Democrats Seek to Take Back PA 6 With Mike Parrish

Mike ParrishWe spend a lot of time thinking about the presidential race, but we should remember that the House and its 435 seats are also on this November’s ballot. Here in Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, the Democratics have an opportunity to capture the seat because their running a strong candidate with a great biography against first term Republican Ryan Costello who’s been committed to voting the GOP line since he got to DC. I had the opportunity to spend a few hours with Mike Parrish, Democrat for Congress and you can read all about his background and his stand on the issues.  [Read more…]

Rabbis Join Interfaith Anti-Fracking Event in Harrisburg

MORALtorium against fracking

Religious leaders lobby against fracking.

Clergy and religious leaders from different faith communities across Pennsylvania came together to express their opposition to fracking at the MORALtorium Rally & Lobby Day which took place at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. These religious leaders consider fracking to be a moral issue because of the danger it poses to people and the environment. Their efforts at the Capitol that day reflected the support of 17 faith-based and environmental organizations.
[Read more…]

Occasional PJVoice Contributor Arrested At White House Protest


— by Rabbi Arthur Waskov

Along with 14 other religious folks, clergy and committed “laity,” I was arrested for standing at the White House with signs and songs, reciting the names of more than one hundred people who had been killed by one result of the climate crisis — Superstorm Sandy.

Among those arrested alongside me were Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, who teaches on social justice at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and is a member of The Shalom Center’s Board; Lynne Iser, a member of the Board of Isabella Freedman retreat center; and Freyda Black, a cantor, farmer, and member of P’nai Or Fellowship in Philadelphia.

More after the jump.
We were calling on the President to act swiftly to heal our Mother Earth from the climate crisis, from the plagues that modern Pharaohs — Big Oil, Big Coal, Unnatural Gas — have brought upon us.

As you see on the faces of two of us actually in the prison wagon after our arrests, the arrest itself — paradoxically — felt like a step into freedom, a continuation of, rather than a break from, both our joy in singing and our sorrow at the deaths we had recited. What is the Freedom of Passover? Freedom to grieve our wounds, Freedom to celebrate our covenant for action with YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Holy One who is the interbreathing of all life.

These are the Ten Plagues I recited, and below them, “Ten Healings” that accompanied the blessing of our Globe.

Ten Plagues

  1. Undrinkable water poisoned by fracking. (Sorrow!)
  2. Asthma: Lungs suffering from coal dust and gasoline fumes. (Sorrow!)
  3. Suffering and death for fish, birds, vegetation, and human beings from the oil upheaval in the Gulf of Mexico. (Sorrow!)
  4. Smashed mountains and dead coal-miners in the lovely hills of West Virginia. (Sorrow!)
  5. Unheard-of droughts in Africa, setting off hunger, starvation, civil wars and genocide. (Sorrow!)
  6. Drought in Russia, setting off peat-bog fires and scarcity of wheat. (Sorrow!)
  7. Summer-long intense heat wave in Europe, killing thousands of elders. (Sorrow!)
  8. Unheard-of floods in Pakistan, putting one-fifth of the country under water. (Sorrow!)
  9. Superstorm Sandy, killing hundreds in Haiti and America. (Sorrow!)
  10. Years of drought and fires in Australia. (Sorrow!)
  11. Parched corn fields and dead crops in the US corn-belt. (Sorrow!)

Ten Healings

  1. Creating organic farms in countrysides and cities. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  2. Wind-based energy: Purchasing home & company electric power from wind-based suppliers. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  3. Hybrid or electric cars. Families buy them; convince cities, government agencies, & businesses to switch their auto fleets. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  4. Use public transportation. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  5. Family & congregational education/ action to heal the Earth: At Bat/Bar Mitzvah time and teen-age baptisms/ confirmations, “turning hearts of children and parents to each other, lest the Earth be utterly destroyed” (Quote from last passage of Malachi, last of the classical Hebrew Prophets). (L’chayyim, To life!)
  6. Vigils, picketing, civil disobedience at sites of mountain destruction by coal companies. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  7. Prevent the Tar Sands Pipeline. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  8. End fracking: Insist on moratoriums or prohibitions. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  9. Divestment by colleges, pension funds, religious communities, etc from investment in fossil-fuel companies, shifting investment to renewable, sustainable energy. (L’chayyim, To life!)
  10. Carbon pricing: Insisting that Members of Congress put prices on carbon-fuel production and pay dividends from the incoming fees to American families. (L’chayyim, To life!)

The 2012-2013 Pennsylvania Budget: Areas to Improve

Daylin Leach— by Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach

Since the state’s fiscal year ends at midnight on June 30th of each year, May and June are always a busy time when everyone in Harrisburg is scrambling to put together next year’s budget. We’ve had tough budgets for the past four years because during a recession, demand for government services goes up while revenues coming into the state coffers go down. Unlike the federal government, we are constitutionally required to balance our budget each year, so every dollar we spend must come from a revenue source.

There are really only two ways to eliminate a budget deficit: you can either cut expenditures or raise revenues. Actually, the smartest approach is to use a balanced approach that does both prudently. Unfortunately, for the past several years — due to the political realities of Harrisburg and the fact that Governor Corbett has pledged to Grover Norquist, a lobbyist who lives in Washington, DC, that he won’t increase revenues in any way — the budget has been balanced exclusively through cuts.

It is important to remember that there are many areas of the state budget that can’t be cut, either due to federal or state law or contractual obligations. In some cases, if we tried to cut money from a given program, we could be sued and required by a court to spend the money with interest. In other cases, our laws force additional spending. For example, Pennsylvania’s criminal code creates about 2,000 new net prisoners per year (the second highest number in the nation). This requires us to build a new prison, which costs about $300 million to build and $50 million per year to operate, every single year.

All of the cuts we can make must come from a relatively small sliver of the budget that is discretionary. This includes money for first responders, education, libraries, human services, health care for our citizens, transportation improvements and our safety net for the very poor. We have continued to go back to these same areas of funding when making deeper and deeper cuts each year.

As a result, we have now reached the point at which we are in real danger of abandoning basic government services and the citizens who rely on them. You may have read about how some of our poorer schools literally would have had to close their doors if the federal courts had not intervened and ordered us to provide additional funds. Tens of thousands of people have lost their access to healthcare, childcare facilities have had to close, and libraries are either closing or drastically cutting back their hours and programs. Schools are eliminating art and music programs, guidance counselors and tutoring; and we are opening 30,000 new natural gas rigs across the state while drastically reducing the funding for environmental inspectors charged with making sure the drilling is done safely. In short, the picture is very bleak.

Following the jump below, I am going to try to give you a fuller picture of the cuts we are facing and provide you with the alternatives for which I am fighting. In my view, we could easily raise sufficient revenue to avoid most of the worst cuts without burdening a single Pennsylvania family. We could accomplish this by, among other things, enacting a reasonable tax on the Marcellus Shale extraction that is giving energy companies billions of dollars and closing the “Delaware Loophole,” which allows 70% of Pennsylvania companies to avoid paying their fare share to help our state prosper.

These and other ideas will enable us to continue providing basic services to our citizens and will ensure that Pennsylvania is a state with the educational, economic and environmental quality of life that will attract businesses and families for decades to come. I hope you find this information helpful.

A list of programs funding to be restored and funding mechanisms follow the jump.
As I noted above, I would like to stimulate an open and honest dialogue about the current budget’s shortcomings. There are a number of cuts that I believe will be extremely harmful to our state. I will first enumerate some of the
worst of the many troubling cuts in the budget proposed by Governor Corbett.

If I want to restore the funds for these important programs, I obviously have an obligation to identify where the necessary revenues would come from. So I will provide some suggestions along those lines as well.

Top 5 most destructive cuts in the budget proposal.

  1. Higher Education
    Governor Corbett has proposed cutting higher education by 30 percent this year, on top of the 19 percent cut passed last year. These draconian proposals represent not cuts, but an abandonment of our commitment to make college affordable for all Pennsylvanians. These cuts would result in dramatic tuition increases in state related universities and put college out of reach for many of our citizens.
  2. Basic Education
    Last year, over my “no” vote, the legislature and governor enacted a budget that cut over $850 million from basic education. These cuts came disproportionately from poor school districts, but hurt all public schools. The governor
    has proposed hundreds of millions in dollars of additional cuts, including eliminating the No Child Left Behind Compliance grants and the Charter School Reimbursement grants.

  3. Department of Environmental Protection
    At a time when we are opening over 30,000 new fracking wells in Pennsylvania, the DEP budget is being cut, which will result in many fewer inspectors and enforcement agents ensuring that this new and controversial fracking technology is being used safely and responsibly.
  4. Human Services
    The governor proposes to cut human service funding by 20 percent ($168 million). These services cover needs including Mental Health, Behavioral Health, Drug & Alcohol, Intellectual Disabilities, Child Welfare, Homeless Assistance and what remains of the Human Services Development Fund. These cuts will obviously have a devastating impact on many of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians.
  5. Child Care Services
    If this budget passes, we will have cut childcare services and assistance by almost $140 million over the past two years. Without these services, parents may be unable to get back on their feet, receive training, or go back to work if they have to turn down a job or opportunity because they can’t afford or find childcare. Also, this lack of funding could mean the elimination of “Keystone Stars”, a nationally-recognized program that provides resources and professional development to the educators who prepare children for school success.

In addition, the governor has rejected the recommendations of his own hand-picked commission to raise money to fund much needed road and bridge repairs.

How to pay for the restoration of these funds:

  1. Levying a Marcellus Shale Impact Fee
    Imposing an impact fee on drillers would go a long way toward helping recoup the loss of natural resources taken from our state, as well as toward helping us balance the budget. Going further, imposing a tax on those drillers would do even more to help us. Consider that a 6% tax on producing wells would generate about $312 million in 2012-13 and $396 million in 2013-14. This rate is consistent with what virtually every other state in the nation charges for the extraction of natural resources from its soil.
  2. Closing the Delaware Loophole
    The Delaware Loophole, a way under the law for corporations to evade paying taxes, is an issue that has needed fixed for years. For some reason, this has yet to happen. If we closed the Delaware Loophole, our state would be able to bring in $550 million in just one fiscal year.
  3. Ending the Vendor Discount
    Under the Vendor Discount, Pennsylvania pays private businesses millions of dollars each year just to handle sales tax receipts and remit them to the state. This program was conceived many years ago before the advent of computers, and since there’s no longer a valid need for it, it’s time to end it. Currently, Pennsylvania is one of only 13 states with an unlimited sales tax vendor discount. If we stopped providing this unnecessary discount, our state would save nearly $75 million per year.
  4. Taxing Smokeless Tobacco
    Currently, Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that does not tax smokeless tobacco. This would be an easy solution that would garner $50 million per year, simply by imposing a tax of $1.35 per unit — the same tax that is levied on cigarettes.

Jewish Community Adopts Consensus Policies

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ 14 national member agencies and 125 Community Relations Councils debated and adopted five resolutions expressing the consensus view of the American Jewish community at the JCPA’s annual Plenum in Detroit. The resolutions deal with anti-Semitism on campuses, collective bargaining, education equity, gender segregation in Israel, and hydrofracking for natural gas and oil.

  • Countering Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic Activity on Campus
    This resolution calls for education about and support for the “important remedy” that is now available under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and calls on campus leaders to do more to make students safe. It embraces a range of responses to hostile campus atmospheres including dialogue, education, and legal remedies.
  • Collective Bargaining
    This resolution continues longstanding support for collective bargaining for public employees and opposes efforts to narrow or eliminate it.
  • Equal Education Opportunity
    This resolution addresses inequity in educational opportunity in public schools. This resolution calls for research, education, and community attention directed to closing the achievement gap in our nation’s public schools and heightening awareness of this issue on the national Jewish agenda.  
  • Gender Segregation in Public Spaces in Israel
    This resolution was ultimately supported by the National Council of Jewish Women along with the Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, and Orthodox Jewish movements.   It states that enforced gender segregation in secular public spaces is inconsistent with Israel’s founding principles of equality and, at the same time, that there may be circumstances where accommodation of gender segregation may be appropriate such as the consideration of religious and cultural sensitivities in the delivery of municipal services
  • Hydrofracking
    This resolution addresses natural gas and oil extraction by the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as hydrofracking.  The resolution calls for studies, disclosure, safeguards, and oversight.

Senator Stabenow Touts Food Aid in Bipartisan Farm Bill with Eye Towards Deficit Reduction

At a time of partisanship and gridlock, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, discussed her Committee’s bipartisan effort to reauthorize the Farm Bill and ensure aid goes to struggling families in Michigan and throughout the country without waste or abuse. The remarks were made to Jewish community relations leaders and professionals in Detroit for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ annual Plenum.

“This has been a moment of pride and bipartisanship,” said Stabenow of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s 5-hour debate on the Farm Bill. On the nutrition assistance component of the bill, Stabenow said the “challenge is to address our greatest deficits in history while staying true to our values.” Regarding efforts to increase program accountability, Stabenow said “in this economy, every single dollar we spend must go to families in need.”

Ensuring robust funding for the nutrition title of the Farm Bill, which covers vital programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps), has been a legislative priority for the JCPA. The JCPA’s advocacy efforts include the community-based Hunger Seder Mobilization and national leadership in the Jewish Farm Bill Working Group.   The JCPA has been actively involved in preventing deep cuts to programs that have kept millions out of poverty and alleviated hunger.  

Fracking Comes Closer to Home

— by Hannah Lee

This weekend, I showed the 2010 documentary film, Gasland, to members of my shul. It was planned as a Tu B’Shevat educational event before the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a natural-gas drilling policy last week and before Governor Tom Corbett signed the bill last night. Pennsylvania now joins more than 25 states in imposing a levy on natural gas drillers.

More after the jump.
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, involves new technology, using horizontal drilling/high volume hydraulic fracturing that is different from conventional drilling and is much riskier. In horizontal drilling, the drill bit is turned sideways to penetrate long distances from the vertical well. Massive amounts of water are pumped into the ground at extremely high pressure to fracture the rock According to Dr. Mirele Goldsmith of Jews Against Hydrofracking, the industry is resorting to this type of drilling because deposits accessible by conventional drilling have been used up. This method uses benzene, diesel, and formaldehyde as some of the hundreds of chemicals that are extremely hazardous to human health.

In 2009, the filmmaker, Josh Fox, learned that his home in the Delaware River Basin was on top of the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation containing natural gas that exists across Pennsylvania and huge stretches of the Northeast. He was offered $100,000 to lease his land for a method of drilling developed by Halliburton and he soon discovered that this was part of a 34-state drilling campaign, the largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history. More than 3,000 such wells have already been drilled in Pennsylvania.

Fox traveled to communities where the contamination of their drinking water has caused illnesses from headaches to asthma to the loss of hair in their animals. In Dimock, PA, the residents are able to light their tap water on fire. Contaminated water from fracking has been identified in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio as well as Pennsylvania.

The State House voted 101-90 for the bill on Wednesday, February 8, after a 31-19 vote in the State Senate on Tuesday. As signed by Governor Corbett, the bill exacts a new fee on natural-gas drillers. The bill also: establishes a 500-foot setback between wells and buildings; requires a 300-foot setback between wells and waterways; and prohibits local governments from using zoning ordinances to ban gas drilling, and allows drilling in all zones.

Pennsylvania is the largest natural-gas-producing state that had not imposed a levy on drilling. The new bill will add a tax, beginning with a per-well fee between $40,000 and $60,000 in the first year after a well is drilled, which will decline to between $5,000 and $10,000 per well by the 15th and final year. The fee will vary with the cost of gas per year and will be set by the Public Utility Commission, which regulates utility companies.

The Forward  reported last summer that of the 30 Jewish summer camps that sit above the Marcellus Shale, four camps in Wayne County, PA, had signed leases with Hess Corporation. The New Jersey YMHA-YWHA Camps received $400,000 for a lease on property that houses two summer camps. The B’nai B’rith Henry Monsky Foundation received a bonus of $115, 248 upon signing. In Pennsylvania, there are already wells within 2 miles to 320 daycare facilities, 67 schools, and 9 hospitals, cites Dr. Goldsmith from state documents. She reports that more than 50 rabbis have signed a letter, sent to the Delaware River Basin Commission, about their concerns about fracking.

The Representatives from the Philadelphia area who voted for the Marcellus Shale “local impact fee” measure were:

  • Philadelphia: John Taylor (R)
  • Bucks County: Paul I. Clymer (R), Gene DiGirolamo (R), Frank Farry (R), Bernie O’Neill (R), Scott Petri (R), Margaret Quinn (R), Katherine M. Watson (R)
  • Chester County: Warren Kampf (R), Tim Hennessey (R), John Lawrence (R), Duane Milne (R), Chris Ross (R), Dan Truitt (R)
  • Delaware County: Bill Adolph (R), Steve Barrar (R), Joe Hackett (R), Tom Killion (R), Nick Miccarelli III (R), Nick Micozzie (R.)
  • Montgomery County: Bob Godshall (R), Kate Harper (R), Thomas Murt (R), Tom Quigley (R), Todd Stephens (R), Marcy Toepel (R), Mike Vereb (R)

Voting against the bill were:

  • Philadelphia: Louise Williams Bishop (D), Brendan Boyle (D), Kevin Boyle (D), Vanessa Lowery Brown (D), Michelle Brownlee (D), Mark Cohen (D), Angel Cruz (D), Maria Donatucci (D), Dwight Evans (D), Babette Josephs (D), Bill Keller (D.), Michael P. McGeehan (D), John Myers (D.), Michael O’Brien (D), Cherelle L. Parker (D), Tony Payton (D), James Roebuck (D), John Sabatina Jr. (D), W. Curtis Thomas (D), Ron Waters (D), Rosita Youngblood (D),
  • Bucks: Tina M. Davis (D), John Galloway (D.), Steven J. Santarsiero (D.)
  • Chester: Margo Davidson (D.), Thaddeus Kirkland (D.), Greg Vitali (D.)
  • Montgomery: Matt Bradford (D.), Tim Briggs (D.), Lawrence H. Curry (D.), Pam DeLissio (D.), Mike Gerber (D.)

Not voting:

  • Chester: Curt Schroder (R.)

Four Jewish Summer Camps Sell “Fracking Rights”


Camps Endanger Drinking Water, Food, Health & Climate

— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The Forward reported that the following four Jewish summer camps in Pennsylvania have signed leases with gas exploration companies to allow “fracking” —  the hydro-fracturing method of pouring tons of highly chemicalized water to smash shale rocks into releasing natural gas.

  • Starlight’s Perlman Camp, which is owned and operated by B’nai B’rith;
  • Camps Nesher and Shoshanim, which share a property in Lakewood and are owned and operated by the New Jersey Federation of YMHA and YWHA; and
  • Camp Morasha, an independent camp in Lakewood.

The Forward reports that

Fracking of a single well creates more than one million gallons of wastewater awash in pollutants, including some radioactive materials.  According to a February report in The New York Times, state and federal documents show that the waste water is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water.

The Shalom Center views it as a profound violation of Jewish wisdom and values for summer camps or other Jewish institutions to sell the rights to use their land in ways that will poison  God’s and humanity’s earth, air, food, and water.

More on actions you can take to halt this after the jump.
Normal Federal protections for drinking water and clean air have been thwarted by the Halliburton Loophole pushed through Congress by former Vice-President Dick Cheney. It prevents application of these protective rules to drilling by the gas and oil industries. As a result, no one knows what chemicals are causing the dangers to water, food, and health that are appearing in fracking areas.

Fracking has turned the drinking water of farmers near well-heads into “water” that turns to flame when a match is lit at the kitchen faucets.

Fracking threatens the drinking water supply of the Philadelphia and New York  City metropolitan areas, and has been charged with raising cancer rates in communities near fracking sites.

Fracking is also a planetary threat. Scientists at Cornell University have analyzed fracking and report that it leaks methane, a planet-heating gas much more  powerful than CO2, at such a rate that  “if you do an integration of 20 years following the development of the gas, [fracking] shale gas is worse than conventional gas and is, in fact, worse than coal and worse than oil.”

On September 7-8, the national commercial association of companies that are  fracking shale rock regions will gather for a national convention in Philadelphia.

So environmental organizations are planning to face the “Fracking Association” with major demonstrations on September 7-8. The goal is at least 2500 demonstrators, with a rally, a march, a counter-conference, and a “Blessing of the Waters.”

The Shalom Center has taken the lead in bringing together an interfaith planning committee to put together a “Blessing of the Waters” as part of the Sept 7-8 arrangements.

We invite religious folk, clergy and lay, who want to take part in these events to get in touch with us by writing Rabbi Arthur Waskow with “Interfaith Blessing Waters” in the subject line.

The two-day anti-fracking event will include: a large rally near the Philadelphia Convention Center from  noon to 2 pm, Wednesday September 7; a march through Philadelphia to Gov Corbett’s office that day; an interfaith “Blessing of the Waters” at Penn’s Treaty Park on the Delaware River at 5:30 pm;  and on Thursday, an all-day conference to plan strategy to stop fracking, to be held at Rodeph Shalom Congregation in down-town Philadelphia.

Fracking is currently under a moratorium in parts of New York State. New Jersey has just outlawed it. Wells have been drilled in parts of Pennsylvania. The Delaware River Port Authority has imposed a moratorium that may expire in September.

What you can do to stop fracking:

  • Call your child’s summer camp to urge they reject any leases or plans that might allow fracking.
  • Call  Daniel S. Mariaschin, Executive Vice President of B’nai Brith International, at (888) 388-4224 (toll-free) or 202-857-6600, about Camp Perlman, and Leonard Robinson, exec of the New Jersey Y Camps, who has decision-making power over those camps,  at (570) 296-8596..
  • Sign the petition for a national ban on fracking.
  • If you live in New York State, call Governor Cuomo at 518/474-8390 and urge him to ban fracking throughout New York State. In Pennsylvania, call Governor Corbett at 717/787-2500 with the same demand.
  • Call your members of Congress and tell them to pass the FRAC Act to repeal the “Cheney-Halliburton” exemption for hydrofracking from environmental laws.
  • Show the documentary film Gasland in your community. It documents the dangers of fracking. DVD’s are available on the Gasland website.
  • Save the dates of September 7-8 to attend the interfaith events on fracking in Philadelphia.  Click here for more information.
  • See our article for background.
  • Prepare to use Shabbat Noach, October 28-29, when Jews read the biblical story of the Flood, the Ark, and the Rainbow, as a time to address fracking and other threats to our planet, and act to heal our Earth in the spirit of the Rainbow.

I talked with Leonard Robinson, director of the New Jersey YH-YWHA summer camps (which are located in Pennsylvania). He gave four arguments for the leases:

  1. The issue is “bigger than we are,” he said. This meant that whether the Delaware Bay and River authorities clamp down on fracking will make a difference, and the camp is essentially helpless.
  2. Moreover, the camp’s neighbors were leasing their land and since the gas drilling/fracking may do damage beneath the earth’s surface horizontally across ownership lines, better they should make their own deal that might protect the camp’s land better than not leasing.
  3. The camp made a lot of money from the lease.
  4. The lease was agreed to two years ago, when the camp had much less information than it does now about the dangers of fracking. “Now, we can’t just cancel the lease.”

I responded thus:

Of course the issue is bigger than the camp. When big institutions are attacking Jewish values, the question is whether to surrender because they are more powerful or organize to stop them —  including, in this case, to reach out to the neighbors and work with them against the fracking companies.

I mentioned the San Francisco case where some people are organizing a referendum to outlaw circumcision of children. The official Jewish community could have decided the issue was “bigger” than they were – too big to fight – and surrender (even maybe having mohelim make a deal for a buy-off to replace their lost income) or instead, choose to fight. They chose to fight, because circumcision was seen as a core Jewish value. Are clean water, air, and food, and the healing of our climate crisis, the protection of God’s Creation, a core Jewish value or not? In “Jewish identity-building” of campers, what are they taught about Jewish values and the Earth?

As for the inviolability of leases agreed to two years ago, I pointed out to Mr. Robinson that it MIGHT be argued that if the fracking companies withheld information they had two years ago about the poisonous chemicals they are adding to the fracking water, and in other ways misled the camps and other lessees, that the leases might be voidable.

So I encourage you to call Mr. Robinson at (570) 296-8596, and urge him to take all necessary steps to void the existing leases, to make no new ones, to make protection of the Earth and of human health a clear Jewish value taught in his camps, and to join with The Shalom Center and others in the Jewish and  broader American communities to convince state governments to outlaw fracking, as the State of New Jersey has just done.

My conversation with Mr.Robinson makes clear that this issue goes beyond the four camps that have already leased land for fracking. It raises the basic question whether Jewish camping, which is widely  said to be intended to strengthen Jewish knowledge, practice, and values among young people, can actually enhance – instead of betraying –   its unusual opportunity of making connections between Jewish values and the healing of relationships between adam and adamah, the earthy human race and the Earth itself.

There are hundreds of such camps, sponsored by the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and various Orthodox denominations, by Habonim Labor Zionists and by Young Judea, by many Federations and other Jewish organizations.   There is even a Foundation for Jewish Camp, 15 West 36th Street, 13th Floor, New York, NY 10018 ; Phone: 646-278-4500, whose CEO is  Jeremy J. Fingerman, 646-278-4505.

Among these many camps, there is at least one,  Eden Village Camp in Putnam Valley, NY (877) 397-EDEN (3336);  which was founded explicitly to renew the Jewish connection with the Earth. Its program to do this is both extraordinary and exemplary.

The Shalom Center intends to pursue both our efforts to end any practices that subvert the Jewish value of healing God’s creation, and our efforts to strengthen those program that support that value as a core commitment of Judaism and the Jewish people.


Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director, The Shalom Center; newest book, co-authored with R. Phyllis Berman, is Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus & Wilderness across Millennia.

Fracking and Fukushima: Obcene Efforts to Subjugate the Earth

— Rabbi Arthur Waskow

What is just happening in Japan and what is on the verge of happening in Pennsylvania have a deep connection.

In the one, it might seem that disaster flowed from a small-scale decision:  that it was “impossible” for a tsunami to get higher than x feet. That decision led to placement of emergency generators for the nuclear power plants in ways that made them vulnerable to being knocked out when a monster tsunami did in fact sweep across northern Japan.

Result: already as I write (5:30 a.m., Eastern US time, Tuesday March 15) radiation at medium levels is venting onto nearby regions of Japan, carrying the seeds of cancer and death that have forced the Prime Minister to tell residents to stay indoors. In the next week, God forbid, there may be a full melt-down of one or more of the damaged plants, rendering large areas of Japan (and possibly Korea, depending on wind currents) as uninhabitable as the Chernobyl melt-down rendered parts of Ukraine, while increasing the rate of cancer deaths in a larger swathe of Europe.

A small mistake, yes? —  misgauging the power of a possible earthquake and tsunami. As minor as the small mistake that turned the BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico into an ecological and economic disaster.

But neither one was exactly a “mistake.” The whole nuclear energy system, and the whole system of deep-sea oil drilling (now again permitted in the Gulf), and the whole system of  “fracking” for natural gas that endangers the drinking water of millions of Americans  — all are the result of a far more profound transgression.

More after the jump.
That transgression is the pursuit of power to control the earth and other human beings that has run amok. Has become not mere “control,” but subjugation. And has brought Plagues upon the Earth and all Humanity, as tyrannical Pharaoh brought plagues upon ancient Egypt.

All life on Earth is the result of a Dance between control and community. Eco-systems are ways in which any given species restrains itself from overwhelming its surroundings, encouraging other species to co-exist with it in a biological community- not using as much power to control as it might, so that it can continue to live in the longer run.

(For example: an amoeba might gaily multiply itself into proliferous plurality, gobbling up all the sugary water in the vicinity – until there is no more sugar and too many amoebae, who then all abruptly die.  But if the amoebae learn to limit themselves and leave space for other life-forms, what emerges is a eco-system. Fewer amoebae at any one moment, but they can live on into the future.)

In human culture, knowing when to Do and when to Pause, when to restrain one’s self, when to encourage a community instead of gobbling up all wealth and power for one’s self, is   crucial. All the great traditions tried to teach this wisdom. Indeed, it was made them great, able to live across millennia.

When some human institution of Power-Over over-reached, ran amok – like Pharaoh, the Babylonian Empire, Rome – the corrective came in a great new surge of community – new kinds of community. But Modernity has become an adventure in Over-reaching, Over-powering, far beyond any previous imperial power.

And the result has been General Electric’s convincing Japanese governments that its expertise could overpower earthquakes and tsunamis, that nuclear energy was more “profitable” than wind or solar energy could ever be, that the “cost” of a billion dollars each for these brittle power plants was better spending than conserving energy in the first place, learning to live within limits, encouraging decentralized arrays of sun and wind power that lived in the nooks and crannies of the Earth instead of trying to dominate it.

And the spending was better – for General Electric. And for BP. And for Massey Coal. But not better for the Earth or human earthlings.

And now let’s look at the other obscene word  —  “fracking” — in the same light. It’s slang for “hydrofracturing” —  that is pouring tons of chemicalized and pressurized water into shale rock that has within it natural gas that can only be accessed by fracturing the rock.

But this means that the water table is poisoned. Watching the film Gasland, one sees drinking water flaming up – literally burning – when a match is touched to it.

Obviously, thank God and the wisdom of our Congress, such processes that poison the drinking water of millions of people are forbidden by the Clean Water Act.

But — Vice-President Chaney and the Big Oil conglomerates he worked for persuaded Congress to exempt oil and gas companies from the provisions of the Clean Water Act.

How did they pull this off? With money, of course. Money in campaign contributions, money in lavish lobbying (of judges, not only Congress).  This money was not wasted. It was an investment, mere millions paying off in multibillions of profit.

And what did the exemption mean? That the fracking companies don’t even report what the chemicals are they are putting in the water.  Independent researchers, working on shoe-strings, have isolated some of them: cancer-producers among them. And that the fracking companies expect enough profits  to make it worth their while to buy state governors and legislatures.

So in Pennsylvania, not only is there no regulation of fracking but not even taxes on the fracking profits.
The companies plan tens of thousands of fracking wells in the Marcellus Shale region. In the shale region itself, some wells that have watered farm families for generations are already poisoned. It may take a generation for Philadelphians to start dying of the cancer-causing chemicals that seep into their drinking water.

Just as it took the Fukushima nukes a generation to start poisoning the Japanese people.

“Frack you!” say the oil companies. “Fukushima you!” says General Electric.

What we need is the birthing of a new kind of community, just as ancient wandering Hebrews responded to Pharaoh with Sinai, as Biblical Israel responded to Rome with both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, as the Arabian tribes responded to the tyrants of Mecca with Islam.

A planetary community.

Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I concluded that that was the crucial wisdom we need to learn from the story of Exodus, when we wrote Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness Across Millennia.   For more information on the book, and on the Interfaith Freedom Seder for the Earth, please see the Shalom Center website.

But it’s not just us, or that book. More, of course, to come.

Blessings of shalom, salaam, of a deeper, fuller freedom for the Earth and all Humanity.