"Stunningly beautiful and inspiring" - 7th Night Seder Conversation

Dear friends, Sara Schley writes --

Beloved holy friends,

 Wanted you to know how the experience of 7th night Seder is. Wow. Our entire local community is reveling in it.

 Thank you for that

 I am following your lead to "listen deeply" for the new Reality that is emerging. 

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Dear friends,  What is the 7th night Seder Conversation? The videotaping of 16 people –- rabbis, teachers, cantors, singers, chanters –- who gathered by Zoom on the 7th Night of Passover to explore the meaning of that night.


 What is special about the Seventh Day? According to tradition, that was the day the Children of Israel, fleeing slavery, reached the Red Sea.  Behind them was Pharaoh’s Army, racing to force them to return to their accustomed slavery, with its perks of onions and garlic. Before them was the unknown. The Sea that might be New Birth, if the birthing waters broke. Or the Sea of Drowning, if they didn’t. The Sea of Freedom-Maybe. The Sea of Active Hope. The Sea of sharing life with all life-forms, not imposing slavery and forcing plagues on Earth as well as Humankind.

The entire human race stands now, today, at that moment. Will we go back to “normal” life, a life of plagues and hierarchy, or step into the Sea, reaching toward the Beloved Community?

I invite you to watch that conversation, “stunningly beautiful and inspiring” as Sara Schley describes it. Feel free to share the link with all your friends. Feel free to pause the video to discuss it with your housemates, to call your community and watch it together in your separate places. Click this link!

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


Will We Cross the Red Sea?

In years past The Shalom Center honored the Seventh Day of Passover by being closed. But today we choose to honor the Seventh Day by sharing with you the video of a “Seder conversation” we sponsored last night on the question: What does the Seventh Day mean this year, so different from all other years? Mah nishtana?

I invite you -- I encourage you --  to watch and listen to that conversation. Feel free to share the link with all your friends. Feel free to pause the video to discuss it with your housemates, to call your community and watch it together in your separate places. Click this link!

What is special about the Seventh Day? According to tradition, that was the day the Children of Israel, fleeing slavery, reached the Red Sea.  Behind them was Pharaoh’s Army, racing to force them to return to their accustomed slavery, with its perks of onions and garlic. Before them was the unknown. The Sea that might be New Birth, if the birthing waters broke. Or the Sea of Drowning, if they didn’t. The Sea of Freedom-Maybe. The Sea of Active Hope. The Sea of sharing life with all life-forms, not imposing slavery and forcing plagues on Earth as well as Humankind.

 The entire human race stands now, today, at that moment.

BIG CHANGE in Plans for 7th Night of Passover

Dear friends,

I have bad news which I think will turn into good news.

The bad news: I had a difficult week. Then it became a week of soul-searching. What did it really mean to stand at the edge of the Sea – not as a playful reenactment but in our real lives, the entire human species in a real crisis?  Was a formal Seder by Webinar  the best way to do it, especially when almost all the participants would have to be silent all the time? Wasn’t that the opposite of a real Seder anyway?

So the upshot has been that – at first very sadly and then cautiously more pleased -- I decided to cancel the major Webinar Seventh-night-of-Pesach  Seder.

The good news: I worked with Rabbi Shawn Zevit (lead rabbi of Mishkan Shalom, a strongly progressive Reconstructionist congregation in Philadelphia) to plan out a way to provide you with the rich song, poetry, wisdom that would have been part of the Seder with far less strain on me and our staff and a good deal more opportunity for many of you to  explore your own journey to freedom.

Just to explain my own experience: The intense work needed in a short time to get the Webinar prepared left me exhausted.  The Webinar framework and the plan for an actual Seder was what felt like intense pressure. The system required  getting the mass Webinar site up and running, actually writing an Haggadah, repeating several outreach mailings and even more pressing, arranging a kind of symphony orchestra of poets, singers, wisdom-teachers, meditators to come in on cue for the Seder itself  --  all in less than a working week remaining. 

And – even worse – this system required everybody except a few designated leaders to be silent.

 BUT –we have figured out a new way of celebrating the seventh night of Pesach without exhausting us AND offering you more opportunity for discussion. I think it may actually fit better the new world we are in.

 What we came up with was this: 

 We will work with the people I had asked to embody some special role in the Seder. We will set up a Zoom session of just that group, and a few more, that evening (Tuesday, April 14) as just a small virtual community. We will share our songs, chants, poetry, teaching with each other. That won’t be a “Seder”:  it will be a way for us to think and feel  emotionally and spiritually connected, though physically distant. It won’t need detailed planning and cue-ing; it will be an informal conversation.

  The event will be recorded, for distribution subsequently.  It might take a few days to post it, but this year of all years we will be standing at the Seventh Night for weeks more – at the edge of the Sea with Pharaoh’s army behind us, insisting that we go back into our accustomed habits of servitude with onions and garlic – and the unknown ahead of us, the free and Beloved Community that we can choose to create. 

The Webinar framework would have kept practically everybody muted anyway, and we were imagining only brief minutes between presenters for conversations at your homes. This new format will mean you get to listen to the whole informal conversation, pause it wherever you like, and have your own conversation at home as long as you like. If you are living alone, you can phone or Skype or Zoom a friend and share. We will welcome your comments by email.

Meanwhile, I invite you to draw on  That link takes you to three eco-responsive inserts for your own Seder in this Year of the Plague: A kavvanah (focus) for lighting the holy-day candles; a review of the biblical plagues, the plagues of today, and the “counter-plagues” that we could create; and a new biblically rooted climate-conscious way of greeting the Prophet Elijah as we invite him to our Seders, based on an old prophetic vision with a very present meaning.

We will be back to you very soon.

Blessings for a profound Passover and a real Wilderness journey in all our lives. May we learn the painfully transformative lesson of the Coronavirus Pandemic:  Nostalgia cannot heal us: Only a new world, the Beloved Community, can. --  Arthur.

3 Eco-Responsive Inserts for your Seder, if you wish

Between the Fires:
A Kavanah for Kindling Candles of Commitment

We are the generations

Who stand between the fires.

Behind us the fire and smoke
That rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima, 

Not yet behind us 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.

To douse that outer all-consuming fire

We must light again in our own hearts 

the inner fire of love and liberation 

that burned in the Burning Bush --

The fire that did not destroy the Bush it burned in, 

For love is strong as death --

Love’s Fire must never be extinguished:

The fire in the heart of all Creation.  

 It is our task 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.

       (By Rabbi Arthur Waskow)

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Biblical Plagues

Contemporary Plague: Earthly Manifestation

Contemporary “Counter-Plague”: Liberatory Potential 

Water into Blood

Polluted, Undrinkable Waters and Mass Droughts, Super-Monsoons

Rainwater Catchments, Grey-Water Systems, Black-water systems. Reversing global scorching


Invasive Species and “Forever Plastics”

Treat “Forever Plastics” as invasive species. Stop making them. Isolate them from oceans and other vulnerable milieu.


Opioid Epidemic

Trauma Healing on Individual, Collective, Intergenerational and Ancestral Levels

Wild beasts

Species Extinction

Major expansion of Species Preservation Act & Reforestation

Pestilence of livestock

Factory Farming Industry

Reducing Beef Consumption, Buying Local, Forbidding Antibiotic Suffusion of Livestock


Exacerbated Spread of Disease; Coronavirus Pandemic

Free Healthcare  for All



Thunderstorm of hail and fire

Superstorms and Wildfires

Local Disaster Preparedness Networks and dissolution of energy monopolies.


Crop Failures.

Local, Organic Farms.


Failure to see and empathize with other humans & other life-forms; Mass Blackouts, Reliance on mass fossil fuel monopolies

Creation of empathic communities

Congregation-based & neighborhood- based Solar Cooperatives; Renewable energy grids




 (By Faryn Borella, Ira Silverman Memorial Intern for The Shalom Center)

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[On opening the door for Elijah to enter:] Here!  I [YHWH,  Yahhhh, InterBreath of life, Wind of change], will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the great and awesome day of Yahhhh, the InterBreath of Life. He shall turn the hearts of parents to children and the hearts of children to parents, so that, when I [YHWH, Yahhhh], come, I do not come as a Hurricane of destruction to strike the whole Earth with utter desolation. 

(Malachi 3: 23-24)

Washing Hands & Counting Omer: From Corona Plague Toward a New Society


By Faryn Borella

As coronavirus began to become a reality in the U.S. and health experts began to urge us to wash our hands ever more frequently, a certain meme went viral. This meme listed a new order for the prescribed Passover Seder. What traditionally begins Kadesh (sanctification) Urchatz (washing) Karpas (vegetable), Yachatz (breaking of the middle matzah), etc. was transformed into something different, with “Urchatz” inserted, again and again, between each order of the seder, hand-washing becoming the transitional axis around which each element of Seder became possible.

This meme, intended as a joke--as a use of humor as a coping mechanism in challenging times--also contained within it a truth that none of us were fully willing to acknowledge at the time of its genesis--that this thing we’re going through might be much more long-term than we think. For it came out before the self-distancing, before the CDC bans on gatherings over 50 and the White House recommendation against gatherings over 10. Yet it revealed a truth--that even Jewish cycles of time, meant to co-regulate the collective Jewish nervous system--would be impacted by this thing, and our capacity to come together in the most challenging of times was being threatened. We are living in a world where it is quite likely that the Passover Seder, as the location of the ingathering, of community, becomes an impossibility.

Yet if there was one thing our ancestors deeply understood, it was the reality of not always having control over the external factors altering the course of our very lives. And they accounted for the impossibility of the offering of the Pesach korban (“bringing near” – usually translated “sacrifice” or “offering), the core mitzvah of Pesach, by instituting Pesach sheni--the second Pesach—exactly one Jewish moonth later for those who were tamei due to contact with a dead body, and therefore not permitted to offer the Pesach sacrifice.

What does it mean for one to be tamei? It is a state of being--often translated as impure in contrast to its counterweight  tahor, often translated as pure--in which one is not permitted to enter the sacred communal shrine to offer sacrifice to the divine. Yet these translations do us a disservice, as they lead us to believe there is something unhygienic or immoral about one who is tamei. Tumah, within Jewish thought, is not a measure of one’s worth or value, and nothing is inherently or everlastingly tamei. Rather, it is a temporary spiritual state that objects and people can take on due to an uncanny experience of the fragility of life--birth, sex, death. It does not mean you are any lesser than. It merely means you must wait, alone in your uncanniness, to undertake a ritual that makes it possible to rejoin the community. In the case of Pesach sheni, the holiday had to be instituted in order that those who took the time to caretake their dead still had the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of pesach.

At this moment, we are all collectively caretaking a dead body. As a virus runs its course through our globalized world population, death hangs heavy in the very air that we breathe. Our society at this moment is defined by death, our fear of it and our measures to prevent it. But our society itself is also experiencing a death of its own. A death of pace and scale and intensity. And it is rendering us all tamei

The primary means of becoming tahor in times of tumah  is by way of water. As Leviticus 15 states, in times of tamei, one must:

וְרָחַ֥ץ בַּמַּ֖יִם וְטָמֵ֥א עַד־הָעָֽרֶב

Bathe in water and you will remain tamei until evening

Bathing in water is the means by which we purify, but the bathing does not immediately render one pure. Rather, there is the ritual act, and then there is a period in which we must still wait for the ritual magic to take effect.


We are all in this period of waiting.

 How long must we wait to be tahor again? How long will it take our soapy water and hand sanitizer to purify our societies of exploitative, unchecked capitalism and fascist regimes that allow for one virus to reach the level of global pandemic? How long until we can hold one another again?

 Numbers keep getting thrown at us. Eight weeks. 50 people. Three weeks. Ten People. Two hands. Twenty seconds. One person. Six feet. Six feet. Six feet.

 The answer is, we don’t know. But we must prepare for our wait to be long. 

 In Judaism, we have a practice of counting the omer--counting the days between Passover and Shavuot. Between the Barley harvest and the wheat harvest. Between liberation and revelation. 

 This year, our count must begin sooner. We must count from isolation to reunion. From sickness to health. From old world order of Hierarchy and Subjugation  to new world order of Eco-relationship, Beloved Community.

Unlike the omer, in which we know for how long we count, in our times, we know where to begin our count but not yet where to end. Yet we still must ritually track the days in order that we don’t get lost in feeling that the count is perpetual. Let each day be distinguished from the last. Deserving in its own right. Set apart in its own holiness. Blessed and blessed and blessed.

 Through our counting, we will learn how long it takes to purify a society of greed. Of exploitation. Of the scorching of the earth. We will learn the number toward which we must count. If only we are willing to wait, and take part in a ritual act of reconnection.

April 14! -- Freedom Seder in this Plague Year

Tuesday evening, April 14, is the 7th night of Passover. Traditionally, it is the night to celebrate the ancient crossing of the Red (Reed) Sea, and there has been a tradition of Seders to honor that night.

This year, The Shalom Center will hold an on-line Seder specially written to address our crisis, facing the Eleventh Plague --  the Coronavirus Plague --  as well as other plagues of wounded Earth and Humankind.

We see this as another in the great line of spiritually rooted and creatively activist Seders that goes back to the Freedom Seder of 1969. 

Please save the date and time – 7 p.m. to about 9 p.m Eastern Time on Tuesday, April 14. We will be back in touch with you with more details, the link, etc. We will welcome freely offered contributions and we will freely welcome all who wish to take part  – as the Haggadah itself says, Let all who are hungry, all who are in need,  come and celebrate Pesach. We would add, all who are hungry for emotional, spiritual, and intellectual sustenance in this moment of crisis broad and deep.

With blessings of health restored, of freedom renewed, of Earth and Humankind closer to the Land of Promise, the Beloved Community --  Arthur

A Prayer for the Health and Healing of Healers

[Rabbi  Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in  New York City circulated this beautiful prayer for health care workers by her colleague Rabbi Ayelet Cohen. Rabbi Kleinbaum added that CBST had just suffered their first death from this virus. "Sending blessings to all," she added.--  AW, ed.]

May the One who blessed our ancestors
Bless all those who put themselves at risk to care for the sick
Physicians and nurses and orderlies
Technicians and home health aides
EMTs and pharmacists
And bless especially / an individual or other categories of health workers/
Who navigate the unfolding dangers of the world each day,
To tend to those they have sworn to help.

Bless them in their coming home and bless them in their going out.
Ease their fear. Sustain them.
Source of all breath, healer of all beings,
Protect them and restore their hope.
Strengthen them, that they may bring strength;
Keep them in health, that they may bring healing.
Help them know again a time when they can breathe without fear.
Bless the sacred work of their hands.
May this plague pass from among us, speedily and in our days.

--- Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen, March 2020

Gaia and Shekhina Speak: A Message from Mother Earth

[Arlene Goldbard, who wrote and painted the following essay, served for ten years as an amazingly adept President of The Shalom Center.  She is now our beloved President Emerita and continues to provoke new thought as a blogger. You can SUBSCRIBE FREE to her blog or post comments at her Website: – AW, ed.]

What can console us in the face of the Great Unknown? I thought I understood that safety was always an illusion: any of us could be struck down at any moment. But having the illusion of safety erased, that's uncertainty of another magnitude, so vastly out of proportion to the "normal," default reality that words can't do it justice.

Gaia and Shekhina Speak: Earth, Water, Fire, Air © Arlene Goldbard 2020

When I painted the first of these self-portraits in August—the one with my hair on fire—I had no idea it would add up to something much larger and more urgent, compelling me to share with you. I soon had the idea of depicting the remaining three elements: water, earth, and air.

I knew that my own face could stand in for the weathered face of Mother Earth. I knew there would be a stark contrast in each painting between the aging face and the wild energy of the element supporting it; between the lines and shadows and the relentless gaze. A few weeks before the pandemic began to make headlines, the texts written on the lower edge of each painting came to me.

But I didn't know till this week that something beyond my own hands had painted these pictures: the voices of Gaia and Shekhina.

In Greek mythology, Gaia is the feminine embodiment of life, the personification of Planet Earth. Her name has come to be central to ecological thinking since James Lovelock's 1979 book, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. It introduced "the Gaia hypothesis," asserting that all that exists on this planet is part of a complex dynamic system that sustains life on earth, that intervening in one part of that system inevitably affects the whole.

In Jewish spirituality, Shekhina is the imminent Divine Presence, the feminine aspect of the Divine. Because the ancient sacred texts are sorely lacking in direct address of the role of women in making and upholding the world as a holy vessel for life, in recent decades, Jewish teachers, especially women, have created new liturgy, practices, and understandings to right this omission as a path to healing the world.

I am not a Pollyanna. I have no more idea than anyone what this plague will bring: my inbox, like yours, is overflowing with best and worst-case scenarios, and like you, I will have to do my best to help while I wait and see which comes true.

I see this plague unmasking the terrible inequities of the modern world, in which the privileged bask in their advantages while the marginalized bear the brunt, in which a giant deranged baby rules in the White House. Whether he is merely blind to others' suffering or basking in it, I cannot say, but he seems determined to say and do the precisely worst thing at every turn, the thing that multiplies harm.

So many people are responding to this moment with compassion and generosity, even as some public officials and private corporations rush to profit from suffering, finding infinite ways to rationalize their greed. I am fearful, hopeful, obsessed, distracted, and each of these swirls into the next without a pause.

Yet the message brought to me by Gaia and Shekhina is this: while green life springs from the dust and birds course through the spring air, life abides. The spirit that sustained us to meet this moment can carry us into the next, if only we listen. I am choosing to listen. 

Yesterday an essay by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone came my way:

"The Sacred Meaning of COVID-19." It arrived just as I was thinking how to share these paintings, the best way to offer these images as a gift. She wrote this:

What if we understood KOVID-19—this horrific virulent virus (our ancestors would surely call it a plague)—as Shechinah’s formidable face showing up today to admonish us, correct us, love us back into our rightful place as creatures, not masters, of this earth?

"Shechinah's formidable face" is what I have tried to depict. If you find this image useful and want to share it for some noncommercial purpose, please contact me. You can also see it and more of my paintings at my website

May you be blessed with health and well-being, with ears to hear the voices of Gaia and Shekhina, with eyes to see both the suffering of the world and its beauty, with voice to speak out when needed, to comfort and console.

"Mother Earth" by Tracy Nelson.

READ ABOUT The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future and The Wave.

Useful Lessons from the Coronavirus Crisis

1. People are discovering that we really are one planet. Even prohibitions on “foreign” travel have mostly been too late to prevent transnational contagion. This is true even when human travel is the carrier; can we translate that knowledge to even stronger cases, like the unity of our dangerously and recklessly overheated atmosphere and oceans affecting the whole planet?

Welcome! Zoom Torah Conversations

Dear chevra, The point of this letter is to invite you into a five-evening once-a-week conversation about the Torah reading of that week, with me as guide and “weaver,” via Zoom. What follows is an explanation of why and how.

Last week I mentioned in my weekly Shalom Report that our Shabbos-morning one-hour Torah study that has for years been gathering in Philadelphia was now going to happen through what I call “distance reconnection” (NOT “social distancing” ) through Zoom. Several people wrote me asking whether they could join by Zoom.

I talked with the existing group, and they/ we agreed we would prefer to keep the group as intimate as it has been.AND – what emerged is that I should set up a separate group to examine a passage of the Torah portion of the week, not on Shabbat but earlier in the week – and in a different framework but using the same approach.

So I am inviting you to join in such a Zoom conversation that I “weave” rather than lead in conventional ways..

Here is the practice and process I am inviting you into:

1. I choose a passage from the weekly Torah that seems to me likely to engage our own lives. For example, I might choose the passage where ancient Israelites ae facing the Reed Sea ahead of them and Pharaoh’s Army close behind

2. I invite the community to search back into their/our own lives and each of us to bring to awareness a moment when they faced what seemed an impossible choice. Silently, each of us recalls how that felt: in our guts, our arms and legs, our heart, our breath.

3. After a very few minutes of silent lifting-up such a moment, I say in a midrashic English version and then in Hebrew the blessing over Torah-study in words that celebrate “Yahhh, Breath of Life” instead of “Adonai, Lord,” and “Ruach Ha’Olam, Breathing Spirit of the world,” instead of “Melekh, King of the world.”4. Then we read aloud in English, with different readers reading paragraph by paragraph around the “circle,” the passage I have chosen.  The passage is usually from the weekly portion. Sometimes I choose that week’s Haftarah instead; sometimes, as in the pre-Passover special Shabbats we are now in the midst of, it is a special reading traditionally set aside. 

(Last week, that special portion was about the “Red Heifer” ceremony to release a person who has been in contact with a dead body from the awe-struck, uncanny spiritual state of “tumah” into a more communal spiritual state. We connected it with the creation of “distance reconnection” as a response to the Coronavirus deadliness. And we took into awareness our own contacts with death.) 

If we are using a passage from the Five Books or a Haftarah from the Early Prophets that have been translated into English by Everett Fox, we read his translation, because in my view it is by far the best translation of the Hebrew Bible  into English. (The Five Books of Moses and The Early Prophets, both published by Schocken Books.)

5. Then we talk about the passage and about our lives. Our lives become part of Torah and the Torah becomes part of our lives. We talk in the worlds of emotion and Spirit as well as in the world of Intellect. I may add a thought and weave the conversation together. The D’var Torah that emerges is collective and multiflavored.

6. When an hour is up, we close with my sharing an embodied and somewhat midrashic version of Kaddish d’Rabbanan, the prayer that honors the holy process of learning and teaching.

, I welcome you to join with me in this process by Zoom for five Thursday evenings, from 7 pm to 9 pm  Eastern Time, starting Thursday evening MARCH 19. We will skip Thursday evening April 9 because it is the night of the Second Seder.  The evenings we will gather will be March 19 and 26, April 2, 16, and 23. 

Please click to the following link:

The total cost for taking part in these five Zoom conversations is $45 (paid to The Shalom Center, not to me). You can pay on-line. Once you have registered, we will send you the link for the Zoom Torah-study.

I look forward to joining with you!

Shalom, Arthur


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