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.

Jewish Values from Aleph to Wisconsin

The Boards of Directors of ALEPH:  Alliance For Jewish Renewal and of its affiliate,  OHALAH: Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal, have adopted the statement below.

Whereas, Jews for millennia have learned and affirmed the archetypal story of the suffering of ancient Israelites as oppressed public workers under Pharaoh, building the store-cities of Pithom and Ramses, and the vigorous activism of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to organize those workers into an effective community that could win its freedom;

And whereas, ever since the great migration of millions of Jews to America many of them have upheld the rights of workers by organizing labor unions first in the garment industry, and later among teachers, social workers, and other public employees;

Therefore, the Board of ALEPH [and the Board of OHALAH] affirms and supports the right of public employees as well as those in private industry to organize unions and carry on collective bargaining, and supports the nonviolent protests now being carried on in the State of Wisconsin and elsewhere against efforts to undermine or cancel those rights.

Contacts:

Tahrir Square, Berlin Wall, Red Sea

Fallen Pharoahs & Creative Communities

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Today I want not to focus on Pharaoh but to celebrate the people – those million or more who have gathered in Tahrir Square, both as a united, insistent, revolutionary body and as the individuals — professors and street bums and secretaries, bakers and housewives and lawyers, each one unique, each one fashioned in the Image of God, who have awakened from the stupor their modern pharaoh imposed upon them.

They stand in a great line of nonviolent revolutionaries, stretching back in the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to those who dared to smear blood on their doorposts and come forth from these wombs of rebirth to break the birthing waters of the Red Sea.  

More after the jump.
Suddenly, people who have seemed literally stupid, unable to chart their futures in the iron maze of “stability,” come alive, intelligent, able to debate and plan and create community when the Iron Guards of “order” defect and disappear —

  • as did the people of  East Germany and all Eastern Europe after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989;
  • as did the students and workers of the nation-wide uprising in France in May 1968;
  • as did the Black communities and their white allies in America in the early 1960s;
  • as did the auto workers of Michigan in 1937 who took over the auto plants, refusing to be disemployed or dislodged and winning the right to organize;  
  • as did India in 1930 when Gandhi led an illegal campaign to make salt from the sea without paying the British tax on salt  —

There is a softer kind of stupor in America, these days:

We face with stupor the droughts that follow on the heating of our planet, droughts that burnt wheat crops in Russia last summer, sent wheat prices sharply higher, and took food from the mouths of Tunisian and Egyptian workers  — whose revolt is rooted in the global scorching that we American shrug off.  

We face with stupor the shoveling of a trillion dollars worth of human ingenuity and labor, the shoveling and shriveling of blood and limbs and genitals, of shattered minds and souls of Americans and Iraqis and Afghans, into the trash heaps of illegitimate and unwinnable wars.    

We face with stupor the despair of fifteen million Americans who are officially counted among the disemployed – and another five million who are not even counted because they have given up looking for jobs.

“Disemployed” – my computer software puts a red line under the letters, telling me that’s not even a word. But these people are not “unemployed,” as if they had accidentally stubbed a toe on the way to work. They have been disemployed by decisions of those who hold power in our society, who have used their power to grasp even more power by dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into election campaigns, who have used their power to win obscene tax cuts so as to put even more money into buying more power to keep the disemployed in their despair – and all of us in stupor.

We do not need to be stupid. Like the Egyptians in Tahrir Square – the word means “Liberation” – we can awaken.

In mid-April, Jews will celebrate the Passover when their stories teach that Pharaoh fell and Miriam led the people in songs of jubilation; Christians will celebrate Palm Sunday, Black Friday, Easter Sunday  when their stories tell them that a courageous few faced Caesar and that life renewed and resurrected transcended death and torture.

Can these celebrations leap off the pages of prayer books to become sparks of change?  Where, three months from now, could bands of the disemployed celebrate  by reentering their work places and demand to be paid for their work?  – laid-off firefighters reentering the fire houses, laid-off teachers creating Freedom Schools like those in Mississippi in 1964 to teach the truth and end the stupor of their students,  laid-off nurses  demanding that the wars end and the money be rechanneled so hospitals can serve the sick instead of warehousing the overflowing supply of brain-injured veterans.

Where, in the week before Palm Sunday and Passover, could multireligious folk  picket the banks that are funding Old King Coal, That Lethal Old Soul, and demand that the investment money be channeled to wind and solar power instead?

What spark of bold intelligence, like Rosa Parks’ refusal in Montgomery, will against all expectation light the fire of love against the flames of destruction and the darkness of despair?

Uprisings, whether in ancient or in modern Egypt, are not fulfilled by overthrowing pharaohs. There needs to be a “Sinai” and perhaps many years of troubled experiment and exploration in the Wilderness – a working out of new forms of community.

In our world, that community must be broader and deeper than we have ever known. It must take seriously that YHWH Echad, the Breath of Life is one: that a coal plant belching CO2 in Pennsylvania creates a drought and fires in Russia that create a dearth of wheat and bread in Egypt that fills Tahrir Square and scares a President in Washington.

Cast off the stupor, create community.

To keep abreast of Tahrir Square, the  best coverage is by Al Jazeera in English —  the news network blackballed by almost all US channel TV. But you can watch it on-line here.

Tu b’shvat


Reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen www.DryBonesBlog.blogspot.com.

— Rabbi  Arthur Waskow

Tonight is in Jewish tradition the midwinter time called “Tu B’Shvat”  for celebrating with a sacred meal of fruit, nuts, and wine the rebirth of trees and of the sacred Tree of Life that nourishes all the abundance of our planet.

(There is every reason for people of other religious and ethnic communities to join in celebrating the Earth that nourishes us all. And for some, this coming weekend may be a better time.)

In our world today, the flow of life that makes abundance possible is threatened by many Overdoings of the human race – especially by our pouring too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, heating and scorching the earth.

In the spirit of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s teaching that “prayer is useless unless it is subversive,”  we must infuse Tu B’Shvat with some political action that protects the physical planet in which we live.  

Ideally, perhaps, in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Heschel, we would hold the Seder by nonviolent direct action in the very offices of Senators who are trying to shatter the fragile defenses against climate crisis that are already in place.

But few of us are ready for that kind of action.  We propose instead, ending the Seder with a new ritual: writing, by hand, a letter to our Senators and to our local newspapers. (And you can do this any time, even without a Seder.)

We at The Shalom Center have made available a model text that our members and readers can modify and send your Senators.  You can use this letter
and we encourage you to add your own words and thoughts.

We also urge you to draw on and modify this text for a letter-to-the-editor of your own local and communal newspapers. (See the model text following the jump below.)

For more information on the mystical, intellectual, political, and physical aspects of Tu B’Shvat, see any of the articles on our website.

Blessings of shalom, salaam, peace —  Arthur
 
Sample Letter

Dear Editor,

I have just taken part in a sacred Jewish celebration of God’s creation and the rebirth in this wintry time of trees and of all life. Yet it is already clear that God’s command to protect and heal the Earth is being ignored as we pour still more carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.

The rising epidemic of asthma, unprecedented floods in Pakistan and fires in Russia, extreme weather events in Nashville and other American regions, all tell us that the climate crisis is already damaging our lives and our planet.  

Some Senators and Congressmembers in the new Congress are hoping to restrict or cripple the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to carry out its court-ordered mandate to prevent emissions of  CO2 from poisoning our neighborhoods and our country.

We must join in opposing any and all efforts to restrict or cripple EPA’s authority to heal our neighborhoods and our Earth.

Shalom,

On 8 Days of Hanukkah, my True Love said to me…

… “Help Save The Earth”

— Rabbi Arthur Waskow

This year, the first night of Hanukkah comes unusually “early” in the solar year — Wednesday evening, December 1. As always, it comes when the moon is dark and the Earth is moving toward the winter solstice when (in the Northern Hemisphere) the night is as long as it gets, the sun is as dark as it gets.

In this time of darkness, we kindle a gathering bank of lights. If we are feeling depressed or despairing about our country, our world, our planet — now is the time to kindle new light.

There are three levels of wisdom through which Hanukkah invites us to address the planetary dangers of the global climate crisis – what some of us call “global scorching” because “warming” seems so pleasant, so comforting.

These are the deep teachings of Hanukkah:

More after the jump.

  1. The Talmud’s legend about using one day’s oil to meet eight days’ needs: a reminder that if we have the courage to change our life-styles to conserve energy, it will sustain us.
  2. The vision of Zechariah (whose prophetic passages we read on Shabbat Hanukkah) that the Temple Menorah was itself a living being, uniting the world of “nature” and “humanity” – for it was not only fashioned in the shape of a Tree of Light, as Torah teaches, but was flanked by two olive trees that fed olive oil directly into it.
  3. The memory that a community of “the powerless” can overcome a great empire, giving us courage to face our modern corporate empires of Oil and Coal when they defile our most sacred Temple: Earth itself. And the reminder (again from Zechariah) that we triumph “Not by might and not by power but by My Spirit [b’ruchi – or, “My breath,” “My wind!”], says YHWH, the Infinite Breath of Life.”

We are taught not only to light the menorah, but to publicize the miracle, to turn our individual actions outward for the rest of the world to see and to be inspired by.

So we invite you to join, this Hanukkah, in The Shalom Center’s Green Menorah Covenant for taking action – personal, communal, and political – to heal the earth from the global climate crisis.

And here is how we can encode these teachings of Hanukkah into actions we take to heal the earth, one action for each of the eight days:

After lighting your menorah each evening, 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.

No single action will solve the global climate crisis, just as no one of us alone can make enough of a difference. Yet, if we act on as many of the areas below as possible, and act together, a seemingly small group of people can overcome a seemingly intractable crisis. We can, as in days of old, turn this time of darkness into one of light.

  • Day 1: Personal/Household: 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.)
  • Day 2: Congregation, Hillel, JCC, retirement home, etc: Urge your congregation or community building to switch to wind-powered rather than coal-powered electricity. Call your utility company to learn how.
  • Day 3 (which this year is Shabbat): Automobile: If possible, choose today or one other day a week to not use your car at all. Other days, lessen driving. Shop on-line. Cluster errands. Carpool. Don’t idle engine beyond 20 seconds.
  • Day 4: Your network of friends, IM buddies, Facebookers, and the members of civic or professional groups you belong to: Connect with people like newspaper editors, real-estate developers, architects, bankers, etc. to urge them to strengthen the green factor in all their decisions, speeches, and actions.
  • Day 5: Workplace or College: Urge the top officials to arrange an energy audit. Check with utility company about getting one free or at low-cost.
  • Day 6: Town/City: Urge town/city officials to require greening of buildings through ordinances and executive orders. Creating change is often easier on the local level!
  • Day 7: State: Urge state legislators to reduce subsidies for highways, increase them for mass transit.In states (like Pennsylvania and New York) where high=rofit oil/ gas companies are trying to “frack” Oil Shgale deposits, demand a moratorium until we can get full inormation on
  • Day 8: National: Urge your Senators to strengthen the authority of EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to regulate CO2 emissions from coal-burning plants, autos, oil refineries, etc. — for the sake of our planet’s climate, and to lessen asthma outbreaks among our children. Some Senators and Congressmembers are seeking to cripple the EPA, mostly to protect Big Coal.

Happy Hanukkah for you — and Planet Earth!

• For more information, to explore having your congregation or community becoming a partner in the Green Menorah Covenant, or to arrange for Green Menorah resource people to visit your community, please contact us at [email protected] or (215) 844-8494.

Beyond This Election: Tears to Water the Wellsprings of New Life

Rabbi Arthur Waskow— Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Adlai Stevenson once said on losing the Presidency, “It hurts too much to laugh, but I am too old to cry.”

I am sad to have lost such gutsy, wise, and independent-minded  Members of Congress as Russ Feingold (WI) and Joe Sestak (PA).

I mourn the growing numbers of Americans, Afghans, and Pakistanis who are dying and being maimed in wars that no one can win and that no one in our new government will stop – wars that are pouring down the drain not only blood — but the resources that could meet deep civilian needs in America.

I  am grief-stricken that under our new government, millions of Americans will continue to suffer without jobs or homes.

I am grief-stricken that the suffering from global scorching and from our addiction to fossil fuels – the suffering of Gulf fisher-folk and West Virginia miners, drought-stricken Russians and Darfurians, flooded Pakistanis — will worsen and will spread — and no one in our new government will act to resolve the climate crisis.

I am grief-stricken that fear and frustration will drive millions of Americans into rage at scapegoats – Muslims, Hispanics, gay people.

I am horrified that the super-rich will get still richer while the poor sink into an abyss of despair, and that the billions of secret dollars from great corporations that poisoned this election will grow still more to bury our democracy.

For all these, tears aplenty.

But tears can water the wellsprings of new life, new energy, new hope. “Hope” not as an empty slogan but as a stubborn determination to renew our country and our planet. To act.

More after the jump.

Those who are deeply rooted in the Spirit know that from slavery in Egypt we rise to Sinai, from reading the death of Moses we turn to reading the creation of the world, from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection, from Muhammad’s flight out of Mecca to the transformation of all Arabia and well beyond.

In this moment of mourning, how can we plan to move toward action deeply rooted in the Spirit and in the ways we have created to celebrate the Spirit?

Jobs Not Wars
Who/What Is Pharaoh Today?
A Spirit-Rooted  Campaign for Grass-roots Reempowerment

According to the Biblical story of the Exodus, Sinai, and the Wilderness, Pharaoh turned workers into slaves, immigrants into pariahs, and tormented the earth until it rebelled in ecological disasters – the Plagues. He used his domestic police – overseers — to harass and punish dissidents and workers, and his horse-chariot army to subjugate an empire.  

Yet —  or therefore — inspired by YHWH, the Breathing-Spirit of the World – a band of runaway slaves created a whole new form of community.

Today, what institutions are behaving like Pharaoh, and how do we create new communities that celebrate the intertwining of many different human cultures with each other and the Earth?  What could be the role of a transformed and transformative Judaism in that process,
alongside other religious and spiritual communities?

The Shalom Center proposes a two-level action effort aimed at renewing the deep meaning of Passover (April 18-26);  the Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter (April 17-24); and the Quran’s retelling of the stories of Exodus and liberation.

One level: “Jobs, Not Wars.” Demanding that the resources now poured into the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan wars and attacks, along with other wasteful and destructive military spending, be redirected to meeting the mounting needs for jobs and social repair in American society.

The second level, “the issue behind the issue”: Naming the institutions responsible for our decline as a nation and a prosperous society. “Who are the Pharaohs/ Caesars of today?”  Naming (with evidence) as Pharaoh/Caesar such major holders of top-down, unaccountable, and destructive power as the Military-Corporate Complex, Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Banking,  and their governmental allies,  that have imposed massive disemployment, the climate crisis,  and a hugely swollen military budget on our society.

Crucial to this effort will be the development of materials – factual reports on corporate power, alternative budgets, model sermons, prayer and celebration forms, art, music, dance —  that can be used by religious and spiritual communities and congregations during the spring.  If you are interested in helping create these, please write me and explain what you have in mind.

Though Islam this year does not have a festival during the spring that would parallel Passover and Holy Week, the rich references to the Exodus and to the origins of Christianity in the Quran, plus the experience of Islam’s own  birth in  resistance to the power elite of Mecca and its deep commitment to social justice,  offer a parallel path for such education.

We will also pursue the possibility of multireligious public action growing out of this educational process, to challenge corporate domination and  demand the necessary transfer of money and creative energy from military uses to meeting urgent civilian needs.

By working together, the campaign will also shape new kinds of community connecting our present forms of community,  just as Ancient Israel, Rabbinic Judaism, Christianity, and Islam built new kinds of communities in response to the oppressive top-down powers of their day.

If, as I have said, our new government will be even more unwilling than the old one to face these challenges, what is the use of renewing the ancient meanings of our religious and spiritual traditions?

History will not end in 2012, or 2020, and history is not made by governments alone.  Now we sow seeds. Watered with our tears, they will sprout.
They will bear fruit.