"Faith in Action": 2d front-page PHL Inqy article Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50

  • 8 Apr 2019, front page, above the fold.
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer
  • By Jeremy Roebuck STAFF WRITER

Faith in Action

Revived call for change from an interfaith Freedom Seder.

It was the social tumult of the ’60s — its battles for civil rights, impassioned protests against the Vietnam War, and political upheavals — that compelled Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow to organize his first groundbreaking reimagining of the traditional feast marking the beginning of Passover, an event he dubbed “The Freedom Seder.”

TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer For the 50th anniversary of his Freedom Seder, Rabbi Arthur Waskow brought the renowned rite to a mosque. The rabbi, right, and host Imam Abdul-Halim Hassan, of the Masjidullah mosque, are seen before the seder.

A half-century later, Waskow said, the political moment calls for another revision.

“We’re in at least as deep a crisis now — probably deeper — than we were 50 years ago,” he said. “There needed to be another incarnation of the Freedom Seder.”

And so, on Sunday, Waskow — founder of Mount Airy’s Shalom Center and one of the leading voices of liberal Judaism — celebrated the 50th anniversary of that first Freedom Seder with a new iteration, updated to address the economic, political, and religious divisions plaguing our nation today.

Joined by an interfaith, interracial program of speakers, Waskow led [Not accurate: Emcee of the Seder was in fact Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman. Rabbi Waskow was one of the lead speakers.]a crowd of more than 400 through his most recent adaptation of the Haggadah, the text recited during the observance. This time, even the venue — Masjidullah, a West Oak Lane mosque — was purposefully chosen as a call for people of all faiths to stand together against injustice and prejudice of any form.

Passover, the eight-day holiday that this year will begin at sundown on April 19, celebrates the story of the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery in Egypt.

And though the long, dark beard Waskow wore during the first Freedom Seder in 1969 may have long ago faded into a snowy white, the 85-year-old rabbi’s observance Sunday was no less barbed or “of the moment” in its message.

Speakers ranging from a Presbyterian minister to the founder of the first Arabic language public school in New York City decried the resurgence of white supremacist movements around the world and President Donald Trump’s family separation policy at the border.

They mourned for the victims of recent mass shootings at a Christian church in Charleston, S.C., at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. They called for economic support to impoverished communities and recited traditional blessings in English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Spanish.

“What is the pathway to freedom when far too many leaders — political and religious — cower and capitulate in the face of power for partisan and extremist advantage rooted in racism, classism, Islamophobia, homophobia, fear, and downright demonic meanness?” asked the Rev. William J. Barber II, an internationally known civil rights activist, as he delivered the rite’s concluding prophetic charge.

Abdul-Halim Hassan, imam at Masjidullah, said he didn’t hesitate when approached to host Waskow’s anniversary seder. He has long considered the rabbi an inspiration though they come from different faiths.

“There’s this term we use at the masjid — ‘ the shoulders who upon we stand,’ ” he said. “I’ve been standing on [ Waskow’s] shoulders for years.”

Still, holding a celebration of a Jewish holiday in a house of Muslim worship posed certain logistical issues.

For instance: How to handle a staple of any seder table — the kosher wine — in the home of a faith that prohibits alcohol? The answer — said Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman, Waskow’s wife and co-organizer of the celebration — was a specially designed grape juice that was both kosher and halal. [Not quite accurate report of what Rabbi Berman said: Charoset, which normally is a delicious paste of nuts, apples, spices, and wine, was for this occasion made with grape juice instead: thus charoset that was halal as well as kosher.And the Fpur Cups of the Seder were also grape juice, not wine.]

Meanwhile, the ritual naming of seven plagues visited upon Egypt — here replaced by scourges afflicting modern society including racism, militarism, materialism, and sexism — was interrupted briefly to accommodate the Muslim call to sunset prayers.

But interfaith roots have been a part of the Freedom Seder since its first iteration, held at an African American church in Washington on the first anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

King’s murder provoked riots in cities across the country, including the nation’s capital, where President Lyndon Johnson called out the National Guard and imposed a curfew that put hundreds of people in jail.

Waskow, who was then working as a secular community activist, said the sight of military convoys rolling through his largely black neighborhood on the first night of Passover triggered something inside of him.

“My insides began saying, ‘This is Pharaoh’s army,’ ” he said. “I was going home to celebrate liberation and there’s Pharaoh’s armies on the streets. The seder became this volcano of energy I had to write. It was just an absolute necessity.”

The Haggadah he delivered the following year — published in 1969 in Ramparts magazine — became a phenomenon in liberal Judaism, launching a host of imitations penned around themes such as feminism, peace, and the environment.

But not everyone loved Waskow’s reimagination of the Passover observance. Some viewed it as an unwelcome distortion of tradition or an injection of divisive political debates into the celebration of a religious holiday.

Still, the need to challenge injustice is no less great today, said Waskow and his assorted speakers Sunday.

“It’s a different cast of characters but all of those ‘-isms’ still exist — all of those things that plague our society continue,” said Debbie Almontaser, board president of the Muslim Community Network. “It’s really a moral imperative for us all to band together.”

Hoping to enlist their audience in their fight, the seder’s organizers passed out postcards to each attendee, urging them to write down specific steps they intend to take to combat the modern world’s plagues.

The postcards will be mailed back to their authors in about a week — a reminder that commitment to their cause should extend beyond the holy days of their various faiths.

“Hopefully, people won’t just leave here thinking, ‘Well, that was great,’ ” Waskow said. “They’ll be reminded to make a real commitment.”

Empower Passover: More Joy, More Justice

In the Philadelphia Inquirer (April 5, front page) appeared the article below.


Freedom Seder’s 50th anniversary to be celebrated in a Philly mosque to point up the rise of Islamophobia


by Kristin E. Holmes, Updated: Philadelphia Inquirer, April 5, 201,  page 1


DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer


For the 50th anniversary of his Freedom Seder — the groundbreaking observance that each year has inspired a fresh reimagining of the Passover ritual — Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow is continuing to recast ancient Jewish tradition to resonate in a new day.


This year, though, the Mount Airy activist and author is taking the renowned interfaith rite into a once-inconceivable place: a mosque.


Related stories




The scourges of racism and militarism inspired Waskow in 1969 to create the Freedom Seder, for which he adapted the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt to echo the civil rights movement. For the next five decades, a steady march of crises informed the Passover observances.


When Waskow sat down to write the 2019 iteration of the Haggadah, the text recited during the seder, one theme in particular propelled him. That, he said, was “the rise of Islamophobia.

On Sunday, the 85-year-old rabbi will join an interfaith assembly at Masjidullah on Limekiln Pike in West Oak Lane. The celebration — in advance of the eight-day Passover holiday that begins at sundown on April 19 — will feature the Rev. William J. Barber II, an internationally known activist and MacArthur fellow who has revived the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Jr.'s Poor People’s Campaign. Also on the roster are Rev Liz Theoharis, co-chair pf the Poor Peoples Campaign, Debbie Almontaser, founding principal of the first public school in America to focus on Arabic language and culture, and Ana Maria Archila, head of the Center for Popular Democracy, who confronted former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake in an elevator at the U.S. Capitol during confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

A 5 p.m. dinner will be prepared according to Jewish and Muslim dietary guidelines. The seder will follow at

Passover’s traditional blessings will be said in English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Spanish over four cups of grape juice rather than wine, as alcohol is prohibited in Islam. The portion of the original story describing the 10 plagues God inflicted on Egypt to free the enslaved Israelites will be replaced by modern-day “plagues” — not only Islamophobia but also inequitable government funding for public schools, LGBTQ discrimination, and environmental racism.

 About 400 people are expected for the event, which is sold out but will be livestreamed.

 >> READ MORE: A new Freedom Seder for a divided nation

 The influence of Waskow’s Freedom Seder is “huge,” said Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, co-author of Strangers, Neighbors, Friends: Muslim-Christian-Jewish Reflections on Compassion and Peace. “What Arthur did was liberate the Haggadah” from the constraints of its ancient traditions.

 The golden anniversary coincides with a time of increasingly blatant and often violent religious intolerance. In mid-March, 50 Muslims were murdered in a mass shooting at a mosque in New Zealand, nearly five months after 11 Jews were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Last month, the Philadelphia religious community, which has a long history of collaboration, was rattled when a guest imam at a mosque known for its interfaith outreach expressed anti-Semitic sentiments in a series of sermons; the mosque immediately apologized.

... Waskow was a resident fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington when he was inspired to create the Freedom Seder following the 1968 assassination of King. As riots erupted in the district, President Lyndon B. Johnson instituted a curfew and deployed nearly 14,000 federal troops to quell the unrest.

 Along with other activists, Waskow helped members of the black community secure food and medical and legal aid. When he saw a machine gun mounted on a Jeep in a Washington neighborhood, he considered the link between ancient slavery and the turmoil fueled by racism and militarism throughout the ’60s — both cited by King in a famous speech at Riverside Church in New York.

 In response, Waskow wrote the Freedom Seder, inserting quotes by slave-rebellion leader Nat Turner on resisting bondage, the writer Henry David Thoreau on abolitionist John Brown, and King on nonviolence. His Haggadah was published in Ramparts magazine. The first observance was in the basement of an African American church on April 4, 1969, a year after King’s assassination.

 “It was so exciting. All over America, people were showing up at Passover with [a copy of the Freedom Seder],” said Kreimer, an associate professor at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote and founder of the school’s multifaith studies department. Suddenly, she said, a Haggadah that had been the same since antiquity was incorporating the wisdom of 20th century figures such as King and Mohandas K. Gandhi.

 Over the years, the Freedom Seder has been adapted to themes such as LGBTQ rights, immigration, and Jewish-Palestinian reconciliation. In 1970, the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, then on the run after being convicted of burning draft records during an anti-war protest in Catonsville, Md., sneaked into a Freedom Seder hosted by Waskow and students at Cornell University. He escaped with the help of a life-size puppet theater troupe that was part of the event.

 “He got inside one of the puppet costumes, and then he was gone,” said Waskow, who runs the nonprofit Shalom Center, a Philadelphia-based peace and justice organization. Berrigan was later arrested.


[Rabbi Arthur Waskow (center) with the Rev. Channing Phillips (left) and TV director Topper Carew (right) at the first Freedom Seder held April 4, 1969, at Lincoln Temple United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C.]

 Last year, Waskow reimagined his own reimagining of the rite when he created The MLK +50 Interfaith Freedom Seder to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination. In the Haggadah, he included references to police shootings of unarmed citizens and the Parkland, Fla., school massacre.

 This year’s event is being hosted in a house of worship with its own interfaith history. The building that Masjidullah now occupies once was home to Temple Sinai synagogue and then the West Oak Lane Church of God. The mosque purchased the property from the church in 2013.

 Imam Abdul-Halim Hassan of Masjidullah has long worked with Waskow, Berman, and other area religious leaders on community issues including interfaith understanding and cooperation, and environmental conservation.

 “You can do something on one side of the world and people on the other side will know about it instantly," Hassan said. "If we can do something here to show that there is a better way, we can be a model for the world.”

 For Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman, Waskow’s wife and co-organizer of the celebration along woth Viv Hawkins, Program Coordinatpr pf The Shalom Center, the Freedom Seder’s evolution and influence is a testament to the staying power of the original concept.

 It “revolutionized the idea,” she said, "that sacred writing could be new in every generation.”


We Need Your Help to Grow the Green New Deal

The traditional Haggadah, the Telling of the liberation story for the Passover Seder,  says: “In every generation, all human beings must look upon ourselves as if we ourselves, not our forebears only, go forth from  slavery to freedom."

In every generation! 

Today we are living under pressure from a Pharaoh-in-Chief and many assistant pharaohs, including the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs whose boundless greed is aimed at burning Planet Earth, our Mother and our common Home, in order to multiply their Hyper-Wealth.

For Passover this year we need to gather everywhere to grow the Resistance again. In the Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50 we are holding in an African-American mosque in Philadelphia, but not there alone. Everywhere. Again. In every generation.

To make the Promise of Passover real, we need your help.  We need your help in gifts of money, we need  your help through invitations to come where you live to speak and teach, to weave new prayers of chant and breathing, new acts of justice. We need your help to keep doing our work to inspire and empower the Spirit-rooted Wind of the Resistance.

You can provide this help by clicking right now to the maroon "Contribute" banner on the left-hand margin of this page. Or you can read this Call to join in the work we plan, and then click to the maroon "Contribute" banner.

We seek  to grow the Garden of the Green New Deal. Inspiring and persuading religious communities – individuals, local congregations,  nation-wide religious denominations --  to support its call for Transformation.

The Green New Deal offers by far the best chance of success in our struggle to prevent climate chaos. And it calls for more -- for a society of ECO-SOCIAL JUSTICE. It demands action NOW to change our whole economy from Carbon to Renewable Energy, and to change our society from domination and despair to justice, equality, and freedom. From lies and subjugation to Truth and Transformation. 

   The matzah we eat for Passover physically embodies Dr. King's “fierce urgency of NOW.”  “The bread was not leavened," says the story, "for the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, thrust them out of the Tight and Narrow Land: Do Not Delay!”

Indeed, much of Passover is directly relevant to the Green New Deal.

Every year, on the Shabbat just before Passover, we read the Call of the very last of the classical Hebrew Prophets (Malachi 3:21-22)  

“I [God, the Breath of Life] will send you Elijah the Prophet to turn the hearts of the parents and the children to each other, lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction.”

It was our youth who sat-in in the office of Speaker Pelosi to put the Green New Deal on the map. Our children, our grandchildren. What are we doing to turn our hearts to them?

-– AND Passover reminds us that the Pharaoh who oppresses, enslaves, and orders the murder of the Israelite workers and children --  is the same Pharaoh who brings “Plagues” upon his own country.  All the Plagues were eco-disasters: undrinkable water; swarms of locusts that ate all the crops; unheard-of hailstorms; a climactic sandstorm of darkness so thick you could touch it.

There is no separation between “social justice” and “ecological sanity.” Passover tells us there is ONE Truth -- eco-social justice. The Green New Deal demands ONE response -- eco-social justice.

The Green New Deal takes into account the pent-up demands for social justice against the pharaohs of our day who rip families apart, imprison children, impoverish workers,  destroy jobs, turn poverty into hunger and hunger into famine, incite violence against religious and racial minorities --  just as the storied ancient Pharaoh did. The Green New Deal demands support to create the well-paid working-class jobs that will be needed to build –- literally build --  the green renewable-energy infrastructure and the ways of drawing-down CO2 that will save our planet from climate chaos.

 This approach can awaken a great new coalition that treats ECO-SOCIAL JUSTICE as a many-faceted but unified agenda. It can appeal to workers, to the disemployed, to wide swaths of the religious communities, to the “forgotten Americans,” to those already suffering from climate disasters and those who know what is coming.  

The Green New Deal also addresses the need for a just transition from Carbon to renewable energy by affirming the need for new jobs for those now locked into Carbon industries and for special aid to depressed and isolated communities, rural and urban.

To make this broad and deep coalition real and ready to resist, to be seeds of transformation, we need to work at the grass roots.  These are four ways The Shalom Center intends to do this:

  • Inspiring religious congregations to Move Our Money/ Protect Our Planet (MOM/POP); moving money --  out of banks that invest in burning the world,  into banks and credit unions that will invest in local neighborhoods and people. Our work has already inspired the MOM/POP decision of the first synagogue to do this; much more needs to happen. See --

  • Showing congregations, rabbis, and other spiritual leaders how to draw on the remarkable treasury The Shalom Center has developed of “Prayer and Bible Exploration as if the Earth Really Matters” --  renewing especially but not only Jewish prayer forms and interpretation of Torah for use in communal and public settings, to energize religious commitment to act on behalf of God’s Creation. We have been successful in unifying public prayer with public actions for eco-social justice.


  • Organizing Training Institutes to train activists of varied religious communities and traditions to draw on their distinctive wisdoms  -– their prayers, their stories, their sacred texts, their festivals and foods, their ceremonies --  to awaken activist commitment to heal the world from climate crisis.  

 Let me be clear and honest: To make this happen, we need your help.

In all of these grass-roots approaches, emails like the Shalom Report are helpful, but physical on-site presence is more effective.  I have seen and felt and heard how more changes after I actually meet with, speak with, and weave conversations and prayer experiences with congregations and their leaders. 

So I invite you to invite me to do this with your community -- a congregation, college classes, an interfaith conference. We can discuss this if you write me directly at

And to keep making possible the range of writing, activism, interfaith cooperation, occasional arrests that The Shalom Center does and sponsors, please click to the maroon “Contribute” button on the left-hand margin of this page, and make your Passover contribution to The Shalom Center.

With blessings that we can all turn the hearts of the Elders and the Youth toward each other, bringing new life and energy, nrew freedom and compassion, into our varied religious, spiritual, and ethical communities, and renewing a planet, a climate, as life-giving for our grandchildren as it was for our grandparents!  --  Arthur

If You Trivialize the Holocaust, You’re Unfit to Lead White House Climate Panel

With all the talk of troubling comments about Jews, what about William Happer?

By David Waskow

[This article originally appeared in The Times of Israel, March 11, 2019David Waskow is an expert on international climate policy based in Washington, DC, where he is a member of the senior staff of a world-renowned research and policy center on global resources. He has graduate degrees from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the University of Chicago Divinity School. Please note some additional comments after his essay, suggesting advocacy responses to the Happer appointment.]

Given the heated debate over anti-Semitism now taking place in Washington, you would imagine there would be a glaring spotlight on any White House official who had made deeply troubling comments about the Holocaust. Instead, sadly and disturbingly, there’s been hardly a peep about the appointment of William Happer to the staff at the National Security Council.

Last fall, Happer quietly slipped onto the NSC staff, without much fanfare. Now he’s the driving force behind the Trump administration’s new panel to counter widely accepted scientific research about the causes and consequences of global warming.

Though Happer’s a professor emeritus of physics at Princeton University, he’s not a climate scientist. Moreover, his belief that excess carbon dioxide is a positive force directly contradicts the widely-held scientific consensus on the dangerous impact of greenhouse gases on global temperature.

As a climate policy expert, I was disturbed when I heard of his role. As a Jew, I was appalled.

In an interview on CNBC in 2014 [, Happer said that “the demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.” He has never retracted or apologized for his comments.

When word of the White House climate panel leaked in late February, there was a brief flurry of media attention about his past comments. But since then, all has gone silent. In a troubling sign of the times, his outrageous statement has largely been ignored by Congress and elsewhere.

Happer’s comparison of millions of slaughtered Jews to carbon dioxide blatantly trivializes the horrors of the Holocaust and the vast human suffering that resulted from the Nazis’ atrocities. Molecules of carbon dioxide can hardly be subject to the deprivations that the Nazis inflicted during their brutal attempt to destroy European Jewry. Conflating chemical compounds with millions of murdered Jews dishonors and grotesquely casts aside the memory of those who suffered and died.

Trivializing the meaning of the Holocaust in this way should always be unacceptable. With his ignorance of history and callousness about real suffering in the world, the last place he should be is on the National Security Council.

Furthermore, it means that he’s also not fit for the task that he’s set himself and the administration on climate change. Someone who is unable to comprehend the gravity of the Holocaust is not someone who should be trusted to understand the dire impacts on people’s lives that climate change is already causing and that will worsen dramatically over time.

Indeed, Happer’s views have already demonstrated his lack of concern for the severe threat that climate change poses for humanity. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, [ Happer tried to excuse impacts of carbon pollution by noting that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over 65 millions years ago was over 3,000 parts per million, well beyond the current levels approaching 410 parts per million.

But that entirely misses the point: What we are witnessing now is completely unprecedented for humans. The earth has not seen the current levels of carbon dioxide for more than 3 million years [see, at a time when sea levels were 50-80 feet higher than today and no humans lived on the planet.

We have never faced the type of changes that are coming. But given his thoughtless comments on the Holocaust, does Happer possess the capacity to care about the pain caused by climate change??

Will he care about the Alaskan communities whose livelihoods and way of life are threatened as ice melts and the sea intrudes? Or about the 1.6 billion people living downstream from the Himalayas who will face catastrophic water shortages as the mountain glaciers that provide their water melt away?

Will he care about those suffering from increasingly powerful and destructive hurricanes or terrifying and deadly fires in water-starved forests? Or about the island nations whose very existence will be endangered by rising sea levels?

In a superb essay at, climate author Mary Annaïse Heglar recently suggested that, though climate change does not have a direct historical parallel, we can still learn from the existential threats faced by specific communities, like the slavery and lynching of Blacks in the United States. Those past traumatic experiences can help us understand how to tackle the climate crisis that imperil the basic underpinnings of our society and millions of lives.

Unfortunately, William Happer’s views on the Holocaust demonstrate that he is dangerously unaware of the past and won’t be able to see or understand the devastating pain that climate change brings in its wake. At a time of heightened awareness of anti-Semitism, Happer’s utter insensitivity to the slaughter of millions of Jews should cause alarm. He should not be sitting on the National Security Council with the future of the planet –- and especially the people who live on it –- in his hands.


A Note from the Editor: This information, which connects the dog-whistle anti-Semitism expressed by some in the White House with the willingness to wreck and burn our planet for the sake of Hyper-Profits --  should be brought to much wider public awareness. We suggest writing your city's major newspaper and also a Jewish communal newspaper a letter to the editor quoting Willism Happer's contemptuous Holocaust-minimizing and calling for the rejection of Willism Happer from all governmental assignments, and especially from his appointment to head  a commision on the climate crisis.

Denial of the climate crisis is in some ways even worse than Holocaust denial, because the Holocaust is behind us -- its horror nust be remembered but cannot be prevented -- while the danger of Climate Chaos is still preventable, and climate denialism threatens hundreds of millions of lives.

With blessings of Truth, Justice, and Peace-- the three pillars that uphold the world -- Arthur

Murderous White Nationalists, Modern Pharaohs, and the Sea of Reeds

As virulent White Nationalism spreads, we must affirm and act on our solidarity and shared sorrow with the dead of “Tree of Life” and its site-sharing synagogues in Pittsburgh, of the Al Noor Mosque and Lynwood Mosque in New Zealand, of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

In Philadelphia, a dozen rabbis and about 20 other Jews  responded by joining the Jumaah (Friday afternoon) prayers at Masjidullah, a leading mosque.  We were warmly welcomed by the Muslim community. On Saturday evening, at LOVE Park near City Hall, about 300 people took part in a gathering initiated by CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic-Relations). Representatives of the city and state governments spoke alongside clergy from several religious traditions. I was able to share the seeing and the meaning of my Tallit (prayer shawl).



As you see, woven physically as well as symbolically into it are sacred places of Judaism and Islam – the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock – and if you look carefully between them, the Rock itself on which Abraham our Forebear bound Isaac and from which the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him,  leapt into his mystical journey to Heaven.

I arranged to have it woven for me in 1974 after I added “Ishmael” to my Hebrew name (“Avraham Yitzchak Yishmael,” =  "Ibrahim Is'haq" Ismail"“ = "Abraham Isaac Ishmael”) adding the traditional forebear of the Arab peoples and the transmitter of the values of islam taught by his parents Abraham and Hagar --  thus uniting in my name, my self, all the families of the Abrahamic tradition within me. 

 On Saturday night, I explained that ever since, when there is violence within the broader family between its different cohorts, I feel myself torn apart. When we turn to love and healing with each other, I feel whole within. I suggested we all need to see ourselves, each of us and each of our communities and traditions, with each of the others living within us. With that awareness expanding our tradition, not watering it down.

 Not Muslim “theys” died in New Zealand, not Christian “theys”in South Carolina, not Jewish “theys” in Pittsburgh, but ALL OF US in all three places.

 White Nationalism has become the Pharaoh oppressing us all. Just like the ancient Pharaoh who said to his folk of "pure blood and soil," --  

“There is a people, immigrants with a different religion and a different language from our pure-blood Egyptians. who may turn against us, become terrorists to join with our enemies. We must subjugate them, enslave them, even murder their children. We must deploy brutal “overseers” [=racist police], incite unofficial members of the public into hatred and murder, and ultimately mobilize my horse-chariot Army to repress them!” 

 And this ancient Pharaoh and our modern pharaohs brought plagues upon not only human communities but our shared Mother Earth herself. Plagues that were eco-disasters, killing human beings through undrinkable water, famine, and disease.


We must see the Modern Pharaohs' attacks on climate science and decent climate policy as part of the same White Nationalist mind-set: --  For the Hyper-Wealthy Corporate Carbon Pharaohs, everything. For those who drink water, breathe air, farm the land, eat the food, nothing.  


 Friday was a day of disaster.  It was also a day of grass-roots transformation. Tens of thousands of schoolchildren went on strike around the world, demanding that our governments act NOW to keep their lives livable 30 or 40 years from now.

Pharaohs always breed Resistance.  Which will be victorious?  The answer is blowing in the Wind, the Breath of Life, the Interbreathing Spirit of us all, that Holy ONE Whose Name can only be "pronounced" by breathing. And by Action.

The ancient Pharaoh's arrogance, stubbornness, cruelty ended when the Pharaoh’s power dissolved into the Sea of Reeds. 

 Today We the People must become the Sea of Reeds. Each of us a reed that may for a moment bend but never break, after each momentary bending springing upright to catch the Pharaohs and dissolve their power.

We can turn our own memories of resistance to Pharaoh past, encoded in the Passover Seder, into an “insightment” of future transformation.

RThat is what the Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50 will be, as national leaders of the Resistance and local survivors-and-resisters of plagues come together.  If you live in or near Philadelphia, you can register for a Dinner and/or the Seder at TINYURL.COM/FREEDOMSEDER50. The cost of both will rise on March 23, so register NOW. There will be no walk-ins.

 If you live more than 70 miles from Philadelphia, you can pick up the live-streamed Seder by registering here:


You can invite friends to join with you, or organize a larger Seder. You can watch and listen to it all, or single out some parts and bring your own local leaders and organizers to speak.

 Fifty years after the original Freedom Seder, in another time of deep crisis in American democracy and now in our planet’s history as well, I look forward to joining with you on April 7!

 Shalom, salaam, paz, peace –- at a moment when each of those languages radiates both hurt and transformation. --  Arthur


The Dark Side of Purim, Kahane, & the Soul of Israel

There is a dark side to Purim,  that upside-down, downside-up festival of masks and laughter.

To inoculate us in advance against the break-through of that dark side, the rabbis long ago prescribed that the day before Purim would be the Fast of Esther, drawing us from dawn to dusk into a world of inner contemplation. In a moment, below, you will see an invocation I propose for the Fast of Esther, to strengthen its healing in our day.

Yet the dark side broke out 25 years ago and again in the last ten days. 

On Purim twenty-five years ago, a follower of the racist and murderous “Rabbi” Meir Kahane murdered 29 Muslims prostrate in prayer in the Tomb of Avraham/ Ibrahim/ Abraham, our shared Father and Founder. The Kahanist murderer chose Purim quite deliberately, for reasons we will explore below.  

Just this past week, the Prime Minister of the State of Israel honored the followers of Kahane by greatly easing their path for election to the Knesset.

I intend to join in the Fast of Esther this year on March 20, the day before Purim, and I invite you to join in fasting in sorrow for the way in which our own tradition is streaked with blood:  And I suggest that we begin the Fast by chanting this Vision, this Hazon, that I share with you.  After it are the explanations of how this Vision appeared to me. --  Shalom, Arthur  

The Presence of an Absence

And then appeared Darkness,
Her Head wrapped in mourning,
Her tallit all black,
Her Place only Absence,
Her Voice but a Silence,
Nistar b'Nistar:
”When Esther came hidden
In the name of one hiding,
She cried out to Me
To emerge from My Mystery.
“So I came to defend you,
My people beloved;
I strengthened your hand
to beat back your foes;
But then you betrayed Me.
For your hand became frenzied,
You struck down the harmless,
You struck down My children
While they reached out to Me.
“On the day of rejoicing
You hollowed My Name.
In My Own Tree of Life,
You hollowed out life,
left only a mocking
 Pretense of My Self.
“And I see -- yes, I watch--
That in days still to come
Your deeds will give warrant
To a child of your children,
To murder your cousins,
The children of Ishmael,
The children of Abraham,
In the Place of his grave,
On this day of rejoicing.
“So My Name I withdraw --
Yes, My Name will be hidden,
Nistar b'Nistar;
“For I will not permit you
to call out from this Scroll
My Name on this day.
“Yet I teach you that Purim,
Alone of the seasons,
Will continue beyond
the time of Messiah.
“On the day that both families
of Abraham's offspring
turn away from their murders,
their killing each other,
on that day will my Name
take its Place in the Scroll.
“On that day Purim
and Yom Ha’K'Purim
at last will be one.
“On that day, at last,
A Purim will lead you
And light up your way
to the Days of Messiah.
“On that day all the nations
will laugh and will dance,
will turn robes of power
into masquerade mirth;
will turn every gun
to a clackety grogger.
“On that day will My Name
Take Its Place in the Scroll
In letters of Light.”

Ten notes of Background and Suggestions, for Purim and the Fast of Estherr this year: 

1. Spiritually, perhaps the most important “background” is this: The Name of God does not appear anywhere in the Scroll of Esther. It is hidden, and the Hebrew of “hidden” is nistar.  Esther’s own “name,” so close to nistar, echoes that her true name, Hadassah, is hidden in the story.

2. The next most important spiritual lesson is that (as many modern scholars teach) the Scroll of Esther is not history but satire –- an over-the-top tale of

What We Owe Our 16-Year-Olds: 2 Phone Calls

Dear friends,

First, before you read the rest of my letter to you, please click here and watch a 2-minute video of middle-school and high-school kids talking with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

Then please come back here.

Sen. Feinstein is not a bad person. But she is used to step-by-step slow improvement of America. There was no deadline for civil rights, no deadline for women’s rights. One step at a time made things better. But the planet doesn’t work that way. Already the ice is melting faster and the oceans are warming faster than the scientists expected. There IS a deadline.

So the kids are right and Senator Feinstein is wrong.

The Green New Deal proposal sets a TRULY REALISTIC goal because it demands shifting from a carbon economy to a renewable economy by 2030. That will be BARELY in time to prevent utter climate chaos. And the Green  New Deal moves RIGHT AWAY to create and fund the jobs that will make the Green Shift possible.

Here too there is a deadline, because already we are seeing Americans who are feeling forgotten, frightened by a flat future and shortened life-spans, releasing old impulses to racist rage as a way of feeling better. That will grow worse if we do not meet the need.  The crisis in democracy and the crisis in planetary survival join. Feinstein’s “responsible” resolution is irresponsible because it will not save our planet, our democracy, or our lives.  The lives of those kids.

Because of her life-long habit of step-by-step, Sen. Feinstein fell for a trick, a trap, set by Sen. McConnell, the Senate (Republican) majority leader. Senator Markey of Massachusetts and Congresswoman AOC of New York have introduced a resolution to set the will of the Senate and the House to embody the Green New Deal. (I will explain in a moment why I think it is far better in both ethical-moral terms and in sheer practical politics than any other approach to securing either domestic US social justice or planetary survival.)

Congresswoman AOC's resolution can pass the House. But Senator Markey's resolution will not pass the Senate – and neither will Sen. Feinstein’s watered-down substitute, because the Republican majority in the Senate will oppose both of them.

But if neither the Green New Deal resolution nor Watery Feinstein can pass the Senate,  why bother? Because we need to build a movement in the country behind the goal that will actually save us, not the one that won’t. By 2021 we need a President and both houses of Congress ready to pass the Green New Deal. And we can have them – IF we build the movement.

Sen. McConnell set the trap that Sen. Feinstein fell into. McConnell could hear and taste the rising tide of a great Green Wave of public support for the Green New Deal resolution. (So could practically every declared Democratic candidate for President, who have all endorsed the Green New Deal.)  So McConnell brought up the Green New Deal resolution for a vote before the movement all across American could crystallize strong support in the Senate. He hoped that the Democrats in the Senate would split.  And Feinstein fell for it.

Now it’s up to us. Unless you live in the District of Columbia or outside the US, you have two Senators. This week is a crucial time to call them. I urge you to do so. I think we owe it to our kids, our grandkids.

Call 1202-224-3121 and ask for your Senator’s office.(Just tell the operator what State or what zip code you are in; she will know who your Senators are.) Then ask your Senator’s office to speak to her/ his climate policy expert. They may shift you to voice mail. OK. Give your name, your phone number, what town you live in, and say that it is VERY important to you –at every level – for the sake of all the 16-year-olds in your own family and in the world --  that your Senator supports the Markey Resolution for a Green New Deal.

When you are finished, call back to 1202-224-3121 and ask for your other Senator. Do it all over again  

If you do live in DC and don’t have a Senator, or if you have the time to make three calls, please call in and ask for Senator Schumer of New York, the Minority (Democratic) Leader. Urge him to line up all the Democratic Senators behind the Markey resolution for the Green New Deal.  

One more action, right after your phone calls:

Many many young people organized by the Sunrise Movement are converging on Capitol Hill today, meeting Senators and Congressmembers to support the Green New Deal. Please support them by clicking here to sign a petition:

Finally, why do I think the Green New Deal is crucial? Because it connects into one unified goal meeting (a) the needs of the Earth and all human communities to stop the runaway climate crisis by ending the burning of fossil fuels, and (b) the needs of large sectionsof American society for decent jobs at good pay. The Green New Deal insists we can create the Green Community only by putting millions to work on green infrastructure, and it insists we can meet the pent-up desperate hunger for jobs and justice only by creating the Green Community. Each empowers the other.

If you think coal miners or oil-refinery workers or people who are building huge pipelines to carry fracked unnatural gas will willingly lose their jobs just because their work is wrecking the planet and creating epidemics of cancer and asthma, think again. They need jobs NOW, just as the Earth needs wind and solar power NOW. The Green New Deal meets both needs, NOW.

When Pharaoh brought slavery upon workers, eco-disaster plagues on the food crops of his country, and death on the first-born, the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, said “NOW! --  There is no time to let the dough rise when you bake your bread! NOW -- bake matzah, bake unleavened bread, and go NOW.” Dr. Martin Luther King said it more than 50 years ago:  “The fierce urgency of NOW!” Even truer now that it was then.

Please act. And when you have, please click to “Reply” and just drop us a line --  “Done!” if you don’t have time to say more.

Thanks, and blessings of passionate empowerment for healing! --  Arthur

My "Torah Talk" for Presidents Day Protest -- NOT DIctators Day

On Presidents Day I spoke to a crowd gathered at the City Hall of Philadelphia to protest the “Fake Emergency” proclaimed by Donald Trump to enable him to bypass Congress’ refusal to appropriate money to build a Wall and further militarize our Southern border. The protest was live-streamed, and the recording is at --

 My own speech begins exactly one hour into the recording -- !:00:00 --  and lasts till 1:12:00.

 Since various other sounds partially intrude, I have included, below, the text I used. I skipped a few parts of my text and ad-libbed occasionally beyond it. I hope you will take the time to see and listen live.

 With blessings to you and to us all of the strength and perseverance to stand tall for democracy, for justice and compassion, against all their enemies  --  Arthur

 [Photo by Rabbi Mordechai Liebling]

Why am I here today? [I ad-libbed some remarks about the Passover Seder as both a commemoration of ancient struggles against a tyrant, Pharaoh, and at its best an activist teaching and reaching toward future transformation: for example, what it means for The Shalom Center to be sponsoring a pre-Passover Seder in which Rev. William Barber of the Poor Peoples Campaign will be one of the leaders. I moved  from that holy time of challenging tyrants into ---]

And I am here today because this too is a holy day – a holy day in the American calendar. Today is Presidents Day. Not Dictators Day. Not King George III’s Day. This holy day is known as Presidents Day in honor originally of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and more recently to honor all the honorable Presidents of the United States. And when necessary, as it is today, to challenge a dishonorable President.

What does it mean to be a US President, not a king or a dictator? It means to live in and under the Constitution of the United States.  It means you swear an Oath to “preserve, protect, and defend  the Constitution of the United States.” Not even to defend the physical safety of the United States, but its moral and spiritual and political Truth -- the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES. Imperfect, evolving – toward democracy, not away from it.

And that includes --

  “Article. I. Section. 8. ... No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law  --  by Congress.”

No President can take our tax money to use any way he feels like, for something that Congress refuses. This teaching – We the People have no Dictator, no King – goes deep not just into our Constitution but into the moral fabric that preceded it by about 2500 years.  Even when people chose kings, the Bible taught that even a king, especially a king, must have his powers limited.

Deuteronomy 17:14-19 

“If you say, “I will set over me a king like all the nations round about us,  you may set, yes, set over you a king – one that YHWH [Yahhh – the Breathing Spirit pf the World ] your God chooses.... 

Only: He is not to multiply cavalry [the jet bombers and H-bombs of that day] for himself, or make the people return to the Tight and Narrow Place [of slavery] in order to multiply his cavalry, since YHWH [Yahhh – the Breath of Life]  has said to you, ‘You will never return that way again!’

“And he is not to multiply sexual partners for himself, lest his heart be turned aside. And silver and gold he must not multiply for himself.  

“But it shall be when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself with his own hand, a copy of this Teaching in a scroll.  [He shall write it sitting] face to face with priests of the tribe of Levi. It is to remain beside him, and he is to read out of it every day of his life, so that he may learn to have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life]  his God and to be fully caring for all the words of this Teaching and these laws, to observe them, so that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”

I do not want to make the Bible into American law. God forbid!! Truly, God forbid! I do want to learn from that last line --- the moral and spiritual line about the danger that kings will lift their hearts above their community, not turn their hearts toward their community.  That warning is at the heart of all the political rules that aim toward democracy.  For us as well. 

 The only emergency Mr. Trump has proclaimed is his own desperate raw emotional and political need to subjugate everyone who will not bow down to him. He kidnaps children from their families, he brings wildfires and hurricanes and famines on all living beings. He is doing exactly what the Bible forbids: “that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”

[Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY]

In our country, We the People – the whole People  --  are the “priests of the tribe of Levi.” We ALL breathe the Breath of Life. We –- along with all the life-forms of our planet, the life-forms that this President is radically endangering. We demand that this President obey our Constitution.

And more!  Mr. Trump, we demand that you stop lifting up your heart in contempt and arrogance and cruelty above and against your people, all peoples, and all life; and turn your heart instead toward justice and compassion.

 Or ==  Mr. Trump, if you will not, cannot, turn your  heart to justice and compassion, if you cannot turn your heart to being worthy of this Presidents Day, leave. Leave the Presidency you are trying to make into a personal dictatorship.

You are not our King.  We have no King!  [Crowd joins in: “We have no King!  We have no King!  We have no King!’] And if Congress will not stop you, We the People must. We here, everywhere in America today, meeting at Noon in every time zone from Philadelphia to Hawaii, must stop you.  

Will stop you.

For we have no king!


TRUMP: Kings and Presidents, the Bible & the Constitution

Tomorrow (February 18) is Presidents Day. Not Dictators Day. Not King George III’s Day. The holy day is known as Presidents Day in honor originally of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and more recently to honor all the honorable Presidents of the United States. And when necessary, to challenge a dishonorable President.

Throughout the United States, at Noon local time tomorrow, Monday, February 18, there will be solemn rallies of protest against the so-called “National Emergency” just proclaimed by Mr. Trump.

You can find a rally near you by clicking here

and plugging in your zip code.

The Shalom Center has endorsed the national wave of protests, and I will be speaking at the one in Philadelphia. It will gather at NOON Monday at SOUTH SIDE of City Hall.   

We the People chose to bind our President by a Constitution. Here is what that means:


 Article. I. Section. 1. All legislative Powers herein granted

shall be vested in a Congress of the United States,

which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

  Article. I. Section. 8. ... No money shall be drawn from the Treasury,

but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law

 Article II. Section 1:  He [The President] shall ... take the following Oath or Affirmation: --

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute

the Office of President of the United States,

and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend

the Constitution of the United States.

This teaching – We the People have no Dictator, no King – goes deep not just into our Constitution but into the moral fabric that preceded it by about 2500 years.  Even when people chose kings, the Bible taught that even a king, especially a king, must have his powers limited.

Deuteronomy 17:14-19

When you enter the land that YHWH  [Yahhh, the Interbreathing spirit of all Life]  your God is giving you, and you possess it and settle in it, should you say, “I will set over me a king like all the nations around us,”  you may set, yes, set over you a king that YHWH [Yahhh] your God chooses....

“Only: He is not to multiply cavalry for himself or make the people return to the Tight and Narrow Place [of slavery] in order to multiply his cavalry, since YHWH [Yahhh] has said to you, “You will never return that way again!” And he is not to multiply wives for himself, lest his heart be turned aside. And silver and gold he must not multiply for himself.  

“But it shall be when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself a copy of this Teaching in a scroll, face to face with priests of the tribe of Levi. It is to remain beside him, and he is to read out of it every day of his life, so that he may learn to have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life]  his God and to be fully caring for all the words of this Teaching and these laws, to observe them, so that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”

            [Translation by Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses (Schocken Books, 1995), with a few  modifications by Rabbi Arthur Waskow]

That last line about the danger that kings will lift their hearts above their community, not turn their hearts toward their community, is at the heart of all the political rules.  For us as well.

Back to the "political": No previous invocation of a "national emergency" has purported to usurp the sole power of Congress, by “withdrawing from the Treasury” money that has NOT been drawn “in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”

Moreover, in the very proclamation of this “emergency,” Mr. Trump said, “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster. I just want to get it done faster, that’s all.”

 That's the very definition of a non-emergency –-- except to meet the raw emotional and political needs of the proclaimer to subjugate everyone who will not bow to him. He kidnaps children from their families, he brings wildfires and hurricanes and famines on all living beings. Doing exactly what the Bible forbade: “that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”

In our country, We the People – the whole People  --  are the “priests of the tribe of Levi.” We ALL  breathe the Breath of Life. We –- along with all the life-forms of our planet, the life-forms that this President is radically endangering. We demand that this President obey our Constitution.

We demand that he stop lifting up his heart in contempt and arrogance above and against his people, all peoples, and all life; and turn his heart instead toward justice and compassion. Or leave.


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