Shalom Ctr Honors Cindy Sheehan & 3 Others as 'Prophetic Voices'


More than 250 people joined with The Shalom Center Sunday, February 5, at a Philadelphia synagogue to honor the prophetic voices of Cindy Sheehan and three Philadelphia activists.

The event was covered with long news stories and photos by both Philadelphia daily newspapers and by three TV stations.

Eight rabbis, two cantors, and three choirs from various congregations took part in the event, which was held at the Reconstructionist synagogue Mishkan Shalom.

"We are members of the human race first and we are Americans second," Sheehan said during the ceremony. "We are members of the human race first and Jews second, Muslims second, Christians second, Iraqis second, Israelis second, Palestinians second. Our love of our fellow human beings does not stop at the border."

She was introduced by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center. He compared her confrontations with President Bush at his Texas ranch, the White House, and the State of the Union speech, with actions of the Prophet Nathan.

Nathan, Waskow recalled, courageously confronted King David for having sent a soldier to his death "for a cause by no means noble" -- David's lust for the soldier's wife, Bathsheba.

"How could such disgusting behavior lead to David's being considered a model king by three great religious traditions?" asked Waskow.

"David repented when Nathan confronted him. We are not blessed with such a king today; we are blessed with such a prophet ˆ- Cindy Sheehan."

Besides Sheehan, the honorees were:

Jeffrey Dekro, founder of The Shefa Fund and senior vice president of the Jewish Funds for Justice, was lauded as a man who through organizing money to uphold social justice follows the biblical injunction to "do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God."

Restaurateur Judy Wicks, owner of the White Dog Cafe, who joked that she uses "good food to lure customers into social activism," said she dreamed of a time when someone could go into a restaurant and ask for a "table for six million," meaning that every human had a seat at the table and a say in their lives.

Peace activist Celeste Zappala, a Philadelphian whose son, Army Sgt. Sherwood Baker, was killed in Baghdad in April 2004, said nothing would give her or Sheehan or the other mothers of lost soldiers what they really want: to see their children whole and home again. But, she said, they are buoyed "by the powerful love of the community, and, for me, the faith that says light does shine in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it."

Sheehan wore a photograph of her son, Casey, around her neck and the number "2,250" on her shirt, the tally of U.S. troops who have died in Iraq. She did this, she said, so no one would look at her without thinking of Casey, and no one would look at Casey without thinking of the other lives lost.

"This is a stain on our souls," she said of the war. "This is a stain on the souls of the world."

Sheehan spoke partially out of anger, denouncing the current administration with phrases like "premeditated murder" and "crimes against humanity."

But she also spoke with love, particularly when reflecting on her 24-year-old son's legacy.

Army Specialist Casey A. Sheehan was killed on April 4, 2004, the 37th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech against the Vietnam War, when he called the United States "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." It was also the 36th anniversary of King's assassination.

"I don't believe in coincidences," Sheehan said. "I will make my son's death stand for love and peace."

The Shalom Center is a national network of North Americans who draw on Jewish and other spiritual wisdom to work for justice, peace, and healing of the earth.

Said Rabbi Waskow,

"We brought together passionate music and prophetic words today to echo what we are now reading in the Torah cycle: Crossing the Red Sea, when prophecy is unified with song.

Miriam and Moses led the people in singing/ dancing/ celebrating their liberation -- and both a new people and the potential for universal freedom were born in the breaking of the Red Sea waters.

"What is 'prophecy'? God tells Jeremiah: 'Uproot and tear down, build and plant!' The balance between resisting what is oppressive and creating what is just, compassionate, and healing is the prophetic task. The four people we honor have shouldered that task.

"In 1991, with the first Oil War looming, The Shalom Center gathered to honor other prophetic teachers. Betty Friedan spoke to us by long-distance phone; Bella Abzug was right there. Now both are gone. But in EVERY generation, just as human beings blow their breath into the shofar to birth an outcry of grief and compassion and alarm -- just so does Yahh, the Breath of Life, blow truth through human hearts and throats to speak aloud the truth."

The event was covered with long news stories and photos by both Philadelphia daily newspapers and by three TV stations.


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