" he despised, and who created prisons for those children that have resulted in the deaths of at least two.
And a Pharaoh who is deliberately acting to worsen the climate crisis and bring far more Plagues than ten upon the Earth and all humanity. Who responded "I don't believe it" when a broad network of his own officials submitted a well-researched, comprehensive report that the suffusion of our atmosphere with CO2 and methane were already bringing about unnatural disasters and were sure to create climate chaos, deep economic dislocations, and massive medical emergencies unless major healing action were taken immediately. Just "I don't believe it."
And a Resistance emerges. On January 21, 2017, women, as in ancient times, were the first to challenge this despotic power.
All this is stunningly reminiscent of the Pharaoh in the first chapters of Exodus who tells his people that the Israelites living in an Egyptian province -- the grandchildren of immigrants to Egypt – – are having too many children of their own. He calls them Ivrim, “Cross-Overs,” a word of contempt analogous to “wetbacks, “rootless cosmopolitans,” or “globalists.”
Then he moves from words of hatred and contempt to acts of violence. These Ivrim must be subjugated into slaves, and must be controlled by overseers who, we soon learn, are free to kill the Ivrim on a whim or a bias of their own. He sets up a program to murder their children.
When resistance begins, it is led by women -– Shifra and Puah, the midwives who invent a first stage of nonviolent resstance by refusing Pharaoh’s order to murder the boy-babies. Then Miriam and Pharaoh’s Daughter take positive rebellious action in a kind of international feminist conspiracy to save Moses’ life and nurture him.
And then there emerges a resistance movement, led by Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. When they challenge Pharaoh, his stubbornness and cruelty and arrogance bring disasters – Plagues -- upon his own country. When his own officials urge him to let the Israelites go free because his stubbornness is wrecking Egypt, he keeps refusing – – and his refusal brings on more ecological disasters.
So the Exodus story is perhaps the first understanding of a linkage: what we at The Shalom Center today call “eco-social justice.” Racial, economic, and social justice cannot be separated from ecological sanity.
Today Corporate Carbon Pharaohs and their governmental enablers are using their Hyper-Wealth to choke the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, and Its efforts -- our efforts -- to heal the planet and our neighborhoods from abject economic inequality, deep racism and many dfferent phobias, endless war, subjugation and destruction. And their depredations harm and kill the poorest first and worst. These realities are the ultimate in eco-social INjustice.
What to do? Today we need to create a new Resistance to these new Carbon Pharaohs.
The Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50 will gather people who are ready to resist the new Pharaohs with a new band of Resisters demanding eco-social justice. Register nowat
And please begin paying attention to a new and brilliant campaign fpr eco-social justice called the Green New Deal.
It points to what Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of Now,” a fierce urgency that in the Exodus crisis we embodied in matzah – for there was no time for the bread to rise. It demands a swift transition to renewable energy with great numbers of well-paid green jobs, with special care for workers displaced as we move out of coal and oil and fracking. It demands special attention to the forgotten and forsaken in big-city neighborhoods and rural enclaves, and to the battered but resilient Native communities.
The Shalom Center has signed on as one of an array of organization supporting the Green New Deal.
I see this as the best hope for breaking through the greed of the Carbon Pharaohs and the despair of many people.
Can the Jewish community join this effort as our own generation’s renewal of the meaning of the Exodus?
The answer is blowing in the Wind -- the Wind of Change, the Breath of Life -- the breath we breathe into our own words and songs and arms and legs of action:
Go down Moses,
Way down in EVERY land --
Tell all Pharaohs --
Set My Creation free!
Please join us in eating together, singing together, learning together, taking action together --
[Arlene Goldbard is the President pf The Shalom Center. She writes a blog of her own, to which you can subscribe or post comments at her Website:arlenegoldbard.com. Till recently she was the Chief Policy Wonk of the US Department of Arts and Culture (not a government agency). She is the author of The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The FutureandThe Wave. Much of her work unfolds the spiritual roots of political action; this essay is a superb example. -- AW, editor]
By Arlene Goldbard
When Starbucks founder Howard Schultz announced a few days ago that he was exploring a 2020 run for President as a "centrist independent," progressive social media exploded with reasons to reconsider.Op-eds proliferated, people began leafleting Starbucks and protesting at Schultz's speaking engagements. A chief objection is the reality that Jill Stein, running as the Green Party candidate in 2016, took enough votes from the Democrat to propel the Present Occupant into the White House. Pick a party, many say, and run as hard as you want for the nomination. But don't sabotage this critical opportunity to defeat the incumbent by pulling votes from the Democratic nominee.Michelle Goldbergdid a good job of summing it all up in theNew York Times.
Schultz's trial balloon is likely to sink under its burden of self-regard,the billionaire's blithe belief that wealth qualifies him for office. If not, thehistory and mathshowing how a Schultz candidacy is likely to re-elect the incumbent are hard to refute. I imagine Schultz will back down, but I also recognize that the surrealism of contemporary American politics can outstrip my imagination.
So what interests me most is not handicapping Schultz's chances or joining the legions exhorting him not to run, but getting to the root of his absurd ambitions, which is to say the root of our plutocracy and its kudzu-like grip on the body politic.
I can't think of anything that expresses it better than this quote from Paulo Freire's masterpiece,Pedagogy of the Oppressed.It explains the confidence of those like Schultz who believe their personal wealth and wisdom make them uniquely qualified to save the world. It explains why despite so much evidence to the contrary, they are certain they know better.
“...the fact that certain members of the oppressor class join the oppressed in their struggle for liberation, thus moving from one pole of the contradiction to the other... Theirs is a fundamental role, and has been throughout the history of this struggle.
It happens, however, that as they cease to be exploiters or indifferent spectators or simply the heirs of exploitation and move to the side of the exploited, they almost always bring with them the marks of their origin: their prejudices and their deformations, which include a lack of confidence in the people's ability to think, to want, and to know.
Accordingly, these adherents to the people's cause constantly run the risk of falling into a type of generosity as malefic as that of the oppressors. The generosity of the oppressors is nourished by an unjust order, which must be maintained in order to justify that generosity. Our converts, on the other hand, truly desire to transform the unjust order; but because of their background they believe that they must be the executors of the transformation. They talk about the people, but they do not trust them; and trusting the people is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change. A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust.”
I have no great love for our current electoral system.It would take all of 30 seconds to come up with something better than our money-ridden, top-down two-party structure, its flaws compounded by the deformations of the Electoral College and bad Supreme Court decisions such asCitizens United. But Schultz and others who imagine now is the time to experiment with sidestepping the Democratic Party are hugely mistaken. Perhaps wealth insulates them so fully from the consequences of such experiments that empathy falls by the wayside. Four more years of the madmen in the White House may not do irreparable damage to Schultz's bottom line; it's impossible to believe he's given full weight to the damage others are likely to sustain. Either that or he turns out to be the worst type of ideologue, the true believer who accepts the suffering of others as allowable collateral damage in pursuit of a grand idea—in this case, himself as President.
Freire recognizes the importance of the privileged putting themselves on the side of liberation.There are many examples. I wrote in 2015 about the way great spiritual and political leaders may come from wealth and privilege—Moses, Siddhartha Gautama, Gandhi, Ho Chi Minh, and many more. But no matter how gifted, such individuals cannot advance freedom and justice unless they commit"class suicide,"dying to the privileged class of their birth—for instance, by taking a step with no return—and thus sacrificing privilege and power in favor of full identification with the oppressed.
Right now, today, how could someone like Howard Schultz—or Michael Bloomberg, who just said that Medicare for All would "bankrupt us for a very long time"—commit class suicide?We are taught that Moses' moment came when he was moved to kill a brutal overseer abusing a slave and Siddhartha's eyes were opened when he finally left his father's palace and saw human suffering. So yes, these billionaire politicians could simply open their eyes—if seeing led to action. A good first step would be to come out in favor of the wealth tax ideas put forward by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren, nicely explained inthis column by Jamelle Bouie.
The Republican right frames a top tax rate of 70 percent for the wealthiest as highway robbery, but that was actually the rate from the mid-1940s through the 1970s. So rather than advocating unprecedented radical redistribution, present-day economic reformers are simply calling for a return to policies that kept the wealth gap far smaller than today's egregious reality, where theU.S. gap is worsethan almost any other nation in the developed world.
Freire was right.The spoilers like Schultz who claim to be for the public good but sacrifice nothing to see it enacted, those whose self-importance swamps their often formidable intelligence, are rooted in economic privilege. Ralph Nader's net worth was close to $4 million in 2000 when he ran against Al Gore; Jill Stein's and her husband's net worth totaled almost exactly the same when she ran in 2016.
The possession of wealth does not cancel empathy or disqualify one from leadership any more than poverty always amplifies empathy or promotes leadership.It's not material conditions that make good leaders, but qualities: the compassion, humility, sense of reality, and commitment to love and justice which every human being has the capacity to cultivate. Tech zillionaireTom Steyer has no dearth of self-confidence, but I was glad to see him separate himself from the likes of Schultz, putting paid to rumors of his presidential candidacy by announcing he was investing the millions he would have spent campaigning on the Present Occupant's impeachment instead.
The part of that quote from Freire I love the most says that "The generosity of the oppressors is nourished by an unjust order, which must be maintained in order to justify that generosity."It's not hard to break down. The Present Occupant's many campaign promises to restore manufacturing jobs and otherwise relieve the suffering of working people were 21st-century reenactments of John D. Rockefeller passing out shiny new dimes to everyone he met. The meta-statement each gesture made is this:I'm rich and you're not. I have the power and you don't.
In the Mishnah Torah, Maimonides defines. eight levels of charity The Hebrew word for charity istzedakah, which also means justice or righteousness. The highest level is to help someone via a loan, job, or partnership to avoid remaining dependent on others (expressed for instance in theGreen New Dealproposal growing in grassroots popularity); the lowest is to give grudgingly (as whenWilbur Ross and other such Republican spokespersons condemned government employees unpaid due to the government shutdown for applying for public assistance or protested against having to pay taxes).
The true highest level oftzedakahis class suicide, people with economic and social power turning their backs on the system that upholds their privilege and working for a new order grounded in equity and caring, reducing their own entitlement and specialness as countless others are uplifted.
There's a rabbinic story I learned many years ago, in which a rabbi visits the town’s richest man to ask for alms for the poor, and is repeatedly refused. Finally, before he turns to leave, the rabbi asks the man to look through the window of his house and say what he sees. The man sees other people, of course, going about their business in the town. Then the rabbi directs the man to gaze into a nearby mirror and report what he sees. “Myself,” the man says. “That’s how it goes,” the rabbi tells him. “The human soul is clear, like glass, allowing us to see truly; but when we cover it with silver, all we can see is ourselves.”
Jewish tradition mandates that we name our teachers, asserting that doing so redeems the world. It is therefore disappointing that neither Avi Steinberg’s article on Robert Alter’s three-volume translation of the Hebrew Bible (NYTMagazine, Dec 23, 2018) nor P. J. Grisar’s summary of the Times article in The Forward (Dec 24, 2018), mentions the real origins of Alter’s approach to the Bible.
The whole enterprise of translating the Bible so as to make available in English the rhythms, word-plays, leit-motifs, and texture of the Hebrew – rather than “normal” or “literary” English – began in 1972 with a translation of the Book of Genesis (In the Beginning) by Everett Fox.
Fox was then a graduate student at Brandeis and is now a professor at Clark University. His translation, published in a special issue of Response magazine (Summer 1972), stirred great excitement in the Jewish and parts of the Christian world. It led to publication by Schocken Books of In the Beginning in 1983, Now These Are the Names (Exodus) in 1990, Fox’s The Five Books of Moses in 1995, and The Early Prophets (Judges, Samuel, and Kings) in 2014.
Alter’s work on the Hebrew Bible did not begin till the 1990s. according to the article in the Times. His publication of the Five Books came in 2004. Steinberg refers to Fox’s work in general, yet does not mention that Fox’s entire rethinking of how to translate the Hebrew Bible preceded Alter’s work by decades.
On the other hand, from the very beginning, Fox honored his own teachers by making clear that he was inspired by a unique translation of the Hebrew Bible into German by Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig.
In another paean to Alter’s innovation, Steinberg compares his translation of a verse in the Song of Songs to the widely used translation of the Jewish Publication Society version. He is quite right that the JPS version is wooden, the opposite of the erotic overtones of the text. As Steinberg notes, in this case Alter does honor his teacher, crediting his translation of the verse to the translation by Chana and Ariel Bloch. But neither Alter nor Steinberg mentions the translation by Marcia Falk, which long preceded the Blochs as well as Alter's. Falk not only lit up the erotic glimmers of the Hebrew without diminishing its spiritual glow or its poetic brilliance, but also first made transparent for readers of English the dialogue between the man and woman of the Song by using different type fonts for each of them.
For me as rabbi, teacher, theologian, and activist who has used Fox’s work for decades in unwrapping the Bible for students and congregants who are not adept in Hebrew, one element of Fox’s translation has been extraordinarily fruitful. He refused to obey the conventional “non-translation” as “Lord” of the sacred Name of God in the Hebrew letters “Yod Hei Vav Hei.” That convention is based on a decision of the Rabbis that the word “Adonai,” which means “Lord,” should be said whenever “YHWH” appears. Alter follows that convention.
But it is clear that this is not what the Four Letters meant in most of the Hebrew Bible, nor were the Four Letters wrapped with vowels that would make the Name “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.” Fox, true to the vision of making the true Hebrew truly accessible in English, simply transliterated the Name as “YHWH.”
For a generation that is uncomfortable with “Lord” as a metaphor for God and also demands truthful authenticity, Fox’s transliteration is far more truthful and invites us to wrestle in each moment with what “YHWH” meant to those who wrote the Bible, and what it means to us. If we try to pronounce it with no vowels, most people find themselves simply breathing. So perhaps it meant, and could mean again for us, “the Breath of Life.” In any case, seeing “YHWH” invites us to wrestle with the meaning. Becoming “Godwrestlers” once again.
[The Shalom Report during the next days will have several reports from and about Jewish women who took part in the Women’s March in Washington last Shabbat -- some Jewish Women of Color and some white Jewish women. Our first such report is from Cherie Brown, the executive director of the National Coalition-Building Institute, which for years has led workshops on racism, anti-Semitism, and the entanglements of both with each other. She is a member of the board of The Shalom Center. She wrote this memo the day after the Women’s March. Beneath her memo is a link to a video of the Shabbat service she describes, and a brief comment of mine. -- -- AW, editor]
Here is a picture from Jewish Women of Color on the stage at the march. The two Black African-Heritage Jewish women speaking at the mike are April Baskin and Yavilah McCoy. Here is also something brief I wrote about yesterday.
I just returned from attending the National Women's March in DC. It was a powerful, moving gathering, with a strong commitment to unity. And Jewish Women of Color were at the front of the march and led a delegation of several hundred of us--Jewish women of Color and Allies.
First-- a few things about the weeks leading up to the March. I and many of us put in dozens of hours listening and working with a lot of upset people. The issues of anti-Semitism were very real and needed to be addressed--and a lot of Jews were hurting. Some Jews felt that the March leadership wasn't dealing sufficiently with anti-Semitism. Others, particularly Jewish Women of Color, felt that to not stay in the Women's March was also colluding with racism and sexism.
I worked a lot with several Jewish leaders who were struggling about whether to stay with the March in light of the issues of anti Semitism. I continued to hold out to everyone I talked to that we Jews need to gain the muscle to stay in Coalition ( especially when we agree with most of the unity principles) and learn how to stay AND take on the anti Semitism.
Hard and painful and honest conversations were had between a number of Jewish women and the March leadership about anti-Semitism.
I believe we are further ahead for having had to handle this controversy. The first National Women's March two years ago did not mention anti- Semitism. In today's march-- the issue of anti Semitism was included as a part of the unity principles. Two years ago-- no visible Jews spoke from the podium. Today-- there were three Jewish women added to the steering committee of the National March who also spike in the stage. ( Rabbi Abby Stein, Yavilah McCoy, April Baskin).
This past week I was asked to lead a webinar for the National Council of Jewish Women on Dealing with anti-Semitism with Coalition Partners. Over 200 Jewish women from across the U.S. signed up to be on the webinar. It's clear that there is a growing hunger to understand about anti-Semitism and not have it get in the way of progressive Coalition work-- particularly on women's issues.
The March: Today-- the day began for me with an early morning Shabbat service before the March-- led by Jewish Women of Color. Hundreds of us showed up to participate and be in solidarity. Then we marched behind a strong powerful contingent of Jewish Women of Color.
Many of us were moved to tears as two Black African heritage Jewish women ( April Baskin and Yavilah McCoy) alongside other Jewish Women of Color stood on the stage and addressed the whole March. They spoke strongly of unity and fighting together against sexism. They spoke out against anti-Semitism and insisted that the work against anti-Semitism was a part of the work against sexism. They were holding a Torah Scroll; several were wearing Talleisim [prayer shawls] and they wished the Women's March “Shabbat Shalom!”
There is still a lot of work to be done. The anti-Semitism is by no means gone. The classic historic pattern of having anti-Semitism be thrown out as a bone to divide progress forces was so apparent in these past few weeks. The press has not always played a good role. It has spent much of its time focused on the controversy and how the March was so divided--and very little on the important agenda goals of the March to end sexism.
I am learning a lot about how we can stand up fiercely against anti-Semitism while at the same time, not let the anti-Semitism keep Jews and other progressives divided or walking away from the work of eliminating sexism.
Rafael’s video is very moving, as of course were the Prophetic actions and the words he filmed -- especially Yavilah McCoy’s quotations from “the Prophet” (MLK).
I was especially touched by the film’s catching the traditional gesture in which Jews touch the fringes of their talleisim to the Torah Scroll when it is carried into the congregation, and then kiss the fringes.
I was taught by my friend and teacher Rabbi Max Ticktin, tz’z’l, that those who take on the joyful burden of carrying the Torah are themselves, each one of them, a Torah -- and he therefore touched the fringes to the carriers as well.
So I found myself wanting to touch the fringes of my tallis not only to the Sefer Torah the women were carrying but to the women themselves, to the band of Jewish Women of Color who created this powerful moment.
Today, Dr. Martin Luther King’s official Birthday, and the day after the third great Women's March, we are living in the midst of a national and a planetary crisis that echoes his passionate commitment to freedom and justice.
So I am writing today to invite you to an event on April 7 that will link Dr. King to the long history of liberation struggles before him and to the “fusion struggles” for liberation we are living today.
For 3000 years, ancient Israelites and their Jewish descendants have each year, at the full moon of the moonth of spring, remembered and renewed an ancient liberation movement through the Passover Seder. It is a sacred ritual meal, framed by the Telling (in Hebrew, Haggadah) of the story of the ancient liberation of the children of Israel from slavery to Pharaoh in Mitzrayyim, the Hebrew for the “Tight and Narrow Place” -- the Hebrew name for ancient Egypt.
The meal includes several ritual foods – among them a Bitter Herb in memory of the bitterness of slavery and Matzah, the unleavened bread that the runaway slaves baked and ate on the night of Exodus. – unleavened because there was no time to wait for the dough to rise. The matzah embodies what a half-century ago Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of Now.”
For all those centuries, the Passover Seder celebrated only moments of Jewish liberation. Fifty years ago, on April 4, 1969, for the first time in all those 3,000 years, we celebrated a “Freedom Seder” that wove together the Jewish liberation struggle with other struggles for freedom -- especially Black America’s struggle against racism.
I wrote it because I was possessed by the gripping memory of the murder of Dr. King just a week before Passover 1968, and by the gripping memory of the military occupation of Washington DC by the US Army the day after Dr. King’s death – sent to put down an uprising of the grief-stricken, outraged Black community. “Pharaoh’s army,” it felt to me at the time.
The next year, on the first anniversary of Dr. King’s death, the Freedom Seder that I wrote was held in the basement of a Black church in Washington, with 800 people -- about half Jewish, the rest both Black and white Christians. It won a broad audience across the country.
Fifty years later, we are in crisis again, facing four aspects of tyranny: the onslaught of racism, hatred of foreigners, and religious bigotry; of militarism at home and overseas; of worsening poverty and overweening materialistic greed that extends even to wrecking all Earth for the sake of hyperprofits; and worsening official efforts to subjugate women and LGBTQ communities.
On this 50th anniversary, we will move forward again –- taking Dr. King’s clarity, his courage, his commitment into new worlds of freedom, to birth the Beloved Community we all call for.
We expect hundreds of people at the Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50 and at the dinner that precedes it. Pre-registration is necessary – NO walk-ins. Dinner - 5:00-6:45pm Halal (fish and vegetarian with vegan, gluten-free option) Seder - 7:00-9:30pm You can register through the link TINYURL.COM/FREEDOMSEDER50
Congregations and other organizations can arrange a co-sponsorship bearing special benefits by writing Seder@theshalomcenter.org We are planning a live feed for distant communities where you could link to your own Seder; write Seder@theshalomcenter.org to make arrangements.
Make a recurring donation and receive Freedom Journeys as our token of appreciation. Click here for more info about the book. Freedom Journeys is a deep meditation on the timeless—and timely—relevance of the Exodus narrative. In the grand tradition of mystical exegesis, Waskow and Berman reflect upon Exodus not only as an event that happened “then” and “there”, but a paradigm of movement that is happening here and in the now, for all of us, Jew and Muslim, Black and White, male and female. —Omid Safi, professor of Islamic studies, University of North Carolina.