Is Not Marching on Shabbat the Sin of Silence?

— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Fifty years ago, I was one of 240,000 marchers at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Until Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke, the most notable speech was the one right before Dr. King’s closing address, by Rabbi Joachim Prinz, head of the American Jewish Congress. Rabbi Prinz said:

When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.

Rabbi Prinz was not an add-on speaker. The American Jewish Congress, which in those days was vigorously progressive with a strong membership, was one of the six key organizations that planned and took responsibility for the March.

More after the jump.

Fifty years later, this past Saturday, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, spoke at the opening prayer service to the anniversary event of the March. (That announcement from the Religious Action Center, and a column encouraging local Reform synagogues to observe the March at home, did not reach me until yesterday — electronically dated August 25, the day after the March.)

At the main event, no one spoke on behalf of the Jewish community, and on the March website I could find no national Jewish organization among the labor unions, civil-rights organizations, women’s organizations, and other progressive groups that sponsored and organized support for the anniversary March.  

Why? Was this absence the sin of silence — not speaking out against a racist backlash and worsening economic injustice in America?

One possible explanation: In 1963, the March was on Wednesday, August 28. This year, it was on Shabbat. Most major national Jewish organizations say they will not take part in such demonstrations on Shabbat. I do not know what negotiations about the date may or may not have taken place between some large national Jewish organizations with a social-justice bent, and March initiators — the King Center and the National Action Network.  

In past situations like this one, including several major anti-war marches, The Shalom Center invented what we think was a creative solution, both honoring Shabbat and affirming our bond with our neighbors: We announced and held a Shabbat morning service. Hundreds of people came, and afterward marched off as a group to join the demonstration.

That required — and received — help and participation from local congregations in Washington and New York City. When I sought such help this time, there were no volunteers. A possible reason: With Labor Day on Sept. 2 and Rosh Hashanah beginning the evening of Sept. 4, many pulpit rabbis are consumed with writing their most important sermons of the year, and planning services to reengage and revitalize their members.

If for some reason none of this was possible, large national networks of synagogues or havurot could, with enough lead time and ingenuity, linked congregations so that, for example, Congressman John Lewis’ address could have become a Shabbat sermon everywhere.

For the past month, our primary focus at The Shalom Center has been on sparking climate-crisis activism as part of the March — not by Jews alone but by Interfaith Moral Action on Climate (IMAC), including Jews in a broader coalition. So we pursued, but not as our highest priority, what it might mean to create an explicitly Jewish presence on the March.

Even putting IMAC first, I should note, came from my realization that no Jewish organizations beyond The Shalom Center and the Green Zionist Alliance were ready to take a forthright stand to end fracking and stop the Tar Sands Pipeline, to support a carbon tax or call on Jewish and other institutions to Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet (MOM/POP). IMAC has taken those stands.

No one left to speak

I have an even broader worry, that comes from the history of the American Jewish Congress. I began this rumination with the story of Rabbi Prinz fifty years ago. Through the 1960s and early 1970s, in concert with the civil-rights movement, the AJCongress drew grass-roots energy and membership. Its Women’s Division was especially strongly opposed to the Vietnam War, and strlngly committed to the feminist movement. But through the ’80s and ’90s, the national board of AJCongress persistently moved to the right, while some of its chapters continued to be progressive.

On Feb 1, 1999, its Los Angeles chapter, together with California offices of the Reform movement, issued a report on sweatshops in the California garment business that showed, along with many other critiques, that many of these sweatshops were owned by Jews. But it turned out that some Jewish garment-industry owners were on the national Board of the AJCongress. Within weeks, national AJCongress had simply abolished the L.A. chapter, claiming it was deep in financial arrears.

By March 17 of the same year, “survivors” of the chapter’s abolition announced the founding of the Progressive Jewish Alliance. For years it was financially and politically successful. During this time, national AJCongress did away with its progressive chapters in Boston and Philadelphia. There too, local progressive Jewish groups emerged.

But the rightward drift of the AJCongress undid itself. As grass-roots support diminished, and right-wing Jews found themselves much more at home in more vigorously right-wing organizations, AJCongress tried depending on money from the Ponzi-pyramid schemes of Bernard Madoff. When the Madoff scheme collapsed, the AJCongress suspended its activities on July 13, 2010.

Why does this concern me? Because it seems a parable for much of the rightward drift, or centrist exhaustion, of many national Jewish organizations in the last fifty years. The result: no national organization so far with the foresight, strength, and passion to:

  • Work out ways to meet the needs of Jewish organizations, so that they could bring a hundred thousand Jewishly-focused Jews into an on-the-streets coalition against the New Jim Crow: mass imprisonment of millions of black and brown men;
  • Flood the U.S. Capitol with Jewish bodies, demanding a renewal of the Voting Rights Act.
  • Turn out thousands of Jews to demand a carbon tax, and to Move Our Money/Protect Our Planet, even after Jewish homes on the Jersey Shore are washed away, and Jewish travelers on the Manhattan subways are flooded by Big Carbon’s burning of the planet.

I am glad to add that in that same late Email notice I received last night, commemorating the Great March of 1963, the Religious Action Center wrote:

Wednesday, August 28: Join us at the RAC (2027 Massachusetts Avenue, NW) at 8:30 a.m. for a bagel breakfast and then walk with our staff to the National Mall for speeches by Presidents Obama, Clinton and Carter. RSVP here by Tuesday evening!

Less of an effort than I would have wished, but something.  

On Tisha B’Av, We Are Not Weeping Alone


We weep and fast this year together with millions starving all around the world. Children’s mass grave in Dadaab, Kenya.

— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Last night, Rabbi Marcia Prager led Philadelphia P’nai Or (“Faces of Light”) in a powerful observance of the beginning of Tisha B’Av — the midsummer mourning that began in the burning, scorching heat of mid-summer Middle East and that traditionally was focused on the burning of two Holy Temples in Jerusalem. In addition to the classic mourning chant of Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, Reb Marcia brought us the dirge of Karaite Jews, with its refrain: “We sit alone and weep.”

She invited me to make the transition from “We sit alone …” to “We sit together …”  That is, we are transforming Judaism to mourn not alone, a people mourning only its own disasters — but a people that mourns along with other communities grieving their own disasters — and mourning those disasters that afflict us all.

Continued after the jump.
This Tisha B’Av is especially poignant, for we weep and fast this year together with more than a billion Muslims, who are fasting in this month of Ramadan. Some Muslims are fasting in sorrow for thousands killed in a civil war in Syria, and hundreds killed in an incipient civil war in Egypt. For hundreds of children killed by U.S. drones. For tens of thousands killed, and millions driven from their homes, by the U.S. war against Iraq. Other Muslims — millions of them — are fasting to turn themselves away from pointless materialist obsessions and toward the spiritual life called forth by the best of the Quran.

We weep and fast this year together with more than a hundred prisoners in Guantanamo, on hunger strike to protest their being held for years illegally and immorally by the U.S. government. These are prisoners whom the U.S. has acknowledged were never guilty of any terrorism, any violence, any crime — but whom the U.S. government will not release. Indeed, the U.S. has responded to the hunger strike with forced feeding — a torture by itself.

We weep and fast this year together with more than 12,000 American prisoners in California, on hunger strike because they are subjected to overcrowding that is so abominable, that federal courts have ruled it is “cruel and unusual punishment” forbidden by the Constitution. But the Governor has ignored court orders, and even refused to release prisoners held in cells already infected by deadly “valley fever.” Among the grievances, the thousands in California are protesting against the use of solitary confinement, that for some prisoners has been imposed for decades. (Decades!)

We weep and fast this year together with millions starving all around the world, in famines created by the droughts, created by the global scorching that’s caused by addiction to burning fossil fuels. An addiction carried like a triumphant banner by Americans, who per capita are by far the worst at scorching our shared planet, and whose government refuses to take action to lay a cost upon the Drug Lords of Big Carbon, that profit from this addiction.

We weep and fast this year together with tens of thousands of American children who will suffer hunger, because their parents have been robbed of their jobs by rapacious corporations, and because their congress is hell-bent on cancelling food stamps, while increasing subsidies to wealthy farmland owners.

Last night, the mourners in our circle said, each as the spirit moved them, a line of truth and then another and another, of what we bewail and weep together. How can we heal these lethal wounds upon humanity, and the earth, our mother?

Former Congressman Rev. Bob Edgar Dies at 69

— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

This is a letter I never imagined writing, and am deeply grief-stricken to be writing. Rev. Bob Edgar, a great public servant and my friend, died last Tuesday.

I last saw him on Jan. 15, when he spoke at a gathering at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church near the White House, sponsored by Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, to protest Presidential inaction on the climate crisis.

He recalled the moment when as a seminary student he sat young and awe-struck in the balcony of that church, and heard Dr. Martin Luther King preach the need for a movement of the Spirit to heal America.

Continued after the jump.
From that moment on, Bob dedicated his religious life to the public good. He served as Congressman from Pennsylvania for six terms, and later was general secretary of the National Council of Churches, constantly urging it to work for social justice. Most recently, he was head of Common Cause, working to end the flood of corporate and super-rich money to buy elections and office-holders.

And for me, Bob was the person who could call me on a hot day two summers ago and ask if I would join the very next day with him and other religious leaders to pray — and risk arrest — in the US Capitol Rotunda, praying for the Congress to create a Federal budget that would meet the needs of the poor and of the Earth. Because it was Bob, I broke other appointments and said Yes. And then ten of us were indeed arrested. For God’s sake, joyfully. For America’s sake, sadly — for we knew the Congress would not listen to the God we prayed to.

On that phone call, and indeed whenever we came together to plan some action for justice and for peace, Bob would smile as we decided what to do, and say, “You are my rabbi!” And I would answer, “Okay, you are my leader!”

I spoke that night with his wife Merle. She said he went jogging in the morning, came home, but then did not come upstairs as he usually did. She went down to find him lying still. She tried to revive him, and called 911. The medics tried, but all too late. He was only 69.

In our generation no one that I have known has matched the passion and compassion, the generosity and commitment, that he drew from God to work for the common good.

Over and over, in that speech in January and when The Shalom Center honored him years ago as one of the Prophetic Voices of our generation, and in every time I heard him speak, he would say, and call us all to repeat it aloud with him:

We are the leaders we have been waiting for!

We are, and he was. May his life inspire us to become what he was, and what he called us to.  

Tomorrow: Multi-Religious Pray-In For Climate At The White House

— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The Interfaith Moral Action on Climate will hold tomorrow (Tuesday) a multi-religious Pray-in for the Climate at the White House. The Pray-in will gather at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, three short blocks from the White House. Speakers there will include

  • Jacqueline Patterson, IMAC steering committee and climate point person for the NAACP;
  • Imam Johari Malik, the “Green Imam” of Washington;
  • Diane Randall, exec of the Friends Committee on National Legislation;
  • Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and
  • Rev. Bob Edgar, former Congressman, former general secretary of the National Council of Churches, and now CEO of Common Cause.

More after the jump.
At the White House Pray-in itself, leaders of various religious communities will speak from their spiritual truth and from diverse Scriptures in a ceremony that will move from Calls to Prayer into three aspects of religious commitment:

  • Celebration of the Sacrednss of Earth
  • Lamentation for the Wounds of Eath
  • Commitment to Healing Action

Some will then choose an act of prayerful civil disobedience, while others will choose a stance of prayerful witness.

For months, various politicians have been warning us of the dire effects on our grandchildren of the federal deficit and insisting that when the Fiscal Cliff arrives this winter we must drastically cut Federal spending on schools, our infrastructure of bridges and sewers and railroads, medic aid, and renewable energy.

For me, grandchildren are not a political abstraction. I have five of them, ranging from three years old to twelve. When I imagine their futures, I am much more worried about how empty-headed education, worsening health, a rotting infrastructure, and especially more disasters like Superstorm Sandy will affect them.  

Much more dangerous than the Fiscal Cliff is the Climate Cliff we are facing, as the growing number of extreme weather events — superstorms, fierce floods, drastic droughts — wound us and warn us.

Our religious communities should join with labor unions, small businesses, PTA’s, coops, neighborhood associations, and our college faculty and students to demand a set of changes that will sow the seeds of greater change, by cutting the power of the Carbon Lords and committing the President and Congress to vigorous action. If we go over the Climate Cliff now, my grandchildren — our grandchildren — will live in misery and suffering.

The Teachings of Dr. King & Rabbi Heschel

— by Sister Mary Scullion and Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Forty-four years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. Forty years ago, his close friend and prophetic partner, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, died. In biblical tradition, “40”
is a ripe number, suggesting a pregnant pause before a major transformation – Moses and the Israelites wandering 40 years in the desert, Jesus’ 40 days of temptation. What do we learn from their teachings, a generation since their deaths?

The two of them were, in their day, an odd couple. King was a product of the black Baptist church, raised in the oppressive confines of the Jim Crow South and the crucible of American racism. Heschel, descended from a long line of Polish Hasidic rabbis, fled Nazi-dominated Europe (where most of his family was killed).

More after the jump.
A towering Jewish intellectual, theologian, and mystic, Heschel brought ancient Hasidic spirituality into the tumultuous world of social activism in the 1960s. Given his writings on the religious struggle of the modern person in a confusing world, and on the urgent relevance of the ancient Hebrew prophets, it was no surprise that he found a kindred spirit in King.

Today, religion is often divisive (even violently so); in the 1960s, Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel modeled a friendship rooted in deep admiration and mutual affirmation of their respective spiritual traditions. Today, we debate the role of religion in the civil arena – usually resulting in rancorous and judgmental culture wars; King and Heschel were public theologians and spiritually grounded activists, witnessing to the power of faith in the service of social transformation.

he iconic photograph of the two of them together at the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery is emblematic of the best possibilities of the vision of the civil rights struggle. (Later, Heschel noted famously of that experience, “I felt my legs were praying.”)

Heschel and King worked closely together in spiritually rooted prophetic opposition to racism, poverty, and militarism in American society. Like the biblical prophets, they spoke truth to power – but also spoke truth to the disempowered, who can only win their fair share of democratic power by learning and acting on the truth. They spoke truth to their own supporters, even when those supporters urged them to hush – as many did when they spoke out against the Vietnam War. The two of them witnessed to the absolute unity of means and ends, as embodied in nonviolence. The two of them likewise demonstrated a deep unity of prayer and social action.

A biblical generation later, many Americans who likewise see the connection of faith and social transformation are drawing on the legacy of these two brothers. What issues would Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel address today?

Perhaps the mass imprisonment of more than two million Americans, most of them black or Hispanic. Perhaps the breathtaking increase in poverty and economic inequality. Perhaps the horrendous violence in our society.
Perhaps the physical and legal attacks on American Muslims and Hispanic immigrants. Perhaps the government dysfunction that threatens our financial stability. Perhaps our collective failure to address the climate crisis that threatens the web of life, including human life, on our planet.

These two prophets would speak forcefully to the image of God in each person, the inherent dignity in even the most marginalized of our sisters and brothers. They would give voice to the “beloved community”
as the ultimate answer to the crises of poverty, homelessness, addictions, and violence. They would translate the language of Torah, Prophets, and Gospels into a concrete and compelling vision of justice and peace for our world today.

And they would not be content with rhetoric alone: In their generation, they modeled putting faith into action, and today they would urge us to collective action to address injustice and work for the common good. They would insist that any genuine vision must translate into concrete policies, legislation, and real public action.

But now that is our task. Today, no less than in his day, we are confronted with what Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of now.” As much now as then, we are challenged by Rabbi Heschel’s words: “In a free society, when evil is done, some are guilty; all are responsible.”

Forty years have passed since Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel worked and witnessed among us. Perhaps, like a biblical generation that represents a pregnant pause before a major transformation, we may be ready to act for a transformative rebirth in our time.

Obama for America Launches Pennsylvania Rabbis for Obama

Obama for America today announced the launch of Pennsylvania Rabbis for Obama, a campaign initiative to engage and mobilize grassroots supporters. This group of over 613 rabbis — more than double the number of when Rabbis for Obama launched in 2008 — from across the country and across all Jewish denominations recognize that the President has been and will continue to be an advocate and ally on issues important to the American Jewish community. That is why they are committed to re-electing President Obama and actively doing their part to move our country forward.

This list of rabbis represents a broad group of respected Jewish leaders from all parts of the country. These rabbis mirror the diversity of American Jewry. Their ringing endorsement of President Obama speaks volumes about the President’s deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel and his dedication to a policy agenda that represents the values of the overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community

said Ira Forman who is the Jewish Outreach Director for the campaign.

They are proud of the President’s record and leadership in restoring long term growth of middle class jobs, ensuring that quality education and health care are more accessible and affordable and standing up for a woman’s right to choose. The President believes that we are all in it together, and is committed to fighting for policies that give every American, no matter their background, the opportunity to succeed.

The 37 Pennsylvania Rabbis for Obama Co-Chairs are listed following the jump.
For Rabbis for Obama in other regions visit the Rabbis for Obama website.

Pennsylvania Rabbis for Obama Co-Chairs
Rabbi Marjorie Berman (Clarks Summit, PA)
Rabbi Fredi Hess Cooper (Wyndmoor, PA)
Rabbi Meryl Crean (Elkins Park, PA)
Rabbi Eric C. Cytryn (Harrisburg, PA)
Rabbi Isabel de Koninck (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Eli Freedman (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Alan D. Fuchs (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Serena Lynn Fujita (Lewisberg, PA)
Rabbi Jonathan H. Gerard (Easton, PA)
Rabbi Seth William Goren (Bethlehem, PA)
Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Erin Hirsh (Glenside, PA)
Rabbi Linda J. Holtzman (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Beth Janus (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Susan Kanoff (Wynnewood, PA)
Rabbi Donna Kirshbaum (Swarthmore, PA)
Rabbi Elinor Knepler (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Alan LaPayover (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Nathan Martin (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Simeon Maslin (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi David Mivasair (State College, PA)
Rabbi Linda T. Potemken (Wynnewood, PA)
Rabbi Amber Powers (Abington, PA)
Rabbi Geela “Rayzel” Raphael (Melrose Park, PA)
Rabbi Michael S. Ross (Phoenixville, PA)
Rabbi Laurence J. Silberstein (Bethlehem, PA)
Rabbi Reena M. Spicehandler (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Margot Stein (Bala Cynwyd, PA)
Rabbi Elliot Michael Strom (Yardley, PA)
Rabbi David A. Teutsch (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Arthur Waskow (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Joshua Waxman (Ft. Washington, PA)
Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg (Philadelphia, PA)
Rabbi Eric B. Wisnia (Yardley, PA)

*Rabbis for Obama represent themselves and do not reflect the views of any affiliated organizations.  

Three Moments of Horror: Kaddish, Kaddish, Kaddish

— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

  • For Trayvon Martin, murdered February 26 in Sanford, Florida;
  • For Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons, Gabriel and Arieh, and Miriam Monsonego, murdered March 19 at Ozar Hatorah in Toulouse, France;
    Master Sergeant Imad Ibn-Ziaten, murdered March 11 in Toulouse, France; and
    Corporal Abel Chennouf and Private Mohamed Legouad, murdered March  15 in Montauban, France; and
  • For the families murdered in March 11 in Balandi and Alkozai, Afghanistan:
    • Mohamed Dawood son of Abdullah,
    • Khudaydad son of Mohamed Juma,
    • Nazar Mohamed,
    • Payendo,
    • Robeena,
    • Shatarina daughter of Sultan Mohamed,
    • Zahra daughter of Abdul Hamid,
    • Nazia daughter of Dost Mohamed,
    • Masooma, Farida, Palwasha, Nabia, Esmatullah daughters of Mohamed Wazir,
    • Faizullah son of Mohamed Wazir,
    • Essa Mohamed son of Mohamed Hussain, and
    • Akhtar Mohamed son of Murrad Ali

— we grieve and we try to learn how to prevent such killings in the future.

After the jump, an English version of the Mourners’ Kaddish in Time of War and Violence; then, my thoughts on the causes and the meanings of these deaths.  I urge that in synagogues, churches, and mosques, memorial prayers be said this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for all those killed in these three moments of horror.
Mourner’s Kaddish in Time for War & Violence

Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash shmei rabbah: May Your Great Name, through our own expanding awareness and our fuller action, lift You and us to become still higher and more holy.

For Your Great Name weaves together all the names of all the beings in the universe, among them our own names, and among them those who have touched our lives deeply though we can no longer touch them —(Cong: Amein)

Throughout the world that You have offered us, a world of majestic peaceful order that gives life through time and through eternity — And let’s say, Amein

So may the Great Name be blessed, through every Mystery and Mastery of every universe.

May Your Name be blessed and celebrated, Its beauty honored and raised high, may It be lifted and carried, may Its radiance be praised in all Its Holiness —  Blessed be!

Even though we cannot give You enough blessing, enough song, enough praise, enough consolation to match what we wish to lay before you —

And though we know that today there is no way to console You when among us some who bear Your Image in our being are killing others who bear Your Image in our being —

Still we beseech that from the unity of Your Great Name flow a great and joyful harmony and life for all of us.   (Cong: Amein)

You who make harmony in the ultimate reaches of the universe, teach us to make harmony within ourselves, among ourselves —  and shalom, salaam, solh, peace for all the children of Abraham — those from the family of Abraham & Sarah through Isaac and those from the family of Abraham & Hagar through Ishmael — and for all who dwell upon this planet. (Cong: Amein)

Killing Jews, Killing Muslims, Killing Blacks

Three recent incidents:

  • A Frenchman kills a Jewish family and several French soldiers (some of them Muslims) who had served the French government’s interests by using violence against Muslim societies.
  • An American soldier kills several Muslim families in  Afghanistan, the second Muslim country in which he has been ordered into four tours of violence.
  • An armed Euro-American kills an unarmed African-American for looking suspicious inside a gated community in Florida.

Three utterly different news items? Merely, as a Secretary of Defense once euphemistically said, “Stuff happens”? Just dots, no connections?

I don’t think so. For one thing, I think all three killers were operating within a framework of what seemed like legitimate violence. Even though there was widespread condemnation of their acts, afterwards. Afterwards.

Beforehand?

The Florida killer was operating under a basic American cultural “rule” (once felt by almost all white Americans, then by a majority, and still by a large proportion of them): The lives of black folk are far less valuable than the lives of white folk.

The Florida killer said he felt fearful. And Fear in a white person is far more urgent to end than Life in a black person is important to save.

Why did he feel afraid? Because the domination of other human beings, the willingness to enslave one class of them, lynch them, segregate them, impoverish them, imprison them, can only be undergirded by coming to believe that this class of them are dangerous. The oppression — which benefits the oppressor – precedes and gives rise to the Fear.

You can overcome fear by connecting, communing, with the people you fear. (But then how can you keep the benefits you get by oppressing them?) Or you can overcome fear by being willing to suffer and die for a principle. Or you can overcome fear by being willing to kill.  

In France, a marginalized  Frenchman put meaning in his life by enlisting in a one-man army. An army to avenge all the killings of Muslims by the French and Israeli armies. Anyone wearing a French uniform, and anyone wearing not only an Israeli uniform but the “uniform” of Orthodox Judaism, was dangerous. Even their tiny children.

He might have overcome his fear of these “dangerous” people by connecting, communing with them, trying to affirm his own humanity so that they would be more likely to affirm his. Or he might have overcome his fear by risking suffering and even death,  directly and nonviolently challenging the governments he saw as dangerous and frightening.  Or he could overcome his fear by killing.

And the third killer, an American soldier. He had been taught, not only in the brain but with every muscle and blood vessel in his body, that his job, and more than that his moral task, his sworn duty, is to kill Iraqis and Afghans. And certainly he fears them. They have damaged his brain, distorted his life.

He could have transcended his fear by trying to connect, to commune, with the Afghans he feared, whom he had been ordered to kill. If his officers had prevented his doing that, he could have transcended his fear by putting his freedom, maybe even his life, on the line by nonviolently challenging them. Saying the fourth tour of duty was too much. Laying down his machine-gun. Demanding to be discharged, to be able to make love with his wife and parent his children.  

Or he could transcend his fear by killing.

No wonder the Army that had taught him to kill brought him home after he killed, lest he be tried by the Afghans whose community he had shattered. After all, that same Army has time after time killed civilians, murdered wedding parties, broken the brains and bones of children — claiming all the while these dead were merely “collateral damage.” That same Army has taught such fear and hatred of Islam that its soldiers could piss on the bodies of dead human beings because they were Muslim, they could casually burn the book that to Muslims is the very Word of God.

So one soldier went beyond the Army’s expectations. If they were honest, they might give him a medal. Not the Medal of Honor, not the Medal of Courage, but the Medal of Fear Transcended.

In every one of our traditions, religious and secular, there are streaks of blood. In the Torah, proclaiming genocide against the Midianites.  In the Gospels, pouring contempt upon the Jews. In the Quran, calling not only for the inner jihad, the struggle against arrogance and idolatry, but on occasion for jihads of blood against some communities. In the Declaration of Independence, with its denunciation of “the merciless lndian savages'” who were the indigenous peoples of this land.

Let us not turn our rage, our fear, and then our violence against those “others” who have such bloody streaks amidst their wisdom, while pretending there are no such streaks amidst our own.

Let us instead remember that these streaks are only streaks in the many fabrics woven of connection and community, woven of a “decent respect to the opinions of Humankind.”   A fabric woven by all human cultures and by all the life-forms of our planet. A fabric of fringes, where every thing we call our “own” as if we own it came into being only through the Interbreathing of all life.

Shalom, salaam, solh &nmdash; Peace!  Healing! Wholeness!

From the “new poor” to “Free Time” and a Free Society

— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Many people have urged that synagogues, churches, mosques make sure they know who among their members need help – and make sure they get it. That requires explicit public statements from clergy, board members, etc., that no one who has been disemployed or had their home taken away, etc., is at fault, and all should let the clergyperson or a Board member know they are in trouble.

More after the jump.
Many of us in the last generation — whether we thought of ourselves as members of religious, racial, and sexual minorities or thought of ourselves as members of “the majority” — affirmed the dignity of those minorities and worked to bring us/ them out of the ghetto or the back of the bus or the closet. Many of us in this generation have worked to end the pariahdom of other minorities — “them” and “us” — in vandalized mosques or violated barrios. Just so we must bring the new poor and the old poor — all/both “them” and “us” — out of the shame and hiding often imposed upon us/them.

Every congregation should have a special fund — ideally funded on a sliding scale where rich congregants give a lot and even the poorest some tiny contribution – to help people in need.

Every congregation should have in place channels for the flow of goods, money, and service — for example, gemachs (grass-roots assistance funds for sharing money, or goods like food, special clothing, home appliances, loans, home health care, etc.; the word is an acronym of Gemilut chassadim, the Hebrew for “acts of loving-kindness”).

And in every congregation, it should be clear policy that no one who cannot afford school fees, etc., will be denied congregational services.

This kind of congregational action is necessary —  but not sufficient.

Every congregation should also recognize and affirm that to meet society-wide economic disaster, there must be society-wide action.

Clergy should urge congregants to create committees to examine and recommend what social change is necessary. Clergy must set the tone by making absolutely clear that “social action” committees must address “social activism” and advocacy, not only “charity.”

They must make clear that Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism all require passionate compassion. Pursuing “spiritual highs” for the affluent while others “lose” their jobs and homes, their knowledge, their skills, and their dignity, is not an acceptable religious path.

“Social activism” for what?

Already many educators, journalists, politicians, activists have made clear one important path: Move swiftly toward greater economic equality; reduce the power of global corporations; increase taxes on the 1% wealthiest; invest in our rotting infrastructure, our wounded Earth, our disintegrating education.

I think this basic approach is valuable. And I want to propose we also pursue another path – also, not instead. A path far less discussed:

Laws to require a shorter work week and shorter work days, intended to meet four crucial needs:

  • The need for income: instead of overworking some and disemploying some, full employment at living wages with livable hours: hiring more people to get the same amount of work done, thus meeting needs for shared prosperity;
  • The need for knowledge: making time for mid-life reeducation in new skills and new understanding of the world, so that in a swiftly changing economy and eco-system, people can actually know how to do honorable work that needs to be done, instead of falling into permanent “unskill.”
  • The need for real democracy:revitalizing citizen activism by providing the time for grass-roots political action (instead of leaving politics in the hands of giant corporations and ultra-rich billionaires, manipulating the mass media).
  • The need for love: providing more free time for family, neighborliness, artistic creativity, and spiritual/ religious life.

Why do we need to do this? The new technology (computers, etc) has increased “productivity”: fewer people can get the same amount of work done in less time.

There would have been several ways to benefit from this advance:

One would have been to reduce work hours, keep the same number of people working, redirect the new technology into healing the ecosystems it was damaging, and keep business profits on an even keel.

Another was to fire hundreds of thousands of people, pillage the Earth, and channel the benefits of greater “productivity” to corporate profits.

The first way would have strengthened democracy, human dignity, and the web of life on our planet; the second way has radically weakened all three.

The Shalom Center will be pursuing the approach we call Free Time for a Free Society.

To achieve it will take a redirection of ideas and efforts by labor unions, religious communities, middle-sized and small businesses, teachers and social workers.

If you want to work with us toward this vision, let us know! And if you want to help us carry this work forward, please gift The Shalom Center with a tax-deductible donation. Thanks!

With blessings on your own work toward justice and healing — Arthur


Broad Jewish Leadership Signs Eco-Covenant

— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Yesterday, The Shalom Center and I joined with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) in a formal signing of the “Jewish Environmental and Energy Imperative” declaration, part of its Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign. Leaders from a broad spectrum of the Jewish community set the community-wide goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 14% by 2014.

More after the jump.
Before reporting my own talk and naming the other speakers,  I want to note that over the last two years, COEJL has come back from the brink of the grave, mostly owing to the work of three people: Rabbi Steve Gutow, head of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (under whose umbrella COEJL operates); Rabbi David Saperstein, the Jewish community’s designated prophetic voice in Washington as head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Sybil Sanchez, the exec of COEJL, who breathed active life into the newly raised-up body.


This is what I said:

We have just been reading the Torah passages about the ecological disasters that Pharaoh — a top-down, unaccountable, arrogant ruler — brought upon his own country: undrinkable water, swarms of frogs and lice and locusts, unprecedented hailstorms: what we call the Ten Plagues.

Today our own Pharaohs — the top-down, unaccountable, arrogant giant corporations of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Gas, and their allies in and out of government — are bringing terrible plagues upon our planet:

  • unprecedented droughts and fires in Russia;
  • droughts and famines in Africa;
  • floods in Pakistan;
  • oceans encroaching on the shores of island nations and Bangladesh, endangering their very existence;
  • vanishing snow-caps in the Himalayas that for centuries have provided water to billions of human beings.

And these are not just foreign events. Those who think that we Americans will be safe if we stop using “foreign” oil must face the truth:

  • The oil-well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico — a plague brought on by modern corporate pharaohs drilling for “American” oil.  
  • Drinking water on the farms of Pennsylvania, so poisoned by the fracking industry that when farmers touch a match to their kitchen faucets, chemicals in the water flame up into torches — a plague brought on by modern corporate pharaohs drilling for ‘American’ gas.  If these pharaohs get their way, the plague will engulf the drinking water of millions in the cities whose water comes from the shale rock regions.
  • The worst drought in the history of Texas,  the destruction of whole mountains in West Virginia, the epidemic of asthma among our children ‐ all plagues brought on by modern corporate pharaohs.  Brought upon Americans by corporate obsession with profits from exploiting ‘American’ oil, coal, and gas. Supported by some, including even some in the Jewish community,  in the name of US ‘energy security.’

We can halt these modern pharaohs, as we halted the Tar Sands pipeline when thousands of protesters surrounded the White House and about a thousand were arrested there.

For The Shalom Center, the Covenant we are about to sign means that in order to reduce emissions of CO2,  we must dissolve the arrogant pharaohs of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Gas — no matter whether they bear a “made in America” label or not.”

Others who spoke were

  • Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, exec of the Rabbinical Assembly;
  • NY City Councilman David Garodnick; Nancy Kaufman, exec of the National Council of Jewish Women;
  • Joe Laur, exec of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal;
  • Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the program on the rabbi as social activist at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (and president emeritus of the board of The Shalom Center); and
  • Rachel Jacoby Rosenfield, exec of the Jewish Greening Fellowship at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center.

In signing the Jewish Environmental and Energy Imperative Declaration, leaders are committing to take many significant steps, including:



  • Setting the personal goal of reducing emissions by 14% by September 2014, which is Judaism’s next sabbatical year (Shmittah year). 


  • Setting the community-wide intention of reducing greenhouse gases by 83% of 2005 levels by 2050 (a goal set by the US government), with a communitywide approach to greening homes and buildings.

Meanwhile, including but reaching beyond COEJL, there has emerged an amalgam of Eco-Jewish organizations called the Green Chevra, which has recently received an important grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Among its fifteen active and activist members are groups committed to one or more of four ways of dealing with our planetary crisis in Jewish terms:  hands-on greening of synagogues, JCC’s, and Jewish households; the awakening of ecological themes in Jewish practices like the festivals and life-cycle events and the “kosher” consumption of food and other fruits of the earth; the creation of alternative communities, especially Jewish organic farms; and public advocacy for change in public policy.

I am glad to report that The Shalom Center is not only a member of the Green Chevra but sits on its “stewardship committee,” coordinating its work.

For many years we have been doing this work to pioneer eco-commitment in many regions of the Jewish world. It is an aspect of what we call “Transformative Judaism” — a commitment to bring the fullest Jewish wisdom and action to address the present deep multidimensional earthquake (ecological, economic, military, political, familial, sexual) in the life of the human race and the rest of our planet.

Jewish Leaders Commit To Reduce Energy Use


Leaders across the political and religious spectrum celebrate Tu B’shvat by setting goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 14% by 2014.

— by Vicki Stearn

The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) today announced that a diverse group of community leaders has joined its Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign by signing the “Jewish Environment and Energy Imperative” declaration. Rabbis from the Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform and Renewal movements and other communal leaders set the goal of significantly lowering greenhouse-gas emissions, advocating for energy independence and security, and reducing the Jewish community’s energy consumption 14% by 2014.  The official signing ceremony at Manhattan’s 14th Street Y preceded Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish new year for trees.

The declaration states:

The need to transform the world’s energy economy while addressing global climate change is not only a religious and moral imperative, it is a strategy for security and survival.

Each of us — as Jews, people of faith and Americans — has a personal responsibility to work toward lowering greenhouse-gas emissions and decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, COEJL co-chair, and president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “This responsibility starts in our hearts and from there we must care for our homes, places of worship and institutional buildings.

More after the jump.
COEJL Director Sybil Sanchez said,

The Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign commits our leadership to take concrete action on climate change and energy security. Reducing our energy use by 14% by 2014 is our first step toward the national goal of an 83% reduction of 2005 greenhouse gas levels by 2050.

The year 2014 is the next ‘sabbatical’ or seventh year in the Jewish calendar, a traditional time to refrain from impacting the earth.

“Greening and sustainability are areas where the Jewish community has both an opportunity and an obligation to take a leadership role in the neighborhoods where Jewish institutions thrive,” said Stephen Hazan Arnoff, 14th Street Y executive director.  

Since participating in the Jewish Greening Fellowship program, the Y has reduced energy usage with new systems and equipment, and adopted sustainable practices to reduce and reuse materials, especially in the Y’s theater, where the ceremony took place.

Among the 50 signers of the declaration are:

  • Robert Barkin, president, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation;
  • Rabbi Yosef Blau, chair of Rabbinic Advisory Board, Canfei Nesharim;
  • Rabbi Steve Gutow, president and CEO, Jewish Council for Public Affairs;
  • Nancy Kaufman, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women;
  • Karen Rubinstein, executive director, American Zionist Movement;
  • Sybil Sanchez, director, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life;
  • Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism;
  • Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president, The Rabbinical Assembly;
  • Rabbi Arthur Waskow, executive director, the Shalom Center;
  • Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president, Orthodox Union; and,
  • Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president and CEO, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

About COEJL
The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life deepens and broadens the Jewish community’s commitment to the stewardship and protection of the earth.  Through a network of 27 national organizations and 125 community agencies, COEJL is mobilizing the Jewish community to address today’s energy and climate change crisis. COEJL is an initiative of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

About the 14th Street Y
The 14th Street Y builds community in the heart of Manhattan’s East Village.  The Jewish center embraces people of all ages, faiths and backgrounds, offering health and fitness, education, art and recreational programs for people and families of all ages. The 14th Street Y is part of a network of 44 programs at 27 sites provided by The Educational Alliance.