Shemot

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:

TINYURL.COM/FREEDOMSEDER50LIVE

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

Sacred Memories, Sacred Futures

[We are sharing with you today a poem by Rabbi Mike Rothbaum that powerfully addresses Yom HaShoah, the Memorial Day for the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Rabbi Rothbaum is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton, Mass. His poem, as its title points out, treats Yom HaShoah not only as a memorial for them but also as a warning to the future – and not for Jews alone. See my further thoughts along these lines after Rabbi Rothbaum’s poem. --  ED]

A Poem on a Day that I Saw Another Man Learn He Was Being Deported --  A Day that is also Yom haShoah:

By Rabbi Mike Rothbaum

The word/in Hebrew 
for/Hebrew is Ivri
Boundary/crosser//border/crosser

Border crossers/cross borders

Hebrews/Jews have been crossing
borders ever/since there have
been/Hebrews

From Abraham and/Sarah
He and her/up from Ur to
Haran to/Canaan to/Egypt
Back/to Canaan.

And ever/since
Ever since/Babylon
Cross/ing borders
Constantinople/Córdoba/Cairo/
Vilna/Minsk/Pinsk
The Rhine/The Seine/Sana/Seville/
Ellis Island/Long Island/
Long Beach/Miami Beach

We/cross

And as it is/the time
as it has/been time
to cross/borders

Before we/cross
the/border from 
freedom/to Pharaoh
fashionable/fascism

refuse/the fear
refuse to/obey
order out the/nightmares
the knocks in/the night
that wake the/babies
sew your/soul into
the lining of your/coat
smuggle the children/out
under a heavy/wool blanket
of passion and/principle
know your/limits
and the/borders you
won’t cross/for
any/leader
any/order
any/any.

If you’re a Hebrew/Jew
you already know/what this hour means.
Your ancestors saw/it and
they buried it in/your body
for a time/such as now.

They call/to/you.

Cross the/border
cross/the aisle
break/the bonds
of/party
and/panic
and/anxious
depression/make
a manic/run for it
don’t turn/around
or see who’s/behind you
the hour/is late
and the Master/of the
House/is pressing.

You carry in your/hand
an Executive/Order
Written by the/Eternal
and stamped by/your ancestors

The word/in Hebrew 
for/Hebrew is Ivri
Cross the/border
Show them the/order
Carry/it out
Before/it
//expires//


In Pharaoh’s mouth, “ivri” was contemptuous, like “rootless cosmopolites” on Stalin’s tongue  (about Jews) and like “wetbacks” in US vernacular, about Mexicans crossing the Rio Grande to enter the  United States.


Leaping back three millennia, notice that Pharaoh faced Egyptians who had lost their farms and homes as all power became centralized in Pharaoh's throne. (Gen 47:13-26) They were probably angrily muttering  about their dispossession. So Pharaoh distracted them by pointing at a "foreign" community. He warned them about a community of immigrants, “border-crossers,” who spoke a strange language and observed a strange religion. There were too many of them, he said. They might side with Egypt’s enemies and become an internal threat. Even terrorists.  Time for genocide. And it was two women -- midwives -- who were the first to birth Resistance. (Exodus I: 8-22)

Sound familiar?  Just the past?

 

Rabbi Rothbaum’s poem invites us to see the sacred day of a much more recent “history” as beckoning us to see the possible future.  And not just a Jewish future. Walking this path, sacred days become not times for rote recitation of memories, but beacons of deeper spiritual activism for social, cultural, and political transformation.

That is one of the crucial aspects of a living, growing, self-transforming religion and culture. If we do this, members of our communities who have been sleepwalking through our sacred memories or who have out of boredom simply walked away from churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples can become “woke”  to the energy within them. They – we! – can draw on that energy to save our lives and Mother Earth.

In these last weeks, The Shalom Center has joined in reawakening the energy of Dr. King’s wisdom by lifting up his 5Oth death-anniversary and connecting it to the vision of Passover, the agony of Good Friday, and the life-affirming joy of Easter.

We welcome you to read and see what these reawakenings have done:

For an on-line Tikkun Magazine article by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Feb 2017,  on preparation for MLK’s 50th yahrzeit:

https://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/creating-mlk-50-a-jubilee-year-of-truth-and-transformation-spiritual-roots-political-fruit-april-4-2017-to-april-4-2018

 

For an online Sojourners magazine essay in March 2018 by Rabbi Arthur Waskow  on historic crises in 1968 and 2018 and their impact on Freedom Seders:

< https://sojo.net/articles/freedom-seders-old-and-new-crises-1968-and-2018>

 

For a Philadelphia Inquirer report on the relationship between the new MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder and the sixth annual “Freedom Seder Revisited” program of the National Museum of American Jewish History celebrated in Philadelphia:

<http://www.philly.com/philly/news/freedom-seder-passover-easter-mlk-assassination-philly-rabbi-arthur-waskow-shalom-center-20180327.html>

 

 For a Washington Post review of the meaning of the original Freedom Seder and a report on the new MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder celebrated in the Washington DC area:

<https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/03/29/the-freedom-seder-the-anti-racism-dinner-party-that-changed-american-judaism/?utm_term=.dfbf3b873f90>

Torah for Tumultuous Times: April 2017

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory with desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”



So said T.S. Eliot, riffing on Walt Whitman’s

"When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd ...

I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring"

about the April death of Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln was our greatest President because he was the one who did the most — not then or yet enough — to wrench America loose from the inheritance of slavery and to breed an expanded democracy out of the bleeding land.

Mixing memory with desire: The recipe for the Pesach Seder, usually in April, breeding freedom, past and future, out of the Narrow Land and its Narrow Pharaoh.

April — the cruellest month of American history, the yohrzeit month of Lincoln, FDR, and Martin Luther King,

This April,  we face our own Pharaoh, the American President who is already the worst, stifling democracy and choking Earth at every breath:

Then a new king came to power in the Land that became Tight and Narrow.

“Look,” he said to his people,

“The Godwrestling People have become far too numerous for us.

Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous

And, if war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us

And rise up over  the country.”

So they put police over them to oppress them.

The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives Who Gave Birth to Freedom

The Short Colorful Passover Gift-Books for Kids & Their Grown-Ups
As Passover approaches, you may find especially delicious a colorful way to share the story with your children or grandchildren, your friends' kids, your Seder hosts and guests, and for that matter with grown-ups who are open to laughng at loooong narrow pharaohs of the past as well as the present.  

 



That’s what our words and the wonderful pictures by Avi Katz (a creative illustrator for the Jerusalem Report)  do with this new brief and colorful book --  The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives  Who Gave Birth to Freedom.  We share a new story of both resistance to a cruel ruler and the birthing of a new community.

(Or maybe it's not just an old story, since the Pharaoh tried to incite hatred of an immigrant community who talked a strange languag and had a different religion. Uncannily familiar, maybe? )

(Anyway, the story we tell sure is new --  Like, Did you ever hear it was really the midwives who inspired and led the Exodus itself? Was that a secret, long kept hidden by the men who wrote our Bibles?  Or was it --- shshsh!)

The long narrow Pharaoh ordered two midwives, Shifra and Puah -- to kill the boy-babies of that immigrant community, the Cross-Over People.  BUT ---



 

AND THEN --  (Sh-sh-sh, you remember that Women's March last January, all over America and all around the world?)

But we don't want to spoil the story by telling what happens next.  Get the book to find out!

You can order The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives  Who Gave Birth to Freedom  by clicking here:

<https://www.amazon.com/Looooong-Narrow-Pharaoh-Midwives-Freedom/dp/069275721X>  

At the bottom of the same Amazon page you’ll find another of our books,  The Rest of Creation,

8 nights of Hanukkah, my True Love says to me ----

For 8 days of Hanukkah, my True Love said to me:

“Help heal My Earth!”

 Hanukkah brings with it again this year three crucial teachings about healing our Mother Earth from the ravages of global scorching

The Green Menorah, a Tree of Light that is a fusion of human craft and Earth’s growth. On this Shabbat we read the Prophetic passage from Zechariah that emplaces the Temple Menorah as part of a tiny forest of olive trees that give forth their oil straight into the Menorah.  

We breathe in what these Trees of Light breathe out; they breathe in what we breathe out. We take new inner strength by breathing in the God Who breathes all life, by opening our eyes  to the Source of all Light in this wintry season of our dark foreboding.

We realize that Hanukkah teaches: We humans are not lords of the Earth, but part of the Earth. These trees feed us as we feed them. Read a little further to see how we at The Shalom Center are ourselves doing this, with your help.


The tradition of resistance to Imperial Antiochus and his Empire’s desecration of the Temple –-- a resistance crystallized in the teaching by Zechariah: “Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit [b’ruchi — or even, “by My wind!”]. We take new inner strength to resist the Empires of our day – Big Carbon – that today are burning, despoiling, desecrating the Holy Temple Earth of all cultures and all creatures.  We take new inner strength not only to resist harm but to heal and grow the sprouts for our own Trees of Light.

The legend that one day’s worth of olive oil lasted for eight days –a teaching that we ourselves can minimize our use of oil and coal and unnatural gas; can through conservation and the sustainable use of sun and wind reshape our country and the world; can shave off seven-eighths of the fossil-fuel burning that is scorching earth and killing thousands.

 

That is our own Green Menorah commitment. We ask you – after lighting your menorah each evening – to dedicate yourself to making the changes in your life that will allow our limited sources of energy to last for as long as they’re needed, and with minimal impact on our climate.

Day 1: Hanukkah begins Saturday evening December 24; so we ceremonially say farewell to Shabbat before we light the candle to honor the first day.  We take note that the same evening, the Christian community is also celebrating the coming of new light into a world that seems dark.   Look carefully at the candle and notice that at its heart there is a spot of dark, like  a seed that sprouts into a glow of light.

We might, as we watch the candles flicker, talk about the darkness that has fallen on our country and indeed on our hopes for healing our wounded Mother Earth  -- and what for each of us it means to rellght the candle of rededication, of commitment, of action.

You might take a few minutes to order on Amazon two colorfully illustrated Waskow-Berman books: The Rest of Creation and The Looooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives Who Gave Birth to Freedom.  If you order them on Sunday they will arrive before next Shabbat, when you can enjoy reading them on  the Shabbat of Hanukkah. Click here.
https://www.amazon.com/Looooong-Narrow-Pharaoh-Midwives-Freedom/dp/069275721X/ref=pd_bxgy_14_img_2?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=069275721X

Day 2: This year, Monday December 26 is a national holiday.  If possible, choose today to not use your car at all. Spend some of the day outdoors, enjoying Earth. Choose one day each week when as we move into the new secular year, you will not use your car. Every day, lessen driving: use public transit, bike, walk. Cluster errands.  Carpool. Don’t idle engine
beyond 20 seconds.

Day 3. Home and workplace: This Tuesday morning, call your electric-power utility to switch to wind-powered electricity. (For each home, 100% wind-power reduces CO2 emissions the same as not driving 20,000 miles in one year.)  Urge the top officials of your workplace to arrange an energy audit and switch to wind-powered electicity.

Day 4. National policy. In the morning, call 202-224-3121 and ask to speak to the Senators for your state. (If you are from DC, with still no Senator, call Senators McConnell, majority leader, and Schumer, minority leader.)  

Urge your Senators to oppose President-elect Trump’s appointments of three rapacious wolves to "guard” the Garden of all Earth, our common home, our common future:  Exxon boss Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State ;   anti-EPA extremist and denier of climate crisis Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who sued the EPA for trying to reduce CO2 emissions, to be chief of the EPA; and Rick Perry,  ex-Governor of Texas who sits on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, developer of the Dakota Oil Access Pipeline that tried to mutilate the sacred lands of the Sioux Nation and endanger the great Missouri River, [To read more, please click on "Read More" in red just below.]

Passover When Earth Really Matters

Avi Katz: Matzah / Globe

 An Interfaith Healing Seder for the Earth: Ten Plagues, Ten Healings

Today, April 4, 2016, we are presenting a revised version of this Seder, originally published in 2013. Today is the 48th anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King in  1968. It is also the 49th anniversary of his most profound and troubling speech: “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” a speech he delivered in 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City to the assembled “Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam.”  In it he called on all Americans to struggle against the “deadly triplets” that he said afflict our lives: racism, militarism, and materialism.

And today is the 47th anniversary of the original Freedom Seder, which in 1969 radically altered the Seder’s focus by weaving the liberation struggles of Black America together with the ancient story of the Israelite liberation struggle out of slavery to Pharaoh.

The original Freedom Seder addressed the most urgent crisis of that day, and drew together Jews and Christians, black and white.  And in the decades since, for many many thousands of people it liberated the Passover Seder itself to address other deep issues: liberating us from immoral and self-destructive wars, affirming the rights of immigrants and of  people trafficked into the slave trade and of exploited workers, liberating us from fear and hatred among Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

To honor the memory and wisdom of Dr. King and to renew the life-giving energy of the Freedom Seder, today we are sharing with you a new Passover Seder. It challenges the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs of today that are bringing a new Ten Plagues upon our planet. And it celebrates the Ten Healings of our wounded Mother Earth that we should undertake. 

The Seder begins with a journey into the streets to challenge today’s Pyramids of Power.  Some may want to organize such a journey; others may simply want to use the Haggadah, the Telling, that we present below, in their family or community Seder. 

This year, on Friday, April 22, the first Seder begins in the evening of Earth Day. As befits a Seder for the whole Earth, this Telling is rooted in the Jewish tradition and includes in its flowering passages from other traditions.

Let me call your special attention to new approaches to the meaning of charoset and the welcoming of Elijah,  to the Ten Plagues and Ten Healings,  to a whole new song and a new verse in “Go Down Moses,” to a new translation and a new melody of an old psalm.

With blessings of freedom and community, of shalom, salaam, peace, Earth! —  Rabbi Arthur Waskow

WISDOM FOR THE JOURNEY
“I felt as if my legs were praying.”

— Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, coming back home from the voting-rights March in Selma, Alabama, 1965
“Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods.”  — Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1970

CHALLENGING THE PYRAMIDS OF POWER

The people gather at a central point, perhaps a synagogue.

The people move into the streets. Chanting and singing as they go, carrying a portable large-sized globe of Planet Earth,  they walk toward a Pyramid of Power of our own day: perhaps an office of Exxon or BP, or a coal-fired power station, or a bank that invests

Do We Need to ReName God?

The Name of God inscribed as the Image of God on a human body, courtesy of Rabbi Marcia Prager
 Early in the Book of “Exodus,” God goes through a change of Name.  Indeed,  in Jewish tradition the Book is not known as “Exodus” but as “Sefer Shemot –- the Book of Names.”
 
For the Eternal Holy One Who suffuses all the universe to change The Name is seismic. Cosmic.
 
It happens twice — first at the Burning Bush, then again in Egypt. And the difference is important.
The first time, as Moses faces the unquenchably fiery Voice Who is sending him

Israel, Hillel, & Idolatry

Recent controversies within Hillel International, the “home” for many Jewish college students of diverse backgrounds and beliefs, have made public in a sharper way a profound spiritual issue confronting American Jews and their “official” organizations.

The spiritual issue: When does strong support from many American Jews for the State of Israel and its Jewish citizens as an emergency refuge, as a creative culture, as a defender of Jewish interests, as a member of the Jewish family, become idolatry of the State?

First, the background of the Hillel controversy; then, an examination of what idolatry is:

The controversy surfaced most publicly when Swarthmore College Hillel announced they would refuse to abide by rules handed down by “Hillel International” that would limit what Jewish organizations and speakers were allowed to speak there. Hillel International then threatened to disaffiliate Swarthmore Hillel.

The debate within Hillel began in 2011 when its official managers adopted a policy that prohibited having speakers or partnering with organizations that “deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state; delegitimize, demonize or apply double standards to Israel; support boycott, divestment and sanctions [BDS] efforts against Israel; or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”

Applying these rules, Harvard Hillel refused to allow a former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Avraham Burg, to speak at Hillel because co-sponsors of his speech included a group of pro-BDS students in the Palestinian Solidarity Committee along with J Street U and two Hillel-affiliated groups, Students for Israel and Progressive Jewish Alliance. -

Responding to this exclusion of Burg, first Harvard students and then a growing band of Jewish students across the country created “Open Hillel,” arguing for a policy of welcoming broad debate and inclusion of Jews of varied views and action about Israel as Hillel welcomes Jews of varied views and action about prayer, gender, sexuality, economic policy, political party, theology, and every other issue.

More recently, Hillel International announced it had become formal partners with AIPAC, an American lobbying group that almost always strongly supports Israeli-government policies when it meets with and encourages campaign contributions to Members of Congress.

Open Hillel raised strong concerns about the effect of Hillel’s privileging AIPAC in this way, as against other Jewish organizations that strongly differ with Israeli government policy. Open Hillel urged that instead, AIPAC continue to be treated as one voice among many in the voices Hillel encourages to speak in its venues..

Then Swarthmore Hillel proclaimed itself an “Open Hillel.”

Swarthmore Hillel’s refusal to knuckle under to Hillel International’s restrictions has put “Open Hillel” and the whole debate over what is “not allowable” to say in American Jewish life on the public agenda— not only in the Forward & the JTA but also on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

For me, all this raises some basic questions of the Spirit.

What is idolatry? Worshipping any being – person, object, institution, community – as if it were Divine. “Carving it out” and “bowing down to it” as the Ten Commandments describe and forbid. (Exod. 20: 4). Not only “carving out” a physical object, a statue, but carving out from the One Great Flow of Life a piece that must not be criticized, not be questioned. A piece not only to be loved and honored for its usefulness and beauty, not only to be seen as a temporary aspect in service to that Unity  — but treated as an Ultimate, Unchangeable good.

The Hillel International prohibitions make the State of Israel, and indeed only one version of it, into an idol.

 I understand the urge to do this. The Rabbis told a tale in which they searched and searched for the yetzer hara (the evil impulse) toward idolatry, hoping to destroy it. They finally found it — in the Holy of Holies!  We most easily make an idol of something that has a lot of sacredness in it.

What is the alternative to idolatry of Israel? Idolatry of any thing?

The alternative is celebration of the God Whose Name is “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, I Will Be Who I Will Be.”  I am Becoming. Never stuck.

That was /is/ will be the God of the Burning Bush, Who called Moses to resist Pharaoh and calls us to resist all pharaohs. (Exod. 4)

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