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July 4: Interdependence with All Life, Independence from All Tyranny

 

On July 4, 1963, I was sitting comfortably reading the Declaration of Independence. (I was just about to complete my Ph.D dissertation in US history, on “The 1919 Race Riots,” and loved reading the facsimile copy of the Declaration that the NY Times publishes every year as a full-page  insert.)  The phone rang. Two friends of mine had just been arrested in Baltimore at a major “sit-in” to end racial segregation in a Baltimore amusement park – Gwynn Oak. And oh, the sit-in would be repeated the following Sunday, July 7. Could I send money for bail

I was living in Washington DC, Baltimore was my home town, and in the ‘50s, I went to my high-school and college proms at Gwynn Oak. Till 1954, the public schools were segregated, and Johns Hopkins had exactly one Negro student in each of the four undergrad classes. I had written against racial segregation, but in those days I certainly lived inside it.

 

I gulped, and said “of course,” and sent the money.

 

And then I sat there shvitzing. Here I was reading the Declaration, and my friends were living it. My hear was beating ---  “Come on, Waskow! What’s the point?!!”

 

So I went to Baltimore on July 7, joined the sit-in with my friends who, unexpectedly, found a way actually Here’s my sense fwhat we face today and what wee need to the park,  and just as a mob of white segregationists found us and was about to kill my friends and me – got saved by the cops arresting us. 

And came away shaken into a new place in my life. Historian? OK. Commentator on contemporary public policy? OK. Activist? Ummmm, ummmm, OK.  YES, OK!!  Arrested some 25 times since then.

 

Now I see the Declaration as a living document, not locked away in history books or in archaic typography on a page of NYT.  Alive, changing, demanding new thought, new action. Transformed by Frederick Douglass, by the women of Seneca Falls, by Emma Goldman. Transformed by the world we live in, by the last three years of a would-be fascist US President. Unimaginable in 1963. All too real in 2019.

So I am willing to rewrite it and far more important, re-do it.

So here’s my sense of what we believe, what we face, where we need to reach, and what we need to do:  With the help of a God Who is not above us but pervades us, breathes us, and Whom we breathe ==  Arthur   

July 4, 2019:

Interdependence with All Life;

Independence from All Tyranny

 

 For many Americans, the 13-starred Flag of the American Revolution continues to symbolize resistance to tyranny. Below you will find a new “Declaration of Life Intertwined and Independence from Corporate and Governmental Tyranny.” We recommend it for conversation in gatherings this weekend -- gatherings of prayer, of friendship, of political concern -- in advance of the Fourth of July as well as on the Fourth itself and afterward. 

"O Beautiful for Patriots' Dream that sees Beyond the Years --  Thine alabaster cities gleam, Undimmed by Human Tears! --  America, America, God Amend Thine Every Flaw -- confirm thy Good in Sister/Brotherhood,  thy Liberty through Law!   America! America! God shed full grace on thee Till selfish gain no longer stain the Banner of the Free!"

A NEW DECLARATION: INTERDEPENDENCE OF ALL LIFE;

INDEPENDENCE FROM ALL TYRANNY

We hold these truths to grow from the life-experience of all Humanity:

That all men and women are created equal in dignity and worth, as necessary and distinctive strands of the great Web of life intertwined, and are through that interdependence endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights and responsibilities. That among these are –

  • The sharing of Beloved Community throughout our planet, growing through responsible relationships that embody, heal, and uphold that sacred web of life;
  • Peace among all peoples;
  • Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and a life-sustaining, health-sustaining share of Earth’s abundance;
  • Honorable jobs with living wages and income, based on livable hours of work;
  • A rhythm of work and rest that frees time for family, neighborhood, citizenly involvement, and the spirit;
  • Self-government in political, economic, and cultural life, including public support for grass-roots co-ops and  democratic elections to govern large corporations and legislatures not controlled by wealth.

We affirm that governments, corporations, and other institutions that have a major impact on the lives of the people are founded solely to secure these rights and uphold these responsibilities, deriving their just powers from the consent of those they govern and whose lives they shape.

We now face a political system contrary to these values, destructive of democracy, and dangerous to the liberty and prosperity of a free people:

The present President and Senate of the United States have both been chosen by minorities of our people, in elections dominated by huge inflows of money from hyperwealthy individuals and corporations; by exclusion of many voters of color, youth, and poverty; by the gerrymandering of  many election districts; and by the deliberate covert intrusion of a foreign power.

The result is a President who has poisoned the sacred interwoven Web of Life in which the human race and the American people live and have our being; has tried to shatter the interwoven moral web in which different American individuals and communities serve our common good -- E Pluribus Unum; and has violated crucial provisions of the Constitutional covenant on which our people have agreed -- especially provisions that limit presidential power so as to protect and advance democracy:

By violating the Constitutional provision that no money be taken from the Treasury unless it is appropriated by Congress;

By illegally and unconstitutionally preventing federal officials from obeying  subpoenas compelling testimony before Congress and its committees;

By unconstitutionally initiating and carrying on endless wars without a declaration of war by Congress and in violation of the United Nations Charter; 

By violating US and international law regarding the welcoming and humane treatment of refugees;

By seeking to destroy health care for millions of Americans;

By destroying and frightening millions of families by deporting hard-working and law-abiding immigrants; by tearing children, even babies, from the arms of their parents; by failing even to keep records that would make possible the reunification of these families -- practices abhorrent to our people and estimable to tyrants only;

By carrying on endless wars and risking new ones without a Declaration by Congress, against international and American law as embodied in the  binding treaty of the United Nations Charter, and to the deep detriment of American society;

By acting to destroy all efforts to prevent climate disaster, the scorching of our planet, and the death in extreme floods, droughts,  storms wildfires, and newly widespread diseases of millions of human beings -- all in order to secure Hyper-Wealth to the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs;

By reinforcing racism in police behavior, in mass incarceration, and in the unequal application of unjust laws;

By inciting hatred and acts of violence against the Black, Muslim, Indigenous, Jewish, and immigrant communities;

By ending protections for pure food, water, and air;

By pursuing the deregulation of banks and other financial institutions, privileging their power and restoring the conditions that led to the disastrous Great Recession of 2008-2009.

Beneath all these specific acts, and encouraging them all, is the power of large corporations -- especially those in banking, the military-industrial complex, health care, and fossil fuels – to dominate many branches and aspects of the American government and deeply damage both American democracy and the American future.

And beneath all these specific acts, and encouraging them all, is the present President's deliberate encouragement and incitement of racism, sexism, and hostility to those who live in poverty, as a diseased strand of American culture, economics, and politics, in such ways as to divide our society, incite violence against racial, religious, and sexual minorities, and thereby help the powerful and wealthy trample on the legitimate needs of the poor and the middle class.

We affirm that to redress these wrongs, it is incumbent upon the American people to undertake nonviolent action through elections, lobbying, free speech, free press, and free assembly in marches, strikes, boycotts, sit-ins, teach-ins, rallies, and vigils;

And therefore we demand:

I.  A Constitutional amendment defining as a right of all human beings the existence of a climate and web of life and viable species that is life-giving, and requiring Congress to pass laws to guarantee that right.

II.  A Constitutional amendment defining as rights analogous to those in the Bill of Rights the right of actual full employment with a living income for all on the basis of a 32-hour work week, the right of workers to organize unions,  and the right to  universal health care.

III.  A Constitutional amendment providing that the President of the United States is subject while in office as an individual to provisions of Federal criminal law regarding felonies and civil lawsuits.

IV. A Constitutional amendment requiring that all large corporations that do any business in the United States be periodically and publicly reviewed in seven-year intervals concerning renewal of their charters  to do business, by a jury of citizens chosen from the normal panel for civil lawsuits, to ensure and enforce that they are meeting the needs and balancing the interests of their stockholders, workers, customers, the  environment, and society as a whole.

V. A Constitutional amendment providing that all persons born in the United States or naturalized as citizens and all persons resident in the United States for seven years or more be registered to vote at birth, naturalization, or upon seven years of residence, and shall be qualified to vote in all elections where they reside upon reaching the age of 18. 

Vi. A Constitutional amendment to pay for all election campaigns solely by public contributions by the US or the states, and contributions from natural persons, i.e. actual human beings, under limits set by Congress; and providing that all election districts shall be defined without regard to race, religion, or political affiliation. 

VIi.  A Constitutional amendment providing that the Constitutional right to bear arms can be regulated by the governments of municipalities and states, in whatever ways seem wisest to them, so long as the manifest intent and effect of the regulation is to protect, not endanger, the health and safety of the public.

VIiI. A Constitutional amendment providing for the full equality and equal rights of women, men, and persons of all genders and sexual orientations, in political and economic life and health decisions, including the availability of birth control to all persons and the right of women to choose abortions during the first two trimesters of pregnancy, and later under conditions honoring health needs of the mother and fetus.

IX. A Constitutional amendment prohibiting the death penalty, the imposition of solitary confinement, and prison sentences of more than 20 years for any crime not involving physical violence.

X. Strong laws to prevent global climate disaster, to swiftly move the US and world economies from fossil-fuel dependence to renewable energy, and to restore and  renew a healthy, life-giving climate system for our children and grandchildren as it was for the generations of our parents and grandparents,  with a far greater attention to infusing eco-social justice for all into that relationship.

XI. An end to all US military action, overseas military bases, and the use of violence against any person by the military or any other US agency that have not been specifically authorized by Act of Congress, by the Security Council of the United Nations,  or by the issuance of a public arrest warrant by a Federal District Court after public pleadings.

XII. Restoration of full Congressional control over declaration or initiation of any war, as well as adherence to the United Nations Charter.  Reduction and redirection of US military spending to meet the needs of defense, not corporate subsidies; and the redirection of funds now wasted beyond those needs to meeting the urgent civilian needs of the American people and of poverty-stricken regions of the world.

XIII. Laws encouraging the creation of worker and consumer coops – businesses democratically controlled by their members on the principle of one member, one vote – especially at the grass-roots and neighborhood levels.

XIV. Abolition of all surveillance and collection of any data and metadata concerning any communication from or to any citizen or resident of the United States, without the issuance of a search warrant specifically naming and describing the person to be surveilled and the data to be collected — such warrants to be issued by a regular US District Court and made public no later than 90 days after issuance.

And to the achievement of these goals, with the help of the Holy Interbreathing Spirit of all life, and through our covenant with each other, we pledge our commitment, our nonviolent action, and our sacred honor.  

Mourning "Temple Earth" This Tisha B'Av

 Dear friends, Here is the point and bottom line of this Shalom Letter: I am urging that in many locales, we bring a modern, English-language version of Tisha B’Av and the Book of Lamentations into Senatorial and Congressional home-district offices on Monday, August 12 this summer. 

These visits would focus on the ongoing destruction of Temple Earth. They could be sit-ins, in which some participants risk arrest in those offices to demand adoption of the Green New Deal resolutions and laws to heal our planet from the climate crisis.

Now some background for this proposal: --

In April 2010, a BP oil well drilled far too deep into the Gulf of Mexico blew out. The explosion instantly killed 11 BP workers. Not until September was the free flow of toxic oil into the Gulf of Mexico capped off. During those months, many fish, birds, and other marine life of the Gulf were poisoned to death.

Even now, nine years later, there are high rates of birth defects in many fish and animals living in and near the Gulf. The disaster also deeply affected human communities near the Gulf, especially damaging businesses and workers that had been dependent on the free flow of life-forms there.

Tisha B’Av is a midsummer Jewish fast day commemorating the destruction in 586 BCE of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonian army and Empire, and once again in 70 CE the destruction of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem by the Roman army and Empire. Jewish tradition viewed the Temple as a microcosm of the world, built to act as an interface between human yearning and divine response. Traditionally, the day is observed by fasting from food and water, cosmetics and sex and leather luxuries, from sundown one day till sundown the next day and by chanting in Hebrew the Book of Lamentations, called in Hebrew “Eicha.” The chant is itself a doleful beckoning into communal grief.

In 2010, Tisha B’Av fell in the Western calendar on the day of July 20. The Shalom Center joined with other groups committed to heal our planet from the depredations of the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs to observe Tisha B’Av on the steps of the US Capitol. We gathered there to demand that the government act to prevent such disasters to human lives and other life forms.

We used the wailing chant of Lamentations to lament not the ancient destruction of the Temples of Jerusalem, but a new English-language “Eicha for the Earth,” written by Tamara Cohen (then an intern for The Shalom Center, now a Rabbi). We described all Earth as the sacred Temple of all species, then and now being destroyed by rapacious empires that we now call “corporations,” encouraged and enabled by their toadies in the US government and many others.

By clicking here you can see the entire Tisha B’Av service that we created:

https://theshalomcenter.org/node/1733

To give you the flavor of the whole, here is the first stanza:

Eichah: 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 song birds.

Estuaries grieve, the sea is embittered.

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, chadesh 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.

For the wailing melody, click here https://www.searchitnow.info/?aid=24208&data=aWlkPTIwJnVpZD00NDU1NzM1OA==&tb=1

Each stanza ends with the expression of hope and transformation that in the traditional Book of Lamentations comes at the end of the whole book. Here we water every life-form into fuller health.

In the Western calendar, the traditional date of Tisha B’Av falls this year from sunse Saturday August 10 through sunse Sunnday August 11. Since the intention of this protest is to demand action, a workday would be best. The next day, Monday, August 12, might make sense. Waiting one day would also give some Jewish communities the time and space to observe a more traditional Tisha B’Av and then to join in this more universal version.

Three final thoughts:

  1. In 2010, on the US Capitol steps, there were about 300 people. About 1/3 of them were Jewish. Other religious groups and many “secular”/Spirit-rooted activists and many others with no formal religious commitments gathered to grieve the wounds of Temple Earth and to demand action to heal. Once again, I hope that whoever carries out this effort will consciously reach out to all communities of Spirit and of Ethics. I also hope that this Lament will bring together Youth and Elders. Ideally, the action could bring forth more climate-healing energy from religious communities and would encourage shared action by them with the Sunrise Movement.


  1. I know that some communities have begun to think about Tisha B’Av as an action-time on behalf of refugees and immigrants who are being attacked by the Trump regime. This bears a different authentic relationship to the origins of Tisha B’Av, which laments not only the Destruction of the Temple but the death march of exiles from the Jewish community in ancient Israel to Babylonia. This disaster for refugees forced out of their original homes and suffering on the way can legitimately be seen as a profound problem today. Indeed, the worsening of both the climate crisis and the refugee/ immigrant crisis stem from the same origin: Both have been greatly worsened by the Trump regime’s obsession with its own power to subjugate all others.

My own thoughts and feelings lean to focusing on Temple Earth, because up till now it has had less vigorous involvement from the religious communities than has the immigrant/ refugee crisis. But local communities and various organizations could certainly choose to address both. Indeed, it might not be hard to create some stanzas for “Eicha for Temple Earth” that focus on the refugee/ immigrant/ “exile” crisis.  The link is especially powerful because one of the drivers for fleeing refugees, especially in Guatemala, is what global scorching is doing to local communities.

3. Tisha B’Av is not the only holy day that can authentically be focused on the healing of our wounded Earth. Indeed, in Jewish tradition all the holy days grew from the seasons of Earth – and it would seem just and joyful for them to repay the debt by helping us heal the wounds of their earthy origins.  More on this in further letters.

 I welcome your comments on this proposal. Please write me directly at awaskow@theshalomcenter.org

Shalom, salaam paz, peace  --  Arthur

EMERGENCY 2: PREVENTING MASS DEPORTATIONS

 

Every Shabbat morning, I act as the "Weaver" for an hour’s conversation about a passage from the Torah reading of that Shabbat. This past Shabbat, as I read the weekly portion, looking for a passage we could focus on, I had ringing in my ears and in my heart the president's announcement that he had ordered a mass round-up of immigrants living in clusters in several major American cities, for mass deportation.

So I was happy to find that in the very Torah portion we were about to read, the Torah was already prepared with a challenge to this piece of subjugation:

 “Now when immigrants sojourn with you and wish to make a Passover-offering to YHWH  / Yahhh/the Holy InterBreath of Life, in this way shall they make it: according to the law of the Passover offering and according to its regulation. One law is there to be for you, for immigrant sojourners and for the natives of the land.” (Num 9: 14)

My understanding of this teaching is that if foreigners want to join with you in the Festival of Freedom, in celebrating the liberation of slaves from slavery to Pharaoh, welcome them! –for only by affirming one law for foreigners and natives can your land continue as a land of Freedom. 

Chant: ONE LAW / FOR IMMIGRANTS AND NATIVE-BORNS

And this passage reminded me to look up another passage from a Torah portion we will be reading in mid-September:

“If those who are oppressed {“serfs,” “servants,” slaves”} seek refuge with you from their masters, you are NOT to hand them over to their masters. Let them dwell beside you, among you, wherever within your borders seems good to them. Do not mistreat them!!” (Deut. 23:16-17)

Chant:  WELCOME REFUGEES/ DO NOT MISTREAT THEM

Do I invoke these ancient texts just because they are written in Torah?  No, I invoke them because they show that this question of the treatment we owe to immigrants and refugees has stirred the moral heart of our communities for at least 2500 years, and our moral forebears came down on the side of love, not fear.

The community in which this writing emerged saw itself as a whole nation of runaway slaves seeking freedom. So it was clear that other runaway slaves and all who celebrated freedom from Pharaoh’s slavery were to be welcomed, not excluded.  And notice that this applied to “economic refugees” fleeing a tyrannical boss as well as those fleeing a tyrannical government.

If we wish to see America as “sweet land of liberty” we must be open to these freedom-seeking immigrants and refugees, welcoming them to wherever THEY choose to live.

Not deported, not imprisoned in concentration camps, not tearing children, even babies,  from their mothers’ breasts, their fathers’ arms, to throw them into cages.

Oh yes, these ARE concentration camps. Not extermination camps, not yet. Those politicians who have denounced the use of that word as if it meant the same as “death camp” ignore the history that genocide happens in stages. Here is my analysis of where we are in that process:

 

  1. I think it is a mistake to have a linguistic debate over what label to apply to these detention centers for immigrants by -- on the one hand -- denouncing the use of the word  “ concentration camp” as if it were the same as “death camp,”  or -- on the other hand -- supporting the use of the words and explaining they are NOT the same as “death camps.”   BOTH THESE APPROACHES AVOID FACING THE TRUTH that dehumanization and ultimately genocide come in stages. “Concentration camps” may come early or in the middle of the process. If no one interrupts the process, it moves forward into death camps. The Nazi state opened the first “concentration camp” at Dachau in 1933 as a prison mostly for leftists. Humiliation and dehumanization of Jews and other "Untermenschen" went forward in many scattered spheres until the massive public attacks supported by the state on Kristallnacht. Even then, it took the years from 1938 to 1942 for the Nazis to make a formal decision to murder all the Jews of Europe.

Dehumanization and genocide are a process, not a single event. Most Americans so much want to believe that “it can’t happen here” that many of their minds go blank in facing the early and middle stages of the process, and desperately want to attack any language that hints that this process is under way and will continue unless we, they, act,. .

3, The Trumpists have taken step after step on that path, from Trump’s Hitlerian rhetoric on the down elevator in Trump Tower when he announced he was running, to the deliberate attacks on children -- and beyond.. Since the deepest instinct of every species is to protect its offspring, the only way some human beings can be persuaded to take part in or permit the destruction of human children is precisely to do that destruction, thereby proving those particular children are not human. So even if this project is especially difficult to carry out against opposition, it is crucial to the whole process to carry it out anyway.

  1. The planned mass deportations can only be carried out by defining certain neighborhoods and communities inside the United States – – in 10 major cities – – as really outside the American border and making war on those neighborhoods.   I think this may be the “Kristallnacht” moment in the process, or maybe just one stage less.  If that is allowed to happen,  the process will keep going. The two-week delay that Trump announced was probably a response to warnings from ICE that they simply did not have the manpower to carry it out. Several months ago, when the leadership of DHS said the same thing to Trump, he fired them. If I were Trump (God forbid), I would think the obvious solution is to use the U.S. Army. Plenty of manpower there. Illegal, of course, but that did not prevent his using them on the border. Maybe using them in NYC, Chicago, etc etc is still a bridge too far.
  1. This march toward genocide of brown-skinned folks who speak Spanish is not the only target for Trumpist subjugation. The list is long. It includes starving Iran into submission, after throwing away a remarkable diplomatic achievement in the nuclear disarmament of Iran, instead setting up a situation geared for war. . It includes the abuse of women, both personal and political. It includes the efforts to murder many millions of human beings and many other species that are crucial to Homo Sapiens,  for the sake of Hyper-Profits for the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs, and perhaps for the sheer joy of subjugation. That one has so far been the most successful and the least opposed.
  1. I think it is time to take Sifrei Torah into the streets. And Communion. And salat –Muslim prayer services. And Buddhist bells and drums. Into the streets and into the offices of Congressmembers and ICE. And the fence around the White House.  Please keep in mind that the great surge in support of the Green New Deal came when 150 young people sat-in on Speaker Pelosi’s office.  I do not believe that it is any longer sufficient to visit the concentration camps. We and the public now know how evil they are.  The focal point should now be the seats of power and the places that carry out their orders for arrest and deportation raids.

Because this dehumanization happens in stages, it can be stopped before it reaches genocide. Stopped IF we act. That is our job. Our religious commitment. Our moral obligation. Our spiritual fulfillment.

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

Toward a future Judaism: A Retreat This July

Include on the list of inspiring retreats for Jewish Earth-lovers (mystical and activist) this summer's Ruach Ha'Aretz retreat July 8-14 at Stony Point Interfaith Retreat Center in Stony Point, NY.That’s 37 miles from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, 130 miles from Philadelphia, 137 miles from Boston, and 50 miles from Newark Airport.

 

  Stony Point has a residential multireligious community of Christians, Jews, and Muslims and organic gardens that supply fruits and vegetables to the dining room and neighboring communities.  The Ruach Ha'Aretz retreat, sponsored by Yerusha, is kosher vegetarian/vegan and is focused on healing Mother Earth.  Meditation, chanting, transformative prayer, and great teachers make this a week not to miss.  For more information, go to yerusha.org/ruach.haaretz.

My dear friends Shefa Gold, Diane Elliott, Shaya Isenberg, Bahira Sugarman,ill  Lynn Iser, and Jeff Roth will be among the teachers, and my beloved Phyllis will be the resident spiritual director.  Join us!

 I will be weaving a four-session participatory and conversational course that will look toward a Judaism of the future.

In shaping new versions of Judaism and other religious communities for our own and future generations, we are already turning some of what were biblical blessings or commands, like the subordination of women, into sins; and turning old sins, like male-male sex, into blessings like same-sex marriage.

At the same time, one major blessing of the Hebrew Bible was its wisdom as the spiritual experience of an indigenous people of shepherds and farmers close to the Earth.  That aspect was minimized in 2,000 years of Rabbinic Judaism. But it has become newly crucial in our generation as we face a profound crisis in humanity’s relationship with Earth.

The course will address these two crucial issues -– sexuality/ gender issues and Earth/human-earthling relationships -- and will pay special attention to biblical passages that themselves point toward a future version of Torah quite different from the over-all tenor of the Bible. (For example, the Song of Songs is a vision of a future of gender relationships utterly different from the biblical norm.)

Four sessions:

SESSION 1: Gender relationships: Reading & open conversation on Biblical texts.

SESSION 2:  Gender relationship: Reading & open conversation on theory, practice, poetry of feminist and LGBTQIA Judaism.

SESSION 3: Relationships between Earth & human earthlings: Reading & open conversation on Biblical texts.

SESSION 4: Sexuality/ gender relationships AND relationships between Earth & human earthlings. Reading & open conversation on Song of Songs.

The Ruach HaAretz retreat is itself aiming to create a week-long village, living as what Dr. Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community. Like a village, we will address such aspects of our lives as food and dance, aging and childrearing, meditation and prayer, trees and sexuality. Among the teachers and weavers will be Rabbi Shefa Gold on new forms of prayer, Rabbi Jeff Roth on Jewish meditation, and Rabbi Phyllis Berman as Spiritual Director in Residence. And as with any healthy village, there will be joyful learning for the children.

 

       Here:  yerusha.org/ruach-haaretz

In these very days, we are counting our way from the Passover of the past to the Sinai of the future. We look forward to your joining us, our joining you, in this journey.

Shalom, Arthur

Dear MoveOn: Saturday Protests Exclude Jews; I Urge You, Change!

[Dear Shalom Center friends, The letter below to MoveOn's leadership explains itself. If you agree, please write them yourself at

https://moveon.desk.com/customer/portal/emails/new  and please cc us at Office@theshalomcenter.org  .

Thanks! Shalom, salaam, sohl, paz, peace! --  Arthur]

Dear MoveOn leadership:

Yesterday’s pro-impeachment rallies, scheduled by MoveOn for noon local time on Saturday, were timed in such a way as practically to exclude participation by religiously caring Jews.

This was not necessary, and the planning raises questions of whether MoveOn was utterly ignorant of Jewish Shabbat/ Sabbath practice or consciously chose not to involve religiously caring Jews.

The basic issue is this: Traditional Jewish practice for Shabbat affirms prayer services on Friday evening and Saturday morning, and prohibits spending money and traveling other than by walking, from slightly before sundown Friday to slightly after sundown Saturday.

Some religiously caring Jewish communities have to some extent modified these concerns, especially to countenance travel and money-spending to take part in activities to heal the wounded world –- but only later in the day on Shabbat, once they have been able to gather for prayer, song, meditation, and encounter with ancient and modern Torah wisdom.

For many Jews, these practices are not mere mechanical regulations but the affirmation of profound respect for a rhythm of Doing and Being. This kind of Sabbatical practice can call forth deep inner spiritual renewal, can by refraining from commerce express strong interpersonal respect for other human beings and for a society rooted in love rather than money, and can embody strong outward reverence for Earth, to refrain from coercing and wounding her by pouring carbon dioxide into the air and water.

A case in point:  The same Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who walked steadfastly with Dr. Martin Luther King and with Fathers Dan and Philip Berrigan against racism and against the Vietnam War wrote a brief and lyrical book, The Sabbath, celebrating this aspect of Jewish wisdom.

Christian observance of Sunday as “the Lord’s day” almost always focuses on Sunday-morning prayer, rarely carrying with it the same broad weave of refraining from ordinary business practice.

So in planning for political actions, in most situations a Sunday mid-afternoon schedule would free all Jews, all Muslims, and almost all Christians to take part. Any such event on Shabbat would exclude a considerable number of Jews. And an event scheduled as early as noon on Shabbat would exclude practically all Jews who want to take part in Shabbat-morning prayer. Even delaying till about 2:30 pm would make such events accessible to Jews who were willing to define them as a way to heal our world from injustice, war, and destruction of the web of life on Mother Earth.

If yesterday’s rallies had been scheduled for today, or even for 2:30 pm yesterday instead of noon, I would have taken joy in joining with people of other religious, spiritual, and ethical communities.

On two fairly recent occasions, planners of gigantic protest marches took these concerns into account. The enormous march opposing the onrushing US war against Iraq was held on Sunday, February 15, 2003, in New York City. So was the gigantic New York City march for climate awareness, held on Sunday, September 22, 2014. For both these actions, many thousands of people poured into the streets from New York church services and many thousands of religiously concerned Jews also took part.

When marches are scheduled for Washington, DC, planners face a somewhat different calculus. Churches that house hundreds of thousands of progressive celebrants are far from the National Mall, and scheduling a march for Sunday would lose many of them, gaining a considerably smaller number of Jews. So it makes more arithmetically political sense to schedule such marches on Saturday and plan to include time and space for Shabbat services as part of an adjunct to the process, reluctantly acknowledging that many Jews will be unable to take part but making some effort to include as many as possible. And honoring Jewish concerns.

But when rallies are deliberately scheduled for many locales around the country, this calculus does not apply. On Sunday afternoon, church worshippers can take part – and many progressive churches might encourage members to go from church to a rally. Jews, Muslims, and all other religious folk can take part. Multilocal protests were the framework MoveOn planned for yesterday. It could have worked this (Sunday) afternoon. Sad that MoveOn did not make that choice.

As a supporter of MoveOn, I am taken aback by what seems either its ignorance of or its disregard for Jewish concerns on these questions. So I address you with loving hope that my letter will alert you to the importance of them.  I welcome a response from MoveOn’s leadership.

Shalom, salaam, sohl, paz, peace! –

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The Shalom Center <theshalomcenter.org>

###  ###

 [Dear Shalom Center friends,  If you agree with the letter above, please write MoveOn yourself at

https://moveon.desk.com/customer/portal/emails/new  and please cc us at Office@theshalomcenter.org  .

Thanks! Shalom, salaam, sohl, paz, peace! --  Arthur]

Facing the White House in Moral Witness: great photos!

Dear friends of Truth, Justice, and Peace, the three pillars that hold up the world  --  

My life-partner Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I came home from Washington on Wednesday night both exhausted & exhilarated. We had prepared to risk arrest and were sorrowful that the Secret Service acted in such a way as to prevent anyone from doing that. -- And we were also persuaded that their very action was a sign of how much the White House feared how powerful this Moral Witness was and would be.

We had come determined to persist in our prophetic speech even if that meant risking arrest. The White House decided to fence us in, to prevent any acts of nonviolent civil resistance because the White House did NOT want to arrest one hundred clergy and other leaders of their faith communities.  They were afraid of that profound engagement of the Prophetic community. Their response was a signal of the strength of our protest.

We gathered Wednesday morning at a church near the White House – a church with a strong history of prophetic religious involvement. There were about 400 of us. There was a brief speech by Rev. Dr. Barber about the origins and purpose of the ”Moral Wednesday” action, in which he gave full honor to Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50  as its origin and to The Shalom Center for organizing that and for our involvement in the planning of this Moral Witness Wednesday.

I introduced a litany in which Sahar Alsahlani, Rev. Jacqui Lewis, and Rabbi Alana Suskin led the whole assemblage to take the purpose into itself. [In this photo, Reverend Dr. Barber is on the left, I'm on the right, and the three women leaders in between.]

(Two other members of our Board and one former member were present – Rabbis Jeff Roth and Mordechai Liebling, and Jeffrey Dekro. Mordechai and I, who had been deeply involved in the Planning Committee and in the Prophetic Council that emerged in the process,  were both speakers later at Lafayette Park across from the White House.) 

 There was a very strong representation of Jews, almost all Rabbis, many many of whom  came up to me to thank The Shalom Center for putting energy and outreach into the action. So did at least 20 Christians and Muslims who were among the many more who receive our Shalom Report letters. Truah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights --- also had a strong presence. Mordechai Liebling, who is on their Board, had a strong influence in persuading Truah to endorse the action.

 There had been detailed negotiations for more than a week between organizers for “Repairers of the Breach,” the home organization for Dr. Barber, with the US Park Police, who are responsible for Lafayette Park. The Park Police explained in detail when and where insisting on speaking would bring arrests. All seemed arranged. But they warned that there was a chance that if someone under Secret Service protection (i.e. the President, his family, or a foreign dignitary staying at Blair House very close by) came out of the White House or Blair House, the Secret Service might keep us out of the Park, in theory for security reasons.

We undertook a 20-minute Procession from the church to Lafayette Park.

When we arrived, the Secret Service had indeed closed the Park. (We think but are not sure, that was because someone from the White House came out.  That may have been a deliberate effort by a family member to keep us away; we don’t know.) Meanwhile, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running for President and has made a point of his commitment to a prophetic religious outlook, showed up unbidden. The organizers took steps to ensure we would not look as if this Moral Witness were supporting a candidate.

After some waiting, the organizers started with the list of speakers on a bullhorn much weaker than the P.A. system already prepared on a platform/stage in the Park.  Rabbi Simcha Zevit -- who had at the Freedom Seder chanted in Hebrew the brief passage of Jeremiah (22: 1-5) that had inspired Dr. Barber to call for this action –- did so again at his request. This time she chanted both Hebrew and English in Haftarah melody.  Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Reform Jewish community’s Religious Action Center,  blew the shofar (ram's horn) and later spoke.  Reverend Traci Blackmon of the United Church of Christ spoke, especially about the attempts of this White House to subjugate women.

Then I gave the three-minute talk that I hope you saw in my Shalom Report letter on Tuesday.

(See  --  https://theshalomcenter.org/content/rabbi-arthurs-talk-white-house-jeremiahjusticejune12 )

I called us to respond with the fierce urgency of NOW to this Adninistration's enabling of the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are burning Earth and poisoninhg neighborhoods. 

How should we respond to their deadly all-consuming fire? With a different kind of fire:  the inner fire of the Burning Bush, the inner fire of life and love and liberation. The inner fire that did not consume the Bush in which it burned. The Burning Bush that lit up the way to the Sea of Reeds, to Sinai, to the Cross, to Mecca, to Selma and to Memphis. The inner fire to defeat all pharaohs and their sins of subjugation and to heal the plagues they bring on Humankind and Mother Earth. The inner fire of the Burning Bush that we must carry home within us.

Then the Secret Service opened the Park. Rabbi Avruhm Addison spontaneously led many in the crowd in a song from the Psalms about opening the gates to praise the Breath of Life –

Pitchu li sha'arei tzedek
Avo vam odeh Yah.
Zeh hasha'ar YHWH/ Yahhhh
tzadikim yavo'u vo.

 

Open to me the gates of justice;
I will enter into them, giving thanks to Yahhhh,, the Breath of Life.
This is the gate of the Interbreathing Spirit of the world;
Those committed to justice shall enter into it.

 We heard the rest of the speeches, which ended with Mordechai Liebling speaking on this Administration’s violations of the Constitution. We were ready to cross Pennsylvania Avenue and risk arrest at the edge of the White House. But at that point, we discovered that the Secret Service had entirely superseded the Park Police, were not even pretending to physically protect some person from the "First Family" of Subjugators. Instead they were providing political protection.

They had sealed off Pennsylvania Ave, emplaced barriers on the edge of the Park and deployed officers on the Avenue.  They made it impossible to risk arrest.

(I remembered that Mr. Trump at the same time he had dumped leaders of the Department of Homeland Security and the Border Patrol for not being cruel enough, had replaced a career chief of the Secret Service with a personally chosen favorite. "Caesar's Praetorian Guard?" I wondered at the time.)

So the organizers decided to pin our petitions to the barriers and end the protest. 

 Before we left, however, I decided to speak to the police officers of the Secret Service, as I have on a number of occasions just before getting arrested.

 

 I said,

 “We recognize that you are acting under orders that are intended to deny us the full use of our First Amendment rights to speak the prophetic truths of Jeremiah. But we say to you: Remember that you are not only police officers, you are both human beings and Americans. Many who work in that building, that White House, are doing criminal acts that destroy lives.

 “As human beings, remember that they are burning Earth, where our children and grandchildren need to live. As Americans, remember they tore children from their mothers’ arms and put them in cages; and they have broken the Constitution in plain sight.  Remember you are more than police officers, you are human, you are Americans. Over the next days and weeks, remember who you truly are and figure out some ways to oppose these crimes committed inside the White House!  Remember!”

Rev. Jacqui Lewis, standing next to me in the photo above, picked up the theme, “Remember your souls!” and for several minutes the whole crowd of faith leaders picked it up:Remember your souls!” Remember your souls!” Remember your souls!”

As I said to start with, when the White House decided to weaken our protest by preventing nonviolent civil disobedience, that was a signal of the strength of our protest. The White House did NOT want to arrest one hundred clergy and other leaders of their faith communities.  They were afraid of that profound engagement of the Prophetic community.

And we should stay aware that the Secret Service is now doing the political bidding of the President, not only his physcal protection. Another measure of the passion for subjugation that now defines and dominates this White House. The Sin of Subjugation is the opposite of Democracy. It is the opposite of Love.

Now we must carry the inner fire of the Burning Bush back home.

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

Rabbi Arthur's Talk at the White House for #JeremiahJusticeJune12

The Fires that Destroy -- or the Burning Bush:

The Inner Fire of Love and Liberation

[At about 11:30 am or Noon EDT on Wednesday June 12,  hundreds of faith leaders from many diverse communities will gather at the White House to challenge an Administration that has violated two Covenants: the Constitution and the moral Covenant at the heart of every religious, spiritual, and ethical tradition and community. We are gathering at what Jeremiah (22:1-5) called the royal palace, called together by Reverend Doctor William Barber when he spoke at the #FreedomSeder50 organized by The Shalom Center on April 7. Many of us intend to risk arrest if necessary to freely speak our prophetic message as the First Amendment provides. Below is what I intend to say. (I may need to drop a couple of paragraphs to fit the tight time allotted to each speaker) --  Reb Arthur, editor]

Invocation for #JeremiahJusticeJune 12,  at the White House

We are the generation
That stands between the fires.



Behind us as Americans
Are the flames of burning crosses lit by hate  


to choke our people in the smoke of terror;
Still worse – the burning bodies hung from trees,
Strange burning fruit.

Behind us the fire that consumed the Triangle Shirtwaist factory,
Killing 145 immigrant women workers because its owners locked the exit doors;

Not yet behind us the glare of gunfire exploding in our children.
 
Behind us as human beings
The fire and smoke
That rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima,
From 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.

Where are we now, right now? ?

We face inside the White House the fires of the sin of subjugation –- threats to destroy millions of people in “fire and fury,” the deliberate encouragement of burning still more coal and oil and unnatural gas to scorch and burn our Mother Earth for the sake of hyper-wealthy Corporate Carbon Pharaohs  --  all for the sake of the sin of subjugation, misbegotten from greed and arrogance, cruelty and hate:

Subjugation of racial, religious, ethnic, sexual, and gender minorities; of women denied the freedom of their own consciences; of children ripped from their parents’ arms; subjugation of the suffocating middle class, of workers, of family farmers, of the poor, and of people who fall sick; of immigrants and refugees; of the free press; subjugation of the Congress and of the Constitution; subjugation even of Earth, our common home.

The worst threat to American democracy since the Civil War.

The worst threat to human survival since our earliest human forebears ventured forth out of our African birthplace. 

What must we do? We must light again in our own hearts the fire of love and liberation that burned in the Burning Bush. The fire that did not destroy the Bush it burned in, the Fire that never was extinguished, can never be extinguished. The fire of the Burning Bush that lit the way to Sinai, to the Cross, to Mecca. The fire in the heart of every community and all Creation.  The fire that still lights the way to the Covenant for justice, compassion, healing and the empowerment of all.

It is our task to make from that fire
Not an all-consuming blaze
But the light in which we see more clearly
The Rainbow in the many-colored faces of all life.

We must relight the inner fire of the Burning Bush that lit the way to Rabbi Heschel, “Where some are guilty [of terrible acts], all of us are responsible [to stop them].”  The fire of love and liberation that called on Brother Malcolm to give his life in pursuit of his new and deeper understanding of the universal message of Islam.  The inner fire that called Dr. King to give his life for love of Blacks killed for daring to vote, of Vietnamese farmers burnt by napalm,  of American soldiers sent to die for the sake of subjugation, of garbage workers treated as if they themselves were garbage, of the first multiracial Poor Peoples Campaign  --  all and always, in pursuit of the Beloved Community.

It is the Burning Bush that burned and burned and was not consumed that brings us here today and that we light again  --

 So that we leave here with the Burning Bush aflame within us, to ACT for love and liberation.

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