Tisha B"Av: Grief for our Wounded Temple Earth

Dear friends,  Chodesh tov!  --  May the renewing of the moon for the moonth of Tammuz bring a renewing of the energy for a Green New Deal in the Biden presidency. As the moon darkens and brightens, so (it seems) do the prospects for a crossing of the Red Sea into a world of polentiful and joyful manna,  attuned to Earth as mother, friend, a great Unity of which we are one fruitful species, not the conqueror/ exploiter/ destroyer.

Will the greening of America be part of the "infrastructure" bill that is struggling to be born?  That is in great part up to us --  the American people -- and to whether we insist. 

As we enter Tammuz,  we have begun thinking about Tisha B’Av (July 17-18). Traditionally, it is a time of grief remembering the destruction by invading imperial armies of the Hily Temples in Jerusalam. I suggest that we intertwine the traditional theme of grief for the ancient Temples with the theme of grief for the endangered, wounded Earth.  For today all Earth is the sacred Temple of all the interbreathing life that makes up this planet -- and it is in great danger of desolation by Corporate Carbon Empires -- the Pharaohs, the Caesars of our day.

 There is ancient warrant for the idea that the kernel of a Jewish Tisha B'Av contains deep sacred meaning that goes beyond the Jewish people. It is embodied deep into the experience of the Temple as a focus of universal holiness.

The Book of Lamentations that bewails the destruction in a limping, painful trope or melody, is called in Hebrew "Eicha"  -- "How?!" as in a howl of "Alas."  The ancient rabbis asked, "When was the first Eicha?" And they answered it was in the Garden of Eden when God called out "Ayyeka--  Where Are You?" to the human race  as we despoiled Earth's abundance,  foreshadowing the first and universal Exile For "Eicha" and "Ayyeka"  share the same Hebrew consonants, with only the signs of breathing vowels distinguishing the two.

And in Rabbinic and Kabbalistic thought,  the ancient Temples were microcosms of the created universe, where light (by burning olive oil in the Menorah), minerals (salt), vegetation (fruit, spices, pancakes, grain), animals (sheep, goats, bulls, doves) and the joyful sound of human song (by the Levites) were all brought near to YHWH, the Interbreath of Life.  

So there is warrant for intertwining the traditional concerns of Tisha B’Av with the planetary concern of our own generation..

 One possible resource for synagogues, havurot, and other sacred congregations is 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 such other venues as the National Havurah Institute. You can see it and other elements of an Earth-oriented Tisha B’Av service at https://theshalomcenter.org/node/1733

 Part of this resource is a remarkable essay by Rabbi Cohen on a number of different ways in which the suggested texts could be used in many different contexts for Tisha B’Av. 

To all this could be added a simple and important sacred act: writing a letter or paying a visit to your Senators or Congressperson to urge the inclusion in the 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.   This could begin now; The Shalom Center will get back to you with more details.

As we approach Tisha B'Av and other sacred says, keep this in mind:  As our parents age, and sometimes grow worn and weary, many of us their children lend a healing hand. Most of our holydays are the offspring of a long love affair between Earth and the Jewish people -- and other spiritual communities. Now that both Earth and human Earthlings -- adamah and adam, in Hebrew -- are in serious wounded trouble, let us reawaken and reframe their offspring, our festivals and fast days, to rejuvenate our endangered parents, 

 Please share this letter with your friends, colleagues, and congregants. And if you have been forwarded this Shalom Report, please feel welcome to subscribe to a weekly letter -- free!  -- by clicking here:  https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/profile/create?gid=28&reset=1 

Healing Earth, Saving Democracy: 3 Jewish HolyDays

Dear friends, as we begin once again to meet with care in public places, as it becomes possible once again for the American people to see each others’ faces and touch each others’ shoulders, to hear each others’ songs and see each others’ posters of joy and warning, now the streets once more can become a forum of democracy, along with the email and the Zoom, the letter to a Congressperson and the ballot box.

High time!  For we face two intertwined historic crises, which cry out in all these venues for democratic creativity and vigor.

The first is a crisis calling into question the future of American democracy.

The second calls into question the future of the web of life on Planet Earth.

The two are intertwined because the greatest dangers to the web of life are giant corporations that blind themselves for the sake of hyper profits to the burning, flooding, freezing, choking, of the planet that is our common home. Their anti-democratic power is entrenched in the governmental structures of our country, and our country holds the most portent and power for the future of our planet.

When the American people saw the possible future in the face of a would-be fascist, by a majority of seven million votes we voted NO, and tentative YES to a more just, more democratic, more Earth-responsive future. But the entrenched past of anti-democratic political structures (e.g. the US Senate, gerrymandered state legislatures, a stolen Supreme Court) has brought us to a hostile 50-50 split in real political power.

Add it all up, and it means that --

if democratic decision-making threatens the Carbon Pharaohs who endanger the planet and human civilization;

if democratic decision-making would end poverty for the million US children who live in despair;

if democratic decision-making would meet the need of a hundred million American women to choose birth control and abortion;

if democratic decision-making would end the lethal disparity in not only property but also length of life and degree of health between Black and white Americans;

then certain politicians and the Hyper-Rich behind them would rather abolish democracy than lose their own perks and powers. (In the cases of subordinating women and the LGBTQ communities, this comes more from the all-male monopoly control of two very large religious communities with a deeply mistaken and self-serving biblical theology, than from the corporations.)

In about half the states, legislatures are ready to pass anti-vote laws that they hope will turn the 2022 and 2024 elections to anti-democratic results. That effort could have been reversed by abolishing the Senatorial filibuster, at least in regard to voting-rights bills, and passing at least two such bills. But with a Senate balanced on a hair, Sen. Joe Manchin (West Virginia) has now made it very hard – 99.44% impossible – to end the filibuster or pass a voting-rights bill of any consequence.

So let’s be honest: We have a very hard job to save both democracy and Earth.  Almost the only conceivable way to win a pro-Green, pro-democracy Congress in 2022 is to turn out such a strong pro-Green, pro-Black/ Latinx/ Indigenous/ Asian/ Muslim, pro-Woman / LGBTQ vote that the voter suppression system is overwhelmed.

The Green values would include support for universal transformation to renewable energy and millions of well-paying jobs, solar co-ops, urban farms, restorative agriculture, and Resilience Centers everywhere in America.

Part of doing that might be unconventional but both politically and ethically important: grants directing money for solar co-ops to financially and psychologically marginalized rural and small-town voters as well as such neighborhoods in big cities.

Even if pro-Green, pro-Black, pro-Woman laws cannot be passed before November 2022, the struggle for them should be clear and strong

In the Jewish community, there are three remaining holy days this year for Jews to “Green and Grow the Vote” in preparation for 2022. (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can be times for rabbinic sermons on healing Earth and saving democracy, but probably not for public activism.)

Tisha B’Av (evening Saturday July 17 to evening Sunday July 18), when we traditionally mourn the destruction of ancient Temples and have in recent years turned to lamenting the wounding of Temple Earth.

Sukkot (evening Monday September 20 to evening Monday Sept 27),  the harvest festival that is traditionally celebrated on behalf of abundance for the “seventy nations” of the world, that honors a leafy, leaky hut that is open to our Mother Earth, that honors four species of trees and fruit by ceremonially waving them in the seven directions of the world, and that prays for the Breath of Life to save us all from deadly plagues, plastics, and poisons.

Hanukkah (evening Sunday November 26 to evening Monday December 6), when we kindle candles to bring light in a time of darkness, honor energy conservation and renewable energy (olive oil for lighting the Menorah that meets eight days’ sacred needs with one day’s oil), and yearn for the day that the Prophet Zechariah envisions when two olive trees will take a newly sacred place in our Holy Space.

All three of these sacred times could become times for Jewish visits and challenges to Senators and Congressmembers who are resisting changes that already have majority support from the American people.

During the next week we will start supplying you with materials to use for Tisha B’Av and Sukkot. 

And now we need to ask for YOUR HELP so that we can do this work quickly and well. Wewant to engage liturgists, song-writers,  illustrators who include and go beyond our own staff and Board to make this happen.  Doing this will take money. We ask you urgently to join with us in this effort.  Please click on the maroon “Contribute” banner just below,  and please make a contribution that befits both the emergency we face and the transformations we can achieve.

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

The Menorah as a Tree in a Tiny Forest: Torah This Week

This week’s Torah reading describes how Moses lit the light-bearing Menorah in the portable Mishkan, the Shrine of God’s Presence in the wilderness. And the Haftarah is Zechariah’s imagination of the Menorah in the Second Temple, when it was to be built after the end of the Babylonian Exile. His vision is amazing -- a deeply mystical vision of the future.

The Rabbis designated it also as the Haftarah for Shabbat Hanukkah – hinting at depths of Hanukkah that go far deeper than the Maccabees or even the legend of the one-day bottle of oil that lasted eight days.

Let’s start at the beginning. The Menorah that stood in the Mishkan and then in the Temple in Jerusalem was clearly meant to resemble a tree:

“You shall make a menorah of pure gold; the menorah shall be made of hammered work; its base and its shaft, its cups, calyxes [tight bunches of green leaves that hold the blossom], and petals shall be of one piece. Six branches shall issue from its sides; three branches from one side of the menorah and three branches from the other side of the menorah.

"On one branch there shall be three cups shaped like almond-blossoms, each with calyx and petals, and on the next branch there shall be three cups shaped like almond-blossoms, each with calyx and petals; so for all six branches issuing from the menorah.

"And on the menorah itself there shall be four cups shaped like almond-blossoms, each with calyx and petals: a calyx, of one piece with it, under a pair of branches; and a calyx, of one piece with it, under the second pair of branches, and a calyx, of one piece with it, under the last pair of branches; so for all six branches issuing from the menorah.

"Their calyxes and their stems shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single hammered piece of pure gold.” Shemot/Exodus 25:31-40.  

In other words, the ancient Temple Menorah was literally a Tree of Light. It was, in fact, a green menorah. We need to reclaim this powerful symbol of the unity of the natural world with the light that we bring to it.

The Menorah is Fed its Oil Directly from Live Olive Trees

On the Shabbat during Hanukkah, we read the vision of the Prophet Zechariah again -– as if to say, this linking of Light and Tree is extraordinarily important.


[The angel] said to me, “What do you see?” And I answered, “I see a menorah all of gold, with a bowl above it. The lamps on it are seven in number, and the lamps above it have seven pipes, and the lamps above it have seven pipes; and next to it are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and one on its left.” (Zechariah 4:2-3)

“And what,” I asked him, “are those two olive trees, one on the right and one on the left of the menorah?” And I further asked him, “What are the two tops of the olive trees that feed their golden oil through those two golden tubes?” (Zechariah 4: 11-13)

This first Q and A is astonishing: Never in the Mishkan or the Temple have there been trees. Indeed, many of the Prophets are deeply concerned to make sure there are no trees that might be mistaken for pagan presences.

So Zechariah is already “breaking the rules.”  Then he goes one step even further, and the rabbis stop short of including his second amazing assertion in the Haftarah. Not only does the menorah have two living olive trees that are actually interwoven with the “golden tree” made by human beings.

The trees are directly hooked up to the menorah, feeding olive oil directly into the lamps. The light of the menorah is actually fed and sustained by a continuous natural source of oil. The menorah, then, is part of a tiny eco-system, an intertwining of trees that grow from the earth (adamah) and a tree (the Menorah) made by human beings (adam), shaped by them both into an interwoven whole.

What a powerful image, the menorah becoming the embodiment of the same relationship that we see between human beings and the rest of nature, as symbolized by the Creation story. In Bereishit/Genesis, adam (human earthlings) are made out of adamah (earth). This is the same as saying, in English, that earthlings were made out of earth.

The shared linguistic root implies an entire unity, an inter-relatedness of human beings with all the rest of creation. That Creation is not “us” vs. “it,” but rather one continuous whole, within which we have a crucial creative and destructive potential, a relationship and a responsibility.

What are the implications of this perception for action?

There can be no Judaism and no Jewish People worthy of the future without this teaching and the action that grows from it.

That means reshaping our prayers (including dance, meditation, music, and pictorial art as well as words). It means including olive trees, squirrels, azaleas, mushrooms in our prayer minyanim – and inventing what that means.

It requires reshaping the kashrut of growing and eating food and creating a kashrut of collecting and using energy.

It means reshaping our festvals, which are the offspring of a love affair between the Jewish People and Earth, into celebrations capable of healing our wounded parents -- Earth as well as human Earthlinds.

It means reshaping our synagogues and havurot into “clusters of resilience,” whose members are able to survive and help each other and other engangered folk in a time of inevitable “natural” and “unnatural” disasters, local and regional.

It means --- that this is a time to dance in God's earthhquake.

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


[Dear friends, In response to a recent Shalom Report of mine, "The Roots of Turmoil in Jerusalem," Daisy Khan, executive secretary of  Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE), asked me to join her and Adem Carroll, am active Muslim member of several interfaith organizations, in working out a shared statement by Muslims and Jews about the worsening violence that began in Jerusalem and has now spead to all parts of Israel and Palestine. We did, we invited some leaders of both communities  to sign it, and the link is below. We invite you to join in it, and to share it with your friends.  To sign it, please click to --


 Since the Call was designed for signature by Muslims and Jews, we have provided another link for signatures by allies and supporters from other spiritual, religious, and ethical communities:


 [Dear friends, I am adding this note the morning  of May 20. Here is the Call with about 500 signers in four groups: the initiators, the early signers, the Jewish or Muslim signers, and the "Allies/ Witnesses" from other spiritual, religious, or ethical communities.

[This Call was written in the first few days after the exchange of rocket/ bomb fire, and its language is much gentler than it would have been had we written it even several days later. We would have taken into account ---

[The escalation of the Israeli attack on Gaza, including destruction of the only university library in Gaza and destruction of a journalists' center, as well as the killing of dozens more children and women who were in no way Hamas fighters; 

[the continuation of Hamas rocket attacks against civilian areas; 

[attempts by police and settlers to break up a general strike by Israeli citizens of Palestinian identity and Palestinians on the West Bank

[the formation of Whatsapp groups of Israeli "Jewish" violent bands planning and carrying out attacks on Israeli citizens of Arab/ Palestinian identity and culture; the failure of Israeli police to protect some Israeli citizens even when warned in advance of such planned attacks;

[the unwillingness of the President of the United States to not merely request of the Israeli government a cease-fire and the end of using US-supplied weapons for attacks on Gaza but when the Trumpian Prime Minister of Israel refused, the President's unwillingness to inform him there would be no more weapons sales, in accord with US law  --

[All this would have brought stronger condemnation in our call.

[But  we could not go back and ask signers to commit to stronger language without long delays, so we send you the Call as the signers signed it. Many might well have wanted more; but this is what it was. All our signers hope that the joining of American Muslims and Jews at such a moment will speak to the future and in the present. We welcome additional signers -- please share this Shalom Report with your friends, colleagues, and congregants.  --  Rabbi Arthur Waskow, editor]




May 14, 2021; 3 Sivan, 5781; 2 Shawwal, 1442

 On the occasion of the Islamic Holy Day of Eid and as we approach the Jewish Holy Day of Shavuot,  the Muslim and Jewish communities must both deplore the violence between Israel and Palestine and note the disproportionate response of the state of Israel, beginning with the attack on the Al Aqsa mosque on Laylat al Qadr, one of the holiest nights of the year.

 Some Israeli extremists continue to advocate for Israeli seizure and destruction of this holy site. Though their numbers are small, it is as if small numbers of people were known to be planning for destruction on Easter Sunday of St. Peter’s  in Vatican City, or on Yom Kippur of the Western Wall so sacred to Jews, or on July 4  of  the US Capitol together with the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, even if no one were to be killed – most unlikely in all four cases. 

Given the intense devotion to this place,  one of the most important sites in the Muslim world, and given the constant anxiety caused by the known threats to it, the actual attack was extremely provocative. We must question the motivation, the timing, and the necessity.

And we mourn the loss of lives, all sacred. We plead with our co-religionists in Israel and Palestine, and world-wide, to return to the shared vision of Jerusalem as a Holy City, one that reflects vision, light, hope, compassion and peace, and reflects the profound dignity and value of all humans as Images of the Holy One.

We ask both governmental leaders and private citizens, those with power and those in the street, to do everything in their power to de-escalate the conflict and further calm, to protect life and limb, restore the safety of all,  and prevent any damage to the sacred sites of all.

Injustices and inequalities feed this conflict. Though we deplore the rockets from Gaza as we deplore the Israeli bombing, the most immediate crisis in Jerusalem has its roots in the continuing military occupation and siege of lands that comprise the necessary aspirations of the Palestinian people  --  East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza – and the constant forcible pressure to replace Palestinian residents of these lands with settlers who often act oppressively, with  military and police protection.There may be several different ways to end this unjust occupation and to protect the safety of all who live in the region. So long as it continues, crisis after crisis, bloodshed after bloodshed, will be its consequences. 

For there can be no true security without justice. Nor will there be peace without justice, only  pacification based on force. Though many feel that the US has not maintained its neutrality as an honest broker in this ongoing conflict, President Biden should far more energetically promote a peace process both in Israel and Palestine, meanwhile responding to the concerns of the international community. The US Government has  so far seemed unable or unwilling to confront the settlement movement that has played such a destabilizing role in Israel as well as Palestine.

Our own spiritual and religious communities throughout the world are deeply affected by what our communities in Israel and Palestine do. The vision of the ancient Hebrew Prophets and of the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon them all, of a world of peace and justice – and the shape of a Jewish People and Islam struggling to carry out those visions today – will be deeply compromised by injustice and violence committed in their names.

Blessed be the peacemakers. On this occasion, we affirm that our shared religious and moral values require an embrace of peace and justice, especially when our views and perspectives differ. The other alternative is oppression and conflict without end. 


To sign, please click to --


Signed (Institutions cited for identification only):

Initiators: Daisy Khan, Executive Director, Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE);  Adem Carroll, Flushing Interfaith Council, Faith Coalition Against Genocide:  Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph.D., Executive Director, The Shalom Center

Early Signers:

Imam Shamsi Ali,  Director, Jamaica Muslim Center, NY, and President, Nusantara Foundation USA 

Sheikh Fadel Al Sahlani, Al Khoei Foundation

Emad Al Turk,  Chairman/Co-founder, International Museum of Muslim Cultures

Rabbi Phyllis Berman, Mashpia in the ALEPH Hashpa'ah Program

Abdul Aziz Bhuiyan, Chairman, Hillside Islamic Center 

Adem Carroll, Flushing Interfaith Council, Faith Coalition Against Genocide

Robert J. De Sena, Council for Unity

Rabbi Amy Eilberg

Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Executive Directorl Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, Founding Director, Multifaith Studies and Initiatives,  Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Rabbi Jonah Geffen

Sahar Hussain, Interfaith Institute of Long Island

S. Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana Ph.D., School of International Service, American University

Imam Faizul Khan, Islamic Society of Greater Washington Area

Amin Khwaja, President, Islamic Center of Long Island 

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah

Khalid S. Lateef, Author, Member of the Long Island Multi-Faith Forum. 

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, President Emeritus, The Shalom Center

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann

Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Founder, Soundvision, Muslim Network TV and Justice for All 

Ibrahim Negm, Senior advisor to the Grand Mufti of Egypt and Secretary General, Fatwa Authorities Worldwide 

Rabbi Jeffrey Roth, Executive Director, The Awakened Heart Project for Contemplative Judaism

Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, Imam and Religious Director, The Islamic Society of Orange County, Garden Grove, California 

Dr. Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Ph.D. National Council of Elders

Rabbi David Teutsch, Professor Emeritus, Reconstructionist Rabbbinical College

Rabbi Burt Visotsky (Jewish Theological Seminaryy)

Rabbi Elyse Wechterman, Executive Director,  Reconstructionist Rabbbinical Assn

Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg

Okolo Rashid, President/Co-founder, International Museum of Muslim Cultures

Hafiz Rehman, Trustee Masjid Darul Quran, Bayshore. LI 

Rabbi Simkha Weintraub, LCSW, Co-Founder, Truah: Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

Rabbi Shawn Zevit, Congregation Mishkan Shalom

Ani Zonneveld, Muslims for Progressive Value

To add your name, please click to --


 Since the Call was designed for signature by Muslims and Jews, we have provided another link for signatures by allies and supporters from other spiritual, religious, and ethical communities:


For the hundreds of additional signers as of May 20, see below


"Another Side of Sinai" -- R's Hammer, Seidenberg, & Waskow

On the second night of Shavuot, from 7 pm to 9:45 pm Eastern time on Monday May 17, with a 15-minute break in the middle for free song, movement, and breathing, Rabbis Jill Hammer, David Seidenberg, and I will share conversations with you about two texts from “Another Side of Sinai."

You can register at


Please note: We have added contribution amounts to accommodate both low-income folks and those who wish to contribute more.

For the first adventure,  Rabbi Hammer – who co-founded Kohenet, the Institute for Hebrew Priestesses – and I will lead a participatory journey into a remarkable text called “The Thunder: Perfect Mind.” (For any of you who are just getting to know me, I’m one of the pioneers in creating “Eco-Judaism,” and the author most recently of Dancing in God's Earthquake : The Coming Transformation of Religion.) 

“The Thunder” is often called a Gnostic text from the library discovered at Nag Hamadi. But I think it is a Jewish text, for in it the Voice of Reality speaks, as in the Ten Teachings of the biblical Sinai, as “Anokhi  --“I.” But where in Torah “Anokhi” appears once, in “The Thunder” it appears more than 20 times, almost all as the Sacred Feminine in many paradoxical masks. What do we make of this?

 Then, after a pause to breathe easy, Rabbi David Seidenberg and I will explore the teachings of the Shabbat Shabbaton, the sabbatical year and Jubilee when Earth and Human Earthlings get to rest, and society gets to catch its breath and breathe in Justice, the sharing of abundance. 

Those teachings begin with “B’Har Sinai, On Mount Sinai.”  Rabbi Seidenberg is the author of Kabbalah and Ecology: God's Image in the More-Than-Human World. What can we actually make of this, in the midst of a planetary crisis?

The regular contribution for this double immersion in what came to us from “Another Side of Sinai” is $36.  We have added contribution amounts to accommodate both low-income folks and those who wish to contribute more. Space in the Zoom  virtual frame is limited, so please sign up now. You can register at


We will record the sessions, so if you register you can watch and hear even if you can’t be present on Monday the 17th. But we do hope you’ll be involved, not only a spectator.

All three of us look forward to this journey with you.

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

Torah Portion "Emor": Transforming & Preserving the Flow of Festivals

In this week’s Torah portion, called “Emor,” one of the main passages is a recitation (Leviticus 23) of the festivals and how to observe them  -- the biblical version of Seasons of Our Joy. It begins with Shabbat and then follows the seasons of the year, from Pesach (Passover) in “the first month of the year” until the day after the seven-day fall festival of Sukkot.

From our own  standpoint, there are several surprising aspects to the recitation. First of all, in the description of Pesach there is not a work about the great liberation from slavery to Pharaoh in Mitzrayyim, “Narrowdom.” 

In fact, we hear about two festivals – one on the fourteenth day of the first “renewing” of the year – that is, the spring new moon, what we might call the first lunar “moonth.” That is when there must be a “pesach” or Pass-over, Skip-over, skipping or stumbling offering to the Breath of Life.

The next day, the fifteenth  day, we celebrate a different festival, the Feast of Matzot or Unleavened Bread. Still no mention of the “fierce urgency of Now,” the reason we hear elsewhere for baking a bread for a band of runway slaves to carry into the wilderness as emergency food.

What is going on here?  In the beginning, “Pesach,” it seems, was the stumbling, staggering, skipping gait of a newborn lamb. The offering of a “pesach” newborn lamb, roasted in fire newly tamed, was a “pesach” offering to the Breath of Life. The offering of a spring lambing by the shepherds of the land. Some scholars think the shepherds may even have imitated the newborn lambs by doing a skipping, stumbling dance of joyful celebration of their own.

 And why matzot the next day, with a commitment to eat only matzot for seven days? A festival of farmers, when the early-fruitful barley was breaking ground and offering itself as the first food of the first farmers who could pound barley into a powder, add water but no spices and no yeast, and bake the flat bread with fire newly tamed.

Then where did the Pesach of liberation come from? There must have been some event of blazing heat in the life of the people to melt a shepherd’s festival of newborn lambs and a farmer’s festival of new-sprung barley into one, a festival of freedom. 

Transforming the stumbling pesach steps of a newborn lamb and the pesach skipping dance of shepherds into the Pesach of the Messenger of Death skipped over, passed over, the homes of Israelites. Only the homes where blood had rimmed the doorways to bring new birth as the bloody doorway of a womb brings a new birth.

Spring and new birth, when translated to a social system, means freedom –- the unexpected, a new shape of living.  It is no surprise that the whole lunar-solar Jewish calendar is based on the certainty that Pesach must come in the spring.

And the transformation of Pesach should teach us a truth about other old symbols and practices: When we live through earthquakes, we can transform the old without forgetting it.


There is one more astonishing fact about Emor’s recitation of the seasonal festivals. In Lev. 23: 22, there is a sudden departure from explaining holy-day observance to explaining how to treat the poor in time of harvest:

         You are not to finish-off the edge of your field when you harvest (it),

             the full-gleaning of your harvest you are not to glean; for the afflicted and

             for the sojourner you are to leave them, I am YHWH

             [the Breath of Life, Interbreathing Spirit of the world] your God!

 Then the text goes on to the blowing of the Shofar for Renewing of the moon of the seventh moonth – what we know as Rosh Hashanah.

Why this interruption in the flow of holy days?

I can only tell you how it makes me feel: That after the  Spring wheat harvest at Shavuot, there is a kind of plug that blocks the flow of abundance from Earth – UNLESS we pull that plug open by sharing the flow with the poor, who don’t own land. We need to pull that plug if we want to keep moving to the fall harvest.  If we stopped sharing our harvest with the poor, the rhythm and flow of the harvest itself would stop.  Another reminder from the Torah that the meaning of YHWH, Interbreathing, is that social justice and Earth’s abundance can never be severed.

Without sharing Earth's abundance, we would never get to the seventh month, the sabbatical month of four different festivals. A microcosm of the year and of our lives: birth at the New Moon; encounter with another Identity on Yom Kippur; fulfillment at the full moon of harvest; inwardness, seeming death and underground rebirth as the full fruit of Sukkot becomes the invisible seed of Sh’mini Atzeret, waiting for Spring to sprout again.

Blessings as we count the Omer of the Spring wheat harvest, relieving our anxiety and permitting celebrations as on the 33d day the wheat has grown enough to make clear the harvest will be plentiful.

That’s the deep, the sensible understanding that Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman brings to what to many seem the puzzling moment of Lag B’Omer. This week, Thursday night and Friday.

 With that note of joy and comfort, blessings of shalom, salaam, peace, paz, namaste! --- Arthur

Shavuot Learning from Sinai to Heal Earth

Dear friends,

Let me begin with the point of this letter – then the explanation. I am writing to invite you to take part in two conversation about applying the year of Shmita --  the biblical seventh year, when Earth should be released from overwork – to our own generation’s urgent need to heal Earth from the climate crisis.  Details below, after background.

There are three weeks and a couple of days from Earth Day to Shavuot. Is there any connection between the 3,000-year=old festival and the 51-year-old one? Yes, two connections in fact – and we can do something about them 

When Jews today think about Shavuot, they think Sinai. And that means that they think either the Ten Utterances or the entire body of Torah being revealed to the whole Jewish people, present throughout time.

Aside from the Ten Utterances, there is a passage of Torah which says explicitly that it came from Mount Sinai. It is chapter 25 and 26 of Leviticus. Chapter 25 begins “B’Har Sinai, On Mount Sinai” and chapter 26 ends “These are the instructions that YHWH,  the Breath of Life,  gave between Godself and the children of Israel at Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.”

 And what is contained in these two chapters? In the first, Torah explains that every seventh year must be Shabbat Shabbaton, Sabbath to the exponential power of Sabbath, in which Earth is allowed to rest. Then chapter 26 asks, what happens if you will not allow Earth to rest in that seventh year?  It answers, Earth rests anyway – – on your head. It rests through plague, famine, fire, exile.

So Shavuot, if we pay attention, is a time to remember the ancient wisdom of healing the relationship between Earth and Human earthlings by pausing to release Earth from organized agriculture.  The word “Release” – in Hebrew, Shmita – became the name of that seventh year.

According to the ancient count, Shmita begins this very fall. What better time to pay attention, as the US government gears up at long last, 40 years late, to address the climate crisis?

I wrote about Shmita and Jubilee in the original Godwrestling published in 1978 when no one paid attention, I write about it again in the book I’ve just published, Dancing in God's Earthquake  : The Coming Transformation of Religion and now people are paying attention.

In many synagogues and havurot, there is a tradition that on the first night of Shavuot (the night that begins the evening of Sunday, May 16), there is a gathering to study Torah. This year that probably means by Zoom. What I have ibn=n mind and plan is both exploring the ancient text for its obvious and hidden meanings, and exploring with you how we might apply this in a very different planetary arena.

One more thing.  In Christian tradition, a Shavuot gathering of followers of Jesus morphed into what became Pentecost, this year May 23. If you want to explore these ideas for Pentecost Sunday, sign up!

 There are two goals I have in mind: The first is simply exploring these ideas for you to apply in your own life. The second is preparing you,  if you wish,  to lead an hour-long discussion during the Shavuot Night of Learning and discussion.

If the second appeals to you, we suggest you ask whoever is organizing your Shavuot Night of Learning to assign you an hour to lead with this topic. Or if you are not in touch with any organized Shavuot plan, invite some of your friends for a pleasant evening of talk and song about this on May 16.

I look forward to meeting with you on May 5 and 12. If you can’t make one or both of those dates, register anyway and we will record the sessions.

The recipe for healing: Mix justice with joy.  Shalom, Arthur 

Put Not Your Trust in Princes: Biden -- 2 Failures of Love, 2 Victories

Dear friends,

“Put not your trust in princes,” said an immigrant-rights activist this past week – one who had put his trust in President Biden.

For Mr. Biden could have, as he promised again and again during his presidential campaign, changed the abysmally low level the number of refugees Trump had set – 15,000 a year – to be allowed to enter the US. Could have raised to a decent humanitarian level the number of refugees admitted to the US.

Laws of political physics, 2020-2024

I have kept writing and saying that “we” as the human species and “we” as the American people are facing a profound choice – between going backward under the control of Pharaoh’s army or forward into the Unknown of the Red Sea. And I believe that the survival of democracy in America and the survival of humanity on the planet are deeply intertwined.

The choices are so big and so urgent that they go beyond electoral politics into profound issues of society, culture, religion, and spirituality. Yet they include crucial choices in electoral politics, which did not end in 2020.  Indeed, even elections and who votes in them are shaped by deep spirituality.

I will come back to that. But let me look at elections themselves, from now till 2024:


  • 1. Unless the US Senate filibuster rule is ended, at least for bills concerning voting rights, there is no way to pass the For the People bill and the John Lewis bill to reawaken and transform the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

  • 2. Unless those bills are passed, there is no way to prevent the passage of laws in at least a dozen states that cut deeply into the voting ability of Black, Latinx, and college-student communities.

  • 3. If those state laws to restrict and suppress the vote are passed, it is likely the House and Senate in 2022 and the Presidency in 2024, will be won by right-wing politicians who will renew their destruction of the world by the burning of fossil fuels and the elimination of American democracy. They will install instead an ethnic hierarchy topped by extreme wealth and corporate control, ready to use violence to suppress opposition. The voting regime of Jim Crow 2.0, and worse.
  • 4. Therefore, there is an immediate urgent goal not only of secular progressives and the prophetic religious and those deeply rooted in the Spirit; but also small-r republicans who are committed, in Benjamin Franklin's words, to “a republic, if you can keep it”; and small-d democrats who are committed, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, to government “of the people, by the people, for the people – the whole people of all colors and ethnic origins and genders and sexualities and religions and incomes.
  • 5. The immediate goal is abolition of the filibuster, at least in regard to bills embodying voting rights.


  • 6. And there is one substantive bill that may seem miniscule compared to this overarching decision about democracy, but which I think is intrinsically connected. That is the campaign for Thirty Million Solar Homes, with a special effort to provide strong federal grants to neighborhood co-ops in rural and small town and hollowed-out former industrial working-class cities as well as marginalized Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous neighborhoods. What is so special about that campaign?

  •        We cannot heal our Earth if 51% of Americans believe the climate crisis a lethal threat, and 49% think it is a hoax. Solar/ wind neighborhood co-ops in “red” America could break through the official rejection of renewable energy and the whole notion that climate crisis is a hoax that is held by about half the national elected officials.  That is one place where Spirit and Polling Booth, neighborhood and planet, connect.

  • This coverage of ALL marginalized Americans is crucial ethically and as effective politics. Those who oppose renewable energy as long as it is only ink on paper will come to support it when it is money in the bank and good jobs on the local newspaper’s front page.  (That is what saved Obamacare.)

  • 7. After these two efforts, the next major campaign must be to affect the Congressional elections in 2022 to make the passage of voting-rights bills possible. That will be extremely difficult, if the electorate has been hobbled and suppressed.

What is at stake here? The profound spiritual question:  Do “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” or only some select part of them? Our oldest, deepest wisdom says: The whole people must be fully present at crucial moments of their history, their future. 

In our ancient teachings from the Hebrew Bible, there are moments that make the answer clear: Moses, speaking to the children of the Sinai generation, insists (Deut 5:3) that they— even though they had not yet been born – stood at Sinai. Not only the physically living in the present but also the future must count. Then Torah has Moses make the convocation rhythmic and permanent by requiring (Deut. 31: 10-12) that during Sukkot after every seventh year, the Shabbat Shabbaton or Shmitah,  the whole people must assemble. Old and young, women and men, even babes in arms, must assemble to renew Torah. Much later, after the return of exiles from Babylonia, Ezra and Nehemiah convoke the whole people (Nehemiah 8)  to recommit themselves to Torah.

What does this mean for us? Last week I urged members and readers of The Shalom Center to take action – easy and simple --  for renewing democracy in  the Senate itself: simply by calling 1202-224-3121 and speaking to their own Senators. I would add, for those who can invest fifteen minutes a day, calling also – one office each day this week --the offices of Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Senator Mitt Romney of Utah.

 What message should you bear? That the filibuster must be abolished, at least for bills to make clear that the Federal government will act to guarantee that all adults are entitled to vote.

 The Senators I named are thought to be the most likely to make the 50 votes necessary, together with the Vice-President, to limit the filibuster and pass the voting-rights bills. I urge you to ask first to speak to the Senator's staffer most involved in voting rights, and if that becomes impossible, to record your comments: your name, where you live, your spiritual or vocational connection if you are willing, and your insistence that this moment  is so crucial to our future that the whole people must be enabled to vote.

 If you want more information about the state voter-suppression bills being passed, you can check https://demcastusa.com/2021/04/08/jim-crow-voting-laws-then-and-now/

If you want more information about the "For the People" bill now before the Senate,check the Brennan Center for Justice at


 If you want The Shalom Center to continue working for an American democracy healthy enough to heal Earth from the climate crisis, and for climate solutions able to make possible small-d democratic neighborhood-based  management of renewable solar and wind energy, please contribute $72 or more by clicking on  the maroon “Contribute” banner just below my signature.

 In writing you this letter, I am calling on my whole life-experience – as an historian of the US past, as a legislative assistant in the House of Representatives, as an active public intellectual at the Institute for Policy Studies and the Public Resource Center, as an elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1968, as a civilly disobedient activist, and as a spiritual seeker drawing on the depths of Torah. All to say that this is a crucial moment in American and planetary history: We must consult our whole society.

Thank you.

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

Passover: From Marking Old Freedom to Making New Freedom

The festive nights of marking ancient Freedom are over. The active days of making new Freedom are upon us.

While we were preparing meals with matzah, the bread that had no time to rise amid “fierce urgency of now,” the lawmakers of Georgia were baking the no-bread, no-water of enslaving would-be voters.

The recipe:

  1. Cook up a law reducing to almost none the voting centers in Black neighborhoods, meaning would-be voters will have to stand in line for long long hours, to vote.
  2. Make it a crime to offer food or water to those who are standing in line to vote.
  3. Burn it all in the oven of a racist Governor, and out comes the bread of affliction, the taste of subjugation.

Georgia’s new racist election law does not stand alone. Around the country, many state lawmakers are conspiring to deny the right to vote to Black communities, Latinx neighborhoods, and young voters of all colors who are college students. (The Brennan Center for Justice reports that “In Texas, one can vote with a handgun license, but not a student ID.”)

Only a Federal law can stop this multi-state assault on democracy. Here is what we can do:

Let us make  real what we have said at our Passover Seder: “Let all who are hungry come and eat; let all who thirst for freedom, drink from Miriam’s Well!”    

The House of Representatives has passed the “For the People” bill. It is now before the Senate. The bill includes two weeks of early voting so no one need stand in line to vote, as well as automatic and same- day registration. It also restores the vote to all formerly incarcerated citizens and allows people who lack photo ID to vote with sworn affidavits of their identity.  It provides for new small-donor matching system to fund election campaigns, and outlaws partisan gerrymandering.

Before the 2020 election, the House passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and will do so again. The John Lewis Act fixes the problems the Supreme Court claimed to find when it gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the John Lewis Act reestablishes  Federal “pre-clearance” for changes in election law by any state, not just in the South, that has a history of actions that prevent racial minorities from voting.

And finally, the House has passed and again will pass a law granting statehood to the people of the District of Columbia (renamed DC for “[Frederick] Douglass Commonwealth.”

All three of these steps toward a more inclusive democracy will then face an obdurate Senate filibuster, where it takes not a majority of 51 votes but 60 to pass a law.

The Senate is already an undemocratic, even anti-democratic body. States with fewer than a million people each (Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, north Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware) are each equal to states like California (42 million); Texas (28 million); Florida (21 million); New York (20 million); Illinois (13 million); and Pennsylvania (13 million).

The six smallest, with a total population fewer than five million people, cast 12 Senatorial votes; the six biggest – total population 137 million --  also cast 12 Senatorial votes. Since the small states have very few non-white people and the largest have much more diverse populations, the bias in favor of isolated whites is even greater. And the filibuster, greatly favoring small states with many Senators who can more easily put together a blocking 41 votes, makes it still more undemocratic.

Fifty Senators plus Vice-President Kamala Harris could change the Senate rules – even abolish the filibuster altogether. But there seem to be more than 50 Senators opposed to abolition.  There is growing support for making voting rights a specially sacred cause, to forbid a filibuster on that subject, just as the Senate forbade it for confirming judicial and executive appointments.

So this what I urge all of us to do: Make two phone calls, one to each of your Senators. (Just call 1202-224-3121 and tell the operator your state, asking for each Senator. If you are from DC, not yet a State with any Senators, ask for Majority Leader Schumer.

Start by saying your name and where you live. Tell then you are calling in honor of Passover‘s call for freedom and justice, or that same call embodied in the Last Supper (a Passover Seder) of Holy Week; or to honor Laylat HaBarat (March 28-29), the Muslim Night of Repentance; or to honor the Hindu Spring Festival of Colors, or any time of compassion and justice that appeals to you.

Why mention these? Because “democracy” is not just a vote or a law, though it must include them; it tastes of spiritual wisdom stirred up through millennia of peppering the pot in every kitchen.                                  

Then urge the Senator to co-sponsor and support three bills and one rules change:  The For the People Act (S1); the John Lewis Act when it reaches the Senate; DC Statehood for Douglass Commonwealth; and a rules change exempting all voting-rights bills from the filibuster.

After you have made your two phone calls, send us an email at Office@theshalomcenter.org saying you made these calls to which Senators, and your home address. We will send you a special commemoration of your action to “All who hunger for justice, come and eat!”

If you feel drawn to help The Shalom Center pursue justice in this way, please click on the maroon “Contribute” button on the left-hand margin, and send a gift to support this campaign.

And share this message with your friends, colleagues, and congregants.

May the blown-up tyranny of those who swallow up the votes of a free people vanish like the swollen chumitz in this Festival of Freedom!

Good yontif and shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --  Arthur


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