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Our Grandchildren Call Us: Join the Climate Strike!

Our Grandchildren Call Us: Join the Climate Strike!

On Friday, September 20, there will be a world-wide Strike for Climate Action. To see where and when in your own town there will be a gathering in support of the strike, you can click to  https://globalclimatestrike.net/    and plug in your town or zip code.

If you join in the Climate Strike, feel free to use the graphic and the slogan just above.

The Climate Strike began with young people in Europe, then with the Sunrise Movement in the US, then with groups like 350.org, Friends of the Earth, and groups rooted in faith and in the Spirit -– carrying out the call of the last of the ancient Hebrew Prophets (Malachi 3 ) that the hearts of the parents and children must turn to each other to prevent the utter destruction of Earth.

What is the goal of the strike? Most broadly, to have the Climate Crisis formally recognized as a national crisis by every government. Beyond that, various groups will have varied intentions. For me, the goal is enactment of some version of the Green New Deal. That approach comes closest to the biblical commitment to connect social justice with eco-sanity. You can read the Congressional GND resolution sponsored by Senator Ed Markey and Congresswoman AOC,  at

 https://news.brightest.io/green-new-deal

I’ve been asked for advice about how Jews and other religious folk can join in these events while making publicly clear the spiritual, religious, and /or ethical covenant/ commitment that for many of us is at the heart of our passionate insistence on healing Earth from the climate crisis.

My suggestions: First, most obvious, especially for Jews, the Shofar (the ram’s horn, an earthy sacred instrument for calling out sorrow, alarm, and transformation). During Elul, the Jewish month before Rosh Hashanah, the tradition teaches us to blow the Shofar every day except on Shabbat, to reawaken us to the need for transforming our lives. September 20 this year will be the 20th of Elul, and Jewish groups taking part in the Strike could make a point of publicly blowing the Shofar to remind us of our obligation to love Mother Earth and heal her.

Jews, Christians, Muslims, and other communities could also carry posters or banners that use the graphic at the top of this letter, or this one -- slightly more grown-up-- with the text above or this text beneath:

 

 

 The text could read:  “JEWS [or Xxxx] JOIN NOAH TO SAVE ALL LIFE ON EARTH ”

or whatever your own heart or group desires.

 The weekend that begins on September 20 will have at least two notable Jewish experiences that bear on the Climate Crisis.  One is the reading of a passage of Torah that begins (Deut. 26: 1-3) by celebrating the first fruits of abundance that come from Earth’s bounty, God’s bounty, the bounty that in scientific fact as well as spiritual insight comes to us through the Interbreathing of all life --  whether you name the Interbreathing “YHWH,”  or the interbreathing of CO2 and Oxygen that makes life possible upon this planet. .

 Later in the portion (Deut 28: 20-24), the Torah recites the consequences of not following the teachings of YHWH, the Breath of Life, the Interbreathing Spirit of the world, about the ways of loving and respecting Earth.

 Those consequences  --“scorching heat,”  drought” – sound very much like the consequences that climate scientists have been warning about for the future and have  now become real  in the present.

 Notice I said “consequences,” not “punishments.” The nature of the Interbreathing that all life shares is that each act has consequences. A very different theology from one that understands God as King, Lord, Judge Who rewards and punishes. 

 In my view, we humans will not be able to heal Earth and ourselves so long as we insist on a hierarchical worldview. We will come out of this crisis fully alive only if we grow to affirm an ecological worldview in which all the differences and uniquenesses of life and society are crucial because, like the unique pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, they fit together into a magnificent Whole, a ONE. 

For this reason, I think –- but it is certainly not necessary to do this in order to join in supporting the Climate Strike --  that it is time for us to drop the “King, Lord, Judge” metaphor for God, to stop substituting the words “Adonai, Lord, “ for YHWH and instead to “pronounce” it truthfully, without vowels -- – just by breathing ”YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh.”  Or to translate it truthfully as “Breath of Life.”

The second special aspect of the weekend September 20-22 is that on that Saturday night, traditionally, Jews gather for Slichot – beginning the process of “Forgiveness” that is a crucial part of the oncoming High Holy Days.

One “ceremony” or “spiritual exercise” that has in some communities become a mark of Slichot: The community gathers around a large bowl of clear water, Each person receives a piece of paper and a pen with water-soluble ink. After some songs and prayers, each person writes a misdeed they have done on the paper and slowly, as the community watches, one by one its members plunge the paper into the water and watch the words dissolve. 

Without knowing what each person’s misdeeds are, the community deeply understands that each person has taken the first steps of recognizing their own misdeeds, and the community as a whole can take the first steps of forgiveness.

Not till the recognition of misdeed has taken root can each person do tshuvah, “turning” – action to repair the damage already done and to stop mis-doing the misdeed.

What does this have to do with the Climate Strike? The Strike should be not only a demand that large institutions change but also a “strike” of one’s own – taking steps to stop what we ourselves are doing that brings on Earth-wide disaster, just as in a labor strike the workers stop contributing their own labor to their own oppression.

Those who take part in Slichot can encourage each other to think this way.

This will not happen all at once. People who say that almost all of us are "oiloholics" -- addicts of Carbon Burning – are right. Kicking the habit is not easy,, because it takes social change as well as individual change. .  But nicotine addicts joined with others in challenging the Tobacco Drug Lords – and won legal and policy changes that have reduced the level of addiction.  The Climate Strike offers the same opportunity, even to oiloholics, to challenge the Carbon Drug Lords and force them to change.  Slichot can help at the individual level, as the Strike does at the whole-society level.

Our outlook on the Climate Strike is like our approach to all aspects of the Great Turning tht Earth and Humanity need today: The “spiritual” and the “political” cannot be severed from each other. A new politics of planetary survival must be rooted in an “old” spirituality of love – made new.

The Shalom Center and I welcome your comments on these thoughts, and your reports and suggestions on what you think Jews and other religious communities can do in relation to the Climate Strike on September 20. Please write us! (Climate@theshalomcenter.org) If you are willing, we’ll circulate your ideas to our broad readership and membership.

"Disloyal Jew"

“I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”  Donald Trump. President of the United States

"Disloyal Jew"

By Reb Irwin Keller

3 Steps TODAY toward Healing Mother Earth

Between now and October 20, we have a major opportunity to greatly grow the gathering public wave for healing Earth and Humankind from the destructive climate crisis.

I am writing to urge us all to act in the spirit of the Shabbat HaGadol haftarah in which YHWH, the Breath of Life, calls on Elijah to turn the hearts of parents and children to each other lest Earth be utterly destroyed.

  1.  On September 20, the Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, the Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion, 350.org, and others – including The Shalom Center and other Jewish and multireligious groups  -- have together called for a World-Wide Climate Strike to insist that governments at every level take action to heal our Mother Earth and ourselves from the deadly fires, floods, droughts, superstorms, spread of deadly diseases, famines, and rising seas that we are already suffering  -- with worse to come. The Shalom Center and the Jewish Earth Alliance are among sponsors of a webinar on Jewish participation in this World-wide Climate Strike. Join the Webinar at 4 pm Eastern Time TODAY (Monday) by linking to  

https://zoom.us/j/902022662 or Dial by your location +1 646 558 8656 US (New York)   +1 720 707 2699 US   Meeting ID: 902 022 662 


  1.   From Sunday evening October 13 and onward for seven days,  the Jewish community will celebrate Sukkot, the earthiest of all our holy days. That festival already has a tradition of celebrating a healthy and abundant Earth for all the “70 nations,” not just the Jewish people; so a multireligious network could authentically lift Sukkot into Earyh-poteddting activism. OFor Sukkot we could borrow a Roh Hashanah prayer that celebrates "Toleh eretz al blima-- -- The One Who suspends Earth in space [literally, in that which is without whatness]." –- The prayer was written long before anyone could take the iconic photo of Planet Earth, suspended in space.

The Shalom Center has already begun exploring how to draw on the symbols, the practices, and the wisdom of  Sukkot to carry into public along with those of the “70 nations”  for the sake of the web of life of Earth "theirself," not only for the sake of Humankind. Rabbi Art Green, rector of the rabbinical school at Boston Hebrew College, has enthusiastically joined in exploring this, and the (Boston) Jewish Climate Action Network (JCAN) has joined in. Please click "Reply" and write us at The Shalom Center if you want to join in this effort to make Sukkot, a festival born from Earth, into a holy instrument to heal the Earth that birthed her.

 

  1.  We are joining in a call from the young people of the Sunrise Movement to join in a campaign to ensure a major debate by Presidential candidates on the climate crisis. The Democratic National Committee will decide whether to hold such a debate on the most profound issue facing the USA, the human race, and the planet. Such a debate will act as a National Teach-in on climate and how to address the dangers we face.


Below you will see a link from the Sunrise team helping us to take a few minutes right away to help this campaign by calling just two of our own state and local reps on the Democratic National Committee to urge them to vote for the DNC to hold a special Presidential Debate on this issue. To reach your two DNC members, please click on this link and plug in your zip code.  I’ve done this, and it literally takes only 2 minutes each.


  1. Call your two DNC members

    https://act.credoaction.com/call/climate_debate_calls_sunrise/?link_id=1&can_id=de6277e02b2b184c1a1c39f5bf6caf62&source=email-the-final-stretch-10&email_referrer=email_596452___subject_776981&email_subject=good-news-and-bad-news

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace! --  Arthur

An Extraordinary Tisha B’Av: Jews Confront the US Government

Yesterday, the American Jewish Community  crossed an extraordinary threshold.

All across the USA, various Jewish groups held large-scale vigils and rallies to observe Tisha B’Av.  Traditionally, it is an inward-looking Jewish-only day of mourning ancient attacks on Jews by ancient empires.  This year, it was observed by affirming an outward-looking solidarity with refugees and immigrants who are being tormented, arrested, imprisoned, and deported by the present government of the United States.

For so bravely and adeptly taking this step, I want especially to thank Truah ("A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights") for the crucial role they played in inspiring and in many cases organizing most of the Tisha B’Av actions yesterday, and also to thank a very new Jewish network called Never Again Action for many arrest-risking actions on the refugee/ immigration issue during the past couple of weeks.

Never before has a large chunk of the American Jewish community done this. (This is a photo of part of a crowd of about 1,000 people at a Tisha B'Av protest in Philadelphia. This and the next Philadelphia photo Copyright (c) by Rivkah Walton. Published with permission.

Early in the 1960s, many Jews supported the civil rights movement; but that movement was in general supported by the US government, though it was bitterly opposed by the governments of most Southern states and cities. As opposition to the US government’s War against Vietnam grew a little later in the ‘60s, the established Jewish community was conspicuously silent. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel stood with Rev. Martin Luther King against the war, but almost all of Heschel’s colleagues were scandalized by his public, vigorous, and Torah-rooted opposition to the government’s war.

Beyond the great increase in numbers and in the breadth of commitment, there was another major departure in what happened yesterday. It was explicitly defined as an observance of Tisha B’Av.Only recently have Jews begun treating the festivals as sacred instruments to change society.


How did this change begin?

Fifty years ago, in 1969, the original Freedom  Seder transformed Passover by welcoming into its telling of the Freedom Story – the struggle of ancient Israelites against slavery under Pharaoh  -- the struggle of Black America against racism -- slavery, lynchings, KKK terrorism, Jim Crow. The Freedom Seder stirred three different responses:  

  • angry condemnation from some Jewish sectors –- Commentary magazine devoted almost an entire issue to bitterly attacking it;
  • chilly disdain from much of the official religious leadership for making Passover a challenge to US culture and politics, and for bringing non-Jews into it;
  • and whole-hearted joy from some progressive Jews, especially thousands of young Jews who quickly liberated their own Passover Seders to celebrate  a myriad of progressive social movements (feminism, anti-militarism, a two-state peace between Israel and Palestine, eco-sanity in the face of looming planetary plagues like those brought on by Pharaoh’s cruelty).

The young folks won. Not only about Passover but more slowly, about other holy-days that they began to redefine as deeply rooted in Jewish experience --  and flowering with broader meaning.

At first these efforts were tiny. In 1972, about 40 Jews observed Tisha B’Av by fasting and leafleting on the steps of the US Capitol, pointing to the US use of Agent Orange to poison the trees of Vietnam as analogous to the ancient Roman Empire’s attempt to disrupt farming in the Land of Israel by sowing salt into the soil.

In 2010, about 300 people (led by Jews, yet multireligious and multicultural) observed Tisha B’Av at the foot of the Capitol.

They (actually, we) were demanding action to respond to the BP oil company’s blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico that killed eleven workers and thousands of fish and birds in the Gulf. We chanted an English-language “Lament for Temple Earth” to the traditional wailing melody of the Book of Lamentations. We demanded the government create programs for "clean energy."

Yesterday went several levels of change beyond that. In Chicago and San Francisco and Philadelphia and New York and in many smaller cities and towns and neighborhoods, Jews gathered to say that we whose Torah teaches us to love and well-treat the stranger in our midst and the refugees who come to us, we who were made desperate refugees by the Babylonian and Roman conquests of ancient Judea and again by many other governments and most horrendously by Nazi Germany, would not stand silent when the US government treated refugees and immigrants cruelly. Inhumanly.

In Philadelphia, for example, a protest vigil was called by the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis. It gathered at least a thousand strong near the Liberty Bell, in the shadow of the inscription high on the wall of the National Museum of American Jewish History: “To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” The passage comes from a letter by President George Washington to a synagogue in Rhode Island. The contrast between the first President and the present one was clear. Vigilers came from almost everywhere on the spectrums of Jewish organized life, and immigrant leaders spoke in English and in Spanish from the platform alongside rabbis and officials of organized Jewry.

Some of the Philadelphia speakers actually chanted from the Book of Lamentations (traditionally bewailed on Tisha B'Av), interspersed with letters from distraught children and parents.

Many of the country-wide protests focused on family separations: Some families were shattered by the imprisonment of children in concentration camps with too little food or medical care, some too young to know their own names, all traumatized by losing their parents. Some were shattered by ICE arrests aimed at deportations of hundreds of migrant workers in Mississippi, while they were at work and their children were in school or at home – left suddenly with no one to care for them.

In New York, a thousand Jews gathered to go beyond ill treatment, confronting the power relationships that are enabling the dehumanizing acts of government. They swirled outside – and some inside -- an Amazon store to protest Amazon’s contracts with ICE to supply digital support for hunting down and deporting immigrants.

Inside the store, as shown here, demonstrators said Kaddish for refugee children who died from neglect and abuse while in US government custody, about 40 were arrested.

“We mourn the destruction of all things holy on the Jewish observance of Tisha b’Av,” said Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum. “This current administration’s attacks on immigrants, Muslims, Jews, people of color, and so many others are likewise horrific destruction of holiness. CBST is proud to stand with all those suffering today and against the evil of the camps, ICE policies, and the separation of families. Never Again is Now.

“Tisha B’Av is a time for mourning destruction and devastation. Sadly, unconscionably, this year, destruction and devastation are all around us,” Rabbi Shai Held also wrote in the statement. “We have a tremendous amount to mourn—the relentless assault on the most basic values of empathy and decency; the cruelty daily enacted in our name; the metastatization of racism and antisemitism in our country. We mourn, but we are also here today to say that beyond mourning, we will fight.”

We are taught that in our doorways and at the gateeways that distinguish us from other communities, we should pause and recite the Sh'ma tht reminds us that the world is ultimately ONE. Yesterday many American Jews stepped across a threshold to assert that this Unity commands us to defend others who are being treated cruelly, as well as remembering and resisting cruelty aimed at us.

It is a fitting time to pause and say, "Hush'sh'sh and listen, you Godwrestlers:  The Breath of Life is our God, and the Breath of Life is ONE. Sh'sh'shma Yisrael, Yahhhh elohenu, Yahhh echad."

Two Holy Days of Turning: Tisha B’Av and Eid al-Idha

This weekend, the holy days of the Jewish and Muslim communities come together in a way extremely rare.

For Jews, it is Tisha B’Av, traditionally the day of mourning the destruction by two Empires, Babylon and Rome, of the two Holy Temples in Jerusalem. The ancient Book of Lamentations, called “Eicha” in Hebrew, records death and despair among exiles driven onto a death march from the Land of Israel to Babylon.

For our own sins, Eicha teaches, were these Temples destroyed. So Eicha also looks toward redemption if we can transform our own behavior.

This year, there is a wave of Jewish observance of this fast day by gazing at the present efforts by the American Empire to dehumanize Latinx communities – not only refugees and immigrants but also, as the El Paso mass murder shows, Latinx citizens of the USA.  Those who today are being made victims by our own government rise up out of the ancient pages of the Book of Lamentations to face us today, and to demand we face them.

For fewer but still an unusual number of Jews, the universal meaning of the day is also being marked by mourning the dangerous wounds that modern corporate empires are imposing on Temple Earth and human earthlings.

As Eicha teaches about the past, for our sins in the present is Temple Earth being destroyed.  By us. By corporate Carbon Empires, new versions of Babylon and Rome and Pharaoh, that we are not resisting. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, "Some are guilty; ALL are responsible."  And by the same token, we can save ourselves and Earth by Turning in a new direction.

For Muslims, this weekend is Eid al-Idhathe celebration of the moment when Ibrahim/ Avraham/ Abraham turned from his willingness to kill his son to seeing as a substitute the ram caught in the thicket. The festival when Muslims honor the moment by sharing their food with the poor. One lesson: “Do not kill your children   --  Feed the poor!” An even deeper lesson: Even at the very last moment, you can Turn yourself and Turn history around.

Across the Jewish community this coming weekend, at last a wave of Jews is observing Tisha B’Av as a day of holy mourning not for Jews alone but for frightened and desperate refugees and immigrants, the “ourselves” we see today as we recall being driven into exile on the death march from Eretz Yisrael to Babylon, or from Vienna to Treblinka.

I welcome this response to attempted dehumanization of the Latinx community;  I have risked arrest three times in the past year and actually been arrested once and will risk arrest again in September to block the arrests and deportations. All for the sake of these children and families who stumble into our four-dimensional reality right out of the pages of Eicha.

And I welcome the awakening of Am Yisrael to the universal meaning of Tisha B’Av that the ancient Rabbis felt when they said the first “Eicha” was God’s “Ayekka??!” in Gan Eden as the Garden began to wither.   Twice in my life I have spent Tisha B’Av on the steps of the US Capitol:

  • In 1972, when about 50 of us bewailed the destruction of the trees of Vietnam by “Agent Orange” poured on its soil by the Imperial USA just as, we said, Rome poured salt on the farmland of ancient Israel.
  • And nine years ago, when 300 people – Jews, Christians, secular environmentalists --   bewailed the deaths of eleven workers and tens of thousands of birds and fish caused by the greed, the arrogance, and the over-reach of the BP Big Oil empire in the Gulf of Mexico.  In 2010 we chanted Rabbi Tamara Cohen’s “Eicha for the Earth.”  (See https://theshalomcenter.org/node/173)

It begins this way, chanted in Eicha trope:

Eicha: Alas, she sits in danger.
Earth, home to multitudes,
like a beloved, deep in distress. 

 Blue ocean, source of life --
Endangered and imprisoned.  

Bitterly she weeps in the night
Her shorelines wet with tears.
Of all her friends, none to comfort her;
All her allies have betrayed her.

 Checkerspot butterflies
flee their homes;
Polar bears
can find no rest.
Because our greed has heated Earth.

 Whole communities destroyed
To pursue off-shore oil.
Lives and dreams have been narrowed.

 Wetlands sigh without their song birds,

Estuaries grieve;

The sea is embittered.

Coastlines mourn for families,
lost homes and livelihoods.
Barrier islands lament, desolate.

 Earth’s children – now her enemies;
Despite destruction, we sleep at ease.
The Breath of Life grieves
our abundant transgressions.
Infants of every species,
captive to our conceit. 

Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.

 Let us return, help us repent,
You Who Breathe all Life;
Breathe us, Breathe us,
Breathe us into a new path--
Help us, Help us, ,

Help us Turn to a new way of living
Make–new, Make -new,
Our world of life intertwining –
Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.

So I welcome our grieving not just the greed and arrogance that led to destruction in the past, but the greed and arrogance in the right-now that is traumatizing and killing Latinx children, murdering 22 Ladinx parents gathered in a store to buy school supplies for their kids, frightening millions of Latinx people living in the “America”  where "From every mountain-top," we sing, “ Let Freedom ring!” --   and warping democracy for all of us. 

And I call us ALSO to grieve the species just now dying and the million species already on the brink of extinction, the towns already  drowned and the farmland already flooded and the homes already engulfed in wildfires  and the far worse threatening the billions who depend for water on the rhythmically melting and refreezing ice of Himalaya mountains and who will die if the ice disappears entirely, the millions who will die when the Middle East suffers from months-long unremitting temperatures of 130 F.

BUT ALL THIS IS NOT OUR IRREDEEMABLE FATE --  IF WE ACT NOW! “Turn us to You Who are the Breath of Life, and indeed we shall be Turned!”

The value of Tisha B’Av is to raise our awareness to grief and to the need for Turning and redemption. I urge us all this weekend, whatever else we may be doing with and for Tisha B’Av, to use at minimum the brief passage above of “Eicha for the Earth” and if possible all of it.

From awareness must come action. When we are past Tisha B’Av I will share with you a plan for Jewish action on the third day of Sukkot in mid-October – bringing Earth and ourselves, Earth’s children, into the corridors of power to demand a Great Turning. Even on the brink of disaster, to learn from Tisha B'Ava and Eid al-Idha and all the other great spiritual wisdoms to Turn Toward Life.

With love, Arthur

The Debates: Leap across a Precipice to the Other Side, or take an "incremental" step into the Abyss?

The most profound question that has surfaced in the Democratic Party’s presidential-primary debates is between calls for a transformation of American society and economy in the direction of far more compassion and justice for human communities and Earth itself – or a series of small steps in the same direction.

I think the world --  both Earth and human earthlings – is crying out for Big Change. Swift Change.  As we say in the traditional prayer for Healing, refuah shleymah, refuat hanefesh v’refuat haguf,  bimheyra v’yamenu! -- a complete healing of soul and body, swiftly in our own days!

We are facing a double crisis: 

Within a dozen years, the scientists tell us and the evidence mounts up with every morning newspaper, we must stop emitting CO2 and methane into The Sacred Interbreathing of all Life that is the actual “God” surrounding and infusing all God’s varied names –- or see the life-web of our planet wither and die.

And perhaps in an even narrower time frame, we are hearing the cries of human pain at a dead-end of jobs and income and dignity and even life-span that are moving millions in the USA and many other countries toward support for unenlightened despots. Threatening that democracy will wither and soon die.

These two outcries, these two impending disasters, are really one. For the root of both disasters is subjugation by the Powerful of those they disempower: The Hyper-wealthy and Hyper-powerful treating Earth and her human beings as objects, as “Its” rather than “Thous,” to use Buber’s insightful language. As tools rather than Persons.

“Globalization” does not have to be subjugation, but it has been so far. It has engineered the massive loss of jobs and future income, of local cultures and foods and musics and story-tellings and prayers -- and with them the loss of a sense of meaningful life. Those who first mutter and whine and then cry aloud that they are the “forgotten Americans” are right. And some of them are then more easily manipulated into taking on sujugation of others as the remedy for the subjugation that they themselves are suffering. 

That chain of clamping chains on those less powerful benefits those at the top. It is the classic strategy of Pharaoh: a Hyper-Power that necessarily curdles into racism, religious bigotry, hatred of foreigners, contempt toward women, caging and killing children, poisoning and plaguing Earth.

Indeed, the strongest way of persuading those in despair to keep oppressing those “below” them is precisely the conviction that there can’t and won’t be basic healing change – only band-aids.  The “incrementalists” will create exactly what they claim to fear –- more support for Pharaoh’s neo-fascism.  

What is The Alternative? We have gained the deep ecological knowledge in biology that could actually respond to each unique and individual species as a sacred part of an interwoven Whole. We could apply the same way of thinking to our ethics, our politics, our economics, our culture, our religion.

Those who claim that only small increments of change can defeat Trumpist neo-fascism are profoundly mistaken. Trump is a symptom that then causes the disease to worsen. But it is the disease that needs to be addressed. To defeat Mr. Trump in an election but leave the basic disease untreated will leave the cancer growing as it was doing before 2016 – but still more desperate and angry.  

The “incrementalists,” for example, complain that the Green New Deal is too big, faces too many aspects of our deep disease. But that is precisely its value. Even at the crassest political level, we cannot make the great leap from the Carbon-burning  Economy to the Solar-Wind Economy without making sure that coal miners and oil-refinery workers can move into the new economy. And we can only make the transformation by mobilizing millions into worthwhile, well-paying jobs. The pieces mesh into a whole.

And in the other direction, we cannot address the environmental diseases that are worsening from lead in drinking water, coal dust in the air, poisons in the food, opioids to meet despair with unintended or deliberately suicidal overdoses, without making the leap into a democratic,  decentral, renewable, and communal  energy system and new kinds of health care  -- focused on public and environmental health as well as universal coverage. The opposite pf energy and health systems based on Super-Profits.

If you try to leap across a yawning chasm by taking one small step, you fall shrieking from the precipice into the death below. Learning how to leap across is not easy, but it is necessary. We know the springy dance-steps that can help us dance in God’s earthquake, across the precipice to the other side. We need to have the courage to dance them.

Mourning Mother Earth -- And Healing Her

This letter ends with a specific proposal for multireligious action on climate that draws on Tisha B’Av (a Jewish day of mourning, explained below, that can be universal in its meaning) to be held on Friday, August 9. Please write me at 9Av@theshalomcenter.org if you are interested in organizing or joining in such an action. And feel free to share this with others whom you think might be interested. Thanks and shalom, Arthur

Mourning Mother Earth -- And Healing Her

Dear friends, As I often do, I want to begin with the spiritual roots of a religious practice, and then move to the flowering from those roots in the form of spiritually nourished political action. In this case, action to heal Earth. Action rooted in Tisha B'Av, the sacred Jewish day of mourning/ healing.  

 That sad day flowers in healing Mother Earth.  And does it by bringing together the energy of youth and elders as the Prophet Malachi teaches -- together supporting the Green New Deal. 

The traditional Jewish day of mourning and fasting for the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem –- twice destroyed by arrogant empires --  comes on the ninth day of the scorching midsummer lunar month of Av. In Hebrew, that is Tisha (Ninth) B’Av.) This year, that day falls on Shabbat --  Friday evening August 9 to Saturday evening August 10. Since mourning is prohibited on Shabbat, this year the day will be observed on the following day --  Saturday night and Sunday.  But for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, I suggest that part of the observance might happen the day before –- during the day on Friday, August 9.

There are two major aspects to observing Tisha B’Av: reading the Book of Lamentations (known in Hebrew as Eicha, which can mean “How!” or “Alas!”) and for 25 hours fasting from food, water, wearing leather shoes and other luxurious clothes, anointing one’s self with fragrance, joining in sexual pleasure, and learning Torah (except for sad passages and commentaries on Eicha).

At first glance, it would seem that Tisha B’Av is perhaps the most narrowly Jewish of all the sacred days. It seems to deal with a catastrophe that affected only the Jewish people. But an ancient rabbi, 2000 years ago, used a word-play in Hebrew to suggest that in some ways it could be seen as a profoundly universal experience. The rabbi asked, "When was the first Eicha? And answered: In the Garden of Eden, when God asked – –  ‘Ayekka, Where are you?’ “ The word-playay is that in Hebrew the two words have the same consonants, and are distinguished only by their vowels.

So through this midrash, almost a joking pun but very serious, the rabbi was saying that all of humankind went into exile from the Garden of abundance and delight. The original Temple of all humanity was shattered by our own arrogant action. (Notice that in this illustration, the human race is moving from a luscious Garden onto a harsh and stony path.) 

 

What was the arrogance of Eden? The sacred Voice, speaking on behalf of Reality, had told us that there was a world of extraordinary abundance; that we should joyfully eat of it; but that we must restrain ourselves, not gobble it all up. But we did not restrain ourselves, and so the abundance vanished and in consequence, we were to work always with the sweat pouring down our faces to make barely enough food for us to eat, because Earth would give forth mostly thorns and thistles.

So the parable of Eden was a warning not to gobble up all of Earth’s abundance, not to shatter the sacred Temple of all life forms, lest all Humanity become refugees. Exiles from Earth. 

What does this mean? That we are spiritual exiles, not only geographic refugees. We are alienated from our Mother, treating her like an object, not a beloved. Acting in I-It mode, treating her as It -- not a Thou of direct and intimate relationship. 

The human species has often ignored the teaching. Nine years ago, the oil company BP would not restrain itself in probing the Gulf of Mexico for oil. Its arrogance killed eleven of its own workers and poisoned many life-forms of the Gulf. 

 

And that was only one small piece of the devastation we are bringing on ourselves by burning fossil fuels, flooding our atmosphere with CO2.

 

Nine years ago, The Shalom Center joined with hundreds of people  on the steps of the US Capitol --  Jews, Christians, secular environmentalists, ordinary Americans aghast at the deaths imposed by BP’s arrogance – deaths of human beings and of fish and seabirds in the Gulf, economic disasters among the businesses and workers dependent on the Gulf’s abundance.  On the Capitol steps we chanted an English version of Eicha --  Eicha for Earth, we called it --   that The Shalom Center had commissioned Tamara Cohen (now Rabbi) to write. We sang songs from the Song of Songs, songs of love to Mother Earth. We blew the shofar (ram’s horn) of warning and alarm.  We wailed. We protested a government that had done far too little to prevent the disaster.

Nine years later, the present US government is not merely dragging its feet from protecting and healing Planet Earth. It is actively pursuing the destruction of our planet, in order to maximize the already Hyper-Wealthy profits of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Unnatural Gas.

Whether in Washington DC or in the home offices of Senators and Representatives who are accomplices in the arson of Earth, or at the branches of banks like Wells Fargo that are financing Modern Carbon Pharaohs to bring Plagues upon us, or in the offices of Exxon and the other Big Oil pharaohs, we could gather on Friday afternoon August 8, the Friday before Tisha B’Av. Why then instead of Sunday? Because on Friday afternoon the offices will be open. 

We could chant Eicha for Earth and make a covenant with each other to work for the Green New Deal.  To work to restore the healthy, healing climate, the life-breath of our forebears. And wherever possible, to do as Malachi teaches -- turn the hearts of Elders to the Youth (Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion) and the hearts of Youth to Elders, working together "lest Earth be utterly destroyed. "

 (Some Jewish communities have chosen to focus this Tisha B'Av on the refugees whom our government is tormenting, not welcoming. An entirely legitimate midrashic direction to take this Tisha B'Av. They have chosen to enter into companionship with refugees. Both aspects of alienation and exile under pressure of tyrannical subjugation deserve attention and resistance this summer. The burning Earth has received less attention -- and I believe needs more.)

Please write me at 9Av@theshalomcenter.org if you are interested in organizing or joining in such an action.

Or if you can’t do a Friday public action, you might share these concerns with your friends, your congregation, in two hours together that Friday evening or Saturday that are the real Ninth of Av. Perhaps reading Eicha for Earth along with the Prophetic passage Hazon – Vision! – for that Shabbat. Sharing not the fast but our words, our breath, reading and speaking of the wounded, burning Temple Earth of our own time.  Of what we can do to save her.

Eicha for Earth and an entire service that celebrates Earth and mourns its destruction are at 

https://theshalomcenter.org/node/173

It begins this way:

Eicha: Alas, she sits in danger.
Earth, home to multitudes,
like a beloved, deep in distress. 

 Blue ocean, source of life --
Endangered and imprisoned.  

Bitterly she weeps in the night
Her shorelines wet with tears.
Of all her friends, none to comfort her;
All her allies have betrayed her.

 Checkerspot butterflies
flee their homes;
Polar bears
can find no rest.
Because our greed has heated Earth.

 Whole communities destroyed
To pursue off-shore oil.
Lives and dreams have been narrowed. 

 Coastlines mourn for families,
lost homes and livelihoods.
Barrier islands lament, desolate.

 Wetlands sigh without their
Estuaries grieve; the sea is embittered. song birds,

 Earth’s children – now her enemies;
Despitedestruction, we sleep at ease.
The Breath of Life grieves
our abundant transgressions.
Infants of every species,
captive to our conceit. 

Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.

 Let us return, help us repent,
You Who Breathe all Life;
Breathe us, Breathe us,
Breathe us into a new path--
Help us, Help us, ,

Help us Turn to a new way of living
Make–new, Make -new,
Our world of life intertwining –
Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.

Please write me at 9Av@theshalomcenter.org if you are interested in organizing or joining in such an action.

Please help The Shalom Center keep reaching out to you, with you, to help you breathe Spirit into Action, Action into Spirit. Please click on the “Contribute” button in the left-hand margin of this page.

May we in this way join our own breath with YHWH, the Breath of Life that is now gasping, “I can’t breathe!”--  to help us all breathe easy in the Shabbos breeze --  Arthur

BLOCKING "ICE" HQ in Washington DC

On Tuesday (July 16), I took part in a large Jewishly sponsored action -- "NEVER AGAIN MEANS NOW!" blocking entrances to the ICE headquarters in Washington DC. Ten of us at one of the entrances were arrested; evidently once ICE had opened that entrance they decided not to arrest those of us at other entrances. We sat blocking them for a sweltering three hours, after a huge gathering (more than 1,000) at the Mall. 

I was invited by the organizers to speak at both places. One the Mall I lifted up specific Torah passages about how to treat refugees (Deut 23: 15-16) and immigrants (Num 11) and spoke about the Shoah as bearing holy lessons for our own generation.

The Washington Post (plus other papers around the country that picked up the WaPo story)  quoted me:


"'You can't use a dictionary or an encyclopedia to understand the word 'concentration camp'; what you need is a calendar, because concentration camps over time turn into death camps if you don't stop them,' said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 85, who came from Philadelphia to stand outside the doors of ICE headquarters.
"Waskow, who became a rabbi after beginning public life as a civil rights activist more than 55 years ago, said he was ready to be arrested. He stood at the door as officers inside milled about. On his shirt, Waskow wore this message: 'Resisting tyrants since Pharaoh.'” 

I had added that  in organizing to affirm and embody that  “Never Again is Now,” we are not demeaning the memory of the Six Million but blessing their memory. For the most sacred wisdom we can take from the Holocaust is the understanding of how to halt any campaign of cruelty and subjugation against any community that could lead toward genocide. 

The Trumpist policy of cruelty toward both refugees and immigrants has already taken the first steps on that march into the darkest of disasters. “Never again” must indeed mean action now. 

 Every society faces that profound question: How do we treat "outsiders"? With love, or with fear, hatred, and violence? The American people and our government are not the first society in history to face the basic spiritual question of how to respond to people from outside the community. Long ago, the Hebrew Bible taught how to respond both to refugees and to settled immigrants. Torah pointed the way toward lchoosing love, for every society that inherits its wisdom -- though some have turned away from that wisdom. Torah teaches:

If people flee a tyrannical master, do not force them to return to their master. Welcome them to live within your borders wherever they choose. Do not maltreat them!”  (Deut. 23:16-17)

 “If a foreigner who lives in your country wishes to take part in Passover (the Festival of Freedom), welcome them to take part just as you do, for  there must be one law for the home-born and the foreigner.” (Num. 9:14)

 At the deepest roots of our morality are these 3000-year-old teachings of wisdom. Thank God – literally! -- that thousands today are acting to affirm them. 

 The reporter asked whether, at 85, I was tired of protesting. As the Post reports, I said:

“‘I'm not tired, but I am sad that it is still necessary to do this. I can't imagine how my grandparents, who came to this country thinking they could make a life of freedom here, how they would be feeling now,' he said, his voice shaking. 'It horrifies me to imagine.'"

At the ICE HQ, as we prepared to risk arrest, I retold the story of the first recorded acts of nonviolent civil disobedience:  the midwives Shifra & Puah who refused to obey Pharaoh’s orders to kill newborn babies, and then Miriam & Bat Pharaoh’s daughter, who saved Moses’ life. Probably the first act of resistance, I said, and for sure the second were “international feminist conspiracies”  -- just as Jews and Latinx were joining in these actions to protect refugees and immigrants.

And the Pharaoh's attack on children pointed toward a repeated tactic of tyrants who have planned genocide: Attack the children first. Since the human instinct to protect human children is so strong, if the tyrant gets away with that it proves these children are not really human -- and then their whole communiity can be dehumanized and murdered.

Beyond even that, for Pharaoh and for Trump, is a policy of bringing Plagues upon our Planet. The impulse to subjugate others, even Earth herself, becomes an addiction. Every act of resistance  -- protecting and freeing immigrants, and Blacks, and Muslims, and women, and the poor, and the suffocated middle class, and the free press, and Congress, and Earth -- becomes an act of protection for all the othes who are under attack.

 For a fuller report and more photos, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/10-protesters-arrested-inside-ice-headquarters-in-washington/2019/07/16/f030bb8e-a7d9-11e9-a3a6-ab670962db05_story.html?utm_term=.8c9c41f3e536

 Shalom, salaam, paz, peace -- the peace that is rooted in justce --  Arthur

Sending Soap etc to Kids in Cages, via Congressfolk

 Yesterday afternoon I sent a note to you-all about going in groups to US Senators & Representatives, bringing them packets of soap and toothpaste and toothbrushes, and demanding that they carry them IN PERSON to the prisons where refugee children are being held in medically dangerous unsanitary cages --  demanding THEY go because we would not be allowed in but the political pressure of their going would be important, whether or not they were admitted. 

In the rush of getting the idea out, I aimed at the idea itself, in the fewest possible words to make clear the what-to-do, without any explanation of where or why to me it seems so valuable or how or by whom it began – leaving all that to the next step.   In fact, I think how it emerged was important. It was put forward by Rev. Jean Erb, one of the beloved participants in P’nai Or of Philadelphia’s Torah conversation group that meets every Shabbos before davening. 

 The Torah conversation began with the question of how fear or caution inhibits us from taking action that feels right, connected with the Torah story of the spies or scouts whom Moshe sent to scout out the land of Canaan, and how their report scared off the People of Israel from moving forward.  Out of that focus on when, how, and with good wisdom or not we may let fear or caution --  a positive or a negative word for what may be the same response – to shape our actions came Jean Erb’s thought about how to have an effect on the immediate issue of the concentration camps while doing so in ways that point to the deeper illness. 

I quoted Howard Zinn as having said that every once in a while, a lightning flash lights up the truth of the world we live in. The lightening flash lasts only for an instant, but if we are alert enough we can help ourselves and others stay awake to the fuller truth that was visible in that moment.  The kids-in-cages lightening flash can reveal fuller truths about our government and our society.  The lightening flash can show us, remind us, who holds power in and defines the shape of our society – and where to aim change. 

 What seemed and seems to me brilliant about Jean Erb’s proposal is that it connects the simplest acts of face-to-face love and caring --  toothpaste, for God’s sake!! --  with the need to challenge those in power to act  -- Justice, for God’s sake! 

Indeed, what came to my mind as I thought about her proposal was the beginning of Psalm 101 --  “Chesed u’mishpat ashira, l’cha YHWH azamaira  -- Of Love and Justice I will sing;  To you, Breath of Life, I’ll sing praises.” ---   a song by Rabbi David Shneyer that in 1971 was the first song of Jewish renewal that I learned. (David sang “Adonai,” not “Breath of Life.”) 

Love AND Justice. And the sacred Breath of Life, the Holy One.

So part of the wisdom that rose up in and from Jean Erb was, I think, the outcome of the process itself, and how we can engage with Torah in such ways as to take our own lives into it, and invite it into our own lives. 

Having said all that, let me go back to the proposal:

Sending Soap etc to Kids in Cages, via Congressfolk

 Groups of people – ideally at least ten, a minyan, but not necessarily – get together for the following action: 

 Each member makes a small packet of sanitary, health-giving items for kids – toothpaste, soap, etc.

They agree on a time, and if possible make an appointment (if not,  go anyway) , to visit the home-district office of each of their Senators and Member of the House of Representatives (regardless of party or previous position on the immigration issue). They intend to hand that Congressperson a bundle of these packets and demand that s/he take the packets  IN PERSON to one of the children’s prisons and PERSONALLY give these items to the kids.  

 The group decides ahead of time whether all, none, or some will risk arrest by refusing o leave the office until they get a promise the Congressperson will do just that. They practice who will speak, how, etc. At least one of the group prepares to film what happens on a cell phone.  

 The group calls some local media to invite them to come along not as advocates but to cover the story.

 The group does the action.  Afterwards, it shares publicly what happened.  It urges others to follow suit.

Okay. I urge that we actually begin the process.

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