Election Issues & a Torah Yardstick

As we take a Momentous Step into the Voting Booth

Dear friends, I assume that practically all of you have already decided how you will vote for President and Congress. The issues that have stirred our country during this campaign will not go away on November 9, and I thought you might be interested to recall how Torah addresses some of the major issues before us.

Indeed, when we on the staff and Board of The Shalom Center looked into this, we were often surprised to realize that the ancient teachings address issues that might seem 21st-century questions.  So we are sharing these teachings not only out of concern for the American future, but also out of respect and admiration for the Biblical and Rabbinic past

Yet of course the future matters. This election, perhaps more than any since the election of 1860, forces us to choose between two radically different visions of the American future and the future of Mother Earth. To choose the world our children will live in. They are watching, listening, wondering. Peering, as it were, into our voting booths.


 ISSUE: What policies should we adopt to deal with the increasing distance between the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor in the U.S.? Here we present several different biblical texts.  They all see extreme economic inequality as troublesome, but they propose several different approaches. 

Toward Eden: The Earth gives birth to the Human Race

Can WE turn the barren place to Eden?

In a generation when human intervention is deeply wounding the web of life on Earth and with it the patterns of human community and prosperity, we may see a new facet of the story of Eden, the Garden of Delight.

The story begins by pointing us toward the close relationship between the human race and the Earth:

"And YHWH [the Name of God that can only be pronounced by breathing with no vowels, thus "Yahhh, Breath of Life"] formed the adam [human earthling] from the adamah [humus-earth] and blew into her/his nostrils the breath of life; and the human-earthling became a living being." (Genesis 2: 7)

I have inserted these odd translations of adam and adamah in order to heighten in English the interrelationship that Torah -- indeed, the Hebrew language itself – teaches so simply. Indeed we do have in English the word "earthling" to mean "human being" and the word "humus" to mean a kind of earth, but each of them is a highly specialized word.

What "adam" and "adamah" teach is deeply different from what the word "environment" we use so often nowadays teaches. The "environment" is in the "environs" -- out there, separate from us. The very words "adam" and "adamah" are intertwined, and they should teach us not only about language but about the reality that language tries to word.

And as if the bare words might still not be enough to teach us, the Torah then explicitly says that we were deeply intertwined at the earthy birthing of the human race.

Notice that in moving from earthiness to humanness, the human lost the "ah" -- a breath-sound --- at the end of Adamah, and then received from God a more conscious independent breathing.

This replicates the process of each human birth – indeed, each mammal's birth -- in which at first the fetus has an unconscious gift of breath from Mother through the placenta; loses this breath as s/he is born; and regains a separate, more conscious breath -- for humans, often by a tap from an attending adult.

What we know from our own experience in every individual birth, says Torah, we should understand is true about our species' origins and our continuing relationship with Mother Earth.

And Torah proceeds to the story of Eden, which this year will be read on October 29.

God – the Truth and Reality of life -- says to the human couple who together make up the human race: "Here there is overflowing abundance. Eat of it, of every tree of the Garden, in joy! – But you must also learn self-restraint. Do not gobble up all this abundance. The fruit of one tree you must not eat."

 [For the origins of these portraits of Eve and Adam and for a remarkable invitation from The Shalom Center, see the end of this essay.]

But the Humans abandon self-restraint. They eat of the one tree they have been told to leave uneaten.

And their greed ruins the abundance. So -– says God/ Reality -- they must work with the sweat pouring down their faces just to wring from the earth enough to eat, for it will give forth thorns and thistles.

Did God, or Reality, rejoice at this reminder that actions bear consequences? Hardly! God wails, "Ayekka, Where are you?" -- which rabbinic midrash understands as the first "Eicha," the word that begins the Book of Lamentations about our exile when the Temple was destroyed. The first exile was the exile of adam, humankind, from adamah, the earth.

This ancient archetypal story is the story of today. The story of the BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. The story of rapacious Big Oil desecrating the graves and poisoning the water of the Sioux Nation in North Dakota, to drive a pipeline though Native land and release more fumes of CO2 to burn our Mother Earth. Our modern Corporate Carbon Pharaohs in their greed bring Plagues upon humanity and the Earth, rejecting self-restraint: super-droughts in California and Australia and Syria and central Africa,  unheard-of floods in Pakistan and North Carolina, superstorms in the Philippines and the Jersey shore. 

Yet there are ways to redress this disaster. It happens, says the story of the Wilderness, just after the Breath of Life frees ancient Israelites from the ancient power-greedy Pharaoh.The first discovery of these runaway slaves is the Shabbat that comes with manna -- a gift from the abundant earth and a taste of rest from endless toil.  Shabbat comes as a new form of self-restraint --  filled with joy, rather than ascetic self-denial. The curse reversed. A taste of Eden once again.

In Jewish theology, Shabbat, a foretaste of the Messianic Age, is the redemptive gift that begins the annullment of the "original sin" of Eden -- the sin of abusing Mother Earth. Begins, but only begins. We still must yearn toward "yom sheh-kulo Shabbat, the day that will be wholly Shabbat" -- toward "Eden for a Grown-up Human Race," depicted in the Song of Songs, when love among human beings and between Humanity and Earth, adam and adamah, is freely flourishing.

Says Isaiah (51:3): "Vayasem midbarah k'eden v'arvatah k'gan Yahh. You turn the barren place to Eden, and the desert to a garden breathing Life."

Who is this "You"? Can it be "We"?

Only if we sow the Garden's seeds among us now, with miniature communities of Eden -- and in the same breath, breathing the Great Breath, act to free adam and adamah from domination by the Pharaohs of our day.

*** *** *** ***

The framed "portraits" of Eve and Adam in the Garden that we have presented above are paintings by  Zvi Livni , a renowned artist in the mystics' town of Safed  (Tzfat) in Northern Israel. He co-founded the famed Artists' Colony there. His paintings hang in the Brooklyn Museum, the Toronto Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art at Brandeis University, the Museum of Art at Yale University, and many other museums and galleries.

The originals of these paintings were presented as a wonderful gift to The Shalom Center, with the intention of helping to support our work to bring the Garden closer. We offer these paintings, fully framed, with certified venues, to our readers and members for a minimum gift to The Shalom Center of $3600 (the total for both paintings) or more if a higher offer comes in. If you are interested, please write me directly at <> with "Eve and Adam" in the subject line.

Yom Kippur at Standing Rock, Dakota -- and Sukkot Everywhere

[This report from the Lakota Native encampment in Standing Rock, ND, is by Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, who is director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the  Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and a member of the Board of The Shalom Center. Below his report is a song for Sukkot with words written by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, set to a slightly modified melody by Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield of blessed memory. The song can be seen in full and more readable size by clicking on the title of this article and then clicking on the caption "Sukkat Shalom song" just below the black bar called "Attachment." Rabbi Liebling's report follows:]

We are camped at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball Rivers, with high winds and sub-freezing night-time temperatures, preparing for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.   Why did I, a rabbi and son of Holocaust survivors, travel to the Standing Rock encampment to support Native Nations in halting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL)?

This pipeline is slated to carry Bakken Crude Shale Oil, fracked in North Dakota, beneath 200 different waterways to a refinery in Chicago.  The original plans called for it to cross under the Missouri River close to Bismarck, ND.  The local (white Euro-American) leadership objected and the Army Corps of Engineers decided to reroute it through lands sacred to the Lakota Nation.  The Nations have claimed in several law suits that the Army Corp did not go through the legally required consultation process.  The courts initially ruled in favor of the Army Corps, but the Obama administration has intervened to call for a halt in construction twenty miles on either side of the sacred grounds until the consultation process is completed.

At 2:00 AM the day after Native Peoples' experts filed maps in court showing where the sacred grounds were, the Enbridge Energy company ordered its bulldozers to cross into the legally mandated no-go area. They dug a trench right through the sacred areas that the pipeline crossed.  They have not been penalized.

The Native Peoples are defining themselves as water protectors and not as protestors.  The Missouri River provides drinking water to 18 million people. No man-made thing lasts forever, pipelines routinely leak. It is not a question of if, but of when this pipeline will leak.  They are protecting the water; their call is “Water is Life.” I have come to understand that they are fighting for all of us. They are first and foremost protecting the Earth and are on the frontline against global warming, willing to risk their lives. It would be fully consistent with American history for some Native leaders to be murdered in these actions.

Everyday at the camp there is two-hour non-violent training session. On a day that I attended there were over 50 people, mostly new arrivals from the Comanche Nation in Oklahoma.  It was repeatedly stressed that this is non-violent, peaceful action and that is under the rubric of Ceremony. The primary mode of action is going to the construction sites and praying.  Women are asked to wear long skirts, as this is ceremony, and that for those who need one there is a sewing machine and fabric available to make one.

There are about 40 teepees and hundreds of tents at Standing Rock, housing about 1500 people. Over 300 Native Nations have sent representatives at different times in this unprecedented show of unity.  Each time a delegation arrives they are invited to the main circle to share a dance and a sacred song. The challenge now is how to winterize for the brutal North Dakota winter.

Several times during Yom Kippur we collectively confess a long list of misdeeds against other. It is always we have stolen, we have lied, we have spoken slander, and the list goes on, but never “I” alone.  It acknowledges that we all make mistakes and that each of us bears responsibility. We intone throughout the day the compassionate qualities of the Divine as we pray for forgiveness for our transgressions against other people. White America has stolen, lied and spoken slander about Native Nations for over 500 years.

This year Yom Kippur is October 12 the original Columbus Day.  Christopher Columbus sailed to the West under the Vatican’s Doctrine of Discovery, which gave him the power to “capture, vanquish, and subdue the Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ," to "put them into perpetual slavery," and "to take all their possessions and property.” 

After Columbus’ voyage of 2493, Pope Alexander VI further defined the Doctrine of Discovery and granted control over all non-Christian lands newly or soon to be “discovered” to the Spanish monarchy, for the purpose of converting the residents there to Christianity -- and to encourage trade.

The Discovery Doctrine became official U. S. law in 1823 when Chief Justice John Marshall cited it in writing for a unanimous court in the case of  Johnson v. McIntosh.  It enshrined in law that the nations of the Native Peoples were subject to the ultimate authority of the nation of Christendom -- in this case the United States –--  that was first to claim possession of a given region of “Indian” lands.  As recently as 2005, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg cited this as precedent in a majority opinion.

The original sin of White America is racism, its first victims were the Native People and it has never stopped.  By any measure they are the poorest, least educated and least healthy of any group in our country. America must atone for the ongoing genocide of our First Inhabitants, genocide is legally defined as the intentional destruction of a people and that is what the policies and practices have been intended to do.

How to atone for the pain inflicted on others that we did not directly cause, but benefit from? In Judaism the deepest form of atonement is to change our actions, next best is by doing our best to make sure that when the situation arises again we will act differently; each are accompanied by reparations for the harm we have done.  We cannot change our lives to stop benefitting from the systemic and institutional oppression of Native People.  We can act to change the situation.


[A note by Rabbi Arthur Waskow:

As we respond to Rabbi Liebling's challenge, we move past Yom Kippur and live into one of the powerful teachings of Jewish tradition for the protection of all peoples and all life-forms: the practice of building the Sukkah -- a fragile hut wth a leafy, leaky roof. It is one of the most profound remnants of the ancient Israelites living as a land-based people, like the Lakota Nation in the continent the Native Peoples call "Turtle Island" -- and like other indigenous peoples around our shared Earth today. I offer the words of this song, set to a melody by  Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield of blessed memory, as we greet the last few days of the Festival of Fragile Huts --  Sukkot.]


Harvesting: Help Build the Sukkah of Shalom

The Harvest festival of Sukkot begins tonight and lasts for seven days. It is named after its most prominent symbol –-  more than a symbol, an active practice: the Sukkah, a fragile hut with a leafy, leaky roof. 

What is the active practice? Traditionally, Jews slept in the sukkah for a week. Now, fewer sleep but many eat there.

I am writing you today to ask for a harvest – a Harvest of contributions to help The Shalom Center do our fragile, vulnerable, crucial work in the world.

Not just because it happens to be Harvest time. Also because we ourselves, The Shalom Center, are fragile, vulnerable, embodying the wisdom of the Sukkah.

In our earlest efforts, focused 33 years ago on the danger of the nuclear arms race becomng nuclear holocaust, we called on the wisdom of the Sukkah. This poster called together one of our earliest spiritually-rooted public actions:

The Sukkah -- your Sukkah of Shalom, The Shalom Center --  is fragile, open to wind and rain. Yet it needs to be built. No one can shelter under a tree or in a cave and call it a Sukkah. And we need you to gather the leafy roof and help us drape the wood or canvas that make our fragile walls.

You can do that by clicking on the maroon Contribute banner on the left margin of this page, and following through with the (tax-deductible) gifts that will keep the leafy roof above our heads.

It is clear the sukkah is fragile, vulnerable. What makes the sukkah crucial? One of the traditional Jewish evening prayers says, “You Who are the Breath of Life, spread over us the Sukkah of Your Shalom.”  Why a fragile, vulnerable sukkah of shalom? Would shalom not be safer in a fortress, a palace, a temple, even a sturdy house?

No, our ancient wisdom says. –-- Not despite fragility but because of it, the sukkah safeguards shalom.  A full shalom will come only when all human beings learn that we are all vulnerable. That we can only be at peace with each other not when we build Pentagons and Kremlins of power but when we fully grok that all those fortresses beckon attack.

Has that moment come? Not yet, but Sukkot beckons us toward it. That is why it is crucial. Indeed, it is understood as the festival that looks toward Messianic time, the days of Peace and Justice.

The Shalom Center is like a sukkah. We are tiny, fragile. We have a staff of two and besides the two of us, two part-time consultants who deal with glitches in our computers, website, and Email software. And yet –- or therefore!– we carry out a crucial role.

  • We have for 33 years been pioneers, a prophetic voice, in the Jewish, multireligious, and American worlds. When no one in the Jewish world was facing the danger of the nuclear arms race, we came into being to do so.
  • When few in the Jewish or other religious communities were willing to reinterpret our traditions to call for full equality for gay men and women,

Franz Kafka, the Leopard, & Yom Kippur

There is a wonderful two-line short story by Franz Kafka, more or less like this:

“One day a leopard came stalking into the synagogue, roaring and lashing its tail.

“Three weeks later, it had become part of the liturgy.”

Our task, in every generation, every year, is to let the leopard out of the cage of liturgy.

Scary, and full of life.

For example: How do we treat the Yom Kippur prophetic reading in which Isaiah calls on the crowd not just to fast but to share their bread with the hungry, their homes with the homeless, their clothes with the naked, and then to go one huge and highly political step further and break off the handcuffs put on by wicked power?

On Yom Kippur morning, that Haftarah can be read in any of four ways.

One way is to treat it as part of “the liturgy.”  Someone chants it in a droning Hebrew or reads it in a listless English.

Or we could read it with passion, even with strong music and powerful graphics.  For my own impassioned translation and a YouTube art-and-music video of “Isaiah Lives!"  click here:


OR –--  On this coming Yom Kippur, we could let the leopard leap from the page, roaring. We could notice that Isaiah disrupted the official Yom Kippur liturgy, that he says people yelled at him and shook their fists when he broke into the pleasant Levite chanting.

Today someone could actually break through Isaiah’s words for the sake of Isaiah’s truth –- perhaps suddenly in the middle of the Haftarah shouting out a headline about a homeless old man found frozen to death on a wintry downtown street; then, a few verses later, another headline about 300 people lining up in hope of a job when the Postal Service announced three vacancies;

Or someone could read a brief paragraph (just after the verse about the handcuffs) describing how an Arizona sheriff  deliberately feeds rotted food  to immigrants he has imprisoned and forces them to work outside in 130-degree heat.  Or a paragraph about how the US government has explicitly refused to put on trial those who ordered the torture of prisoners.

OR – We could break through the cage of words altogether, and actually do what Isaiah tells us that God, the Breath of Life,  demands:

 How? First someone could read aloud these words:

"In North Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux and hundreds of others -– the largest gathering in US history of Natives from all their many nations, plus many Americans of other communities --  have gathered to protect the sacred ancestral lands of the Sioux and the Missouri River from the proposed route of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

"Native people have gathered since last Spring to protect both the graves of their forebears from desecration and their water from poisoning, with the call that "Water is Life" -- Mayim Hayim.

"They are protecting our beloved Mother Earth for the sake of all of us, all life and future generations.

 "For the pipeline will mean still more emissions of CO2 and methane to burn our Mother Earth.

 "The encampments are peaceful, drug and alcohol free, where the elders and tribal leaders conduct daily ceremony and prayer.

 "Yet they face soldiers with rifles loaded and pointed at them as they peacefully pray.

 "They have pledged to camp all winter -- to insure that the pipeline does not get built through their tribal lands.  They need donations to purchase winter supplies, food, tipees, and other necessities."

AND THEN --  as God and Isaiah cry out to us, to feed the hungry and clothe those exposed to wintry chill, to help them face with brave nonviolence the weapons aimed at them by domineering power, come to prayer on Yom Kippur ready as the break-fast begins on Tuesday night to write a check made out to  "Standing Rock Sioux Tribe --- Pipeline Protest Donation Fund." Collect the checks and send them that very night to  Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Attention: Donations, PO Box D, Building #1, North Standing Rock Avenue,  Fort Yates, ND 58538


Another leopard we could free: On Rosh Hashanah we read two painful stories –-  one about Abraham’s expulsion of Ishmael his son and Ishmael’s mother Hagar from Abraham’s family, into a wilderness where they were on the point of death from thirst; and the other, about Abraham preparing to put his son Isaac to death at what he thought was God’s command. For both of Abraham’s sons, at the very last moment, God intervenes –-- and both their lives are saved.

Their story does not end with bare survival. Later in the Torah (Gen 25: 7-11), on a Shabbat when many fewer people will be in synagogue to hear, we are told that after twenty years apart, Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury their dangerous father, and then Isaac went to live at Ishmael’s wellspring.

This Yom Kippur, what about lifting up and reading this passage of tshuvah and slichah, “turning” and “reconciliation”? For Yom Kippu is precisely the festival that is supposed to bring us to tshuvah and slichah.

Rosh Hashanah: New Year & Transformation-time

The Shofar: Awake! Sob! Breathe! Transform!

Rosh Hashanah – the New Year and (in another translation) the Beginning of Transformation -- begins tonight.  It comes with the glimmer of a reborn moon, the sacred seventh New Moon from the rebirth time of spring.

One of the profound practices of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the Shofar, the Ram’s Horn.

We blow our breath into the small end of the Shofar, and out of the other, larger end emerges a blast of uncanny, eerie, untuned sound –--  or a music we train ourselves to shape.

This is a metaphor for every human being. The Breath of Life, the Interbreathing of the world, blows into us –--  and out come breath, words, actions, lives  that may be untuned , discordant  --  or a music of  loving care.  The music of a loving future, calling from our children to ourselves.

The different notes we learn to sound out on the Shofar have different meanings.

One calls out, “Alarm!”  --  “Awake!”

Another evokes sobs of grief as we realize how far we have wandered off the path of a loving life, the hurt we have caused others and ourselves.

Still another is a series of deep breaths as we begin to heal ourselves by healing those around us.

And still another is the joyful news of Transformation. We are taught that at Sinai,  the sound of a Shofar flooded the world  as the Breath of Life breathed words and music of Transformative Teaching.  -- And we are taught that the Shofar will sound again when we enter the Messianic days of peace and justice.

 It is a Jewish custom to wish that the Year ahead, the Transformation ahead, be “good and sweet.”

I am writing to send all of us –-- all of us, whether we celebrate these particular holy days or not --– this blessing:

That the year ahead will be sweet & good for a reason:

Because the glimmers of Transformation we are seeing within us and around us grow into a glow. And that even some of the darkness we see on the path teaches us how to keep moving

And above all, the blessing that we ourselves, each of us,  take a hand in growing that light within us and around us.

Although the holy days on which we are about to embark have been enriched by layer on layer of Jewish wisdom and practice, the underlying point is universal:

Face our mistakes, our misdeeds, the ways in which we have aimed the arrows of our actions toward lives of justice, peace, and healing but have missed the mark --- and turn ourselves in a new direction that, deep within us, is the “old” direction --- love.

That goes for us as individuals and also as members of a society.  When a whole society turns in an unloving direction, we call it a systemic failure – systemic racism, systemic militarism, systemic materialism, to face the “deadly triplets” that Dr. Martin Luther King named in a speech at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his death.  (This new year we are beginning includes the April that will be the 50th anniversary of that speech; April 4, 2018, will be the 50th anniversary of his death.)

When we recite our misdeeds on these holy days, we deliberately say “We.”  “We have slandered, we have cheated, we have stolen, we have murdered.” I myself have not done all these things, but as a member of society, I have been complicit in them all.

This year, as the new year begins, we are hearing the Shofar-note of “Awake!” more deeply than for generations. We can hear the grinding, clashing sounds of a chasm in American society,  one that has been widening and sharpening for years but has been made far more visible and audible by an extraordinary election campaign.

And it is not only Americans who face that chasm, but all human communities and all the life-forms on our planet.  

So may we all, this Beginning–time, turn the Shofar-call of Alarm into the response of Transformation.

May all of us  -- Board, staff, members, friends of  The Shalom Center –-  bless each other: May the coming year be filled with goodness and the sweet taste of loving Transformations.

This Election -- and Beyond (Both Now Dangerously Uncertain)

MLK + 50: In a Time of Danger, Creating a Year of Truth & Transformation

One month ago, it seemed clear who would be elected President. Now it is not at all clear whether beginning January 20, our President will be a politician with a checkered political past and an incrementally liberal /progressive present, or someone who has the personal characteristics of a bully and the political program of a fascist. (These are my own personal assessments, not those of The Shalom Center.)

That choice is so unprecedented and the election results are so uncertain only because our country is in a deep spiritual, cultural, and political crisis.  The crisis will not go away on Election Day or Inauguration Day.

But that does not mean we can ignore Election Day, or waste it with an irrelevant vote. The most important spiritual action that you who are members and friends of The Shalom Center can do in the next weeks is to plan with the Presidential and Congressional campaigns of your choice to get out the vote. Register voters. Canvass in person or by phone. Call on Election Day to remind them. Offer to drive people to the polls if they need help.

Are these really “spiritual” acts? Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said of the Selma March that he was praying with his legs. And in 1972, he wrote the New York Times to ask how Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah would respond in the election of that year –- and he publicly embraced one of the Presidential candidates (George McGovern, rather than Richard Nixon).

Today, in this even deeper crisis of the American spirit, voting can be praying with our hands.

What to do after the election? Whoever wins the Presidency,

Five Steps into a Deeper Yom Kippur:

 How could Yom Kippur in our generation achieve the personal and society-wide transformations that evidently resulted from its observance when the Temple stood in Jerusalem and a million people gathered? Here are some suggestions --


1) As completion of and tshuvah (“repentance” or “turning”) for the two heartbreaking stories of 1st & 2d days Rosh Hashanah (the expulsion of Ishmael & the near-killing of Isaac), add a powerful tale of reconciliation to conventional afternoon Yom Kippur Torah readings. 
Add the story of the two brothers' reconnection to bury Abraham — Gen. 25: 7-11 --   after which Isaac goes to live at Ishmael’s well – Be’er Lachai Ro’i.  In our own generation, when many of the chldren of Israel and the children of Ishmael are so violently at odds with each other, this reading would  be especially powerful as a teaching toward compassion. 
 When Reb Phyllis and I have led Yom Kippur services, we have then asked congregants to pair off and to embody the two brothers at the burial of Avraham – having a 14-minute dialogue. Then we invite those who wish, to report the heart of their conversation to the kahal as a whole.

If you like, note also that the regular morning Torah reading -- the story of the two goats -- tracks Ishmael (the goat sent to the wilderness) and Isaac (the goat slaughtered on the Temple Mount, where according to tradition Isaac was bound and a ram was slaughtered as the substitute for sacrificing Isaac). Are these two events on Yom Kippur already a redress of the two stories — as if to say, “Not to humans but only to goats will we do these things” — and then the post-Temple, “Not even to goats will we do these things, but only tell the story -- “??  Even if we read them this way, also reading the explicit reconciliation of Abraham's two sons would have great value.
2) In the Avodah service, renew the ancient practice at the Temple by, if possible, taking people outside, inviting them to lie face-down on the grass, and asking them to melt into the adamah (Earth) for 18 minutes, then to be born as adam (earthling)As in Gen 2: 1, we lose the "— -ah"  of the breath from Mother Earth and then receive the Nishmat chayyim ("breath of life") from the Holy One Who is the Breath of Life.  This tells the mythic story of the birth of the human race by modeling it on an individual human birth — the fetus breathing thru the placenta till birth, losing that breath in being birthed, then beginning to breathe on her/his own.  A powerful reminder for this Shmita year and every year of the close relationship between Earth & Earthling, and of the need to heal the Breath that sustains us both — our CO2-saturated  atmosphere that is scorching our planet.

  3) For a slightly midrashic translation of the Isaiah Haftarah with music by Will Fudeman and Cantor Abbe Lyons
, and with flashes of  extraordinary graphics-in-motion by the renowned artist Michael Bogdanow  that carry its message, see <> You can also draw on the written text of the translation, which you can find at <>.
4) For a new Martyrology/ Eleh Ezhereh,
in the video at <>,
you can share some memories not in words alone but in the media of our generation – film and video  -- of  ten people who were killed during the last 50 years for Kiddush Hashem, because they were  affirming profound Jewish values.  This powerful film was made by Larry Bush, editor of Jewish Currents.  As part of the film,  Rabbi Liz Bolton chants some haunting melodies that evoke the ancient and the modern stories. And we see the faces and hear the words of these courageous men and women of our own epoch:  Schwerner. Goodman. Krause. Moffitt. Milk. Linder. Krichevsky. Rabin. Chain. Pearl.  A minyan of martyrs.
5) Hu Yaanenu /Hi TaanenuMay You Answer Us!

This more inclusive version of one of the traditional High Holy Day prayers can be sung to one of the traditional melodies. Shanah tovah!

Hu Yaanenu /Hi Taanenu
An Inclusive Version

You Who answered Sara in the palace — May You answer us;
You Who answered Avraham at knife-point — May You answer us;
You Who answered Rivka in her outcry — May You answer us;
You Who answered Yaakov at the river — May You answer us.
May You answer us, may You answer us,
May You answer us!
Hu yaanenu v'yom korenu, hi taanenu.

You Who answered Hagar in the desert — May You answer us;
You Who answered Ruth in the gleaning — May You answer us;
You Who answered Avimelech at the well-spring — May You answer us;
You Who answered Noach with the Rainbow — May You answer us.
May You answer us, may You answer us,
May You answer us!
Hi taanenu v'yom korenu, hu yaanenu.

You Who answered Miriam at the seashore — May You answer us;
You Who answered Moshe at Mount Sinai — May You answer us;
You Who answered Eliyahu at Mount Horeb — May You answer us;
You Who answered Chana when she whispered — May You answer us.
May You answer us, may You answer us,
May You answer us!
Hu yaanenu v'yom korenu, hi taanenu.

You Who answered Shifra and Puah — May You answer us;
You Who answered Yehonatan and David — May You answer us;
You Who answered Mordechai and Esther — May You answer us;
You Who answered B'ruriah and Me'ir — May You answer us.
May You answer us, may You answer us,
May You answer us!
Hi taanenu v'yom korenu, hu yaanenu.

You Who answered Nachman of Bratzlav — May You answer us;
You Who answered Henrietta Szold — May You answer us;
You Who answered Rosa Parks in Montgomery — May You answer us;
You Who answered King and Heschel — May You answer us;
May You answer us, may You answer us,
May You answer us!
Hi taanenu v'yom korenu, hu yaanenu.

May we all be written and sealed into the Book of Life, for a year of release from the burdens of domination or subjugation --
Shalom, salaam, peace; Earth, Earth, Earth! 

Beyond the Election

American society faces a spiritual, cultural, and political crisis. The crisis has taken especially visible form during this election campaign, through the emergence of both strong prophetic and transformative energies,  and a proto-fascist movement.

The crisis is liable to enter an especially hot zone during the first two or possibly four years of the US government following the 2016 election. For during those years  the conflicting energies that surfaced during the election campaign are likely to keep colliding – and therefore fruitlessly -- over whether and how to meet the conflicting desires that erupted during the campaign.

What should we be doing? I want to address that question by addressing honestly the intertwined crises we are facing that together make up a Super-storm of crisis –-- and then to suggest what we could do.

What are the deep crises we are facing?

(1) A planet where the very web of life in which the human species has lived for our whole history is in danger, threatened by the global scorching that has brought our climate into crisis.  American society and its profligate burning of fossil fuels is one of the most powerful contributors to the crisis, and our internal political and cultural crisis has so far prevented us from taking emergency action. Mother Earth herself, treated as a mere commodity, becomes a rebellious “left-out” in our politics, erupting in riotous floods and droughts.

(2) Although the civil-rights movement of half a century ago made possible the emergence of a much larger Black middle class –- precarious though it has been in the face of the “Great Recession” – it left still smoldering a large part of the Black community subject to mass disemployment, abject poverty, terrible schools, harassment and humiliation and sometimes unjust violence by police, and mass incarceration. In short, brutal racism creating another “left-out” community.

(3) Immigrants and Muslims face a wave of fear, contempt, and hatred. More “left-outs.”

(4) Women in large parts of the country

Would we tolerate an oil pipeline shattering the Dome, the Western Wall, & the Holy Sepulchre?

Then Why Do We Tolerate a Pipeline Destroying Sacred Lands of the Sioux Nation?

Dear friends,

At this very moment, the largest gathering of Native Americans in over a century, with over 90 tribes represented, is currently underway in Cannonball, North Dakota.

Why? Because Corporate Carbon Pharaohs, with permits from the US  Army’s Corps of Engineers,  are trying to string a huge long oil pipeline across sacred lands of the Sioux Nation, to bring out more oil and unnatural gas from the fracking fields of the Bakken Shale.

The Sioux recall an ancient prophecy that they will be threatened by a gigantic “black snake.” Their health and livelihoods are threatened by the poisoning of the water that leaks from this “black snake.” Their sense of connection with the Holy Spirit of all life is threatened as the pipeline diggers already bulldoze the graves of their forebears, to make the channel for this “black snake.”

I ask you to stop reading now and -- Watch what happened as shown on this video done by the TV program “Democracy Now!” Please click here and then scroll half-way down the page.


It is not only the Sioux who suffer.

We all will suffer as the burning of these fossil fuels scorches our planet, what Pope Francis called our “common home.” Melts the ice floes and raises ocean levels to flood our cities, threatening to make Miami and Tel Aviv and Norfolk and all of Bangladesh uninhabitable. Pushing “local” tropical diseases and their carriers, like the mosquitos that carry Zika virus, into much wider regions as the Earth heats up.  Pouring monsoons of two-feet rainfall on Louisiana.

What does the United States of America owe the Native communities, the First Nations of this continent that many of them called Turtle Island long before there was a USA or even European colonies upon these shores?

If the past were to control the future, the USA would keep right on with genocide.

DOES the past control the future? That is up to us -- now.

What was the past?

For centuries, the USA


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