Dear MoveOn: Saturday Protests Exclude Jews; I Urge You, Change!

[Dear Shalom Center friends, The letter below to MoveOn's leadership explains itself. If you agree, please write them yourself at  and please cc us at  .

Thanks! Shalom, salaam, sohl, paz, peace! --  Arthur]

Dear MoveOn leadership:

Yesterday’s pro-impeachment rallies, scheduled by MoveOn for noon local time on Saturday, were timed in such a way as practically to exclude participation by religiously caring Jews.

This was not necessary, and the planning raises questions of whether MoveOn was utterly ignorant of Jewish Shabbat/ Sabbath practice or consciously chose not to involve religiously caring Jews.

The basic issue is this: Traditional Jewish practice for Shabbat affirms prayer services on Friday evening and Saturday morning, and prohibits spending money and traveling other than by walking, from slightly before sundown Friday to slightly after sundown Saturday.

Some religiously caring Jewish communities have to some extent modified these concerns, especially to countenance travel and money-spending to take part in activities to heal the wounded world –- but only later in the day on Shabbat, once they have been able to gather for prayer, song, meditation, and encounter with ancient and modern Torah wisdom.

For many Jews, these practices are not mere mechanical regulations but the affirmation of profound respect for a rhythm of Doing and Being. This kind of Sabbatical practice can call forth deep inner spiritual renewal, can by refraining from commerce express strong interpersonal respect for other human beings and for a society rooted in love rather than money, and can embody strong outward reverence for Earth, to refrain from coercing and wounding her by pouring carbon dioxide into the air and water.

A case in point:  The same Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who walked steadfastly with Dr. Martin Luther King and with Fathers Dan and Philip Berrigan against racism and against the Vietnam War wrote a brief and lyrical book, The Sabbath, celebrating this aspect of Jewish wisdom.

Christian observance of Sunday as “the Lord’s day” almost always focuses on Sunday-morning prayer, rarely carrying with it the same broad weave of refraining from ordinary business practice.

So in planning for political actions, in most situations a Sunday mid-afternoon schedule would free all Jews, all Muslims, and almost all Christians to take part. Any such event on Shabbat would exclude a considerable number of Jews. And an event scheduled as early as noon on Shabbat would exclude practically all Jews who want to take part in Shabbat-morning prayer. Even delaying till about 2:30 pm would make such events accessible to Jews who were willing to define them as a way to heal our world from injustice, war, and destruction of the web of life on Mother Earth.

If yesterday’s rallies had been scheduled for today, or even for 2:30 pm yesterday instead of noon, I would have taken joy in joining with people of other religious, spiritual, and ethical communities.

On two fairly recent occasions, planners of gigantic protest marches took these concerns into account. The enormous march opposing the onrushing US war against Iraq was held on Sunday, February 15, 2003, in New York City. So was the gigantic New York City march for climate awareness, held on Sunday, September 22, 2014. For both these actions, many thousands of people poured into the streets from New York church services and many thousands of religiously concerned Jews also took part.

When marches are scheduled for Washington, DC, planners face a somewhat different calculus. Churches that house hundreds of thousands of progressive celebrants are far from the National Mall, and scheduling a march for Sunday would lose many of them, gaining a considerably smaller number of Jews. So it makes more arithmetically political sense to schedule such marches on Saturday and plan to include time and space for Shabbat services as part of an adjunct to the process, reluctantly acknowledging that many Jews will be unable to take part but making some effort to include as many as possible. And honoring Jewish concerns.

But when rallies are deliberately scheduled for many locales around the country, this calculus does not apply. On Sunday afternoon, church worshippers can take part – and many progressive churches might encourage members to go from church to a rally. Jews, Muslims, and all other religious folk can take part. Multilocal protests were the framework MoveOn planned for yesterday. It could have worked this (Sunday) afternoon. Sad that MoveOn did not make that choice.

As a supporter of MoveOn, I am taken aback by what seems either its ignorance of or its disregard for Jewish concerns on these questions. So I address you with loving hope that my letter will alert you to the importance of them.  I welcome a response from MoveOn’s leadership.

Shalom, salaam, sohl, paz, peace! –

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

The Shalom Center <>

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 [Dear Shalom Center friends,  If you agree with the letter above, please write MoveOn yourself at  and please cc us at  .

Thanks! Shalom, salaam, sohl, paz, peace! --  Arthur]


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