Reb Arthur's Latest Thoughts

ACTION: Urge Senators to Support Strong US INSISTENCE on 2-State/ Regional M.E. Peace

Thomas Friedman , columnist for the NY Times and a stodgy middle-of-the-roader, says that the Israeli government has become a drunk driver, addicted to swallowing up more and more territory at the cost of any decent peace with Palestine.

The Torah did not know about "drunken drivers." But it did know that some people might thirst to swallow up their neighbors' land and houses: "Cursed be he who moves back his neighbor's territory-marker. And all the people shall say, 'Amen!' " (Deut 27: 17)

And of course it knew the most profound alternative to that kind of greed: "When a stranger lives with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. … He shall be to you as one of your citizens. You shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the Land of Narrows. I YHWH, the Breath of Life, am your God." (Lev. 19:27.)

Until now, US governments have firmly opposed only those Palestinians who have been addicted to violence, but not an Israeli government addicted to land-grabs and to wronging their neighbors.

It seems that the Obama administration may at last be ready to confront the drunk drivers in the Israeli government as well as the violence-addicts among some Palestinian leaders. May.

I say "may" because what we --- the American people -- do is crucial. The White House will back down if it sees little public support. It might stay firm if it hears public acclaim.

Friends, it is said, don't let their friends drive drunk. Will you back up a decision by the White House to stop drunk driving by our friends?

If you will, The Shalom Center has prepared a model letter to Senators, urging them to support firm action for peace. You can add your own words and sign it by clicking here.

Please also keep in mind: For a deeper discussion of these issues, please click to see the article "What Strategy for Middle East Peace? Grass-roots organizing -- for what?"

The basic issue is simple:

1. For Israel to have peace and security, there must be a viable, free, and secure Palestine alongside Israel, along with a peace treaty between all Arab states and Israel.

2. For that to happen, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the blockade of Gaza from receiving civilian goods must end.

3. There cannot and will not be a real Palestinian state unless East Jerusalem is its capital -- for economic, cultural, and political reasons. In such a peace settlement, West Jerusalem can and will be recognized as the capital of Israel, but the annexation of East Jerusalem must end if there is to be peace. The Israeli government must end all efforts to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, to force Palestinians to move out, and to settle Israeli Jews there.

Now back to the drunk driver. So far all the US government has done is wring its hands about the deadly results of the drunk driving. What could the US do?

If you have been paying about three billion dollars a year for your friend's gasoline AND his alcohol and you decide that his drunk driving is endangering your own life and the lives of many many people who live in your city, maybe you just cancel the credit card you gave him, and let him start going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings until he gets his head screwed on right.

Now what does it mean to cut off the credit card for gasoline and alcohol, while making sure nobody takes advantage of your friend while he's going through rehab?

In 2002 and again in 2007, the Arab League proposed a regional peace treaty that would give Israel peace and security with all Arab states, in exchange for the Israeli recognition of a new Palestine on approximately the 1967 boundaries. The Arab League proposal included unclear references to the rights of Palestinian refugees, but also made clear that the package could be negotiated. The Israeli government, with the approval of the Bush Administration, ignored the proposal. Now the Obama Administration seems (see above) to be moving toward supporting it.

Only the US government has the power and influence to work with the Arab League and its proposal for a regional peace treaty; with the Palestinian leadership, including those elements of Hamas that have said that if the Palestinian people votes for a two-state solution, they will accept it; and above all with the government of Israel, whose military policy depends on US military aid.

That aid amounts to at least three billion dollars a year. Imagine the US saying that it will put its aid in escrow, dollar for dollar for the cost of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. The US announces that the money will be made available only to pay the costs of resettling the 400,000 Israelis who are now living in Palestinian land beyond the 1967 borders, and will be paid in one-fifth sums when (a) the blockade of civilian goods from entering Gaza is restricted to preventing only actual weapons from being imported into Gaza; and (b) chunks of 100,000 settlers at a time have left the West Bank and returned to Israel proper.

Meanwhile, the US should be offering aid to a nascent Palestine on condition that leaders from at least some of Hamas and Fatah join in a government of national unity, take vigorous steps to prevent attacks on Israel, and agree to take part in a regional peace conference with the goal of achieving peace with Israel within approximately the 1967 boundaries.

This is a policy to protect and affirm the real Israel, while ending its government's addiction to wronging its neighbors.

Can we build public support in the US for this policy?

As I have written before, I think that depends on whether local and national coalitions can be built of Jews, Christians, and Muslims to that purpose.

We can start right now. If you click here you will find a model letter to your Senators: Please add your own words and send it!

Once you've done that -- please stop and ask yourself -- Is that really enough? Please consider the possibility of inviting rabbis, ministers, priests, and imams where you live to meet quietly to discuss what they can and cannot agree to do for peace, either together or individually, publicly or privately. Their conversation might be eased if they read together some writing from the Abrahamic communities (e.g. The Tent of Abraham from Beacon) and used it as a framework for conversation.

Ask them to listen to each other first as they say what their sense of God's will and desire is for the Middle East and for American efforts to help achieve peace there. Of course this requires care for each others' hopes and compassion for each others' pain. So after each person speaks, hold silence for a full minute to share the Breath of Life. If these conversations help people move forward, try to arrange meetings with your Congressperson or Senator.

Blessings that you be able to take some firm and gentle steps toward making peace for the families of Abraham, Hagar, & Sarah. -- Shalom, salaam, peace -- Arthur

For a fuller discussion of these issues, please click to see the article "What Strategy for Middle East Peace? Grass-roots organizing -- for what?" .)


What Strategy for Middle East Peace? Grass-roots organizing -- for what?

Should a grass-roots movement to make peace in the Middle East focus on US pressure for region-wide peace including Israel, Palestine, and all Arab states -- or on boycotting/ divesting from Israel?

On March 4, 2010,  I was interviewed on "Democracy Now!"  -- a progressive nationally viewed TV  news show hosted by Amy Goodman  -- for a 15-minute debate with Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian-American professor.  The topic: "BDS," short-hand for "Boycott, Divest, Sanctions" aimed against Israel.   

Mr. Barghouti defined BDS as a boycott of all Israeli life, including universities, music, businesses, etc., aimed at ending not only the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, but also ending discrimination  within Israel against its citizens of Palestinian origin, and  enforcing the "right of return" for all Palestinian refugees into Israel..

It seems to me that Mr. Barghouti's version of the means and goals of BDS might depend on and would be likely to result in first demonizing and then dissolving Israel. (See below for why i think so.) I think that is an unethical goal, and therefore unachievable -- and if that were to become the goal and a totalistic version of BDS were to become the practice of those who seek a decent peace in the Middle East, it would prevent the achievement of what would be both ethical and possible -- a regional peace treaty encompassing Israel, a new Palestinian state, and all the Arab states.

I therefore support a very different strategy -- also a grass-roots American movement, but this one aimed to bring the US government to insist on ending the occupation, ending the state of war most Arab states still hold against Israel, and bringing about a just peace between Israel, Palestine, and all the other Arab states. (I can imagine a laser-beam tactic of boycotting specific enterprises most related to the occupation that would fit into this approach-- but that is not the totalistic strategy proposed by the BDS ""movement" and Mr. Barghouti. For details of a laser-beam tactic, see below.)

Indeed, Mr. Barghouti explicitly rejected ending the occupation as the principal goal of his version of BDS. He insisted the key issue is what he calls "the right of return." He made clear that his goal is resettling a million Palestinians -- not only real refugees from 1948 but their children & grandchildren -- to return to what is now Israel inside the Green Line (rather than to the Palestinian state, where of course they should be welcome).

But that result would shatter any possibility of Israel's having a special relationship with the Jewish people. To create such a state was why Israel came into existence. Dissolving it is so far from acceptable to Israelis that it means a No-Go on all negotiations. Mr. Barghouti said he has no objection to a "Jewish state," but that's meaningless under the conditions he proposed. His totalistic attack aimed at all aspects of Israeli society is integrally connected with a totalistic demand for dismantling the only purpose for Israel's existence.

This ethical failing is connected with the impossibility of getting a majority for this in the US public, and therefore any change in the crucial factor -- US government action. Or in Israeli society and policy.

I'm sorry that I didn’t say it as clearly as that on the program. (To see it, click here.)
Meanwhile, I have learned that during the next few weeks two major umbrella organizations of the official "established" Jewish institutional structures in America - the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs - are planning efforts to combat what they call "the delegitimization of Israel." BDS is one of their targets; the other is efforts to bring the Israeli government before the bar of international law.

I have a totally different strategy about that too. My way of preventing delegitimization of Israel would be to insist that the Israeli government stop acting in specific illegitimate ways. I will take up those specific points below.

During the interview and in the hours since, I have kept remembering an extraordinary story from the Book of Joshua.

In the story, Joshua, who has inherited leadership of the Israelite people after the death of Moses; who has led the people in crossing the Jordan; and who seems to have every reason to think God wants the Israelites to conquer the Land of Canaan, meets an awesome figure in full battle dress.
He calls out to this figure, "Are you for us or for our enemies?"
And the figure answers, "NO!"
Think for a moment about that "No!" 

I hear it to mean, "I am not here to support either one of you in your war against each other, nor do I support the conflict itself."   - And now the awesome figure continues in its own voice - " For I am a captain in the Army of YHWH, the Interbreathing of all life."
To the extent that in my life I can clumsily try to walk the path of serving only in God's Army, the Infinite Host of that One Whose breathing gives life to all beings --  I understand this to mean:

 I am not to blindly support my own government  -- or its enemies - when they clash in unjust conflict with each other. Not the US government when it attacks half a dozen Muslim countries, nor Al Qaeda when it attacks America. I am to hear instead the trumpet-blast of peace that is rooted in justice, the trumpet that awakens the troops of God's Own army.

 I am not to give blind support to the government of Israel or those Americans (Jews or others) who bow to its policies - nor am I to support those who demonize Israeli society and try to bring disaster on its people.
Instead, I see my task as seeking to bring about an independent, God-centered vision of a just peace. I understand God's desire --  command --  to be ending the wars, not winning victories for either side over the other.

It is now clear that neither the divided government of Palestine nor the government of Israel can take the necessary steps to make peace. They are like two hostile adults, thrown in a room together after childhoods of  terrible abuse. They take out their traumas on each other. Only an outsider can break into the cycle and help a different process emerge.

That requires focusing the power and influence of the United States to bring about a decent peace among the warring parties in the Middle East  -- Israel, Palestine, all the other Arab states, and the US itself.  Unlike the South African case, which BDS supporters often cite in support of the effectiveness of BDS, the US government - not private banks and companies - is the main economic support for the Israeli occupation.

For me, the notion of a two-state peace settlement means that the "right of return" for Palestinians should be exercised chiefly in and with the new Palestine, while Israel like all other sovereign states defines its own immigration policy; and the discrimination against Israeli Palestinians should be dealt with chiefly by Israelis in an atmosphere of peace, no longer dominated by fear of the Arab "enemy."
How do we get to this point? The Obama Administration seems to believe, as a matter of rhetoric, in the regional peace settlement I have sketched. But rhetoric is not enough. The Arab League has offered to negotiate, with such a regional peace settlement as the goal. But the Israeli government will  not end the occupation and make peace with Palestine, Syria, and other Arab states when met with US rhetoric alone. And so far, only some parts of Hamas seem willing to consider such a peace settlement.
The US government -- and only the US government - does have the power and influence to work with the Arab League and its proposal for a regional peace treaty; with the Palestinian leadership, including those elements of Hamas that have said that if the Palestinian people votes for a two-state solution, they will accept it; and above all with the government of Israel, whose military policy depends on US military aid.
Imagine the US saying that it will put half its military aid to Israel in escrow; that the money will be made available only to pay the costs of resettling the 400,000 Israelis who are now living in Palestinian land beyond the 1967 borders, and will be paid in one-fifth sums when (a) the blockade of civilian goods from entering Gaza is restricted to preventing only actual weapons from being imported into Gaza; and (b) chunks of 100,000 or so settlers  at a time have left the West Bank and returned to Israel proper. (Present Israeli residents of the Old City of Jerusalem and any present Israeli settlers who agree to live fully under Palestinian law and sovereignty would be permitted to stay. If a new Palestinian government of national unity agreed to land swaps allowing some few Israeli settlements to become part of Israel while other Israeli land became part of Palestine, those settlers would also be permitted to stay.)

At the same time, the US government would offer aid to a new Palestine on condition that at least some Fatah and Hamas leaders join in a government of national unity, take major steps to prevent attacks on Israel, and agree to take part in a regional peace conference with the clear aim and commitment of making peace among Israel, all Arab states, and the nascent Palestine on approximately the pre-war 1967 boundaries.

And the US government would call for and use all its political, diplomatic, and economic clout to bring about a Middle East regional peace conference to accomplish exactly that result.
Why put in escrow only half, instead of all, US military aid to Israel? because ethically and in practical politics as well, the US needs to be absolutely clear that it is ready to ensure Israel's security while at the same time, and with the same level of commitment, ready to insist on the end of the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the end of the blockade of civilian goods from entering Gaza.

This approach can only be taken by a US government if there is a strong public movement for it. So far as I can see, the only Americans who care enough  about the Middle East, with enough passion and numbers to make a difference, are American Jews, Christians, and Muslims whose religio-ethnic identifications with the history and the peoples of that region are strong enough to move them into action - for war or for peace.
For the first time in decades, or ever, there is within the Jewish community not only an inchoate desire for a decent peace, but the organizational forms that are sufficiently independent of the Israeli government  to pursue it.
For the first time ever, American Muslims are on the way to creating a coherent public voice on American foreign policy.
And for the first time in decades, some Protestant churches are willing to  take on these questions in public, as they get less fearful of being labeled anti-Semitic when they criticize Israeli government policy.
So for the first time, it might be possible to put together a Jewish-Christian-Muslim coalition to work for strong insistence by the US government on a decent Middle East peace.  Those who say it is hopeless to move the US government to such a policy because it has never behaved that way before, are forgetting there has never been a powerful coalition demanding that it act that way.

In  the context and only in the context of such a coalition, it is conceivable that economic pressures could be aimed specifically and narrowly at the Occupation. For example, stockholder pressures on Caterpillar Tractor to prevent the use of its bulldozers to destroy Palestinian homes, and refusals to buy products that are identifiably produced and sold by Israeli settlers on Palestinian land, could be combined with economic  support for grass-roots fair-trade joint Israeli-Palestinian enterprises (like PeaceOil, an olive-oil import enterprise with exactly that commitment. See

But this kind of activity is not what the present BDS movement is calling for. And even such a laser-beam economic pressure would only be worth the effort in the context of a multireligious and multicultural social movement initiated by local coalitions of Jews, Christians, and Muslims and focused on  changing the outlook of US Congressmembers and the President.
Meanwhile, what do I make of the plans of the two major Jewish  "umbrella organizations" to combat what they call the "delegitimization of Israel"?
I agree there is a danger of Israel's delegitimization. . But it does not flow chiefly from the actions of non-governmental organizations that the present Israeli government is attacking. It flows in larger measure from some actions of the Israeli government itself.

I urge American Jewish organizations to prevent the delegitimization of Israel by urging the Israeli government to end those of its actions that are themselves illegitimate.

For instance, they should publicly urge both the Israeli government and the Hamas government of Gaza each to create at once a fully independent commission with full judicial powers to investigate all allegations that its own forces -- either Palestinian or Israeli -- committed war crimes before and during the Gaza invasion.

That is what the Goldstone Report called for. Only if either party failed to do this, said Judge Goldstone, should the International Criminal Court take up the case concerning that party. The evidence of war crimes is strong enough, and refusal to have an independent body investigate the claims is so illegitimate, that both governments are bound to be "delegitimized" if they refuse.

And these American Jewish bodies should urge the Israeli government to end at once the illegitimate blockade on the entry of civilian goods into Gaza; to freeze all settlements in the Palestinian areas, including East Jerusalem; to end all demolitions of Palestinian homes; and to meet with the Arab League to aim at a full regional peace settlement.

If the Israeli government took these steps, almost all efforts to "delegitimize" Israel would swiftly melt away.

If on the other hand, JCPA and the Conference of Presidents put their efforts into attacking NGO’s and other groups that are already under attack by the Israeli government and its allies, the result might very well be a descent into a McCarthyist blizzard of slanders and attacks. I know that many of the member groups and their leaders would abhor such a result; I hope you will act to reaffirm the desirability, not just the acceptability, of listening to a very wide variety of opinions.
And finally, I would ask both the national organizations of Muslims, Jews, and Christians -- and local grass-roots groups of people from the Abrahamic traditions:

Are you ready to come together not just for intellectual "dialogue" but for common action toward the peace our sisters, brothers, and cousins so desperately need?



[This is a thoroughly revised version of Chapter 9 of my book Seasons of Our Joy, originally published in 1982 and most recently published in 1990 by Beacon Press.
[In the years since, the book has often been called a classic. Readers -- both Jews and others -- tell me its approach to the history, the spiritual meaning, and the actual practice of the festivals remains very helpful to them.
[Shalom Center members and subscribers can order the book from Beacon at a 10% discount with free shipping. For information on how to do this, see the very end of this post.
[The revised chapter follows. I welcome comments and suggestions, either directly to me at or in the comments section at its end here on our Website. – Shalom, AW]]


The month of spring -- the first month, says the Torah: time to begin. As the flowers rise up against winter, so the Israelites rise up against Pharaoh. The peoplehood of Israel is born -- and we celebrate the freedom of new births and new beginnings. The feverish hilarity of early spring, of Purim, becomes a more directed, more devoted vigor.


Many scholars believe that Pesach is a fusion of two early festivals -- one of shepherds, one of farmers -- that welcomed spring in two quite different ways. As the month of lambing begins in the flock, the shepherds may have celebrated the flock's fertility by sacrificing a sheep, smearing its blood on the doorposts of their tents, dancing a skipping "Pesach" ("skip-over, pass-over") dance around their campfires that imitated the skipping, stumbling steps of newborn lambs. (Pause for a moment to absorb the extraordinary imaginal and ethical leap of the Pesach story in saying that as the shepherds imitated stumbling lambs, God imitated stumbling shepherds -- or lambs. For God protected a newborn freedom for runaway slaves by making sure that Death would skip over, pass over, "pesach," their homes.)

As for the farmers -- in preparation for the harvest of spring barley and wheat, they may have cleared out from their homes and storehouses all the chametz, the sour dough, the starter dough they used to make the bread rise. They were not only starting over for the year's new crop, but starting over in human history by eating the most ancient bread of all, the flat unleavened bread that was the beginning of the farmer's food.

So before the beginning of the people Israel there seems to have been a farmer's festival of unleavened bread and a shepherd's festival of the pesach (pass-over, skipping) sacrifice. When in Exodus 12 and 13 the Torah describes the birth of the people, it hints of these double origins even as it brings these two main elements of observance and ritual together.

When and how did the two forms get connected? Some scholars think that the shepherds' ceremony was transformed first: that the celebration of the lambing season was turned into the great festival of liberation. Some crisis stirred the people to a white-hot intensity that enabled them to melt down the old forms and recast them, proclaiming a new birth and a new purpose. The festival itself tells us what this was. Among some crucial nomadic shepherd clans that became the history-bearers of the People Israel, the eruption of a desire for freedom was so strong that it shattered their subjection to the power of the Pharaoh of all Egypt. Their desire for freedom was so intense that those clans experienced the direct intrusion into their own life-histories of the awesome Power that lay at the root of all history and all new birth.

As the story has come down to us, the small Israelite clans which came to Egypt under royal protection first prospered and multiplied there. But a change in royal politics or family brought to power Pharaohs who feared and despised them. So they were subjected to forced labor on the Pharaoh's city-building projects, and then to a concerted attack on their high birthrate: all their boy babies were to be killed at birth.

This decree triggered the first stages of resistance. Midwives -- whether Hebrew or Egyptian or both is not quite clear -- refused to murder babies. Even an Egyptian princess conspired with Israelite women to save one baby boy, Moses, who grew up to become a firebrand rebel.

Moses killed an Egyptian straw boss, fled Egypt in fear of his life, and then married and lived for years as a shepherd and political refugee in the nearby wilderness. He had a child, and only then was able to experience the intense and fiery God-energy toward freedom that transformed the rest of his life. (The story intertwines the birth of children and the birth of freedom, as if to teach that at the root of both is new potential, whether biological and personal or political and historical; as if to teach that the biology of spring and the sociology of freedom are in some deep sense the same.)

At a mysteriously burning bush, Moses received God's charge to return to Egypt and to lead his people toward their liberation. With the help of Miriam his sister and Aaron his brother, Moses challenged Pharaoh; proclaimed that Pharaoh's stubborn arrogance would bring from YHWH, Who united all life and all history, ten disastrous plagues that finally shattered the Egyptian tyranny; and led his people into the wilderness of open space and choices.

According to the biblical story, from the intensity of thought and feeling that accompanied this moment of revolutionary change there emerged a festival intended both to memorialize and to re-enact the moment -- to keep it ever-fresh as a resource for renewal of the struggle to be free. In this new festival of Pesach – Passover -- the traditional sacrifice of the lamb in spring was re-explained as a ransom for the continued life of the Israelite first-born. For in the night of convulsion before the day of Exodus, the tenth plague or disaster struck, with the result that every first-born in the households of the Egyptian master-people died.

Only where an Israelite had the courage to violate the Egyptians' taboo upon killing sheep -- by slaughtering a lamb and smearing its blood upon the doorpost -- did the plague of death pass-over and the first-born survive. (When the family left the house through this doorway, their exit through the blood upon the doorpost echoed the process by which every human being passes through a passage full of blood in order to be born. So this smearing of blood turned the house of every family that chose to do it into a house of birthing.)

This connection between the Pesach lamb and the rescue of the firstborn may have evoked deep feelings at the personal, family level as well as in the arena of political freedoms. For the passage in Exodus makes a close connection between the Pesach sacrifice and the command that every firstbom calf or lamb shall be killed for sacrifice-and that every first-born son shall be specially redeemed, for his life and blood are also forfeit as a sacrifice.

It is not hard to feel that the Pesach lamb was partly a ransom against child sacrifice -- partly a psychological substitute for killing one's own firstborn son, as the ram on Mount Moriah was Abraham's substitute for killing his son Isaac. For the many years in which the sacrifice was carried on at local shrines and at the First and Second Temples, it may therefore (like circumcision) have helped discharge the tension between fathers and sons.

Jewish tradition understood this tension well when it said – in the passage from the last of the {Prophets, Mal;achi, that is read in synagogue every year on the Shabbat just before Pesach –- that the great task of Elijah the Prophet was to "turn the hearts of the fathers to the sons and the hearts of the sons to the fathers," and then welcomed Elijah to every circumcision and to every Passover Seder. In our own generation, modern psychologists have rediscovered the tension between the generations. If there were no way to discharge the tensions, some of them have said, they might explode into murder. So the Pesach ceremony may be a way of dealing with the most intimate struggles for life and freedom in the family, as well as the grand and glorious struggles of world history.

This speculation is strengthened by the emphasis in the first four chapters of Exodus on childbirth as the crucial element in the Israelite search for freedom and in the Pharaoh's denial of it. The effort to drown newborns, the midwives' frustration of that effort, the conspiracy of Miriam with Pharaoh's daughter to save the baby Moses, the birth of Moses' own son before he can experience God in the burning bush, and the uncanny circumcision of that son before Moses can become the liberator -- all these suggest a strong connection between human birth, the protection of babies, and the liberation of a people.

Each child comes through the narrow space to bring broad new possibilities of freedom to the world. Perhaps the oldest Pharaoh is the impulse many parents feel, at one or another moment, to strangle that unpredictability in the cradle.

In the long historical process of shaping the festival we know as Passover, there were many moments of change and growth. The crucial moment came when these separate sets of feelings about the new births in the flock of sheep, about newborns in the clan and family, and about the birth of political freedom were fused into a single extraordinary ceremony.

What was remembered as a great transformation of symbols in the intense emergency of the Exodus was preserved as a teaching of those transformed symbols even afterward. In the book of Exodus, indeed, the description of the emergency celebration and the command for future celebrations are tightly intertwined, moving back and forth from now to later. It is a way of saying that the later generations were to experience the first event as an urgent part of their own immediate lives. Once the connection had been made between the rebirthing powers of the flock and the human family, and the power of a people to politically rebirth itself, that connection was never forgotten.

But then where does the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread join the story? Modem scholars feel that the nomad army of liberated Israelites may have brought their shepherds' festival of freedom to the settled farmers of Canaan. As many of the Canaanites responded to the fervent mixture of Israelite conquest and conversion, they connected their own history, legends perhaps of Abraham and Isaac, with the memories of the returning clans. The already settled farmers kept on celebrating their own spring festival of the unleavened bread and the new spring grain. They also accepted the shepherds' Pesach sacrifice into their celebration of the springtime.

As the invading nomads settled down, they preserved their own ceremonial of birth and liberation, and joined with their neighbors in the week-long feast of matzah. Yet the scholars think the two festivals may have remained distinct for centuries. They may even perhaps have observed at two different times in the month of spring-the sacrifice at the full moon; the matzah feast whenever the barley harvest was ready to begin.

The scholars suggest that not until the Babylonian exile did the two festivals become one. Cut off from the nature-rhythm of their own barley harvest in regard to the one festival and cut off from the sacrificial altar at the Temple in Jerusalem in regard to the other festival, the Israelites in Babylon may have needed the two festivals connected and their dates fixed. In exile, their intense desire for exodus, for freedom and a return to the land of Israel, may well have burned hot enough to melt down the meaning of the ceremonial meal of matzah -- to fuse it with the Pesach lamb as a memorial and a demand for exodus.

According to this theory, by the time the ancient oral traditions are woven into the text of the Book of Exodus, the matzah festival is connected with the liberation from Egypt by means of remembering that the haste of departure was so great that there was no time for the Israelites to let the dough rise in the emergency rations they had baked.

In any case, by the time of the Second Temple, the crucial personal and communal elements of Passover had been unified. It celebrated the spring equinox, the moment when the sun was born again-began anew to warm the northern hemisphere. It celebrated Spring in the lambing of the flocks and the harvesting of barley. It celebrated the life of every newborn child, and the joy of every family that the firstborn need not be offered up to God. It celebrated the birth-time of the people and their ability -- not simply once, but now another time -- to emerge from slavery to freedom and from exile to self-determination in their own land. And so Pesach had become the quintessential festival of newness, creation, creativity, freedom.

At this point, what Pesach meant was that on the tenth of the month of Nisan, each family acquired a lamb -- or, if it were too small or too poor to deal with a whole lamb of its own, shared with a neighbor. In enormous multitudes -- more than three million strong in the year 65 C.E. -- the people Israel converged on Jerusalem to celebrate the festival. They would sacrifice the lambs as the day of the fourteenth of Nisan turned into dusk and moved toward the evening of the fifteenth. Until midnight they would roast and eat the paschal lamb, with bitter herbs to remember the bitterness of slavery and with matzah to recall the haste of liberation. For a week they would stay in Jerusalem, eating only unleavened bread, telling the tales of freedom, gathering again on the seventh day for another solemn day of dedication.

Sometime during the week they would begin to wave before God's altar an omer of the earliest-ripened barley, starting the count of 49 days of awaiting the crop from different fields throughout the land of Israel as the barley ripened-a count that itself would ripen on the festival of Shavuot. And after the seventh day they would return to their homes.

Late in the period of the Second Temple, under the influence of Hellenistic and Roman culture, the Pesach feast became a carefully ordered meal that borrowed from the pattern of the Greek and Roman symposium, or discussion banquet. As this pattern developed, the Mishnah -- a collection and codification of those traditions and practices of Jewish life approved by the early rabbis -- laid out how to do the order, the Seder, of the Pesach meal. In its essentials, this Seder became the pattern that was put into the Haggadah -- the Telling of Passover -- and thus became the pattern for the meal as we have it for our own generation.

One of the major elements introduced by the Mishnah, borrowing from the symposium, was the drinking of four cups of wine -- two early in the meal, two after the meal was over. The custom of reclining during the meal as an expression of freedom also drew on Roman custom -- for free citizens in Roman times would recline to eat a formal dinner.

There is also a tradition, passed on by word of mouth alone until our own day, that the Seder of Roman times which the Haggadah itself describes -- the Seder in which Rabbi Akiba and four colleagues talk all night -- was actually the occasion for discussing and planning an uprising against the Imperial power. Akiba's insistence on adding to the Passover Seder's blessing over God's redemptive power in Egypt, a passage looking forward toward restoration of the Temple that the Romans had destroyed, and Akiba's support for the Bar Kochba revolt against Rome as a Messianic event, were presumably connected with the discussion at this famous Seder in the town of B'nei Brak. This may have been the first occasion when Passover was consciously used not only as a celebration of God's gift of freedom in the past but as an incitement of collective human action for freedom toward the future.

Between the codification of the Mishnah (end of the second century C. E. ) and the collection of the Gemara's commentaries on it (three centuries later), there were some changes in the text and arrangement of the Seder. The Mishnah lays out several questions to be asked by a child (in some texts three, in some four). One of these questions is about the roast lamb of the Pesach sacrifice. After the destruction of the Temple had not only occurred but lasted for several centuries, so that the restoration of the sacrifices no longer seemed imminent and the question about them was irrelevant to the actual Seder meal, the Gemara replaced this question with one about reclining.

So at this point the child's questions became the Four Questions that we have today, all built upon the crucial question "Why is this night different from all other nights?" For on this night we eat only matzah; we eat bitter herbs; we twice dip food, into salt water and charoset (chopped fruit and nuts soaked in wine); we recline at the table. Why?

The Gemara also described a shift of the "Telling" parts of the ritual from their earlier position during the meal to a place after only a symbolic green vegetable had been eaten and before the actual meal, probably to make sure the telling was done well and thoroughly before the effects of wine and food had dulled the abilities of the celebrants.

There were several debates among the Talmudic rabbis as to what the text of the telling on Pesach night should be. Some of these may seem at first glance picayune, but when we probe a little there is often revealed some basic moral issue. One of these disagreements was the one between Tarfon and Akiba over whether to refer to a future redemption and the restoration of the Temple. Another began out of a consensus that the story should start out by telling of the Israelites' original degraded status, and rise to their glorious redemption. But then the consensus turned into a dispute over what degradation to begin with: the slavery in Egypt, or the idolatrous beliefs of Abraham's family? This dispute was resolved by starting with both: "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt . . . " and "Our forebears served as slaves to idols . . . "

Even the cup of Elijah results from a debate over whether there should be four or five cups of wine. The compromise was to have a fifth cup but not to drink from it or say the blessing, and in time this became known as the cup that awaited Elijah's visit to announce the Messianic redemption (may it come soon and in our own day). For it will be Elijah, according to tradition, who will at that time settle the debatable points of Torah on which the rabbis had been unable to reach a firm conclusion. "Four cups or five? Ask Elijah!"

Another, much more playful, debate arose over how many plagues really happened in Egypt -- ten, fifty, two hundred? This debate is presented verbatim in the Haggadah -- and takes on a more profound meaning when we notice that the various proposed numbers of plagues add up to 610, plus a three-word mnemonioc to remember them. Add these together, and we have 613, which is also the total number of God's commandments according to a traditional view. So the Haggadah hints that the ten plagues of Egypt stand opposite the Ten Commandments of Sinai; and that there are 613 plagues standing opposite the 613 commandments. For every commandment unfulfilled, there is a plague . . .

In the Gaonic period in Babylon, these discussions continued and gradually the results crystallized into a more-or-less agreed text and order of a service for Passover night. This text first appeared as part of the earliest Jewish prayerbook in the ninth century. By the eleventh century, the text was almost identical with the traditional Haggadah used today, with the exception of the verses beginning "Pour out Your wrath," which were added as a furious response to anti-Semitic outbursts during the Crusades. The earliest appearance of a separate Passover Haggadah seems to have been in the twelfth century. The songs sung after completion of the regular service first appeared in the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries.

During the past century, under the stimulus of profound changes in Jewish life, a number of modified Haggadahs have been used by parts of the Jewish community, beginning with Reform and Reconstructionist editions in the United States and with new versions published by hundreds of nonreligious socialist kibbutzim before and after the establishment of Israeli independence.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States, political and religious upheavals among young Jews led to the publication of a number of different Haggadahs. Some of these expressed more or less radical political feelings, others expressed the determination of Jewish women to enter Jewish life as full equals with men, and some presented a variety of alternate readings from inside or outside Jewish traditional thought that could be used to strike up open discussion and debate at the Seder in the spirit of the Zman cheruteynu, season of our freedom.



Preparations for Pesach are the most elaborate of all the Jewish year. They take place in both the physical realm of preparing the household by removing leaven, and the spiritual realm of clearing away deadliness and idolatry by means of prayer and Torah study. We act in the two realms simultaneously in parallel; here we will look at the physical first.

Renewal of the body can begin on Rosh Chodesh (the New Moon) of the month of Nisan, for that is when the reordering of the house and the cleaning out of last year's leavening can start. The Torah's command is that no chametz, leavening or souring agent, shall remain in one's house during Pesach. In our own generation, different Jews apply this rule with more or less stringency.

In removing the chametz, there are some traditional customs and regulations to keep in mind: regular bread is the most obvious candidate for removal. With it traditionally went all cereals and grains, especially wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye -- all mentioned by the rabbis -- and also corn (maize), not discovered until after 1492.

Rice, millet, peas, and beans (including peanuts) were forbidden for Ashkenazic Jews, descended from Northern European communities. The Mediterranean-based Sephardic communities and the Oriental Jews did not feel -- as did the Ashkenazic rabbis -- that these foods might be ground into flour, get confused with the originally prohibited grains, and seduce Jews toward eating those grains. In very recent years, some Ashkenazic rabbis , especially in Israel where the two communities have intermingled, have argued that this separation from Sephardic practice is not based on any accurate understanding of Torah and, moreover, tends to treat Seohardic custom as less kosher, less holy. So they have urged that the prohibition on these foods be abandoned. In any case, even Ashkenazic families that will not eat them are not forbidden to leave them in the house.

Alcoholic liquors based on grain (which include beer and practically all other alcohol except wine and pure fruit brandies like slivovitz) also contain chametz. So does vinegar, if it is made at all from grain. Pure apple cider vinegar, however, even though it is sour is not considered chametz and may be used during Pesach. Many canned, bottled, and processed foods contain cornstarch, com syrups, flour as a thickening agent, etc. All these are traditionally forbidden. So are non-foods that contain chametz -- some cosmetics, inks, glues, toothpastes, etc.

There are several approaches to consider in dealing with this chametz:

• The very nooks and crannies of the household probably bear chametz in their dust; so the custom has arisen of doing an extraordinarily thorough spring cleaning before Pesach.

• As for visible, palpable chametzdik foods, some people find it psychologically satisfying to finish half-loaves of bread, half-boxes of crackers, etc., in the two weeks before Pesach.

• What is left can be physically removed from the house. In some communities, the custom has arisen of taking such foods, together with some money, to soup kitchens or other places that feed the (non-Jewish) desperately poor. In this way both the mitzvah of removing chametz and the mitzvah of tzedakah are fulfilled. If the soup kitchen or other group chosen is also working toward the goal of freeing the poor from poverty and powerlessness, then the historic message of Pesach-liberation from slavery -- is also carried outward to the broader world.

• The chametz can be separated from everything else in the house, put in a room or a large box that is sealed closed, and the chametz can then be formally and legally sold to a non-Jew. It may be advisable to arrange this through a rabbi, or other person trained in Jewish traditions, who is knowledgeable in this particular practice. Untrained individuals may find it useful to consult as a model the legal formulas for this sale printed on pages 36-39 of Section 3 on Festivals of the Code of Jewish Law (Ganzfried-Goldin, ed., Hebrew Publishing Co.). This arrangement allows the chametzdik food to be sold before Pesach and bought back for the same price afterward. In some congregations, the custom has arisen of making the sale to a non-Jewish charitable organization -- for example, Oxfam, which tries to deal with the world hunger problem -- and then donating part or all of the cost of the food after its repurchase.

Traditionally, all food utensils used during the regular year either need to be locked away after thorough washing and left unused during Pesach so that utensils would be used that were saved all year (under seal) for Pesach use alone; or else the utensils were purified of leaven by putting them in large pots of boiling water and putting boiling-hot stones or bricks in the pots so that the water (still boiling hot) would overflow the rim. Burners on the stove can be covered with foil, a special tablecloth used on the table, etc.

Special food intended for Passover is indicated by the special "Kosher L'Pesach" notation on the container with a rabbinic seal of kashrut. Fresh fruits and vegetables do not need this symbol; foods like fresh milk or foods that list ingredients and do not list any form of chametz are probably kosher in fact, but there is no way to be certain that chametz has not infiltrated. Individual households must decide whether to insist on rabbinic certification. Whatever the decision, after utensils have been changed or purified and the regular food sold or given away, only food intended for Pesach should be bought.

Traditionally, the matzah intended to fulfill the positive command to eat unleavened bread (which is separate from the negative command to not eat leavened bread) is made of only flour and water and must be completely baked in less than 18 minutes from when the flour is mixed with water, so that it has no time to rise. Special egg matzahs, fruit juice matzahs, etc., that use no water are not chametz; they are not fully matzah either. Traditionally, therefore, they may be eaten during Pesach but not as the ritual matzah of the Seder. Some households use only sh'murah matzah (guarded matzah). Its flour has been watched all the way back to the time of harvesting the grain to make sure no water has touched it. Some sh'murah matzah comes from fields that receive only the merest minimal amounts of rainfall.

The baking of ritual matzah can itself become a spiritually uplifting experience. The process requires an oven capable of very high heat that can bake in great speed; absolutely dry flour; and fresh spring water with which the flour is combined just before baking. Rows of holes are put in the matzah in order to permit air bubbles to escape rather than leaven the bread even unintentionally. Directions for baking can be found on pages 143-145 of The First Jewish Catalog. (But it is very unlikely that such private baking can meet all the traditional tests for kosher matzah; so some who like to do their own baking eat this matzah before Pesach begins.)

On the night before Pesach (or if it begins at the end of Shabbos, on the Thursday night before), there is a final hunt through the house to get rid of any chametz that has not been eaten, given away, or sealed off and sold. Many households give this search a ritual as well as practical character by having each member of the household hide a few chunks of bread around the house ahead of time -- adding up to a minyan, a total of ten. Then the whole household can hunt. A candle -- not some other kind of light -- is used for this search, because (so the Talmud says), the human soul is God's candle to search out the innards of the world.

A feather (which you may want to look for in a public park in a pre-Pesach spring walk that afternoon) or a palm-branch from the lulav that has been put aside from last Sukkot may be used to brush the pieces of bread from their hiding place into a paper bag-so that no one actually is contaminated by a crumb of leaven.

The search begins with a blessing: "Baruch atuh YHWH [Adonai or Yah] eloheynu melech [ruach] ha-olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav vitzivanu al biyyur chameytz. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of space and time [or, Breath of Life our God], who has made us holy through Your commandments, and commanded us about the removal of leavening." After the symbolic ten pieces have been found and any other chametz found along the way has also been swept up, the bag of chametz is laid aside. The household members use the ancient popular language, Aramaic, to declare:

Kol shamira v'chamiya dika birshuti, d'la chamitey ood'la bah-aritey ood'la yadana ley, livtil v'lehevey hefker k'afra harah.

All leaven in my possession that I have not seen or removed or that I don't know about is hereby made null and void, and ownerless as the dust of the earth.

In the morning, after breakfast, this declaration is recited again and the bag of chametz is burned outside the house -- beginning perhaps with the dried-out lulav (palm branch). If Pesach begins Saturday night, then on Friday morning, leavening like challah for eating Friday night may be left; the rest should be burnt (since a fire cannot be kindled on Shabbos); and the declaration of nullity is delayed until after eating two briefly separated meals which use up all the remaining bread on Shabbos morning, so as to fulfill the mitzvah of eating three meals with bread every Shabbos. If later during Pesach an accidentally overlooked piece of chametz is found, a cup or pot should be placed upside down over it and then during the middle five days of semifestival, it should be burned with the blessing, "Who has commanded us about the removal of leavening."

In addition to the special problems created by a Pesach that begins on Saturday night, there are special problems with a Pesach that begins on Wednesday night. In such a year, all day Thursday and Friday are festivals. In traditional homes, food can be cooked on these days for eating on these days or on the semi-festival days later-but food should not be cooked on the festival days to eat on Shabbos (and even more strongly, food should not be newly cooked on Shabbos itself).

How then to cook for Shabbos? The rabbis ruled that if a family began cooking for Shabbos before Pesach began and continued on into the festival days, this was not the same as beginning the process during Pesach. So if Pesach begins Wednesday night, some cooking for Shabbos begins during the day before. That food and some matzah are singled out, and the household does the ceremony of eruv tavshilin, mixture for cooking, declaring over this food:

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of space and time, Who has made us holy with Your commandments and commanded us about the "mixture." By means of this mixture we may bake, cook, warm, kindle lights, and do everything necessary from holy day toward Shabbos -- we and all Israel who live in this town.

After 9:30 of the morning before Pesach, it is forbidden to eat chametz and it is the custom not to eat matzah, so as to be able to savor fully the taste of the first matzah at the Seder.

First-born children traditionally do not eat at all during the daylight hours before Pesach, in recognition of the awesome fact that all the first-born children of Egypt died during the night and that the Israelite first-born were saved only by virtue of God's forbearance and the Pesach sacrifice of the lamb and the blood on the doorposts. However, it is a mitzvah to celebrate with food and drink the completion of a mitzvah such as the study of a part of the Bible, Talmud, or other text from the tradition. So the custom has arisen that the first-borns of a community gather on the morning before Pesach to study together, and then can eat a breadless siyyum, a festive meal to celebrate the mitzvah.

In some households, the afternoon before Pesach is a time to walk for an hour or two in a park or woods, enjoying the spring birth-time before turning to the political-historical birth-time. In some traditional communities, it is a time to immerse in the mikveh, the ritual bath -- not to become physically clean but to experience the purifying rest, the sense of oceanic union with the universe, that can come from total immersion. Bodies of pure running water-streams, lakes, oceans -- can be used as mikvehs.

To some modern sensibilities, following the rather elaborate rituals for ridding the household of leaven may seem obsessive. The task may become so onerous -- especially if it is loaded onto just one member of the household -- that it seems to re-establish the slavery that the original Passover freed us from! If the toil of pre-Pesach cleaning is shared and then the Seder is greeted as a great shared liberation, the toil might even come to be used in a spiritually helpful way.

There is also a mystical outlook on the meaning of the removal of chametz that can be kept in mind. According to this view, chametz is what lifts us up throughout the year -- leads to our working harder, searching deeper, loving more. It is the yetzer, or swelling-impulse, of the soul. But allowed to swell and grow without restraint, it becomes yetzer ha-ra, the evil impulse. It impels us not only to productivity, but to possessiveness; not only to creativity, but to competitiveness; not only to love, but to jealousy and lust.

So once a year we must clean out even the uplifting impulse; we must eat the flat bread of a pressed-down people. Half a year after the Tashlich ceremony of Rosh Hashanah, we must clean out the pockets of pride that have grown big again. Half a year after Yom Kippur, we must again swallow hard and look again at what is eating us.


While the Temple stood, the approach of Pesach was a time for every Israelite to clear away any aura of contact with a death. For no one who had touched a dead body could offer up a sacrifice to the living God without first going through an exercise to clear away the taboo. Pesach was the only time that every Israelite family brought a sacrifice. (On other festivals the priests made the offering, and when it was a matter of an individual guilt-offering or something similar, the special occasion would apply to just one person.) So to prepare for Pesach, the whole people heard the Torah reading about how to clear away the death taboo.

Now, with the Temple gone, we read that Torah passage to cleanse ourselves of deadliness through the reading itself. The passage is about the red heifer or parah adumah, and we read it on the second Shabbos before the month of Nisan begins (or if it actually begins on Shabbos, on the Shabbos just before).

This passage (Numbers 19:1-22) describes how the red heifer was sacrificed-its red blood sprinkled on the altar and its body burned with red cedarwood and the red spice hyssop, with a scarlet dye to make in the fire a cloud of red smoke. The heifer's ashes were then used to clear away the uncanniness of death from the person of anyone who had touched a corpse. Along with this passage, on Shabbos Parah we read a haftarah (prophetic passage; in this case, Ezekiel 36:13-38) in which God promises to cleanse all Israel from our idolatries.

On the Shabbos after Shabbos Parah, we read a special Torah passage to announce that Nisan, the month of Passover, is upon us. This passage from Exodus 12, "This month shall be for you the head of the months; it is for you first of the months of the year," is added to the regular Torah portion of the week. Every new month is announced on the Shabbos before, but only Nisan is announced with a special Torah reading. This gives the month an extra honor, and gives the congregation a special electricity about Pesach. The Shabbos is called Shabbos Ha-Chodesh, Shabbos of The Month. It completes the four special Shabbosim that began with Shabbos Shekalim and Shabbos Zakhor before Purim.

Once Nisan actually begins, the community begins to collect money to help the poor celebrate Pesach fully. This ma-oz chittin or wheat money is intended to let the poor buy matzah -- and by extension all their other needs in food, clothing, and fuel -- in order freely to celebrate Pesach, the festival of freedom.

Even if someone has already fulfilled the mitzvah of tzedakah, in complete accordance with the law, s/he cannot appreciate the full implication of freedom knowing that a neighbor is hungry and in need. If s/he knew that there were hungry people in the town and had not bothered to come to their assistance, s/he would be guilty of telling lies -- God forbid -- on this "watch night" when the Seder itself begins, "Let all who are hungry come and eat." If, however, s/he has made an effort to supply the needy with food, and then says, "Perhaps there are still some poor people of whom I know not, I am ready to receive them at my table," then these words are clearly sincere and s/he is rewarded for saying this just as if s/he had at this very moment fed the hungry and gladdened the hearts of the poor (Eliyahu Kitov).

Money for this Pesach aid is distributed to the poor before the Shabbos before Pesach, so that they should have time to buy what they need.

Although the practice of ma-oz chittin focuses first on the poor of one's own town or community, some Jewish communities in some years have lived under restrictions of their governments as to how much matzah and other Pesach foods they may prepare. For some years in the history of the Soviet Union, for instance, very little matzah was allowed. It would be wise, perhaps at the time of Shabbos Shekalim before Purim, to check with these organizations in touch with oppressed Jewish communities to see what the situation is.

At the beginning of Nisan in the second year of freedom for the Israelites in the wilderness, the Mishkan, the traveling Shrine for the Presence of God, was dedicated. In memory of this event and in hope for the Messianic redemption when God's Presence will again become palpable (and this time to all humanity), some very traditional Jewish communities spend the seven days at the end of Adar and the first thirteen days of Nisan in a special commemoration.

On the seven last days of Adar, when Moses completed the Shrine of the Presence and offered up the dedicatory sacrifices, these communities pray for the great redemption. On the first 12 days of Nisan they read (not officially from a Torah scroll, but from a printed book, without a blessing) the 12 passages, one by one, about the gifts brought by the 12 tribes to the Shrine (Numbers 7:12=83); and on the thirteenth of Nisan, in honor of the priestly tribe of Levi, the passage on lighting the Menorah from Exodus 8:1-5.

The first day of Nisan is observed as a daylight fast in memory and mourning of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, Aaron's sons, on the very day they brought strange fire to offer at the dedication of the Shrine. Similarly, the tenth of Nisan is kept by the most observant as a fast day in memory of the death of Miriam.

Beginning on the new moon of Nisan, it is also customary to start studying the Passover story -- especially to review the Haggadah and various ancient and modern commentaries on it, with an eye to using it on Pesach night. In households and congregations where it is customary to use variations on the Haggadah, Rosh Chodesh Nisan is a good time to begin gathering different Haggadahs and looking through them for passages that stir the mind and soul in one's present stage in life.

The two weeks between Rosh Chodesh and Pesach can be a time for serious exploration of the meaning of freedom, creativity, the birth and rebirth of identity. What mitzrayyim, what tight spot, do I need to leave this year? What buds and sprouts of change do I see in myself and in the world around me? What questions do I need to ask? What tales do I need to tell? What songs do I need to sing?

The Shabbos just before Pesach, Shabbos Hagadol (either The Great Shabbos or Shabbos of The Great) was traditionally a point at which these question -- seen, it is true, through the lens of the ancient texts -- might be intensified.
The Shabbos took its special name from the climactic lines about "the great and awesome day of YHWH, Yom YHWH hagadol v'hanorah," from the haftarah assigned for that day replacing the regular haftarah connected with the ordinary Torah portion in the regular cycle of readings. The special haftarah is from the last chapter of Malachi, the last of the Prophets. It ends:

For here! The day is coming that will burn like a furnace. All the proud, and all who do evil, will be stubble; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze, says the Lord of Hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear My Name the sun of righteous justice will rise with healing in its wings, and you shall go forth leaping joyfully like calves released from the stall. And you shall trample upon the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I make, says YHWH Infinite. Remember the Teaching of Moses my servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel -- rules and judgments. Here, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of YHWH. And he will turn the hearts of parents to children and the hearts of children to parents -- lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction.

This haftarah clearly connects the ultimate Redemption with the impending Passover -- as if to remind us in advance that the point of Pesach is to look toward the coming of Elijah, in the Pesach that will redeem all the peoples from all the Pharaohs. And how, in that great and awesome day, will Elijah do the work of redemption? By turning the hearts of the generations toward each other. By infusing with love the questions of the children and the answers of the parents on Seder night. By making of the Pesach sacrificial lamb a true substitute for the death of the firstborn child, just as Elijah comes to the circumcision of a newborn son to make that ceremony, too, a substitute for death between the generations.

And thus Shabbos Hagadol comes to remind us once more and in a new way that Pesach is the festival of birth, of generation, of creation -- and of all the strains that emerge when the old gives birth to the new.

The passage takes on new meaning in a generation that faces the plague of global scorching, as the planet heats up like a furnace that like the plagues of old will scorch both powerful and helpless, both the wicked and the innocent. It can be read as a promise that the wings of a "sun of justice" – solar and wind power -- can heal us from that danger. And it calls on us to become the Elijah who can turn the generations' hearts toward each other – lest the earth be utterly destroyed.

In the afternoon service on Shabbos Hagadol, the part of the Pesach Haggadah that runs from "Avadim hayinu, slaves we were," to the end of Dayenu, "to atone for all our sins," is read in some synagogues to prepare for Pesach. It may replace the chanting of Psalm 104, or be added to it.


The last burst of preparations focuses on the Seder itself. This is a symbolic, ritual meal that uses real foods to embody ideas-literally to make them part of the body. Seder means order. The order of the meal and of the story-telling that precedes it has been carefully worked and reworked over centuries and is laid out in the book called Haggadah or Telling. But this is an order that looks toward freedom, and there is a free play of discussion and action within the basic pattern.

Since the Seder is built around a real meal, it is done around a dinner table with a plate of the symbolic foods upon it. Almost all Haggadahs describe how this Seder plate should be set, though few explain all the items: Pesach or zeroa (arm-outstretched-to-sow-seed) stands for the sacrificial lamb -- now usually represented by a roast chicken neck or wing, to avoid any hint that the Temple sacrifices might still be valid; or a boiled beet, among vegetarians, in accord with a Talmudic suggestion of what foods might fulfill the command of eating two dishes.

Why two dishes? One representing the Pesach sacrifice and the other representing the chagigah or festival sacrifice that was offered on all of the pilgrimage festivals, not only Pesach. The roast egg on the Seder plate came to represent the chagigah. (Today, many might say it silently reminds us that spring is a time of rebirth.)

On most Seder plates there are two forms of maror, the bitter herb: both a raw root of horseradish (to eat a slice separately from the matzah, but piled with charoset), and a dish of grated horseradish (to eat together with the matzah in memory of the Temple and in honor of Hillel, who urged that way of doing it).

There is also the mildly bitter green vegetable: parsley, lettuce, or celery, used for dipping in salt water at the beginning of the ritual. It is intended to foreshadow the bitter herb, and to trigger the children's questions because the procedure is so odd. And it may carry a second level of symbolic meaning in that the greens in salt water may represent the spring element of Pesach -- with the salt recalling the sea, mother of life.

And there is the charoset, a paste or mixture of chopped nuts, apples or raisins, and wine, by oral tradition (never written into the Haggadah itself0 said to represent the mortar that the Israelite slaves used in laying bricks. The fact that charoset is so sweetly delicious may represent a dialectical truth about slavery: slavery is bitter, but its orderliness and secure dependability can also become sweet to the slave. Today some teach that charoset is a hidden reference to the Song of Songs, which mentions all the ingredients -- and is traditionally read during Pesach.

Among the other arrangements of the Seder are the following:

• Participants (or at least the one who is acting as leader) wear the white robe or kittel that is otherwise worn only for Yom Kippur, one's wedding, and one's burial. Thus the sense of purity-in-renewal is asserted for this festival of new birth.
• Salt water for dipping the greens at the start of the ritual and a hard-boiled egg at the start of the meal.
• Three pieces of matzah, representing -- depending on the commentator -- Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the three castes of Cohanim (priests), Levites, and ordinary Israelites; the two joyful sacrifices of Pesach and chagigah, plus the bread of the oppressed; creation, revelation, and redemption; the three aspects of life expressed in assertion (which requires one), tension (which requires two), and resolution (which requires three); and many other threads of meaning.
• Enough wine to make up four cups for each participant -- representing the four verbs of redemption in Exodus 6:6-7 (v'hotzeyti, v'hitzalti, v'ga-alti v'lakachti -- I will bring you out, I will deliver you, I will redeem you, I will espouse you).
• A wine cup to fill for the expected visit of Elijah the Prophet.
• Pillows to lean the left side on, especially when saying blessings over the wine and ritual food-as a symbol of freedom and relaxation.


The Seder itself can be done in a more or a less ordered way, depending on the desires of each group of participants. Since all Haggadahs -- traditional and experimental -- lay out an order for the Seder, the most important task is to absorb how one or another Haggadah works and to decide how much openness you want. What seems most useful for us to do here is to sketch the basic structure and to mention different approaches that some people have used. For more detail, choose a Haggadah.

The basic structure is (a) a series of preparatory steps; (b) an introduction to the telling made up of an interplay of questions and partial answers; (c) the heart of the telling, a brief historical passage from Deuteronomy intertwined with a number of midrashic commentaries; (d) singing part of the Hallel psalms, praising God for past and future redemptions; (e) formally eating the ritual foods; (f) the regular meal, with songs; and (g) the post-meal recitation of grace after meals and the rest of the Hallel psalms, with several closing songs and rituals.

In all of these sections it is possible to pause -- to add some ceremonial acts; read some poems, stories, commentaries from Jewish tradition or from non-Jewish sources, or additional prayers; make new midrash by sharing reactions to what is going on; or add new songs. Time and hunger may turn out to be the chief problems involved in enriching the Seder in this way. The group might decide to take the edge off hunger by eating a light snack beforehand or even (unobtrusively) at some point in the service and discussion.

The preparatory steps are lighting the festival candles; making the separation and hallowing of kiddush to bless the festival; washing the hands; eating the mildly bitter greens dipped in salt water; and breaking one matzah. The company might explore the meanings of this pattern. Does it evoke the process of the Creation, from the separation of light and dark to the breaking in two of Adam? Does it bring forth special memories of old Passovers? As an introduction and warm-up, a beginning for the festival of beginnings, what feelings does it arouse?

The heart of the Seder is the telling, in accordance with the command, "You shall tell your child on that day, saying . . .". Precisely the command to "Tell your child" directs the Seder in an intergenerational direction. The Haggadah examines the different approaches of four different kinds of children (or are all these different aspects of every person's makeup?) and suggests four questions that the youngest put to all the grown-ups. The Talmud makes clear that these questions are only a suggestion; it tells the stories of several Seders in which other questions were asked, and because they opened up the story, replaced the Four Questions at those Seder tables. It is especially interesting to note that only two of the Four Questions receive explicit answers in the Haggadah -- as if to say that the elders can never fully answer questions, or that the next generation must constantly work out new answers.

After the questions and some partial answers, the Haggadah enters the heart of the telling. This is made up of reciting the verses of Deuteronomy 26:5-8, a brief history of the Israelites' entrance into and exodus from Egypt, together with a long and intertwined midrash or exegetical commentary on these verses.

The passage in its original context is an unusual credo in the form of a history, a public statement to be made when bringing the yearly first fruits offering to the Temple. The statement is not the usual kind of credo in the sense of "I believe in the following general propositions about the world, my religion, and my self," but instead is a statement of memory -- a recapitulation of the history of the Israelite people in its relation with God.

The Haggadah's midrash on this passage pauses at many of the words of this mini-history, linking them with similar words elsewhere in the Bible and thus enriching the story. The midrash may also be making some philosophical points in arguments that were going on among the sages as the Haggadah was being shaped. For example, the midrashim could have been so chosen as to glorify Moses. Instead, he is referred to only once (and then in a casual way) in the whole Haggadah. Presumably the intention was to emphasize God's leadership and de-emphasize the individual hero who might come almost to be worshipped.

The next portion of the Seder is a powerful living-out of the fusion of physical and intellectual -- through eating foods that have a strong content of ideas and emotions. Some Jewish communities have not waited till the eating to make this fusion, but have made the telling itself more physical, in the tradition of the vigor and haste of the departure from Egypt.

Some Oriental Jews get up from the table, put matzahs on their left shoulders, and with sandals on their feet and staves in their hands march around the table and into other rooms or even into the street-re-enacting the Exodus.

Others act out a mini-play in which a dusty, exhausted traveler hammers on the door and is finally let in to describe how things were going in Jerusalem and how close the coming of Messiah seems. Some American Seders have included playlets on the ten different plagues, improvised dances expressing the feelings of the Four Children and of the different verses of Dayenu, and mime representing the inner essences of the matzah, the bitter herb, the wine, the charoset.

The section in which the ritual foods are shared begins with a formal hand-washing and goes on with matzah, maror (bitter herb), and charoset. It includes pointing out the shankbone or its substitute without eating or even lifting it -- lest it be thought the sacrifices are still in force without the Temple. Between the ritual foods and the regular meal there is in many households a strange moment that has the quality of both: the eating of a hard-boiled egg sliced in old salt water. The character and wide usage of this soup marks it as a ritual; yet there is no special explanation or blessing, and it is treated as the first course of the meal, before the real soup with matzah balls. The egg in salt water would seem to be a symbol of birth and fertility -- celebrated but not discussed.


The first day of Pesach is a holiday on which, traditionally, no work is done. Before the morning Amidah (standing prayer at the heart of each Jewish service)a hymn is sung: "B'rakh Dodi . . . , Flee," or "Hasten, my Beloved," a phrase from the last verse of the Song of Songs. Here it is addressed to God. There are three separate hymns by different poets under this title. One of them is sung on the first day, one on the second day of Pesach, and one on the Shabbos in the middle of Pesach. Each of them looks forward to the Messianic redemption, and each ends, "For the sake of the forebears, please save the children and bring redemption to their children's children. Blessed are You, YHWH, Who redeems Israel."

In the Amidah itself, the festival paragraph is inserted, with the special name "Chag Hamatzot, z'man Cherutenu, Festival of Unleavened Bread, the season of our liberation." After the Amidah, all of Hallel is recited on the first day .

The Torah readings of the first day of Pesach are made up of Exodus 12:21-51 and Numbers 28:16-25. These are, respectively, the passage that intertwines the story of the Passover night of Exodus with the command for future celebrations of Pesach; and the recitation of the sacrifices required for the seven days of Pesach while the Temple stood.

The haftarah for the first day is from Joshua 5:7-6:1, plus 6:27. In it, after having just led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, Joshua arranges the circumcision of all the Israelite males -- for all who had been born in the Wilderness during the forty years after the Exodus from Egypt had remained uncircumcised. He did this just in time to celebrate Pesach -- evidently for the first time since the Exodus, since only circumcised men could take part in Pesach. When the people ate unleavened bread, the manna which had fed them since the Exodus stopped falling, and from then on they ate of the grain of the land of Canaan.

In the first blessing of the Amidah in the musaf or additional service on the first day of Pesach, there is inserted a prayer for God to begin sending dew. This prayer marks the turning of the seasons in the Land of Israel. With Pesach begin the six months of the year in which there is almost never any rain; so the prayers for rain end. But some continuing moisture is essential to keep the land fertile, and so the rabbis decided to ask God for dew. The phrase "mashiv haruach u'morid hageshem, Who makes the wind blow and the rain fall," is simply dropped by Ashkenazic Jews from Pesach to Sh'mini Atzeret, and among Sephardim is replaced with the phrase "u-morid hatal, Who makes the dew fall." One of the great liturgical poets, Eleazar Kalir, wrote a hymn that is used on the first day of Pesach in most congregations. Its last stanza:

Give dew, precious dew, that we our harvest reap, And guard our fatted flocks and herds from leanness! Behold our people follows Thee like sheep, And looks to Thee to give the earth her greenness, With dew.

In the Land of Israel and among Reform Jews, as with all the other festivals (except Rosh Hashanah) there is celebrated only one first day of Pesach. Among non-Reform Jews of the Diaspora, two first days of festival are celebrated. On the second night of Pesach, therefore, there is a second Seder.

Some households have developed ways of making the two experiences quite different: for instance, one in a family or small group of friends, the other in a larger communal setting; one indoors, the other outside, even as the culmination of a hike; one more or less according to the traditional structure, the other in a looser form evoking the participants' own experience of liberation; one with a traditional Haggadah, one with a new one; one focused on political liberation, one on spring. It is on the second night of Pesach that the Counting of the Omer begins, which we will deal with in the next chapter.

On the morning of the second day of Pesach, congregations that recognize it as a festival day chant again a full Hallel, the psalms of praise from Psalm 113 to 118. From the Torah they read Leviticus from 22:26-23:44, and the same passage from Numbers as on the day before. The Leviticus passage contains the cycle of all the festivals of the year.

The haftarah for the second day, II Kings 23:1-9 and 23:21-25, describes the efforts of King Josiah in the seventh century B.C.E. to cleanse the whole land and people of idolatrous practices and symbols -- some of which had even been introduced into the Temple itself. Then Josiah called upon the people to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem to keep Pesach according to all the laws laid out in a book of Torah that had just been discovered (probably Deuteronomy). The people assembled in multitudes to keep such a Pesach as there had not been in all the days of the judges and the kings before.

With the end of the second day of Pesach, the intermediate days of chol hamoed (ordinary part of the festival) begin. In the morning service, only parts of Hallel, the psalms of praise, are chanted (omitting Psalms 115 and 116). We do this because on the seventh day of Pesach the Egyptian army was drowned in the Red Sea. According to the rabbis, when the angels began to sing for joy, God rebuked them: "Are not these also the work of My hands?" So in accord with God's desire we reduce our joy-so that we should express no pleasure over death, even the death of our enemies.

The obligation to eat no chametz continues through the rest of Pesach. Traditional Jews avoid strenuous or demeaning work during the whole week of Pesach; but cooking or other work for the holidays, and crucial business whose neglect would mean substantial losses, may be carried on. Most Jews now continue at their work during the week, but with a festive air.


On the Shabbos that comes in the middle of Pesach, the tradition teaches that the Song of Songs should be read before the Torah reading. The Song is a flowing set of interwoven love poems, some of them rich in erotic imagery and imagery of springtime. There was an argument among the rabbis over whether it should be preserved as part of the Bible at all -- an argument resolved by Akiba's insistence that "All the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies.

Why did the rabbis assign the reading of the Song to Pesach?

The traditional rabbinic understanding of the Song is that it is about the love between God and Israel -- a love poem especially appropriate at Pesach, which might be viewed as the onset of the love affair that culminates fifty days later at the Marriage between God and Israel at Sinai.

Rabbinic and Kabbalistic midrash on the Song saw in it many specific metaphorical references to the night of watching, hope, and dread, just before the Exodus from Egypt; to the Exodus itself; and to the sojourn in the wilderness.

The themes of spring and sexuality in the Song go well with Pesach as a festival of spring and birth. Indeed, the Song may be seen as the obverse oif the Plagues – as a description of loving relationship between human beings and the earth, even a reversal of the war between adam and adamah that begins with the mistake of Eden. In the Garden story, human beings who have been offered the great bounty of the earth – on condition that they also exercise self-restraint inn not eating just one portion of the abundance before them – gobbpe ot anyway and are therefore reduced to a battl;e with an earth that produces only tjprns and thistles as they work in the sweate of thewir faces to wring just enough food from the reluctant earth. If Eden is the story of unheeding children come to adolescence – growing but overreaching in the process –then the Song of Songs is the vision of a human race more loving and beloved of each other and the earth -- an Eden for grown-ups.

In the Song, God's name is never mentioned, and the spiritual life is one of flow, spontaneity, openness, and process -- God as Immanent, Ever-present in the world, embodied in relationship. It thus complements the spirituality of the Haggadah, which is based on God as Other and on the rhythm set by clock and calendar. Perhaps both spiritual modes must be experienced and integrated if Messiah is to come -- and if Pesach is to teach toward the Messianic redemption, then Pesach must hold and share both modes of being.

This understanding of the Song and of its role in Pesach has emerged from the teachings of women and men in this past generation -- the first generation of Jewish history (at least since the Matriarchs) in which women as well as men are deeply engaged in the learning and reinterpretation of Torah and in the shaping of the Jewish future. So it may be organically connected with the fact that the Song of Songs itself treats a woman as the leading partner in the loving process, and that some modern scholars think it may well have been the only book of the Bible written by a woman.

The Torah readings for Shabbos Chol Hamoed Pesach are from Exodus 33:12-34:26 and Numbers 28:19-25. The former describes Moses' seeking out and achieving a close and loving knowledge of God's loving-kindness, and hearing as a friend God's pattern of Pesach in the pilgrim festivals. The latter details the burnt-offerings for Pesach.

The haftarah is the extraordinary chapter of Ezekiel 37, in which Ezekiel experiences the valley of dry bones -- the dead and hopeless house of Israel. God promises to breathe life and hope into the bones, to restore full vigor and spirit to the people, and to return them to their land. By placing this passage as a Pesach reading, the rabbis reasserted the connection between the redemption of the past and the redemption of the future.

According to tradition, the seventh day of Pesach is the day on which Pharaoh's chariots overtook the Israelites at the Reed Sea, and were plunged into the sea while Israel marched through it on dry land. In commemoration of the event, the seventh day (and eighth, for non-Reform Jews in the Diaspora) is a full holiday when work is forbidden and the people reassemble for a holy convocation.

The morning service for the seventh day includes a hymn to be sung just before the Amidah -- Yom L'Yabasha. It is by Yehuda Halevi, perhaps the greatest of the Spanish-Jewish poets (twelfth century). It begins by celebrating the salvation of Israel at the Reed Sea, and then looks forward to the future great redemption with the refrain, "Shira chadash shibchu g'eulim, Then a new song sang Your redeemed throng." The Torah portion (from Exodus 13:17-15:26) also focuses on the encounter at the Sea. It includes the song of triumph Miriam, Moses, and the people sang.

The haftarah underlines the theme of victorious song. It is made up of David's chant of triumph at his delivery from danger at the hand of King Saul: "The Lord is my rock and my fortress!"

On the eighth day, the Torah portion is Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17, if the eighth day is also Shabbos; if not, Deuteronomy 15:19-16:17 focuses on the command to celebrate Pesach in the context of the other festivals. The haftarah (Isaiah 1.0:32-12:6) again looks to the future:

And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and young lion and fatling together, and a little child shall lead them . . . . None shall hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of intimacy with YHWH as the waters fill the sea.

It is on the eighth day that the community remembers its dead in the yizkor service.


After nightfall ends the eighth day of Pesach, there is a havdalah (separation) ceremony -- a truncated version of the havdalah that ends Shabbos. The paragraph before the wine and the blessings of spices and fire are omitted (unless the eighth day is also Shabbos):

Baruch atah YHWH elohenu melech [ruach] ha-olam borey p'ri hagafen.
Blessed Are You, YHWH our God, Ruler [Breathing-Spirit] of space and time, Who creates the fruit of the vine. (Drink the wine.)

Baruch atah YHWH elohenu melech [ruach] ha-olam hamavdil beyn kodesh 1'chol, beyn ohr 1'choshech, beyn Yisrael 1'amim, beyn yom hashvi'i 1'sheshet y'mey hama-aseh. Baruch atah YHWH hamavdil beyn kodesh 1'chol.

Blessed are You, YHWH our God, Ruler [Breathing-Spirit]of space and time, who distinguishes between holy and ordinary, between light and darkness, between Israel and the other peoples, between the seventh day and the six work days. Blessed are You, Lord Our God, Who distinguishes between holy and ordinary.

In many households, people will then go out together to buy and eat some chametz: ice cream perhaps, or a specially well-baked bread, or beer and pizza.


The custom of a chametz party has been brought to its highest level by the Jews of North Africa, who hold a great celebration called Maimouna on the evening and day after Pesach.

Some have suggested that the day is named for Maimon ben Joseph, the father of Rambam or Maimonides, and that the day was the yohrzeit (death-anniversary) of Maimon himself. Not only was his son one of the greatest of the rabbinic commentators and codifiers; Maimon was himself a leading scholar of his generation, lived in the Moroccan city of Fez, and died about 1170. Much of his work focused on Islamic-Jewish relations; it both took Islam seriously as a monotheistic religion, and offered Jews who had been forcibly converted to Islam ways of continuing their adherence to Torah. His work was therefore of great significance to Jews living in Muslim countries -- which might help explain the fact and the name of the celebration on his yohrtzeit.

But there is another explanation of Maimouna and its name that seems more plausible in the light of actual relationships between Jews and Muslims in Morocco. The custom grew up centuries ago, and still survives, that on the evening after Pesach ends, when Jews can again eat chametz but have not yet had time to bake bread in their own homes, the Muslim community brings them loaves of bread. And at the end of the month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day, Jews bring the Muslim community some food to begin the great Feast of Breaking-the-Fast, Eid–el-Fitr. These gifts between the two communities are given with loving joy.

Maimouna starts with an evening meal of dairy foods symbolic of birth and fertility -- milk, figs, ears of wheat, and pancakes with butter and honey. Often a live fish, swimming in a bowl, is on the table, probably reminding the diners that fish are considered the most fertile of creatures. Alongside the fish bowl is likely to be a bowl of flour in which golden rings are hidden. The chacham (sage) of each local Jewish community dips a sprig of mint in a bowl of milk and sprinkles the milk on the heads of the community's members. There is a great bustle of visiting and sharing foods from one household to another. On the following day there are large picnics at beaches, fields, and cemeteries.

In the light of all this, it may well be that "Maimouna" comes from "maimon," the Hebrew word for "prosperity."

In Israel, Jews of Moroccan background carry on the Maimouna tradition with each other, including a large get-together in Jerusalem. In America, some Jewish and Muslim communities have made Maimouna and the end of Ramadan a time for peaceful visiting to redress the fear and anger that have sometimes beset the two cultures in recent generations.


For centuries or millennia, three major themes have been interwoven in Pesach: the birth of a people into political freedom; the rebirth of the earth into springtime life; and spiritual rebirth of the individual (especially in the symbolism based on removal of chametz). All these, of course, continue to be profoundly important. In our own generation, the Pesach story might also serve as a framework to deal with two new births that embody some elements of all these three. That is the emergence of new forms in the relationships between women and men, and the emergence of newly urgent needs in the realtioinship between human beings and the earth.

There are two main elements of Pesach tradition that might lead us in the direction of new women-men relationships: the story of the first stages of the birth of freedom, in the first four chapters of Exodus; and the Song of Songs. To this generation, the issues of the freedom of women and the place of women in the struggles for universal freedom are important. To such a generation, rereading the first four chapters of Exodus opens up some unexpected possibilities.

Those chapters keep asserting the importance of women and their experience of childbirth as the guide to freedom. First there are the midwives -- who are the first to resist Pharaoh's decree that all the Israelite newborn boys be murdered. They obey God, not Pharaoh -- even though they have never heard God's voice. They do not need to hear the Voice, because they hear it in the cry of each new baby. It is the voice of newness, unpredictability, creativity, the voice of "I will become who I will become," the Name that God's Own Self later adopts at the burning bush.

Even more than mothers, they understood childbirth -- because they had mothered so many births, so many mothers. And from giving birth to children, they learn to give birth to freedom. For the newborn carries at the biological level the same message that freedom carries at the historical-political level: it is possible to start over. It is possible for there to be possibility.

In Exodus, the women keep on teaching the lesson. Pharaoh's daughter and Miriam conspire to save the life of a baby boy by giving him a second birth from the waters of the Nile -- and he grows up to be Moses. But even Moses must receive more education from women before he can become the liberator. His first clumsy efforts at liberation only send him bursting forth from Egypt like tumultuously sown seed. He settles among seven women at a well (a symbol of the womb), marries one of them, has a child -- and only then can meet God at the burning bush and hear the Voice and Name of freedom.

Even this is not enough: On the journey back to Egypt, Moses -- in danger of death -- has to learn from his wife Tzipporah how to fulfill the birth of his son by renewing the covenant of circumcision. Not till then can he take on the task he has been assigned.

So these chapters teach us that women -- and the quintessentially female process, giving birth to children -- were crucial to the Liberation from Egypt. Even the liberation itself, out of Mitzrayyim, the Tight and Narrrow Place, across the broken waters of the Reed Sea, was a birth, or a conception in the first stages of what became a birth on crossing Jordan. Torah shows us that the process cannot be fulfilled until men are also part of it. But it is the women who first understand the path, because they bring to it something unique in their own life-experience.

During the past generation of struggle over the inclusion of women and other "outsiders" in the fullness of Judaism, one major innovation in the practice of the Seder itself has come to symbolize this struggle" placing and explaining an orange on the Seder Plate. One way of affirming this new element has been to affirm a new text that goes with it, explaining the presence of the Orange as well as unfolding its meaning in a new understanding of God, Torah, and the People Israel. The text follows the pattern of explanation for other items on the Seder Plate, such as the Bitter Herb:

The Orange on the Seder Plate

[Add an orange to the traditional items on the Seder plate. Then invite someone to ask “one more question,” "Why Is There an Orange on the Seder Plate?" and tell the following story in response:]

In our own day as in the ancient days of our tradition, an event becomes a story, a story is woven with new legends, and the legends lead the path into new teachings. So it is with the orange on the Seder plate.

To begin with, a woman in the far-flung American Diaspora asked a rebbetzin of the old tradition:
"What is the place of lesbians in Jewish life?"

She answered, "Lesbian sexuality in Jewish tradition is as troublesome as eating bread during Pesach!"

So the custom spread among some lesbian Jews to place a piece of bread upon the Seder table.

When another of our sisters heard the story, she said:

“Bread on the Seder plate would shatter the tradition. The presence and the teaching of gay men and lesbians in Jewish life transforms the tradition, but does not shatter it. So let us place on the Seder plate not bread but an orange -- transformation, not transgression.”

So ever since that day, we place an orange on the Seder plate, for it belongs there as a symbol of growth and transformation.

[Another Voice:] As the story grew and its telling was retold, new legends and teachings grew from its trunk and branches. Some taught that the challenge had been not about gay men and lesbians alone, but also to the place of all women in Judaism: According to their telling, a rabbi had said, "A woman belongs on the bimah [pulpit] as much as an orange on the Seder plate!" So in many homes, the orange on the Seder plate became a symbol of the place of women in the future of Judaism.

[Another Voice:] Why an orange? Because the orange carries within itself the seeds of its own rebirth. When we went forth from the Narrow Place, Mitzraiim, the Jewish people passed through a narrow birth canal and broke the waters of the Red Sea, and so was born into the world. The wisdom of women who were midwives made that birth possible.

In our generation, the Jewish people is again giving birth to itself. For the first time, women are sharing equally with men in bringing this new birth to its fruition. For the first time, gay men and lesbians have themselves come out of the Narrow Closed-in closet to share in shaping the future of Judaism. So we must for the first time bring to the Seder plate a fruit that carries, within, the seeds of its own rebirth.

[Another Voice:] Still others add: Every symbol on the Seder plate speaks to us of the Divine Unfoldings, the S’phirot. The tenth of the Unfoldings, the S’phirah of Malkhut or Majesty, is the gathering-together of all the Divine energies, and that S’phirah is symbolized in the human body by the Womb, in which each human life is gathered into wholeness on the verge of entering the world.

Until now, none of the objects on the Seder plate has symbolized Malkhut: the plate itself has been Malkhut. Malkhut has been the unseen Ground of Being, not the figure on the Ground -- as women and gay people have been the unseen background upon which all visible history has happened. But tonight we make visible the Gathering-place, Malkhut; tonight we place upon the field of being the orange that is a visible echo of the Seder plate.

[Voices Together:] Tonight all the excluded of our people -- lesbians and gay men, women and converts, take their full and rightful place in shaping the future of our people. Tonight, rebirth and Malkhut emerge from invisibility to take their place before the eyes of our reborn people. Tonight we place the Orange on the Seder plate.

Plagues and Blessings of the Earth

In the generation of human and earth history that most sounds forth the shofar-blast of alarm for the survival of the web of life upon our planet, the Ten Plagues of the Exodus story and the Seder service have taken on new power In much of rabbinic convention, they were looked on as the miraculous intervention of a Monarchical God acting from on high to demonstrate His [sic] power over the false god Pharaoh. But there is now growing a sense that these plagues – all of which were ecological disasters – resulted from the stubborn arrogance of a hard-hearted Pharaoh.

Why were there upheavals of the earth in response to Pharaoh's oppression of human beings? Because, in this interpretation, the Unity of all life, adam and adamah, human earthling and earthy "humus," was expressed by YHWH, the Interbreathing that unites all life. (Try pronouncing 'YHWH" without any vowels, and for many people what emerges is the sound of breath or wind – ruach in Hebrew.)

And in this earthier, more immanent understanding of God and Exodus, Pharaoh's hard-heartedness is also understood as an expression of God's process within human beings. As the story of the plagues begins, Pharaoh hardens his own heart against the suffering of Israelite slaves and the outcry to let them go free. As the story continues, God hardens Pharaoh's heart. Is this, like the Plagues, an intervention from "Above"? Or is it the result of an addictive process in which Pharaoh hardens his own heart so often and so thoroughly that finally the addiction takes over; God (that is to say, Reality) takes over; and he can no longer free himself from his addiction to power. Even when his own advisers call out to him that he is ruining his own realm, Egypt itself, he cannot stop. And even after the Night of the First-borns' Death, when he has in despair ordered the Israelites to leave, he wakes in the morning gripped by his addiction and leads his army to pursue them – and to drown.

Seders of the Many Nations

The Freedom Seder of 1969 succeeded in opening the story of liberation to peoples other than the Jews. Since then, many interfaith groups have written Haggadahs focused on their shared experience of liberation. Among the experiences included in this way have been the liberation struggles of Black Americans, Vietnamese, Tibetans, Native Americans, and various other peoples of Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Some have chosen another way of joining in interfaith celebration of the Seder: bringing into the Seder passages from Christian and Muslim tradition that bear on the original Exodus story. For exampole, this might include reading from the Christian Gospels the story of Palm Sunday as a demonstration by Jews against the Roman Empire, led by a radical rabbi from the Galilee -- Jesus -- and aimed precisely for the time of Passover with its echo of the overthrow of imperial Pharaoh. Many chapters of the Quran retell the story of Moses, whom islam considers a Prophet, and of the Exodus. in our generation, it could be a healing act to include some of these Quranic passages in the Seder -- for instance, the Chapter of al-Qasas (the Stories) (28.2-46) or the Chapter of TaHa (20.9-97)

One special case of the "many nations" has brought forth a unique response: an effort to turn Passover and its Seder into a moment of addressing the tight and narrow space of the Hundred Years War between the Jewish community in the Land of Israel – what became the State of Israel – and the Palestinian people in the Land of Falastin – the same land. Some communities have drawn on the symbols and practices of the Seder but in a major departure from traditional practice, have rooted the celebration of a Pesach Seder not in the Exodus but in the conflict and reconciliation between the two families of Abraham as seen in biblical tradition: Sarah and Isaac in relationship to Hagar and Ishmael. Turning to this story permits treating both families in the past and both peoples today as worthy heirs of Abraham, rather than treating either the Israelis or the Palestinians of today as Pharaoh and the other as the slaves in the Exodus story. Yet many of the Seder symbols remain powerful – the bitter herb of this violence, the broken matzah that may betoken the division of the Land between the two peoples, etc.

Seders of Personal Liberation

One result of this flowering of the haggadah to address the diverse experiences of the many Seder-partners has been the invention of ceremonial space for individual expression. One of the most successful of these forms has been the "Freedom Plate," proposed by Martha Hausman: that a special plate be set aside next to the traditional Seder plate, on which could be placed physical objects brought by every participant in the Seder as a symbol of her/ his liberation THIS YEAR from Mitzrayyim.

Mature learned Jews, children, and people who have never before attended a Seder can all relate to this, and the stories about the objects on the Freedom Plate become a very powerful part of the Seder. Indeed, for some celebrants the freedom Plate and the telling of its stories have become practically the wholer "haggadah" for the Second Seder.

Alternatively, within the traditional structure of the Seder one might use either the passage “In every generation one rises up against us to destroy us” or “In very generation every human being must look upon her/himself as if we ourselves, not our ancestors only, come forth from slavery” as times to raise up the Freedom Plate and hear its stories.

These two references in the traditional haggadah to "Every generation" are perhaps the most basic teaching toward the exploration of new texts,, new approaches, new ceremonies in the celebration of the Seder and of all Pesach. Just as profound changes in the lives of ancient Israelites transformed the spring festivals of shepherds and barley-farmers into a spring festival of liberation, and just as the Roman conquest brought about the transformation of Pesach from Temple offerings to Seders in the home, so we may be experiencing transformations so profound as to call forth new approaches to the Festival of Freedom.


Perhaps the most thoroughly explored of all the aspects of Jewish food is that of how to cook for Pesach. In addition to some traditional recipes, we are making some available in one unexplored area. In the last decade the number of Jews who are vegetarians has grown considerably-and vegetarians who want to keep kosher for Pesach and who adhere to the special Ashkenazic prohibition on rice, peas, and beans find themselves in an unusually difficult position. Where do you find protein if meat, fish, and most of the grains and lentils can't be used?

Rose Sue Berstein, an Ashkenazic vegetarian who is a member of the chavurah-style group Fabrangen in Washington, DC, has collected a number of recipes for foods that are high in protein, low in cholesterol and calories, and fulfill both Jewish and vegetarian obligations.


For each two servings, use 1 medium (approx. 1 lb.) eggplant, 1 small green pepper, 1 medium onion, fr-8 large mushrooms and 4 oz. Kosher-for-Passover Cheddar cheese, grated. Slice eggplant lengthwise. Carefully scoop out inside, leaving shells intact. Chop into small cubes. Saute-using as little oil as possible-eggplant with sliced green pepper, onion and mushrooms until soft. Season with basil and ground black pepper. Fill eggplant cavities with this mixture, place in oiled baking dish and bake at 350° for 15 minutes. Then top each eggplant half with grated cheese and return to oven until cheese melts, about 10 minutes.


Use approx. 1 1/z lbs. zucchini, sliced in '/4 inch rounds. Saute the zucchini with 1 sliced onion, then pass through food mill or puree in blender, but reserve several slices for garnishing. Stir pureed zucchini into 4 cups milk over low heat. When thoroughly blended continue cooking over medium heat, for about 15 minutes, but do not bring to boil. Season to taste with salt, pepper and chives. Garnish with remaining zucchini slices. Can be served hot or cold; if served cold, add a spoonful of yoghurt or sour cream.


For four green peppers use 8 oz. farmer cheese, 2 eggs, 4 tablespoons chopped green onions, 1 teaspoon rosemary, salt and pepper as desired. Hollow out peppers, and fill with cheese mix. Then sprinkle grated cheddar cheese on top of each one, (use 2-3 oz. altogether) and top with sliced almonds. Place in oiled baking dish and bake at 350° approx. 30 minutes.

1 1/z lbs. brussels sprouts 5 medium tomatoes
1 medium onion 1 cup grated cheddar (can substitute)
butter cheese

Saute sliced onion in butter until transparent. Scald, peel and slice tomatoes. Arrange brussels sprouts in casserole with onions and tomatoes. Add up to 1/z cup water, then cover and bake at 325° for 45 minutes. When brussels sprouts are tender, sprinkle with grated cheese and place under broiler to brown. 4 servings.


1 red cabbage 1/z teaspoon salt
1 medium onion 1 tsp. cinnamon
1/s cup lemon juice (opt. 6 caraway seeds, 6 cloves, 4
1/4 cup honey whole allspice, 2 bay leaves)
2 apples 3 tablespoons oil or margarine
handful raisins 1/z cup water

Gently saute sliced onion in oil, then add water, lemon juice, honey, and flavorings. Mix well, then add finely sliced or grated cabbage. Cover and cook over medium heat about 15 minutes, then add sliced apples and raisins. Continue to simmer about 10 minutes longer. Tart apples work best, and if you wish, you can tie the spices in cheesecloth for easy removal. 6 servings.


2 large leeks I1/z cup milk
4 tablespoons butter salt
1 large potato pepper

Wash leeks well, slice, and saute in butter, but don't brown them. Peel and slice the potato very finely, add to the leeks and cook very slowly, stirring gently until soft. Add milk, salt and pepper. Force through a sieve, return to saucepan and serve warm. 4 servings.


1 cooked cauliflower 2 tablespoons butter
3 cooked and cubed potatoes 11/z teaspoons salt
4 cups milk '/a cup minced onion

Heat milk in a large saucepan, add water in which you cooked the vegetables, stir in butter and salt. Sieve cauliflower and potatoes in small quantities and return to saucepan when smooth enough for your taste. (If you can use a blender this is much easier-be sure to put enough liquid in with each batch of vegetables). Simmer while you add the onion. Optional vegetables for additions include diced celery, carrots, fresh chives, and/or parsley. 2 quarts.

Some more traditional Pesach recipes, from Hannah Waskow and Rose Gertz, my mother and grandmother, may their memories continue to be a blessing to me and to the world:


''/z cup matzah meal 3/a cup cold water
3/a teaspoon salt 3 eggs
1 tablespoon sugar

Combine matzah meal, salt, and sugar. Separate the eggs. Beat yolks slightly and combine with the water. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients. Allow to stand for 1/2 hour. (May be mixed this far the night before and kept in the refrigerator to save time the next morning.) Beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold into the matzah meal mixture. Drop by tablespoon onto a hot, well, greased frying pan or griddle and brown on both sides. Makes 10 to 12 latkes. Serve with cinnamon and sugar, sour cream, apple sauce, or syrup.


2 tablespoons fat 1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs slightly beaten 2 tablespoons soup stock or water
1/2 cup matzah meal

Mix fat and eggs together. Add matzah meal and salt which were first mixed together. When well blended, add soup stock or water. Cover mixing bowl and place in refrigerator for at least twenty minutes. (May be refrigerated until convenient to cook.) Using a two or three quart pot, bring salted water to a brisk boil. Reduce flame and into the slightly bubbling water drop balls formed from above mixture. (About the size of walnuts.) Cover pot and cook 40--60 minutes. Cut one matzah ball in half. If center is solid, return to pot and cook an additional 10 minutes. Have soup at room temperature, or warmer, and remove matzah balls from water to soup pot. When ready to serve allow soup to simmer for a few minutes. Will make eight to twelve balls. Packing these balls in 4's or 5's they may be frozen. To thaw, heat in small amount of boiling water and then transfer to soup. Very good in pea soup or noodle soup during the year. This recipe may be doubled with slight decrease in salt.


1 cup water 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup chicken or vegetable fat or 4 eggs
margarine '/a teaspoon salt
1 cup matzah meal (full)

Bring to a boil fat, water, sugar, and salt. Then stir in matzah meal, boil a second more, and remove from fire. Mix thoroughly, and when cooled a little, beat in eggs one at a time. Grease or wet hands and roll dough into balls of about 2 inches diameter. Place on greased sheet, then dip forefinger in water and press a hole in center of each ball or omit and use as rolls. Bake at 425° for 20 minutes and at 375° for 25 minutes. They should sound hollow. Let cool in stove with door ajar.


7 eggs juice of lemon
1'/z cups sugar-sifted 1 cup (light) potato
Grated rind of 1 lemon starch, sifted twice
dash of salt

Separate 6 eggs. Beat 6 yolks and one whole egg together with rotary egg beater until frothy. Gradually add 1 cup of sifted sugar, lemon juice, and grated lemon rind until thick and well mixed. Beat the 6 egg whites until stiff and add the rest of the sugar gradually. Mix potato starch and salt and add to egg yolk mixture. Fold in beaten egg whites. Finely cut nuts may be added to batter or sprinkled on top.

Pour mixture into ungreased 10 inch tube pan. Bake 350° 45-50 minutes. Turn over on funnel until cold. Remove from pan by sliding a knife gently up and down between cake and pan to loosen.


3 cups mashed potatoes (regular or instant) 1 beaten egg 1/z teaspoon salt 5 tablespoons fat (chicken or margarine or combination)

Enough hot water (about 1/z cup) to make a loose mixture. Add matzah meal to make a dough that can be shaped into biscuit-like form. (Wet hands before handling dough.)

If gribenes (cracklings resulting from rendering chicken fat) are available, use. If not, sautee a large onion 1/2 lb. ground meat
garlic clove Ya lb. liver (chicken or beef)
Grind gribenes and meat mixture (or sauteed onion and meat). Add:

beaten egg t/z cup mashed potatoes
salt dash of oregano
pepper pinch of sugar
parsley flakes

Taste. May need a little more fat. Should have a smooth, velvety wellseasoned taste. Wet hands, form patty of potato dough, hollow center, insert a walnut-size piece of meat mixture and form dough over meat. Put on greased pan 2 inches apart. Lightly grease top. Bake about '/z hr., 400° or until light brown and crusty. Any left over filling may be frozen. Will make 12-15 knishes, depending on size.

2 cups fat and skin of chicken, duck or goose cut into small pieces. Melt in large heavy saucepan over medium low heat until almost completely rendered. Add 1 large diced onion and cook until onion is golden brown. (When adding onion be careful because the fat boils up and may catch on fire.) Cool and strain. Refrigerate fat. Freeze gribenes for later use.

Finally, the most delicious dessert for Pesach (or any other time) I have ever tasted: By Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman (my wife), a flour-less chocolate cake that both obeys all the rules of Pesach and carries in its very being the neo-rabbinical teaching that chocolate is the only objective proof of the existence of God. Rabbi Berman reports that she tried eight different recipes for chocolate cake for the eight nights of Pesach, and this one emerged the People's Free Choice:

Chocolate Glaze

3 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate or cocoa The Passover Haggadah (Schocken); Michael Strassfeld, A Passover Haggadah (Rabbinical Assembly); Central Conference of American Rabbis, with Leonard Baskin, A Passover Haggadah (CCAR); Haggadah for a Secular Celebration of Pesach (Sholom Aleichem Club of Philadelphia, 443 E. Wadsworth Ave., Philadelphia, PA); Pesach Haggada (Hashomer Hatzair, available through Americans for Progressive Israel, NYC); Haggadah for a Crocus Festival (Martin Buber Institute, Sebastopol, CA); Aviva Cantor, ed., A Jewish Women's Haggada, available from Lilith Magazine, NYC; my own The Freedom Seder (2d ed., Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970); The Shalom Seders, compiled by New Jewish Agenda (Adama Books, New York, 1984), three unconventional Haggadot (one by me) focused on peacemaking; Roberta Kalechofsky, Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb, to affirm Jewish vegetarianism and to use for a vegetarian Seder (Micah Publications, 255 Humphrey St., Marblehead, MA 01945); and a videotaped Seder, called "In This Generation," for which I wrote the script, with special appearances by Carl Sagan and Elie Wiesel, dealing with ethical responsibilities in the nuclear age (The Shalom Center, 1987).

In the years since 1990, I have written the Seder of the Children of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah (click here ); and the New Interfaith Freedom Seder for the Earth (on-line here .

For a double DVD of the filmed actual observances of the original Freedom Seder of 1969 and the 40th anniversary Interfaith Seder for the Earth, click here.

For an array of many essays on Pesach, click here.

See also two extraordinary and transformative translations of The Song of Songs –- one by Marcia Falk, the other by Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch; the translation and reinterpretation of the Song in Rabbi Shefa Gold's In the Fever of Love and her chants from the Song in her CD Shir Delight; and my own chapters on the Song in my books Godwrestling (1978) , Godwrestling – Round 2 (1996), and in The Passionate Torah: Sex and Judaism (Danya Ruttenberg, editor).

And finally, see two stories by Phyllis O. Berman and me in the book called Tales of Tikkun: New Jewish Stories to Heal the Wounded World(Rowman & Littlefield). One is called "The Long Narrow Pharaoh and the Pass-Over People"; the other, "The Seven Who Danced into Paradise" (on the origins of the Song of Songs).
[As I noted at the beginning of this post, this essay is a considerable revised version of the chapter on Pesach in my book Seasons of Our Joy, originally published in 1982 and most re ently revised in 1990. It includes papercuts by Martin Farren and Joan Benjamin Farren and recipes by Hannah Waskow, Rose Gertz, and Rose Sue Berstein. It was praised then by feminist theologian Judith Plaskow, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Reform movement's Religious Action Center, and Rabbi Gordon Tucker, then Dean of the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary.

[In the years since, the book has often been called a classic, and has deeply influenced most writing about and practice of the Jewish festivals since it was published. Though all of it needs revision in the light of the creative renewal of Jewish ceremony in the last decades, people I meet "on the road" tell me its approach to the history, the spiritual meaning, and the actual practice of the festivals remains very helpful to them. Many members of other spiritual and religious communities have also told me it has enlightened them a great deal about Judaism as a whole –- not only the festival cycle.

Shalom Center members and subscribers can order the book from Beacon at a 10% discount with free shipping: Click here, add Seasons to your shopping cart, and when you are asked for a discount code type in "tent" (without quote marks). That will get you the discount and free shipping.

[I welcome comments and suggestions, either directly to me at or in the comments section below. –- Shalom, AW]]

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Cash for Carbon: New Climate-Crisis Bill

On February 1, 2010, I invested a very useful hour of my time in a national telephone conference call learning the Torah of a new bill to prevent climate disaster that has been nicknamed "cap-and-dividend" -- a bill introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell (Dem, WA) and Susan Collins (Rep, Maine) that is very different from the present "cap-and0-trade" bills. .

The Cantwell-Collins bill, formally known as the Carbon Limits and Energy for America's Renewal (CLEAR) act, would restrict trading in a new carbon market to carbon producers, about 500 companies in the US – not the myriad of carbon-user companies like electric utilities that would have been covered by cap-and-trade bills and under them would have had to keep emissions records, would trade in emissions permits, etc.

Producers would bid in monthly auctions for “carbon shares.” The seller would be the government of the United States. The resulting revenue generated by the auctions would be used for two vital functions:

• 75 percent would be refunded in equal amounts to every individual residing legally in the United States.
This dividend (about $1100 per person per year) would more than compensate most households for the increase in carbon-based fuel prices that producers would pass on to consumers. This is why I call it "Cash for Carbon."

Only those whose multiple big houses, SUV's, etc, eat up large amounts of carbon, would pay more in higher energy prices than the $1100 dividend. All dividend recipients would have a strong incentive to reduce their fossil-fuel use in order to increase their benefit from the dividend. They would make up a new strong market for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The remaining 25 percent of the auction income would not go onto the general Federal budget but would be devoted to clean energy research and development, regionally-specific assistance for communities and workers transitioning to a clean energy economy, energy efficiency programs, and reductions in non-CO2 greenhouse gases.

The Cantwell-Collins bill also differs from existing cap-and-trade bills in other key ways:

Since only the limited number of carbon-producing companies could take part in the auction and trade in the resulting "carbon shares," banks like Goldman Sachs would not be able to seek new profits in the giant secondary trading market in "derivatives" that would be created under economy-wide cap-and-trade.

All credits would be sold at an auction. (The cap-and-trade bills Congress has considered would distribute emissions allowances for free during the initial phase of the program.)

The Cantwell-Collins bill also does not allow companies it would regulate to reduce their carbon footprint by investing in programs that allegedly would reduce carbon elsewhere or remove it from the atmosphere, efforts that are known as offsets. (Most of the environmentalist community has been extremely skeptical about the “offsets” that could be claimed by big corporations against their [over]use of fossil fuels, on grounds that the worth of offsets, how real they are, etc, is extremely sloppy.)

Instead, offsets would be encouraged by the 25% government fund on top of, rather than instead of, carbon reductions achieved by the cap system.

The goal of the Cantwell-Collins measure is to cut U.S. emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.

Evaluations of the CLEAR Act:

On the conference call of environmental activists to discuss the bill, one of the three panelists was Mike Tidwell of Chesapeake Climate Action, a strongly progressive group that has been deeply concerned by the cap-and-trade bills benefits to Wall Street derivative marketers like Goldman Sachs that could make the cap-and-trade derivatives into the same kind of destructive market they created from home mortgages, and the benefits to Big Coal that won major loopholes from cap-and-trade.

Tidwell urged strong support for CLEAR. He acknowledged that the target emissions ceilings of CLEAR are (like those in the cap-and-trade bills) way too low to meet the scientific call to swiftly return to a ceiling of 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, but he argued that more stringent caps were not politically possible at this point. Once a mass public constituency is created through the monthly cash "dividends," he argued, pressure to limit CO2 more strongly would increase. Cap-and-trade does not build such a constituency.

Charles Komanoff, director of the Carbon Tax Center, who has argued that cap-and-trade is far too opaque and too likely to benefit chiefly big corporations, took part in the call and said that while he still preferred a straight-out carbon tax, he saw the "cap-and-dividend" model as a great step forward from cap-and-trade.

A staffer from Oxfam noted concern that the bill did not mandate grants to poverty-stricken nations to pursue a non-fossil development path. One of the panelists pointed out that part of the "25% fund" could be used this way, probably depending on foreign-policy decisions by a President about how to advance the global climate-healing effort. (Thus it could have been used at Copenhagen to bring into a global agreement many nations that could not afford to pursue a non-fossil path.) But achieving the reduction of CO2 emissions targeted by the CLEAR bill depends a great deal on using the "25% fund" to bring renewable technologies on line, and devoting part of that fund to other uses will weaken the emissions targets.

For many religious groups, therefore, including The Shalom Center, the unmandated possibility is weak, and it would be important to press for a mandated set-aside not only to aid poor countries sidestep the fossil-fuel path in development, but also to meet the emergency needs of some nations already caught in climate-caused droughts, ocean rises, etc.

For me, the Cantwell-Collins bill is indeed a major advance over the cap-and-trade bills that, as I have said over and over, would be a big step up from zero Federal action, but bore very serious problems. I urged support for them on the theory that once passed, they would break the frozen barrier -- just as early and very weak civil-rights bill had done while I was working on Capitol Hill, setting the stage for much stronger laws.

But those cap-and-trade bills have already become paralyzed, and most Washington observers think the Senate cannot pass the bill that came out of committee, even with very lukewarm support from Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman.

Whether the CLEAR Act can do better is an open question. It has less appeal to Wall Street and more to ordinary folks than cap-and-trade. It is much easier to explain – I stumbled every time I tried to describe cap-and-trade, but have felt I could make sense of this, to myself and others.

It is not yet clear whether ANY climate bill can pass the present Congress. Some have urged shifting our attention to cities where change seems more likely. -- But CLEAR makes sense, and it could start a virtuous circle -- building its own support by providing touchable and faithful rewards at every step.

With blessings of healing for the earth & ourselves –



The AVATAR film & Tu B'Shvat: the ReBirthDay of trees & The Tree

Dear fellow-seekers for peace and healing of the earth,

[Bottom line for this letter: I urge that multireligious groups together see the new film Avatar this month; learn with me by teleconference seminar on Thursday evening January 21 the connections between this film and the meaning of the festival of Tu B'Shvat that celebrates the ReBirthDay of the Tree of Life; and then gather January 29 to eat together the sacred meal of Tu B'Shvat. Why? See the unfolding below. -- AW]

The film AVATAR is an obvious metaphor for the European-USA destruction of Native America and Africa; for the corporate destruction of the Amazon forest and its tribal human eco-partners; for the US destruction of much of Iraq and parts of Afghanistan.

For the indigenous peoples of the film's quasi-planetary moon Pandora, the most sacred places are ancient living trees that embody the life force of the planet. So for me, the film spoke powerfully in the tongue of Tu B'Shvat, the festival of the Trees' ReBirthDay.

AVATAR is extraordinary. -- Not only for the superficial but powerful technology of the filming/ viewing, 3D and FX, but most of all for its spiritually rooted progressive politics.

See it!

See it in the spirit of its watchword: "I see you." For Pandora's people, these words express what in Hebrew is "yodea," interactive "knowing" that is emotional, intellectual, physical/ sexual, and spiritual all at one – what "grok" is in the English borrowing from High Martian, channeled by Robert Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land.

In the film, the indigenous people of Pandora – the Na'vi – [in Hebrew, this would mean "prophet"] stand in the way of an Earthian techno-conquistador corporation that is hungry to gobble up a rare mineral crucial to an Earth that the human race, or at least its corporations and governments, have desolated.

The Na'vi worship/ celebrate a biological unity of their planet and all its life-forms -- Eywa -- especially focused on great trees that are the most sacred centers of their lives. These great trees embody Eywa, the Great Mother – but S/He is more than even these trees, S/He is all life. Spirit incarnate. (Notice that "Eywa" can be heard as "Yahweh" (sometimes misdescribed as the Hebrew Name of God) turned inside-out.)

Just as AVATAR began appearing in theaters, we began approaching the ecological-mystical festival of Tu B'Shvat. It intertwines celebration of the midwinter rebirth of trees and the rebirth of the Great Tree of Life Itself, God, Whose roots are in heaven and whose fruit is our world. Tu B'Shvat comes on the 15th day (the full moon) of the midwinter Jewish lunar month of Sh'vat. This year, that falls from Friday evening January 29, till Saturday evening, January 30. Its observance was shaped by Jewish mystics –- Kabbalists -– 500 years ago, but the breadth and depth of its sense of God can embrace all religious and spiritual communities -- not Jews alone.

Out of winter, out of seeming death, out of seeds that sank into the earth three months before, the juice of life begins to rise again. Begins invisibly, to sprout in spring.

This is a social and political reality, as well as a biological one. Beneath the official deadly failures of the Copenhagen conference that was supposed to reinvigorate the world's effort to face the climate crisis, the seeds of rebirth were growing. They were growing in the grass-roots activists who will not let our earth die so easily at the hands of Oil and Coal and governmental arrogance as the Crusher tanks and rocket-planes and the robotic Marine generals and corporate exploiters of AVATAR would like to kill Pandora and its God/dess Eywa.

I urge that Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, those who celebrate Manitou/ GreatSpirit in the varied forms of Native practice, join for Tu B'Shvat to celebrate the Sacred Forests of our planet.

I urge that we reach across our boundaries and barricades to celebrate the trees that breathe us into life. The forests that absorb the carbon dioxide that humans are over-producing, the forests that breathe out life-giving oxygen for ourselves and all the other animals to breathe in.

For us, Eywa is YyyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, "pronounceable" only by breathing, the Interbreathing of all life, Great Mother/Father/ Creator of our planet Whose breath, Whose very Name, what we call "climate" or "atmosphere," is being choked and scorched by corporate rapacity and governmental arrogance.

I urge that we begin by going , anytime from now till January 29, in interfaith, multireligious groups to see AVATAR and then -- discuss its meaning in our lives. It is the discussion afterward that will make "seeing" the film into the profound "seeing" God, life, and each other that the film itself calls for. And then I suggest we gather on the evening of January 29 to celebrate the sacred meal of Tu B'Shvat together.

What's to discuss?

1) AVATAR teaches that the war against peoples and the war against the earth are the same war, being incited and fought by the same Crusher institutions. If we agree with this, how do we bring together the so-far separate struggles to end the two kinds of war? If we don't agree, how do we see the relationship? Why does the Torah command that even in wartime, we must not destroy the enemy's fruit trees? (The US Army did precisely this to the forests of Vietnam; the Israeli Army has done this to Palestinian olive trees; in AVATAR, the invading Earthians do precisely this to the sacred trees of the Na'vi. Why?)

2) AVATAR teaches that in the struggle to heal our world, birds and animals and trees and grasses can become our active allies if we "see" them as part of ourselves, part of our Beloved Community. Is there a way to make this true for us?

3) Some knee-jerk leftists have criticized the heroism of Jake Sully as merely another racist case of a "white male Marine" becoming savior of the exploited community. Indeed, some conservatives have stolen that rhetoric to discredit a widely celebrated film that clearly threatens to undermine the corporate-military-conservative alliance. But there are two mistakes in this rhetoric:

First, it is not Sully who leads the Na'vi; it is his Avatar who joins the resistance, a blueskin transformed from his life as a Marine, just as Moses the Egyptian prince remakes himself into a leader of the Israelite slave revolt .

More important, it is Eywa Herself, acting through the plants, birds, animals of Pandora, Who saves all life from depredation. The story echoes the biblical story of Exodus, in which Moses may be a spokesperson but it is the locusts, the rivers, the frogs, the hailstorms – what we call the Ten Plagues, the earth itself rising up as an expression of God's Will to topple Pharaoh -- that triumphs. It is YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh's very breath, becoming the Holy Wind that splits the Red Sea, that drowns Pharaoh's army.

What do we make of these stories? Can the Earth, God/dess Incarnate, defend Herself? What role do humans play?

3. AVATAR describes how some Earthians turn their backs on the military-corporate attempt to shatter the Na'vi and instead join the Na'vi resistance. They become – let's not mince words – traitors. Or rather, they transform themselves into the Avatars that actually become Na'vi, loyal not to oppressive Crushers but to the web of life. What do we Americans, we Westerners -- who have already done so much to crush the life from many parts of our planet and threaten to destroy the rest by choking its Breath, its Climate -- what do we make of that? What do we owe the indigenes of Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Nigeria, Burma?

4. In the climax of the film , it is not only the invading Marines in their Crusher machines who use extreme violence. The Na'vi and Eywa's life-forms use violence too, to defend themselves. There is barely a hint of any attempt to use nonviolent resistance in the mode of King or Gandhi to defend Pandora. Can we imagine an alternative? Why did the film not present one?

Talking together may help us "see" each other; eating together may help even more. On January 29, what's to eat? A sacred meal, a Seder with four courses of nuts and fruit and four cups of wine. Foods that require the death of no living being, not even a carrot or a radish that dies when its roots are plucked from the earth. For the Trees of Life give forth their nuts and fruit in such profusion that to eat them kills no being. The sacred meal of the Tree Reborn is itself a meal of life.

And the four cups of wine are: all-white; white with a drop of red; red with a drop of white; and all-red: the union of white semen and red blood that the ancients thought were the start of procreation. And the progression from pale winter to the colorful fruitfulness of fall also betokens the growing-forth of life. The theme of Fours embodies the Four Worlds of Kabbalah: Action, Emotion, Intellect, Spirit.

There is much more to learn about this moment that so richly intertwines the mystical, the ecological, and the political. I helped bring together the Tu B'Shvat Anthology called Trees, Earth, & Torah (available in paperback from the Jewish Publication Society at 1.800.234.3151) that traces the festival through all its own flowering across 4,000 years of history.

On the evening of Thursday, January 21, I will lead a teleconference seminar on the meanings of Tu B'Shvat All are welcome. To take part, please click here.
I look forward to speaking with you, "seeing" you.

In the Comments section below, please share your thoughts about AVATAR, sacred trees, Tu B'Shvat, violence/ nonviolence, and corporate/ military behavior!

With blessings of shalom, salaam, shantih – peace. -- Rabbi Arthur Waskow

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Iran: the profound past becomes a volcanic present

What is happening in Iran today is the coming to life on an enormous landscape of an historical event of the past that has become legendary in Muslim – especially Shia – memory.

I have a small taste of what that means from my own experience of Passover in 1968, shortly after the murder of Martin Luther King, when Black Washington rose in rebellion and the US Army occupied the city. My experience of that upheaval was that Passover had risen from the ancient past into the volcanic present. I was not alone in that generation of questing, questioning Jews to sense that coalescence of past / present / future. Out of it came the Freedom Seder and the liberation of the haggadah to deal with many aspects of liberation, not only the ancient Israelite deliverance from Pharaoh..

Or think about Passover of 1943 in the Warsaw Ghetto, when on April 19, the eve of Passover, the Nazi forces tried to smash the Ghetto and were met with fierce resistance. Again, the ancient past and the volcanic present met.

When this happens, both "politics" and "religion" are apt to melt into a new shape, either far more repressive or far freer. If we pay wise attention, we may get a deeper sense of what both those realms really are at their most intense. Those of every faith might wisely reexamine the deepest meanings of "ritual" in our own traditions.

The same thing is happening now in Iran in relation to the holy day of Ashura.

(The word means "tenth," as its cognate "Aseret" does in Hebrew. It is the tenth day of the lunar month of Muharram.)

Muslims consider Muharam, the lunar month in which we are now living, the "New Year" month, connected with the renewal of the mission of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, as he left Mecca under pressure from its power elite and resettled in Medina, where his teachings flourished into the success of Islam.

Accordig to hadith (reports of Muhammad's life), he learned from some of the Jews of Arabia that the tenth day of the Jewish "new year" month, Yom Kippur, was a day of fasting –- some said, instituted by Musa Nebi (the Prophet Moses) as a celebration of liberation from slavery to Pharaoh. Muhammad is said to have remarked that he too could affirm this day.

So in accord with Muhammad's decision, many Sunni Muslims have fasted on Ashura, in celebration of the liberation of the people of Moses .

For the Shia community, Ashura became a formative and central sacred time, imbued with deep grief rather than celebration. On and around that day, in and after the battle of Karbala (in what is now Iraq), the caliph Yazid ordered the deaths of Muhammad's grandson, Hussein ibn Ali, and a little later the surviving members of Muhammad's family. The Shia Muslim community grew from and into an intense belief that Ali, Muhammad's son, and then Hussein had been Muhammad's legitimate heirs, destroyed by a tyrant. The desire for social justice, held by all Muslims to be part of Islam's central teaching, became a burning passion for the Shia.

Ashura itself became a day of grief-stricken pilgrimages to Hussein's grave in Karbala. And the whole month of Muharam became a time for refraining from violence –- even suspending military operations in time of war. This tradition became so strong that even the last Shah of Iran, facing revolutionary street demonstrations, restrained his security forces during Muharam.

And now we come to the volcano of this past week. One of the great religious teachers of Shia islam, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, died just in time to fit ionto the legendry of Ashura. Montazeri was originally expected to succeed Ayatollah Khomeini as Supreme Leader of Iran; but he became more and more critical of the overbearing behavior and power of the clergy as against what he saw as a decent balance of democratic and clerical decision-making. So he had been treated by the prenet Iranian leadership as an outcast. so his role as well as his death fit into Ashura.

Demonstrations against the government that probably would have been Ashura-intensified anyway took on even greater passion in mourning for Montazeri. And now the government has violated the holiness of the day by killing demonstrators, thereby angering even some traditional religious folk.

When a society is heated to this high temperature both politically and religiously, I would expect profound change in both realms. I expect that for this generation of Shia Muslims, and perhaps for many Sunnis as well, Ashura will never be the same again.

And just as the Exodus story has spoken powerfully to many communities that are not Jewish, perhaps Ashura will begin to speak to non-Muslims as well.

Franz Kafka once wrote a very short story, approximately thus: "One day a leopard came stalking into the synagogue, roaring and lashing its tail. Three weeks later, it had been made part of the liturgy."

The leopard of the Karbala massacre that had been ritualized and tamed into Ashura is out of the cage again. God is out of the cage. Expect volcanoes.

A final note on US policy: The push for sanctions against Iran that will bear most heavily on the public rather than the rulers –- like the bill now before Congress to try to prevent sales of gasoline to Iran and thereby raise its price there enormously – seems to me likely, if they work, to blunt the anti-governmental anger of the opposition and redefine the US as the enemy. Some policy-makers keep thinking that if a powerful state imposes sanctions on a weaker one, the people of the weaker society, as their suffering increases, will turn against their leaders as the cause. But almost always, they unite around their leaders against foreign intervention.

Expect volcanoes.


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

URGENT: A Jewish Letter to Sen. Joseph Lieberman on Pekuach Nefesh (Saving Life) & the Health-care Bill

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Dear chevra, below you will find a letter directed to Senator Joseph Lieberman, concerning his intention of supporting a filibuster to prevent an up-and-down majority vote on the health-care bill.

If you agree with its basic sentiments, please sign onto the letter by clicking here.

We are making this letter public as soon as possible with a sizable number of signatures from members of the American Jewish community, in the hope of bringing him to change his position. [he did not budge. His intransigence forced the Senate to drop the two aspects of the bill he opposed. The issue may return,however, when the Senate and House versions of the bill are woven together for final passage. We are, therefore, still seeking signatures.]

[For a report on the results and a follow-up exploration of whether and how to encourage Jewish communal responsibility for ethical behavior by Jewish public figures, click here.]

(Please click the link at the end of the letter, to download this text of the letter, complete with over 2,000 signatures
Thank you!
Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Senator Joseph Lieberman
United States Senate


We are rabbis, cantors, and other committed Jews. Many of us were delighted in 2000 when you were nominated for Vice-President and proclaimed to all that you were an observant Jew, carrying into the highest level of public service the values of the Jewish people.

Now we see with deep distress that you have announced that you will not support the bill before the Senate to bring health care in America even part way toward the universal and affordable coverage that is assumed in every other industrial country, including Israel. You have announced that you intend to join a quasi-filibuster against even taking an up-and-down vote on the bill if it contains either a "public option" provision or one extending the universally praised Medicare system to some younger people.

Doing this would thwart the will of a majority of the Senate, the majority of the American people, and the majority of the American Jewish community.

In our eyes, this is not the behavior of an "observant" Jew. "Pekuach nefesh, Save Life," is the prime directive of Torah,

and "Tzedek tzedek tirdof, justice justice shall you seek," is among the Torah's most important commandments. And in pursuit of justice, no autonomous Jewish community has ever allowed the poor to go without healing. It is clear that the present health insurance system based on private insurance companies is broken in every aspect except assuring enormous profits to itself. It costs Americans the highest medical costs in the world while providing mediocre health care as measured by life expectancies, newborn death rates, and other indices across the developed world.

We recognize that major health insurance companies are headquartered in Connecticut and that you may view your obligations to them as constituents as an important political responsibility. Yet thousands of Americans die each year unnecessarily because they are refused coverage by or are unable to purchase insurance from these same companies.

So we believe your obligation of pekuach nefesh, saving life, saving the lives of the flesh-and-blood citizens of Connecticut, shaped in flesh and blood in God's Image and subject to damage of that same flesh and blood that requires healing, is an even higher obligation than you owe to your insurance-company constituents. Indeed, two-thirds of your flesh-and-blood constituents support a health-care bill that includes a strong public option.

We therefore call you to do tshuvah – to turn yourself again toward fulfilling the commands of Torah and meeting the needs of the American people. Then we will be happy once again that you are bringing the values of an "observant Jew" to the public service of the American people.


(Please click the link at the end of the letter, to download this text of the letter, complete with over 2,000 signatures!)


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

From Hanukkah to Copenhagen: A Broad-Based Jewish Call to Action

Dear folks,

At the initiative of The Shalom Center, a broad spectrum of American Jewish leadership has issued the following statement about Hanukkah and Copenhagen:
  “Hanukkah for Humanity"

The traditions of rabbinic Judaism have long celebrated the Hanukkah miracle in which one day's oil met eight days' need.  In that spirit,  we join in urging the world community to include in our Hanukkah celebration this year  a call to all the peoples of the earth. We encourage Jewish communities, wherever possible, to gather in public one Hanukkah evening to light their menorahs with this message:  

That the human race deeply reduce our burning of fossil fuels as a step toward healing the climate crisis that threatens our future.  The world's governments are convened in the  Copenhagen conference as we light the lights of Hanukkah at a time of the darkness of the moon and sun. We especially call out  to them, that together all humanity light the lights of a sustainable future in the midst of a  dark and difficult passage through history.

The list of individual signers of the "Hanukkah for Humanity" statement can be found below.

Among the nationally known signers are: Rabbi Dennis Beck-Berman, past president, Ohalah; Ellen Bernstein, Founder, Shomrei Adamah; Evan Eisenberg, author, The Ecology of Eden; Rabbi Steve Gutow, Director, Jewish Council on Public Affairs; Debra Kolodny, Executive Director, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal; Vivian Lehrer, Co-founder/Director, Eden Village Camp; Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Recon. Rabb. Coll.; Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Relig Action Ctr of Reform Judaism; Nigel Savage, Executive Director, Hazon; Richard H. Schwartz, President, Jewish Vegetarians of North America; Rabbi David Shneyer, past president, Ohalah; Nili Simhai, director, Teva Learning Center ; Rabbi Margot Stein, New Legends; Rabbi Warren Stone, Chair, Environment Comm, CCAR; Rabbi Lawrence Troster, Greenfaith; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director, The Shalom Center ; Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg, Inst for Jewish Spirituality; Rabbi Shawn Zevit, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation

Among organizations, The Shalom Center, Hazon, the Teva Learning Center, and ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, have so far joined in endorsing it.

Please share this letter with your friends and coworkers and take the initiative to organize a "Hanukkah for Humanity" event in your own community. For one example, see below.

One example of carrying "Hanukkah for Humanity" into action: The Shalom Center, with support from a wide variety of Philadelphia synagogues, other Jewish organizations, and several interfaith groups and activists, is sponsoring a vigil for action to heal our endangered climate from "global scorching"  --  on the night of December 12 at 6:15, the second night of Hanukkah, near Independence Hall -- at People's Plaza, between 5th & 6th close to Market Street. 
That vigil will be connecting with hundreds of candle light vigils around the  globe on the weekend of December 11-13,  calling on the negotiators in Copenhagen to take the actions needed to save our eco-system. The call to that action came from Bill McKibben. Excerpts follow, below.

Shalom, salaam, shantih -- Peace!

Here are excerpts from Bill McKibben's letter:

"There's a global mobilization coming together for the weekend in the middle of the Copenhagen conference--Dec. 11-13. Our collective message? "The World Wants a Real Deal" -- people all over the planet are demanding a binding global climate agreement guided by the latest science and built upon principles of justice and equity.

"Our main hope is that you will help organize a candlelight vigil at some iconic or strategic place near you on Friday or Saturday night, December 11th or 12th. Around the world people will gather to light lanterns or candles, in solemn solidarity with the citizens of those nations who will be first to face the challenges to their very survival.

"Click here for details about staging a local vigil and to register one in your community:

"The short-term survival of many nations, and the long-term health of the whole planet, rests in the hands of Obama and the United States Senate. Their positions, along with the level of leadership provided by the European Union, China and a few other nations, can make or break a global climate treaty. The decisions made by this small group of people will, in large part, determine whether or not the world forges a real deal--not just any deal, but one that is strong enough to pull us back from the brink of climate catastrophe and put the planet on a path to 350. Their courage--or lack of it--will help set the future of the planet for geologic time.

"The candles we will light are candles of hope."


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

Hanukkah for Humanity: 1 Day's Oil for 8 Days' Need

Hanukkah: Festival of light in a dark time, action in times of despair.  Rededication, reconsecration, in times of desecration and disaster. The Green Menorah: A living, growing Tree Of Light in the ancient Temple, in the sacred temple of the Earth today, and in the hearts of those who join in covenant to heal our climate, the Interbreathing of all life.

Our earth: desecrated. Our governments: fiddling while the planet burns.

What shall we do?

For example: Light Hanukkah menorahs at offices of the Environmental Protection Administration, calling out –-

"One day's oil for eight days' need:
EPA restrain the Big Polluters' greed!"

Last week the governments officially said that the US Senate would not pass a climate bill by year's end, and that the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen would not  come up with a new climate treaty, as originally intended
 Wait till next year, they said.

 Among the many legends of Hanukkah is this: When the just-victorious guerrillas who had defeated a great Empire tried to rededicate the Temple, they found only enough consecrated olive oil to last one day. They lit the Menorah anyway, and – according to the legend – it stayed alight eight days until new oil could be consecrated.

God's conservation of oil was, according to the ancient rabbis, the miracle we celebrate on Hanukkah. But I think the most important miracle happened on the first day:  It began with an act of stubborn affirmation in the face of a hopeless reality. There was only enough olive oil to keep the Menorah alight for one day. Why take the trouble to light it and then see it flicker out? What a bummer that would be!

They did it anyway. Those stubborn guerrillas lit the Menorah anyway.  They had no hope – just a stubborn determination to act on the side of life and sacred truth. To reconsecrate, rededicate, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

We have not just one sacred building of one sacred community to reconsecrate, but the whole round earth that Empires and Corporations have been  desecrating and despoiling for generations.

 According to the legend, God responded when the people acted.

 Today, it is clearer than ever that our governments and our corporations will respond only when the people act. What would it mean, in these days of dark that yearn toward light, of determination that goes beyond despair, to act?
Hanukkah is not only the festival of energy conservation; it is when we honor grass-roots action that transformed society despite elephantine top-down power-centers; it is when we celebrate "Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit, YHWH/ Breath of Life."
 We encourage you to take action – before, during, and after Hanukkah -- rooted in Seven Principles that should underlie Jewish and interfaith efforts to shape US and world policy on healing the climate crisis.

 Besides the Seven Principles, we propose a policy Yardstick to measure the proposals that come before Congress (and by extension, the other governments assembled in Copenhagen). (Click here to see the Seven Principles and the Yardstick:  )

If the Jewish community undertakes this effort, not only Hanukkah, which means “Dedication,” and originally focused on Rededication of the desecrated Temple in Jerusalem, but our lives as a whole can become a practice of Rededication and Reconsecration of the universal temple of God’s Presence: Earth.

Please read "Seven Principles and a Yardstick"on this page and comment on both essays at the bottom of the "Seven Principles" article:

Shalom, salaam, shantih –- Peace!


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

"To Bigotry No Sanction"

In the ears of American Jews, among the golden words of American history are those of George Washington to a synagogue: "To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."

God knows these words have rung false about many different communities in the dark-light-checkered history of our Republic. (Blacks, Mormons, the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Japanese, gay people ---- )

There have even been moments in American history when those words seemed not so clearly truthful, about Jews. (See Philip Roth's amazing alternate-history novel, The Plot Against America, and its roots in real history.) But in this generation, in regard to Jews these seem engraved on American reality – not only in stone, but in glowing beams of light.

But in the wake of the Fort Hood murders, it is not so clear that these words apply to American Muslims.

Every sizeable Muslim organization in America has condemned those murders, and some have taken proactive steps to aid the families of those killed. These are ethically responsible actions.

I wish that Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and other religious communities could also come forward along with Muslim groups to say truthfully, "In the fabrics of ALL our different traditions are both broad spaces of peaceful and peace-seeking wisdom, and some bloody strands. These we need to address forthrightly and to explicitly reject or reinterpret so they cannot be used to justify violence."

The Shalom Center is now working on such a statement, and will seek support across the spectrum of American religious life.

I applaud spokespersons of the Army and other officials who say they do not intend to treat Muslims as suspects. Doing that would be just as reprehensible as treating all American Jews as suspect of espionage because Jonathan Pollard did spy for Israel.

And in that light, I denounce those radio and TV personalities and some politicians who have indeed blamed Islam and Muslims in general for Major Hasan's actions.

Fort Hood's aftermath is a reminder of how easy, and how mistaken, it is for many of us to focus on EITHER individual responsibility OR social responsibility when we assess either blame or causation of some upsetting event.

The “dichotomy” between individual and social responsibility — in which conservatives typically salute the first and liberals the second — is a false dichotomy. BOTH are necessary to a moral order.

In this case, the US war against both Iraq and Afghanistan, plus added attacks on Pakistan and dire threats (probably also covert attacks) against Iran, plus strong US support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, all comprise an illegitimate and immoral and self-destructive war against major aspects of the Muslim world. There is plenty of reason for serious Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus to oppose each piece of this umbrella war -- not only Muslims for "tribal" reasons of "their own" being under attack, but all religious communities for universalist reasons rooted in all these spiritual traditions.

Just to deal with some expectable objections:

(a) The ethically correct US response to 9/11/01 would have been a police action to arrest and try, or if they resisted arrest, if necessary to kill, the actual perpetrators of the murderous attacks on the Towers. Making war on Afghanistan was analogous to responding to cop-killers on the streets of Newark by bombing the whole city of Newark.

(b) In 2003, the pre-Ahmedinajad government of Iran asked the US for a wide-ranging negotiation on all outstanding issues, including US sanctions, Iranian aid to Hezbollah, and the Iranian nuclear program. The Cheney-Bush Administration rejected the whole idea out of hand and even condemned the Swiss intermediaries who communicated this proposal. The rejection helped Ahmdinajad come to power. Imagine how different Iranian, American, and even Israeli history could have been!

These pieces of the umbrella war against many aspects of Islam were and are socially irresponsible actions by the US, and they helped contribute to the Fort Hood murders.

So also is the Army medical system that has enormously overburdened too few Army doctors in dealing with the war-wounded, especially with those wounded in soul by post-traumatic stress. This is irresponsible to the wounded, and to the doctors.

And so is the difficulty that the Army places in the way of soldiers who seek on grounds of conscience to leave.

All these are acts of SOCIAL irresponsibility.

(The Torah orders that men of military age be required to refrain from military service under a number of circumstances — including if they are afraid of being killed or are too gentle-hearted to kill. See Deut 20: 1-9 and for my own essay on the meaning of this passage and its interpretations in later Jewish/ rabbinic thought and practice, click here.)

And in the Fort Hood case, Major Hasan also committed acts of INDIVIDUAL irresponsibility.

He could have pursued a number of nonviolent paths for opposing or resisting the war he considered illegitimate. Suing the Army. Or public, principled civil disobedience. Or flight as a deserter.

Instead, he chose mass murder rather than the nonviolent forms of resistance he might and should have chosen. It is no excuse that he followed the logic of the institution he was "resisting." Indeed, worse than "no excuse" -- because he replicated the violence of the war he abhorred–- replicated the violence instead of resisting it in a deeper way.

The sense that he broke under enormous social pressure — that our nation failed in meeting its social responsibility toward him and other soldiers — does not mean that he is absolved of personal, individual responsibility.

The nation could have met our social responsibility by ending the endless, useless, self-destructive Afghanistan War, or at minimum, by letting Major Hasan leave the Army when he asked to.

But even if the society failed to meet our responsibility, each individual still is obligated to make responsible choices. Murder was the most irresponsible, most unethical choice he could have made.

Now it is up to us to choose how we respond. As a society and as individuals, do we make ethically responsible or irresponsible choices?


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 


Murderous God & Priest, Covenanting Peace

This week, we read the biblical story of a Priest who becomes a murderer in support of a murderous God -- and thereby turns them both around, calls his God and himself into peacemaking.

In our own generation, the passage has been cited as justification for zealous murders -- for example, the murder of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin. So many peaceable folk of today respond, "Disgusting! One more good reason not to bother with Torah!"

But I see the story in a different light --- in which exactly Disgust inside the story  turns both God and Priest from zealous murder to self-reflective making-peace. 

In the ancient story, the spur to murderous rage is that two peoples meet. There is risk in their meeting. Perhaps there is also a possible blessing. But among at least one of the peoples, the leadership is frightened and forbids all contact.

But there is contact anyway. Some of it is literal, physical contact: sexual relationships. But there is danger: In each long-separated people, a lethal malady might have arisen and then genetically winnowed those most mortally susceptible, leaving the disease troublesome but rarely deadly in that community. 

But that disease had never been known by the other people, and so was still lethal when boundaries between the two communities collapsed. So Reality Itself, the very Winds of Change, may bring on a plague of death.

In the ancient story, YHWH, the Breath of Life, the Hurricane of Change, blows on Its wings a plague, a pestilence. People begin to die -- thousands of them.

Is this just uncanny, a miracle?  In a much more recent story, just 500 years ago, we hear of a canny, scientifically explicable, disaster that bears marks of similarity: When the age-old barriers of Ocean were torn apart in the 16th century, two cultures came together that had never met. 

One theory is that the meeting brought about a “double plague”:  measles decimated the Native Americans; syphilis, the Europeans. 

Was this because their intimate connection was in itself a "sin"? Or was it because the rush of new connection outran the care necessary to make the connection holy?

And what if the plague is perhaps even worse than a viral or bacteriall disease? What if it is a plague of arrogance and dominance? -- on one side, cannons; on the other, spears.  As we see in our own lives, governmental power ruthlessly applied for the private gain of wealth or power by those who already have great power can make even a plague of disease much worse.

When the Sea splits or ghetto walls fall, best make sure: As the boundaries dissolve that had been sharp and high between you, do not rush suddently to embrace. Make new kinds of boundaries -- fuzzy, tentative. Society-wide versions of sacred tzitzit -- conscious fuzzy fringes --  to mark the contact points. Take care!

But what if we fail to take sufficient care?

The Torah's story of Pinchas is one of our sharpest tests. The Israelites made friends with the people of Moab, joining with them sexually and celebrating their gods. God  --  that is, Reality Itself --  sent a plague upon them. Our Name for this Reality is "YHWH."  Pronounce it with no vowels and you get the sound of breath and wind, for YHWH is the Zealous Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, the Hurricane of Transformation.

The peoples met each other unprepared. The Wind of Change blew across their unprepared and unprotected boundaries, blowing into them a plague, a pestilence.

Then Pinchas, a priest and one of Aaron's sons, sees an Israelite and a Midianite having sex. In rage he flings his lance at them, transfixes and kills them both. The plague of violence ends the plague of sickness. And the Torah continues (Num. 25: 10-13):


"YHWH so-worded it through Moses, saying:

" Pinchas has turned back my hot wrath from upon the Children of Israel by expressing-zealously My zeal [b'kano et-kinati] amidst them. And so I did not finish off the Children of Israel in My zealotry [b'kinati].

" Therefore I say: Here! I give him my Covenant of Shalom; it shall be for him and his seed after him a covenant of priesthood forever, because of/ replacing [tachat] his zealotry for his God, through which he made-atonement for the Children of Israel. "

Many readers have taken this to mean that God was pleased with Pinchas the Murderer. But try reading God's words this way:   

"In a blind rage, consumed with jealousy/zealotry, I began killing My people with the plague. Then Pinchas imitated Me: in his own blind and jealous rage, he turned his hand to killing.

"I saw his murder of the sexual couple with horror and disgust. His jealous/ zealous act shocked me into shame at what I Myself was doing. I said to him, 'I will stop, and you must stop!' That is why I stopped the plague; that is why I made with Pinchas my covenant of shalom/ peace."

In this reading, God does a turn-around, a "tshuvah." God grows. The God Who begins by bringing a plague upon the people ends by making a covenant of peace. The God Who is horrified by Pinchas also sees in Pinchas' face one facet of God's Own Face.

But if we mean by "God" not an white-bearded old man in the sky but rather the Breath of Life Whose Name we hear if we try to pronounce the "YHWH" with no vowels at all; if we mean that God Who is within us, among us, beyond us --  then what does it mean for that God to do tshuvah?

What do we mean when we say "God" brought on the plague and halted it, ordered a genocide and made a covenant of peace?

We mean that the deep processes of the universe, the Very Breath of Life Itself, Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, God's Name that means "I Will Be Who I Will Be," the Name that is a spiral process of Becoming  -- those processes themselves act in subterranean ways to bring on genocides and plagues, and also to call forth human intervention to prevent, to soften, and to heal them.

How do we do this? First our government refuses to reduce the heat-trapping gases that broil and boil our planet. The heat precepitates a hurricane of rain. A city drowns. Citzens who had voted for an oblivious government are struck with pity, compassion, even awe. They gather to rebuild the city and remake the laws. 

Their gathering will be the common ceremony, the common task, we can weave onto the corners of our peoplehoods and species so as to create a Covenant of Peace.

To become true priests of the Breath of Life.

Statement by National Council Of Elders

Selling Deadly Weapons: Pediatric Surgeons Speak Today, Ancient Rabbis Speak 2 Millennia Ago


[Who is a "prophet"? One who sees a deep evil in society, and speaks the truth about it to the powerful and even more important, to the disempowered -- those who have until that moment been deprived of the power to make change. Because the change that is needed never starts from those in power  -- whether the rulers of the Roman Epire, or the companies that get wealthy from selling assault rifles to anyone who wants. For those in power benefit from the way things are. Justice and change start from the people -- from us.


[Whether it is ancient rabbis confronting Rome and Babylon or modern surgeons weeping over mangled children and confronting those who sell murder for money --- when they speak they are prophetic voices. The surgeons have limited their analysis to the medical and practical; the ancient rabbis have affirmed the practical while looking deeper -- making clear that those, Jewish or not, who have turned away from the Breath of Life to gods of wealth and power cannot be trusted with the tools of killing. --- AW, editor]

Statement from the American Pediatric Surgical Association Board of Governors

As pediatric trauma surgeons, when a call goes out about an injured child, we are ready. We gather our teams and we plan, prepare and wait in our trauma bays for the victim to arrive. We have trained for this, practiced it, and, unfortunately, lived these resuscitations over and over and over in emergency rooms across the United States.

When the weapon used to perpetrate harm is an assault rifle, often the victim does not even make it alive to our doors. The injury inflicted by an assault rifle is so massive and widespread the victim dies at the scene.

In the massacre that happened in Uvalde, TX, the victims were 9 and 10 year old children, averaging about 60 pounds in weight. The damage and injuries that these children sustained were so extreme and widespread that their own parents could not recognize them. DNA samples from their parents were required to identify the children.

The American Pediatric Surgical Association (APSA) calls for a new federal Assault Weapons Ban on military-style firearms. During the decade of the previous ban, public mass shootings and deaths decreased.

Although these mass shootings are a small percentage of overall gun deaths each year, they have been used to perpetrate mass shootings of children and adults in public places that should be safe such as schools, grocery stores, theaters and churches.

These weapons have the capacity for rapid fire and large numbers of rounds between reloads which increases their lethality and the number of victims. They have been used in many locations including Newtown, San Bernadino, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, and most recently in Uvalde, each incident killing more than a dozen people.

APSA acknowledges the Second Amendment and the right to responsible gun ownership. However, assault weapons have no place in the civilian arena. Therefore, we call for a new federal Assault Weapons Ban. We support H.R.1808 / S.746, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2021.

We strongly urge Congress to move forward in adopting these bills and reinstating a ban on Assault Weapons. Too many children and adults have been killed in the hands of civilians using these weapons.

 As pediatric surgeons, we are committed to saving lives of children to allow them to live their lifetimes. We need the help of our legislators to remove ready access to these dangerous weapons that have been used, time and again, to commit mass murders in peaceful communities in our country.

Board of Governors

American Pediatric Surgical Association


Talmud Bavli, Avodah Zarah 15b:10 ff 

[Translation slightly adapted from Sefaria.--  AW, editor]

 And furthermore, it is taught in a baraita: One may not sell weapons to idolators [since those who worship idols, not the Breath of Life, cannot be expected to adhere to a moral law against killing ---AW]  or the auxiliary equipment of weapons, and one may not sharpen weapons for them.

 And one may not sell them stocks used for fastening the feet of prisoners, or iron neck chains [kolarin], or foot chains, or iron chains.

Apropos the baraita that discusses the prohibition against selling weapons, the Gemara relates that Rav Dimi bar Abba says: Just as it is prohibited to sell to an idolator it is prohibited to sell to an armed bandit who is a Jew. The Gemara clarifies: What are the circumstances of this prohibition? If the thief is suspected of killing, isn’t it obvious that it is prohibited? After all, he is the same as an idolator.

Providing a Jew who might kill with weapons is no different from giving a weapon to an idolator as in both cases one violates the prohibition: “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind.” [A command of Torah in Lev. 19: 14. Already understood by the Rabbis as applying not only literally, physically, but also to assisting someone who is blind to the moral law to stumble by violating it. --- AW]  

And if he is a bandit who does not kill, why not sell to him? The Gemara answers: Actually, Rav Dimi bar Abba is referring to a bandit who does not kill, and here we are dealing with a bandit who steals, as sometimes he makes use of his weapon to save himself when he is caught. Consequently, it is prohibited to sell him weapons in case he kills with them in self-defense.

Rav Adda bar Ahava says: One may not sell blocks [ashashiot] of iron to idolators from them. The Gemara asks: If so, then even hoes and axes should not be sold to them, as they too can be used to forge weapons.

Rav Zevid said in response: The ruling of Rav Adda bar Ahava was stated with regard to Indian iron, which is of a superior quality and used only for crafting weapons. The Gemara clarifies: And as for the fact that nowadays we do sell all weapons?  Rav Ashi said: We sell the weapons to the Persians, who protect us.


It's Not Just Abortion: Do Women Have Freedom of Conscience?

In Memory of Eva Cowan Waskow

It's Not Just Abortion: Do Women Have Freedom of Conscience?

Or Are They Occasions of Sin?

Roman Catholic Bishops, the Supreme Court, & Women:

Is Religion Love or Compulsion?

[On September 15, 2021, an earlier version of this article below was published by Lilith, a lively and intelligent feminist Jewish magazine. A fuller critique of the Augustinian anti-sex and misogynist strand of Christian thought and its disastrous version of the Eden story is in my book Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion (Orbis Books, 2020).]

 I was taught, as an historian and again as a rabbi, always to be clear what in my own life was pointing me in one or another direction, to allow others a chance to weigh my thoughts in light of that framework – rather than pretending I can be “neutral” about any serious issue. 

My brother Howard, alav hashalom, and I were adults and Roe v. Wade had been decided before my mother’s mother told us the circumstances of my father’s mother’s death  -- Eva Cowan Waskow, may her name be remembered along with the names of many   thousands of women and others of unconventional sexuality or gender,whose names have been buried with them, who were victims of male supremacy and especially  of an anti-woman theology that I want to address in this essay.

Having birthed five sons and begun rearing them, my grandmother Eva became pregnant again. Evidently feeling it impossible to raise a sixth child (we don’t know exactly what her thoughts and feelings were), she found someone willing to do an illegal abortion. A botched abortion. She died as a result. Her death sent my father to an orphanage for years, and cast a shadow over his life.

[This photograph of Eva Cowan Waskow's grave was taken by my son, David Waskow,  her great-grandson, on a pilgrimage to her grave in Washington DC]

By the time I learned this, not only had Roe v. Wade greatly  lessened the stigma of abortion, but I had learned enough Jewish tradition to know that the Torah taught that an abortion, even if against the mother’s will, could result in civil damages at the discretion of a court, but was certainly not murder.

Only once the fetus had been born, its head had appeared outside the mother and it could take a breath on its own, was it deemed a human life. And if the fetus was a threat to the mother’s life (and some rule, her psychological health), it is not merely permissible but obligatory to kill the fetus to save the woman. That is exactly the opposite of official Catholic law.

 And then I learned that one of my crucial rabbinic teachers, Rabbi Max Ticktin, before Roe v. Wade had been part of a secret network of “the Janes” who had arranged for illegal but safe abortions by qualified doctors. For years he could not enter the State of Michigan because of a warrant for his arrest.

And then I learned that another of my major teachers, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, knew that his mother had arranged an abortion in order to make it possible for the family to flee Vienna when Nazi Germany annexed Austria in the Anschluss in 1938. Reb Zalman said the abortion had “given new birth, new life to the whole family.”

So everything in my own family history and the history of my teachers accorded with Jewish law that understood Torah put the life and welfare of women higher than that of an unborn fetus. Yet the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Christian movement, in both of which men make the decisions, ignored the clear biblical text (Exodus 21: 22-25) to come up with their description of abortion as murder.

 In fact, these two religious groupings have been able to organize enough political support from organizations that support other forms of subjugation (against Black and Latinx voters, GLBTQ communities, Muslims, immigrants, and Earth itself)  that the State of Texas has now legislated a system that turns everyone (not only Texas residents) into a potential paid informant like the Stasi network in Communist East Germany to imprison doctors and all others who assist in any way for an abortion later than about the sixth week of pregnancy? The Supreme Court, without a hearing or internal discussion, has three times refused to prevent the law from taking effect.

Why and how have these large religious bodies been able to mobilize such political power, and what should the rest of us – including many of their own members who disagree — do about it? 

 First of all, let’s be clear: Abortion is not the only issue, though the US press often reduces the public issue to abortion. The Conference of Catholic Bishops makes clear that what is at stake is much larger: “Shortly after Mr. Biden’s election in November, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced the unusual creation of a working group to address conflicts that could arise between his administration’s policies and church teaching,” the NYtimes reported.

“On Inauguration Day, Archbishop Gomez issued a statement criticizing Mr. Biden for policies “that would advance moral evils” especially “in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender” (emphasis mine).

So what is really at stake is a theology of sex, especially impressed on Christianity by the sex-obsessed Augustine of Hippo (I will not call him a saint) who died in the year 430 CE. What is this sin? 

Augustine powerfully affected many leaders of the Christianity of his time. They must have shared much of his tightened strum of sexual tension. Ever since, Christian thought –at least until the Protestant rebellion, and even in some Protestant churches –- has suggested that the mistake of Eden was sexual.

 According to this sexual hysteria, the sin has entered into all future humans because Adam and Eve passed it to their children through intercourse and procreation – like a permanent genetic defect carried not in the genes but by the very act of passing on the genes. Since then, most Christian dogma has seen pleasure in the sexual act as not only the bearer of Adam’s sin but the nature of the sin itself.

In this theology, Augustine’s “original” sin was original not only because it was the first, but because it was intimately involved in the origin of the human species and in the origin of every human being. It was and is indelibly imprinted in the human condition.  It was and is the “sin of all,” of the entire world. Since sex was necessary to keep the species alive, the dogma became that sex was acceptable if it led to procreation (though not as holy as "chastity" -- that is, abstention from sex.). So abortion, contraception, homosexuality, masturbation – all became sins. Hence Archbishop Gomez’ warning. It is especially interesting that this malinterpretation of the Eden story names the sin was Sex. Not the adolescent mistake of growing one's own identity by disobeying the parent. Not the Greed of wishing to gobble up the whole world. not leave even one Tree unsujugated. 

 Through the centuries, some Christian thought – today, a great deal of Christian thought — and most Jewish thought, has refused to believe that the sin of Eden (whatever it was), made sex or sexual desire or sexual pleasure in itself sinful, or that the mistake of Adam and Eve delivered that sin into all human souls and bodies.

My own understanding of the sin of Eden comes partly from the deep imprint still on me of 1968, of seeing Pharaoh in our own generation, and of the joyful alternative if we could only cross the Red Sea into the Promised Land, the milk-and-honey Garden. I am haunted by the Bomb and the Climate Crisis, and at the same time inspired by the vision of an ecologically delightful planet. And that brings me to look at the birth of humankind, and at this powerful mythic parable of our beginning.

 What should we do? We need to organize. 

1. Right away, in honor and emulation of Rabbi Ticktin and the other “Janes,” we should be organizing networks for “illegal” distribution of safe chemical means of inducing abortion, led by rabbis and other spiritual leaders, and prepare to support them financially, legally, and with nonviolent civil disobedience if the State of Texas (and other states that are exploring the same system) and its informers attack them.

2. In every synagogue and every church and religious order and department of theology where spiritual leaders teach, the Augustinian theology against sex and for the subordination of women should be stripped of its legitimacy and denounced for its destructive effects.

3. We need to lift up a theology of the Song of Songs as a vision of Eden for a grown-up humankind, not allegorized as meaning only love between God and the Jewish people or between Christ and the Church, but infusing love for God into love between human beings of all genders and sexualities, and of love between human earthlings and Earth.

 We are not used to mobilizing against the theology of any other tradition. Liberal and progressive religious traditions have customarily appealed to their own values and let others go their own way. But this is different. We are facing an attempt to impose a reactionary, retrogressive theology upon the whole American people. We need to name and oppose the pernicious anti-sex, anti-woman theology that distorts the Bible and perverts human society. This effort to impose an anti-woman, anti-sex theology is a national danger. 

We need to say that the real dangers to the human species are not women, not sex as a joyful union of Body and Spirit, but the H-Bomb, the burning of fossil fuels, the over-population that takes over all living-space for humankind and crowds other species to extinction. The obsession with subjugating women and punishing joyful, consensual sex distracts us from facing the powerful forces -- I call them the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs -- that are threatening Earth and Humanity. Bring more than Ten Plagues upon all Earth, out of Greed for still more money. That GREED is the real sin aginst the Holy Spirritt, the Interbreathing of animals and vegetation, of Oxyygen and CO2, that keeps all life alive. The build-up of far too much CO2 is choking Earth, choking Humankind.

It is important to note that despite the urgency of Pope Francis to speak against the Greed so dangerous it is destroying the web of life on Earth, the obsession of the American Catholic bishops with sexual sin plays into the hands of the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs whose addiction to the sin of Greed is forcing plagues upon all life-forms. It is also important to note that this theology oppresses not only women but those of  "unconventional" sexualities and genders. Even forbidding abortion may affect trans men who continue to have a uterus.

We need to look at the biblical passage that says, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill up the Earth, and subdue it,” and say ”DONE! Now what?”  

 And for me, the Song of Songs is the "now what." It is feminist, pro-sex, pro-love. pro-Earth, and ecological in its worldview, not hierarchical. It imagines Eden for a grown-up human race. It is heart and fountain of a Torah for the next epoch of Earth's history. 

From "Go Down Moses" to Liberating Earth

Dear  chevra, Last night we searched for chometz; this morning we burn it. We make a sacred flame, an inward flame like the Burning Bush, to consume not only the swollen yeast and sourness we eat, but swollen empire, swollen hatred, swollen violence, swollen armies, swollen Hyper-Wealth. Not only in our enemies but in ourselves.

 In 1969, I felt called to write an Haggadah that was embodied  in the first Freedom Seder on the first anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King. It celebrated the ongoing liberation struggle of Black America alongside the ancient liberation struggle of Israelites against Pharaoh. It seems to have been the first Haggadah ever  to address a liberation struggle other than a Jewish one. Among its passages from that long campaign was “Go Down Moses” as an outcry that used a Jewish motif to call for Black freedom.

This year, I found myself called again to write what became the Earth and justice Freedom-Seder. It begins with paying honor to the original “Go Down Moses,” and then adds new verses in a Universal outcry tuned especially to the climate crisis. It  challenges the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs who are bringing widespread plagues of fire, flood, & famine on many regions of Earth and plagues of cancer and asthma on targeted low-income neighborhoods,  especially of color.

^^ ^^^ ^^^

The new Earth & Justice Freedom-Seder begins with a section called “Old Vision & New Purpose” about “Go Down Moses.” Here  it is after the song itself. The original song calls us into the struggle against racism. The new verses call us into the  struggle against those who make billions from the burning of all Earth.

When Israel was in Egypt’s land, Let My people go;
Oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let My people go;
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go!
When they had reached the other shore, Let My people go============================================================;
They sang the song of freedom o’er, Let My people go.
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh: Let My people go!


New Pharaohs rise to scorch the Earth, Let all My peoples go;

Big Coal and Oil parch new birth,
Let all My peoples go;

Rise up, Peoples, Rise up in every land, Tell ALL Pharaohs:

Let My creation grow!


For the Breath of Life still offers hope, Let all My peoples go;

With sun and wind we well can cope –

Let all My peoples go;

Rise up, People, Rise up in every land, Tell ALL Pharaohs:

Let My creation grow!


Oh, set all Earth from bondage free, Let all My peoples go;

Let our Making pause to Be, Let air and water flow.
Rise Up, Peoples, rise UP in every land, Tell ALL Pharaohs:

Let My creation grow!

As we live here in America, We’ll set our people free!
Races, faiths, and genders all, from Sea to shining Sea!
Rise up, O People, Rise up all across our Land--
Tell new Pharaohs, your oppressions will not stand!


We begin the Seder with one of the great liberation songs connected with the ancient story of the liberation of ancient Israelites enslaved by an ancient Pharaoh. The song was variously known as “When Israel was in Egypt’s land/ Let My People Go!” and “Go Down Moses.” “Go Down Moses” itself drew on an old story for new closely related purposes. We are doing that again, and that itself is a crystal of what we do with this whole Earth and Justice Freedom-Seder. 

The story itself was repurposed in the song when it emerged from an enslaved Black community in the 1840s or 1850s in what had become the United States. It told the ancient story with a new intention: to challenge embedded racist oppression by a modern country with not only enslavement but a broader racism in its practice and its Constitution.

What's an Iftar-Seder, on Zoom?

Iftar Seder 2022 flyer

This year, the sacred Muslim "moonth" of Ramadan and the Jewish "first of moonths," Nisan, in which is Passover/ Pesach, are the same lunar moonth — not often possible. So a group of Muslim, Jewish, and multireligious organizations have come together to hold (on Zoom, and recorded) a FREE gathering that brings together the special evening meals of both traditions. 

The Meaning of This Month – Shabbat Ha’Chodesh

Next Shabbat will be Shabbat Ha’Chodesh, the Sabbath of The Month, the renewing of the moon that Torah sees as the first “moonth” of the year. The rabbis who worked out the liturgical calendar wanted to choose a Haftarah  -- a prophetic passage -- to signal the coming of a week they called Pesach and Chag HaMatzot.

 They found a passage by the Prophet Ezekiel that celebrated not only the New Moon but also the Festival of its fullness – a week focused on food when we would make a shepherds’ Pesach  offering of a newborn lamb and eat  Matzot, the farmers’ celebratory meal of just-sprouted, barley that we quickly bake into Unleavened Bread. A time of livelihoods renewed.

 Notice that Ezekiel was following the pastoral-agrarian rhythm, not the explosive festival of liberation. This double festival celebrates the growth of spring and of the earliest human foods defined by controlling fire: roast lamb and baked, unflavored, unleavened bread.

 “Pesach” was originally the dance of a newborn lamb, stumbling and skipping as it first learned to walk. Then ”Pesach”  became the dance of shepherds celebrating the spring emergence of new lambs by imitating the lambs; then it named the sacred offering of such spring-born lambs to YHWH / Yahhh, the Breath of Life, and finally the skipping-over dance of the God Who skipped over the blood-smeared doors of the Israelites who celebrated their new birth through a doorway of blood—their own new womb.

 Having set the tone for the “first month,” Ezekiel wanders off into specifying rules for how the people will behave on New Moons and Festivals in a new Temple that he imagines building, to replace the one the Babylonian Army burned. The most profound of these rules is, “Whoever enters the north gate of the Temple to celebrate Yahh, the Interbreath of Life, shall leave by the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate shall leave by the north gate. They shall not go back by the gate through which they came in.” (Ezekiel 46: 9). Once we enter a new spiritual experience, we must recognize that we leave as new persons.

Finally the Haftarah follows Ezekiel as he wanders away from New Moons, annual festivals, and the physical Temple altogether. He enters a different zone of sacred time -- dror, a word that is used in Leviticus 25, the most detailed teaching about the seventh year of Shabbat Shabbaton, when Earth, animals, and humans must be allowed to rest. Both dror and shmitah mean Release.


And here Ezekiel (and the rabbis who arranged for this passage at the end of the Haftarah to be part of it; they could have simply dropped it) –enters new “territory.” He examines how the Nasi, the king or powerful official, must use and not abuse his wealth. He may give gifts to his officials and supporters, but the gifts become his own again, or his children’s, when the dror – the seventh year, the Shabbat Shabbaton of the whole community, comes round again. And he may never rob the people of their holdings; only from his own personal holdings may he make gifts. (Ezekiel 46: 16-18)


This means that a certain degree of economic equality is part of the practice of shmitah/ dror. It means that a Nasi cannot build up a personal political following by bestowing gifts on his officials or his supporters, for the gifts are merely temporary. It means the Nasi may not punish the people or any group of them by impoverishing them, seizing their property.

And we might combine the two passages I have singled out as meaning that by whatever gateway we enter the sacred space-time of the shmitah year, we – the whole society --  must not go out again by the same gate. For we must become a new people, a new society. Together with our respect for all the life-forms of Planet Earth, we must affirm a new respect for all the human beings around us – and especially for their livelihoods and a measure of economic equality with each other.

 We can begin, we should begin, with the month of Passover, of new sustenance for shepherds and farmers and everyone else, of an Earth with no Pharaohs. Chodesh tov! – A new month of new good!

Our Gift to You -- a new Earth and Justice Freedom-Seder

I am writing to tell you about a new Passover Haggadah – a Telling of sorrow and transformation.  It is the multireligious Earth and Justice Freedom-Seder.  You can use it in your friends-and-family celebration, or in congregational, communal, or interfaith Seders.

Or - – the newest, bravest possibility – you can use it on the street, challenging the Pharaohs of our time.

Active Faith: Activating Festivals To Heal Our Planet

Dear friends of The Shalom Center and of the we initiated for multireligious action this coming Passover ---

 I want to share with you the deeper reasons we are reshaping Passover to become an activist festival to heal the future as well as one to celebrate the past. (At the end of this letter you will find information on two different learning/organizing opportunities this very week.)

 Our first assessment: If we are to prevent planetary climate disaster, mobilizing the faith communities of America is crucial. This is both because they have been crucial to great change in the past, and because the combination of great urgency blocked by great frustration and fear can be turned to action most effectively  by drawing on deep reservoirs of faith.

Second assessment: The best time to do this is when major sacred festivals lift the spiritual and ethical awareness of the faith communities' members to their most intense. This spring, a broad swathe of festivals occur from late March to early May.

Third assessment: The US government is paralyzed in a deadly deadlock. So for the moment, it would be best to turn to another arena of change: the major financial investors that undergird the Hyper-Wealth and greaat power of the fossil-fuel industry.  These also raise the profound spiritual question of Greed as a block to Love and Justice.

So The Shalom Center turned to the Jewish festivals. In this generation we have become far more attuned to the truth that they are the children of a sacred marriage between the Jewish people and Earth. YHWH, the Interbreath of Life (God’s Name “pronounced” just by breathing with no vowels, perhaps as YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh or Yahhhh as in Halllelu-Yahhhh) was the m’sader/et rebbe under the chuppah, uniting all life forms on Earth by the way we breathe Oxygen and CO2 into each other..

Both Earth (adamah) and Humankind (adam) are in our generation dangerously wounded, with worse to come. Just as the children of human and other species come to their parents’ aid when they are wounded, so we must reshape the fasts and festivals to meet the needs of adam and adamah today, as we have done before.

We have been dangerously wounded by the overproduction of CO2 and methane, heat-trapping gases, by the Carbon Pharaohs that insist on multiplying their Hyper-Wealth even though their business plan is bringing plagues of fire, flood, famine, and disease upon us all. They produce more CO2 than all Earth’s vegetation can transmute to oxygen. CO2 and methane heat the planet and choke the Interbreathing that life needs.

Earth (adamah) can’t breathe. Humankind (adam) can’’t breathe. YHWH, the very Name of God, can’t breathe.

Our sacred seasons are what make the American Jewish community unique among American cultures and communities. We celebrate and observe them in our homes and synagogues. It is time to take them to the public square – the streets, the banks, the elections booths to bring Breath and Justice to marginalized neighborhoods plagued by coal dust into asthma, by oil and gas leakage into cancer. To bring justice to Earth where whole countries and regions suffer from famine, where whole regions find their cities flooding, or choked by the poisonous smoke of wildfires, where despairing refugees dislocate the countries whence they flee and where they flee to.

 Activist Pesach, activist Tisha B’Av, activist Sukkot, activist Hanukkah, and all the other sacred seasons, could help to heal us.

 Pesach: street seders at the doors of the giant outfits that fund the Pharaohs. We do not abandon Pesach; we give it more life. We say to Chase Bank, to Black Rock, to Vanguard: Move Our Money, Protect Our Planet, Prosper Our People. No Earth, No Justice; No Justice, No Earth.

 Tisha B’Av. We mourn the damage to Temple Earth, and act to restore it.

 Sukkot: We learn the values taught by the leafy, leaky, fragile house; we grow these values as we grow the vote.

Hanukkah: One day’s olive oil meets eight days’ need for light; we retrofit our homes and businesses to conserve energy, we found congregational and neighborhood solar-energy co-ops.

And more, as we circle and spiral the years.  Not only as we learn in the Sabbatical Year to let Earth rest from overwork and over-carbon, but to explore the possibility of a pulsating economy that works and then pauses, accumulates and then shares, that learns the possible world-view of “sojourner” rather than “owner,” instead of endless economic “growth” and inequality that rushes off a precipice to ruin.


The Shalom Center and #ExodusAlliance will take part in a mulitreligious conversation that Methodist Theological School in Ohio will host on the role of banking in climate change at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, Tuesday March 1. “Shades of Green: Faithfully Financing Climate Justice” will provide an introduction to the financial decisions made by large banking interests that support fossil fuels.

The event is free Advance Zoom registration is required and available at

“Shades of Green” will feature four speakers.

Rabbi Nate Degroot serves as National Organizer for The Shalom Center. In this role, he is helping to launch a national climate justice Passover campaign called Exodus Alliance.

Bishop Marcia Dinkins is executive director of Ohioans for Sustainable Change.

Rev. Abby Mohaupt is director of education and training for GreenFaith, which is building a worldwide, multi-faith climate and environmental movement.

Dr. Joerg Rieger is distinguished professor of theology and the founding director of the Wendland-Cook Program in Religion and Justice at Vanderbilt University.

###  ###  ###


The Exodus Alliance is a group of multifaith organizations, faith leaders, and everyday people taking action for climate justice. This Passover, we’re holding street seders in front of Chase banks and other financial institutions all across the country. We will challenge the world’s largest investors in fossil fuels, the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that depend on the financial support of these investors. Want to help lead or join a powerful Passover action this spring? Sign our Call to Action and volunteer to help organize a street seder near you. Register for the national Community Action Call happening this Wednesday 3/2 at 8pm ET. Questions? Email

So it’s time to Dance in God's Earthquake!

So it’s time to Dance in God's Earthquake!

So it’s time to shape a life-giving Torah for the new Paradigm!

So it’s time for Humankind to --

“Make space for the foxes,

The quick little foxes,

That rush into our vineyards

Now, when the vines are in blossom!”


It’s time for the Song of Songs to be Eden for a grown-up human race.

And it’s time to learn how.

My newest book, Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion is the harvest oof my life-work. Like any harvest, it grew from the past -- in order to feed the future. Here is how some folks responded tto reading it:


“A wonderful book! Before the hierarchies and divisions of religions, there was the all-inclusive circle of spirituality. In Dancing in God’s Earthquake, Rabbi Arthur Waskow helps us trace our path back to our spiritual home.” –Gloria Steinem

“Rabbi Waskow calls each of us to reach down deep in our moral and religious traditions and have a grownup conversation about the response our present crisis requires. I'm glad to lift up this invitation for all to join the divine dance of love and justice.” –William J. Barber, II, President of Repairers of the Breach and Co-Chair of the Poor People's Campaign.

“Like poetry on a cold day, this book warms the heart and mind both. A fierce look at religion, a willingness to question history, to see the connections between the world’s faiths, to suggest how we might move forward from today’s hard times.”—Ruth Messinger, American Jewish World Service


“We are in a moment of great crises and gathering travail, and so one thing we need to learn is how to steadily, joyfully, determinedly pass through these trials, not just intact, but in love with the world around us. There could be no better guide than Arthur Waskow.”—Bill McKibben, author, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out

“This is a delightful and refreshing book, full of wit, wisdom, and hope--all of which we so desperately need amid the perpetual upheaval and crisis of the world today. I'm deeply thankful for both Arthur and this book.”—Jim Wallis, Founder[ oof Sojourners

“The Jewish people's most revolutionary theologian is at it again, trying to waken us out of our moral slumber, before it is too late. The ancient prophet said: ‘A lion roars? Who will not fear?’ Waskow is our roaring lion.” –Rabbi Arthur Green, Rector of Rabbinical School at Hebrew College, author, Judaism for the World "

"Rabbi Arthur Waskow brings his many years of activism, thought, and creativity to bear on the most important question of our time: how do we respond to cataclysmic change?  How do we shift the patterns of the past rather than cling to them as they unravel? . -- Rabbi Jill Hammer, author of The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons

There are a number of other endorsements. They include Rabbi Jonah Pesner,  Marge Piercy, Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, and other notables from the Christian and Muslim worlds.  

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! -- Arthur

You can order Dancing in three ways:

  • By calling Orbis Books at 1-800-258-5838 to buy at $25 each one book, or perhaps a few for presents to strengthen your beloved friends who sing and want to dance for love and justice;
  • Or to buy for your congregation or book club a minimum of ten copies at a huge discount --half off, only  $12.50 each;
  • Or to do the communal buy plus arranging with The Shalom Center an evening of conversation with Reb Arthur about the book, by writing .


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Dancing – Yes, Dancing! -- in God's Earthquake

The most dangerous of our earthquakes erupted just as we began to glimpse how to create a world of love and justice, one grown like a social version of an ecosystem, one where we seek to put together the jigsaw puzzle of our lives, our cultures, our communities rather than let one or a few of the puzzle-pieces dominate and subjugate the rest.

What are those ultra-dangerous earthquakes? There are two. One is the wave of neo-fascism that has shaken not only American democracy but many other countries. A resurgent wave of using elections as mere Potemkin villages, pretenses of democracy where the real power lies in the hands of a few. Where in some countries it is Muslims who are subjugated, in others Blacks and Latinx, some where the teachings of religion are perverted to subjugate women and GLBTQ people, where artists and intellectuals are jailed and scientists are treated with contemptuous fury, where the poor are rendered voteless and helpless.

All this is worsened by the simultaneous earthquake of Earth in the climate crisis, the extinction crisis, and the pandemic crisis. For the poisoners of air and oceans and farmland, the modern Corporate Carbon Pharaohs who bring plagues of fire, flood, and famine, dearth and disease and death upon both adamah and adam, Earth and Human Earthlings, are stunningly wealthy and urgent to use their wealth to protect their power.  The story of Pharaoh and Plagues becomes planetary, not just restricted to one Tight and Narrow Land, fertile like a narrow furrow, both sides of the River Nile.

It is a surge of activist desire to enact and embody the biblical vision of a society seeded and sprouted and harvested through love and justice that has called forth its opposite – a movement to systematically encourage greed, bury justice, and mobilize hate. The Bible warns us of this pattern. Its great story, probably a weave of factual history and powerful myth, centers on Egypt —in Hebrew, Mitzrayyim, which means the Tight and Narrow Land.

When in the past we humans have faced such a crisis – whether to choose the society of Love and Justice, or the one built by subjugation and hate -- there was always time to renew and repair. There was always time to struggle for change – time to wait out plagues before crossing the Reed Sea to freedom and the Unknown. Time to abolish slavery. Time to end racial segregation, time to expand the vote to women and the right to marry to gays and lesbians. Time even to move away from exhausted farmland or struggle for a “Sabbatical Year” to let the farmland rest and renew itself, to annul debts so extremes of poverty and wealth could be redressed.

Not every Earthquake has the same effect on the people who live through it. As I said when I first started writing Dancing in God’s Earthquake, the Year 1968, half a century before, was my first Earthquake. It taught me to live – and learn to dance – in an Earthquake. I did learn to dance, because others were dancing too. We brought the fresh air, lively breath, to religious and cultural and even political life that had become Ezekiel’s dry bones.

But the Earthquake of two years of pandemic – and still counting -- dried many of us out again. Back to bones with no breath. Very few of us are immune to the contagion of sadness, depression, despair. Reasonable people begin to talk of civil war, of dictatorship, of billions dead when civilization collapses.

The great Biblical story of liberation knew this would happen. It describes Pharaoh contemptuously responding to Moses, Aaron, and Miryam when they demand a holy pause for their people to celebrate the Interbreath of Life. “Sez who?” snarls Pharaoh. Moses just breathes, “YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh.” What kind of god is that?” sneers Pharaoh.

“Bricks without straw!“ orders Pharaoh. “Rigor more bitter!”

And the nascent Brickmakers Union, Local 1 collapses. It turns against its own leaders: “It is you who made even our smell stink in the eyes of Pharaoh and his counselors. You who gave him a sword to kill us!”

At this most hopeless moment, YHWH says to Moses: “You have waffled in soft-heartedness when you should have emboldened your people, My people! You began by telling them My Name, the way they most understand the world, was “Breath of Life.” You told them I interbreathe all life and so when Pharaoh sows seeds of tyranny against humans, there grow sprouts of rebellion from frogs and locusts and hailstones.

But the people -- they wobbled and waffled: ‘We grew up with a God Who nursed and nurtured us,” they said, “Our forebears for all the centuries that we remember, grew up and taught us. They said that our God was nurturing like a many-breasted Mother. So we learned, and so we speak. Nothing about locusts in rebellion against our masters. Instead we had onions, garlic, meat – even as slaves. Do not make us suffer worse!”

“And you, Moses and your family followers, you were so soft-hearted that you too wobbled and waffled! ‘All right,’ you said, ‘Worship the God you know!’ ”

“But that understanding of the world, that ‘Name of God,’ no longer tells the truth. Of course you failed, of course the Pharaoh sneered. Tell them the truth, Moses! Tell them ‘It is  YHWH, the Breath of Life, Who Calls you!’ Insist, and they will shatter Pharaoh’s power.” [This midrashic conversation is based on the episode in Exodus 5:1 to 6: 9]

And they did.  

The one best cure for what the Bible calls the Breath cut short, for what we call depression, is a new understanding of the world, encoded in Action.

That is why we today are coming together as #ExodusAlliance, drawing on our diversity – not a chain of command but a web of agreement to make up an effective challenge to Greed and Domination. (See )That is why some of us insist on “pronouncing” the Name of God by not-pronouncing -– by breathing as it’s written (YHWH with no vowels) -- rather than substituting “Lord” or “King,” “Adonai” or “Melekh.”  

And it is still why I wrote the book, Dancing in God's Earthquake. When I wrote, in 2018 and 2019, you could taste and smell the surge of resistance. In the summer of 2020, there was a multi-racial surge of 20-20 vision about the pervasiveness of American racism. It was still there in November, giving birth to seven million more votes for democracy rather than fascism.

But the pandemic and the Big Lie did not wear out. Indeed, each strengthened the other. The depressing, disappointing, demoralizing effect of Covid made it easier for millions of Americans to believe in a stolen election. And belief in a stolen election fed distrust in all normal wisdom, and fed the anti-vaccination conviction that lengthened and grew the pandemic.

And even those of us who did not fall into the Great Bitterness wore down.    With a government paralyzed by deadly deadlock, it became harder to work for a new society rooted in ecological intertwining instead of hierarchical subjugation precisely  when that work was most needed.  

But it still is most needed. We still, and most urgently, need the vision of Psalm 101 – “Of love and justice I will sing; to You, Breath of Life, I’ll sing praises!”  We still, and most urgently, need to rethink the Bible as the record of an ancient struggle to walk that path and a teaching to us to keep pursuing that struggle.

“Faith” is not a soapy comfort that it will all turn out all right. It is a commitment to keep struggling against our own despair and the organized destructive despair of others,  opening our eyes to the hidden teachings  of our ancestors. When Hagar watched her son dying of thirst in the wilderness, she opened her eyes by sobbing, and her own tears became the wellspring that saved them both.

So I offer you once more Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. (What connects the parable of Eden, the parable of Manna-that-comes-with-Shabbat, and the poetry of Song of Songs? What is the deeper meaning of “God’s Image,” and how do the Talmud, Jesus in the Gospels, and an eight-year-old child in 21st-century America all grow new meaning in it? What would it mean to listen to a Tree breathe its own prayer?}  

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! -- Arthur

You can order Dancing in three ways:

  • By calling Orbis Books at 1-800-258-5838 to buy at $25 each one book, or perhaps a few for presents to strengthen your beloved friends who sing and want to dance for love and justice;
  • Or to buy for your congregation or book club a minimum of ten copies at a huge discount -- $12.50 each;
  • Or to do the communal buy plus arranging with The Shalom Center an evening of conversation with me about the book, by writing .

Move our Money, Prosper Our People, Protect Our Planet

[Robert Brand is a retired city planner and businessperson and is a Senior Fellow at The Shalom Center. He has spent the past 60 years trying to figure out how to work for a more just world, focusing on how to mobilize resources and redistribute them to address issues of exclusion, inequity, and democracy. His work as a planner has involved a career in public health and labor activism, as the developer of an online software as a service package that secured close to $3 billion of support for low and moderate income people, and as an activist.

[The title of this article refers to a commitment and motto of #ExodusAlliance that affirms our goal as not only ending the deadly investments of Chase Bank in the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that bring plagues on Earth and Humanity, but moving that money to purposes of life. Please see for more information and to join in sacred action toward and during Passover.]

By Robert Brand

A central belief of faith communities is working to make a better world. It is not enough to remove money from Chase or other financial institutions that fund fossil fuels and the destruction of our planet. Resources must do something that creates a better world, addresses historic inequities, builds an inclusive and welcoming society.

The first need in such a process may be a place to park resources while figuring out how to invest wisely and justly. Community Development Financial Institutions can accept short term investments; credit unions and cooperative banks can create accounts; and investment funds can offer safe parking and potential partnerships.

Then look at some areas where good resources can make a difference. That may require experts to conduct quick feasibility studies to minimize risk of these new investments. Some possible life-affirming alternatives:

1. Repairing damage done by fossil fuel extraction. The damage done by coal, oil, and natural gas is pervasive. There are many thousands of abandoned oil wells and coal mines that continue to pollute groundwater, emit methane, and poison their immediate areas. Mountaintop removal for mining of coal has also created massive environmental hazards and constant threats of landslides. There is a major existing allocation of infrastructure funds to begin cleaning up these areas to prevent further harm and restore land for public use. Community-based enterprises that will do this work, and are committed to family sustaining wages and benefits, offering employment to workers in the fossil fuel industry, and social equity will need capital for equipment and startup costs. These enterprises will be profitable, whether they are incorporated as for-profit or nonprofit entities, and will be able to pay a modest dividend on investments or repayment of loans.

2. Investing in solar, wind and geothermal projects can help these initiatives move further faster. In some communities there are neighborhood solar cooperatives being formed. They often will need some assistance in getting established and they can repay investments through the savings on energy that they produce. There is increased interest in developing wind and solar farms in rural areas to help farmers and rural communities prosper and to create a stream of renewable energy to support homes that will cut their ties to the Carbon Pharaohs. There are also pilot geothermal projects that offer investment opportunities.

3. Work is being done to promote Deep Energy Retrofits (DERs). Nineteen percent of the greenhouse gases the United States produces is from single family homes. Moving to all electric houses supported by renewable sources of electricity can reduce the carbon footprint of the United States by at least 12%. There are projects being discussed, developed, piloted, and run in too few, but a growing number of communities. A recent paper proposes development of a financing pool that engages local stakeholders in each community whose business interests would benefit from DERs. The National Renewable Energy Lab has recently published a guide for community planning of these initiatives. This is in addition to a range of government funds that already exist or are in the pipeline. As these efforts begin there will be huge opportunities for employment, significant local or regional production of materials, and the creation of enterprises that seek to serve low and moderate income communities, where the largest energy savings will take place. These enterprises also provide opportunities for people who have been excluded from skilled, family sustaining jobs with career paths. Substantial investments can be made to support the development of enterprises that will do the work and produce the materials needed.

4. Trees, trees, and more trees. Trees are essential to renew land that has been clear-cut, sites of mountaintop removal, sites of abandoned oil and gas and coal extraction. Trees are also essential to create microclimates in cities that reduce summer heat. They also begin to restore some connection between people and nature through management of these trees. All of this requires a public commitment. We know that there are specific varieties of trees that work in specific climates. We also know that trees that are grown from seed in the areas in which they will mature adapt to air quality and climate in those areas and thrive much better than those that are transported from faraway nurseries. There are opportunities to invest in nurseries and employ people who will grow, plant, and tend trees throughout the nation. Government, utilities, developers, all will be eager customers for trees. Early investment can help the nurseries develop family sustaining wages and using environmentally sound practices.

5. All Wood Construction. While we are at trees, we should note that there is an increasing interest in all wood construction. Wood construction in modern days is fire resistant and is a carbon capture and storage system. In addition, all wood construction removes cement and concrete from the construction site, both of which are energy hogs. There are two architecture schools in North America that have departments devoted to all wood construction. Commercial architects have built all wooden buildings up to 14 stories. These buildings are sound and create huge opportunities for urban and rural partnerships to finance construction, proper management of forest lands and the development of a very green part of the construction sector.

6. Building networks of Green House Nursing Homes. These small community based homes (10 to 12 residents) offer improved quality service to residents, are popular with residents and staff, increased the hours of staff – resident contact, have had virtually no Covid problems, and are cost competitive with traditional nursing homes. Conventional nursing homes are not popular. People who need the service don’t want to go there. This is a significant alternative. There are about 150 Green House nursing homes in the United States now. Many communities have bonding authorities that could finance these homes. Just buying the bonds or partnering with nonprofits could significantly increase the number of these homes and, in some cases, reuse some traditional nursing home buildings.

7. Indoor, controlled environment agriculture is a growing need. Aeroponic production uses 5% of the water of traditional agriculture, uses no chemical fertilizers, and can move food production close to people consuming the food. Most of the aeroponic and hydroponic enterprises have confined themselves to a small set of crops, the easiest to grow. Yet there have been more than 50 crops successfully grown aeroponically or hydroponically. The availability of resources would encourage the creation of new enterprises that better serve our communities.

8. Fixing the supply chain increasingly means shortening and localizing the supply chain. Years ago, a Massachusetts nonprofit economic development agency built a simple model to help businesses identify suppliers in their local community. It was so widely used that the website crashed and had to be rebuilt to handle more robust traffic. Building such exchanges create opportunities for good investments.

Charlie Chaplin said, “You will never see the rainbow if you are always looking down.” We will never see the future until we move our money and resources from destruction to hope and opportunity.

The Back Story of #ExodusAlliance

Today is, in both the American calendar of honor and in the Jewish sacred calendar, a day of rebirth and renewal. For Jews it is the rebirthday of trees and of the mystical Tree of Life, and for Americans the birthday of Martin Luther King, who embodied and still symbolizes the rebirth of struggle for an America beyond violence and beyond racism. 

Exactly one year  before he was murdered, Dr. King warned that America must cleanse itself of dangerous triplets:  militarism, racism, and materialism. Today the whole of Humankind faces the most profound question in all our history: whether to ruin most of life on Planet Earth for the sake of bigger corporate profit through burning fossil fuels  -– the ultimate in “materialism"-- or live with Earth in joyful self-restraint – the teaching of Y'H B'Shvat and of Dr. King's companion-in-struggle, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. 

Three months from now is the first day of Passover, which gives vision and framework to our coming work against the Plagues imposed by Carbon Pharaohs..

The Shalom Center has worked during the past two months to shape a multifaith grouping focused on one aspect of healing Earth and Humanity from the Plagues of fire, flood, famine, and disease brought upon us by the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs. For the sake of their  own power and wealth , they are acting in the pattern of the ancient Pharaohs described in the Biblical and Quranic tales of the Exodus. Because the powers of the US government are paralyzed in deadly deadlock, we have turned to ending the financial support that makes possible the fossil-fuel industry in all its permutations. 

We do this as part of a broader “eco-system”  being shaped by GreenFaith on a global basis, drawing on the spiritual energy of a number of great festivals in a Sacred Season stretching from March 19 to May 6. The “Exodus Alliance” is a multifaith amalgam that is one “species” in this broader “eco-system” – focused on using the Exodus tradition as a sacred vessel to achieve eco-social justice for both specific marginalized neighborhoods and Earth as a whole. Like any species in a larger eco-system, we will cooperate with the other forms of lively healing while focusing on our own approach.

To see the Call itself and the list of signers, look across this page.

To sign as supporter and participant in #ExodusAlliance,  please click here:

YHWH Says: “Theology Matters!” Why?

YHWH Says: “Theology  Matters!” Why?
In this week’s Torah portion, YHWH’s Voice (the Interbreath of Life) is heard again, this time in Egypt, telling Moses (Exodus 6: 2-3), “I am YHWH. I was seen by Abraham, by Isaac, and by Jacob as El  Shaddai [God of Breasts] but by my name YHWH I was not known to them.”
At the Burning Bush, where the Name YHWH was revealed to Moses, the Voice did not need to distinguish Itself from another aspect of God. Why in this new encounter must this distinction be added from the way the Israelite forebears had understood the Divine?
Remember, the Name of God is not just a label; it is a way of understanding the world. “Breasted God” meant the God, the world, that brought abundance. But that way of understanding the world was inadequate for a task of liberation. “Interbreath of Life” meant that humanity and earth shared their breathing: Oppression of human beings would rile Earth, bring Plagues from Earth’s disruption. The Great Interbreath would sometimes bring dearth, not abundance, for the greater good of freedom and justice.
The People needed to understand that to change the world, they needed to know that the world had changed.
What had happened just before YHWH spoke this new Truth? Why did this new knowledge need to come just then?
Just before, Moses in his deployment from YHWH as the organizer of Brickmaker’s Union, Local #1 (a teaching by A. J. Muste), had utterly failed. In the name of YHWH, he had demanded Freedom of and from Pharaoh. But Pharaoh scornfully said, “Who is YHWH, [this mere breathing sound}? Why should I hearken to that whispery voice, to send free the Godwrestlers?” (Exodus 5: 2)
And Pharaoh made the slave-work harsher, the policing still more bitter. The newborn union collapsed, and the Israelites turned against their would-be leaders. ”You just made things worse,” they outcried.
What went wrong? Why did God’s next words have to be an acknowledgment that the more-ancient Israelites had had a different understanding of the world, of God?
I think because Moses, who loved his People, was softhearted when he came to them with a new understanding, the Name YHWH. The People said to him, “In our childhoods we learned that God is El Shaddai, the Nurturing Abundant One. Even in slavery, we have onions and garlic and meat! Don’t take away from us what comforts we know.”
And soft-hearted, loving Moses, let them celebrate the Name they knew.
But the Interbreath of Life said, “That won’t work! That won’t  help! I know you learned it from your forebears --  but  you need  a new understanding of the world, a new Name of God.”
And that is where we are today. We have learned to substitute “Adonai, Lord; Melekh, King” for the Interbreath of Life.  We have learned to accept and affirm the God of Hierarchy, and in that world new Pharaohs burn Earth to the edge of death. The Interbreath of Earth is choking as we pour more CO2 into the air than all Earth’s vegetation can transmute to Oxygen. The CO2 and methane trap heat, and so the Interbreath of Life is choking.
We need to renew the meaning of the Interbreath of Life, YHWH, with an enrichment from ecology – that each life-form , in all their very differences, is a sacred component of the whole. That Ecology, not Hierarchy, is the way to understand the world. 
If we insist on “Lord and King,“ we will suffer at the hand of Carbon Pharaohs, whose nostalgia for the “old normal” of their dickering power, turned in our crisis into stubbornness and arrogance and cruelty, is killing us with Plagues of fire, flood, and famine.
To free ourselves, Theology matters.

Hanukkah: A Strange Career in Spirit and in Politics -- Part I

First of all, in the whole Hebrew Bible there is no reference to Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.

But Light carries a strong spiritual value. Not only is it the first creation of Creation, it is the only creation in which the word and the deed are identical. The words commanding it to be and the words announcing its emergence are identical:

Y’hi or!   Be Light!

Va’y’hi or! And Light be!

When the runaway slaves of the People Israel, the Godwrestlers, build in the wilderness a Mishkan, a Shrine for the Holy Indwelling Presence of YHWH, at its heart must be a Light-Bearer, a Menorah in which is burned for light the oil, the juice, of olive trees.

This Light-Bearer itself is fashioned from gold in the shape of a tree: branches, tight clusters of gold leaves to hold a blossom, the gold blossoms themselves cupped to hold the oil that is kindled to make light. From a tree that grows in the forest or orchard to a “tree” that humans make -- comes the oil to make Light.

Centuries later, the Mishkan becomes the Temple in Jerusalem, built there to affirmo the power of an earthly king,. More centuries later still, the Babylonian Empire shatters the local royal power, burns the Temple.

In exile after, yearning for a rebuilt Temple, the prophet Zechariah, whose name means “Remembering Yah, Breath of Life,“ imagines something beyond memory: When the dismembered Temple is re-membered, he says, two olive trees must stand to the left and right of a new Menorah.

This was a radical challenge to the Prophetic opposition to having a tree in the Temple. Some of them feared it would give approval to a “pagan” love of Earth and trees. But Zechariah went even further: The two olive trees, he said, wpuld send their olive oil straight into the Menorah to be burned for making Light. No human intervention would be necessary.


This tiny cyber-forest of three trees – one gold, two leafy, dripping with golden oil, would live in a most sacred place, drawing on the crowning Creation of adam from adamah – human earthling from the earthy humus -- and connecting it with the first Creation  -- Light.

Even more centuries later, the Rabbis decided to have this vision of Zechariah’s included in the Haftarah or Prophetic reading for Shabbat in the midst of Hanukkah (which had not yet been invented when Zechariah first spoke).

But after including in the Haftarah text the image of two olive trees standing beside the Menorah, the Rabbis stopped a few verses short of the most awesome part of the vision. They included the two olive trees (Zech. 4: 1-3). They stopped the Haftarah at Zech 4: 7. The trees dripping oil into the Menorah appear in Zech. 4: 11-12. Some visions, some Light, were too ultraviolet for the public to see.

Now let us turn to the Festival of Lights. Part II of this essay on the strange career of Hanukkah will appear in tomorrow’s Shalom Report.

The Speech President Biden Needs to Give

Imagined by Rabbi Arthur Waskow* 

 [This “speech” could be seen as simply a wistful, wishful expression of concern. But I think something like it could become far more important. - If there is any issue that has brought concern across the political spectrum beyond elected officials in Congress or state legislatures, it is the dangers imposed by the climate crisis.

 [And in the speech is a proposal for dealing with our deadly national deadlock that goes to the people in a way that while unprecedented as a national strategy is well-grounded in the political culture of many states.

 [Even if the President were to think it wiser to refrain from that approach, making climate the central issue of all election campaigns would, I think, be both the most profound way of signaling how important is this "issue," and be probably the only way out of the doldrums that have settled on the Administration. – AW]


My fellow Americans –- and my fellow human beings, of whatever country, religion, world-view, or social standing. 

 I come to the Presidency as a person of faith. One of the most powerful and important teachings of the Bible gives me the strength and the obligation to face the harshest and newest truth of all: After the great Flood, God says: “I now establish My covenant with you [Noah] and your offspring to come, and with every living being that lives with you – every living thing on Earth.” 

 We humans and all the rest of life are part of that covenant with God, and we must act within the covenant before we, not God, bring a Flood of heat, of fire, of water that destroys our partners in the covenant –- and us ourselves.

 So what I need to say tonight addresses the future of us all, not only every human but every life-form on the beautiful globe we share. The more-than-human life-forms will not understand what I say, but their lives and our own will be changed by what we do.

For the first time,  we humans are responsible for whether there is a future for us all, for any of us. We need to act now – not next decade or next year. I bring you a way to do that, despite the deadly deadlock in our national government.

First let me say what is both very hard for me to say, and relatively easy. Hard because it describes a reality far beyond what the framers and reframers of our Constitution faced, and easy because I have said it again and again. What will be new, and harder to work out and pursue, is a way beyond the lethal deadlock we are experiencing.

 What I know is true, and have often said, has been hard for me to live with. It is the truth of the greatest danger we have ever faced. (The hard part has given me some empathy with people who can’t bear to believe it.) Here it is, once again:

 -- What we have called the climate crisis is no joke, no hoax.  When we talk of “global warming,’ we really mean “global scorching.” Fires, floods, famines – floods not only of water but of refugees, millions of desperate human beings searching somewhere for food that is nourishing, air that is breathable, clothing that comforts, housing that is honorable. 

Whole species migrating from habitats gone haywire, hungering for the same sufficiency. 


We need to end the burning of fossil fuels and emission of noxious gases by 2030, not 2050, to make sure that our cities, towns, and farms can survive, We know how to do it. Do we have the political will? I don’t know. We can only find out by trying.


When a democracy faces a new precipice, we must create new ways to leap across the abyss to a new kind of safety. So here is the deeply new part:

This next November, we will submit to the people of the United States a referendum on a bill to heal Earth and Humanity. My administration will start writing this bill now – today! 

On Election Day in November, every American more than 18 years of age will be encouraged to vote. There will be no party affiliations attached to this vote, no political job, no official honor or perfumery.

 Each voter will receive an indelible hand stamp that will mean no one votes twice. If local or state officials anywhere refuse to accept or count this vote, Federal or state or local public servants – teachers, for example – will be asked to serve the public.

What will our people vote on? My administration will fashion a new proposal that transforms the sources and outputs of energy in three great life-arrangements  that nourish us: our homes, our transportation, and our agriculture

These crucial arrangements house us, feed us, move us from place to place. All three require energy. It can come by extracting coal, oil, gas, uranium from Earth, or from the sun, the wind, the tides. 

As of now, all three systems gobble up the space, the habitat, that other species need. Yet the survival of those other species is necessary to our own survival. 

And these three crucial aspects of our lives together each is pouring heat-trapping gases into our atmosphere, scorching our common home. Choking Earth so that the life-giving interchange by plants and animals of Oxygen and CO2 is broken. Earth can’t breathe.  

 And many of our neighborhoods can't breathe. The marginalized  and demoralized communities include those dying early from despair in the form of opioids and those dying early in the form of guns and heroin -- both dying early from the dearth of decent well-paid jobs and from the contempt they feel as "forgotten Americans." Giving a hand up to one kind of neighborhood does not mean pushing another down.

 When in the 1930s the Rural Electrification Act came to farms that had no electricity, it came not to impose a Federal stranglehold but to offer a hand up to neighbors whose ladders had been stolen from them. Our bill will sow the seeds of neighborly co-ops, not briefcased bureaucrats, to grow an economy rooted in renewables. And it will include jobs, good jobs, for those who are displaced by this life-giving transformation. 

My administration will consult scientists of every discipline, historians, clergy and spiritual leaders of every persuasion, artists and writers and singers, teachers, miners and refiners, officials and would-be officials of every party, to create the bill that we will submit to the people. The whole people. 

And we will make the bill utterly transparent. It will be written in words that everyone can understand. It will be made available everywhere.

We will find out in November whether the American people are willing to grow a new society that loves Earth and invites Earth to love us, or is committed to the path of domination.

And we will do what the people decide. If they vote for the bill, we will make it happen. If they don’t. we will stop pressing on this issue. The people will write the law, as they do now in many states by referendum and initiative.

 You might say, “This is unconstitutional!” In 1787, most Americans who could vote in what could hardly be described as a democracy thought that the Articles of Confederation –- the Constitution of our new nation – was not working. It had a constitutional process for amending itself. The voters thought that would not work either. 

So notables gathered by their own will in Philadelphia and wrote a new – and “unconstitutional” -- Constitution. After a vociferous debate, the voters of that day voted. 

They adopted the new Constitution. And because most of the people knew it was necessary, it worked.

We are not only a new nation, renewed by our history. We face a new situation, utterly unknown to any past government or nation.

The Bible teaches:”I. the Holy One, have set before you life and death. Choose life, that you and your children may live!” And the Bible also teaches: "I. the Holy One, will send you Elijah the Prophet to turn  the hearts of parents to the children and the hearts of children to the parents, lest I come [not as a gentle Breath of Spirit or as the Wind of change, but as a Hurricane of destruction,] shattering all Earth."

It is we, each of us, who must choose to be Elijah.

 --- Joe Biden, President of the United States

(Imagined by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph.D.) 

Why Hagar Left: This Week’s Torah

 By Rabbi Phyllis Berman

[Rabbi Phyllis Berman is a spiritual director. She has been the founder and director of a renowned English-language school for new adult immigrants and refugees; director of the summer program at Elat Chayyim; and co-author of several books on Jewish thought and practice.

[This story appears in a fuller version in the book Tales Of Tikkun: New Jewish Stories To Heal The Wounded World (republished by Ben Yehuda Press, 2021) written by Rabbis Phyllis Berman and Arthur Waskow.]

Long ago and far away is where most stories start; but this one begins in my own life.

One day when I was 16, I came home from school very upset. My mother asked me what was wrong. I told her that Danny, the-love-of-my-life, was spending a lot of time with my second-best-friend Tamar. And I was frightened. At the moment they were only friends, but I knew that Tamar really liked Danny, and I knew that he was also interested in her.

"So you're jealous of her?" said my mother.

 "Well, of course," I said. "What else can I feel? I’m worried I’ll lose him; in fact, I’ll lose them both."

"Where did you get the idea that two women have to compete over a man?" my mother asked with a sparkle in her eyes.

Incredulous, I blurted out, "Come on! From the time I was an infant, I’ve gone to shul; from the time I started Hebrew school, I’ve read the Chumash. We hear the story of the competition between Sarah and Hagar not just once but twice a year. It’s all about jealousy over Abraham’s affection! How can you ask me that question so innocently?”

"From your birth, I’ve been waiting to have this conversation with you. But I had to wait till you were ready. So at last it’s time.

"What you’ve been learning about Sarah and Hagar – it’s not the whole story. How do I know? My mother told me when I was about your age; she had heard it from her mother, who had heard it from her mother, all the way back through all the generations. What she told me is the real story of Sarah and Hagar ...

“I’m sure you know the story about how Avram pretended Sarai was his sister when they visited Egypt, and how she ended up in Pharaoh’s harem, and how Pharaoh was so upet when he discovered they were really married that he threw them out of Egypt altogether. But you don’t know that Hagar was in the harem too, that that she and Sarai became close friends, and Sarai insisted that the Pharaoh release her too.

“And that is how it happened that the companions Sarai and Hagar, and the couple Sarai and Avram became a family of three. The three settled in Hebron and peacefully went on with their lives.

"When Sarai learned she would be able to have a child, her name and Avram’s too were changed to affirm they would be life-bearers: Each of them added to their names a deep breathing sound, a hhhh, Breath of Life.

"Now you may think that everything was finally perfect, but I’m sorry to say that a strange shadow fell upon the family right before the birth of Sarah’s baby. Avraham awoke one morning full of dreams about a commanding transcendent lordly God. In his dreams he had heard this God demanded the circumcision of all the males in the family -- the adolescent Yishmael, the aging Avraham, and all future newborn boys to hallow the male genitals to create life for ongoing generations.

"Avraham told these words to Sarah and Hagar, and the women were outraged. 'You mean to say that you’d take our Yishmael --  a thirteen-year old just coming to terms with his body’s change from boyhood to manhood -- and you want to cut off the skin at the tip of his penis?' Hagar said incredulously.

 " 'Yes,' Avraham answered, ''I, and all the men of our clan and our village, and all the boy children, including our Yishmael, must be circumcised.'

"The women looked at each other in disbelief. They could barely tolerate the thought of maiming their male child, let alone the men in the community. It made no sense, they thought; and yet, Avraham was so certain that it was what God wanted. Finally and reluctantly, they agreed, and the circumcisions were done.

"But from that moment on, a gulf fell open between the two women and Avraham. If he could dream such weird dreams, such dangerous and outrageous dreams, who knew what might be next?

"And yet all this was put aside when Sarah delivered a healthy baby boy. To this son, the three of them gave the name 'Yitzhak, Laughing One,' because the news of his coming had caused all of them to laugh with delight.

"The family of five continued to grow in love and prosperity, until one morning Sarah awoke from a terrible night’s dream. She was so distressed that she told it to Hagar: In her nightmare, Avraham had had another dream. This time God had told him to take his first-born son to a nearby mountain, and, like so many of their neighbors who believed that sacrificing living beings insured continued fertility, sacrifice him. As Sarah told the dream, she began to cry. Her body shook and her voice broke.

"Hagar put her arms around Sarah. 'Beloved Sarah, it is just a dream,' said Hagar.

" 'Beloved Hagar, it is just a dream,' said Sarah.

"  'It is just a dream of a dream,' said each woman to the other.

"But the dream came to Sarah once again, and yet once more. 'Three times!' she said to Hagar. 'It will no longer leave me in the morning. Remember when Avraham dreamed that God wanted our oldest son circumcised? Is it so impossible that he might dream that God wants him to sacrifice our oldest son?'

"Sarah and Hagar didn’t know what to think; but, since the circumcision, they were not so confident about Avraham and the voices he chose to listen to. 'What can we do if Avraham decides to take our Yishmael to sacrifice him?' they cried. And so they sat and talked and planned and plotted through the day and into the night.

"The plan," my mother said, "is one we know well; it’s the one we read about in the Torah.

Noah or Abraham?

We Speak Up against Destruction Despite the Odds

[Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman is a writer, mother, activist and song-leader in Boston. She serves as the Director of Professional Development at Hebrew College, and as a rabbinic adviser and ambassador for Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action. Her song The Tide Is Rising, which she co-wrote with her husband Yotam Schachter, has spread as an anthem in the climate movement. See her website at Rabbishoshana,com This sermon first appeared  in Hebrew College’s Speaking Torah Podcast episode, with Bill McKibben and Rabbi Friedman discussing it afterward. Click there to hear it in full voice. ]

By Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman.

It astounds me that Noah’s Ark is a classic children’s story. I’m sure you can see the image in your mind’s eye: Giraffes, lions, and zebras, packed side by side in a compact boat floating over a blue sea, with a rainbow and a white dove in the sky above. The scene signals that this is a lovely children’s story, perfect for the zero to five age group. Picture books about Noah abound. My son’s Hannukah menorah is Noah’s ark, the tiny charismatic African megafauna covered more and more each year by cheerfully colored wax.

 But if we look even a little deeper, Noah’s Ark is one of the darkest myths we have inherited. Not only do the world’s human beings, creatures and all terrestrial ecosystems perish mere generations after being created. Not only is this obliteration a direct result of the immorality of human beings. But the one person, the one adult in touch with God before the ordeal doesn’t say one word of protest. How is this a children’s story?!

 The Torah tells us that Noah was eesh tzaddik, a righteous man, and tamim, blameless or pure in his generation.

In his work The Kedushat Levi, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, an 18th century Hasidic master answers a question that Jewish sages have posed over the millennia. How can we call Noah righteous when he did nothing to try and prevent the flood? 

 He answers:  

There is a kind of tzaddik, a kind of righteous person, who serves God, but is so lowly in their own eyes that they think to themselves, "Who am I to pray for God to reverse the bad decree?" and therefore they don’t pray. Now even though Noah was a great and blameless righteous person, he was very small in his own eyes and did not have faith that he was a powerful righteous person with the ability to annul the decree of the Flood.

So, Noah was righteous, but not righteous enough. Not righteous enough to try to talk God out of sending the flood and destroying Creation. 

The Kedushat Levi’s answer about Noah speaks directly to us. Each of us alive today is witnessing rising seas, super storms, raging fires, and extinctions – the modern-day Flood of climate change. The upending, in fact, of the very promise God makes to Noah that seasons, seed time, and harvest time will never cease. 

And yet, like Noah, most of us stay in a place of inaction, or token actions. We see the global economic machinery at work. We know the entrenched political processes. We learn the grim science. And we are small in our own eyes. Who are we to even try? What can we possibly offer that is worth doing at this late moment? 

 But as sure as the flood waters recede, the ending of Noah’s story bears a stark warning against such paralysis. 

The Noah’s Ark children’s books end with the rainbow and the dove. But the Torah continues. Just three verses past God’s promise, we learn the personal cost of Noah’s behavior.

 Genesis 9:20 tells us, “Noah, eesh haAdamah, man of the Earth, planted a vineyard.” Why is Noah called man of the Earth here? What has changed since he was called eesh tzaddik, a righteous man, back in Genesis 6:9? 

The medieval Torah commentators suggest he was a master of the Earth, perhaps a skilled cultivator. But I read his new title in light of the second half of the verse, which reads: “[Noah] drank of the wine and became drunk and uncovered himself within his tent.” (Genesis 9:20b). 

 Why does Noah get drunk? Because as the flood recedes, he is flooded with the understanding that he is a man of the Earth, a man who loved the land and the people and animals he lived among – and yet a man who failed to speak up to God on their behalf. He gets drunk to drown out his feelings – not just the inevitable grief for the suffering of the drowned and all that was lost, but the perhaps more terrible personal anguish of his moral failure to even try to save it all. 

The 13th century mystical text, the Zohar Chadash, imagines just this moment before Noah plants the vineyard. We can imagine a stunned Noah, exiting the ark and confronting the magnitude of the destruction that has occurred beneath him and his family as they floated on the waves. 

The Zohar Chadash reads:

When Noah came out of the ark, he saw the world completely destroyed. He began crying and said, "God, how could you have done this? Why did you destroy your world?" God replied, "Now you ask me? And when I said, 'All flesh will end' you went into the house of study and didn't do anything to fix that generation of yours!" In contrast to that, [the Zohar Chadash continues], when God told Abraham that God would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham stood before God and tried to save the wicked people of the city. (Zohar Chadash, Noach:109-112)

In contrast to Noah – who was righteous only when compared to the rest of his corrupt generation – the ancient rabbis laud Abraham as one of the greatest righteous souls among all generations. The mystical tradition associates him with the divine quality of hesed, loving-kindness. Why? Because when God confides in Abraham that God plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham speaks up and challenges God: 

“Will you sweep away the righteous along with the evildoers?” he asks. “Shall not the Judge of All the Earth do justice?” (Genesis 18:26).


When Noah was 892 years old, Abram-who-would-become-Abraham was born. Their lives overlapped 58 years. 

Imagine a young, curious Abram approaching the ancient Noah – as countless others must have done throughout the long 350 years Noah had to live with himself after the flood. 

Imagine that through his drunken, traumatized haze, Noah sees something in the young Abram. Something that reminds him of the days he himself walked with God. Noah flashes clairvoyant, seizes Abram’s arm, pulls him close and hisses desperately into his ear: “When the Judge of All the Earth comes to you and tells you He plans destruction, make Him act justly.”  

And so decades later, when Sodom and Gomorrah hang in the balance, Abraham asks God “What if there are fifty righteous souls among them? Will you save the cities for the sake of the fifty? What if there are forty-five?” 

And God says, “I will not destroy for the sake of those righteous souls. (Genesis 18:24-33).”

Abraham presses on: “What if there are only forty? Thirty? Twenty? Ten?”

Each time, God agrees: “I will not destroy for the sake of those righteous souls.”

And we imagine - Noah’s spirit finally rests in peace.

But it turns out there weren’t ten righteous souls in Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities were destroyed. 


Just as Abraham did not know what would happen when he spoke up to God, we do not know the outcome of our efforts to prevent the worst of climate change. Millions of us can dedicate our bodies, our savings, our time, our lives to the fight for climate justice, and we may still not keep warming to livable levels. But we are descended from ancestors who knew how to redefine hope, how to redefine success. Loud as the thunder of forty nights, Jewish tradition calls to us. There is no ambiguity. Despite the odds, we are called to be Abraham and not Noah. 

And Abraham speaks to us, with the intimacy of myths that are never past, but only just behind the veil. Listen.

 “My beloved children,” he is saying. 

“If there is a fifty percent chance of averting the impending catastrophes, will you try? 

“My sweet blessings, what if your odds are forty percent? 

Will you put your money, your time, your political capital behind the climate movement then? 

“My shining stars of the night, my golden grains of sand, 

what if your chances are thirty percent? Or twenty? 

As the species fall to the fossil record, 

will you put your body in the way of this madness? 

Your money out of the banks that fund destruction?


 “As the storms come faster and more furious, 

if your odds are ten percent, five percent, one percent, 

will you still resist in the streets, in the voting booths, in the halls of power? 

 “Even as you adapt, even as you grieve, 

even as you witness Nature’s green resilience

as She turns again into something new, 

Even then, 

will you be among the righteous who challenge destruction, despite the odds?”

Faith Communities Will Gather in DC Oct 12 for Civil Disobedience to Heal our Climate

ON October 12, I will turn 88 years old. I plan to undertake an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, among hundreds of others from a broad rage of  faith communities, at the Whote House in a call to the President to use all his legitimate power to address the climate crisis far more vigorously.

I see my being able at 88 to take part in this action as a joyful birthday present from the Breath of Life --- YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh –- to me, making the Sheh-hekianu prayer real: – Blessed is the Interbreathing Spirit of the world world Who has filled me with life and carried me in the Wind of change to reach this moment.

And from me, the protest will be a healing birthday gift to our wounded Earth.

Clergy Civil Disobedience

(Here I am quoting from an invitation to this action by Rabbi Elliott Tepperman, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.)

 We as people of faith are being invited to support People Vs. Fossil Fuels, an Indigenous-led coalition of frontline communities working to stop the climate catastrophe now. Please join me and many other rabbis and faith-committed people on October 12 in Washington DC as over 100 clergy and many supporters sit down in front of the White House and risk arrest as part of a week of action demanding President Biden use his executive power to stop all federal approvals for fossil fuel projects. 

To participate you need to come to training in DC Monday evening 10/11. They are planning for the arrests to result in a $50 fine and release that day, likely with outdoor processing. Biden’s team has already shown a strong desire to avoid the story of clergy arrest and strong evidence that this action will move the needle.

This action is the first on a national scale for organizers who have been fighting fossil fuel projects like pipelines all over the country. They are coming together in recognition that victory over any one project is insufficient. To reach safety, we need to stop them all. Sign up here with our partners at GreenFaith..  The GreenFaith clergy working group meets the next two Tuesdays at 11 AM via Zoom. Sign up!

 *** ***

Some thoughts I want to add:

We face a great moment of deep decion. When such moments came in Torah, we hear calls for the entire people to be present. At Sinai and for the Sukkot after the Sabbatical/ Shmita Year and when the exiles in Babylon returned, we hear that everyone must assemble.

There could be no deeper decision than whether to  burn all Earth  and wreck human civilization or to move into an era of Eco/ Social Justice. We should be making every effort to involve and hear our fullest community when we vote.

Yet some of our elected representatives are trying not to “move Heaven and Earth” but to thwart Heaven and choke Earth so as to hold power in the old way. To them that means alliances of the minority of Americans who want to subjugate and ravage Earth for their own profit with those who want to subjugate women, GLBTQ people, Muslims and perhaps Jews, Spanish-speaking refugees and immigrants, Indigenous people, and the Black community.

To defeat this cabal who want to govern by fear, violence, and exclusion, we must not only unite against them, but for and in a world that governs through love. That governs hrough the mind-set of ecology  -- in which every species, every culture, every person is willing to celebrate its/ her/ his/ their/ our uniqueness and fit our differences together like a jigsaw puzzle into the Great Name, the Interbreath of Life, the Holy One.

 Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! -- Arthur

Learning from the Lulav

All the Jewish festivals have their roots in the natural spiral of the seasons, but Sukkot --  the fall harvest festival – is the earthiest of all. There are two central rituals of Sukkot:

  • Building a sukkah, a hut with a leafy, leaky roof, vulnerable to all weather, all life-forms;  
  • Uniting and waving Four Species of plant life: three branches (one of them a palm branch, in Hebrew the lulav) and one fruit, the lemony etrog or citron, in the seven directions of the universe.

 Seven? Not six? --- We’ll get to that. First I want to explain how this “ritual” waving can become a powerful consciousness-raiser for connection to Earth and the commitment to act to heal our planet from climate chaos. Two teachings that we can carry within us into public space to teach why we must act to heal our deeply wounded Earth.

 Lesson One of the lulav::

The traditional three branches are myrtle, palm, and willow held in the right hand, etrog in the left, bringing them together while blessing the Breath of Life that calls on us to do this -- then waving them to the right, left, front, behind, up, down, each time bringing them back to the heart. That heart-ward swipe is the seventh direction – inward. (If you can’t find or can’t afford the traditional Four Species, choose a lemon and two curvy and one stiff branch from native trees.) 

“Blessing the lulav,” as this ritual is called, lets us become a tree. We feel our own branches waving in the wind, we smell the lemony scent of our own fruit.

We become a Tree --  and as our newer science of forestry teaches us, trees communicate, feed each other in times of scarcity, cooperate rather than compete.

“Are the trees of the field human?” says the Torah. The sentence seems to be ironic, expecting the answer “No,” but our new understanding might call forth as answer “Hmmm. Good question!”

We do know this:

We breathe in what Trees breathe out;

Trees breathe in what we breathe out.

Animals and plants breathe each other into Life, exchanging oxygen and CO2. That deep truth of Interbreathing was encoded by our forebears in the Name of God that can be “pronounced” only by breathing --  YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh.

That Name frees us to celebrate the Interbreathing Spirit of the world, ruach ha’olam. Frees us from “King” and “Lord” in politics and in our understanding of God and universe -- while reminding us to take seriously our interwovenness with all the forms of life, all Creation. If we ignore or lord it over the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, it can become a Hurricane of Destruction.

All life is crucial to human life, and how human beings behave is crucial to all other life-forms.

In our generation, the Interbreathing has been disrupted by huge human institutions – government and corporations – pouring so much CO2 and methane into the air that all the plants on Earth cannot transmute these gases back to Oxygen. That imbalance heats, it scorches, Earth. Earth is choking. Earth can’t breathe. The climate crisis is both a physical and a  spiritual crisis -- a crisis in God’s Name. 

What must we learn? Stop burning fossil fuels. No coal, no oil, no gas. No oil and gas pipelines. No coal-based warmth or electric power. Sun, wind, tides instead. Fewer gadgets, more delight. More story-telling, art, song, prayer together. Becoming trees together.

Lesson Two of the lulav:

We learn from the seven directions of the universe: Up, Down; Right, Left; Front, Back;  Inward, the seventh direction, the Shabbat direction.

Seventh direction in space, seventh year in time. This Bible passage (Lev 25-26) teaches us to pause from organized agriculture every seventh year. Pause from making Earth work so that Earth can rest and breathe. And end all personal debt so the poor, the overworked, can rest and breathe. 

This very year, the year that began this just-past Rosh Hashanah, is the 7th year. The Bible calls it  Shabbat shabbaton – Shabbat to the exponential power of Shabbat. The year of rest and restoration for Earth and Humanity. Earth is not crushed by overwork, Humanity is not crushed by debt.

Our lesson: Eco/ Social Justice. They are intertwined. Make sure that marginalized Americans, whether pockets of poverty in great cities or depths of despair where the factories are shut and there are no jobs, have democratic access to sun and wind. No only co-ops where families join to own their own solar and wind arrays, but learn the work and have the jobs that revitalize the marginalized.

We are here to demand that Congress act to heal Earth and save human earthlings from despair and death

How? By passing with great strength the Reconciliation Act that will make for a true reconciliation between Adamah & adam, Mother Earth and her human children.

Before we unite and wave the Four Species, we unite the Four Worlds of politics, emotion, intellect, and Spirit by affirming two blessings:

Blessed are You, our Creative Energy, Breath of life, Interbreathing Spirit of the world, Who makes us holy by connecting us with all beings in One Being, and teaches us to connect by lifting the lulav.

Baruch attah Yahh

elohenu ruach ha’olam.

Asher kidshanau b’mitzvot

Vitzivanu n’tilat lulav 

And then the blessing Sheh’hekhianu, since we are doing this for the first time in at least a year, a year we have survived in life when that was risky:

 You, O Breath of Life,

O Wind of Change

Who blows the Breath of Life into us

Carries us in the Wind of Change,

And brings us to this moment.


Or as Rabbi Shefa Gold translates and chants it:

Sheh’hekhianu v’kimanu

V’higi’anu lazman hazeh

O Mystery, Grace Unfolding,

O Miracle, It’s You Alone.

O Mystery, Grace Unfolding,

O Miracle, Who brings us home.

Since we live in a society that brandishes Splitness as a sword, we will learn better how to unite political change with spiritual insight through a Webinar:

From 7:30 to 9 pm this Wednesday evening, September 22,  The Shalom Center and COEJ:L -– the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life – are holding a Webinar to ”Share Sukkot – Green and Grow the Vote.” Among speakers and singers will be Rabbi Dan Swartz of COEJL, Mirele Goldsmith of Jewish Earth Alliance,, Rabbi David Shneyer of Am Kolrrl, me, and more. 

The Webinar is free. To take part, please register so we know how many people to expect.

We look forward to meeting with you there.

Sukkot shalom!  --  Arthur









Will Texas, California, or Yom Kippur be the American and Planetary Future?

Tonight we will enter Yom Kippur. With Kol Nidre we will confess to each other that we all are "transgressors” – in Hebrew “avaryonim,” from the same root as “the cross-over people, Ivrim, Hebrews.” – And we will give each other permission to pray with transgressors, to reach to become  a more holy community. Not utterly pure – for next year we will need to say and do it all again.

For months I  have kept writing that we – Americans and all Humanity – are standing at the edge of the Red  Sea, with Pharaoh’s horse-chariots behind us and the Unknown before us. No one can know whether the Sea will split, and there are plenty of us who are willing to be safe slaves to Pharaoh, with occasional perks of onions and garlic. But there seem to be more of us ready to move forward.

The Texas Path: if you fear the power of the young, the black, the Latinx, then try to stop them from voting. If you fear the independence of women, subject them to Taliban-like vigilantes and Stasi informers. If you are shaken by storms that freeze your people and shatter the energy-system built on burning fossil fuels, deny they have anything to do with climate crisis and global scorching and reward the failed  utility system with more money in time of emergency and double down on gas and oil.

California stumbles its way forward. imto the Sea. More people who find economic and structural barriers to voting? Than mail out ballots to every registered votes, provide them drop-off boxes,  register more to be able to vote. The State starts to burn? Redouble efforts to address climate crisis. Stumbling, yes. Not yet really facing homelessness, for example. But stumbling toward Transformation.

Would it be like to make Yom Kippur our vision –- the reverse of Texas, beyond California?

It would mean to carry into streets and voting booths and schools and police stations and vaccination centers and banks, into Reality, the words we are taught to read on Yom Kipput, from the Prophet Isaiah:

I dwell on high, in holiness,

And therefore with the lowly and humiliated,
To breathe new breath into the humble,
To give new heart to the broken-hearted.

For your sin of greed
Through My Hurricane of Breath YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh
I smashed you.
Worse: I hid My face, withheld My Breath.

Yet I will not do battle against you forever,
I will not be angry with you forever.
From Me comes the breath that floats out to make all worlds.
I breathe the breath of life, I am the Breath of Life.

When you wander off the path as your own heart,
wayward, takes you.
I see the path you need —— and I will heal you.
I will guide and comfort you
With words of courage and of consolation
For those who mourn among you.
Peace, peace … shalom, shalom!… to those who are far and near,
Says the Breath-of-Life —-
And I will heal you.

But the wicked who make the choice

Of doing evil

are like a troubled sea
Which cannot rest,
Whose waters toss up mire and mud.
There is no peace, said my God,
For the wicked.

Cry out aloud, don’t hold back,
Lift up your voice like the shofar!
Tell My people what they are doing wrong,
Tell those who call themselves the “House of Jacob” their misdeeds.
For day after day they go out searching for Me,
They take some kind of pleasure in getting to know My ways —-
As if they were a people that actually did righteous deeds
And never ignored the just rulings of their God.

They keep asking Me for the rules of justice
As if they would take delight in being close to God.

They say: “Why is it that we have fasted, and You don’t see our suffering?
We press down our egos —- but You don’t pay attention!”

Look! On the very day you fast, you keep scrabbling for wealth;
On the very day you fast, you keep oppressing all your workers.

Look! You fast in strife and contention.
You strike with a wicked fist.

You are not fasting today in such a way
As to make your voices heard on high.
Is that the kind of fast that I desire?
Is that really a day for people to “press down their egos”?

Am I commanding you to droop your heads like bulrushes
And lie around in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast day,
The kind of day that the God of the Burning Bush would wish?


This is the kind of fast that I desire:

Unlock the hand-cuffs put on by wicked power!
Untie the ropes of the yoke!
Let the oppressed go free,
And break off every yoke!

Share your bread with the hungry.
Bring the poor, the outcasts, to your homes.
When you see them naked, clothe them;
They are your flesh and blood;
Don’t hide yourself from them!

Then your light will burst through like the dawn;
Then when you need healing it will spring up quickly;
Then your own righteousness will march ahead to guard you.
And a radiance from YHWH will reach out behind to guard you.
Then, when you cry out,

YHWH/ the InterBreath of Life will answer;
Then, when you call, God will say: “Here I am!”

There is a saying---
Tzom kal -- May your fast be easy.

I bless us all, rather: 

May our fast be profound,

deep in our awareness.

-----  Arthur 

Webinar From Grief to Healing Action: Tisha B'Av for Temple Earth

When we learn that a beloved friend has been diagnosed with a dangerous illness, first we grieve. And then – quickly – we move to pursue a healing. 

 Earth can’t breathe. Pock marks of dread danger are bursting out all over. Wildfires. Heat domes. Glaciers vanishing that gave drinking water to whole countries. Droughts and famines.  Flooded subways. Melted power lines. Dead coral reefs, acidified oceans. Roads washed away by huge rainstorms.

Time to act, time to start the healing. Time to demand behavior befitting a planetary emergency.

 From a grieving Tisha B’Av to a time of healing action.

What to do? 

A Webinar to learn effective action. To register, please click to  --

From 7:30 to 9 pm on Sunday, July 18, a Webinar on “what to do.” A moment of wailing a new Lament by Rabbi Sue Morningstar. Rabbi Dan Swartz of COEJL on the deep meaning of Tisha B'Av and a vision of the healing process, Immediate next steps to convince Congress, explained by Rev. Mitchell C. Hescox, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, and by Dahlia Rockowitz, Washington rep for Dayenu, the new Jewish climate-crisis organization. Time to ask questions.

A report by Mirele Goldsmith of a Jewish expedition to join Native Americans in stopping Line 3, the newest Poison Pipeline. Rabbi  Arthur Waskow on why the Jewish festivals matter, to heal Earth.A song of communaal commitment . 

This summer will be crucial on Capitol Hill. Will major action to move from burning fossil fuels to renewable energy be included in the “infrastructure” bill, or will we just build highways for tourism to see a dying planet – highways that melt and buckle in the heat?

 To register for the Webinar, please click to  --

“Shalom” must be a verb, not merely a goodbye – Arthur

2 Eichahs for Today: Resource #3, Tisha B’Av for Temple Earth

[Beginning eleven years ago with the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster caused by the greed and recklessness of the BP corporation in the Gulf of Mexico, Rabbi Tamara Cohen created a new Eicha/ Book of Lamentations for Temple Earth, chantable according to the traditional wailing melody. It was first chanted on Capitol Hill on Tisha B’Av 2011, as part of a challenge to the US government to protect Earth from such depredations. Rabbi Cohen was then an intern for The Shalom Center; she is now director for innovation at Moving Traditions. We offer its first chapter here. Her entire “Eicha for Earth” and a full new Tisha B’Av prayer service are at  --

[This year, in the wake of worsening of the climate crisis and the Covid19 pandemic, Rabbi Sue Morningstar of Ashland, OR, leader of Morningstar Healing Arts at has furthered this tradition of an English Lament for Earth by writing and chanting a one-chapter “Eichah.”

[It is followed by a comment from Rabbi Daniel Siegel, a very early student of Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and a leader of ALEPH Canada, now living on Hornby Island, British Columbia.--  AW, ed.]


“Eichah for Earth”

By Rabbi Tamara Cohen

Eichah: Alas, she sits in danger.

Earth, home to multitudes,

like a beloved, deep in distress. 


Blue ocean, source of life --

Endangered and imprisoned. 


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


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


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


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


Wetlands sigh without their song birds.
Estuaries grieve; the sea is embittered. 


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


Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.


Let us return, help us repent,
You Who Breathe all Life;
Breathe us, Breathe us,
Breathe us into a new path--
Help us, Help us, ,
Help us Turn to a new way of living
Make–new, Make -new,
Our world of life intertwining –
Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.



Eichah adapted by Rabbi Sue Mauer Morningstar July 2021 .

Rabbi Morningstar can be heard and seen chanting her new Eicha in English with the traditional wailing melody at

The words follow:


אֵיכָ֣ה ׀ יָשְׁבָ֣ה בָדָ֗ד הָעִיר֙ רַבָּ֣תִי עָ֔ם הָיְתָ֖ה כְּאַלְמָנָ֑ה

Eicha:  Alas, she sits abandoned.  Earth’s abundance, once green and flourishing, is slowly disappearing.    (1:1)                                                                                                   

We have come through trying times, the Great Pause of distancing and hermitting.

So many have lost lives, other suffer long term consequences.


Rushing, we shed our masks, in celebration of our freedom.                                                                               

But “safety” is an illusion, when variants lurk, and our planet is suffering.                                                                                               


As we emerge from this curs-ed blessing, have we learned our crucial lessons?

16 months of quieted highways, pollution cleared, human and animal lives saved.

16 months of quieted skyways, airplane travel ceased, vistas no longer concealed.

Viewing the magnificence of the Himalayas, city skylines were suddenly revealed.


Now we have resumed our toxic flying, as United proudly announces hundreds of new planes buying.

Endlessly consuming, our fruits we plunder, while thousands of children die daily of hunger.  (2:20, 4:4)

Fires threaten, Earth’s parched and dry, we pack our “go bags” and watch the sky. (5:10)

Oceans rising, temperatures climbing, rainforests shrinking, Shechinah crying.


We weep without consolation, there is no comfort to refresh our souls.  (1:18)

What will it take to wake us up to the destruction and planetary crisis, what will it take??

Unbearable heatwaves burn our skin like in an oven, while our mother self-destructs. (5:10)                                                                                                                   

Our creeks and rivers have run dry, crops and fish wither and die.   (4:9, 5:4)


Polarity, meanness and hatred are everywhere, racism, xenophobia and injustice prevail.

The joy in our hearts has ceased, our dancing has turned into mourning.  (5:15)

Antisemitism on the rise from the left and the right.                                                                                                                                                                                        all of our enemies have opened their mouths wide against us. (

Returning to our homeland after 2000 years, cousins still divided in fear.


On this day we remember the siege of our holy Jerusalem, and the destruction of our holy temples.

On this day we remember the start of the Crusades, the expulsions from England, France and Spain.

On this day we remember Kristallnacht and the Warsaw Ghetto, is it our terrible destiny for history to repeat itself?


Here in America, violence in our streets, 30 million adherents follow Q-anon. 

We’ve lost our trust in our government, we’ve lost our trust in our journalists.

We’ve lost our trust in our judicial system, in our electoral process, and even in science.


Look and see, pain upon pain, Your sanctuary plundered, Your planet overrun.  (1:12)                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

What will it take to wake us up, to choose healing and love, compassion and cooperation?

When will we heed this warning, when will we protect our future generations? 

Your brokenness is as vast as the sea. Who can heal you?  (2:13)


Let us sit alone in quiet reflection, and let our souls fill with God’s compassion. (3:28, 32)

Hashivenu Yah elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.

Renew our days and return us to You, help us reach awareness in the midst of somnolescence. (5:21) 


Comment on the Morningstar 'Eichah"

By Rabbi Daniel Siege

"I commend to you this new version of the traditional Megillat Eichah and

urge you to share it as widely as possible. As we rush to return to

"normal," it will be all too easy to forget that the pre-covid normal was

unsustainable and indeed helped to create the pandemic which is still in

progress. This eichah asks us to bring the many crises of this moment

together, to see how they are linked to each other, to pause and weep for

the damage we have been causing and continue to cause, and to pledge a

return, not to a pre-covid materially based way of living, but one imbued

with a deeper humility, a willingness to sacrifice for the common good and

for the future of our children and grandchildren.


“In turn, that sacrifice will yield a satisfaction and joy greater than any

material thing can provide, the satisfaction that comes from taking time to

deepen our experiences of friendship and family, for the earth, and for our

linkage to all of life which sustains us."  Rabbi Daniel Siegel, Hornby

Island. British Columbia, Canada 7-1-21

New 4th of July

The Trumpist Supreme Court celebrated the approach of the Fourth of July by telling the ugly truth about itself. This whole previous term, it had puzzled observers by avoiding stright-up decisions on the basics of American society. It OK’d Obamacare, said high-school students had the right to criticize their school.

Tisha B’Av for Temple Earth

A Time for Grief and Action   

We are approaching Tisha B’Av – the date in the Jewish calendar (this year July 17-18) when the invading Babylonian Army burned the Holy Temple,  and when centuries later the  invading Roman Empire burned the rebuilt Temple..

We who write you are an array of leaders of the Eco-Jewish movement, and we are writing to connect that ancient trauma with the suffering of our own Temple Earth, the holy Place of all life-forms, including humankind.

We recognize that the suffering is caused by a subset of our own species, and that it will take action by communities of our own species to heal these deadly wounds. Our statement follows, and then the first of a series of resources to use for #TishaBAv4TempleEarth. We will continue to send out these resources , and we welcome your sending us poems, songs, graphics, brief texts, and reports of your pwn planned actions. Email them to

Tisha B’Av for Temple Earth:

A Time of Grief and Action to End the Global Scorching that Endangers Temple Earth


  1. We call upon Jews this year to intertwine on Tisha B’Av (July 17-18) the traditional lamentation for the ancient destruction of two holy Temples with our grief and sacred action in response to the worsening danger to Temple Earth -- the survival and integrity of many species and many human communities.
  2. We encourage Tisha B’Av gatherings to include passages of sacred text, art, and music, old and new, celebrating our love of Planet Earth, mourning the forms of its destruction,  and committing us to act for its protection and renewal. 
  1. We encourage all members of our community that, as part of our observance of Tisha B’Av, we undertake public acts of commitment to change public and corporate policy, as well as action by Jewish groups and institutions themselves. We suggest this in part as a way of embodying the last prayer of traditional Lamentation: “Turn us to You, YHWH, and we shall act to return. Make our days new as they were long ago.”

Action on public policy might include writing a letter or paying a visit to Senators, Congressmembers, state or local legislators or corporate officials. We might urge the inclusion in the proposed Jobs and Infrastructure Act of massive grants for solarizing homes, building electric railway systems and frequent service stations for electric autos,  requiring retrofitting for all public buildings in renewable energy, organizing coastal wind-turbine arrays, financing restorative agriculture and urban organic garden/ farms, etc.  

Actions in and by the Jewish community might include creating congregation-based solar co-ops; funding renewable energy and conservation in new and retrofitting older communal buildings; creating urban farms,  community-supported agriculture, grocery co-ops, and changes in food choices for communal celebrations; using energy-efficient mass transportation, biking, and low-emission  or no-emission automobiles; Moving Our Money from institutions that invest in energy choices that scorch and damage Earth, to institutions that invest in Protecting Our Planet.

  1. As we approach Tisha B'Av and other sacred days, we keep this in mind: Many of our holydays are the offspring of a long sacred love affair between Earth and the Jewish people. Now that both Earth and human Earthlings -- adamah and adam, in Hebrew -- are in serious wounded trouble, let us explore reawakening and reframing their offspring, our festivals and fast days, to rejuvenate their endangered parents.


Signers: [*Indicates the organization is listed for identification only]


Rabbi Katy Allen, Jewish Climate Action Network – MA

Rabbi Tamara Cohen, *Moving Traditions; author, “Eicha for the Earth”\

Rabbi Zelig Golden, Wilderness Torah

Mirele Goldsmith, Jewish Earth Alliance 

Rabbi/Rav Kohenet Jill Hammer, PhD

De Herman,  Jewish Earth Alliance

Mark Jacobs, *Meridian; Founding Executive Director, COEJL

 Ace Leveen, Jewish Climate Action Network –NYC

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, *POWER; Board, The Shalom Center

 Jakir Manela, Pearlstone Center

Rabbi Natan Margalit, Earth-Based Judaism

Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay, *Jewish Theological Seminary

Nigel Savage, Hazon

David Schreiber, Greenvest

Rabbi David Seidenberg, Neo-Hasid

Yoni Stadlin, Eden Village Camp

Rabbi Daniel Swartz, Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL)

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center


### ### ###

The Shalom Center has prepared an entire Tisha B’Av service centered on the English-language Eicha-trope-chantable “Eicha for the Earth” composed by Rabbi Tamara Cohen. It was chanted first at the US Capitol during the summer of 2010, the summer of the BP oil eruption in the Gulf of Mexico, and since then at other venues. You can see it and other elements of an Earth-oriented Tisha B’Av service at We welcome you to circulate all or parts of it, and we will be glad to join in circulating materials about #Tisha B’Av4Temple Earth that you send us.

Two passages from that service follow: Chapter I from Rabbi Cohen’s “Eicha for the Earth” (the entire Lament is at the Website) and “Between the Fires: a Spirit-Focus for Kindling Candles of Commitment” by  Rabbi Arthur Waskow:

Moses Too Bossy or Korach Too Racist? -- Exploring Torah

Moses. Korach.

Up there: a far-sighted leader -- or is he arrogant, a tyrant? Down here, facing him: an ambitious troublemaking rebel -- or is he a democratic visionary?

Are critics -- inner, outer -- traitors, heroes, or something else entirely?

These are archetypal questions, and what makes a Writing sacred is that it demands we face the archetypal questions. The Bible takes up these questions in the story of the forty-year trek through the Midbar, usually called the Wlilderness. Looking deeply at the word itself: M’Dvar – the Place Without Words, or Beyond Words. 

The Forty Years of Pregnant Pause (Rabbi Jeff Roth points out that every biblical "forty" may stem from the forty weeks of human pregnancy)  are barely begun when rebellious Korach, whose name means "Frozen," claims: "The whole community is holy -- all of them! Why do you, Moses and Aaron, raise yourselves above them?" (Num. 16: 1-3 ff.) 

As the story plays out, Korach and those who joined with him in challenging Moses' leadership are swallowed up by Earth. 

Is this a punishment?  So peculiar a result that the ancient rabbis taught that the mouth of the earth that swallowed up Korach was one of the special items in the world that God created in that eerie time just after the six workdays of Doing, just before the first Shabbat of Resting. 

But what was wrong with Korach's challenge? To many contemporary ears, Korach seems a grass-roots communitarian democrat. Whether in secular or religious life, we are suspicious of self-anointed leaders, even those who have a far-seeing vision and decent values. 

During Martin Luther King's lifetime, he was often criticized by the band of little-known grass-roots civil-rights workers who understood his limitations. "De Lawd," they mocked him. They feared that his charisma would distract attention and support from the hard, gritty work of day-to-day organizing. 

Martin Buber asks this same question: Was Korach wrong? Buber certainly criticized such world-renowned leaders of his own day as Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, for centralizing power and authority in themselves and in the State. Buber identified with the prophets much more than the kings, and admired Samuel's challenge to the people who urgently demanded that he choose for them a king.

As Samuel said, "We have a King -- in Heaven! An earthly monarch will tax and conscript you, will shatter your free communities and your connection with God." Indeed, the Haftarah for this Torah portion hearkens back to that collision between the people demanding a king, versus Samuel and God opposing the demand.

And in his book Paths in Utopia, Buber fervently criticized Marx, Lenin, and Stalin for their centralizing politics, their call for an elite and vanguard party to transform society. Buber instead argued for a transformative politics rooted in decentralized communities. 

So, Buber asks in his book Moses, what's wrong with Korach's position? Don't we -- indeed we!! -- want the whole people to be holy, and not have to depend on an elite?

But then Buber says: Korach thought the whole people was holy regardless of how it acted. One might even imagine that he was espousing a kind of racial holiness. (Buber doesn't use that language.) The People was so holy, thought Korach, that  it could kill, or worship gold, or rape the earth -- it could do anything, and still be holy. A kind of "populism" that has become all too familiar to us. 

Moses, on the other hand, understood that the people had to become holy, over and over, forever and always -- had to act and act, do and do again, to make holiness out of ordinary life. 

And in this way Buber explains and justifies the failure of Korach.

But there is more to ask: Why is it Korach's destiny to be swallowed up by Earth?

Perhaps we should hear between the lines of the story, God speaking to Korach in the moment of crisis: 

"Korach, though Moses is right, you are not entirely wrong. I want the whole people to become holy, but they have not yet gotten there.

"Indeed, Korach, you are right -- but only in potential, only like a seed. You think the holiness already full-grown, fully fruitful. It is not. It is a tiny seed, and it needs not only time but hard work to germinate and grow, time and nurture in the womb of Mother Earth. 

"Korach, you need to become seed deep in the earth, growing toward the season of your sprouting.

"Korach, you are what your name says: frozen. You do not yet understand growth, thawing, all the wisdom a seed learns through the winter as the earth thaws and the seed sprouts. 

"Learn to be seed, Korach! Into the earth, Korach! Learn to be seed! Through these forty years of pregnancy, as I carry the People in My belly, as they learn to grow -- you too must learn to grow!" 

So that is why the earth swallowed Korach. 

And that is why, a little later in the story, when each tribe planted its barren stick in the resistant earth, it was the Levites' stick that sprouted, flowered (Num. 17: 23): Korach's family did learn to thaw and grow. 

And the Israelites who had stubbornly refused to learn from plagues and fires and earthquakes, threats of death, responded to the flowering stick of new life. 

God – Who had failed as a teacher by threatening plague and fire -- grew into a Teacher Who can grow through teaching, grow into the Teaching, teach the People how to grow by watching growth.

Can we ourselves grow into teachers who can create the ends we seek through the means we use -- can create new life and growth as a beckoning to new growth and life? 

In a few congregations nowadays, on Yom Kippur the people do what all Israel did in ancient days: prostrate themselves, to become reborn. Even the few who do this whole-body dance do it by sinking down upon a carpet inside a synagogue. Rarely do we do this in such a way as to embrace the earth itself, sink into it, smell the fresh grass, sense a scurrying beetle. 

Yet if we ourselves want to grow our seeds of holiness into a fuller fruiting, perhaps we should invite the mouth of the earth to open for us, let ourselves once more become the adamah (earth) from which adam (the human earthling) can be born.


An Earth of Neighborhoods: Torah This Week

This week in the scheduled reading of the Torah we reach two chapters of Leviticus that are among my favorite passages of Torah: Chapters 25 and 26, called B’Har (“On the mountain” – that is, Sinai – and B’chukkotai – that is, “About My carved-out rules.”

Chapter 26 ends as Chapter 25 begins, with the assertion that the teaching comes from Sinai. The Torah thus lifts this chunk of itself to supernal significance, like the Ten Teachings that coime with an eruption of fire, smoke, and the sounding of an eerie shofar blast. Yet it is only beginning to be treated as a whole, and as centrally important.


  I have written so often about the whole passage* that I can summarize most of it quickly and then I want to explore one part that I have not previously paid much attention to. The summary: Every seventh year, Earth must be allowed to rest from organized agriculture. In Lev. 25 this called Shabbat Shabbaton --  Shabbat to the exponential power of Shabbat. Elsewhere in Torah it is called “Shmita – “Release”: and the human community is released from debts owed by the poor to the rich, releasing the one from degradation and resentment, releasing the other from pride and anxiety.

The fiftieth year – that is, 7 x 7+1, is a year of Yovel – “Jubilee” ( a westernized transliteration, not a translation) , or in Everett Fox’s brilliant translation, “Home-bringing.”  In that year, the land rests again and families are restored to their ancestral holding. The rich give up their surplus, the poor give up their misery. (This happens not on Rosh Hashanah when the year begins, but after days of healing and forgiveness on Yom Kippur – I think, to make sure the transformation happens not out of rage or fear but out of love.)

Why all this? Because no person or institution “owns” the land or Earth – only YHWH, the Interbreath of Life, Which/Who leases it for a limited time to landholders. Then Chapter 26 asks what happens if the community refuses to let the land rest for its Shabbats, and answers that the land takes its Shabbats by force – plagues of dearth and disaster, fire and famine, exile as refugees.

Both chapters speak powerfully to our generation: what we must do, to let Earth rest, and what will happen – is already happening – if we won’t. The Shmita year of Release begins next fall, according to the ancient count. But in our society the process is not limited to a single year. Its values should pervade our calendar, in every month of every year: Sharing. A pulsating economy, not one of endless ”growth” that sweeps us over a catastrophic cliff.  Love for Earth as a whole and of our beloved neighborhood, its land and people.

 And that’s the passage of Torah that I want to lift up. In Lev. 25: 13-45 – way more than half the chapter – Torah devotes itself to a person’s ability to redeem, recover, his/her/ their home in the original family neighborhood. That is precisely the opposite of the degrading practice of Pharaoh’s Mitzrayyim, the Tight and Narrow Land of Pharaoh’s Egypt, described in Genesis 47:21, of moving the newly enserfed Egyptians far from their homes.  Indeed, the land system of Leviticus is in very detail the black-and-white reversal of Pharaoh’s Egypt.

How do we respect Torah’s concern for Earth as a whole with its concern for local neighborliness?

One suggestion: The biblical focus is food. In our lives, energy is food. Neighborhood solar-energy co-ops would in the same breath help heal all Earth from the climate crisis and help strengthen neighborhood ties and the democratic control of energy at the neighborhood level, rather than corporate control of huge solar farms or ocean-based gigantic wind turbines.

Among the proposals for a Green Jobs New Deal is for for Federal grants to solarize 30 Million American homes. Add “co-op” to that formula, and we are will on the way to a modern version of the biblical vision.


*I first wrote about this in the original Godwrestling (Schocken, 1978) and most recently in Dancing in God's Earthquake : The Coming Transformation of Religion  (Orbis, 2020). For its reviews and ordering info click, It is my life-harvest, intended not only to draw on the past but to feed the future. Together with Rabbis Jill Hammer and David Seidenberg I'll be explorong these and "other sides of Mt. Sinai" in a Zoom conversation on May 17. See --


Who Can't Breathe? Three Outcries and a Prayer

In Memory of George Floyd

And Thousands More Since 1619 


I Can’t Breathe 

Again and again,

With gun or choke-hold.

Police have stolen the breath of Black Americans.

The police are not merely police

For they hold a national authority

To use violence on behalf of the nation:

To serve us all, protect us all.

When they subjugate the Black community

They implicate us all,

They make us all Subjugators

And they subjugate us all.

But their misdeeds have stirred

A great Uprising against racism.

We will let no ruler pretend

The protest is the danger.


We Can’t Breathe 

All humanity is choking

From a virus that invades our lungs

We have left no space for other species

And the virus leaps into our lives.

If our rulers minimize the danger

It becomes still worse

Choking our societies, our jobs, our businesses,

Our democracy. Our lives.


Earth Can’t Breathe

All life on Earth depends on Interbreathing.

We breathe in what the trees breathe out;

The trees breathe in what we breathe out.

Our Interbreathing is the Breath that keeps all Earth alive.

Our Interbreathing is the very Name we call You,

For YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh

Is the still small voice of simply breathing.

But the Flood of CO2

That we call the “climate crisis” 

Chokes our breathing.

Chokes Your Breathing,

All Earth is scorched by burning fossil fuels

And Carbon Pharaohs burn their way to faster wealth.

Earth can’t breathe and Your Name rattles in our throats.


A Prayer and a Response 

You Who are the Breath of Life,

At Sinai You taught us,

You shall not take My Name with an empty heart.

You shall not breathe My Name with empty Spirit.

Every breath we take

is Itself Your Name,

Part of that great Breath that is the Holy One.

You Who are the Breath of Life,

Heal us to breathe.


I Speak 

I Who free you from choking

In the Tight and Narrow Place:

I Who send you Broad Spaces

Where My breath,

My wind, blows free:

No one shall rob you of My Name,

My Breath, My Holy Spirit.

Embody Me!


Woven by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The Shalom Cente

 Creative Commons Copyright 



Torah of “Tamei”: Laser-Beam Holiness, Not “Impurity”

[Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman had this insight and wrote this Torah teaching. She is the lead co-author of A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven on the Jewish life-cycle, author or co-author of many essays and books on Torah, and a spiritual director. – AW, editor]

 By Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman

 The  Torah portion “Tazria” that we read this week begins (Lev. 12: 2-8) with the instruction that, when a woman gives birth to a male child, she's "excluded" from the community for 40 days because she's "tamei."  But when she gives birth to a female child, she's excluded from the community for 80 days because she's "tamei".  After that, she once again becomes "tahor."

 Reading this, I think about my experience as a mother who gave birth first to a male child and later to a female child. I re-member that, in the early weeks after the birth of each baby, all of my energy was focused on getting to know and understand how to respond to the needs of this new being. I thought about how it takes at least 80 very intense days to get the rhythm of sleep and awakenessof feeding and interacting with a baby before a woman can actually understand what the baby is communicating and needing and is finally fluent/fluid enough to re-enter a life before baby.

The conventional understanding of that text has always focused on why the separation-time after the birth of a girl-child was twice as long – assuming that the time for birth of a male child was the norm.

But my memory of mothering made me flip the conventional understanding. Rather than the 80 days being an "anomaly,” perhaps the normal time from a mother’s standpoint was 80 days, and the "anomaly”  was the shortening of the normal time needed for that bonding of mother and child, from 80 days to 40 days. 

Why might this shortening have been imposed? Perhaps the male society worried that a male child, left "isolated" with his mother for more than 40 days would become too "feminized" whereas they were unconcerned about the female child being "isolated" with her mother for 80 days.

This way of thinking then led me to probe the actual meaning of "tamei" and "tahor" which has, since the time of the King James translation of the Chumash into English, been most often translated as "unclean" or "unpure" (tamei) and "clean" or "pure" (tahor).  Instead, in considering those moments in life when we are completely consumed by something -- a new baby, a new love-making, a new creative development, sickness, death -- we naturally separate ourselves from the community. Then we can concentrate on that which demands our complete attention. We are "tamei" during a time of intense concentration on one aspect of our lives and separation from the other aspects. 

At other times, we are able to focus on multiple concerns, balancing them all with relative ease. Then we are "tahor", able to hold multiple identities and tasks in and beyond our home and work lives.

Both "tamei" -- that intense laser beam of concentration -- and "tahor" -- that balance that enables us to be in and out of community fluidly as appropriate -- are holy ways of being at different times of our life.  I believe these are the real meanings of these two terms that have been so poorly translated, with so much damage in particular to women, for so many hundreds of years.

Over-Burdened Oxen & “Eco--Kosher": This Week’s Torah

Two passages speak especially to me in this week’s Torah Portion, called “Sh'mini.” Or rather, the creative explorations of the two are what speak to me.

One is the shocking story (Lev. 10) of the High Priest Aaron’s two sons, who brought “strange fire” into their offering to the Breath of Life; and were instantly struck dead. Was their offering fatally improper? Or did they bring so much the fullness of themselves that there was no need for them to keep on living?

The Haftarah (prophetic passage) seems a commentary on that story, and its study bears a personal delight for me. So I will explore it first.

First you need to know that as the Coronavirus lock-down first took effect a year ago, my 19-year-old grandson Elior Waskow emailed me: “Granddad, you clearly know a lot of Torah. How about we make a chevrusa (partnership to study Torah) once a week?” I was immensely pleased by the invitation, and agreed. We alternated which of us would choose a passage to read from the Torah portion or its accompanying Haftarah.

When we got to Sh’mini, I chose the Haftarah (II Samuel 6). It is the story of what happened when King David tried to bring the Ark of the Covenant to his capital city, Jerusalem, hoping to add to his prestige as an upstart king. The Ark was carried in a cart drawn by a team of oxen. The oxen “stumbled,” according to most translations. (Everett Fox says they “let it slip.”)

Uzzah, one of the guards, grabbed the Ark to keep it from falling on the ground, and was instantly struck dead. This incident has traditionally been thought to point like the tale of Aaron’s sons to the inexplicably awesome tremendum of God’s presence so that touching the Ark, like bringing “strange fire,” brought death.

But Elior, closely reading the Hebrew, interrupted: “Granddad, here’s your favorite word in the whole Tanakh!”  “What?” said I. “Shmita! Your favorite word! Release, the seventh year when Earth is released from overwork and human beings are released from debt!”  -- See, right here, “Shamtu habakar”  --“The oxen made a release!”


[The death of Uzzah by  Giulio Quaglio the Younger in a medaillon in Liubljana Cathedral (1704)]

Wait a minute, I said. “The oxen didn’t stumble. The burden of pulling the Ark was too great, the burden of adding to the king’s prestige for his sake, not God’s, was too great. They tried to release themselves from the burden, and Uzzah tried to force them to bear the burden.” For this the  Breath of Life stopped breathing, for this God’s “nose was inflamed with anger,” for this was Uzzah struck dead. For the freedom of the ox from overwork was more important than housing the Ark in a fragrant cedar palace to make the king more powerful.

In an era when we humans are overburdening many species into their extinction, does the story speak to us?

Elior's discovery transforms the meaning of the passage, and I am “tickled pink,” as my mother used to say, that it was Elior who discovered it and knew that “shmita” was one of my favorite parts of Torah. One of those moments when a whole life-journey seems worthwhile; one is released from doubt. A moment of shmitah.

The other passage that attracted me in this week’s Torah portion is the recitation (Lev. 11) in great detail of animals that Israelites were permitted to eat, and those that were forbidden. I will explore Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi’s transformative exploration of kashrut into what he called “eco-kosher” in our own day.

The biblical recitation is not random. It follows the order of creation: Air, Sea, Land. But beyond that, it is hard to discern a pattern. Perhaps we are forbidden to eat some animals because they eat other animals -- while those we may eat make us “virtual vegetarians.” Perhaps some amphibians must not be eaten because they insist on crossing between land and sea, confounding the great divisions of Creation. Fastidious folk may be surprised to know there are even six species of grasshoppers and locusts that are kosher; other species are forbidden.

Maybe what seems irrational has a higher reason: If there is no simple general rule, everyone who eats must pay close attention to the food, making sure it is sacredly permitted.

When the rabbis of the Talmud prohibited raising sheep and goats in the Land of Israel, was that betrayal of Abraham’s heritage or an Abraham-respectful response to population growth that would denude the land and destroy its fertility if herding were permitted?

Today we are beginning to see efforts to say that beef is not kosher because huge herds of cattle threaten the planet by emitting methane gas. Or perhaps that beef can be kosher but only if its animals are grass-fed and because of this diet emit very little planet-scorching methane. Who decides? Each consumer? A religiously constituted court, for each religion? A national elected legislative body? Are these three possibilities part of an escalating process rooted in public opinion?If so, do religious bodies have an obligation to apply their ethical standards and move the process forward?

Even all this applies only to food we eat with our mouths. But today, is energy “food” that we eat with our whole bodies?  

Enter Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. He went deeply into the roots of biblical kashrut. “Why these elaborate rules of what to eat?” he asked. “Because shepherds and farmers had to affirm a sacred relationship with Earth; and because food was the strongest connection between human earthlings and Earth; so rules emerged that specified what is sacred food and what is forbidden food. Now few of us are farmers or shepherds, and we take from Earth energy by way of coal, oil, natural and unnatural gas, uranium,  water-power from rushing tides or flowing rivers, wind, sunlight.

 Which of these – he coined a word – are “eco-kosher”?

 Though Reb Zalman’s coinage was explicitly not about food, the power of the “food” aura around “kosher” has brought almost all exploration of “eco-kosher” to discussions of food. 

When will we start developing standards and rules about eco-kashrut for energy? Who decides?

The Shalom Center needs your help to keep looking deeper into Torah for its deep wisdom for our day. Please click the maroon “Contribute” button in the left-hand margin.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! -- Arthur


Ecstatic Visions: Passover, Easter, MLK

Today is the 8th and final day of Pesach, in many Diaspora communities. It is also Easter in most Christian communities. And it is April 4, the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s most profound speech in 1967 and of his death in 1968 --  a sacred date to an increasing number of Americans. This last date in past and present will be honored tonight at 7 pm Eastern time by the reading of Dr. King's greatest speech, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" by a group of national truth-tellers. We will explain this third date – today – in more detail close to the end of this Shalom Report.

Both the final day of Passover and the final day of Holy Week could be described as calling forth an ecstatic vision, affirming and transcending the highest notions of political freedom and justice.

The Prophetic reading for the last day of Passover is a passage from Isaiah, including the ecstatic vision of Chapter 8:

But a shoot shall grow out of the stump of Jesse, A twig shall sprout from his stock.

The ruach [spirit /breath /wind] of YHWH [the Breath of Life] shall alight upon him:

A ruach of wisdom and insight, A ruach of counsel and valor,

A ruach of devotion and reverence for YHWH [the Breath of Life].

He shall sense the truth by his reverence for YHWH [the Breath of Life]:

He shall not judge only by what his eyes see, Nor decide only by what his ears hear.

For he shall judge the poor with equity And decide with justice for the lowly of the land.

He shall strike down a land with the rod of his mouth

And slay the wicked with the breath of his lips.

Justice shall be the belt around his loins, And faithfulness the belt around his waist.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard lie down with the kid;

The calf, the beast of prey, and the fatling together, With a small child leading them.

The cow and the bear shall graze, Their young shall lie down together;

And the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw.

A babe shall play Over a viper’s hole, And an infant pass his hand Over an adder’s den.

In all of My sacred mount Nothing vile or evil shall be done;

For the land shall be filled with deep knowing of YHWH [the Breath of Life]

As water covers the sea.

Here even what seems like violence – striking a land, killing the wicked – is done by speech, by persuasion. By nonviolence. And then the ecstatic vision takes off entirely: in even the order of nature, of God’s more-than-human Creation, violence shall end.

For Easter, we begin with the Holy Week of nonviolent resistance to Rome. Just a few days before Pesach, a protest march from the Mount of Olives into the midst of Jerusalem, scattering palm branches  -- a sign of spring and new life, as a modern protest might wave placards of defiance. Singing songs of joy, psalms well-known to the people. Climaxing with a challenge to the official system  supported by the Empire:

         And Jesus went into the Temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple, and overthrew            the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said to them, ”It is written, “My house shall be           called the house of prayer.’ But you have made it a den of thieves.”

The week proceeds with a Pesach Seder where the band of resisters plan the next steps. It is infiltrated by a paid hireling of the Empire’s secret police, who betrays then to the police. Rabbi Jesus is arrested, subjected to a “perp walk” through the city, and crucified  -- tortured to death.

 And three days later, the urge for freedom surges into an ecstatic vision: the despised prisoner who dared to resist the Empire is restored to life. The normal order of nature is reversed.  And the political order is transformed as well: the crucified rabbi becomes a transcendent hero and the God of the Empire that killed him.

In Jewish tradition, ten great rabbis tortured and killed by Rome are remembered by chanting their story on the holiest day of Jewish reverence, Yom Kippur. The nearest the story comes to an ecstatic reversal of the natural order is not the resurrection of any of the ten rabbis but their “immortalization” through memory and one element of Rabbi Akiba’s death. Akiba is sad to have smiled while  being tortured, turning his torture and death into a midrash on the meaning of the Sh’ma.

Half a century ago, the nonviolent spiritual leader Martin Luther King, who resisted governmental injustice  -- racism and war --  was murdered on  the first anniversary of his speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” In it he prophetically warned the deadly “triplets” haunting America – militarism, racism, and materialism – would ruin America if they were left to fester. Perhaps he used the word “triplets” instead of “trio” to point out they share the same DNA -- the impulse to dominate and subjugate. We have watched other forms of the same DNA – sexism, hatred of foreigners, religious bigotry, contempt for the processs of democratic elections and workers’ rights and the free press, contempt for and poisoning of our mothering Earth – bring death and despair to many Americans.

Dr. King’s ecstatic vision did not call for tha transformation of the natural world. It focused on the transformation of human society:

“Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.

"A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

"This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men.

"Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.

"We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation."

Dr. King has been immortalized in many ways – a national holy day in his name, the creation of the Freedom Seder and its being first held on April 4 -- the first anniversary of his death—and in many instances for the last half century on a date very close. For the 50th anniversary, on April 7, 2019, a Freedom Seder held in a Philadelphia Mosque, the Freedom Seder built to a climax with the Prophetic speech of Reverend William Barber II, who drew on Jeremiah to call for a march to the “royal palace”  -- the White House --  of our own corrupt and murderous king.

And now there has arisen a new way of calling out the Prophet Martin’s truth.This very evening, a band of national leaders will take turns reading his speech about the deadly triplets. Here is how you can join in the moment:


The Shalom Center is a co-sponsor of the reading.

 With blessings of freedom and eco/ social justice, Arthur

Plague Year I Ends: Now What?

After a year of the “Eleventh Plague,” made far worse by a cruel and egomaniacal pharaoh, the American people have decided against the worst of futures – descent into fascism and destruction of Earth. But we remain poised in uncertainty, at the edge of our own version of the Red Sea.

The choice then was the choice between "normalcy" with Pharaoh's Army or a plunge into the Unknown of freedom. Do we want to return to the “normalcy” of big numbers of “left-out,” “forgotten” Americans – Black and brown and Indigenous, white and rural and desperate? That “normalcy” bred the fury of the last four years.  

Or do we want to venture into the Unknown of growing a more just, compassionate, and loving society?

We remain uncertain: Will we choose only to smooth the jagged edges of disaster wrought by Coronavirus, as the just-barely-passed American Rescue Act does?  Or to heal ourselves from the deeper danger of worsening inequality of wealth and income, from the attack on democratic elections and democracy itself, and to heal our deeply wounded planet?

 The danger to democracy and to Earth are deeply intertwined. The Hyperwealthy Carbon Pharaohs who make their money by scorching Mother Earth into fires, floods, freezes, and famines and their allies in government, banking, and propaganda media use some of their obscene wealth to buy laws that reduce their taxes, increase the power of wealth in buying elections, and reduce the voting ability of marginalized groups who would oppose them.

And there is an even deeper connection. The impulse to dominate and subjugate other human beings colors in blood our behavior toward other life-forms. And the impulse to exploit and subjugate Earth colors our behavior toward human groups we subjugate.

That impulse to Subjugate can only be cured by spiritual transformation --  community-wide spiritual transformation, what we often mistakeny call something utterly different --- politics.

 To redirect that impulse and grow from the grass roots a society of justice, compassion, and love will take support for renewed and more inclusive democracy; both neighborhood and national action for healing Earth and the Human-Earthlings intertwined with her; and the mobilization of faith communities to create a shared spirituality of justice, compassion, and the Loving Eco-Society.

 These three imperatives will govern the work of The Shalom Center.

A. We will support action to strengthen and expand our democracy. This will include national action like the passage of the For the People bill and the John Lewis Voting Rights Enforcement Act. (To learn more about these two major corrections to our broken election system, click to and

We will support abolishing or radically reshaping the filibuster, now an intrinsically antidemocratic process that worsens the anti-democratic structure of the US Senate. We will support action to provide statehood to the people of the District of Columbia, and to end partisan and racist gerrymandering.   We will support efforts to fulfill Torah's command to make reparations for the subjugation of a whole people in slavery. We will let you know when a crucial moment comes for these actions, and offer you the means to make a difference.

B. We will support efforts in the Jewish and other faith communities to initiate solar and wind co-ops in rural as well as urban and suburban neighborhoods; to support efforts to win national funding for such co-ops; to empower the poor, the Black, the Latinx, the Native communities to end their subjugation to the poisonous byproducts of the Carbon industries; to end the use of “forever plastics” and dangerous biochemicals as “eco-treyf” (un-kosher) products that sicken human beings and kill many life-forms; to transform agriculture to restore the land and fit with changes in food use that heal both land and people; to encourage space for wild-life to flourish; and to embody “the Covenant of Noah” to protect all life-forms from danger of extinction.

C. We will enrich a transformative religious life that sees all spiritual and religious communities as committed to the enhancement of Humanity and Earth, not only to its own narrow interests. We will share interpretations of Torah that illuminate this vision, teachings like Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion that point toward such communities. We will suggest and provide ways of drawing on the sacred festivals of every tradition to create public policy that heals our Earth. 

With the sacred times approaching of Passover (First Seder March 27), Holy Week (Palm Sunday March 28), and Ramadan (1st day of fasting, April 13), periods of interior and public liberation, we call on all of us to affirm our transformation.


We know that all humanity and along with humanity, all Earth, faces a choice between the Great Turning to the sharing of abundance, respect, and love -- or a descent into misery and death. We at The Shalom Center will do our best to provide the ideas and suggest the actions that will help us actually make the Great Turning.

Torah Today: When the Most Sacred Becomes an Idol

This week’s Torah portion begins with Exodus 32:1 (Everett Fox’s translation, The Five Books of Moses, Schocken):

“Now when the people saw that Moshe was shamefully-late in coming down from the mountain, the people assembled against Aharon and said to him: Arise, make us a god who will go before us, for this Moshe, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!

Aharon said to them: Break off the gold rings that are in the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters, and bring (them) to me.

All the people broke off the gold rings that were in their ears, and brought (them) to Aharon.

He took (them) from their hand, fashioned it with a graving-tool, and made it into a molten calf.

Then they said: This is your God, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!"

This – the Golden Calf – is the model of idolatry in the Hebrew Bible and for many cultures and communities for the last few thousand years.

The question that occurs to me is, “Why did Moses take so long before he came back to the people from the summit of Sinai?”

And when I looked at what the story says is going on at the mountaintop, a great proportion of it is not the Ten Utterances, not the rules and regulations of sacred daily practice, but the description of the portable Sanctuary, the Shrine or Mishkan. Descriptions of gold, silver, purple, scarlet, fur, cloth. Great detail.

Almost as if God become obsessed with the Shrine. Almost as if the Shrine, the Mishkan, had become God’s Own golden calf, God’s own idol. From that perspective, not so surprising that the response of the people was to create an idol.

Imagine a story in which God spoke briefly: Build me a Shrine. It needs a slaughter-site, incense, gorgeou colors. Go figure it out!

Would the people have gotten so fearful, feeling so abandoned, that they needed an idol?

What does this teach us? It reminds me of a story in the Talmud: Some of the ancient Rabbis decide to hunt for the evil impulse that stirs some people to give in to idolatry. They hunt and hunt, and finally find it hiding in the most sacred place, the Holy of Holies at the heart of the Temple.

Both tales warn us: It is possible to turn what is most holy into an idol. Those who destroyed the Twin Towers in New York, killing about 3,000 people, said they were avenging the US desecration of the sacred sites of Saudi Arabia by putting military bases there. They turned that sacred land into their idol. Some Catholics refused to cleanse the Catholic Church of child abusers because they did not want to bring the sacred Church into scandal. They made the Church into their idol. Some Jews have refused to criticize the Government of the State of Israel when it maltreated Palestinians because they thought they were protecting Israel’s reputation. For them, Israel became not a sacred place of freedom but an idol. 

With the true God, you can argue and criticize as Abraham did. With the true God you can wrestle, as Jacob did, giving the name Yisrael,  Godwrestler, to the whole people. An idol is what you must not criticize. An idol is what you think too sacred to criticize. An idol is what you think so sacred you can kill the innocent to protect it.

Look around. Ask yourself, your true Self: have I mySelf turned what is holy into an idol?

The Puzzle of Purim

The puzzle of Purim is upon us. Is it funny, or frightening? A story of triumph? Or does it end with an act of terror, and a terrible mistake?

Let’s start with Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther.

According to the Megillah, the events of Purim invented the Megillah. According to modern linguists and historians, the Megillah invented the events of Purim. It’s not history, it’s a satire on pompous kings and genocidal rulers. The Megillah itself was a farcical tale --  the first “Purimspiel” -- that went along with the craziness of early spring, when even the trees dress their bare nakedness in costumes of green, and many spiritual and religious communities celebrate with bawdy ridicule.

There is even a tip-off in the tale itself: it says that if we check in the archives of the kings of Persia, we will find the whole story. But we can check in the archives of the Kings of Persia, and there’s no such story. The Megillah itself is a joke; in fact it’s two jokes, and they are the same joke.

It’s a classic joke: “hoist on your own petard,” or “slip on your own banana peel.” That’s the double joke. The king starts the whole story in motion by insisting that no woman is ever going to tell him what to do. He brings about the story that ends with him doing exactly what Esther tells him to do. The anti-anti-feminism joke.

A bloodier version of the same joke: Haman gets the second plot of the story going by planning a genocide of the Jews and the hanging of Mordecai in particular. He ends up being hanged on the gallows he intended for Mordecai, and with the death of 75,000 Persians at the hands of the Jews.  The anti-antisemitism joke.

It is a great story for a people that has no power and can laugh and revel in a story where power is so stupid that it turns its own power into an alcoholic stupor.

But if the people of Purim become powerful, the story becomes dangerous. On Purim morning in 1994, a Jewish man thought he was blessed because he was named “Baruch” but became “Aror, Accursed,” by killing 29 Muslims prostrate in prayer at the tomb of Abraham, the legendary ancestor of both the Jews and the Arabs, of both Judaism and Islam.

Jewish tradition teaches that on Purim we should know the mystical identity of two seemingly utterly disparate statements: “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Accursed is Haman.” In Hebrew, the two phrases have the same arithmetical value, but the identity goes even deeper than gematria. How were they identical? Both assumed a story of Power-above and Courage-below. If you are caught in that story, both the defeat of the Power-hungry and the victory of those who birth courage from their own terror may turn to ashes in your mouth. Best to make sure you never get caught in the story, never get caught in cruelty masking as pomposity. Use the power of laughter --  Saturday Night Live or the late-night stand-up comics -- to hustle away a would-be Ahasuerus or Haman. If laughter fails, we may need the civil disobedience of Esther, or even the plagues of Pharaoh, a month later.

The rabbinic tradition assumes that to get to that place of deep unity we need to drink some alcohol or smoke some dope. Little did the rabbis imagine that a Jew with the power to murder could confound “baruch” and “aror” in himself or in us all, by pouring out blood.

Or perhaps they did recognize the possibility, and tried to forfend it. Today, this very day, in rabbinic tradition, is the Fast of Esther – the 13th of Adar, the day before Purim. Why impose a fast in the midst of what the rabbis hoped would be hilarity?

There’s a history. In the midst of the Maccabeean war against a tyrannical empire and a “modernizing” Jewish community, a Syrian general named Nicanor was defeated.

(A detour to explain the history:  The Maccabeean war was actually partly anti-imperialist and partly a civil war, Maccabees and their more traditional followers vs Jews who thought Hellenization was fine – call them “modernizers” or “assimilationists,” depending on your own views. Interestingly, the rabbis were uncomfortable with the Maccabees  -- not wanting to encourage military uprisings, especially because of the mass enslavement of Jews after the Bar Kochba revolt.  Yom Nicanor wasn’t the only thing that got erased. The Books of the Maccabees were rejected from the Tanakh, survived only in Greek (another joke of Purim) and were treated as holy only by Christians. The Talmud on Hanukkah, the premier Maccabeean festival, begins, “Mah zot Hanukkah,” “What is this Hanukkah, anyway?” and then focuses away from the revolt in favor of the miracle of the Menorah oil.)

Back to that day: –- The 13th of Adar became Yom Nicanor, a day of celebrating a military victory. By proclaiming the Fast of Esther, the rabbis shattered Yom Nicanor. They tried hard to prevent Baruch/Aror Goldstein. They failed, and today and even tomorrow on Purim itself, we need to contemplate the dangers of becoming so Power-filled that our own violence comes to seem normal.

ON the Fast of Esther one year after the massacre, here in Mt. Airy  (Philadelphia) we held a solemn assembly – a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim each spoke about the bloody streaks in his/her/their/our own tradition. Then we celebrated Purim with joy and abandon. The idea didn’t become annual practice. Maybe it still needs to.  Having got rid of our own Ahasurus-Haman by laughter and disobedient courage, let us laugh more and party tonight. Freilach Purim!

Sen. Cruz: ”I’ll believe ...when Texas freezes over”


I misreported the "Cruz tweet." It was a fake, broadly circulated on social media to hundreds of thousands of people.  I apologize. He never promised to believe in "climate change" if Texas frose over. T

But this past week, Texas froze. All over. Dozens died, maybe hundreds.  Can we expect Senator Cruz to change, even thoigh he didn't promise to?

No, because his false and stubborn denial of climate crisis was not the product of stupidity or ignorance. It was the product of vicious corruption. It was the product of selling himself, body and soul, to the Carbon Pharaohs who brought this Plague upon Texas.

 If the years they and he imposed servitude to Coal and Oil had instead been used to emplace solar-energy co-ops, those years would have saved lives and limbs of Texans “lost” when Global Scorching, Weather Weirding, poured unprecedented cold and snow on Texas. Those lives and limbs and futures were not “lost,” like a stray quarter fallen on the ground by accident. Not “lost” but robbed, killed, destroyed, by the Greed of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Banking, and their toady senators and governors.

Did Cruz care? Not hardly. His money paid for a swift trip to Cancun, Mexico, because his own house was “freezing.”

What can we do? The Shalom Center is supporting a campaign initiated (just before the Texas Freeze) by Solar United Neighbors (SUN) for a federal program to fund the solarization of 30 million American homes.

There are two major ways in which Jewish and other faith communities can build this effort:

  1. Synagogues, churches, mosques, temples, and other congregations can direct their energy to organizing neighbor-based or congregant-based solar co-ops, just as they organize adult-study groups, tikkun-olam projects, and special observances of festivals. In other words, they can define solar co-ops as a religious expression or even a mitzvah -- an obligation, in order to save Earth and Humanity from climate chaos, save neighhborhoods from economic despair, and provide local resilience through co-ops already on the ground if disaster strikes.
  1. Congregations and their support denominations, clergy organizations, interfaith and multireligious organizations can organize to support the “30 Million Solar Homes” campaign. To prevent the Big Freeze in Texas, the Big Wildfire in California, unprecedented floods in the Midwest, climate chaos everywhere.

This approach is urged on us by the needs of today: the planetary need to shift from burning fossil fuels to drawing on energy from the sun, the neighborly need to meet the economic and spiritual needs of neighborhoods made desperate by the absence of jobs and the absence of a future. 

And let us respond to a teaching of hope from a crisis long ago that speaks even more boldly to a crisis of today: the astounding ancient words of the Prophet Malachi, spoken about 2500 years ago:

 "Here! The day is coming

That will flame like a furnace, “

Says the Infinite YHWH / Yahhhh,

The Breath of Life --...

“Yet for those of you who revere My Name,

Yes! My Name, Yahhhh, the Interbreath of Life!

a sun of justice will arise

with healing in its wings / its rays.”

                 (Malachi 3: 19-20)                

We indeed see the "solar energy" of the sun's rays as the healing of unbearable heating of Earth into a furnace. We see the solar solution as a sacred remedy -- not all we need to do, but crucial. Please write us at if you want specific resources to work on this campaign in your own community.

For us, this did not begin overnight. The Shalom Center -- for reasons economic, ecological, and spiritual -- has been working with SUN for six years, and as a result The Shalom Center inspired and organized the creation of the Northwest Philadelphia Solar Co-op.

Several months ago, we began urging a national program that would support solar and wind co-ops in every sort of neighborhood – farm and rural as well as big-city and suburban. We saw this partly as a way of dissolving some of the bitter hostility to the concept of renewable energy, just as  the reality of Obamacare dissolved much of he original bitter opposition to the idea.

Bill McKibben was excited by the proposal, and praised it in his New Yorker column. Then we discovered that SUN was developing a very similar proposal for national legislation.

In our Hanukkah 2020 webinar (for the festival of conserving energy –  one day’s worth of olive oil that served the sacred need for eight days) we reported the first stages of the SUN program. Beginning at a Tu B’Shvat webinar, we have worked closely with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) on what became SUN’s “30 Million Solar Homes” campaign.   

Last week, The Shalom Center started calling and emailing a number of Jewish groups to support the “30 Million” program.  COEJL, the Jewish Climate Action Network (JCAN)  of Boston, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, have already responded -- not only signing on but also ready to do the work of organizing. “Dayenu” agreed to sign as a symbol of support. We will keep working to bring more Jewish and multireligious support.

Moreover, we and COEJL have proposed the creation of a “Faith Collaborative” to work with SUN within the broad coalition.

Again: We see this as a major priority. Please write us at if you want specific resources to work on this in your own community. And if you wish to help The Shalom Center do this work of prophetic organizing, please click on the “Contribute” banner in the left margin of  this page.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste!  -- Arthur 

When Life Reminds us of Torah; When Torah Reminds us of Life

Only seven Republican senators voted to convict the former president of inciting insurrection. That reminded me of the passage in the Book of Genesis (18:16-33) when Abraham argues with God: "Shall not the Judge of all the world do justice?” Should God really destroy all of Sodom for its sin of hating foreigners? What if there were decent people among its citizens who will die in the disaster? Abraham starts, “What if there were 50 decent people; would that be enough to spare the city?” God agrees to refrain. What about 40? 30? 20? 10?

 And then Abraham stops. He doesn’t ask God to save the city if there were seven decent citizens, or five, or one. Why not? Because Abraham and God both know it takes at least 10 people to transform an evil society for the good. Ten who will have each others’ backs, ten who will hold and heal each other when they are wounded, ten who will love each other, ten who will protect each other, ten who will help each other speak out against tyranny.

There were not ten Republican senators to stand together, and their absence portends the ruin of their party. May God grant its ruin will not bring down fire, flood, and famine on our lovely and beloved planet – – as Sodom went up in smoke.

*** ***

The Torah portion this Shabbat (Terumah, Exodus 25-27) describes Moses on the mountain listening to God describe the portable Mishkan or Shrine of the Presence that the Israelites would learn to carry in their journey through the wilderness. When Moses cannot quite understand the description given in words, God provides the first Power Point, showing pictures of golden implements, scarlet and purple hangings, the details of its beauty.

The people themselves were to gather, to sew, to smelt, to tie the pieces together with grommets, to untie and retie them when the Shrine of the Presence needed to move. 

For years, it seemed to me this was an overdoing of sacred Art. And then a member of my congregation came back from the first Gay Pride gathering in Washington DC. She described how thousands of people had sewn thousands of squares of cloth in gorgeous color or black mourning, each remembering someone who had died of AIDS, each with grommets at its corners to tie one square to another when the gigantic Quilt was ready for display, ready to be untied when the Quilt was ready to be moved to some new city.

The word "grommet" transfixed me. The Quilt was a Mishkan, a Shrine. The Mishkan was a Quilt. Each was the first defiant acts of beauty of people who had been closed in, in narrow slavery; of people who had been closed in, in narrow closets. The Quilt, the Mishkan, were triumphs of liberty. Each was portable, meant to be carried to those who had not yet heard the message: Freedom! Joy, even in the midst of sorrow. Beauty! 

The abence of ten made disgrace, threatened ruin. The Presence of thousands made beauty and freedom. Each a lesson for our time.

Noon, Jan 20: If we create the future in the present, the One from the differences that we can fit together ---

Baruch attah YHWH elohenu ruach ha’olam, sheh’hekhianu v’kimanu v‘higianu lazman hazeh.

 Blessed are you, breath of life, creative energy within us and beyond us, Interbreathing Spirit of the universe, who has filled us with life, lifted us up, and carried us to this moment.

 How do we unite the new President’s call for Unity we heard this noontime with the outcry for justice, for equality, for truth, for a healing peace not only with each other human beings but also with Earth that sustains all life – when so many among us doubt or decry those very values?

 Through action. Through making the future in the present. 

 As the reality of broadened health care convinced those who had denounced the law that made it happen when it still was merely words on paper ...

 As the presence of a gay or lesbian son or daughter gentled many a family that had raged against the blurring of the genders ...

 As worshipping next to a Jew or a Muslim, as silently meditating alongside a Hindu or a Buddhist,  had opened the hearts of many who had thought the Other mere idolators ...

 As moving their bodies to jazz or mastering words of spoken Spanish had shattered centuries of fear or hatred ...

 So the presence in every neighborhood of solar and wind co-ops, shaped by the neighbors down the block or in the nearest farm-house, can convince the people who had denounced the global-scorching science as a hoax.

 So playing in real life the ecological game of jigsaw puzzle can teach us that the very fact of our differences can become the facts that make it possible for us to fit together in a community, a One.

 If we choose, if we act, if we enact the practices and laws that allow us to fit ourselves together.

If we steadfastly refuse to be enemies without compromising our hope to be our fullest selves.

Noon, Jan 20: If we create the future in the present., the One from the differences that we can fit together ---

Baruch attah YHWH elohenu ruach ha’olam, sheh’hekhianu v’kimanu v‘higianu lazman hazeh.

 Blessed are you, breath of life, creative energy within us and beyond us, Interbreathing Spirit of the universe, who has filled us with life, lifted us up, and carried us to this moment.

 How do we unite the new President’s call for Unity we heard this noontime with the outcry for justice, for equality, for truth, for a healing peace not only with each other human beings but also with Earth that sustains all life – when so many among us doubt or decry those very values?

 Through action. Through making the future in the present. 

 As the reality of broadened health care convinced those who had denounced the law that made it happen when it still was merely words on paper ...

 As the presence of a gay or lesbian son or daughter gentled many a family that had raged against the blurring of the genders ...

 As worshipping next to a Jew or a Muslim, as silently meditating alongside a Hindu or a Buddhist,  had opened the hearts of many who had thought the Other mere idolators ...

 As moving their bodies to jazz or mastering words of spoken Spanish had shattered centuries of fear or hatred ...

 So the presence in every neighborhood of solar and wind co-ops, shaped by the neighbors down the block or in the nearest farm-house, can convince the people who had denounced the global-scorching science as a hoax.

 So playing in real life the ecological game of jigsaw puzzle can teach us that the very fact of our differences can become the facts that make it possible for us to fit together in a community, a One.

 If we choose, if we act, if we enact the practices and laws that allow us to fit ourselves together.

If we steadfastly refuse to be enemies without compromising our hope to be our fullest selves.

Why & How to Bless the Breath of Life

 Please feel free to share this and discuss it with your friends and congregants . I’d be delighted to hear what responses, criticisms, and insights  you and they have. Write me at Shabbat shalom, Arthur  


This week’s Torah portion begins (Exodus 6: 1): “I am YHWH. I was seen by Abraham, by Isaac, and by Jacob as  El Shaddai [God Many-Breasted], but by my name YHWH I was not known to them.” The Voice says this in Egypt, adding this historical note to the God-Name that had come to Moses at the Burning Bush. It came just after Pharaoh had sneered at being told YHWH demanded Time Off for a Holy Gathering for the Israelites, and had made their forced labor much harder – “bricks without straw.” The enslaved Israelites had blamed Moses for their worsened plight.

 Why this historical footnote? It teaches us that a name of God is a way of thinking about the nature of the universe. “God Many-Breasted” meant that the job of the universe is to nourish Humanity. YHWH mean something more complicated. Those letters can only be “pronounced” by breathing. That means the universe is an intertwining of breath. 

 What human beings breathe out into the universe deeply affects what the universe breathes back. If Pharaoh pours cruelty into the world, the world will respond with cruelty – the Plagues. If Humanity pours more CO2 into planet Earth than all its vegetation can transmute to oxygen, the CO2 builds up and the world overheats into fire, floods, and famine. The Plagues that were about to come upon Egypt could not be explained by seeing the world as simply a nourishing breast.

 For about two thousand years, many of our religious communities have used the God-Names “King” and “Lord” to speak our sense of the world.  That legitimates Domination, Subjugation as the way the world is organized. But long ago farmers and shepherds knew that was not really true, and ecologists know it now. When we learn that trillions of microscopic creatures live in our guts and have a deep effect upon our brains, even though we cannot even see them, we must recognize that the world is not top down. The “Breath of life”” is far truer as a way of understanding the world.

One more learning from this verse. It comes just after the nascent “Brickmakers Union Local 1,”as A.J. Muste called the barely organized Israelite workers, had collapsed under the burden of Boss Pharaoh’s wrathful fury. Why just then, not at the Burning Bush when the YHWH Name first came to Moses?

 I think to tell him that his own soft-heartedness had led him to waffle about the new Name. That he had listened overmuch to Israelites who said they were comfortable with the Name they had learned as children, that surely it did not matter what Name they used. And Moses had shrugged: Perhaps it did not matter. But it did. We cannot transform the world, we will   be unable to press our case with vigorous determination, if we slip and slide into an older understanding of the world, no longer true. 

The warning is as true today as it was in the story of 3,000 years ago. To Name our world as built on Domination, Subjugation, is to collapse in the helplessness of “I Can’t Breathe” in the face of racist brutality, “We Can’t Breathe” in the face of a pandemic virus and its complicit rulers, “Earth Can’t Breathe” in the face of giant corporations that insist on making hyperwealth by pouring CO2 into our planet’s air.

It is time for us, NOW, to change our way of understanding. To Name God more truthfully than  “King” or “Lord”: “Breath of Life,  Interbreathing Spirit of the universe.”  Thus:

 Baruch attah YAHHH, elohenu ruach ha’olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvot, vitzvanu  la’asok b’divrei Torah. [Could also be in feminine, “Bruchah aht,” “kidshatnu,” and “vitzivatnu.”]

Blessed are you, Breath of Life, our creative energy, Interbreathing Spirit of the universe, who makes us holy through acts of connection and connects us through using the Breath we share with  all life to speak words with each other that aim toward wisdom, becoming our own words of Torah. 

Living Still lnside the Book of Exodus? What Now?

 Torah Still Coming

Last week our would-be Pharaoh Trump reached the crucial point of his reign: Should he mobilize the red-hat chariots and drown in the Reed Sea, or grumpily relinquish power? We know what he chose. But the danger of Pharaoh does not end with him. We ourselves have not yet crossed the Sea, chosen a new way of understanding World, affirmed a new Name of God. A Name that intertwines us, interbreathes us, not a Name of Domination, Subjugation.

In the old Egyptian culture, Pharaoh was already seen as a god. His power went to his head. Stiffened his heart. He began to believe his own propaganda about the dangerous Israelites, the Ivrim. They speak a different tongue, worship a different God. They come from somewhere else – globalists, cosmopolitans.

He decided it would be a guarantee of his own power to erase them as a separate community. He issued the order to separate new-born babies from their mothers.  Then murder them. Best to start there. Soon he can kill the grown-ups too.

But some people are horrified. Women -- two midwives and then his own daughter – begin creating a Resistance movement. They start saving children’s lives, including one Moses. Fearing the Pharaoh’s racist police, Moses disappears.

Years later he reappears, possessed of a burning new vision, announcing that the very Name of God must change. A new “Name of God” meant understanding the world in a new way, and then changing the world to embody the new vision. The old Name, “El Shaddai, God of many Breasts,” was about a human society always fed by the nourishing Nile. But now the people must learn that they are part of Earth, not separate from it, not the boss of it.

Every breath they took was interwoven with all other interbreathing life. If they acted cruel, Earth would act cruel toward them. Not a punishment, simply a consequence. The only way to prevent a plague was to breathe into Earth and let Earth breathe into them.  The new Name, just Breathing, YHWH, intertwined all people and all life-forms.

But Pharaoh sneers. “Breathing? That’s a God-Name? Can’t even hear it, it’s so weak. The Nile, Osiris, ME –- I am a God you can hear, you must obey!”

Bragging, he treats Nile and Earth and Sky like tools of his own power, bringing on disaster. Some of his advisers warn him. But by this time he has become addicted to his own power; he fires the advisers and hires sycophants. At each disaster, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, and a growing number of critics warm him that he is fighting against the whole process of universal Consequence. At each disaster he first recoils and then returns to his own hubris: The disaster? “Stuff happens!” 

But then his arrogant treatment of Earth brings a devastating disease to afflict his own citizens, his wife, himself. At first he tries to dismiss it. But it grows so terrible that his own Egyptian supporters start denouncing him. He tells the “wetback” foreigners not only that they are free to Go, but they Must Depart. He tells his people to offer them gifts of gold and silver as reparations for hundreds of years of subjugation. 

The cosmopolitan Ivrim smear blood on their doorways as a symbol of going forth from blood-encircled wombs of rebirth, and leave. Many Egyptians sign petitions that he resign and allow his compassionate half-immigrant daughter to become Pharaoh.

And now comes the moment of fateful decision. Pharaoh wakes up the next morning. Should he accept his fall from power, or mobilize a new variety of brown-shirted, armed Egyptians to catch the Israelites at the edge of the Reed Sea, and force them back into slavery? Remind them that back in Egypt forced labor always came with the onions and garlic that they loved, whilst they will have only “God-knows-what?” = Mahn-hu” = “manna”” to eat if they cross the Sea into a wilderness. 


So he sends his brown-shirt bullies, legitimated by his own speeches anointing them as the real patriots but only if they will fight in wild melee against the corrupt old leadership. What will the people do? 

Choose the normalcy of slavery with garlic? Or make themselves a civil-disobedient Sea of Reeds, bending and swaying but always returning thick and bristly to block the path of Subjugation?

Announcing we will no longer obey this Pharaoh and his bully-boy brown-shirts? Reaching out to his frightened, despairing followers with new tools, windmills and solar collectors, to make peace with wounded Earth?  Choosing to hear our own ”still small Voice of Breath,” pointing our way toward a Loving and Beloved Community?

It’s up to us. It always has been.

At about 4 pm on Infamous Insurrection Wednesday, we were one of the very first  groups  to urge our members to call Congress and demand Trump be impeached. Done! Now, if you want to end the power of our would-be Pharaoh and prevent a future effort, call 1202-224-3121. Ask for your own Senators or Sen. McConnell, who says he is undecided. insist on removing  Trump and disqualifying him from future office. 

Prayer & Action : First Steps toward Renewing Our Democracy

Action to Remove a Cruel and Dangerous Ruler

Dear folks (written at 4 pm Thursdaay, January 7), I am watching the Capitol, as I assume you are.  I don’t intend to make a “Case” for what needs to be done, because you know as well as I do. Just to suggest the mechanism ands details And to follow with a prayer to strengthen us as we invoke the Interbreathing Spirit of the world, the Breath of Life. 

 Not only for the symbolism, but for reality ---  to prevent further crime by  the President--  he should be impeached,  removed, and prevented (as the Constitution provides) from ever again holding any office under the United States,. As for us, the People, we should be demanding the impeachment  / removal processs of every Member of Congress.The phone number 1202-224-3121 is where to call for your Senator or House Member, as well as the home district of each Member. I urge each of us to call again and again.  (Residents of D.C. who have no voting representative could ask for the Speaker and for Senator Schumer.) 

Trump's promise Thursday morning to permit a peaceful transfer of authority is worthless. Not only does he lie more often than one can count, a democracy does not depend on the whims of a would-be dictator -- but rather on the power of the people. 

Any of our Senators or House Members who -- even after the attack on the Capitol -- joined the Trumpist effort to call for a fake post-election audit,  tell them to resign. 

After Trump has been removed from office,  he should be indicted for a myriad of crimes. If he commits another crime by pardoning himself, that should be ignored.  

Please share this letter and the prayer below, or write your own to all your friends. 

A Prayer  in Time of Coup & Insurrection

 You Who taught us 3,000 years ago that the only king we needed was the Interbreathing Spirit of all Life,

You Who when we insisted we needed a king instructed us  to limit the powers of a king,

You Who empowered yeomen farmers and taught us always to honor their own dignity,

You Who instructed Moses that every seventh year the whole people, even small children, should  assemble  to rethink the Sacred Teaching,

You Who inspired Ezra and Nehemiah to call on the People to vote on whether they would affirm the Torah,

Inspire us now, at this moment of great peril –

Inspire us with the strength to demand the removal of a ruler –

Who has shown contempt for Your Creation and Your People,

Who has acted with cruelty to mothers, fathers, and children,

Who has incited a violent mob to attack the place where our representatives gather to struggle toward our good.

 Inspire us to unite to affirm once more the sacred Image in our diversity

And to banish Cruelty, Subjugation, and Violence from the halls of leadership.

Deep Breath: New Year, New Call to Sacred Democracy

Dear friends,

 The Shalom Center begins the new “civil year” with the profound hope that our new Administration will help make this a far more civil year in politics than the last one.

 Even while we hope, we will ourselves act. We look at an honest picture of the truth: We are standing at the edge of a great abyss.  Where we are, is a crescendo of Cruelty and Subjugation. Some of us—like Pharaoh’s Army at the edge of the Red Sea – want to force and cajole us back into what has been “normal” --  being subjugated with a few perks of tasty garlic and onions. Some want us to take small “incremental” steps that will meet no one’s needs and do what small steps at the edge of an abyss do --simply plunge us into the abyss. And some of us – as we at The Shalom Center have done – are encouraging us to leap across to create a new society beyond paralysis.

 The constitutional structure we have inherited from an anti-democratic past did not, this past fall, deliver the necessary energy to leap the gap. The heritage of slavery is structurally slanted against democracy, and has not yet been transformed. Indeed, it informs many other versions of subjugation --  of the poor and more and more of what was the “middle class,” of women and GLBTQIA communities, of immigrants and refugees, of Muslims and perhaps of Jews, even of Earth our common home and mother.

The Electoral College is structurally slanted against democracy; the Senate is structurally slanted against democracy; and so is, for now, the Supreme Court – which has gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and gutted a century’s worth of law restraining corporate and hyperwealthy interventions of money into election campaigns.

 A majority of Seven Million votes produced only a 50-50 balance of political power  -- paralysis.

 And it is now clear that this 50-50 balance is between one fairly normal mildly progressive political party not yet fully galvanized by an Earth-shaking planetary crisis --  pandemic, climate chaos, mass extinctions -- and a bitterly furious political current so desperate to hold power and prevent change -– especially change from being a corporate-controlled society with a male white Christian culture -- that it is willing to threaten its own state officials to get them to steal an election, as happened in a conversation between the President and the Secretary of State of Georgia just this past weekend.

We still have a couple of days to know whether the Senate will be able to legislate in a way that will even barely begin to meet our needs, or be utterly paralyzed by an attempt to prevent any forward action undertaken by a new President.

So what is our task at The Shalom Center? I believe we are called by the Spirit to map out how to leap across the abyss, not to fall into it.  That is what happened in that ancient tale of the Red Sea: We plunged ahead into the Unknown. Would the Sea split, or drown us? We did not know. Would it swamp Pharaoh’s chariot army, or let it through to subjugate us again? We did not know. Would the Wilderness sustain us, or starve us?  We did not know.

Here is what The Shalom Center plans: 

  • The Seventh Year of Shabbat Shabbaton, Sabbath to the exponential power of Sabbath, is by the Bible called “Shmita” or “Release.” Release for  Earth from being overworked and poisoned, “Release” for our society from worsening economic and political inequality and subjugation.
  • That Seventh Year begins, according to the ancient count, this coming fall. It is the Bible’s version of the “other side” of the Great Abyss. It is what we may today call the Great Turning. We cannot simply imitate the Bible’s regulations. But we can welcome the Spirit’s invitation to work out our own new version.
  • Part of our Shmita task will be to heal Earth. There was more to the biblical Shmita, and we will add more as we celebrate our own -- addressing racism, the crush of debt, the need for public health, and more. Earth won't wait, as the pandemic, the fires, floods, and fanines, the asthma, insist. 
  • We can end the paralysis of fear and hatred that is preventing us from healing our neighborhoods, our country, and the great round Earth. We can leap past politicians to every American neighborhood to fund at the neighborly level solar and wind co-ops. We can save money, save lives, save dignity, save hope, heal Earth.
  • We do not have to choose between the Globe and the Neighborhood. We can meet the needs of both, give new life to both..   
  • How? By a Green New Neighborhood Campaign:  rural and small-town, big city and suburban. Climate Justice for every neighborhood, climate healing for Earth. 
  • The sacred festivals of every community were ultimately born from the love affair between our varied human communities and the dance of Earth, Moon, and Sun. Now Earth and human earthlings are suffering; how can we shape our offspring the festivals – the children of that love affair -- to heal us from our sickness? 
  •  Sukkot, Hanukkah, the Advent Season => Christmas, Passover and its younger sibling the Holy Week of Christianity, the moonth of Ramadan – how can they become public actions to heal climate, prevent pandemics, end extinctions? 
  • The Shalom Center will create and share prayers, liturgies, vigils, nonviolent actions, voter turnout practices that any cluster of people, any congregation, can use.

And we are already planning a Multireligious Training Institute for Climate Activists.

We promise to do what we can to stir to wakefulness the sleepy giant of American social transformation – the communities of faith. “We” means all of us who read this and the friends we share it with.  “We” will mean time, money, skill, passion, and compassion.   

What I have written here is only a sketch, a skeleton. We will put flesh on these bones, breath into these bodies. With the help of the great Interbreathing Spirit of the world, in all Their Names, we will take the practical prophetic steps to heal us from our suffering.

 Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --  Arthur

"Subversive Prayer": A J Heschel on His Yohrzeit

The yahrzeit of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is 18 Tevet, and this year the date coincides with this coming Shabbat, Shabbat Va’yehi. As Chapter 6 begins of my new book Dancing in God's Earthquake : The Coming Transformation of Religion (Orbis), I quote three  brief passages from Heschel:

 “I felt as if my legs were praying.” (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, on returning from the Selma Alabama march demanding full voting rights for Black Americans)

 "The beginning of prayer is praise. The power of worship is song. To worship is to join the cosmos in praising God" (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel) 

 "Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement. (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)

[This photo finds Rabbi Heschel with Rev. Martin Luther King in a prayerful moment with a Torah Scroll, at a public event of opposition to the US war against Vietnam.]

 Several chapters of Dancing in God's Earthquake are about sacred street action toward sacred justice. Chapter 6 is about “subversive prayer.” Truly to learn from a teacher is to crystallize what you have learned in some new reality. One form that I have found fruitful is this: For the Amidah, the murmured prayer in which we might take our “stance” by standing, by the lotus position, or perhaps through another posture as our stance in God, the prayer community scatters outside, each finding a tree to listen to.

At first the listening is for the breath the tree is breathing out – the oxygen we need, transmuted by the tree from the CO2 we have breathed into it. Then we learn to listen for the tree’s prayer. And then to rejoin the prayerful community to recite the tree’s prayer that we have heard. Bringing each tree into the minyan. For after all, could the minyan exist if the trees were not fruitfully breathing, praying?

Our tradition teaches that to honor a teacher, we may on his or her yahrzeit learn from the wisdom s/he has left.  For many subversive texts by and about Heschel to shake our assumptions about what prayer and action are, this Shabbat see

Planning Hanukkah #8Days4Climate

Green Menorah Covenant

Gather in community to devise a Green Menorah Covenant, binding the community together in continued climate justice action in the coming year. Write us what you are planning, at

Hanukkah begins Thursday evening, December 10. What do we want the commitment of our community to be, to do, by the last night?

We urge that you, we, together create the Green Menorah Covenant  -- a local group in your own community that will grow connections with Jews around the nation and the world. Green Menorah Covenanters will celebrate the Tree of Light that was the Menorah in the Temple, for the sake of protecting the Tree of Life and the Interbreathing of Life everywhere.  Healing our wounded Mother Earth and ourselves from the climate crisis.  

First of all, the original Mishkan Menorah was shaped like a tree -- branches, buds, flowers. At the heart of Hanukkah is this Tree of Light, connecting Earth with the handiwork of human earthlings. (Exodus 25: 31-39) This medieval portrayal makes the point, as does our generation's symbol for the Green Menorah Covenant:


Each year for the Shabbat of Hanukkah, we read a breathtaking passage from the Prophet Zechariah that goes even deeper to connect Earth with Humanity:  The Prophet Zechariah imagines two olive trees beside the Menorah in a yet-to-be-rebuilt Temple – already a radical departure from the Torah’s original ground-plan of the Holy House. The Haftarah explains the meaning of this prophetic vision: “Not by might and not by power but by My Interbreathing Spirit/Wind of Change, says YHWH [Yahhh/ the Breath of life].”  Let us remember this wisdom at the heart of Hanukkah, as we face the greedy power and the selfish might of carbon Empires that are condemning Earth to fires, floods, and famines.  

Then, in a passage just a few lines later, Zechariah asks for a further explanation:

“‘And what,’ I asked [God’s messenger], ‘are those two olive trees, one on the right and one on the left of the light-bearing Menorah? What are the two outgrowths of the olive trees that feed their golden oil through those two golden tubes? Then s/he explained, ‘These two reach out to take their stance to make a lordly connective-link to all the Earth for the shining oil-of-anointment.’” (Zechariah 4:11-14)

So from the Prophet Zechariah, we learn of the self-renewing miniature ecosystem that sustains the eternal burning of the Temple Menorah: two olive trees that feed their oil directly into the Menorah, with no human intervention needed. And what allows for it to be eternally alight with sacred fire? Trees that, springing directly forth from Earth, directly provide the resource necessary for the Menorah’s functioning. Trees, who spring from the Eternal Breath of Life and interweave their breath with all Earth’s animals and so sustain the human beings who fashion the Gold Menorah. And so the Eternal loop of Light and Life and Love that lights our way in the gusts of Winds of change.

Hanukkah was created in a time of resisting tyranny and honoring the resistance with a teaching and a practice: “Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Breath of Life.” And the proof: One day’s energy, one day’s olive oil, met eight days’ needs! If we resisted tyranny and refused to worship idols, we could learn how to make sure that it would take only a minimum of nature’s energy to serve us.

What can we learn from the Green Menorah of the Temple -- one that is sustained indefinitely by cooperative relationship with the ecology of its surroundings? That we are reliant on the resources of our Earth around us and within us, and that we need to create social systems that not only sustain us, but allow for us and the Earth we’re harvesting to mutually sustain one another. Forever.

Therefore, when Hanukkah comes to a close, we invite you to open your imagination from thinking immediate to thinking long-term. What continued action can you commit to over the coming year? What covenant will you enter into with your community to ensure that Hanukkah’s lessons on resource conservation last all year?

And will continue to nurture us – IF we act to make sure our own mechanical out-breath of CO2 does not poison and burn the planet.  

What then could we promise to each other during Hanukkah?

We could promise to create our own congregational and neighborhood solar energy co-ops. And we could commit ourselves that these co-ops will work to support a national campaign for Federal grants to neighborhood solar-energy co-ops in every neighborhood --  urban, suburban, small town, rural.

In the spirit of Hanukah, we could watch on the evening of December 10 a PBS TV show that asks the question -- Why doesn’t every home in America have solar panels?

Watch Property Brothers star Jonathan Scott explain on PBS Power Trip how we can change America’s energy future together. Bring your questions to a  screening and Q+A discussion with Scott and Anya Schoolman, founder and exec of the Solar United Neigborhoods (SUN) program that has solarized many neighborhoods in DC and beyond. The show can be seen anytime with Q and A from 7 pm to 10 pm on December 10.  RSVP here today!  

That evening is the first night of Hanukkah. We can join by Zoom with family and friends to light the first Hanukkah candle, either at 6:30 pm Eastern Time, before this amazing PBS TV show, or after it finishes at 10 pm Eastern Time.  

Federal grants to neighborhood co-ops can bypass state and local officials. The new solar systems radically reduce the costs of electricity; radically increase the rapid spread of renewable energy and its jobs; reduce asthma and cancer rates in neighborhoods near coal-burning plants and oil refineries. Infusing national money into this local transformation would create millions of new “green jobs” in communities now hollowed out and dying. And the new solar systems would greatly reduce CO2 emissions that are scorching and burning our home – our planet.

What’s more, the co-ops themselves would become grass-roots political challenges to the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are making hyperwealthy profits by burning Earth, sowing the anti-life seeds of enormous floods, hurricanes, droughts, fires, and famines.

I sketch this approach as a model of what a community-based, compassionate, justice-seeking America – simultaneously “global” and “neighborly” -- might look like. I suggest that it could be good practical politics as well as good value politics – appealing as a Green Neighborhood New Deal to people who started out opposing the national program for the Green New Deal, just as Obamacare when it actually went into effect appealed to people who started out opposing it.

For that very reason, it may be bitterly opposed by the same politicians who bitterly opposed Obamacare, and still do. All the more reason for us to vigorously support it!

It's time to start preparing for the eight days of Hanukkah  and the twelve days of Christmas (starts Christmas Eve, December 24). When better for a healed economy, a healing Earth?

Dancing in God's Earthquake: Sodom, Lot, & America Today

I’ve said that on Tuesday mornings I would post a quote from my new book, Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion . This isn’t a quote, but reflections from the chapter called “The Sin of Sodom and the Sin of Lot.” (See Genesis chapter 19 for the biblical story.) It fits our discussion of how to welcome the newly arrived into a fuller American democracy, while respecting those who feel they have been forgotten although they used to think they were the heart of American society.

The sin of Sodom was that they hated foreigners. They barely tolerated Abraham’s cousin Lot, and when he welcomed two strangers to his house they mobbed the house and threatened to rape the visitors. The point was not sex, though much of Christian thought was that their sin was homosexuality; the sin was hatred. But Lot committed a sin that was the sin of Sodom upside-down: he offered to let them rape his own daughters if they would let the foreign visitors alone.

With a little stretch we can see our own dilemma: Shall we save the community that thinks we have forgotten the mystic ties that bind us together as friends and family, or save the newcomers for the sake of sacred justice? Have "the forgotten" fallen into hatred? Or are they frightened, desperate? Have the justice-focused forgotten that we all are entitled to justice, not only the newcomers? 

Lot and his family were saved, according to the story – remember, it’s a story! --  when his visitors struck the mob with a light so intense it blinded them from attacking. Already a paradox. A light that darkened.  What might that mean for us? How can we insist that our businesses stop pouring CO2 into the air that burns, floods, and kills our families – our children --  while affirming the cultures that believe global scorching is a hoax?

### ### ###

A letter from Karen Flotte, a member of the Justice Gardeners Team that works closely with the Central Reform Congregation of St Louis and with the nearby Black community to discern what people need and want to eat – and share in making it possible for all who hunger to tend and feed themselves from the communal garden. And who is a member of the Program Coordinator team for The Shalom Center.

This is a deeply personal post and not meant to be prescriptive for anyone. 

As the sun was setting yesterday evening, I found myself in a park weeping.  Weeping over the nation torn asunder we find ourselves in.  My heart as broken as our people.  

 Yesterday morning, I saw a post asking about a photo of Republican voters, “Who are these people?”  I immediately thought, “People I love.  My family, dear life-long friends, my neighbors.”  My grandparents and parents who taught me to protect those most vulnerable by the ways they lived and acted.  My friend of nearly 40 years who held my hand offering emotional and spiritual support and medical wisdom as my sister and father were dying.  A friend with whom I can consistently reach across the aisle and speak heart to heart about our different perspectives with respect and love. 

My neighbor who cares compassionately and practically for all he meets, especially the elders in my neighborhood.  The neighbor who I told my son would protect us with his own life when John Wesley asked if extremists would try to shoot us. 

I come from an all-American family, Jewish, Christian and nones; conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats as well as those who do not claim a space on that spectrum; urban and rural; queer and cis-gender straight.  Reflecting a part of the erev rav or great mixed multitude that comprises our nation.

 For many years, my friend Rabbi Randy Fleisher has been working with the story of Jacob and Esau, the story of a generation divided, of fear and of hatred.  In the few short years I have known Randy, he has taught this story in different ways, examining it deeply, wrestling with its meaning for our time.  In this story as Jacob returns anticipating meeting his brother Esau, he wrestles for a full night before crossing over to meet his brother.

 I have spent the last few days wrestling within.  If the election season can be compared to the High Holidays of my adopted tradition, Judaism, I feel like I am standing in Yom Kippur, taking a full accounting of my soul.  I live my life on this truth, that the wholeness of the community depends on the wholeness of the entire community.  The entire community.  

I need to take a full accounting of my soul.    How have I personally missed the mark?  What are the ways that I have allowed my heart to harden?  How have the way I speak about my fears, values and perspectives led to alienation, oppression of others?  Has my own speech and thinking contributed to violence, hatred and divide?   

How do I need to listen deeper?  How do I bring compassion and healing to myself, to others?  My inner work, inner healing is necessary if I want to be an active participant in tikkun olam or repair of the world and our nation in the days that follow.

Four years ago on the Shabbat after the election, Rabbi Mem Movshin (of blessed memory), who did the teaching that day, posed this question to all of us, “how will you be a blessing in the days to come?”  Jacob and Esau are able to cross the divide and embrace in an act of blessing.  I fear that if I am unable to do the work of inner healing, of opening my own heart to the entire community -- person to person, face, to face -- the forces which have torn our people asunder will, in fact, win.  As I enter this Shabbat after the election, I ask myself Rabbi Mem’s question again, “how will I be a blessing in the days to come.”  And I carry deep within my heart this prayer by St. Francis which I learned in my parent’s home:

Yah, make me an instrument of your peace;

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.


O Divine Breath of Life,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,


###  ###  ###

A glimmer of answers, a glow of light to let us blur our differences and let us see what we might share:

 Rabbi Doris Dyen of Pittsburgh, from one of the congregations that met in the Tree of Life building where murder struck two years ago, recommends two groups that are working to make dialogue possible across what has been our splitness:

 Braver Angels -- 

The organization was originally called "Better Angels," drawing from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.  They facilitate structured "red / blue" conversations between groups of ordinary people with opposing political views.  They also provide training for conversation moderators.


Multi-Faith Neighbors Network -- 

This organization was started by an Evangelical Christian pastor Bob Roberts in Texas, a Muslim leader (also in Texas I believe?) Imam Mohamed Magid, and Rabbi David Saperstein.  I participated in their 6-week workshop of guided conversations this summer, taught by Pastor Roberts and Imam Magid, which brought together local spiritual leaders from the three Abrahamic faiths here in Allegheny County. 

Pastor Roberts, Imam Magid, and Rabbi Saperstein lead these workshops all over the country:  they want to get the spiritual leaders talking/listening to each other, and attending each other's religious services if possible, activities which are then followed up by their congregations doing community service projects together, so that the congregants also begin to establish rapport. 

The long-range goal is to build "resilient communities" where people are working cross-culturally for constructive change together on things they can agree on.  Our chavurah has since participated in two interfaith community food distribution projects in Pittsburgh with the churches/mosques whose leaders I got to know through the Network workshop series.  

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There will be more as we explore this question, for life and not for death.  How can we pursue justice and love at the same time, when parts of our people have such different ideas of what both of them mean?  Can we create forms of action that almost all of us agree on, in our differences?

Meanwhile, if you want to explore this and other questions in the glowing light of Torah transformed: Gloria Steinem, Ruth Messinger, Rev. William Barber; Rabbis Art Green, Jonah Pesner, and Jill Hammer; Bill McKibben, Marge Piercy, and Rev. Jim Wallis have all read and praised Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. You can order it from The Shalom Center or from Orbis Books. Click to --  This book is the harvest of my whole life-experience – and like a harvest, intended not only to draw on the past but to feed the future.

From "Dancing in God's Earthquake": Limits on the Powers of a King

Dear friends, I promised that every Tuesday I would post a passage from my new book, Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion,  This passage seems extraordinarily fitting, on the morning of the most  important election in US history. It’s from Chapter 10, and it was written more than a year ago.

 The king is not to multiply the horses he would need for aggressive imperial warfare. He must not pile up money for himself as a side-benefit for his service to the People. He is not to multiply wives for himself, lest the sexual overload distract him from the public good. And he must sit before the priests who are part of the tribe of Levi, to read aloud from Torah these passages that limit his power and other passages that protect the poor.  (Deut. 17: 1-20)

 The Torah “Constitution” may have thought that the priests could not be overawed. But there is no suggestion of how their supervision of the king’s  recitation can become more than literally listening. Can they, do they, interrupt in public to say, “That last line you read about not equipping your army with chariots –- Have you obeyed it?”

 Our Supreme Court seems less independent from the git-go than the ancient priesthood, because it is appointed by the President whose authority it judges.  Does it defer to presidential power? Up to some limit, our experience shows that the Court draws on public confidence and its life-long terms of office to strike down presidential actions that go beyond the rules. But our experience also shows that beyond some “normal” limit, the more egregious the president is in breaking rules and limits on presidential power, the more likely he will be able to shape or overawe a Court so that it defers to him. 

There was a king, Solomon's son,  who told a group of protesting elders, "My father whipped you with whips. I will whip you with scorpions." There was a revolution against his illegitimate authority, and the kingdom was split in  two.

There’s a lot more in the chapter about the choice to have a king in the first place, about nonviolent resistance to tyrannical actions by the king, and about limits on his power to fight wars.

The book is my sketch of the do-able , transformable future. Gloria Steinem, Ruth Messinger, Rev. William Barber; Rabbis Art Green, Jonah Pesner, and Jill Hammer; Bill McKibben, Marge Piercy, and Rev. Jim Wallis have all read and praised it. You can order it from The Shalom Center or from Orbis Books. See  This book is the harvest of my whole life-experience – and like a harvest, intended not only to draw on the past but to feed the future.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste!   --  Arthur

Beginning Weekly Quotes from "Dancing in God's Earthquake"

We begin this Tuesday morning – and we will follow on every Tuesday morning -- with a brief passage --  sometimes, like this one, a telegraphic version -- from Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s new book, Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. He calls this book the “harvest of my whole life-experience – and like a harvest, intended not only to draw on the past but to feed the future.”

Torah: “God creates Humanity in God’s Image.”

Talmud: “What does this mean? When Caesar stamps his image on a coin, all the coins come out identical. When the Holy One stamps the Divine Image on each human ‘coin,’ they each come out unique, different.”

The Gospels: A conservative clergyman to Rabbi Jesus: “Shall we pay taxes with this coin?” Jesus (who knows the Talmud teaching) : “Whose image is on the coin?” Conservative: “Caesar’s!” Jesus: “And whose Image is on this coin [placing his hand on the conservative's shoulder]?” Conservative: [“Ummm.”]  Jesus: “You know! So give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s!” Conservative: Stumbles away, abashed.

My eight-year-old grandchild: “God is invisible. How can there be an image of God? Maybe it's the other way around, the human image is placed on God. But we are all different from each other. -------- Oh! Maybe we are different from each other the way the pieces in my jigsaw puzzle are different from each other. You have to fit us together, and if you fit us together we make a community. And a community is more like God.”

 ### ###

You can order your own copy of his book at

OR a congregation can order a minimum of 10 copies at a 50% discount, by calling 1-800-258-5838), for a congregational conversation, a book club, etc. You  can bring Reb Arthur to join the conversation by writing with “Book conversation” in the subject line. 

White House's New "Herd Immunity" Covid-19 Strategy Is Madness




 [By Jeffrey Sachs. Dr. Sachs serves as the Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, where he holds the rank of University Professor, the university’s highest academic rank. Sachs was Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University from 2002 to 2016. He is President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network . The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. They were published on October 14, 2020 by CNN.]



As if Donald Trump's irresponsibility was not already a national tragedy, the White House seems now to favor a controversial approach to Covid-19 that threatens to bring nothing less than mass suffering. The idea that we should not try to control infections other than of vulnerable groups is based on a complete misunderstanding of the real choices facing the US.

This approach runs strongly against the overwhelming consensus of public health specialists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The new Covid-19 approach would undoubtedly add massively to the suffering in the US in a very short period of time.

The idea that we should not try to control infections other than of vulnerable groups is based on a complete misunderstanding of the real choices facing the US -- or facing any country for that matter. The core mistake is the belief that the only alternative to an economic shutdown is to let the virus spread widely in the population. Instead, a set of basic public health measures is enough, as many other countries have shown, to control the spread of the virus. The proper measures include widespread testing, contact tracing, isolating of infected individuals, wearing face masks, physical distancing, and barring super-spreader events (like Trump rallies). South Korea has exemplified this policy approach, as have many of its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region.

Trump's Covid-19 recklessness is costing the US dearly

Sadly, this very basic information seems not to have reached the White House or been understood by it, even though experts already knew in April that the Asia-Pacific region was suppressing the pandemic through these public health measures, and without the need for comprehensive lockdowns (or with only brief lockdowns to give time to scale up the public health measures). By suppressing the virus, these countries have limited the economic fallout.

Indeed, according to the IMF's new report, China, which has broken the pandemic by means of public health control, will achieve positive growth of GDP 1.9% this year, compared with America's expected GDP decline of 4.3%. The Trump team is so obsessed with their anti-China propaganda that they utterly refused to learn from China's success in cutting transmission of the virus enabling an economic rebound. Trump and his team have also refused to learn from similar successes in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea, all of which have very low transmission of the virus.

The herd immunity approach is a nightmare for four reasons:

First, according to a study published in The Lancet in late September, fewer than 10% of Americans have so far been infected with the novel coronavirus. Another 60% or so of Americans would likely become infected in a herd immunity strategy. That amounts to around 200 million additional cases of Covid-19 in the United States and countless deaths. This would obviously be wanton madness, since the pandemic can be controlled by low-cost and proven public health means.

 Second, there would absolutely be no reliable way to protect vulnerable populations through "focused protection." Many older people do not live in nursing or retirement homes where protective measure can systematically be implemented. And as the CDC has alerted, there are vast numbers of vulnerable Americans who are not among the elderly, but who suffer from medical conditions as widespread as obesity, cancer, kidney disease, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and others. And in addition to people with prior health conditions, the CDC also points to other groups that need extra precautions: pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with disabilities, people with developmental and behavioral disorders, and others.

For a White House team that can't even properly protect its guests at a White House event, the notion that it could suddenly oversee the implementation of "focused protection" to vulnerable people spread throughout the country in the midst of an uncontrolled pandemic is a fantasy.

Third, the proponents of herd immunity seem to discount the fact that in addition to the acute and short term effects of Covid-19, there are also long-term disease consequences for many, ranging from the Covid-19 "brain fog" to long-lasting damage to many organ systems. The evidence continues to mount that Covid-19 is a frighteningly dangerous disease for many people who survive the infection and in ways that scientists are still coming to understand.

Fourth, it's especially ill-timed to let the pandemic run wild when the White House is touting a vaccine as being just around the corner. If a reliable and safe vaccine will soon be available to protect citizens, surely there is overwhelming reason not to become infected now, but rather to stay safe until the vaccine arrives.

Trump's utter ignorance has already resulted in unprecedented suffering, and the latest bad idea would gravely multiply the damage. If implemented, a herd immunity strategy might just be the most reckless action by the White House yet.

[Although an aditional problem is not addressed in Dr.Sachs' comments here, the herd-immunity approach would almost certainly extremely worsen the already disproportionate deadly effect  of the virus on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities. Suffering would spread among all Americans; it would spread worst among those already marginalized, with least access to health care, etc. Fom the stadpoint of white supremacists, this might be a benefit, not a problem.--  AW, editor]

Series 4: Invite to Life-Conversations with My Newest Book & Me

Dear friends, Sixty of you have already enjoyed direct conversations with me and with my book Dancing in God’s Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion, which has now been published. Twenty-five feels to me the limit for a really rich conversation. So I have scheduled a new series of three conversations, on Tuesday evenings October 13, 20, and 27 from 7 pm Eastern to 8:30. The three sessions are a unity.  You can register at

I will meet with clergy, spiritual leaders, and other religiously involved and alert people from any and all communities. Now that the book actually exists and we have actual copies, I will send you the book ahead of time – free, and personally inscribed to you from me. Each session will be recorded and made available to registrants in case they need to miss a session.

 The cost of the series is $72.

To register, please click to --

 I am sharing with you some of the endorsements of the book :

 “A wonderful book! Before the hierarchies and divisions of religions, there was the all-inclusive circle of spirituality. In Dancing in God’s Earthquake, Rabbi Arthur Waskow helps us trace our path back to our spiritual home.” –Gloria Steinem

 “Rabbi Waskow calls each of us to reach down deep in our moral and religious traditions and have a grownup conversation about the response our present crisis requires. I'm glad to lift up this invitation for all to join the divine dance of love and justice.” –William J. Barber, II, President of Repairers of the Breach and Co-Chair of the Poor People's Campaign

 “Like poetry on a cold day, this book warms the heart and mind both. A fierce look at religion, a willingness to question history, to see the connections between the world’s faiths, to suggest how we might move forward from today’s hard times.”—Ruth Messinger, American Jewish World Service

 “We are in a moment of great crises and gathering travail, and so one thing we need to learn is how to steadily, joyfully, determinedly pass through these trials, not just intact, but in love with the world around us. There could be no better guide than Arthur Waskow.”—Bill McKibben, author, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out

“This is a delightful and refreshing book, full of wit, wisdom, and hope--all of which we so desperately need amid the perpetual upheaval and crisis of the world today. I'm deeply thankful for both Arthur and this book.”—Jim Wallis, Founder and President of Sojourners

 “The Jewish people's most revolutionary theologian is at it again, trying to waken us out of our moral slumber, before it is too late. The ancient prophet said: ‘A lion roars? Who will not fear?’ Waskow is our roaring lion.” –Rabbi Arthur Green, Rector of Rabbinical School at Hebrew College, author, Judaism for the World "

"Rabbi Arthur Waskow brings his many years of activism, thought, and creativity to bear on the most important question of our time: how do we respond to cataclysmic change?  How do we shift the patterns of the past rather than cling to them as they unravel?   He re-tools the myths of the Bible to counter racism, sexism, homophobia, fascism, and denial of ecological truth, and concludes that religion today must regard these as sins and resist them by developing new stories and commandments.  Waskow, who has made a career of fearless truth-telling, is not afraid to liberate the stories of the Bible from their context in an ancient hierarchical society and re-frame them for our own cataclysmic moment.-- Rabbi Jill Hammer, author of The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons

 There are also a number of other endorsements that you will see in the book itself. They include Rabbi Jonah Pesner,  Marge Piercy, Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, and other notables from the Christian and Muslim worlds. And I can tell you that these endorsements follow from people having insisted on reading the entire book before they wrote their comments.

  I look forward to having a conversation with you about the book, and with the book about our lives. -- I see the book as a harvest of my whole life experience in religious commitment, spiritual delight, and social transformation. Many people look on a “harvest” as a product of past sowing and growing. But I see this book as what a harvest is really supposed to be – food for the future. Here is where to sign up:

 With blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --  Arthur

The Torah of Reparations for Slavery

The Torah of Reparations for Slavery

Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein

[We are in the midst of an extraordinary event in American history: a multiracial nation-wide uprising against deeply dug-in racism. It started with rejection of the use of racist violence by some among police forces. That was a profoundly wise response, since our whole society has assigned the police the American monopoly on the legitimate use of violence inside our country. If they use that license in racist ways, the whole society is responsible to change course.

[This movement has broadened, to look at other aspects of institutionalized  racism that have been the long long shadow of enslavement. One question that has arisen is whether some form of reparations is due from America to the Black community. For Jews, this question has special importance. For we and the Japanese-American community are the only segments of American society that have in fact received reparations --  Jews from Germany, for the almost unfathomable violence against the Jewish people in the Holocaust; and Japanese-Americans from the US government, for their imprisonment in detention camps and loss of property during World War II. So the Jewish community may have some special insight into the ethical issues involved in reparations.

[In addition, our deepest spiritual and religious roots – the biblical story of the Exodus – are intertwined with a story of reparations to the whole people for having been enslaved by Pharaoh, the embodiment of Mitzrayyim – the Hebrew word for Egypt, which means “the tight and narrow place.”  So The Shalom Center will bring our members and readers a series of articles from various standpoints – religious, historical, and personal -- on the question of reparations. The following is the first in a series of such essays. It is a much-abbreviated version of Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein’s extraordinary 2018 article, “The Torah Case for Reparations,”  which you can read in full at this link. The author prepared this shortened version especially for The Shalom Center. --  AW, ed.]

The Torah of Reparations for Slavery

Rabbi Aryeh Bernstein

In the last several years, cultural and political winds have moved the demand for reparations to Black Americans from the fringe into the mainstream of American politics. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s magisterial 2014 article, “The Case for Reparations”, deserves much of the credit for this shift. Slavery and its aftermath sit at the heart of the mythic consciousness of Judaism. Does Judaism have anything to contribute to a national consideration of reparations? I think it does. 

 We Took Reparations

Jews must support reparations in principle, because we took reparations for our slave labor, we were commanded by God to do so, and we were promised these reparations in the earliest Divine plan for our liberation. The Torah emphasizes that on the way out of Egypt, the Israelites emptied their Egyptian neighbors of their wealth (Exodus 12:35-36).

This taking of reparations was not castigated as dishonest plundering or sinful vindictiveness, nor even as an optional bonus, but was a required component of liberation, as God had explicitly commanded the day before (Exodus 11:2). Receiving reparations was a core component of the Exodus. God’s first promise to liberate the Israelite slaves, spoken to Moses at the burning bush, already explicitly included abundant reparations (Exodus 3:21-22). The taking of reparations is at the very heart of the slavery story, even promised to Abram as part and parcel of the Bible’s first premonition of slavery and redemption.

The first time the Torah’s core story — slavery and liberation — is revealed, the entire content of that liberation is the future departure from Egypt with reparations: “Know for sure that your seed shall be an alien in a land not their own, and shall serve them; and they shall abuse them -- four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with significant property” (Genesis 15:13-14). We recite this passage ritually in our Passover seders to this day, annually reviewing that God’s faithfulness is expressed through a promise kept over hundreds of years, and that that promise was reparations for slavery.

Are these Really Reparations?

The Rabbis of the Talmud understood the wealth taken by the Israelites as slavery reparations, as shown in a piquant story in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 91a) which imagines the Egyptians suing the Jews in the court of Alexander the Great to return the wealth they took on the way out of Egypt. A non-rabbi named Geviha ben Pesisa serves as defense attorney for the Jews and countersues: “I, too will bring you evidence only from the Torah, as is said, ‘And the Israelites’ residence, which they resided in Egypt was 430 years’ (Ex. 12:40): Give us payment for the labor of 600,000, whom you enslaved in Egypt for 430 years.”

The Egyptians offer no response and drop their case. Egypt had exploited the Israelites for hundreds of years, stealing their labor. Egypt owed the Israelites generations of reparations, but was not about to pay them willingly or to acknowledge the depth of its wrongdoing. According to the Talmud and even the Torah itself, not only were reparations just, but taking them by any means necessary, even deception, was just and commanded by God and should be intelligible to the international community.

The Rabbis place this (fictional) lawsuit during a Sabbatical year, when Jews are prohibited from farming. Observing the sabbatical year disrupts anyone’s domination over land and people. The land is released to grow wild and debts are relieved. Temporary economic straits, then, cannot plunge a person into structural poverty and servitude.

Just as the Torah contrasts Egyptian slavery with observance of the weekly sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:15), the prophet Jeremiah tells the people that God commanded the Sabbatical year laws “on the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Jeremiah 34:13). For the Rabbis, Egyptian spoils

Torah Teaches: Consult the WHOLE People. How Can WE, USA 2020?

Who should get to vote in an American election?

Especially an epochal election that will decide on life or death for tens of thousands of Americans living in the midst of a botched governmental response to a world pandemic;  an epochal election that will decide whether American democracy survives or is subjugated by a fascist government; an epochal election that will decide the future of life on this planet?

Many of our politicians act as if this were just a matter of partisan politics. But our most ancient spiritual teachings insist that at such epochal moments, the whole society must take part.

Let us look briefly at three such moments: when the people of Israel, the Godwrestling folk, stood at Sinai to receive Revelation; when the people were just about to leave the wilderness and begin to live as shepherds and farmers in the land beyond the Jordan River; and when those who had been exiled to Babylon returned and were trying to establish a People with a Covenant.

And after looking at these teachings, I will share with you what we can do to uphold them is this epochal moment,

Deuteronomy 5: 1-3:

Moses called all of Israel together and said to them ... “YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] cut with us a covenant at Horeb [=Sinai, but with a name that means “knife”}. Not with our forebears did YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] cut this covenant , but with us, yes, us, those here today, all of us alive.”

Deuteronomy 29: 13-14:

Not with you, you-alone do I cut this covenant and this oath, but with the one that is here [at Sinai]/ Horeb], standing with us today, facing YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] our God, and also with the one who is not here with us today.

Deuteronomy 31: 10-11:

And Moses commanded them, saying, “At the end of seven years, at the appointed time of the year of release, on the pilgrimage festival of Sukkot, when all Israel comes to be seen facing YHWH [Yahhhh/ The Breath of Life] your God, at the place The One chooses, you are to proclaim this instruction in front of all Israel in their ears.

“Assemble the people, the men, the women, and the little ones, and your sojourner that is in your gates, in order that they may hearken, in order that they may learn and have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life] your God to carefully observe all the words of this instruction;

“So that even their children, who do not fully understand, may hearken and learn to have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life] your God all the days that you remain alive on the soil that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.”

Excerpts from Nehemiah 9 and 10

Chapter 9: 1 Now the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads.

4 On the stairs of the Levites they cried with a loud voice to YHWH [Yahhhh, the Breath of Life] their God..  


 32 “Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our rulers, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our forebears, and all your people.

36 “Behold, we are subjugated-people this day; in the land that you gave to our forebears to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are subjugated-people. 37 And its rich yield goes to the rulers whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.

38  “Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of[6] our princes, our Levites, and our priests.

Chapter 10: Those who sealed it were: Nehemiah the governor;the Levites;10 their associates; 14 the leaders of the people; 28 the rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, musicians, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand— 29 all these now join their fellow Israelites the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of YHWH [Yahhhh, the Breath of Life]..

The teaching is clear: We in the United States have turned Moses’ call to Assemble the people every seven years to hear and commit to Torah, into a commitment to gather the people every two years to choose our national leaders.

If some part of the government seizes the moment to exclude some people, so as to elevate its own power, it is violating not only the Constitution but the most basic spiritual truth: Especially when the whole people faces an epochal choice, the whole people must be present and involved.

How do we make this happen, in the USA, in 2020?

The “whole people,” it is now most clear in the midst of pandemic, need the US Postal Service and Vote-by-Mail if the whole people is to be involved. It is hardly surprising, if one of the epochal choices we face !s democracy vs. authoritarian rule, that authoritarians want to shatter that possibility. And they are doing what they can to break USPS, the most democratic and most beloved of all the Federal agencies. One built on connecting We the People.

I have tried to imagine some way We the People could create our own way out of this. I imagined “Democracy Bonds,” which the public would buy (as patriotic people bought “War Bonds” during World War II)  to lend the Postal Workers Union – not USPS --  enough money to get them and us past the election. Then a new President and Congress could repay the bonds. Clever, a number of people said, but it would take six months to set up the arrangements. Too late.

Okay. Next best, try to make the Federal system, even authoritarians, support the democratic institution. At least to make utterly clear to all who need the mail, who is disrupting its delivery.

Two channels: Congress, and the Board of the USPS. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is mobilizing people TONIGHT to lean heavily on Congress. Click to

Eve Ilsen warmly circulates a proposal from Varda B, below.  

"Hello People -- In case you don't see any other way - PLEASE WRITE & CALL the 6 People who supervise the USPS Board -- See all contact info below, and SHARE this info!!

"Louis DeJoy, the Postmaster General and Trump appointee who is now dismantling the USPS on Trump's behalf, “serves at the pleasure of” and reports to the 6-member USPS Board of Governors. These six men have the power & duty to #StopDeJoy & prevent Election Day chaos.

My small personal crisis and the Great American Social Crisis

Dear friends,

This past Wednesday afternoon, I found all my leg muscles very weak and my speech slurred. Seemed like it might be a stroke, so Phyllis with the help of wonderful friends hurried me into an ambulance to a hospital. The hospital found there was nothing at all wrong with my brain, but something was wacky with my liver. During the next 24 hours my liver calmed down. The medical hunch was that there had been a stone interrupting the internal processes of the liver, the stone passed,  the processes worked right, and I felt fine. On Friday afternoon they sent me home.

It was a powerful lesson: In the Hierarchical picture of the world, my Brain is in charge. The liver is deeply subordinate. But that is just not so. In an Ecological picture of the world, the liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, belly – – including even the million microscopic creatures living in my belly that are not even me – – as well as my brain work together to keep me alive and making sense. If I were to act as if my liver were unimportant, a mere appendage, disaster. Domination, subjugation can kill me.

There was another powerful lesson. The official ethic of the hospital was honesty and transparency with patients. But over and over during those 40 hours, particular medical professionals withheld vital information from me. Their refrain: "We didn't want to scare you." My refrain: "I'm a grown-up. I want to know the truth." It was only because I pushed and challenged that I found out what was going on.

"Easier" for them to control the information, even if that meant I didn't get fed dinner and didn't get medicine pills I needed. It was only because I pushed and challenged -- made them uneasy -- that I found out what was going on.

In the great American social crisis we are living through, the official ethic of America is democracy and honesty in government. But the White House has chosen Domination, Subjugation, and a flood of lies to support them as the mode by which to lead America. It has viewed with contempt and oppressive behavior the liver and the kidneys and the lungs of American society. It has done that literally in the face of a virus that is saying, “Pay attention to all the organs!” And so Americans are dying by unnecessary tens of thousands.

More metaphorically, the Black community which has always been treated like an unimportant liver in the American social system has wakened not only itself but many other organs of the system who understand the Ecological rather than the Hierarchical way of keeping America healthy. So there has perhaps for the first time, or perhaps for the first time since the Civil War, been a multiracial uprising against racism.

The White House, in its obsessive commitment to Dominate and Subjugate, is trying to deal with at uprising by making an American police state. That may create chaos, but it will not create health and prosperity.

That obsession with Subjugation is the politics of Pharaoh. It ended up drowning Pharaoh himself in the Sea of Reeds, but it took tens of thousands of Egyptians with him. First in ecological upheavals we call the Plagues, finally in the death of the firstborns.

What can we do? Nonviolent action both inside and outside the system are necessary. The House of Representatives should be refusing to appropriate any money at all for the Department of Homeland Security without a physical withdrawal of all its police forces from American cities, and with legislative provisions to prevent what has happened in Portland and now in Seattle. Senators committed to democracy with a small “d” should be filibustering every so-called “must-pass” bill until no American city is under Pharaoh’s occupation. The ACLU should be going to court everywhere to restore and renew the right to vote freely and to demonstrate freely.

And I do not think that this kind of action will happen, or will matter without nonviolent direct action by the people. I emphasize nonviolent. Even where a particular building is itself a repository of Subjugative violence, it will make more sense in this situation to avoid attacking that building. We should be enforcing a nonviolent discipline in order to gather against Pharaoh’s violence.  Closing the roads around such a building, closing the highways, creating a campaign for “denial of service” to computers in Department of Homeland Security and the White House – – all those will be necessary to protect us in our myriad vital organs of society from Pharaoh and from the Plagues that Pharaoh has brought upon us.

I want to come back to my own personal crisis of life and death. In October I will be 87 years old, and as one of those who is most vulnerable to terrible torment or death by the Coronavirus, I have been extraordinarily careful to protect myself and my immediate family.

In early October, what I think may be the most important work I’ve done since the Freedom Seder in 1969 will be published. It’s a book entitled Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. It’s an effort to reimagine Judaism, Christianity, and other religious communities as committed to an Ecological rather than Hierarchical vision of the world. I very much hope to be here, able to speak and to write and to teach what that book is saying.

Yet if between now and January 20, 2021, it is necessary to bring all my organs, all my body, into the struggle to prevent a police state under Pharaoh, then I will.

With blessings for each and all of us – – each human being and all life forms, free and unique organs to give life to the Loving and Beloved Community, the ONE –

Is Coronavirus a Biblical "Plague"?

In the ancient biblical tradition, what is a "plague"? Where does it come from? Is it anything like coronavirus? Is it anything like the wildfires that have so damaged California and Australia? Can these ancient stories teach us anything today?

Some of the great plagues of the Exodus are what we would call diseases, but not all. There is a cattle affliction that sounds something like mad cow disease. There is an affliction of all water in the land of Egypt, not only the Nile but even water in pots and pans. There is the death of all firstborns.

But there are also the invasions of frogs, of locusts, of lice or mosquitoes. These are ordinary animals in extraordinary numbers and places. But so are diseases. The Coronavirus is perfectly normal until it leaps a species. Carbon dioxide is perfectly normal – – even necessary – – until human corporations create so much of it by burning fossil fuels that it becomes extraordinary, planet-destroying. The Exodus move to a freely wandering, struggling, learning, growing journey in a Wilderness, seeking to become a loving and beloved community.

The Exodus is empowered by a series of Ten Plagues. In some understandings, they were brought on by a God Who is a sort of Super-Pharaoh in the sky, proving he is even more powerful and more cruel than the Pharaoh on the Egyptian throne, who claims to be a god. Pharaoh enslaves Israelites; God kills Egyptians.

This understanding that the Exodus is a contest between a king and a Super-King is underlined by the false biblical translation of YHWH as “LORD.” (The rabbinic tradition substituted “Adonai/ Lord” for “YHWH” but the Hebrew Bible does not.) It is more likely that YHWH with no vowels is simply a breath – Yyyyyhhhhhwwwwwhhhh: the Breath of life, sometimes the Wind of change, sometimes the Hurricane of destruction. 

This Ruach (Hebrew for “breath, wind, spirit”) is what intertwines all life. We know now this is literally, physically, scientifically true: the Oxygen-CO2 interbreathing between animals and vegetation keeps all life alive. So YHWH is the bearer of consequence, not punishment or rewards. Try reading the whole Plague narrative substituting “Interbreath of life” instead of “LORD.”  For me and others who have tried this, it changes the whole story. 

From this vantage point, the concentrated power and the arrogance, cruelty, and stubbornness of a Pharaoh whose subjugation of human beings soon became subjugation of Earth. The cruelty that Pharaoh sows, all Egypt reaps.

Those plagues did not come from outside us. They came from our own society, from our own government, from our own way of living. "We" allowed a Pharaoh who turned Egyptian farmers into sharecroppers and an immigrant community into slaves.

And that's the case today. The coronavirus only becomes destructive and deadly because we don't leave space between ourselves and various other species. We don't leave space for bats who fly around perfectly well carrying that virus. We take up all the space there is, and we take up all the air there is with far too much CO2. We allow ourselves to become "sharecroppers" within the system that brings plagues upon us. And we become accustomed to the system of domination, so much that we think it is normal. It is not arrogance, it is not cruelty; it is normal.

Until Earth rebels, and what is normal becomes lethal. Some groups of us suffer more from the "diseases" than others, die more than others. More and more of us even begin to notice that the "overseers" who casually murdered Israelite slaves in the ancient story are not so different from the police today who use their legitimized authority to kill more Blacks. Then more and more of us realize that some of us are sharecroppers and some of us are enslaved.

Yet these plagues have an unexpected effect, in the ancient story and for us today. Though the ancient plagues were the horrifying results of Pharaoh’s cruelty, they became the instruments of liberation.

How could both truths be true? The Exodus story splits the targets of the plagues. For Egyptians, they were utterly destructive. For Israelites, who according to the story were physically and ecologically separated in their own region of Goshen, the plagues were liberating. Zoom becomes our Goshen. And if we stop to think, we know that Zoom is a class and racial privilege. The deeply poor do not get to live in Zoom.

Whether the separation was factually accurate or a part of a larger parable, it was a way of celebrating the emergence of a new kind of community  -- committed to a new birth of freedom yet welcoming, as the story of Pharaoh’s daughter indicates, to “renegade refugees” even from the palace of privilege and power.

We, living in the midst of the Coronavirus Plague and the varied plagues of global scorching, do not have the luxury of regional separation.  Our own “Goshen” is retreat into our own homes, scattered everywhere. Our own new plagues imposed by modern pharaohs are again horrifying and might-be liberating: Undrinkable water.  Intrusive “forever plastics,” even inside human bodies. Droughts. Famines. Floods. Fires. Human beings becoming unable to see each other through the darkness of fear. Ultimately, the dangerously impending death of the next generation of the human species -- our own first- and second- and tenth-borns.

Our new Plagues might be sounding the death-knell of an old world order of Domination and Hierarchy. Or they might by making uprising for freedom so difficult to do in public and by destroying jobs and workplaces, reinforce the power of our pharaohs until all of us are conscripted into the chariot army that drowns in the Sea of misery, despair, and death.

Which future is our future depends on us. Can we suffer from the plagues and yet --  and therefore! -- act on them as birth-cries of a new worldview of ecological interwovenness: seeing our communities of life as conscious interconnected ecosystems of biology, culture, and society--rooted in love and flowering in life-affirming justice? 

In the ancient story, on the very night when they must choose Exodus or Death, the Israelites must encircle the doorways of their houses with blood. To leave the Tight and Narrow Land, they must leave a household rimmed with blood. There is one bloody house that every human being exits: the womb, in every birth.  Here a whole people is reborn.

 And then, those Israelites who made that choice – not every descendant of Abraham and Sarah did, and some Egyptian-born, like Pharaoh’s daughter, joined that choice to be reborn –- met another birth-choice on the seventh day.

On that day they found themselves at the shores of the Sea of Reeds, a roaring, roiling ocean. Behind them they heard the drumming hoof-beats of Pharaoh’s horse-chariot army. It was coming to insist they turn back to familiar life: slavery, yes, and accustomed onions, garlic, chewy meat.

Which should they choose? The unknown? The Sea of drowning? A wilderness beckoning on the other shore -- still more unknown?

They chose another birth – the breaking of the waters.

Today the whole human species is standing between the Unknown Sea and the world of Customary Order – garlic, onions, and slavery.

Time to choose.

"Supremes" rob women of Religous Freedom

 The Supreme Court majority decided yesterday that an employer who has religious or moral objections to birth control can refuse a health-insurance contract that covers it for his employees.

They did this in the name of "religious freedom."

But in fact they refused to recognize the religious freedom, the moral freedom, the conscientious freedom, the freedom of conscience,  of thousands of workers. For the boss, it's money saved. For the workers, it's freedom lost. -- No, not lost. Stolen. A life lived by their own consciences in the most intimate parts of their lives --  stolen.

But they are only women. They have no moral agency, no right to consciences of their own, anyway, The bishops of the Roman Catholic Church and the heads of various "evangelical" denominations have a religious conscience. Even a boss who never goes to church but claims a "moral" objection has a conscience. But a woman who has decided to make her own choice whether or when to get pregnant has no moral choice, no conscience. No religious freedom. Please notice: This is not even about abortion, where it is possible to make a coherent ethical case at some point in a pregnancy that a viable fetus has rights. There is no fetus. No being that has rights.

Where does this come from? Two roots, like many practices: An intellectual formulation that meets the needs of some group for power over others. For the Catholic Church and some other forms of Christianity, a tortured interpretation of the Eden story plus power for a certain body of males. The interpretation in its best-shaped version came from Augustine -- I won't call him a "Saint."  The "original" sin of Eden was not just "original" in the sense of "first." It was the corruption of our origins -- that they came from the pleasure of sex. And the invitation of an archetypal woman --  Eve. So pleasurable sex was sinful. But sex was necessary for the continuation of the human species. Sooooo -- prohibit all sex that was not for procreation. No birth control, no contraception. And since "Eve" had invited all this, men should rule.  What a convenient theory to make "legitimate" the rule of men who claimed to be celibate (though they often lied).

It isn't what Eden was about. It was about refusing to have the self-restraint to leave even one tree uneaten -- to not gobble up the whole of material abundance. When that obligation to our Mother Earth was violated, two dangerous consequences: (1) The abundance vanished: Men had to work hard in the sweat of their faces because  Earth gave forth only thorns and thistles. And (2) Hierarchy entered the human community: If Humanity thought it could rule over Earth, then men would rule over women.

The story was urging the human race to grow up enough to rise beyond both consequences. Humans should learn to invent tools that eased their own labor while nurturing Earth. Women and men should learn to be equal. Nobody thought the first consequence was a command -- no tools! But the second -- aah, no equality!

But not everybody accepted Augustine's tortured -- and torturing -- logic. Not even Catholic women. Every sociological study, every survey, shows that about 97% of Catholic women actually use the very forms of birth control that the male bishops of their church prohibit. In the Church's convenient acceptance of Augustine, each of the all-male bishops has a religious conscience. Women? A laughable idea.

Let me be clear -- this is just as reprehensible when it is male Orthodox rabbis or male imams or males who claim to be the "heads" of any religious community

And of course this has a class and race dimension too. Many women will have the money to buy contraception, even while they are robbed of conscience, But the poor won't. No freedom of religion for THEM. How can a poor Black woman have a conscience?

There will be only two ways to reverse this decision to enforce religious tyranny.  Bodies on the line to vote, and bodies on the line to block and create in the same breath. When the Supreme Court dares again and again to Subjugate, not Liberate, when it denies those "inalienable rights," then get ready to "alter or abolish it." Get ready for a struggle to change the Supreme Court, not just the Senate and the White House. It is necessary but not enough for women to vote, if the Court insists on robbing them of conscience, of religion.

This is as much Subjugation, Tyranny, as police killing Blacks with impunity. As destroying health insurance. As yanking babies from their mothers' breasts at the Southern border. As imposing coal-plant dust and asthma epidemics on poor neighborhoods. As burning California and drowning Midwestern towns to multiply the profits of the Carbon Pharaohs. As pepper-gassing peaceful demonstrators to make space for photo-ops of holding a Bible upside-down.

We must unite to win our freedom, our bodies, our souls.

Shalom and salaam mean not only paz, peace, but wholeness. Namaste means "In you I see God." It is time for all of these. Fierce urgency of NOW. The vote and the body and the soul.

Your action is necessary. And right this moment, please help us help you to make these actions real by clicking on that "Contribute" banner in the left-hand margin of this page --  Arthur

Elders Call: Defend Our Voting Rights

[Dear friends of The Shalom Center, For about nine years I have been a member of the National Council of Elders. It is a consulting council of veteran activists who helped shape the great social-change movements of the mid-20th Century. Among its founders was my beloved friend Vincent Harding, of blessed memory.  

[In the midst of the political convulsions of this past six months, we decided to issue several statements that draw upon our experience. One of them is about the current election campaign and various threats to the crucial right to vote. I was one of those most deeply involved in drafting this statement on Dangers to the Right to Vote.

[The Shalom Center is already involved in what we are calling “Share Sukkot: Green and Grow the Vote.” The Harvest Festival of Sukkot comes in every other year just a few weeks before a US national election. We have already prepared and are preparing more resources to make Sukkot in those years a time to express the eco /social justice and peacemaking values of Sukkot as a framework for greening and growing the vote. More information on Share Sukkot will follow. Today I am sharing the NCOE statement – AW, editor]


Immediate Release June 25, 2020

We call upon all Americans to exercise this fundamental and essential right to vote. We call upon all Americans to demand the right to vote by mail. We call on all Americans to make clear we will not allow any attempt to steal the election by any means.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Philadelphia PA; Frances Reid, Oakland, CA;
Mandy Carter, Durham, NC

The National Council of Elders (NCOE) Call: Prepare to Defend Our Voting Rights in 2020 Election

We, members of the National Council of Elders, were deeply involved in the great movements of the 1960s and ‘70s to advance American democracy, winning many important victories for freedom. One of the greatest of these victories was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was passed after the non-violent actions of Mississippi Freedom Summer and the Selma to Montgomery March, which were met with violent repression, killings and brutal beatings.

The right and responsibility to vote in a free and fair election is an essential aspect of democracy. Yet that right has been weakened by two crucial and badly decided 5-4 verdicts of the Supreme Court:

The 2010 Citizens United decision to abolish decades of election law preventing great wealth from buying US elections on the grounds, among others, that corporations were “Persons” entitled to “free speech.” [I would add, No corporation is “made in the Image of God.” Human beings are, and their right to shape the society they live in and the government that governs them is partly rooted in that sacred character. --  AW]

The 2013 decision to cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act, the requirement for preclearance to pass new voting laws for jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg brilliantly said, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

As we prepare for the national election of 2020, the Supreme Court has again attacked the right to cast a vote by refusing to allow an expansion of voting by mail in Wisconsin in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, the citizens of Wisconsin defended their right to vote by showing up at polling locations in huge numbers, despite the danger of sickness or death, similar to the courageous men and women of the South in 1964 and 1965.

We call upon all Americans to exercise this fundamental and essential right to vote. We call upon all Americans to demand the right to vote by mail. We call on all Americans to make clear we will not allow any attempt to steal the election by any means.

The president has threatened to use military force against the American people to halt the practice of free speech and free assembly. We are concerned about the danger that the current holders of power in the federal government may use anti-Constitutional force before or after the election on November 3 to maintain their power.

We call upon the American people to be alert to such danger and to meet it:

With a vast and vigorous turnout of voters, casting no doubt that pro-democracy forces have won the Presidency and both houses of Congress

With maintaining vigilance if the current president is voted out of power, until he is well gone in January

With preparation by resilient grass-roots groups to be ready to apply broad and deep civil resistance, should a usurpation of our democracy be thrust upon us.

Come hell or high fever, we must vote – and we shall!

National Council of Elders Members: Ms. Rachele Agoyo, Ms. Dorothy Aldridge, Rev. Dorsey Blake, Mr. Louis Brandon, Ms. Candie Carawan, Ms. Mandy Carter, Dr. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Rev. John Fife, Ms. Aljosie Aldrich Harding, Dr. Gloria Aneb House, Dr.Shea Howell, Dr. Dolores Huerta, Mr. Phil Hutchings, Ms. Joyce Hobson Johnson, Rev. Nelson Johnson, Mr. Frank Joyce, Rev. James Lawson, Rev. Phil Lawson, Dr. Catherine Meeks, Mr. Gus Newport, Ms. Suzanne Pharr, Ms. Lyn Pyle, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Ms. Frances Reid, Ms. Kathy Sanchez, Mr. Charles Sherrod, Ms. Shirley Sherrod, Dr. G. Zoharah Simmons, Friar Louis Vitale, OFM, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Mr. Hollis Watkins, Mr. Junius Williams, Mr. Bob Wing, Rev. Janet Wolf.

Deceased Founding Members: Dr. Grace Lee Boggs, Dr. Dorothy Cotton, Dr. Vincent Harding, Father Paul Mayer, Mr. Ron Scott.

Facebook contact: National Council of Elders@ncoe20century


Jewishly Honoring Juneteenth

On June 19, 1865, the US Army announced the emancipation of enslaved people to the public in Texas – the last of the Confederate states to be liberated from slavery  

 That day each year became known as Jubilee Day and later as Juneteenth, and became a day of celebration, education, community, and political vision first for the Blacks of Texas and then for Blacks throughout the United States. It has been recognized as a special day of celebration by 47 of the 50 states and by some major corporations. It has slowly become recognized and observed by some whites -- especially this year, in the great wave of multiracial Uprising against American racism. (For a history of the day, see “Juneteenth” in Wikipedia.)

Beginning seral years ago and increasing this year, several waays have energed of  Jewishly underling the celebration of Juneteenth. I will review them here. They include sharing a Seder for Juneteeth; suggesting a Kavvanah (focus) for the Blacks killed by racism in reciting Mourners Kaddish on Juneteenth; and shaping a Kabbalat Shabbbat and Havdalah for the day. Each of these is noted below.

Beginning in 2018, some Jews Of Color have shaped a Seder for the day, drawing on the structure of the Passover Seder and using foods, songs, poetry, symbols, and other elements of Juneteenth celebrations. In 2018, a vigorously progressive Jewish group in New York City, Jews For Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), observed a Juneteenth Seder and then published its Haggadah at

As the author of the original Freedom Seder in 1969, the first Haggadah ever to welcome the Black struggle for freedom into the heart of the Passover Seder, I have been especially moved by this introduction of the form of the Seder into a Black holyday of freedom.   And I have been warmed and excited by the notion that Blacks who are not Jewish and whites who are or who are not Jewish might find it a welcome way of affirming and working for the end of American racism. At the same time, I encourage caution in its use – not easily “appropriating” the symbols and practices of Black America.

So I decided to share one sliver of the Juneteenth Haggadah that felt to me especially relevant to the struggle to end racism, and especially both Jewish and universal in its drawing on Torah and on the post-history of the Holocaust to urge a serious discussion of “reparations”  for slavery.  Here it is:

THE SECOND CUP: Behold this cup of wine. Assata taught us: It is our duty to win. We drink to her, to our commitment to winning, and to our ancestors who invested in our winning and building power: Fannie Lou Hamer, Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, Ella Baker, Pedro Albizu Campos.

 Raise glass. Say one of these blessings: P’ri hagafen, ito nishteh, “l’chayim!” The fruit of the vine, with it let us drink “to life!”

 Bruchah at Yah, Shekhina, eloheinu malkat ha’olam bora p’ri hagafen. Blessed are you, Shekhinah, Queen of the universe, creator of the frui of the vine.

Baruch atah Yahhh (Adomai)  Eloheinu ruach (melekh) ha’olam borei p’ri hagafen. Blessed are You God, Interbreathing Spirit (Sovereign) of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.בְּרוכָּה אַתְּ יָהּ שְׁכִנָה אֱלֹתֵינוּ מַלְכַּת הָעוֹלָם בוֹּראַ פְּריִ הַגָּֽפֶן.בָּרוךְּ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ רוּחַ )מֶלֶךְ( הָעוֹלָם בוֹּרֵא פְּריִ הַגָּֽפֶן.

Love & Support: We must love and support each other, and for that love and support to have any meaning, it must be material as well as spiritual.

 “The Torah says: And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock ... And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt...”

 Black liberation is something that has been compromised again and again, through actions monstrous and tiny — the incompre-hensible violations we promise to never forget, and the endless diminutions we all decide to ignore.

 White supremacy is centered in Christianity, but Jews with white skin privilege have been enacting it and actively benefiting from it for centuries. In the recent history of the United States, white Jews benefited from the G.I. Bill; moved to, and profited from, racially segregated housing; accepted and enabled massive disparities in education; and received loans, financial aid, salaries, and benefits denied to Black people.

 White folx: even if you personally find the idea of white supremacy repulsive, even if you are afraid of antisemitic neo-Nazis and white nationalists — you still benefit from the culture of white supremacy we all live in.

And so tonight we are asking you to think about what it means to commit to reparation — to take a small but challenging step toward accountability and disinvestment from white privilege — a step that also leads toward a bolder, more moral, more vibrant future for Jews and for all people.

Rabbi Sharon Brous writes: “Most American Jews came to this country years after the abolition of slavery, but we have thrived under a national economic system that was built on stolen land and stolen labor, a foundational wrong that has yet to be rectified. As survivors of generational trauma and beneficiaries of reparations [from Germany, to Israel] granted after the Holocaust, Jews have a special obligation to help advance this conversation.”

In addition, Eric Greene, a member of the board of the Jewish Multiracial Network, has suggested preceding a recitation of the Mourners Kaddish with this kavvanah (‘focus’):


This Friday night Shabbat coincides with Juneteenth, the commemoration of the official ending of mass enslavement of African Americans.  In observance of this important day, and in remembrance of the countless African Americans who have been victimized and killed by ongoing racism, we are lifting up the suggestion of Black Jewish journalist Robin Washington and we are asking our friends and allies in the Jewish community—Jews of Color and White Jews, Sephardic and Mizrachi and Ashkenazi, religious and secular, in private or on Zoom—to recite a Kaddish for Black Lives during this Shabbat

We are providing the text of Jewish Multiracial Network’s “Black Lives Kaddish” below. Depending on your practice, you may choose to recite it along with the traditional Kaddish or, after candlelighting, join us in reciting Psalm 31 (traditionally recited as a plea for protection from those who would do us harm) on this special Juneteenth Shabbat.  We ask that you share this ask with your networks, friends and contacts throughout the Jewish Community so we may all come together to give appropriate honor to those we have lost.  May their memories be a blessing.                                                   


 Creator of life, source of compassion. Your breath remains the source of our spirit, even as too many of us cry out that we cannot breathe. Lovingly created in your image, the color of our bodies has imperiled our lives. 

 Black lives are commodified yet devalued, imitated but feared, exhibited but not seen.  

 Black lives have been pursued by hatred, abandoned by indifference and betrayed by complacency.  

 Black lives have been lost to the violence of the vigilante, the cruelty of the marketplace and the silence of the comfortable. 

 We understand that Black lives are sacred, inherently valuable, and irreplaceable. 

We know that to oppress the body of the human, is to break the heart of the divine.

We yearn for the day when the bent will stand straight.

We pray that the hearts of our country will soften to the pain endured for centuries. 

We will do the work to bind up the wounds, to heal the shattered hearts, to break the yoke of oppression.

 As the beauty of the heavens is revealed to us each day, may each day reveal to us the beauty of our common humanity. Amen.

I suggest that we add these readings to our Shabbat observance, either or both on Erev Shabbat (Friday evening, June 19) or Shabbat morning, fitting in with our attention to the nationwide gathering of the Poor People’s Campaign at 10 am and 6 pm Saturday  and 6 pm Sunday at

Bechol Lashon is sponsoring an early Juneteenth Kabbalat Shabbat with Rabbis Sandra Lawson and Isaama Goldstein-Stoll  at --
And the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA) of Chicago and the Kol Or Caucus for Jews of Color are excited to invite you to the 3rd Annual Juneteenth Havdalah on June 20 at 7:00 pm, where we’ll come together as a community to commemorate the emancipation of Africans and African-Americans from slavery.  Please RSVP by clicking here.

Blessings of shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste!-- Arthur

Lerner's "Revolutionary Love"

Michael Lerner wrote his newest book, Revolutionary Love (University of California Press), in 2019. There was already in the world and in his mind’s eye the brutality of the Trump Administration. There was only a hint of the possibility of a world pandemic resulting from the rampant disregard by human institutions – mostly the Hyperwealthy – for the habitat of other species. And though he notes with hope the existence of Black Lives Matter, a massive national Black-led multiracial Uprising against racism was not on the country’s, or Lerner’s, agenda.

What his book is mostly about is an imagined series of social changes that would make America, and the planet, a society focused on loving connectiveness -- not competition and subjugation – and the loving means of getting  there.

 Among his proposed loving alternatives is:

  •  “Gradually disband police forces and replace them with neighborhood  security committees,  trained in de-escalation  and empathic intervention.  (These committees will be backed up in emergency situations by local community forces (neighbors trained to meet violence effectively).” (page191)

 Who knew (I think not Lerner) that this would be on the front pages everywhere while his book was still new?

 The book is peppered with such ideas. The question is how to make them do-able. Not every one of them is going to have behind it the force of an Uprising deep enough to make tens of thousands of people forget their fears of Death by Coronavirus and erupt onto the streets.

 I do want to note one other proposal out of dozens, partly because It is a special concern of mine and because Lerner gives it five pages (pp. 233-238), not just one small paragraph. That is his examination of whether it would be possible to organize in our own society, so different from ancient Israel, the Sabbatical Year commanded in Leviticus 25. 

For Torah, this is the crucial way of preventing both social disaster as economic inequality worsens and eco-disaster as Earth is treated with contempt. The Torah considers this program so central that it is said to come from Sinai, just like “Don’t make idols” and “Don’t murder.” – And so, in Lev. 26, is the recitation of specific disasters that will come if Earth is not allowed to rest every seventh year.  Lerner thinks we could do this Great Sabbath in modern America. Wonder how? Read the book!

 Lerner deals with almost every bristling “Impossible!” and “Unrealistic!” by challenging the “liberal” and “progressive” Lefts that express considerable contempt for “Love” as a transformative possibility. The Lefts’ reaction translates into contempt for religion, the one aspect of American society that still holds some love for Love.  And into contempt for the “deplorables” who depend on religion as their last gasp of breath – and of Love at least in their local communities.

 Lerner recalls the sense of frustrated and frayed connections between people, and the experience of many working-class Americans that their once-upon-a-time liberal allies see them as damaged and disreputable because they seem to be translating psychological and social fears into attacks on “the others.“

 He hopes to bring together the old Left-outs --  Blacks, Indigenous Peoples, Muslims, Spanish-speakers, women,  GLBTQIA communities, Jews – with the new Left-outs --  the “forgotten whites.” He looks to heal their split in part by their economic resentment against the ultra-rich 1/10 of 1%, but more by his appeal to their separate but shareable Love.

 His book ends with what I would call despair masked as hope. As a last resort, Lerner imagines dividing the USA in two, using the new technology that could unite clusters across territory to separate the “Progressive States of America” from the “Conservative States of America.” His comments remind me of the despairing advice on the edge of the last Civil War: “Let the erring sisters [the Southern states] depart in peace.“

But most of all he is hopeful. He hopes that the steps he proposes of actually embodying “revolutionary love” and an ultimate “Love and Justice Party” will enable the creation of a transformed United States.

Green & Grow the Vote: From #Shavuot2Sukkot

The Eleventh Plague, the Coronavirus, has taught us this: Elections this November will make a strong impact -- on the very health and bodily life of practically all Americans, both as individuals and as a whole society;  on the future of American democracy, or whether we become a plutocracy, ruled by those with Hyper-wealth, with a flavor of rancid racism poisoning the stew; and on whether we can renew the life-forms of our Mother Earth or we all suffer from the onslaught of CO2 and methane on our air and oceans, and succumb to fire, flood, and famine.

Every American has a life-or-death stake in this election; our goal should be that every American over 18 gets to vote. To vote with full knowledge of what is at stake.

So as Jews committed to justice and freedom, to abundance and generosity, to the Holy Breathing Spirit that interweaves all life --  we raise the banner of making these next months of Jewish and American time into a commitment:

Green and Grow the Vote

From #Shavuot2Sukkot

 Who is this “we”? The Religious Action Center ("the RAC") of Reform Judaism, The Shalom Center, and Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action are co-sponsoring a remarkable Zoom conversation on the eve of Shavuot, from 8 to 9:40 pm Eastern Time on May 28. We will look forward to Sukkot in early October, just a month before the election. Four months of thought, feeling, action that could make a great difference in November. 

To register for that conversation and receive the Zoom link, click here:

We invite you to join the conversation; there will be an opportunity for break-out groups to share your own thoughts, as part of observance through song and words of Torah -- "From #Shavuot2Sukkot: Green and Grow  the Vote."

 Among the leaders in the conversation will be Rabbis David Saperstein, Michael Namath, Arthur Waskow, Mordechai Liebling, Jennie Rosenn, Margot Stein, Tamara Cohen, and Shoshana Friedman;  renowned teacher-of-organizers  Heather Booth; youth climate activist Isha Tobis Clarke; climate activist Phil Aroneanu of Dayenu;  Cantor Linda Hirschhorn;  Cherie Brown of the National Coalition-Building Institute, an expert in healing Jewish trauma; Arlene Goldbard, artist and President Emerita of The Shalom Center; and powerful young shofar-blower Zahava Kiernan. 

They will join in connecting ancient wisdom from Sinai to our own generation’s needs for active engagement in and beyond the US election process to heal our wounded Earth from the climate crisis and to heal our own society from its deep wounds.

You can watch and join the conversation live from 8 to 9:30 pm Eastern Time on May 28.  It will also be recorded, and we will send you the link by which you could watch it at your convenience. We encourage you to make it part of the traditional tikkun leyl Shavuot, the study of Torah at any time you choose on the night of Shavuot, to share with your friends and congregation.

We promise you joyful song and joyful Torah, a Shofar-blast you will never forget, just barely short of the shofar-blast at Sinai.

To register for that conversation and receive the Zoom link, click here:

We look forward to meeting with you there.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, shantih --  Arthur

#PeoplesBailout: A Hinge Moment


Giving --  Wednesday?

[Dear friends, Yesterday was “Giving Tuesday,” and you may have been flooded by requests for funding by numerous praiseworthy organizations. We will add our glass of seltzer -- fizzy water --  to the flood, with a difference.

Every Bush Afire with God!

“Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only those who see take off their shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

(pronouns slightly modified)

This is the "Burning Bush" of azaleas just outside the windows of my house. I look at it each morning seeing it "crammed with Heaven," moved by what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called “radical amazement.”  There's every reason to be that way amazed when plucking blackberries, if we open ourselves to it.

Another way of expressing it: The daily blessing over Creation, in Hebrew and a caring English translation -- more caring than convention-bound:

"YOtzer Ohr, u'vOrey ChOshech, Oseh shalOm,  u'vOrey et-ha'kOl."

"“Notice,” Rabbi Burt Jacobson taught me, “the vowel that defines the prayer: ‘O! O! O! O!’

"Oho!" said I. "If you were in a state of radical amazement, or to get yourself there, just O-pen your eyes, your mind, your heart to the world and chant the vowel, forget the words.” And sometimes I do. But, a little stubborn about the words, I also searched for English that would keep the “O!” ---

  "FOrming glOw, compOsing shadOw, Opening  shalOm, compOsing the whOle."

Or try this, back to “Every common bush afire with God.” I was asked last week by a leader of the United Church of Christ to supply one of 24 prayers, one to be released each hour on May 7, the “National Day of Prayer,” into the radically amazing World Wide Web of Earth.  That Burning Bush appears in all its inward blazing, near the end of this prayer.

In my view, serious political engagement will be necessary to transform and heal ourselves and Earth. And in my view, we must deepen and lift high this radical amazement at the root and flower of our politics, or it will curdle rather than transform.


To the Interbreathing Spirit of All Life

As You Cough and Choke amid Our Fires

You Who are the Interbreathing Spirit of all life,
You Who are the “still small Voice”

Who whispers breath into all living --

We hear You coughing, choking,

As we flood all Earth with burning smoke of carbon.

We hear You coughing, choking,

As human throats breathe in a virus

That comes as a plague to all of us --

Worse for those who already live on margins --  

And as a warning to our pharaohs..


We recall the burning crosses lit by hate and greed;

We recall the flame and smoke

That rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima.

That still rise from the burning forests of the Amazon,

Torched for the sake of fast hamburger and fast wealth.

We count the hottest years of human history

That bring upon us

Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.

Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.

Before us we among all life-forms
Face the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

Yet with Your help, O Breath of life,

We come to douse that outer all-consuming fire.

To light again in our own hearts

The inner fire that burned in the Burning Bush –

The fire that did not consume the Bush it burned in.

And to hear the inner Voice that breathed a whisper

Of love and liberation amidst the inner flame:

For Love and Breath are strong as death --

Love’s fire that breathes in the heart of all Creation

     To ease Your Breath throughout Your Earth.


We vow to make from inner fire
Not an all-consuming blaze

But the loving light in which we see more clearly
The Rainbow Covenant glowing

in the many-colored faces of all life.


Woven by Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

Creative Commons Copyright (c) 2020 by The Shalom Center

<>. Freely use with inclusion of this notice.


I do not think we can move toward the world we intend without opening ourselves to radical amazement. Radical amazement that every common bush is afire with the inner blaze of love, not just the "royal" few. That our amazing world is not hierarchical but ecological, each being nested in the others.


I also think we cannot move at all without multidimensional political action. I will be exploring those paths in the next few letters to you, and I bless us all with the wisdom, the courage, and the love to act . --  Arthur

Two May Days? -- or Deeply One?

When I was a child in public elementary school, every May 1 we would dance around a Maypole, twirling colorful ribbons attached to the pole. My school was merely one among thousands all across America that celebrated a survival of the pagan earthy ceremonies of ancient Britain before the Roman conquest and then Christianity. 

In those ancient days, the pole and dancing young girls welcomed Spring with a barely cloaked fertility ritual in which a tree was central. The Puritans of New England outlawed the Maypoles as licentious, though it seems no orgies took place. During my childhood, the American Civil Liberties Union did not protest this merger of religion and the state in our schools.

There is another May Day, more overtly political and much more controversial. Yet at its deepest roots it is connected with the early May Day. Most US businesses, governments, and even labor unions have treated its presence on American soil as a foreign invasion. But it was born right here. And it has taken on new energy in our own American generation.

 In 1884, at its national convention in Chicago, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions proclaimed that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labor from and after May 1, 1886."

Workers all across the country struck and demonstrated for the 8-hour day. It took more than 50 years to become US law, and still gets eroded or ignored for farm workers, domestic workers, “contractors” like Uber drivers, etc.

Why do I think the two May Days may have the same roots? Because in Spring the blossoms rise up against winter, and the people rise up against pharaoh, boss, commissar.

Passover -- the festival of simplest matzah from new-growth barley, of newborn lambs,  and of a newborn people seeking freedom through Exodus. Freedom is always new, unknown –  – growing beyond the Tight and Narrow Place to be reborn. The festive festival to chant the Song of Songs, an erotic poem led by women who probably danced under a Tree, a Pole.

The Song Beyond All Songs, voted by the Sanhedrin to be included in the Hebrew Bible on the day when its members forced their tyrannical Chairman to resign.

Both May Days joined at the root.

It is no accident, then, that May 4, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of the day when four nonviolent student protesters opposing the US War Against Vietnam were killed by troops of the Ohio National Guard on the Kent State University campus. Rabbi Lee Moore, a member of the Board of The Shalom Center, will be leading an online Shabbat morning prayer service in their memory, and to honor all of those traumatized by the events of Kent and Jackson State – a Black university in Mississippi where two students were killed several days later for similarly protesting the war.

She will lead the service at 10 am on Shabbat, May 2, in a traditional, yet accessible Jewish format will offer simple Hebrew prayers with English explanations and transliterations. The service will be musical, contemplative, and connective.

Rabbi Lee Moore was born and raised in Kent, attending nearly every May 4th Memorial in the 1970's, 80's and beyond. She returned to Kent after her ordination in 2010 to serve as the Rabbi at Kent State's Hillel for seven years. She is an inspiring prayer leader (even on Zoom) and currently serves as the Interim Spiritual Leader of Brattleboro Area Jewish Community in Vermont. People of all backgrounds are warmly invited to join her and the BAJC to honor Shabbat and this important history that has shaped all of us.

To join, use this Zoom Link:
Password: 585655

Or dial in to (312) 626-6799 or
Find your local number:

What is a gorgeous Spring day without a song of hope and joy? Insurgent Spring and Insurgent Humanity are joined at the root in this song, woven to fit the melody and rhymes of the socialist Internationale, while celebrating a more loving revolution:

The Earth Internationale                                                        

To hear the melody of the Internationale as sung in the original English version click here.

(New words by Rabbi Arthur Waskow)

Arise, ye prisoners of pollution;
Arise, ye poisoned of the Earth!
We dance to make a revolution—
A joyful world’s in birth!

No more the corporate smoke shall blind us,
We can hear the trees and oceans call --
Humankind amid Earth's breathing life-forms—
Together we are all!

As we face the crisis of all history,
Let us rise to heal our Place.
To save our deeply wounded planet
We must wake the human race!

[Creative Commons Copyright (c) by Rabbi Arthur Waskow 2018;

to be freely used with inclusion of this notice.]

Time to sing -- and to act. In this time  of Coronaplague, the Hyperwealthy are bailed out and the Plague is turned into a war against the American poor -- made to suffer even worse than usual:


Good yontif! And blessings for a May Day and months to come of joyful uprising --  Arthur

3 Eco-Responsive Inserts for your Seder

Between the Fires:
A Kavanah for Kindling Candles of Commitment

We are the generations

Who stand between the fires.

Behind us the fire and smoke
That rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima, 

Not yet behind us the burning forests of the Amazon,
torched for the sake of fast hamburger.

Not yet behind us the hottest years of human history
that bring upon us -- 
Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.
Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.
Before us we among all life-forms
face the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

To douse that outer all-consuming fire

We must light again in our own hearts 

the inner fire of love and liberation 

that burned in the Burning Bush --

The fire that did not destroy the Bush it burned in, 

For love is strong as death --

Love’s Fire must never be extinguished:

The fire in the heart of all Creation.  

 It is our task to make from inner fire
Not an all-consuming blaze

But the loving light in which we see more clearly
The Rainbow Covenant glowing

in the many-colored faces of all life.

       (By Rabbi Arthur Waskow)

 ### ### ###

Biblical Plagues

Contemporary Plague: Earthly Manifestation

Contemporary “Counter-Plague”: Liberatory Potential 

Water into Blood

Polluted, Undrinkable Waters and Mass Droughts, Super-Monsoons

Rainwater Catchments, Grey-Water Systems, Black-water systems. Reversing global scorching


Invasive Species and “Forever Plastics”

Treat “Forever Plastics” as invasive species. Stop making them. Isolate them from oceans and other vulnerable milieu.


Opioid Epidemic

Trauma Healing on Individual, Collective, Intergenerational and Ancestral Levels

Wild beasts

Species Extinction

Major expansion of Species Preservation Act & Reforestation

Pestilence of livestock

Factory Farming Industry

Reducing Beef Consumption, Buying Local, Forbidding Antibiotic Suffusion of Livestock


Exacerbated Spread of Disease; Coronavirus Pandemic

Free Healthcare  for All



Thunderstorm of hail and fire

Superstorms and Wildfires

Local Disaster Preparedness Networks and dissolution of energy monopolies.


Crop Failures.

Local, Organic Farms.


Failure to see and empathize with other humans & other life-forms; Mass Blackouts, Reliance on mass fossil fuel monopolies

Creation of empathic communities

Congregation-based & neighborhood- based Solar Cooperatives; Renewable energy grids




 (By Faryn Borella, Ira Silverman Memorial Intern for The Shalom Center)

### ### ### 

[On opening the door for Elijah to enter:] Here!  I [YHWH,  Yahhhh, InterBreath of life, Wind of change], will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the great and awesome day of Yahhhh, the InterBreath of Life. He shall turn the hearts of parents to children and the hearts of children to parents, so that, when I [YHWH, Yahhhh] come, I do not come as a Hurricane of destruction to strike the whole Earth with utter desolation. 

(Malachi 3: 23-24)

[Everyone says, in unison:]We welcome Elijah in our own midst, covenanting together that we ourrselves will joyfully take on the obligation to heal our wounded Earth and give new life to the future of the Human species by doing this one act: [wait for people to say out loud, one by one, what each will do).

April 14! -- Freedom Seder in this Plague Year

Tuesday evening, April 14, is the 7th night of Passover. Traditionally, it is the night to celebrate the ancient crossing of the Red (Reed) Sea, and there has been a tradition of Seders to honor that night.

This year, The Shalom Center will hold an on-line Seder specially written to address our crisis, facing the Eleventh Plague --  the Coronavirus Plague --  as well as other plagues of wounded Earth and Humankind.

We see this as another in the great line of spiritually rooted and creatively activist Seders that goes back to the Freedom Seder of 1969. 

Please save the date and time – 7 p.m. to about 9 p.m Eastern Time on Tuesday, April 14. We will be back in touch with you with more details, the link, etc. We will welcome freely offered contributions and we will freely welcome all who wish to take part  – as the Haggadah itself says, Let all who are hungry, all who are in need,  come and celebrate Pesach. We would add, all who are hungry for emotional, spiritual, and intellectual sustenance in this moment of crisis broad and deep.

With blessings of health restored, of freedom renewed, of Earth and Humankind closer to the Land of Promise, the Beloved Community --  Arthur

Gaia and Shekhina Speak: A Message from Mother Earth

[Arlene Goldbard, who wrote and painted the following essay, served for ten years as an amazingly adept President of The Shalom Center.  She is now our beloved President Emerita and continues to provoke new thought as a blogger. You can SUBSCRIBE FREE to her blog or post comments at her Website: – AW, ed.]

What can console us in the face of the Great Unknown? I thought I understood that safety was always an illusion: any of us could be struck down at any moment. But having the illusion of safety erased, that's uncertainty of another magnitude, so vastly out of proportion to the "normal," default reality that words can't do it justice.

Gaia and Shekhina Speak: Earth, Water, Fire, Air © Arlene Goldbard 2020

When I painted the first of these self-portraits in August—the one with my hair on fire—I had no idea it would add up to something much larger and more urgent, compelling me to share with you. I soon had the idea of depicting the remaining three elements: water, earth, and air.

I knew that my own face could stand in for the weathered face of Mother Earth. I knew there would be a stark contrast in each painting between the aging face and the wild energy of the element supporting it; between the lines and shadows and the relentless gaze. A few weeks before the pandemic began to make headlines, the texts written on the lower edge of each painting came to me.

But I didn't know till this week that something beyond my own hands had painted these pictures: the voices of Gaia and Shekhina.

In Greek mythology, Gaia is the feminine embodiment of life, the personification of Planet Earth. Her name has come to be central to ecological thinking since James Lovelock's 1979 book, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. It introduced "the Gaia hypothesis," asserting that all that exists on this planet is part of a complex dynamic system that sustains life on earth, that intervening in one part of that system inevitably affects the whole.

In Jewish spirituality, Shekhina is the imminent Divine Presence, the feminine aspect of the Divine. Because the ancient sacred texts are sorely lacking in direct address of the role of women in making and upholding the world as a holy vessel for life, in recent decades, Jewish teachers, especially women, have created new liturgy, practices, and understandings to right this omission as a path to healing the world.

I am not a Pollyanna. I have no more idea than anyone what this plague will bring: my inbox, like yours, is overflowing with best and worst-case scenarios, and like you, I will have to do my best to help while I wait and see which comes true.

I see this plague unmasking the terrible inequities of the modern world, in which the privileged bask in their advantages while the marginalized bear the brunt, in which a giant deranged baby rules in the White House. Whether he is merely blind to others' suffering or basking in it, I cannot say, but he seems determined to say and do the precisely worst thing at every turn, the thing that multiplies harm.

So many people are responding to this moment with compassion and generosity, even as some public officials and private corporations rush to profit from suffering, finding infinite ways to rationalize their greed. I am fearful, hopeful, obsessed, distracted, and each of these swirls into the next without a pause.

Yet the message brought to me by Gaia and Shekhina is this: while green life springs from the dust and birds course through the spring air, life abides. The spirit that sustained us to meet this moment can carry us into the next, if only we listen. I am choosing to listen. 

Yesterday an essay by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone came my way:

"The Sacred Meaning of COVID-19." It arrived just as I was thinking how to share these paintings, the best way to offer these images as a gift. She wrote this:

What if we understood KOVID-19—this horrific virulent virus (our ancestors would surely call it a plague)—as Shechinah’s formidable face showing up today to admonish us, correct us, love us back into our rightful place as creatures, not masters, of this earth?

"Shechinah's formidable face" is what I have tried to depict. If you find this image useful and want to share it for some noncommercial purpose, please contact me. You can also see it and more of my paintings at my website

May you be blessed with health and well-being, with ears to hear the voices of Gaia and Shekhina, with eyes to see both the suffering of the world and its beauty, with voice to speak out when needed, to comfort and console.

"Mother Earth" by Tracy Nelson.

READ ABOUT The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future and The Wave.

Welcome! Zoom Torah Conversations

Dear chevra, The point of this letter is to invite you into a five-evening once-a-week conversation about the Torah reading of that week, with me as guide and “weaver,” via Zoom. What follows is an explanation of why and how.

Last week I mentioned in my weekly Shalom Report that our Shabbos-morning one-hour Torah study that has for years been gathering in Philadelphia was now going to happen through what I call “distance reconnection” (NOT “social distancing” ) through Zoom. Several people wrote me asking whether they could join by Zoom.

I talked with the existing group, and they/ we agreed we would prefer to keep the group as intimate as it has been.AND – what emerged is that I should set up a separate group to examine a passage of the Torah portion of the week, not on Shabbat but earlier in the week – and in a different framework but using the same approach.

So I am inviting you to join in such a Zoom conversation that I “weave” rather than lead in conventional ways..

Here is the practice and process I am inviting you into:

1. I choose a passage from the weekly Torah that seems to me likely to engage our own lives. For example, I might choose the passage where ancient Israelites ae facing the Reed Sea ahead of them and Pharaoh’s Army close behind

2. I invite the community to search back into their/our own lives and each of us to bring to awareness a moment when they faced what seemed an impossible choice. Silently, each of us recalls how that felt: in our guts, our arms and legs, our heart, our breath.

3. After a very few minutes of silent lifting-up such a moment, I say in a midrashic English version and then in Hebrew the blessing over Torah-study in words that celebrate “Yahhh, Breath of Life” instead of “Adonai, Lord,” and “Ruach Ha’Olam, Breathing Spirit of the world,” instead of “Melekh, King of the world.”4. Then we read aloud in English, with different readers reading paragraph by paragraph around the “circle,” the passage I have chosen.  The passage is usually from the weekly portion. Sometimes I choose that week’s Haftarah instead; sometimes, as in the pre-Passover special Shabbats we are now in the midst of, it is a special reading traditionally set aside. 

(Last week, that special portion was about the “Red Heifer” ceremony to release a person who has been in contact with a dead body from the awe-struck, uncanny spiritual state of “tumah” into a more communal spiritual state. We connected it with the creation of “distance reconnection” as a response to the Coronavirus deadliness. And we took into awareness our own contacts with death.) 

If we are using a passage from the Five Books or a Haftarah from the Early Prophets that have been translated into English by Everett Fox, we read his translation, because in my view it is by far the best translation of the Hebrew Bible  into English. (The Five Books of Moses and The Early Prophets, both published by Schocken Books.)

5. Then we talk about the passage and about our lives. Our lives become part of Torah and the Torah becomes part of our lives. We talk in the worlds of emotion and Spirit as well as in the world of Intellect. I may add a thought and weave the conversation together. The D’var Torah that emerges is collective and multiflavored.

6. When an hour is up, we close with my sharing an embodied and somewhat midrashic version of Kaddish d’Rabbanan, the prayer that honors the holy process of learning and teaching.

, I welcome you to join with me in this process by Zoom for five Thursday evenings, from 7 pm to 9 pm  Eastern Time, starting Thursday evening MARCH 19. We will skip Thursday evening April 9 because it is the night of the Second Seder.  The evenings we will gather will be March 19 and 26, April 2, 16, and 23. 

Please click to the following link:

The total cost for taking part in these five Zoom conversations is $45 (paid to The Shalom Center, not to me). You can pay on-line. Once you have registered, we will send you the link for the Zoom Torah-study.

I look forward to joining with you!

Shalom, Arthur

Tu B'Shvat: Reforesting Earth to Heal Both Poverty & Climate

[Tu B'Shvat, the midwinter festival that marks the ReBirthDay of trees and of the Divine Tree of Life, begins this year on Sunday evening February 9 -- the Full Moon of the Jewish moonth of Shvat. Rabbi Gilah Langner, who wrote this article, serves as rabbi of Kol Ami congregation in Arlington, Virginia, and of the Shirat HaNefesh independent synagogue in the broader Washington DC area.  She was the founding publisher and co-editor of the journal Kerem: Creative Explorations in Judaism,You can write her at

[Here she proposes that we celebrate Tu B'Shvat and other moments in the Jewish year and llfe-cycle by contributing to massive reforestation in Africa -- addressing both deep poverty in the "Global South" and the need for all Earth and all Earth's species, including Humanity, to breathe again. Forests breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen -- helping to restore the balance that burning fossil fuels has broken. 

[This fusion of social justice and eco-sanity is an important theme of the Hebrew Bible. Even the mystical Tu B'Shvat had its roots in the date of tithing fruit when the Temple stood -- a tax to make sure that those who were too poor to own fruit trees could eat the fruits and nuts provided by social justice-. -  AW, Ed.]

 By Rabbi Gilah Langner

Here's a worthwhile opportunity to take action on climate change -- just in time for Tu B’Shvat.  As you probably know, planting trees can play a vital role in combating the climate crisis, but the numbers of trees that need to be planted is massive.  And trees need to be nurtured and watered after they’re planted.

Enter Trees for the Future, a Silver-Spring based nonprofit that – realistically -- aims to plant 500 million trees by 2025.  Trees for the Future has developed a Forest Garden approach, working with tens of thousands of family farmers in six African countries. Each Forest Garden involves planting and caring for an average of 4,000 trees per one-hectare farm. The Forest Gardens yield food for the families and regenerate the soil so that it, along with the trees, can sequester carbon.  

Meanwhile, farm families who are among the most vulnerable to climate impacts are being brought out of extreme poverty, and are learning "perma-gardening" techniques that will sustain food security for future generations. 


Shirat HaNefesh in the Washington DC area is hoping to mobilize Jewish communities across the country to fund a full project’s worth of 300 Forest Gardens in Senegal in 2020.  The idea is for synagogues to make tree planting in Africa a new priority – just like tree planting in Israel used to be.  In the process, we can connect our communities with the fate of the entire planet, helping African families and villages pull themselves out of hunger and poverty, while they, in turn, contribute to saving the planet.  Each Forest Garden costs $640, for a remarkably cost-effective 16 cents per tree.  Here are some ways to get involved: 

  • Ask participants in a Tu B'Shvat Seder to contribute for a $640 Forest Garden.
  • Funding a Forest Garden makes a beautiful Bar or Bat Mitzvah project or a Living Legacy for congregants' loved ones.  
  • Synagogues can commit to funding a certain number of Forest Gardens over the coming year, with a webpage devoted to their own challenge.  
  • To participate in the immediate Tu B'Shvat effort, please go to:
  • For more information on the organization's activities, watch the documentary: or browse the website:

Many thanks for being part of a Jewish response to the climate crisis. 

East Bay, Feb 3-10: Sacred Trees, Starhawk, Rabbis Waskow & Berman

 Earthy Events in the East Bay, February 3-10

 Monday Feb 3, 7pm @ Urban Adamah

Nature Tales of Joy and Wonder: Hebraic & Pre-Hebraic Stories of Earth, Sky & Ocean 
Rabbis Phyllis Berman & Arthur Waskow, and Starhawk

1151 6th St, Berkeley
Enjoy ancient and modern tales of earth, sky, and ocean with these master storytellers.
Tickets & Info –

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Israel / Palestine: Creating an Ethical Jewish Response
Rabbi Dev Noily facilitating,  Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Starhawk
Tuesday, Feb 4, 7pm @ Kehilla Community Synagogue
1300 Grand Ave, Piedmont
As Jews and allies, what does it mean to love Israel and hold it accountable for its actions? Join this community conversation, facilitated by Rabbi Dev Noily.
Tickets & Info - Share on FB

Earth and Spirit: A Multi-Faith Response to Climate Crisis
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rev. Dr. Ambrose Carroll (Green the Church), & Starhawk

Wednesday, Feb 5, 6:30pm-9:30pm @ St. John's Presbyterian Church
2727 College Ave, Berkeley
Join three powerful change-makers working at the intersection of climate activism and spirituality for an inspiring evening of song, ceremony, preaching, prayer, and community.
Tickets & Info - Share on FB

JeWitch Camp: Jews, Pagans & Those Who Love Them
Heaven Walker, Rabbis Phyllis Berman & Arthur Waskow and Starhawk

Friday-Sunday, Feb 7-9 @ Humanist Hall, Oakland

A rare opportunity to spend three days with these prophetic teacher-activists in JeWitchy community. A non-residential retreat/Shabbaton celebrating the Jewish New Year for Trees, including rituals, workshops, storytelling, song and delicious mealtime conversations. Includes a field trip to Wilderness Torah's Tu B'Shvat in the Forest, where we and our teachers will share camp's magic with the wider Jewish community.
Registration & Info - Share on FB
See for full teacher bios and additional info

Uprooting Antisemitism, Planting Resilience: A Tu B'Shvat Workshop
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Phyllis Berman and Friends
Monday, Feb 10, 2pm in Oakland - Address available upon registration
Commemorate the Jewish New Year for trees at the site of an Oakland tree that has been defaced with a swastika. We'll cultivate community, create amulets for protection, as well as develop and use ritual for transformation. When we're done, the swastika will be obscured by a community created symbol of our strength, love, and resilience.
Info & Registration-

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How did we get to the brink of an unconstitutional, world-shattering war against Iran, almost certainly far worse for the United States than the self-destructive war against Iraq?

And how did we get to the moment when the US Border Police started detaining and interrogating Iranian-Americans and confiscating their passports -- --  mostly US citizens, many US-born -- who were returning to their US homes after a major Iranian pop music concert in Vancouver? 

Four years ago, history seemed to be going the other way. In January 2016, The Shalom Center celebrated the peaceful achievement of an extraordinary agreement among the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Germany, the European Union, and Iran that put an absolute end to any effort Iran had been making to make nuclear weapons.

The essay we wrote is at, along with this note from Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky thanking us for mobilizing Jewish leadership to support the agreement despite the efforts by AIPAC (in accord with the Netanyahu government of Israel) to get Congress to torpedo the agreement.

The process by which the agreement was achieved pointed to the wisdom of one of the most powerful teachings of Jewish tradition about peacemaking. Traditionally, every evening Jews pray that YHWH, the Breath of Life, the Interbreathing Spirit of the world, the Wind of Change, will “Ufros alenu sukkat shlomekha  --  Spread over us the sukkah of Your shalom.

Why a sukkah  of shalom --  a Sukkah,  the flimsy hut with a leafy, leaky roof that is open to rain and wind -- rather than a fortress, a  palace, even a solidly built house?

Precisely because the Sukkah is so vulnerable. The tradition is teaching that one way to peace is for everyone to recognize that all of us are, each of us is, vulnerable. In order to choose the nuclear agreement, the Great Powers decided they were vulnerable to a possible Iranian nuclear arsenal. And the Iranian government decided their country was vulnerable to sanctions by the Great Powers. By sharing their vulnerabilities, they could agree on how to give all the parties shalom.

The agreement worked. Deeply intrusive inspections in Iran, agreed to by Iran as part of the agreement, showed Iran was adhering to its rules.

But a new US President, elected Constitutionally but undemocratically by a minority of the people, decided to smash the agreement. He may have been motivated by rage against former President Obama, both out of his own racism and because Obama had publicly humiliated him in a White House Correspondents’ dinner. Or by wanting to support Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, both of whom feared and hated Iran. Or by his own preference for bullying people into submission rather than negotiating with them. Or all three.

Result: After a year of trying to reestablish the agreement with European help, Iran began acting as if it didn’t exist. Reopening its nuclear facilities. The US jammed draconic sanctions down Iran’s throat, punishing its people for having elected a peace-seeking government and having thrown out a war-wishing political faction.  Iran responded by increasing its pressure in and on Iraq.

At home, Mr. Trump was experiencing more and more political pressure.  Impeachment is no joke. One of the most famous of political maxims came into play: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” (Samuel Johnson, said in April 1775 just as King  George’s troops were preparing the attacks that became the battles of Lexington and Concord). When the scoundrel finds his political fate still worsening, the ultimate advice comes into play: “War is the very last refuge of a scoundrel.”

Mr. Trump and his allies are already trying to make this reckless killing justification for opposing an open, impartial, and fact-based impeachment trial. But the opposite response would be wiser: That this unconstitutional, illegal act of war is another example of this President’s abuse of power.

 General Suleiman was no ordinary grunt, just following orders in the trenches. He had planned attacks on enemy soldiers and mercenaries, including Americans.  He may have been more violent than some important generals of other governments. He was certainly no worse than the Saudi Crown Prince – Mr. Trump’s pal -- who personally ordered the murder of a dissident journalist and politically has ordered the killing of tens of thousands of Yemenites, while crucial US help was being given by Trump despite Congressional efforts to end all US involvement.

And one of the main "charges" against General Suleiman -- that he commanded and organized the killing of hundreds of American soldiers -- seems to be about attacks on the US Army that President George W. Bush sent to invade, occupy, and conquer Iraq. Certainly a nonviolent resistance to that occupation would have been far preferable to what General Suleiman planned, AND --  the bloody hands responsible for the deaths of those American soldiers belong in the first case to Mr. Bush, who sent them to die in a war built on lies.

Many generals do their bloodshed with care not to explode an uncontrollable war that will kill tens of thousands and wash blood for decades into the future.  Sometimes clever generals even order disruptive action short of killing, as when Iraqi militias responded to US attacks that killed 25 of their soldiers with demonstrations at the US Embassy in Iraq that burned buildings but killed no one, and then withdrew.

The whole war system needs to be treated and cured as a lethal disease of humankind. But impulsive violent bullying is not the way to do that.

Impulsive violent bullying is what Trump did. 

He ignored the Constitution and the law requiring the permission of Congress to begin a war – let alone the United Nations Charter, treaty law that the Constitution says is also “the law of the land.” His Secretary of State is citing an alleged urgent danger that the Iranian general was plotting an attack against Americans. Thousands of them.

Really? What’s the evidence? As “truthful” as the lie that Iraq was hiding nuclear weapons, the lie that killed and maimed a million Iraqis and thousands of Americans? Where were and are these thousands of endangered Americans? Even SecState acknowledges this alleged plot was not to attack anyone on American soil. And various military officials are telling the US press that evidence of an impending attack was unclear and uncertain. There would have been plenty of time to take protective --  not aggressive -- action.

A story from 65 years ago: In graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, in a seminar led by Professor Howard K. Beale, we were studying the foreign policy of President Theodore Roosevelt, including his decision in 1907 to intimidate Japan by sending the US Navy – the “Great White Fleet” -- uninvited to its shores. Professor Beale asked us in his seminar, “What do you think was Japan’s response?”

I answered, “Pearl Harbor, almost 40 years later.” 

He whirled on me, astonished, even angry. “That is what my study of the Japanese archives shows. But you –- how did you know that?!”

“It just makes sense,” I said.  “No country, no government, likes being humiliated. Even if it takes 40 years –- "

 Now what? Iran threatens retaliation. By attacking oil tankers in the Gulf, disrupting the global economy as Iran’s economy has been disrupted?   By seeking to fire hundreds of missiles into Israel or Saudi Arabia, Trump’s allies? By slowly unfolding years of terror attacks against Americans without an Iranian label  -- perhaps cyber-attacks against American water supplies, electric power?  By assassinating, say, Prime Minister Netanyahu or Crown Prince MbS? By holding its anger tight and redoubling its work to create a nuclear arsenal? 

 Will the American people support this killing as “patriotic”?  And reward it by reelecting the President who ordered it? Or denounce it as unconstitutional, murderous, self-destructive, far too risky of many many deaths in a bully’s gamble for power?  And punish it by electing a President who will try to restore the denuclearization agreement with Iran – far harder to do now, after fear and distrust have been so intensified?

The answer, my friends, is “blowing in the Wind.” That sacred Wind, that Breath of Life, that comes alive when a great community, a steadfast People, breathes into life the Wind of Change.

By breathing its thoughts, our thoughts, out loud, and concerted. Just now, a phone call to your Senators and Congressperson would do that: 1202-224-3121. Your own feelings, your own words. Perhaps along these lines: "My name is Xxxx Yyyy, and I live in Qqqq. I am a constituent of yours. [If you have a defined religious or civic role in the community, you might mention it.] I am calling to urge that you speak out and vote to rebuke Mr. Trump for committing an act of war and risking a disaster far worse than the war against Iraq, without even consulting Congress, without obeying the Constitution and the law and the UN Charter. I urge you to demand public hearings on the claims that try to justify this act. And I urge you to take vigorous action to prevent a war against Iran. "

Says Psalm 34, “Seek peace and pursue it. Turn away from evil; do good.” The rabbis interpret: “Not only seek peace but pursue it, especially when it is running away from you. Not only turn away from evil, but take vigorous action for good.”  That wisdom rests on each of us, not only Congressmembers.

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace -- sohl [“Peace” in Farsi, the language of Iran]  --  Arthur

Days 5 & 6 of #Hanukkah8Days4Climate

[For resources by Faryn Borella and Rabbi Arthur Waskow on celebrating Hanukkah that can help us all to heal our wounded Earth, please see the Home Page of The Shalom Center at <> Faryn Borella is a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern at The Shalom Center. – AW, editor]

Day 5: Support the Green New Deal

Write and call (202-224-3121) your Congresspeople at the US Capitol or visit or call at their home offices during the week of Hanukkah and Christmas, asking for their support for the Green New Deal and the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act. See

“One day [the righteous man Choni]  was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree; he asked him, How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit? The man replied: Seventy years. He then further asked him: Are you certain that you will live another seventy years? The man replied: I found [ready grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me so I too plant these for my children.” -Babylonian Talmud Ta’anit 23b

As the story of Choni teaches us, we as Jews are called upon to be accountable in creating a livable world for future generations. However, the lives that many of us have been living and the systems of capitalism that we have bought into have done the exact opposite--our lives have supported the creation of conditions that render the world uninhabitable for future generations. And for this, we are being held to account by the younger generations.

The Sunrise Movement has burst onto the scene, a movement led by and for the younger generation that calls upon the global community to stop climate collapse and build for them and the ensuing generations a liveable future. And a core element of the ask they are making is political support for The Green New Deal.

As the Sunrise Movement explains on their website:

We need a Green New Deal to fight the climate crisis at the scale that scientists say is necessary. It’s a plan that would transform our economy and society at the scale needed to stop the climate crisis. It’s our fighting chance to actually stop this crisis -- for some of us, the first we’ve seen in our whole lives.

“We don’t have illusions of passing this with Donald Trump in the White House. He’s made it clear he’d rather do favors for his fellow billionaires than stopping climate change and fighting for working people. In 2019, we’ll build support for the Green New Deal in every corner of the country and cement it as a litmus test for every politician seeking the Presidency. Then, in 2020, we will unite by the millions to defeat corrupt politicians and the fossil fuel billionaires who aid them, and we’ll elect a President and Congress who will make the Green New Deal law in 2021.”

Therefore, for the fifth day of Hanukkah, we are asking you to respond to the call by the younger generation to ask that the Green New Deal and the Green New Deal for Public Housing be a priority on the legislative and campaign agenda by writing letters to and/or calling your representatives and asking them for their vocal and unwavering support.

For more information on the Green New Deal and the asks of the Sunrise Movement, see the resources that they have collected here:

Day 6: Power down for Shabbat, just as our forebears did, by limiting use of gasoline, electronics, and electricity for 25 hours.

“Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of YHWH [Yaahhh/ HaShem/ Breathing Spirit of all life]  your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, or your beast, or the stranger who is within your gates. For in six days YHWH [Yaahhh/ HaShem/ Breathing Spirit of all life] made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore YHWH blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

"The seventh day is Shabbat-pausing for YHWH your God; you are not to do any work ,. . .   in order that your male and female servant may rest as one-like-yourself. You are to bear-in-mind that serf you were in the Tight and Narrow Land. But YHWH took you out from there with a strong hand and an arm-outstretched-to-sow-seed.  Therefore YHWH commands you to observe the day of Shabbat.” (Deut. 5: 13-15)

“To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence of external obligations, a day on which we stop worshipping the idols of technical civilization, a day on which we use no money, a day of armistice in the economic struggle with our fellow men and the forces of nature. Is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for man's progress than the Sabbath?” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath)

On Shabbat, we are commanded to rest, for two different reasons given by two different ancient teachings:

One teaching says that this day of rest marks the truth that the very creation and continuity of the cosmos rests on the rhythm of Doing/ Making and Resting /Being.

The other sacred teaching is that through the Pause for Shabbat we make sure that no one is enslaved; for to be able to rest means to be free.  And this rest, God makes clear, is not only for us, but for all for whom we assume responsibility and for all whose labor benefits us.

Three thousand years later, Heschel adds many other implications of why Shabbat is crucial, including the celebration of peace among human beings and between Humanity and Earth.

In our day, the complex web of labor is hard to untangle, but one thing is clear -- in order to maintain the lifestyle that people have come to expect in this economy, there is no rest for some people, and there is no rest for Earth. No rest for people means that, as the Deuteronomy text teaches, that some are enslaved. And Earth is enslaved. But both people and Earth rebel against slavery. 


Among people, that rebellion takes the forms of both despair and resistance: nightmarish outbursts of addictions, suicides, fascism -- and uprisings of Spirit yearning for Shabbat and freedom, like the Sunrise movement. For Earth, it means plagues like the ones we remember that were brought  on by Pharaoh. 


Earth is constantly being mined for resources, and people are being asked to perpetually do that mining. Earth no longer gets a shabbat, even though the precedent for Shabbat is derived from Earth's very creation. Can we use shabbat as an opportunity to divest from consumption? - -to give Earth a brief respite from this labor, and to learn from this brief moment how to free Earth from slavery and release it from the rebellion of disastrous upheavals? And how to free ourselves -- all of us  -- from enslavement to addictive consuming, breathless overwork, and frightening disemployment? 

It has become common practice within Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities to cease to use technology on Shabbat. And much of this is based on the types of labor that Jewish Law outlaws on Shabbat. It is outlawed to drive cars or turn on and off lightbulbs, for this requires ignition of a fire. It is outlawed to use electricity, for it potentially completes a circuit. It is outlawed to use computers or phones, for it breaks the prescription against writing.

However, there is something deeper to taking a shabbat from technology -- to opting out of the consumption of fossil fuels inherent in technological use. It gives us space to glimpse a world in which our very survival is not dependent upon these mechanisms to the extent that we believe they are. It allows us to see what is expedient vs. what is necessary. It gives us more choice as to how and when we consume -- how and when we utilize resources that Earth will never get back.

So for this Shabbat of Hanukkah, we invite you to try on the practice. Try limiting your use of technology for the day. Choose not to use your car, but rather walk, bike and stay local. Choose to not minimize your use of electricity, and perhaps have your home illuminated by candle-light. Choose not to use your phone and computer, but rather spend time face-to-face with loved ones or communing with the very Earth that undergirds the functioning of all of these things. And see how this practice transforms you.

Giving Thanks, Arlo Guthrie, & My 1st Yarmulke

A Ritual of Joyful, Thankful  Resistance

Dear friends, Just five minutes before noon today, I will take part in a wonderful ritual. One of the members of a men’s group that began 30 years ago – - Jeffrey Dekro, founder of the Isaiah Fund – will call me and the other men's group members to remind us to turn on our radios. He has been doing this, year after year on Thanksgiving Day, for almost all those thirty years.

And every year, for about a decade, I have been writing you to retell this story. So welcome once again to our Thanksgiving ritual.


 Every year at noon on Thanksgiving, WXPN Radio in Philadelphia (and many other radio stations around the country) play Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” about a Thanksgiving dinner in Stockbridge Mass. in 1967; about obtuse cops; and about nonviolent resistance to a brutal war.

 And every year, this seemingly non-Jewish set of rituals stirs in me the memory of a moment long ago when my first puzzled, uncertain explorations of the “Jewish thing” inside me took on new power for me. The moment when I came to understand the power of a yarmulke.

By now it is a tradition for me to retell the Yarmulke story every Thanksgiving. It carries deeper meaning this year, as we build a new Resistance, than it has for decades.

In 1970, I was asked by the Chicago Eight to testify in their defense. They were leaders of the movement to oppose the Vietnam War, and they had been charged by the Nixon Administration and Attorney-General John Mitchell (who turned out to be a criminal himself – see under “Watergate”) with conspiracy to organize riot and destruction during the Chicago Democratic National Convention in 1968. 

 I had been an alternate delegate from the District of Columbia to the Convention – elected originally as part of an anti-war, anti-racist slate to support Robert Kennedy. After he was murdered, we decided to nominate and support as our “favorite son” the chairperson of our delegation – Rev. Channing Phillips (may the memory of this just and decent leader be a blessing), a Black minister in the Martin Luther King mold.

 Our delegation made him the first Black person ever nominated for President at a major-party convention. The following spring, on the first anniversary of Dr. King’s murder, on the third night of Passover in 1969, his church hosted the first-ever Freedom Seder. (Its 50thanniversary came this past spring. We held it in a mostly African-American mosque -- probably a first in history! -- and among a dozen transformative speakers was the Reverend William Barber. Now we are at work on a book of many essays by many remarkable authors entitled How to Liberate your Passover Seder: A Handbook. 

 AND – back to 1968 -- besides being an elected delegate, I had also spoken the first two nights of the Convention to the anti-war demonstrators at Grant Park, at their invitation, while the crowd was being menaced by Chicago police and the National Guard. This is what the demonstration looked like, clustered nonviolently in the park: 

Across the street were the police and the National Guard, poised to attack. Scary to watch them.   

 On "Bloody Wednesday," the third night of the Convention, the police – not the demonstrators – finally did explode in vicious violence.


Although the main official investigation of Chicago described it as a “police riot,” the Nixon Administration decided to indict the anti-war leaders. So during the Conspiracy Trial in 1970, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger, Abby Hoffman, and the other defendants figured I would be reasonably respectable (as a former delegate) and therefore relatively convincing to the jury and the national public, in testifying that the anti-war folks were not trying to organize violence but instead were the victims of police violence.

 As the trial went forward, it became clear that the judge – Julius Hoffman, a Jew – was utterly subservient to the prosecution and wildly hostile to the defense. (Some of us thought he had become possessed by the dybbuk of Torquemada, head of the Inquisition. --- How else could a Jew behave that way? We tried to exorcise his dybbuk. It didn’t work.)

 Judge Hoffman browbeat witnesses, ultimately literally gagging and binding Bobby Seale, the only Black defendant, for challenging his rulings – etc. Dozens of his rulings against the Eight were later cited by the Court of Appeals as major legal errors, requiring reversal of all the convictions the prosecution had achieved in his court.

 So when I arrived at the Federal court-house in Chicago, I was very nervous. About the judge, much more than the prosecution or my own testimony.

 The witness who was scheduled to testify right before me was Arlo Guthrie. 

 In Grant Park, among the antiwar demonstrators pictured above, Arlo had sung “Alice’s Restaurant,” a joy-filled, funny song about resistance to the Vietnam War and to the draft, and about the perverted priorities of "justice" in America. In 1968 the song was only a few a few years old, but millions knew it. 

 Why did the defense want to call Arlo as a witness? To show the jury that there was no incitement to violence in it.

o William Kunstler, z’l, the lawyer for the defense, asked Guthrie to sing “Alice’s Restaurant” so that the jury could get a direct sense of the event.

 But Judge Hoffman stopped him: “You can’t sing in my courtroom!”

 “But,” said Kunstler, “it’s evidence of the intent of the organizers and the crowd!”

 For minutes they snarled at each other. Finally, Judge Hoffman: “He can SAY what he told them, but NO SINGING.”

 And then – Guthrie couldn’t do it. The song, which lasts 18 minutes, he knew by utter heart, having sung it probably more than a thousand times – but to say it without singing, he couldn’t. His memory was keyed to the melody. And maybe Judge Hoffman’s rage helped dis-assemble him

 So he came back to the witness room, crushed.

And I’m up next. I start trembling, trying to figure out how I can avoid falling apart

I decide that if I wear a yarmulke, that will strengthen me to connect with a power Higher/ Other than the United States and Judge Hoffman. (Up to that moment, I had never worn a yarmulke in a non-officially “religious” situation. I had written the Freedom Seder in 1969, but in 1970 I was still wrestling with the question of what this weird and powerful “Jewish thing” meant in my life.)

So I tell Kunstler I want to wear a yarmulke, and he says – “No problem.” Somewhere I find a simple black unobtrusive skull-cap, and when I go to be sworn in, I put it on.

For the oath (which I did as an affirmation, as indicated by much of Jewish tradition), no problem.

Then Kunstler asks me the first question for the defense, and the Judge interrupts. “Take off your hat, sir,” he says.

Kunstler erupts. – “This man is an Orthodox Jew, and you want – etc etc etc.” I am moaning to myself, “Please, Bill, one thing I know I’m not is an Orthodox Jew.” But how can I undermine the defense attorney? So I keep my mouth shut.

Judge Hoffman also erupts: “That hat shows disrespect for the United States and this Honorable Court!” he shouts.

“Yeah,” I think to myself, “that’s sort-of true. Disrespect for him, absolutely. For the United States, not disrespect exactly, but much more respect for Something Else. That’s the point!”

 They keep yelling, and I start watching the prosecutor – and I realize that he is watching the jury. There is one Jewish juror. What is this juror thinking?

Finally, the prosecutor addresses the judge: “Your Honor, the United States certainly understands and agrees with your concern, but we also feel that in the interests of justice, it might be best simply for the trial to go forward."

 And the judge took orders!! He shut up, and the rest of my testimony was quiet and orderly

It took me another year or so to start wearing some sort of hat all the time –- a Tevye cap or a beret or an amazing tall Tibetan hat with earflaps and wool trimming, or a multicolored Jamaican cap with a zippered pocket (probably originally for dope; I used it to play Yankee Doodle with my grandchildren: "Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni!"). Or a rainbowy yarmulke, like this:

 And whatever its shape or color, the hat continues to mean to me that there is a Higher, Deeper Truth in the world than any judge, any boss, any Attorney-General, any President, or any Pharaoh.

 It’s my – our – “Alice’s Restaurant.” Or maybe “Alice’s Restaurant” is Arlo’s yarmulke. And not only Arlo’s, but the yarmulke for all of us.

Let us face the truth – This Thamksgiving, we have In theWhite House itself a rhetoric and policy rooted in white nationalism. It has poured a fire of hate across America. Latinx, Blacks, women, Muslims, Jews, GLBTQ people, refugees, news reporters, even the Earth itself, have felt the fires.  In California, the fires have been physical, and murderous. Elsewhere, the fires have been words that beckoned murder – as in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. 

 That combination -- racist hate in major speeches, incitements to street violence -- has a well-known pedigree. When a society has lost its way, when its accustomed imperial army is failing and yet is eating up the country's own substance like a cancer, when a rising proportion of its people feel left out economically and culturally, and when demogogues define as traitorous enemies "the wetbacks," "the slant-eyes," "the kikes," "the niggers," "the ragheads," “the nasty, uppity women,” “the fake-news press,” the “lying scientists,” the "human scum" of Congressional leaders -- we are in the presence of a neo-fascist movement.  

 It will take concerted resistance and the sprouting of a new America of joyful solidarity to meet this challenge

 Resistance to what? Carbon Pharaohs. Billionaire election-buyers. Racist politicians. Hate-mongers in the White House, sending the Army to fire on bedraggled refugee families.

 And what is a New America? From the bottom up: 

 Neighborhood solar-energy coops. Public gatherings of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists -- Black, Hispanic, Native, Asian, Euro -- to pray, sing, meditate, and vigil together. Sanctuaries for refugees. Schools, colleges, and universities that celebrate Black songs, Black poetry, Black wisdom, Black visionaries. Release from prison of nonviolent drug offenders, and active groups working for the full rehabilitation of "returned citizens." The Dreamers. Hundreds of Jews going to jail explicitly on a Jewish holy fast day, Tisha B'Av, to defend refugees and immigrants from White house cruelty.  Sanctuary cities. Indigenous communities defending ther sacred lands and teaching the rest of us about nurturing the sacred Earth -- and at last, being listened to, after centuries of being ignored. High-school kids defiantly sitting-in at the office of the Speaker, demanding an Earth that will not kill them. Cities and states that enforce a $15 minimum wage, with automatic cost-of-living increases. #MeToo as women take on an ingrained rape culture that has its hero in the White House, and as hundreds of women run for public office for the first time – and win. “Fusion politics” and a national campaign for moral renewal by the Poor People’s Campaign. Boycotts of global corporations that escape US taxes by pretending to "move" overseas. Demands for Medicare for All. Massive civil disobedience in the very halls of Congress to demand public financing of election campaigns.

At the "top" of the pyramids of power, it is the worst of times. At the grass-roots "bottom," it is the best of times. 

 So the Arlo Guthrie story speaks today in a stronger voice than it has for decades.

 So I invite you to celebrate Thanksgiving (or if you are too busy today, tomorrow -- on the “second day of the Festival”) by thanking the Spirit that calls us to resist those who wound our world and to celebrate those who work to heal it; by lifting your own spirit and encouraging your own commitment to freedom, peace, laughter, and nonviolence. 

For Arlo’s recording of “Alice’s Restaurant” for our own generation with an audience joining in, click to

 And if you take joy and sustenance in the work The Shalom Center does –- including this way of celebrating ritual as joyful social action and turning social action into joyful ritual –- then please make a (tax-deductible) donation by clicking on the maroon “Contribute” banner just below.

Thanks!  And blessings of a joyful Giving Thanks not only today, but as we keep moving, building a multifaceted movement to create a new and deeper, fuller, democratic America. ---   Arthur



[Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Rabbinical Student Faryn Borella are working together on the year-long Shalom Center program of #Holy Days4Climate. Faryn is the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern for The Shalom Center. For the next several weeks, as we approach the darkest days of the ear,  we will focus on #Hanukkah8Days4Climate  -- the Festival of Lights.]

We hope to inspire Jewish activism on the climate crisis in tune with the festival cycle. The next Festival is #Hanukkah8Days4Climate, which begins with the first candle Sunday evening December 22 and runs through the evening of Monday Dec 30. (The eighth candle is Sunday evening.) 

We light those eight candles to honor the ancient legend that enough Oil for one day’s sacred use to heal the desecrated Temple lasted for eight days. “A Miracle!” says the story in the Talmud:  “God conserved energy to meet the sacred needs of God’s people to heal God’s Temple.”

Learning from this legend, how do we meet our sacred need to heal our desecrated Temple Earth?  By conserving sacred energy in our own way. By lighting and warming our own lives with wind and sunlight.

 How do we draw on the symbols and practices of Hanukkah to do that?

 We suggest drawing on the Eight Days of Hanukkah like this:

Is Burning the World Impeachable?

 Part 2 of "IMPEACHMENT: Constitutional, Moral, or Spiritual?"

[See Part 1 on the right-hand column of this Home Page. --  AW, editor]

For the human species and a million others now imperiled, our present crisis is meta-Constitutional. The present President has taken many actions to subsidize and support the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are burning the Earth -- what Pope Francis called our common home. But those actions do not violate any explicit provision of the US Constitution.

But in any sane world, risking the extinction of the human race would be the Highest conceivable of High Crimes and Misdemeanors. Claiming that there is no climate crisis, that it is all a hoax, does not exonerate him – even if he believes It. Claiming that bullets do not kill, that shooting someone dead is not a criminal act because the claim that bullets kill is a hoax, does not exonerate a murderer.

Action Guide for Climate Healing -Part 1

[This Guide to an activist celebration of #Sukkot4Climate Healing was written by Faryn Borella. She is a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern at The Shalom Center. The Guide is intendedd to support groups of Jews and memberss of other religious, spirituaal, and ethical groups who joiin in celebrating Sukkot, the Jewish Harvest Festival tht traditionally welcomes participation by all communities that seek to honor, protect, and justly share Earth's abundance. In our generation, this includes insisisting on public policies to heal Earth and Humanity from the climate crisis. What follows is Part 1 of the Action Guide. Part 2, which offeers more deatil on the ritualss of Sukkot and their signifocance, will follow tomorrow. -- AW, editor]


1.Building Relationships

The most essential aspect of organizing an effective direct action is being in relationships of trust with those with whom you are taking action. Take time to get to know and build relationships with your team.

Assigning Roles:

Figure out who will be playing what roles leading up to the execution of the action. Such roles include:

Activist, Organizer, Coordinator, Campaigner


Researchers: to learn about the target and gather facts for the campaign.

Scouting the site or route

Outreach and organizing

Logistics and support

Meeting facilitator

Ritual Prep

Artists, Painters, Sewers to make props, signs, banners, political theatre, etc.

Media outreach: Send out media advisory and media release

Media kits: write, gather and photocopy contents.

Writers: write materials, flyers, media kit contents, web site, etc.

2. Building alliances

The communities most impacted by climate change are the ones that are already marginalized and disenfranchised, and these communities have often also been on the cutting edge of climate justice struggles. Therefore, who can you build alliances within this action? What groups in your area are already engaged in climate justice work? What are interfaith organizing coalitions with whom you can partner? What are the indigenous collectives in your area, and how can you encourage their leadership?  

3. Identifying your Target

What congressperson is your target, and why? What is their record on climate justice initiatives? Where is there local office, and what do you need to know the effectively pull off an action at that location? Make sure to effectively scout the location.

4.Devising an Action Plan

What do you want to happen during your action? Where do you want to begin, and where do you want to end? Do you want to remain outside the building,  or do you want to go inside, either the office or the lobby? What is your main tactic? Picketing? Locking down? Sit-in? What is your demand? What level of risk are you willing to take?

 5. Outreach

Who do you want to take part in this action? Is it open to the public, or will it be carried out by a smaller group of trusted allies? Will only Jews be participating, or will you be inviting participation and leadership of other interfaith and indigenous groups?

6.Ritual Design

What do you want your specific Sukkot Ritual to look like? What ritual items do you want to bring with you? Will you have a traditional lulav, or one made from the materials of your local environment? See our list of ritual resources later in this document for ideas.

7. Assign roles for each person during the action, as well as roles that need to be held after the action is completed.  Such roles could include:


People risking arrest: intending to risk arrest and commit civil disobedience

Direct Support People: risking arrest by staying with those locked down as long as possible and necessary and providing a human shield to those locked down

Ritual Leaders: Who will be leading chant? Leading song? Giving speeches? Benching lulav and etrog.

Police Liaison: maintains communication between police and demonstrators.

De-escalators: another “layer” of human shield protection for the demonstration, specializing in nonviolent de-escalation techniques.

Media spokesperson: delivers crisp, 6-second sound bites to hungry reporters.

Media outreach: stays back in the office faxing press releases and making outreach calls.

Communication team: helps “clusters” of affinity groups stay in touch.

Demonstrators/Sign-holders/Chanters/Singers/ Hand out literature etc.

Videographer(s): to document the action and provide images to media.

Still photographer: to document the action and provide images to media.

Live Streamer: to livestream the action to Facebook/Instagram/etc. While it is happening.

Medic/EMT/Medical Team: deal with emergency health issues of participants.

Legal Observer(s): observes the police action, paying close attention to police violence.

Jail Support Contact person: the person on the “outside” who we call to update.

For lock-downs: an off-site key holder 



Legal Support to help the people in jail and coordinate with lawyers, if necessary

Lawyer: provides support and information about our choices, if necessary.

Documentarian/Historian/Archivist: keep track of the paperwork and footage.

Fundraisers: To raise money to pay for legal fees, if necessary

Public speakers: to be in contact with the media after the action.

 8. Contacting the Media

Let the media know what is happening, and when and where to be. Write a press release to be released during the action.

9. Collect supplies

What ritual objects do you need to effectively pull of this action? Do you want to have an art build to make posters, signs and banners prior to the action? And how do you want to transport all your supplies to the action? Example supplies include:

  • Lulav and etrog
  • Other ritual objects
  • Megaphone and/or portable sound system
  • Song/ritual sheets
  • Flyers about the action to hand to passers-by 
  • Banners and Signs
  • Any supplies you might need to execute a higher-risk tactic (lockboxes, chains, etc.)


  1. Meet at a central gathering place, potentially your local synagogue, its sukkah, or the park. Engage in grounding rituals to bring everyone together
  2. March to your target destination. Depending on your action plan, either set up inside, outside or both.
  3. Engage in your action script. This should include Sukkot ritual, such as building a temporary sukkah, benching lulav and etrog, inviting in the ancestors, chanting Hoshanah, petitions for intervention, and more (more information on these rituals below.) It could also include theater, songs, chants, making demands, and refusing to leave the premises.
  1. Throughout this time, you should try to have someone/people leading the ritual, someone livestreaming, someone taking photo, someone taking video, someone/people deescalating angry customers, staff, someone liasing with the media and someone liasing with the police, if present (see roles above).
  1. If you are refusing to leave, announce this intention.
  2. Make sure the action ends in a way that people feel unified, with a closing song or ritual together.


  1. If people were arrested, contact your legal team and keep them updated on the situation.
  2. Find which station those arrested were brought to and make sure people are there, with snacks, for when they get out.
  3. Raise money for legal funds.
  4. Make sure to de-brief with your whole team. What went well? What can you celebrate? What did you learn for next time?
PART 2 of this Action Guide will follow tomorrow. It will focus on the specific ritual aspects of the Sukkot action.

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

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

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

Arrested! While Blocking ICE in Philadelphia

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

"Disloyal Jew"

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

"Disloyal Jew"

By Reb Irwin Keller

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

Yesterday, the American Jewish Community  crossed an extraordinary threshold.

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

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

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

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

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

How did this change begin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It begins this way, chanted in Eicha trope:

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

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

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

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

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

 Wetlands sigh without their song birds,

Estuaries grieve;

The sea is embittered.

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

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

Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love, Arthur

Mourning Mother Earth -- And Healing Her

This letter ends with a specific proposal for multireligious action on climate that draws on Tisha B’Av (a Jewish day of mourning, explained below, that can be universal in its meaning) to be held on Friday, August 9. Please write me at if you are interested in organizing or joining in such an action. And feel free to share this with others whom you think might be interested. Thanks and shalom, Arthur

Mourning Mother Earth -- And Healing Her

Dear friends, As I often do, I want to begin with the spiritual roots of a religious practice, and then move to the flowering from those roots in the form of spiritually nourished political action. In this case, action to heal Earth. Action rooted in Tisha B'Av, the sacred Jewish day of mourning/ healing.  

 That sad day flowers in healing Mother Earth.  And does it by bringing together the energy of youth and elders as the Prophet Malachi teaches -- together supporting the Green New Deal. 

The traditional Jewish day of mourning and fasting for the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem –- twice destroyed by arrogant empires --  comes on the ninth day of the scorching midsummer lunar month of Av. In Hebrew, that is Tisha (Ninth) B’Av.) This year, that day falls on Shabbat --  Friday evening August 9 to Saturday evening August 10. Since mourning is prohibited on Shabbat, this year the day will be observed on the following day --  Saturday night and Sunday.  But for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, I suggest that part of the observance might happen the day before –- during the day on Friday, August 9.

There are two major aspects to observing Tisha B’Av: reading the Book of Lamentations (known in Hebrew as Eicha, which can mean “How!” or “Alas!”) and for 25 hours fasting from food, water, wearing leather shoes and other luxurious clothes, anointing one’s self with fragrance, joining in sexual pleasure, and learning Torah (except for sad passages and commentaries on Eicha).

At first glance, it would seem that Tisha B’Av is perhaps the most narrowly Jewish of all the sacred days. It seems to deal with a catastrophe that affected only the Jewish people. But an ancient rabbi, 2000 years ago, used a word-play in Hebrew to suggest that in some ways it could be seen as a profoundly universal experience. The rabbi asked, "When was the first Eicha? And answered: In the Garden of Eden, when God asked – –  ‘Ayekka, Where are you?’ “ The word-playay is that in Hebrew the two words have the same consonants, and are distinguished only by their vowels.

So through this midrash, almost a joking pun but very serious, the rabbi was saying that all of humankind went into exile from the Garden of abundance and delight. The original Temple of all humanity was shattered by our own arrogant action. (Notice that in this illustration, the human race is moving from a luscious Garden onto a harsh and stony path.) 


What was the arrogance of Eden? The sacred Voice, speaking on behalf of Reality, had told us that there was a world of extraordinary abundance; that we should joyfully eat of it; but that we must restrain ourselves, not gobble it all up. But we did not restrain ourselves, and so the abundance vanished and in consequence, we were to work always with the sweat pouring down our faces to make barely enough food for us to eat, because Earth would give forth mostly thorns and thistles.

So the parable of Eden was a warning not to gobble up all of Earth’s abundance, not to shatter the sacred Temple of all life forms, lest all Humanity become refugees. Exiles from Earth. 

What does this mean? That we are spiritual exiles, not only geographic refugees. We are alienated from our Mother, treating her like an object, not a beloved. Acting in I-It mode, treating her as It -- not a Thou of direct and intimate relationship. 

The human species has often ignored the teaching. Nine years ago, the oil company BP would not restrain itself in probing the Gulf of Mexico for oil. Its arrogance killed eleven of its own workers and poisoned many life-forms of the Gulf. 


And that was only one small piece of the devastation we are bringing on ourselves by burning fossil fuels, flooding our atmosphere with CO2.


Nine years ago, The Shalom Center joined with hundreds of people  on the steps of the US Capitol --  Jews, Christians, secular environmentalists, ordinary Americans aghast at the deaths imposed by BP’s arrogance – deaths of human beings and of fish and seabirds in the Gulf, economic disasters among the businesses and workers dependent on the Gulf’s abundance.  On the Capitol steps we chanted an English version of Eicha --  Eicha for Earth, we called it --   that The Shalom Center had commissioned Tamara Cohen (now Rabbi) to write. We sang songs from the Song of Songs, songs of love to Mother Earth. We blew the shofar (ram’s horn) of warning and alarm.  We wailed. We protested a government that had done far too little to prevent the disaster.

Nine years later, the present US government is not merely dragging its feet from protecting and healing Planet Earth. It is actively pursuing the destruction of our planet, in order to maximize the already Hyper-Wealthy profits of Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Unnatural Gas.

Whether in Washington DC or in the home offices of Senators and Representatives who are accomplices in the arson of Earth, or at the branches of banks like Wells Fargo that are financing Modern Carbon Pharaohs to bring Plagues upon us, or in the offices of Exxon and the other Big Oil pharaohs, we could gather on Friday afternoon August 8, the Friday before Tisha B’Av. Why then instead of Sunday? Because on Friday afternoon the offices will be open. 

We could chant Eicha for Earth and make a covenant with each other to work for the Green New Deal.  To work to restore the healthy, healing climate, the life-breath of our forebears. And wherever possible, to do as Malachi teaches -- turn the hearts of Elders to the Youth (Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion) and the hearts of Youth to Elders, working together "lest Earth be utterly destroyed. "

 (Some Jewish communities have chosen to focus this Tisha B'Av on the refugees whom our government is tormenting, not welcoming. An entirely legitimate midrashic direction to take this Tisha B'Av. They have chosen to enter into companionship with refugees. Both aspects of alienation and exile under pressure of tyrannical subjugation deserve attention and resistance this summer. The burning Earth has received less attention -- and I believe needs more.)

Please write me at if you are interested in organizing or joining in such an action.

Or if you can’t do a Friday public action, you might share these concerns with your friends, your congregation, in two hours together that Friday evening or Saturday that are the real Ninth of Av. Perhaps reading Eicha for Earth along with the Prophetic passage Hazon – Vision! – for that Shabbat. Sharing not the fast but our words, our breath, reading and speaking of the wounded, burning Temple Earth of our own time.  Of what we can do to save her.

Eicha for Earth and an entire service that celebrates Earth and mourns its destruction are at

It begins this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Wetlands sigh without their
Estuaries grieve; the sea is embittered. song birds,

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

Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, hadesh yameinu kekedem.

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

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

Please write me at if you are interested in organizing or joining in such an action.

Please help The Shalom Center keep reaching out to you, with you, to help you breathe Spirit into Action, Action into Spirit. Please click on the “Contribute” button in the left-hand margin of this page.

May we in this way join our own breath with YHWH, the Breath of Life that is now gasping, “I can’t breathe!”--  to help us all breathe easy in the Shabbos breeze --  Arthur

Sending Soap etc to Kids in Cages, via Congressfolk

 Yesterday afternoon I sent a note to you-all about going in groups to US Senators & Representatives, bringing them packets of soap and toothpaste and toothbrushes, and demanding that they carry them IN PERSON to the prisons where refugee children are being held in medically dangerous unsanitary cages --  demanding THEY go because we would not be allowed in but the political pressure of their going would be important, whether or not they were admitted. 

In the rush of getting the idea out, I aimed at the idea itself, in the fewest possible words to make clear the what-to-do, without any explanation of where or why to me it seems so valuable or how or by whom it began – leaving all that to the next step.   In fact, I think how it emerged was important. It was put forward by Rev. Jean Erb, one of the beloved participants in P’nai Or of Philadelphia’s Torah conversation group that meets every Shabbos before davening. 

 The Torah conversation began with the question of how fear or caution inhibits us from taking action that feels right, connected with the Torah story of the spies or scouts whom Moshe sent to scout out the land of Canaan, and how their report scared off the People of Israel from moving forward.  Out of that focus on when, how, and with good wisdom or not we may let fear or caution --  a positive or a negative word for what may be the same response – to shape our actions came Jean Erb’s thought about how to have an effect on the immediate issue of the concentration camps while doing so in ways that point to the deeper illness. 

I quoted Howard Zinn as having said that every once in a while, a lightning flash lights up the truth of the world we live in. The lightening flash lasts only for an instant, but if we are alert enough we can help ourselves and others stay awake to the fuller truth that was visible in that moment.  The kids-in-cages lightening flash can reveal fuller truths about our government and our society.  The lightening flash can show us, remind us, who holds power in and defines the shape of our society – and where to aim change. 

 What seemed and seems to me brilliant about Jean Erb’s proposal is that it connects the simplest acts of face-to-face love and caring --  toothpaste, for God’s sake!! --  with the need to challenge those in power to act  -- Justice, for God’s sake! 

Indeed, what came to my mind as I thought about her proposal was the beginning of Psalm 101 --  “Chesed u’mishpat ashira, l’cha YHWH azamaira  -- Of Love and Justice I will sing;  To you, Breath of Life, I’ll sing praises.” ---   a song by Rabbi David Shneyer that in 1971 was the first song of Jewish renewal that I learned. (David sang “Adonai,” not “Breath of Life.”) 

Love AND Justice. And the sacred Breath of Life, the Holy One.

So part of the wisdom that rose up in and from Jean Erb was, I think, the outcome of the process itself, and how we can engage with Torah in such ways as to take our own lives into it, and invite it into our own lives. 

Having said all that, let me go back to the proposal:

Sending Soap etc to Kids in Cages, via Congressfolk

 Groups of people – ideally at least ten, a minyan, but not necessarily – get together for the following action: 

 Each member makes a small packet of sanitary, health-giving items for kids – toothpaste, soap, etc.

They agree on a time, and if possible make an appointment (if not,  go anyway) , to visit the home-district office of each of their Senators and Member of the House of Representatives (regardless of party or previous position on the immigration issue). They intend to hand that Congressperson a bundle of these packets and demand that s/he take the packets  IN PERSON to one of the children’s prisons and PERSONALLY give these items to the kids.  

 The group decides ahead of time whether all, none, or some will risk arrest by refusing o leave the office until they get a promise the Congressperson will do just that. They practice who will speak, how, etc. At least one of the group prepares to film what happens on a cell phone.  

 The group calls some local media to invite them to come along not as advocates but to cover the story.

 The group does the action.  Afterwards, it shares publicly what happened.  It urges others to follow suit.

Okay. I urge that we actually begin the process.

Mourning "Temple Earth" This Tisha B'Av

 Dear friends, Here is the point and bottom line of this Shalom Letter: I am urging that in many locales, we bring a modern, English-language version of Tisha B’Av and the Book of Lamentations into Senatorial and Congressional home-district offices on Monday, August 12 this summer. 

These visits would focus on the ongoing destruction of Temple Earth. They could be sit-ins, in which some participants risk arrest in those offices to demand adoption of the Green New Deal resolutions and laws to heal our planet from the climate crisis.

Now some background for this proposal: --

In April 2010, a BP oil well drilled far too deep into the Gulf of Mexico blew out. The explosion instantly killed 11 BP workers. Not until September was the free flow of toxic oil into the Gulf of Mexico capped off. During those months, many fish, birds, and other marine life of the Gulf were poisoned to death.

Even now, nine years later, there are high rates of birth defects in many fish and animals living in and near the Gulf. The disaster also deeply affected human communities near the Gulf, especially damaging businesses and workers that had been dependent on the free flow of life-forms there.

Tisha B’Av is a midsummer Jewish fast day commemorating the destruction in 586 BCE of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonian army and Empire, and once again in 70 CE the destruction of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem by the Roman army and Empire. Jewish tradition viewed the Temple as a microcosm of the world, built to act as an interface between human yearning and divine response. Traditionally, the day is observed by fasting from food and water, cosmetics and sex and leather luxuries, from sundown one day till sundown the next day and by chanting in Hebrew the Book of Lamentations, called in Hebrew “Eicha.” The chant is itself a doleful beckoning into communal grief.

In 2010, Tisha B’Av fell in the Western calendar on the day of July 20. The Shalom Center joined with other groups committed to heal our planet from the depredations of the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs to observe Tisha B’Av on the steps of the US Capitol. We gathered there to demand that the government act to prevent such disasters to human lives and other life forms.

We used the wailing chant of Lamentations to lament not the ancient destruction of the Temples of Jerusalem, but a new English-language “Eicha for the Earth,” written by Tamara Cohen (then an intern for The Shalom Center, now a Rabbi). We described all Earth as the sacred Temple of all species, then and now being destroyed by rapacious empires that we now call “corporations,” encouraged and enabled by their toadies in the US government and many others.

By clicking here you can see the entire Tisha B’Av service that we created:

To give you the flavor of the whole, here is the first stanza:

Eichah: Alas, she sits in danger.

Earth, home to multitudes,

like a beloved, deep in distress.

Blue ocean, source of life –

Endangered and imprisoned.

Bitterly she weeps in the night

Her shorelines wet with tears.

Of all her friends, none to comfort her;

All her allies have betrayed her.

Checkerspot butterflies

flee their homes;

Polar bears

can find no rest.

Because our greed has heated Earth.

Whole communities destroyed

To pursue off-shore oil.

Lives and dreams have been narrowed.

Coastlines mourn for families,

lost homes and livelihoods.

Barrier islands lament, desolate.

Wetlands sigh without their song birds.

Estuaries grieve, the sea is embittered.

Earth’s children – now her enemies;

Despite destruction, we sleep at ease.

The Breath of Life grieves

our abundant transgressions.

Infants of every species,

Captive to our conceit.

Hashivenu Yahh elecha v’nashuva, chadesh yameinu kekedem

Let us return, help us repent.

You Who Breathe all Life;

Breathe us, Breathe us,

Breathe us into a new path –

Help us, Help us,

Help us Turn to a new way of living

Make new, Make -new,

Our world of life intertwining –

Splendor, beauty, joy in our love for each life-form.

For the wailing melody, click here

Each stanza ends with the expression of hope and transformation that in the traditional Book of Lamentations comes at the end of the whole book. Here we water every life-form into fuller health.

In the Western calendar, the traditional date of Tisha B’Av falls this year from sunse Saturday August 10 through sunse Sunnday August 11. Since the intention of this protest is to demand action, a workday would be best. The next day, Monday, August 12, might make sense. Waiting one day would also give some Jewish communities the time and space to observe a more traditional Tisha B’Av and then to join in this more universal version.

Three final thoughts:

  1. In 2010, on the US Capitol steps, there were about 300 people. About 1/3 of them were Jewish. Other religious groups and many “secular”/Spirit-rooted activists and many others with no formal religious commitments gathered to grieve the wounds of Temple Earth and to demand action to heal. Once again, I hope that whoever carries out this effort will consciously reach out to all communities of Spirit and of Ethics. I also hope that this Lament will bring together Youth and Elders. Ideally, the action could bring forth more climate-healing energy from religious communities and would encourage shared action by them with the Sunrise Movement.

  1. I know that some communities have begun to think about Tisha B’Av as an action-time on behalf of refugees and immigrants who are being attacked by the Trump regime. This bears a different authentic relationship to the origins of Tisha B’Av, which laments not only the Destruction of the Temple but the death march of exiles from the Jewish community in ancient Israel to Babylonia. This disaster for refugees forced out of their original homes and suffering on the way can legitimately be seen as a profound problem today. Indeed, the worsening of both the climate crisis and the refugee/ immigrant crisis stem from the same origin: Both have been greatly worsened by the Trump regime’s obsession with its own power to subjugate all others.

My own thoughts and feelings lean to focusing on Temple Earth, because up till now it has had less vigorous involvement from the religious communities than has the immigrant/ refugee crisis. But local communities and various organizations could certainly choose to address both. Indeed, it might not be hard to create some stanzas for “Eicha for Temple Earth” that focus on the refugee/ immigrant/ “exile” crisis.  The link is especially powerful because one of the drivers for fleeing refugees, especially in Guatemala, is what global scorching is doing to local communities.

3. Tisha B’Av is not the only holy day that can authentically be focused on the healing of our wounded Earth. Indeed, in Jewish tradition all the holy days grew from the seasons of Earth – and it would seem just and joyful for them to repay the debt by helping us heal the wounds of their earthy origins.  More on this in further letters.

 I welcome your comments on this proposal. Please write me directly at

Shalom, salaam paz, peace  --  Arthur

Toward a future Judaism: A Retreat This July

Include on the list of inspiring retreats for Jewish Earth-lovers (mystical and activist) this summer's Ruach Ha'Aretz retreat July 8-14 at Stony Point Interfaith Retreat Center in Stony Point, NY.That’s 37 miles from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, 130 miles from Philadelphia, 137 miles from Boston, and 50 miles from Newark Airport.


  Stony Point has a residential multireligious community of Christians, Jews, and Muslims and organic gardens that supply fruits and vegetables to the dining room and neighboring communities.  The Ruach Ha'Aretz retreat, sponsored by Yerusha, is kosher vegetarian/vegan and is focused on healing Mother Earth.  Meditation, chanting, transformative prayer, and great teachers make this a week not to miss.  For more information, go to

My dear friends Shefa Gold, Diane Elliott, Shaya Isenberg, Bahira Sugarman,ill  Lynn Iser, and Jeff Roth will be among the teachers, and my beloved Phyllis will be the resident spiritual director.  Join us!

 I will be weaving a four-session participatory and conversational course that will look toward a Judaism of the future.

In shaping new versions of Judaism and other religious communities for our own and future generations, we are already turning some of what were biblical blessings or commands, like the subordination of women, into sins; and turning old sins, like male-male sex, into blessings like same-sex marriage.

At the same time, one major blessing of the Hebrew Bible was its wisdom as the spiritual experience of an indigenous people of shepherds and farmers close to the Earth.  That aspect was minimized in 2,000 years of Rabbinic Judaism. But it has become newly crucial in our generation as we face a profound crisis in humanity’s relationship with Earth.

The course will address these two crucial issues -– sexuality/ gender issues and Earth/human-earthling relationships -- and will pay special attention to biblical passages that themselves point toward a future version of Torah quite different from the over-all tenor of the Bible. (For example, the Song of Songs is a vision of a future of gender relationships utterly different from the biblical norm.)

Four sessions:

SESSION 1: Gender relationships: Reading & open conversation on Biblical texts.

SESSION 2:  Gender relationship: Reading & open conversation on theory, practice, poetry of feminist and LGBTQIA Judaism.

SESSION 3: Relationships between Earth & human earthlings: Reading & open conversation on Biblical texts.

SESSION 4: Sexuality/ gender relationships AND relationships between Earth & human earthlings. Reading & open conversation on Song of Songs.

The Ruach HaAretz retreat is itself aiming to create a week-long village, living as what Dr. Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community. Like a village, we will address such aspects of our lives as food and dance, aging and childrearing, meditation and prayer, trees and sexuality. Among the teachers and weavers will be Rabbi Shefa Gold on new forms of prayer, Rabbi Jeff Roth on Jewish meditation, and Rabbi Phyllis Berman as Spiritual Director in Residence. And as with any healthy village, there will be joyful learning for the children.



In these very days, we are counting our way from the Passover of the past to the Sinai of the future. We look forward to your joining us, our joining you, in this journey.

Shalom, Arthur

#JeremiahJusticeJune12 at the White House: Uphold our Covenants

The American people are bound by, and have committed ourselves to live by, two covenants. The “king” who sits in the White House is violating them both. On June 12 we will challenge him to renew his active commitment to abide by these sacred covenants.

One Covenant is the Constitution, the basic framework and the process by which we – the American People -- have Covenantally agreed to govern ourselves.

In it, both houses of Congress bespeak the will of the people as well as the President. In it, all the people are enumerated without fear of reprisal, to guarantee just representation. In it, no money may be disbursed from the Treasury except by laws passed by Congress. In it, the Congress has the necessary and proper power to oversee and investigate all the executive offices, including the Presidency, to ascertain whether the laws be just and effective. In it, the press is free and its freedom is upheld. In it, all of us have the equal protection of the law.  

This President has violated the Covenant of the Constitution and has tried to erect himself into a tyrant.

The other Covenant is one we individually and communally make with God, the Holy One Whom we know by many Names, and Who speaks through us by the Holy Spirit about the love, the compassion, and the justice that we owe each other.  

This Covenant speaks to the content of our laws and regulations, as well as the process by which we adopt them. In this Covenant, it is forbidden to tear children from their families and imprison them in cages; it is forbidden to force desperate asylum-seekers back into the hands of oppressors and murderers; it is forbidden to poison the air, the water, and the food so that they sicken and kill us instead of nurturing us; it is forbidden to poison the atmosphere and oceans of Earth so as to bring terrible fires and floods, famines and diseases upon us and to endanger the entire web of life, including the danger of extinction for the human race;  it is forbidden to deny health care to the sick; it is forbidden to subjugate women and  deny them the moral agency of conscience; it is forbidden to denigrate and damage people because of their race, their ethnic group, their class, their sexuality and gender.

This President has violated our Covenant with God and has tried to erect himself into a Pharaoh.

 What all these sinful acts against both Covenants have in common is that instead of covenantal leadership for justice, compassion, the empowerment of all, and healing, they pursue subjugation: subjugation of racial, religious, ethnic, and gender minorities; of women; of children; of the suffocating middle class, workers, family farmers, the poor, and people who fall sick; of immigrants and refugees; of the free press; of the Congress and the Constitution; even of Earth, our common home. This hate-filled subjugation violates God’s Covenant. It must not stand.

So we turn to an ancient Prophet, Jeremiah, who faced a king similarly possessed by cruelty and corruption:

 “Go to the royal palace and deliver this Message. Say, ‘Listen to what God says, O King of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you and your officials and all the people who go in and out of these palace gates.'

"This is God’s Message: Attend to matters of justice. Set things right between people. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Don’t take advantage of the homeless, the foreigners, the orphans, the widows. Stop the murdering!

 "If you obey these commands, then kings who follow in the line of David will continue to go in and out of these palace gates mounted on horses and riding in chariots—they and their officials and the citizens of Judah. But if you don’t obey these commands, then I swear—God’s Decree!—this palace will end up a heap of rubble." (Jeremiah 22:1-5 )

 We are asking you to join us outside the White House on June 12th.

We will be gathering just after Ramadan, Eid, Shavuot, and Pentecost.  We will draw upon their wisdom. And we welcome the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Interbreathing Spirit that gives life to ALL traditions, all communities, all life-forms, to speak through us. To make clear our spiritual commitments and the infinitude of forms and teachings through which the Spirit comes to us, we will walk in the vestments of our varied communities of Spirit.

Hundreds of faith leaders will journey to DC. Of those hundreds, some may hear the call upon their spirits to engage in nonviolent moral action. Some may be called there as witnesses. But all are needed to bear witness together in this moment.

To receive information and updates on the specific time and place where we will gather to begin our solemn March to the White House, please click to  and then register by clicking where indicated. Your confirmation OK will have the full information.  

We must not be divided.

We must not be complacent.

We must act so that people are called to a moral awakening. 

We are asking you to come to Washington, D.C., on June 12th. Share this invitation with your faith-leader friends and colleagues.  

 This preceding letter is a summary of the Call previously signed by the Planning Committee:

Bishop William J. Barber II, Moral Monday Architect; President and Senior Lecturer, Repairers of the Breach; Pastor, Greenleaf Christian Church; Co-chair, Poor People's Campaign; National NAACP Board Member

Rev. Traci D. Blackmon, Associate General Minister, United Church of Christ

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Director of Social Justice Organizing Program, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Imam Al-Hajj Talib 'Abdur-Rashid, Ameer/President, The Muslim Alliance in North America

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Director, Kairos Center

Rabbi Dr. Arthur Ocean Waskow, Director, The Shalom Center

Minister Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Director, School for Conversion

  This preceding letter is a summary of the Call previously signed by the Planning Committee. To see and sign on to the fuller Call, please click to  and then register by clicking where indicated. Your confirmation OK will have the full information.

Please share this invitation with your faith-leader friends and colleagues.

#JeremiahJusticeJune12 at the White House

[Dear Movement Family, At our #FreedomSeder50, Bishop William J. Barber was deeply moved by the multireligious, multiracial, muiticultural, multigendered gathering of 400 people committed to ecological sanity and social justice. So deeply moved that he felt called by the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, to cry out for  #JeremiahJusticeJune12 at the White House:

[A gathering to confront –in Jeremiah’s words --- -"a corrupt king at his royal palace" -- the White House -- on June 12th.

[A pilgrimage by hundreds of faith leaders,  spiritual leaders, of every Spirit-led community.

Please join us by clicking here:

[Some may choose to begin their pilgrimage where they live and walk in relays to Washington. Others may gather and journey from places of pain like the synagogues in Pittsburgh, the church in South Carolina, mosques under attack, places destroyed and disappeared like Paradise, California. Like "Paradise, Everywhere."

[There follows the Call to #PropheticPilgrimage that grew out of that moment, signed by the initial Planning Committee.
Please join us by clicking here:
  (Others are signing as I send this.)

[We will send the signers specific details on precisely where and at what time we will gather on June 12 in Washington for the last stage of our #PropheticPilgrimage to the White House].

Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --  Arthur]
### ### ###
We know God hears the cries of God’s people who are suffering increasingly under the vengeful leadership and harmful policies of our current Administration. Policies that ignore the cries of the poor, the sick, the widowed, the women, the children, the land, and the stranger among us. We, as a nation, have lost our way.
In such moments, God’s call to action is made known through the voice of the Prophets:

"Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a shofar [ram’s horn], and show My people their transgression."  [Isaiah 58:1]
As President Trump and his administration let the nation suffer, we must lead with a unified proactive and creative response that is not embedded in right left, Democrat or Republican, but is rooted in the clear vision of right and wrong. It is time to warn the nation and call this administration to repent of their sins.

We call  you to a #PropheticPilgrimage!

In the wake of the Mueller Report, this Administration is defiantly refusing to submit to Congressional oversight or to acknowledge the venality confirmed by an investigation of its inner-workings. The Constitution, which remains as the common basis for our shared life, our covenant is being attacked in broad daylight. 
Extremist leaders driven by the idols of racism, greed, and power have broken the Covenant.
With each slash at the 14th Amendment and denial of people’s very existence, this administration breaks the Covenant. With each border agent commanded by our rulers to rip families apart; with each attempt to deny health care to millions of people; with each pipeline leaking death to communities across this country; with each ballot denied and voice defiled, this administration breaks the covenant.

The prophet Jeremiah proclaims God’s orders when the leaders in a land abandon the Covenant:

Go to the royal palace and deliver this Message. Say, ‘Listen to what God says, O King of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you and your officials and all the people who go in and out of these palace gates.'

"This is God’s Message: Attend to matters of justice. Set things right between people. Rescue victims from their exploiters. Don’t take advantage of the homeless, the foreigners, the orphans, the widows. Stop the murdering!

 "If you obey these commands, then kings who follow in the line of David will continue to go in and out of these palace gates mounted on horses and riding in chariots—they and their officials and the citizens of Judah. But if you don’t obey these commands, then I swear—God’s Decree!—this palace will end up a heap of rubble." (Jeremiah 22:1-5 )

Friends, it  is time for us to go together to the palace gates with a clarion call:
Stop the weaponization of judicial appointments!
Attend to the 14th Amendment, the bedrock of equal protection under the law, not attack it.
Stop mandating a census question designed to ensure millions are uncounted!
Attend to the 14th Amendment: Heal and empower the millions poor and of low wealth, not undermine their representation.
Stop the abuse of executive power to pollute our communities with pipelines, our planet by burning Carbon!
Attend to our water and air, not privatize it while deserting human rights.
Stop the assault on the Affordable Care Act and on health care for women and children in poverty!
Attend to the health of your people, not policies of violence.
Stop the brutal treatment of the stranger at the southern border!
Attend to compassionate and humane immigration policies that affirm the divinity within all human beings.
What all these sinful acts have in common is that instead of covenantal leadership for justice, compassion, the empowerment of all, and healing, they pursue subjugation: subjugation of racial, religious, ethnic, and gender minorities; of women; of children; of the suffocating middle class, workers, family farmers, the poor, and people who fall sick; of immigrants and refugees; of the free press; of the Constitution; even of Earth, our common home. This hate-filled subjugation violates the Covenant. It must not stand.
We are asking you to join us outside the White House on June 12th.
Just after Ramadan, Shavuot, and Pentecost, hundreds of faith leaders will journey to DC. Of those hundreds, some may hear the call upon their spirits to engage in nonviolent moral action. Some may be called there as witnesses. But all are needed to bear witness together in this moment.  
The Scriptures do not call us to ideological purity tests or to precisely worded positions on each aspect of sensitive topics. Instead, Jeremiah calls to us at the heart of our deepest religious convictions and the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution: love, justice and equal protection under the law.
We cannot be divided.
We cannot be complacent.
We must act so that people are called to a moral awakening. In the wake of the new post-Mueller report reality, we must deliver a moral report.
June 12th draws on the wisdom of the sacred festivals of the Abrahamic communities that come just before. The Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Interbreathing that gives life to ALL traditions, all communities, all life-forms, is speaking through us.  
We are asking you to come to Washington, D.C., on June 12th. Share this invitation with your colleagues. Let us know you can come by registering your contact information here.  Please join us by clicking here:

We must journey toward freedom and awaken this country once more.  It is time. June 12th.
Join us!

Bishop William J. Barber II, Moral Monday Architect; President and Senior Lecturer, Repairers of the Breach; Pastor, Greenleaf Christian Church; Co-chair, Poor People's Campaign; National NAACP Board Member

Rev. Traci D. Blackmon, Associate General Minister, United Church of Christ

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Director of Social Justice Organizing Program, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Imam Al-Hajj Talib 'Abdur-Rashid, Ameer/President, The Muslim Alliance in North America

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Director, Kairos Center

Rabbi Dr. Arthur Ocean Waskow, Director, The Shalom Center

Minister Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Director, School for Conversion

Campus Freedom Seders, BDS, & Israel: Freedom For Whom, Exactly?

I am sharing with you an article from an on-line campus Jewish magazine. The article used the original Freedom Seder of 50 years ago as the springboard for a discussion of how to treat debate over Israeli-Palestinian relations. Naturally, as the author of said original Freedom Seder, I was intrigued. And I responded.  Here are the original article and my response to it.

Becoming Elijah: Shabbat HaGadol (Tomorrow) & Passover

In the Jewish community, we are about – tonight and tomorrow -- to enter the Sabbath before Passover. Traditionally, we are invited to read  the last passage of the last of the classical Hebrew Prophets, Malachi. The passage includes the prophecy of a day that will burn like a furnace, with the promise of a healing from a sun of justice and its wings, and with the insistence that we must turn the hearts of youth and elders to each other lest Earth be utterly destroyed. The passage assigns this task of reconciliation to the Prophet Elijah.
This passage speaks directly to our generation – endangered by a Flood of Fire imposed on us by modern Carbon Pharaohs --  and it speaks to the Passover Seder in which, traditionally,  we open a door to welcome Elijah into the Seder. It offers an old/new way of welcoming him, which fits well with the whole effort of the Seder to bring the wisdom of the Exodus into the minds and hearts of the young.
Some in the communities and organizations that are struggling to prevent Climate Chaos are Jewish; some are not. I offer the two ceremonies below for all who wish to draw on these ancient wisdoms to strengthen us to face the modern Carbon Pharaohs who are bringing on us a Flood of Fire.

So I suggest that as we open the door to Elijah, we say something like these words:

“Elijah, we welcome you to enter not only among us but also within each one of us. We ourselves will act now to turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, lest the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change,  become a Hurricane that smites the Earth with utter destruction.  We ourselves will act now to draw on the energy that comes from the sun and its beating wings that engender wind, to heal us from the danger of a scorched and burning world. We ourselves will turn our hearts to the young people of the world who are demanding that we act.”

And I offer this Kavvanah (focusing of intention) before the lighting of the Shabbat candles this evening, for the festival candles as we enter Pesach next Saturday night, and for any sacred occasion in any tradition that includes the lighting of candles and that cares for healing God’s Creation from the Climate Crisis. This kavvanah draws on the passage from Malachi and on the traditional rabbinic midrash that the Rainbow promise to send no Flood of water did not preclude a Flood of Fire. As the Black song says in a very similar midrash  “God gave Noah the Rainbow Sign – No more water; the Fire next time!”

Please feel free to share this letter as you like.
Shalom, salaam, paz, peace -- Arthur

Between the Fires:
A Prayer for Kindling Candles of Commitment

We are the generation that stands 
between the fires:
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
From the burning forests of the Amazon,
From the hottest years of human history
that bring upon us
Melted ice fields, Flooded cities, Scorching droughts.
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.
"Here! The day is coming
That will flame like a furnace, “
Says the Infinite YHWH / Yahhhh,
The Breath of Life --
when all the arrogant, all evil-doers,
root and branch,
will like straw be burnt to ashes.
Yet for those of you who revere My Name,
Yes! My Name, Yahhhh, the Interbreath of Life!
For them a sun of justice will arise

with healing in its wings/rays . . .
“Here! Before the coming
of the great and awesome day
of YHWH/ the Breath of Life,
I will send you the Prophet Elijah
to turn the hearts of parents to their children
and the hearts of children to their parents,
lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction."
                      (Malachi 3: 20-21, 23-24.)

Here! we ourselves are coming
Before that great and terrible day
of  smiting Earth —
For we ourselves shall turn the hearts
Of parents to their children
And the hearts of children to their parents
So that this day of smiting
Does not fall upon us.
It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
But the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different, All of us bearing
One Spark.
We kindle these candle-fires to see more clearly
That the earth and all who live as part of it
Are not for burning.
We light these fires to see more clearly
The rainbow in the many-colored faces of all life
Blessed is the One within the many.
Blessed are the many who make One.
{Say the appropriate blessing and Light candles of commitment]

Empower Passover: More Joy, More Justice

In the Philadelphia Inquirer (April 5, front page) appeared the article below.


Freedom Seder’s 50th anniversary to be celebrated in a Philly mosque to point up the rise of Islamophobia


by Kristin E. Holmes, Updated: Philadelphia Inquirer, April 5, 201,  page 1


DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer


For the 50th anniversary of his Freedom Seder — the groundbreaking observance that each year has inspired a fresh reimagining of the Passover ritual — Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow is continuing to recast ancient Jewish tradition to resonate in a new day.


This year, though, the Mount Airy activist and author is taking the renowned interfaith rite into a once-inconceivable place: a mosque.


Related stories




The scourges of racism and militarism inspired Waskow in 1969 to create the Freedom Seder, for which he adapted the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt to echo the civil rights movement. For the next five decades, a steady march of crises informed the Passover observances.


When Waskow sat down to write the 2019 iteration of the Haggadah, the text recited during the seder, one theme in particular propelled him. That, he said, was “the rise of Islamophobia.

On Sunday, the 85-year-old rabbi will join an interfaith assembly at Masjidullah on Limekiln Pike in West Oak Lane. The celebration — in advance of the eight-day Passover holiday that begins at sundown on April 19 — will feature the Rev. William J. Barber II, an internationally known activist and MacArthur fellow who has revived the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Jr.'s Poor People’s Campaign. Also on the roster are Rev Liz Theoharis, co-chair pf the Poor Peoples Campaign, Debbie Almontaser, founding principal of the first public school in America to focus on Arabic language and culture, and Ana Maria Archila, head of the Center for Popular Democracy, who confronted former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake in an elevator at the U.S. Capitol during confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

A 5 p.m. dinner will be prepared according to Jewish and Muslim dietary guidelines. The seder will follow at

Passover’s traditional blessings will be said in English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Spanish over four cups of grape juice rather than wine, as alcohol is prohibited in Islam. The portion of the original story describing the 10 plagues God inflicted on Egypt to free the enslaved Israelites will be replaced by modern-day “plagues” — not only Islamophobia but also inequitable government funding for public schools, LGBTQ discrimination, and environmental racism.

 About 400 people are expected for the event, which is sold out but will be livestreamed.

 >> READ MORE: A new Freedom Seder for a divided nation

 The influence of Waskow’s Freedom Seder is “huge,” said Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, co-author of Strangers, Neighbors, Friends: Muslim-Christian-Jewish Reflections on Compassion and Peace. “What Arthur did was liberate the Haggadah” from the constraints of its ancient traditions.

 The golden anniversary coincides with a time of increasingly blatant and often violent religious intolerance. In mid-March, 50 Muslims were murdered in a mass shooting at a mosque in New Zealand, nearly five months after 11 Jews were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Last month, the Philadelphia religious community, which has a long history of collaboration, was rattled when a guest imam at a mosque known for its interfaith outreach expressed anti-Semitic sentiments in a series of sermons; the mosque immediately apologized.

... Waskow was a resident fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington when he was inspired to create the Freedom Seder following the 1968 assassination of King. As riots erupted in the district, President Lyndon B. Johnson instituted a curfew and deployed nearly 14,000 federal troops to quell the unrest.

 Along with other activists, Waskow helped members of the black community secure food and medical and legal aid. When he saw a machine gun mounted on a Jeep in a Washington neighborhood, he considered the link between ancient slavery and the turmoil fueled by racism and militarism throughout the ’60s — both cited by King in a famous speech at Riverside Church in New York.

 In response, Waskow wrote the Freedom Seder, inserting quotes by slave-rebellion leader Nat Turner on resisting bondage, the writer Henry David Thoreau on abolitionist John Brown, and King on nonviolence. His Haggadah was published in Ramparts magazine. The first observance was in the basement of an African American church on April 4, 1969, a year after King’s assassination.

 “It was so exciting. All over America, people were showing up at Passover with [a copy of the Freedom Seder],” said Kreimer, an associate professor at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote and founder of the school’s multifaith studies department. Suddenly, she said, a Haggadah that had been the same since antiquity was incorporating the wisdom of 20th century figures such as King and Mohandas K. Gandhi.

 Over the years, the Freedom Seder has been adapted to themes such as LGBTQ rights, immigration, and Jewish-Palestinian reconciliation. In 1970, the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, then on the run after being convicted of burning draft records during an anti-war protest in Catonsville, Md., sneaked into a Freedom Seder hosted by Waskow and students at Cornell University. He escaped with the help of a life-size puppet theater troupe that was part of the event.

 “He got inside one of the puppet costumes, and then he was gone,” said Waskow, who runs the nonprofit Shalom Center, a Philadelphia-based peace and justice organization. Berrigan was later arrested.


[Rabbi Arthur Waskow (center) with the Rev. Channing Phillips (left) and TV director Topper Carew (right) at the first Freedom Seder held April 4, 1969, at Lincoln Temple United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C.]

 Last year, Waskow reimagined his own reimagining of the rite when he created The MLK +50 Interfaith Freedom Seder to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination. In the Haggadah, he included references to police shootings of unarmed citizens and the Parkland, Fla., school massacre.

 This year’s event is being hosted in a house of worship with its own interfaith history. The building that Masjidullah now occupies once was home to Temple Sinai synagogue and then the West Oak Lane Church of God. The mosque purchased the property from the church in 2013.

 Imam Abdul-Halim Hassan of Masjidullah has long worked with Waskow, Berman, and other area religious leaders on community issues including interfaith understanding and cooperation, and environmental conservation.

 “You can do something on one side of the world and people on the other side will know about it instantly," Hassan said. "If we can do something here to show that there is a better way, we can be a model for the world.”

 For Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman, Waskow’s wife and co-organizer of the celebration along woth Viv Hawkins, Program Coordinatpr pf The Shalom Center, the Freedom Seder’s evolution and influence is a testament to the staying power of the original concept.

 It “revolutionized the idea,” she said, "that sacred writing could be new in every generation.”


The Dark Side of Purim, Kahane, & the Soul of Israel

There is a dark side to Purim,  that upside-down, downside-up festival of masks and laughter.

To inoculate us in advance against the break-through of that dark side, the rabbis long ago prescribed that the day before Purim would be the Fast of Esther, drawing us from dawn to dusk into a world of inner contemplation. In a moment, below, you will see an invocation I propose for the Fast of Esther, to strengthen its healing in our day.

Yet the dark side broke out 25 years ago and again in the last ten days. 

On Purim twenty-five years ago, a follower of the racist and murderous “Rabbi” Meir Kahane murdered 29 Muslims prostrate in prayer in the Tomb of Avraham/ Ibrahim/ Abraham, our shared Father and Founder. The Kahanist murderer chose Purim quite deliberately, for reasons we will explore below.  

Just this past week, the Prime Minister of the State of Israel honored the followers of Kahane by greatly easing their path for election to the Knesset.

I intend to join in the Fast of Esther this year on March 20, the day before Purim, and I invite you to join in fasting in sorrow for the way in which our own tradition is streaked with blood:  And I suggest that we begin the Fast by chanting this Vision, this Hazon, that I share with you.  After it are the explanations of how this Vision appeared to me. --  Shalom, Arthur  

The Presence of an Absence

And then appeared Darkness,
Her Head wrapped in mourning,
Her tallit all black,
Her Place only Absence,
Her Voice but a Silence,
Nistar b'Nistar:
”When Esther came hidden
In the name of one hiding,
She cried out to Me
To emerge from My Mystery.
“So I came to defend you,
My people beloved;
I strengthened your hand
to beat back your foes;
But then you betrayed Me.
For your hand became frenzied,
You struck down the harmless,
You struck down My children
While they reached out to Me.
“On the day of rejoicing
You hollowed My Name.
In My Own Tree of Life,
You hollowed out life,
left only a mocking
 Pretense of My Self.
“And I see -- yes, I watch--
That in days still to come
Your deeds will give warrant
To a child of your children,
To murder your cousins,
The children of Ishmael,
The children of Abraham,
In the Place of his grave,
On this day of rejoicing.
“So My Name I withdraw --
Yes, My Name will be hidden,
Nistar b'Nistar;
“For I will not permit you
to call out from this Scroll
My Name on this day.
“Yet I teach you that Purim,
Alone of the seasons,
Will continue beyond
the time of Messiah.
“On the day that both families
of Abraham's offspring
turn away from their murders,
their killing each other,
on that day will my Name
take its Place in the Scroll.
“On that day Purim
and Yom Ha’K'Purim
at last will be one.
“On that day, at last,
A Purim will lead you
And light up your way
to the Days of Messiah.
“On that day all the nations
will laugh and will dance,
will turn robes of power
into masquerade mirth;
will turn every gun
to a clackety grogger.
“On that day will My Name
Take Its Place in the Scroll
In letters of Light.”

Ten notes of Background and Suggestions, for Purim and the Fast of Estherr this year: 

1. Spiritually, perhaps the most important “background” is this: The Name of God does not appear anywhere in the Scroll of Esther. It is hidden, and the Hebrew of “hidden” is nistar.  Esther’s own “name,” so close to nistar, echoes that her true name, Hadassah, is hidden in the story.

2. The next most important spiritual lesson is that (as many modern scholars teach) the Scroll of Esther is not history but satire –- an over-the-top tale of

What We Owe Our 16-Year-Olds: 2 Phone Calls

Dear friends,

First, before you read the rest of my letter to you, please click here and watch a 2-minute video of middle-school and high-school kids talking with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

Then please come back here.

Sen. Feinstein is not a bad person. But she is used to step-by-step slow improvement of America. There was no deadline for civil rights, no deadline for women’s rights. One step at a time made things better. But the planet doesn’t work that way. Already the ice is melting faster and the oceans are warming faster than the scientists expected. There IS a deadline.

So the kids are right and Senator Feinstein is wrong.

The Green New Deal proposal sets a TRULY REALISTIC goal because it demands shifting from a carbon economy to a renewable economy by 2030. That will be BARELY in time to prevent utter climate chaos. And the Green  New Deal moves RIGHT AWAY to create and fund the jobs that will make the Green Shift possible.

Here too there is a deadline, because already we are seeing Americans who are feeling forgotten, frightened by a flat future and shortened life-spans, releasing old impulses to racist rage as a way of feeling better. That will grow worse if we do not meet the need.  The crisis in democracy and the crisis in planetary survival join. Feinstein’s “responsible” resolution is irresponsible because it will not save our planet, our democracy, or our lives.  The lives of those kids.

Because of her life-long habit of step-by-step, Sen. Feinstein fell for a trick, a trap, set by Sen. McConnell, the Senate (Republican) majority leader. Senator Markey of Massachusetts and Congresswoman AOC of New York have introduced a resolution to set the will of the Senate and the House to embody the Green New Deal. (I will explain in a moment why I think it is far better in both ethical-moral terms and in sheer practical politics than any other approach to securing either domestic US social justice or planetary survival.)

Congresswoman AOC's resolution can pass the House. But Senator Markey's resolution will not pass the Senate – and neither will Sen. Feinstein’s watered-down substitute, because the Republican majority in the Senate will oppose both of them.

But if neither the Green New Deal resolution nor Watery Feinstein can pass the Senate,  why bother? Because we need to build a movement in the country behind the goal that will actually save us, not the one that won’t. By 2021 we need a President and both houses of Congress ready to pass the Green New Deal. And we can have them – IF we build the movement.

Sen. McConnell set the trap that Sen. Feinstein fell into. McConnell could hear and taste the rising tide of a great Green Wave of public support for the Green New Deal resolution. (So could practically every declared Democratic candidate for President, who have all endorsed the Green New Deal.)  So McConnell brought up the Green New Deal resolution for a vote before the movement all across American could crystallize strong support in the Senate. He hoped that the Democrats in the Senate would split.  And Feinstein fell for it.

Now it’s up to us. Unless you live in the District of Columbia or outside the US, you have two Senators. This week is a crucial time to call them. I urge you to do so. I think we owe it to our kids, our grandkids.

Call 1202-224-3121 and ask for your Senator’s office.(Just tell the operator what State or what zip code you are in; she will know who your Senators are.) Then ask your Senator’s office to speak to her/ his climate policy expert. They may shift you to voice mail. OK. Give your name, your phone number, what town you live in, and say that it is VERY important to you –at every level – for the sake of all the 16-year-olds in your own family and in the world --  that your Senator supports the Markey Resolution for a Green New Deal.

When you are finished, call back to 1202-224-3121 and ask for your other Senator. Do it all over again  

If you do live in DC and don’t have a Senator, or if you have the time to make three calls, please call in and ask for Senator Schumer of New York, the Minority (Democratic) Leader. Urge him to line up all the Democratic Senators behind the Markey resolution for the Green New Deal.  

One more action, right after your phone calls:

Many many young people organized by the Sunrise Movement are converging on Capitol Hill today, meeting Senators and Congressmembers to support the Green New Deal. Please support them by clicking here to sign a petition:

Finally, why do I think the Green New Deal is crucial? Because it connects into one unified goal meeting (a) the needs of the Earth and all human communities to stop the runaway climate crisis by ending the burning of fossil fuels, and (b) the needs of large sectionsof American society for decent jobs at good pay. The Green New Deal insists we can create the Green Community only by putting millions to work on green infrastructure, and it insists we can meet the pent-up desperate hunger for jobs and justice only by creating the Green Community. Each empowers the other.

If you think coal miners or oil-refinery workers or people who are building huge pipelines to carry fracked unnatural gas will willingly lose their jobs just because their work is wrecking the planet and creating epidemics of cancer and asthma, think again. They need jobs NOW, just as the Earth needs wind and solar power NOW. The Green New Deal meets both needs, NOW.

When Pharaoh brought slavery upon workers, eco-disaster plagues on the food crops of his country, and death on the first-born, the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change, said “NOW! --  There is no time to let the dough rise when you bake your bread! NOW -- bake matzah, bake unleavened bread, and go NOW.” Dr. Martin Luther King said it more than 50 years ago:  “The fierce urgency of NOW!” Even truer now that it was then.

Please act. And when you have, please click to “Reply” and just drop us a line --  “Done!” if you don’t have time to say more.

Thanks, and blessings of passionate empowerment for healing! --  Arthur

My "Torah Talk" for Presidents Day Protest -- NOT DIctators Day

On Presidents Day I spoke to a crowd gathered at the City Hall of Philadelphia to protest the “Fake Emergency” proclaimed by Donald Trump to enable him to bypass Congress’ refusal to appropriate money to build a Wall and further militarize our Southern border. The protest was live-streamed, and the recording is at --

 My own speech begins exactly one hour into the recording -- !:00:00 --  and lasts till 1:12:00.

 Since various other sounds partially intrude, I have included, below, the text I used. I skipped a few parts of my text and ad-libbed occasionally beyond it. I hope you will take the time to see and listen live.

 With blessings to you and to us all of the strength and perseverance to stand tall for democracy, for justice and compassion, against all their enemies  --  Arthur

 [Photo by Rabbi Mordechai Liebling]

Why am I here today? [I ad-libbed some remarks about the Passover Seder as both a commemoration of ancient struggles against a tyrant, Pharaoh, and at its best an activist teaching and reaching toward future transformation: for example, what it means for The Shalom Center to be sponsoring a pre-Passover Seder in which Rev. William Barber of the Poor Peoples Campaign will be one of the leaders. I moved  from that holy time of challenging tyrants into ---]

And I am here today because this too is a holy day – a holy day in the American calendar. Today is Presidents Day. Not Dictators Day. Not King George III’s Day. This holy day is known as Presidents Day in honor originally of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and more recently to honor all the honorable Presidents of the United States. And when necessary, as it is today, to challenge a dishonorable President.

What does it mean to be a US President, not a king or a dictator? It means to live in and under the Constitution of the United States.  It means you swear an Oath to “preserve, protect, and defend  the Constitution of the United States.” Not even to defend the physical safety of the United States, but its moral and spiritual and political Truth -- the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES. Imperfect, evolving – toward democracy, not away from it.

And that includes --

  “Article. I. Section. 8. ... No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law  --  by Congress.”

No President can take our tax money to use any way he feels like, for something that Congress refuses. This teaching – We the People have no Dictator, no King – goes deep not just into our Constitution but into the moral fabric that preceded it by about 2500 years.  Even when people chose kings, the Bible taught that even a king, especially a king, must have his powers limited.

Deuteronomy 17:14-19 

“If you say, “I will set over me a king like all the nations round about us,  you may set, yes, set over you a king – one that YHWH [Yahhh – the Breathing Spirit pf the World ] your God chooses.... 

Only: He is not to multiply cavalry [the jet bombers and H-bombs of that day] for himself, or make the people return to the Tight and Narrow Place [of slavery] in order to multiply his cavalry, since YHWH [Yahhh – the Breath of Life]  has said to you, ‘You will never return that way again!’

“And he is not to multiply sexual partners for himself, lest his heart be turned aside. And silver and gold he must not multiply for himself.  

“But it shall be when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself with his own hand, a copy of this Teaching in a scroll.  [He shall write it sitting] face to face with priests of the tribe of Levi. It is to remain beside him, and he is to read out of it every day of his life, so that he may learn to have awe for YHWH [Yahhh, the Breath of Life]  his God and to be fully caring for all the words of this Teaching and these laws, to observe them, so that his heart not be lifted up above his people.”