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Jewishly Honoring Juneteenth

On June 19, 1865, the US Army announced the emancipation of enslaved people to the public in Texas – the last of the Confederate states to be liberated from slavery  

 That day each year became known as Jubilee Day and later as Juneteenth, and became a day of celebration, education, community, and political vision first for the Blacks of Texas and then for Blacks throughout the United States. It has been recognized as a special day of celebration by 47 of the 50 states and by some major corporations. It has slowly become recognized and observed by some whites -- especially this year, in the great wave of multiracial Uprising against American racism. (For a history of the day, see “Juneteenth” in Wikipedia.)

Beginning seral years ago and increasing this year, several waays have energed of  Jewishly underling the celebration of Juneteenth. I will review them here. They include sharing a Seder for Juneteeth; suggesting a Kavvanah (focus) for the Blacks killed by racism in reciting Mourners Kaddish on Juneteenth; and shaping a Kabbalat Shabbbat and Havdalah for the day. Each of these is noted below.

Beginning in 2018, some Jews Of Color have shaped a Seder for the day, drawing on the structure of the Passover Seder and using foods, songs, poetry, symbols, and other elements of Juneteenth celebrations. In 2018, a vigorously progressive Jewish group in New York City, Jews For Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), observed a Juneteenth Seder and then published its Haggadah at  

https://www.jfrej.org/news/2018/06/jfrejs-juneteenth-seder

As the author of the original Freedom Seder in 1969, the first Haggadah ever to welcome the Black struggle for freedom into the heart of the Passover Seder, I have been especially moved by this introduction of the form of the Seder into a Black holyday of freedom.   And I have been warmed and excited by the notion that Blacks who are not Jewish and whites who are or who are not Jewish might find it a welcome way of affirming and working for the end of American racism. At the same time, I encourage caution in its use – not easily “appropriating” the symbols and practices of Black America.

So I decided to share one sliver of the Juneteenth Haggadah that felt to me especially relevant to the struggle to end racism, and especially both Jewish and universal in its drawing on Torah and on the post-history of the Holocaust to urge a serious discussion of “reparations”  for slavery.  Here it is:

THE SECOND CUP: Behold this cup of wine. Assata taught us: It is our duty to win. We drink to her, to our commitment to winning, and to our ancestors who invested in our winning and building power: Fannie Lou Hamer, Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, Ella Baker, Pedro Albizu Campos.

 Raise glass. Say one of these blessings: P’ri hagafen, ito nishteh, “l’chayim!” The fruit of the vine, with it let us drink “to life!”

 Bruchah at Yah, Shekhina, eloheinu malkat ha’olam bora p’ri hagafen. Blessed are you, Shekhinah, Queen of the universe, creator of the frui of the vine.

Baruch atah Yahhh (Adomai)  Eloheinu ruach (melekh) ha’olam borei p’ri hagafen. Blessed are You God, Interbreathing Spirit (Sovereign) of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.בְּרוכָּה אַתְּ יָהּ שְׁכִנָה אֱלֹתֵינוּ מַלְכַּת הָעוֹלָם בוֹּראַ פְּריִ הַגָּֽפֶן.בָּרוךְּ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ רוּחַ )מֶלֶךְ( הָעוֹלָם בוֹּרֵא פְּריִ הַגָּֽפֶן.

Love & Support: We must love and support each other, and for that love and support to have any meaning, it must be material as well as spiritual.

 “The Torah says: And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock ... And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt...”

 Black liberation is something that has been compromised again and again, through actions monstrous and tiny — the incompre-hensible violations we promise to never forget, and the endless diminutions we all decide to ignore.

 White supremacy is centered in Christianity, but Jews with white skin privilege have been enacting it and actively benefiting from it for centuries. In the recent history of the United States, white Jews benefited from the G.I. Bill; moved to, and profited from, racially segregated housing; accepted and enabled massive disparities in education; and received loans, financial aid, salaries, and benefits denied to Black people.

 White folx: even if you personally find the idea of white supremacy repulsive, even if you are afraid of antisemitic neo-Nazis and white nationalists — you still benefit from the culture of white supremacy we all live in.

And so tonight we are asking you to think about what it means to commit to reparation — to take a small but challenging step toward accountability and disinvestment from white privilege — a step that also leads toward a bolder, more moral, more vibrant future for Jews and for all people.

Rabbi Sharon Brous writes: “Most American Jews came to this country years after the abolition of slavery, but we have thrived under a national economic system that was built on stolen land and stolen labor, a foundational wrong that has yet to be rectified. As survivors of generational trauma and beneficiaries of reparations [from Germany, to Israel] granted after the Holocaust, Jews have a special obligation to help advance this conversation.”

In addition, Eric Greene, a member of the board of the Jewish Multiracial Network, has suggested preceding a recitation of the Mourners Kaddish with this kavvanah (‘focus’):


Friends:

This Friday night Shabbat coincides with Juneteenth, the commemoration of the official ending of mass enslavement of African Americans.  In observance of this important day, and in remembrance of the countless African Americans who have been victimized and killed by ongoing racism, we are lifting up the suggestion of Black Jewish journalist Robin Washington and we are asking our friends and allies in the Jewish community—Jews of Color and White Jews, Sephardic and Mizrachi and Ashkenazi, religious and secular, in private or on Zoom—to recite a Kaddish for Black Lives during this Shabbat

We are providing the text of Jewish Multiracial Network’s “Black Lives Kaddish” below. Depending on your practice, you may choose to recite it along with the traditional Kaddish or, after candlelighting, join us in reciting Psalm 31 (traditionally recited as a plea for protection from those who would do us harm) on this special Juneteenth Shabbat.  We ask that you share this ask with your networks, friends and contacts throughout the Jewish Community so we may all come together to give appropriate honor to those we have lost.  May their memories be a blessing.                                                   

                    KADDISH KAVANNAH FOR BLACK LIVES

 Creator of life, source of compassion. Your breath remains the source of our spirit, even as too many of us cry out that we cannot breathe. Lovingly created in your image, the color of our bodies has imperiled our lives. 

 Black lives are commodified yet devalued, imitated but feared, exhibited but not seen.  

 Black lives have been pursued by hatred, abandoned by indifference and betrayed by complacency.  

 Black lives have been lost to the violence of the vigilante, the cruelty of the marketplace and the silence of the comfortable. 

 We understand that Black lives are sacred, inherently valuable, and irreplaceable. 

We know that to oppress the body of the human, is to break the heart of the divine.

We yearn for the day when the bent will stand straight.

We pray that the hearts of our country will soften to the pain endured for centuries. 

We will do the work to bind up the wounds, to heal the shattered hearts, to break the yoke of oppression.

 As the beauty of the heavens is revealed to us each day, may each day reveal to us the beauty of our common humanity. Amen.

I suggest that we add these readings to our Shabbat observance, either or both on Erev Shabbat (Friday evening, June 19) or Shabbat morning, fitting in with our attention to the nationwide gathering of the Poor People’s Campaign at 10 am and 6 pm Saturday  and 6 pm Sunday at June2020.org

Bechol Lashon is sponsoring an early Juneteenth Kabbalat Shabbat with Rabbis Sandra Lawson and Isaama Goldstein-Stoll  at --
 
 
And the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA) of Chicago and the Kol Or Caucus for Jews of Color are excited to invite you to the 3rd Annual Juneteenth Havdalah on June 20 at 7:00 pm, where we’ll come together as a community to commemorate the emancipation of Africans and African-Americans from slavery.  Please RSVP by clicking here.

Blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste!-- Arthur

Lerner's "Revolutionary Love"

Michael Lerner wrote his newest book, Revolutionary Love (University of California Press), in 2019. There was already in the world and in his mind’s eye the brutality of the Trump Administration. There was only a hint of the possibility of a world pandemic resulting from the rampant disregard by human institutions – mostly the Hyperwealthy – for the habitat of other species. And though he notes with hope the existence of Black Lives Matter, a massive national Black-led multiracial Uprising against racism was not on the country’s, or Lerner’s, agenda.

What his book is mostly about is an imagined series of social changes that would make America, and the planet, a society focused on loving connectiveness -- not competition and subjugation – and the loving means of getting  there.

 Among his proposed loving alternatives is:

  •  “Gradually disband police forces and replace them with neighborhood  security committees,  trained in de-escalation  and empathic intervention.  (These committees will be backed up in emergency situations by local community forces (neighbors trained to meet violence effectively).” (page191)

 Who knew (I think not Lerner) that this would be on the front pages everywhere while his book was still new?

 The book is peppered with such ideas. The question is how to make them do-able. Not every one of them is going to have behind it the force of an Uprising deep enough to make tens of thousands of people forget their fears of Death by Coronavirus and erupt onto the streets.

 I do want to note one other proposal out of dozens, partly because It is a special concern of mine and because Lerner gives it five pages (pp. 233-238), not just one small paragraph. That is his examination of whether it would be possible to organize in our own society, so different from ancient Israel, the Sabbatical Year commanded in Leviticus 25. 

For Torah, this is the crucial way of preventing both social disaster as economic inequality worsens and eco-disaster as Earth is treated with contempt. The Torah considers this program so central that it is said to come from Sinai, just like “Don’t make idols” and “Don’t murder.” – And so, in Lev. 26, is the recitation of specific disasters that will come if Earth is not allowed to rest every seventh year.  Lerner thinks we could do this Great Sabbath in modern America. Wonder how? Read the book!

 Lerner deals with almost every bristling “Impossible!” and “Unrealistic!” by challenging the “liberal” and “progressive” Lefts that express considerable contempt for “Love” as a transformative possibility. The Lefts’ reaction translates into contempt for religion, the one aspect of American society that still holds some love for Love.  And into contempt for the “deplorables” who depend on religion as their last gasp of breath – and of Love at least in their local communities.

 Lerner recalls the sense of frustrated and frayed connections between people, and the experience of many working-class Americans that their once-upon-a-time liberal allies see them as damaged and disreputable because they seem to be translating psychological and social fears into attacks on “the others.“

 He hopes to bring together the old Left-outs --  Blacks, Indigenous Peoples, Muslims, Spanish-speakers, women,  GLBTQIA communities, Jews – with the new Left-outs --  the “forgotten whites.” He looks to heal their split in part by their economic resentment against the ultra-rich 1/10 of 1%, but more by his appeal to their separate but shareable Love.

 His book ends with what I would call despair masked as hope. As a last resort, Lerner imagines dividing the USA in two, using the new technology that could unite clusters across territory to separate the “Progressive States of America” from the “Conservative States of America.” His comments remind me of the despairing advice on the edge of the last Civil War: “Let the erring sisters [the Southern states] depart in peace.“

But most of all he is hopeful. He hopes that the steps he proposes of actually embodying “revolutionary love” and an ultimate “Love and Justice Party” will enable the creation of a transformed United States.

Two Reports: Right—wing fascists doing arson in Minneapolis

First: An eyewitness report from trusted synagogue member in Mpls; Second: a journalist's report

On Friday EVERY BUSINESS on Lake Street and adjoining commercial districts, was boarded up.

Many spray painted murals on the plywood - let folks know they were a local or minority owned business. Essential businesses.

Last night was by far the worst night. Protests during the day were peaceful. There was an 8:00pm curfew. Everything changed when the sun went down. There are roving and highly organized bands of anti-government neo-nazi white men cruising the city, breaking off plywood, looting stores, and then setting fire to the buildings.

On the Northside, which is predominately African American, the situation was much the same. Local civic groups were trying to protect local businesses and homes. there were many fires.

The violence and destruction is NOT being driven by local people. The cars on the streets have either removed their license plates, or have out of state plates.

Here is a post from a neighbor, "Everybody! We need to get our heads around what’s happening, Mpls and St Paul are being attacked by fascist “accelerationist” white crazies. Trying to divide & destroy us.

Accelerationism: the idea inspiring white supremacist killers around the world -Vox"

Expect these same types to infiltrate all of the legitimate protests happening in other cities in America. We are fighting an enemy within.

These "accelerationists" burned down the 5th Police Precinct, our post office, every pharmacy. The Wallgreens and CVS within a few blocks of our house are still burning this morning. The grocery stores were all hit. Every bank has been hit. Every liquor store, every gas station. They have guns and accelerants.

When National Guard show up, they disappear into the neighborhoods and have been setting fires. It is a violent game of arsonist wack-a-mole. There is no longer any fire fighting service available - overwhelmed. So neighbors are using garden hoses to put out the fires and save homes. Pictures neighbors are sharing - these are young white men, heavily armed.

According to authorities there are over 10,000 of these "accelerationists" in the city. St. Paul arrested over 50 people last night. ALL OF THEM were from out of state. The authorities are checking phones of the people they have arrested, doing contact tracing of sorts on these people. These people are connected to right wing militia style groups with a civil/race war fantasy. They are opportunistically using the legitimate, peaceful George Floyd protests as a cover to actualize their neo-nazi fever dream.

Gov. Walz just said, "If you know where these people are sleeping today, let us know and we will execute warrants. “ Xxxxx and I were helping the owner of a commercial building up the street - a friend, and two of these guys came up to us. Wanted to know where the free food was being distributed. He gave them an address that was three blocks away. Had no idea what we were talking about - not from here.

[Xxxxx], the girls and I are fine and safe. Exhausted. Angry. We have not really slept in three days. Everyone in Minneapolis/St. Paul is the same.

So, what to do? Our neighborhood group is meeting at the park this afternoon. I think that they will organize our neighborhood watch to patrol, try to spot fires and get them out ASAP.

Major protests are planned for today. They want the other three police officers involved in George Floyd's murder arrested, they want the MN Attorney General, not the Hennepin County Attorney to manage the case. They want the MPD disbanded and reformed with many alternative public safety and law enforcement strategies used. But the legitimate protests will end at 8:00 pm.

The Gov. and the mayor are calling in thousands more National Guard Troops. We already had more National Guard troops in the city than ever before. They are doing a good job but were overwhelmed last night by sheer numbers. Gov. Walz is the highest ranking soldier to have ever served in Congress and led the National Guard - he clearly sees this for what it is and will fight it. This is now a military operation by the State of Minnesota against alt-right, white nationalists and anarchists that have come into Minneapolis to use the protests against police brutality as cover for their death fantasy.

They are trying to force authorities to use deadly force and "accelerate" the violence.

It is dark friends.

The other side - this morning the neighborhood is out in force helping with the clean up, re-securing businesses. Massive food distribution at community centers. People taking in neighbors whose homes were destroyed or whose neighborhood was so impacted that it is no longer habitable. Allie was ion contact with students, many of whom are refugees from war torn countries, that were hearing explosions and fire and sirens - they were calling her to make sure she was okay.

Today I will garden. My flowers are starting to really come into bloom. Vegetables coming in strong. New raised bed being built. Eat some good food. Feel grateful. Train our new puppy Ruth, who is just a pip. Take her to the lake and give her a swimming lesson. Then I'll take a nap. I think tonight will be a long one."

*** ***

Far-Right Extremists Are Hoping to Turn the George Floyd Protests Into a New Civil War

Armed extremists are showing up to protests and urging a "boogaloo" — code for civil war — online.

by Tess Owen

May 29 2020, 5:57pm

Far-right extremists are showing up, with guns, to the protests against police brutality that have exploded across the country.

Others are egging on the violence from behind their computers, urging followers to carry out acts of violence against black protesters with the goal of sparking a “race war.”

Responding to the Nation-Wide Uprising

 

The overnight news means there is a nation-wide uprising going on, 

 Trump is so far teasing people, partly because he can’t help himself from threatening even more violence – that’s what his ego lives on --   and partly because he may think he can fire up his base and enough other whites out of fear of the “out-of-control” Blacks to win the election without needing to send the Army.  Or he is biding his time and will send the Army in a week. I think we need to make clear five things:

• Our experience in myriad movements of the mid-20th-century and later shows that “nonviolence” worked, and now needs a fuller expression in  the “culture of love and eco-systems" where everybody counts precisely because of their differences, instead of the "culture of hierarchy, domination, subjugation, and violence.”  
 
• We built empowerment of some of the powerless through the vote. Supreme Court decisions that encourage huge amounts of money from the Hyper-wealthy to buy elections and that cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have weakened but not eliminated that success. But it needs to be enormously expanded beyond 1965 anyway, We must do what we can to create a massive vote, and if after the election Trump has lost but tries a coup to hold power we need to be ready with a national strike with local neighborly resilience. 
 
• Our experience was built on a mostly friendly national government,  not an utterly hostile one.  In the present moment, we need to be opposing use of the Army or federalization of the National Guard, calling on mayors and governors to turn to teachers, public employee unions, activists, etc to create peacekeeping networks in the cities, not police and not the Natl Guard, to point toward a NEW kind of order, not the old one.  
 
• There is increasing evidence,  some eyewitness and some by journalists, that much of the arson and looting is being done by RIGHT WING neo-fascists hoping to bring about a race war. Some of those reports will be posted tomorrow morning in the Shalom Reporton June 1. If you don't get it already,  click on "Sign Up for Weekly Emails"  banner on left margin this page, Note that Trump has mentioned outside intervention in  Minneapolis, probably based on FBI reports he has seen, but carefully refrained from saying it’s by right-wing whites – leaving the implication it is Black radicals. This is important for the public to know.
 
• We ought also to urge the creation soon of a series of linked national conferences that brings together the Black community in one, immigrant/ Spanish-speaking and other communities of color in another, Earth-oriented groups in another, women, faith communities,  GLBTQIA communities, etc with links between and among them, to energize voters immediately and a new culture/ Constitution soon.

Deeper: From #Shavuot2Sukkot: Green & Grow the Vote

[This fall, Americans will hold an extraordinary election –- addressing profound questions of health and life in the midst of a pandemic plague, democracy in the midst of Hyperwealthy pharaohs, and survival of a million species (including our own) in the midst of global scorching.

[At 8 pm Eastern Time on Thursday, May 28, the eve of Shavuot, there will be a Zoom conversation among a range of rabbis, youth activists, cantors and other singers, poets, and organizers about “greening and growing the vote” during the period beginning with Shavuot.

[The Zoom conversation is co-sponsored by The Shalom Center, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Dayenu: A Jewish Call for Climate Action. Faryn Borella is a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern at The Shalom Center. Her essay here draws on the Torah roots of “Grow the Vote.” You can register to join the conversation, including breakout groups for your own conversation, by clicking here:  https://tinyurl.com/Shavuot2Sukkot   -- AW, ed.]

Shavuot as Eco/ Social Contract: Grow the Vote!

By Faryn Borella

Shavuot began as an agricultural festival. A pilgrimage festival. A festival of the first fruits.

Shavuot became a revelation festival. A Torah festival. A covenant festival.

In some ways, these two frameworks can feel like opposite poles. Shavuot as agricultural festival is about earth, land, harvest, offering. Shavuot as revelation festival is about book, mind, intellect, law.

Yet in both instances, Shavuot is about opting into a social contract, a political system, and an ultimate sovereign in Hashem Eloheynu--the divine that is our divine.

In biblical times, during Shavuot, devotees of Hashem from all over the land would make pilgrimage to Jerusalem, carrying their first fruits to offer up to their one true sovereign at the Temple. 

“Early in the morning the officer would say: “Let us arise and go up to Zion, into the house of Hashem our God” (Jeremiah 31:5). Those who lived near [Jerusalem] would bring fresh figs and grapes, while those who lived far away would bring dried figs and raisins. An ox would go in front of them, his horns bedecked with gold and with an olive-crown on its head. The flute would play before them until they would draw close to Jerusalem.

"When they drew close to Jerusalem they would send messengers in advance, and they would adorn their bikkurim. The governors and chiefs and treasurers [of the Temple] would go out to greet them, and according to the rank of the entrants they would go forth. All the skilled artisans of Jerusalem would stand up before them and greet them saying, “Our brothers, men of such and such a place, we welcome you in peace.” The flute would play before them, until they reached the Temple Mount.

"When they reached the Temple Mount even King Agrippas would take the basket and place it on his shoulder and walk as far as the Temple Court. When he got to the Temple Court, the Levites would sing the song: 'I will extol You, O YHWH, for You have raised me up, and You have not let my enemies rejoice over me.' (Psalms 30:2).” Mishnah Bikkurim 3:3-5

In bringing these first fruits to the Temple, the devotees of YHWH were reaffirming, each year, their commitment to the covenant and their trust in the king and the priests to serve their best interests as the appointed officials of Hashem’s order. With their bodies, their movement, their journey, their offering, they reenacted Sinai in their own way each and every year, consenting to covenant and consenting to God over and over again. For, at its root, shevuot means “vows.”  

Their “eco/ social contract” included not only human beings but all the other life-forms that created the harvest and made human community possible: pollinators, earthworms, seed, streams, dew, sun, air, wind.

Rabbis remade Shavuot in their image. Or perhaps they simply unearthed something about the holiday that was always already there. They tugged at the thread of consent, covenant and divine-human relationship and spun it on a new wheel. They spun it into a covenant of klaf. Of black fire on white fire. Of the entirety of unfolding tradition in one moment and every moment.

For “All the people answered as one saying, ‘All that YHWH has spoken we will do.’" (Exodus 19:8). A moment at which we were all there, are all there, and will continue to all be there. And in that moment, we are all saying yes. Yes to Hashem. Yes to rule of law. Yes to the social contract.

Biblical Israel was an aristocracy. Rabbinic Israel was a meritocracy. In neither case do we find democracy. And yet, as our civilizations change, so does our rule of law. So does the way we opt into social contract. In the shift from Biblical to Rabbinic Judaism, you see the way one entered into covenant shifting from bringing offering to the Temple Cult to engaging in the study of Torah, God’s divine revelation. So what is our equivalent in contemporary times. How do we opt into social contract?

Today, social contracts are formed through the process of voting. Through an electoral, representative democracy. Whether that be at a local level within our very own synagogues, or at a national level where we try to change the course of an entire country of mixed multitude, our system is set up so that to vote is to make change. And now more than ever, we need to embrace Shavuot as a time calling us into active engagement in the formation of and consent to our covenant.

But not everyone has equal access to their civic duty, despite what the powers-that-be might try and convince us to believe. In biblical times, only those who owned lands, produced agricultural product and who had the means to make pilgrimage could do so. In rabbinic times, only men of a certain level of literacy could opt into social contract through the act of studying Torah and deriving its law. And now, our electoral system is set up to disenfranchise voters and potential voters whose collective being might actually alter the status quo. Through gerrymandering. Through a racist and classist voter registration process. Through polling hours and the fight against mail-in ballots. And in our own moment, by minimizing the import of free and fair election in a moment of global pandemic.

So on Shavuot, we are not only called to do our civic duty. We are called to ensure that the entirety of klal America can too.

Yet reaffirming covenant doesn’t end in Shavuot, and neither does our election cycle. On the contrary, it is just the beginning. In biblical times, Shavuot served as the beginning of the period of time in which one could bring first fruits as a gesture of reaffirmation of the covenant. The beginning of a time that ended on Sukkot.

Sukkot this year falls shortly before the 2020 Presidential Election. How can we, in contemporary times, use the extended period of first fruits as a time where we too can be in a continuous and iterative process of active participation in covenant-building? How does a season of growth, harvest and offering call us to be more engaged, active and committed to our own democratic process?

In biblical times, every 7th year, during the intermediary days of Sukkot, the entirety of Klal Yisrael was called to gather in Jerusalem before the King, who would recite before them excerpts of Torah that related to covenant with community, covenant with leader, and covenant with Supreme Sovereign, an iterative, systematized process of reaffirmation of the Covenant. This always directly followed the year where the land was called to be left fallow and unharvested.

In this moment of global pandemic, we find ourselves too in a time of being left fallow. Of waiting. Of surrender to forces beyond our understanding. But may we soon gather, in whatever form gathering may become, to be reminded that no covenant can exist without our continuous and willing consent. And that means all of us, not just those of us to which the system is willing to give some power. May we use this time of global pandemic, of first fruits, from Shavuot to Sukkot to ensure that we all can and will give consent, come November, to our form of governance and our leadership. May we ensure that that to which we are consenting is good, just and fair.

From Shavuot to Sukkot, grow the vote!

You can register to join the conversation, including breakout groups for your own conversation, by clicking here: 

https://tinyurl.com/Shavuot2Sukkot  

 

Green & Grow the Vote: From #Shavuot2Sukkot

The Eleventh Plague, the Coronavirus, has taught us this: Elections this November will make a strong impact -- on the very health and bodily life of practically all Americans, both as individuals and as a whole society;  on the future of American democracy, or whether we become a plutocracy, ruled by those with Hyper-wealth, with a flavor of rancid racism poisoning the stew; and on whether we can renew the life-forms of our Mother Earth or we all suffer from the onslaught of CO2 and methane on our air and oceans, and succumb to fire, flood, and famine.

Every American has a life-or-death stake in this election; our goal should be that every American over 18 gets to vote. To vote with full knowledge of what is at stake.

So as Jews committed to justice and freedom, to abundance and generosity, to the Holy Breathing Spirit that interweaves all life --  we raise the banner of making these next months of Jewish and American time into a commitment:

Green and Grow the Vote

From #Shavuot2Sukkot

 Who is this “we”? The Religious Action Center ("the RAC") of Reform Judaism, The Shalom Center, and Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action are co-sponsoring a remarkable Zoom conversation on the eve of Shavuot, from 8 to 9:40 pm Eastern Time on May 28. We will look forward to Sukkot in early October, just a month before the election. Four months of thought, feeling, action that could make a great difference in November. 

To register for that conversation and receive the Zoom link, click here:  https://tinyurl.com/Shavuot2Sukkot

We invite you to join the conversation; there will be an opportunity for break-out groups to share your own thoughts, as part of observance through song and words of Torah -- "From #Shavuot2Sukkot: Green and Grow  the Vote."

 Among the leaders in the conversation will be Rabbis David Saperstein, Michael Namath, Arthur Waskow, Mordechai Liebling, Jennie Rosenn, Margot Stein, Tamara Cohen, and Shoshana Friedman;  renowned teacher-of-organizers  Heather Booth; youth climate activist Isha Tobis Clarke; climate activist Phil Aroneanu of Dayenu;  Cantor Linda Hirschhorn;  Cherie Brown of the National Coalition-Building Institute, an expert in healing Jewish trauma; Arlene Goldbard, artist and President Emerita of The Shalom Center; and powerful young shofar-blower Zahava Kiernan. 

They will join in connecting ancient wisdom from Sinai to our own generation’s needs for active engagement in and beyond the US election process to heal our wounded Earth from the climate crisis and to heal our own society from its deep wounds.

You can watch and join the conversation live from 8 to 9:30 pm Eastern Time on May 28.  It will also be recorded, and we will send you the link by which you could watch it at your convenience. We encourage you to make it part of the traditional tikkun leyl Shavuot, the study of Torah at any time you choose on the night of Shavuot, to share with your friends and congregation.

We promise you joyful song and joyful Torah, a Shofar-blast you will never forget, just barely short of the shofar-blast at Sinai.

To register for that conversation and receive the Zoom link, click here: https://tinyurl.com/Shavuot2Sukkot

We look forward to meeting with you there.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, shantih --  Arthur

Every Bush Afire with God!

“Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only those who see take off their shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

(pronouns slightly modified)

This is the "Burning Bush" of azaleas just outside the windows of my house. I look at it each morning seeing it "crammed with Heaven," moved by what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called “radical amazement.”  There's every reason to be that way amazed when plucking blackberries, if we open ourselves to it.

Another way of expressing it: The daily blessing over Creation, in Hebrew and a caring English translation -- more caring than convention-bound:

"YOtzer Ohr, u'vOrey ChOshech, Oseh shalOm,  u'vOrey et-ha'kOl."

"“Notice,” Rabbi Burt Jacobson taught me, “the vowel that defines the prayer: ‘O! O! O! O!’

"Oho!" said I. "If you were in a state of radical amazement, or to get yourself there, just O-pen your eyes, your mind, your heart to the world and chant the vowel, forget the words.” And sometimes I do. But, a little stubborn about the words, I also searched for English that would keep the “O!” ---

  "FOrming glOw, compOsing shadOw, Opening  shalOm, compOsing the whOle."

Or try this, back to “Every common bush afire with God.” I was asked last week by a leader of the United Church of Christ to supply one of 24 prayers, one to be released each hour on May 7, the “National Day of Prayer,” into the radically amazing World Wide Web of Earth.  That Burning Bush appears in all its inward blazing, near the end of this prayer.

In my view, serious political engagement will be necessary to transform and heal ourselves and Earth. And in my view, we must deepen and lift high this radical amazement at the root and flower of our politics, or it will curdle rather than transform.

 

To the Interbreathing Spirit of All Life

As You Cough and Choke amid Our Fires

You Who are the Interbreathing Spirit of all life,
You Who are the “still small Voice”

Who whispers breath into all living --

We hear You coughing, choking,

As we flood all Earth with burning smoke of carbon.

We hear You coughing, choking,

As human throats breathe in a virus

That comes as a plague to all of us --

Worse for those who already live on margins --  

And as a warning to our pharaohs..

 

We recall the burning crosses lit by hate and greed;

We recall the flame and smoke

That rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima.

That still rise from the burning forests of the Amazon,

Torched for the sake of fast hamburger and fast wealth.

We count 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.

Yet with Your help, O Breath of life,

We come to douse that outer all-consuming fire.

To light again in our own hearts

The inner fire that burned in the Burning Bush –

The fire that did not consume the Bush it burned in.

And to hear the inner Voice that breathed a whisper

Of love and liberation amidst the inner flame:

For Love and Breath are strong as death --

Love’s fire that breathes in the heart of all Creation

     To ease Your Breath throughout Your Earth.

 

We vow to make from inner fire
Not an all-consuming blaze

But the loving light in which we see more clearly
The Rainbow Covenant glowing

in the many-colored faces of all life.

 

Woven by Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

Creative Commons Copyright (c) 2020 by The Shalom Center

<theshalomcenter.org>. Freely use with inclusion of this notice.

 

I do not think we can move toward the world we intend without opening ourselves to radical amazement. Radical amazement that every common bush is afire with the inner blaze of love, not just the "royal" few. That our amazing world is not hierarchical but ecological, each being nested in the others.

 

I also think we cannot move at all without multidimensional political action. I will be exploring those paths in the next few letters to you, and I bless us all with the wisdom, the courage, and the love to act . --  Arthur

Two May Days? -- or Deeply One?

When I was a child in public elementary school, every May 1 we would dance around a Maypole, twirling colorful ribbons attached to the pole. My school was merely one among thousands all across America that celebrated a survival of the pagan earthy ceremonies of ancient Britain before the Roman conquest and then Christianity. 

In those ancient days, the pole and dancing young girls welcomed Spring with a barely cloaked fertility ritual in which a tree was central. The Puritans of New England outlawed the Maypoles as licentious, though it seems no orgies took place. During my childhood, the American Civil Liberties Union did not protest this merger of religion and the state in our schools.

There is another May Day, more overtly political and much more controversial. Yet at its deepest roots it is connected with the early May Day. Most US businesses, governments, and even labor unions have treated its presence on American soil as a foreign invasion. But it was born right here. And it has taken on new energy in our own American generation.

 In 1884, at its national convention in Chicago, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions proclaimed that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labor from and after May 1, 1886."

Workers all across the country struck and demonstrated for the 8-hour day. It took more than 50 years to become US law, and still gets eroded or ignored for farm workers, domestic workers, “contractors” like Uber drivers, etc.

https://www.facebook.com/events/879524972549591/?active_tab=about

Why do I think the two May Days may have the same roots? Because in Spring the blossoms rise up against winter, and the people rise up against pharaoh, boss, commissar.

Passover -- the festival of simplest matzah from new-growth barley, of newborn lambs,  and of a newborn people seeking freedom through Exodus. Freedom is always new, unknown –  – growing beyond the Tight and Narrow Place to be reborn. The festive festival to chant the Song of Songs, an erotic poem led by women who probably danced under a Tree, a Pole.

The Song Beyond All Songs, voted by the Sanhedrin to be included in the Hebrew Bible on the day when its members forced their tyrannical Chairman to resign.

Both May Days joined at the root.

It is no accident, then, that May 4, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of the day when four nonviolent student protesters opposing the US War Against Vietnam were killed by troops of the Ohio National Guard on the Kent State University campus. Rabbi Lee Moore, a member of the Board of The Shalom Center, will be leading an online Shabbat morning prayer service in their memory, and to honor all of those traumatized by the events of Kent and Jackson State – a Black university in Mississippi where two students were killed several days later for similarly protesting the war.

She will lead the service at 10 am on Shabbat, May 2, in a traditional, yet accessible Jewish format will offer simple Hebrew prayers with English explanations and transliterations. The service will be musical, contemplative, and connective.

Rabbi Lee Moore was born and raised in Kent, attending nearly every May 4th Memorial in the 1970's, 80's and beyond. She returned to Kent after her ordination in 2010 to serve as the Rabbi at Kent State's Hillel for seven years. She is an inspiring prayer leader (even on Zoom) and currently serves as the Interim Spiritual Leader of Brattleboro Area Jewish Community in Vermont. People of all backgrounds are warmly invited to join her and the BAJC to honor Shabbat and this important history that has shaped all of us.

To join, use this Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/4300550548
Password: 585655

Or dial in to (312) 626-6799 or
Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/aDGFQQLVR

What is a gorgeous Spring day without a song of hope and joy? Insurgent Spring and Insurgent Humanity are joined at the root in this song, woven to fit the melody and rhymes of the socialist Internationale, while celebrating a more loving revolution:

The Earth Internationale                                                        

To hear the melody of the Internationale as sung in the original English version click here.

(New words by Rabbi Arthur Waskow)

Arise, ye prisoners of pollution;
Arise, ye poisoned of the Earth!
We dance to make a revolution—
A joyful world’s in birth!

No more the corporate smoke shall blind us,
We can hear the trees and oceans call --
Humankind amid Earth's breathing life-forms—
Together we are all!

As we face the crisis of all history,
Let us rise to heal our Place.
To save our deeply wounded planet
We must wake the human race!

[Creative Commons Copyright (c) by Rabbi Arthur Waskow 2018;

to be freely used with inclusion of this notice.]

Time to sing -- and to act. In this time  of Coronaplague, the Hyperwealthy are bailed out and the Plague is turned into a war against the American poor -- made to suffer even worse than usual:

 

Good yontif! And blessings for a May Day and months to come of joyful uprising --  Arthur

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