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From Ancient Prophet to the Climate Strike: Youth & Elders Heart-Connect

From last Thursday till Sunday night Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I were in St. Louis, on the invitation of the Central Reform Congregation and its two leading Rabbis, Susan Talve and Randy Fleisher. On Thursday night, the two of us and Rabbi Art Green, rector of the Boston College Rabbinical School and one of the great scholars and interpreters of Hassidism, spoke at the Jewish Federation on our visions of the future of Judaism.

Then on Friday morning I was invited by the young organizers for the Climate Strike in St Louis to be the featured speaker – accompanied by the outcry of the shofar -- at a gathering of about one thousand people at City Hall. The video of my talk is here –-  https://youtu.be/ys0pqlbem3I

Spread over All of Us the Earth-Healing Power of Sukkot

Last week I sent you a recipe for #Sukkot4ClimateHealing.

Like all recipes, it was intended to invite forth your own imagination – some cinnamon here, sprinkle of lime essence there.

The basic idea is that we turn the Harvest Festival of Sukkot into a melodious instrument for healing our wounded Mother Earth from which Sukkot as a festival was born in the first place.

We suggested holding vigils at Senatorial Congressional home-district offices and/ or  branches or cash machines of Wells-Fargo  Bank, waving  in the seven directions of the world the traditional Four Species --  branches of myrtle, willow, and palm, and the lemon-like fruit of the etrog or citron. (Four species that grow in North American eco-systems might also be appropriate.)   

Watching the unrestrained joy of this child now, waving the Four Species, keep in mind that 30 years from now, whether this child lives in joy or misery depends of whether we act NOW to heal the climate.

These vigils might demand support for the Green New Deal and an end to loans and Federal subsidies to Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are burning our planet and choking our kids with asthma.

For the full recipe of #Sukkot4ClimateHealing, please see--

https://theshalomcenter.org/content/inviting-you-join-sukkot4climatehealing

Please help us with your own ideas and suggestions about carrying out this #Sukkot4ClimateHealing  campaign. We invite you to sign up for whatever sacred sources, old or new, you could create or share that would spiritually and politically enhance the sacred movement #Sukkot4ClimateHealing
to save all Earth and all Humanity from disaster: plans for a vigil, prayers, Hoshanot, sermons or
midrash, songs.

Please click here and respond to a brief survey  -- it should take only three minutes – at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XJCXS7R Thanks!

Within two weeks we will share with you and our wide readership an action plan for communities to use and modify, and links to resources that we harvest.  Meanwhile, we are sending a song that you could use either in the midst of a communal prayer service or in an activist vigil at a Wells Fargo branch or a Congressional/ Senatorial office.

With blessings that our commitment take root “Like a Tree that’s planted by the water” --- Arthur

Inviting You to Join in #Sukkot4ClimateHealing

Inviting You to Join in #Sukkot4ClimateHealing

Sukkot, the week-long Jewish harvest festival that begins the evening of October 13, is of course in its essence a festival of interconnection among Earth and human earthlings. (I use this odd word for human beings to echo in English the way that Hebrew teaches in language the truth of the intertwined relationship – with the words adamah (Earth) and adam (human).

The Shalom Center intends to make the celebration of #Sukkot4ClimateHealing this year and in the future one of a series of Earth-connecting sacred practices. Through them, Jews and those of other spiritual, religious, and ethical communities can join to pursue these sacred goals: ending the climate crisis, healing Earth and Humanity from the ravages of global scorching, and restoring for our grandchildren the life-giving climate that our grandparents joyfully lived in.

How do we plan to do this?

The celebration of Sukkot by our community can be transformed in several ways:

1) Jewish tradition teaches that through Sukkot we seek the just sharing of Earth’s abundance not only for the Jewish people but also for the “70 nations of the world” – that is, all the communities of humankind. We propose to make this vision real by sharing with other spiritual, religious, and ethical communities the prayers and actions that can work to heal what Pope Francis called our common home, all Earth.

2) We can direct the traditional symbols, prayers, songs, and practices of Sukkot to make explicit our determination to actively work for eco/ social justice and healing.

  • Traditionally, for this week we build a “sukkah” –a fragile, temporary home, a hut with a leafy, leaky roof --  open to sun, wind, rain. We eat there, pray there, some might live there.
  • We invoke the blessings of the sacred Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, Ruach Ha”Olam, as we wave the fruit or branches of Four Species of trees in the seven directions of Earth, bringing us close to the touch and sight and feel and smell of our different trees and breezes.
  • We chant Hosha-Na (Please Save!) prayers that ask the One Interbreathing Spirit of all life to save all Earth and Humankind from locusts, drought, insects, and other plagues. 
  • We can chant a  Rosh Hashana prayer that  even ends, “Please save this planet, suspended in space!” – written long before anyone had taken the iconic sacred photo of Earth suspended in space.

3) Some of us can also choose to take Sukkot prayers and practices beyond the walls of synagogues, churches, mosques, temples  -- beyond even the  fragile spaces of our sukkah-huts --  into public and commercial spaces to demand our governments and businesses change their policies so as to heal our Mother Earth, not poison and burn her.

What might this look like? Please understand that the imaging of possible action that follows will, we assume, be modified by local communities as befits their own circumstances.

The Film of a Future: #Sukkot4ClimateHealing

 All across America, hundreds of local clusters of people gather in synagogues or other houses of prayer and Spirit, perhaps in a communal sukkah. They are of varied religious, spiritual, and ethical traditions and communities who have been invited to join in an activist celebration rooted in Jewish tradition. They walk together to a local "home district" office of a US Senator or Congressperson

These processions carry the traditional Sukkot life-symbols of palm, willow, and myrtle branches and the lemony etrog /citron (or some version of these Four Species that are rooted in the varied ecologies of North America).  Perhaps they also carry a very simple version of a sukkah --  a thatched-roof hut carried on four posts.  

 They gather on Wednesday, Thursday, and/or Friday, October 16, 17,  and 18 -- the third, fourth, and fifth  days of Sukkot. (The first two days are for many Jews especially holy days in which they would not travel other than by foot, would not spend money, etc.) And it is important to gather not on Saturday or Sunday or on the near-by American holy-day of Columbus Day/ Indigenous Peoples Day,  but on a weekday when Congressional offices are open.

At the bank or office, some picket outside, some enter --  carrying signs like "Endorse the Green New Deal," "Burning Earth is the Highest Impeachable Crime," “Stop Funding Deadly Fossil Fuels, Start Funding Energy from Sun & Wind,”  "Burning Carbon => Asthma Epidemics & Environmental Racism"

They keep waving the Four Species in the seven directions of the universe. They keep chanting songs, prayers, psalms, in Hebrew, English, Spanish, and perhaps other languages, all in celebration of a healthy, healing Earth. 

They demand that the leading officials in the places where they are chanting appear and sign a pledge to support the Green New Deal as an act to heal Earth and bring both life and justice to endangered and marginalized human communities. (Why the Green New Deal?  Because we believe it is the closest analgue for a modern society to the Biblical teaching of the eco/social-justice practice of the Shmita/ Sabbatical Year in which Earth rested, human beings shared its bounty, and debts were annulled.)

 These Earth-Affirmers join with others – peoples of the Indigenous Nations, Christians, Muslims, Unitarians, and many others -- in the Name of the ONE Who is the Interbreathing Spirit of all life, Whose universal Breathing is the “nameless name” that supports and suffuses all the many diverse Names of God in many cultures and communities, Whose Interbreathing of CO2 and Oxygen preserves all life and is now gravely wounded by the production of more CO2 than all Earth’s vegetation  can transmute to Oxygen. 

Then on Sunday October 20, the seventh and last day of Sukkot, known as “Hoshana Rabbah,” the culmination of its prayers and practices, would be the perfect day to gather in sukkot to celebrate. That might also be a time to plan for outreach to broaden the community willing to take the next spiritually rooted action to heal Earth. Perhaps the next foray could be on the Friday after Thanksgiving and again during Hanukkah/ Christmastime in late December.   

Before Sukkot and afterward, in congregations and interfaith gatherings all across America among sermons and as part of prayer services and public teach-ins, there are discussions of the dangers facing Earth and what we need to do to return Earth to the healthy climate that our grandparents enjoyed and that we intend to leave to our grandchildren. 

Resources #Sukkot4ClimateHealing campaign Will Need and The Shalom Center will Gather and Share

Model sermons to prepare people for this Sukkot campaign, for delivery on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Jumaa,  Shabbat,  and Sabbath services just before and after. 

Model sermons and services for Sukkot and celebration of Earth and Harvest in other traditions.

Texts and translations and melodies for prayers, old and new, for Earth and human earthlings under these stressful conditions.

Information on the most important institutions that are now preventing climate healing, and the most effective ways for faith communities to change their behavior or redirect their energy.

The Shalom Center and I welcome your comments on this proposal for a campaign and your offers to provide and share resources like those described above. Within two weeks we will share with you and our wide readership an action plan for communities to use and modify, and links to resources that we harvest.

Please help us with your own ideas and suggestions about carrying out this #Sukkot4ClimateHealing campaign. Please click to and respond to a brief survey  -- it should take only three minutes – at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XJCXS7R Thanks!

Arrested! While Blocking ICE in Philadelphia

This past Wednesday, my beloved fellow-rabbi and life-partner Phyllis Berman and I were arrested, along with two other people, while blocking the entrance to the ICE offices in Philadelphia. We were arrested by the Federal Dept of Homeland Security police, not the Philadelphia police -- and were each harged with two Federal offenses (with whopping fines if we don’t stand trial and the possibility of prison time if we do). 

Our Grandchildren Call Us: Join the Climate Strike!

Our Grandchildren Call Us: Join the Climate Strike!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

or whatever your own heart or group desires.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Disloyal Jew"

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

"Disloyal Jew"

By Reb Irwin Keller

3 Steps TODAY toward Healing Mother Earth

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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


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


  1. Call your two DNC members

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

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace! --  Arthur

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

Yesterday, the American Jewish Community  crossed an extraordinary threshold.

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

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

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

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

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


How did this change begin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It begins this way, chanted in Eicha trope:

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

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

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

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

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

 Wetlands sigh without their song birds,

Estuaries grieve;

The sea is embittered.

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

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

Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love, Arthur

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