Torah This Week: Seeing God in the Trees

The Torah portion this coming Shabbat is called “Va’yera” after its first word, which means “was seen” or “became visible.”  The opening sentence (Genesis 18:1) reads like this:

“Now YHWH [the Interbreathing Spirit of the World] was seen by him [by Avraham} in the oaks of Mamre as he was sitting at the entrance to his tent at the heat of the day.”

 First let me say, “in the oaks of Mamre” is an unconventional but utterly reasonable translation of "b'elonai.”  Most translators say “by the oaks” because they want to point to three men who are about to appear as messengers of God, making God visible, and they are uncomfortable with the notion that God may be visible in the trees themselves.  But most of the time in the Bible,” b'means “in.”

 How could God be visible in that forest? If “YHWH” is the Breath of Life, the Wind of change, the Spirit of the world, then the rustling of leaves in that forest, blown by the Wind, would make visible the Wind that is about to change the life of Abraham and Sarah and the world.

 Secondly, in our own generation the scientists at last have taught us– – and perhaps long ago wise human beings knew the deep truth – that trees use chemicals to communicate with each other, that they help each other when some of them are in danger, that they breathe out the oxygen we need to breathe in and they breathe in the CO2 we breathe out.

 When in Deuteronomy 20:19 Torah asks, “Are the trees of the field human?” we thought the question was tongue-in-cheek and that the answer was obviously No. But perhaps if being “human” means communicating wisdom across generations the answer is obviously “Yes!” (Consult Richard Powers’ insightful novel The Overstory.)

 I have several times led prayer circles where I have invited people as part of the service to seek out a tree and listen to it breathe, then hear the tree’s own prayer, then come back to the community and share the tree’s prayer. When a dozen people do this, each prayer is unique, the prayers are as different as you can imagine --- and profoundly “spiritual.”

 Finally, how many of us have seen God become visible in a forest, a river, a bird, a cloud of fireflies? Time for us to welcome these bearers of life into the minyan, the quorum that makes prayer possible. Indeed, there could be no minyan without them.


P.S.--  I invite all of you to "like" the Shalom Center Facebook page, where I share updates about our important work for eco/social justice and healing of our woundeed Earth. -- including video of this and other Torah teachings.  Like it here: https://www.facebook.com/TheShalomCenter

Prophetic Song for This Time: Leonard Cohen's "Democracy is Coming to the USA"

The darkest, most honest, most prophetic patriotic song I know is Leonard Cohen’s  “Democracy is Coming to the USA.”

It’s a song for tonight and the morning after Election Day and the weeks that will follow.  

First look at these words below in case you might miss a few in the hearing/ watching. Then check the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DU-RuR-qO4Y&feature=youtu.be . I recommend watching/ hearing the first go-round with wonderful graphics, and stay to watch and hear the Prophet Leonard himself sing it a second time.  

Whatever attacks we face against democracy in the next few months, I hope this song will give us joy and inner strength through our tears.   “Oz v’zimrat YAHHHH: Strength and Song:  The Breath of Life.” --- 

Feel free to share this with your friends  ---  Arthur

  “Democracy is Coming to the USA”

  Leonard Cohen 

 It's coming through a hole in the air, 

from those nights in Tiananmen Square. 
It's coming from the feel 
that this ain't exactly real, 
or it's real, but it ain't exactly there. 
From the wars against disorder, 
from the sirens night and day, 
from the fires of the homeless, 
from the ashes of the gay: 
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A. 

It's coming through a crack in the wall; 
on a visionary flood of alcohol; 
from the staggering account 
of the Sermon on the Mount 
which I don't pretend to understand at all. 
It's coming from the silence 
on the dock of the bay, 
from the brave, the bold, the battered 
heart of Chevrolet: 
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A. 

It's coming from the sorrow in the street, 
the holy places where the races meet; 
from the homicidal bitchin' 
that goes down in every kitchen 
to determine who will serve and who will eat. 
From the wells of disappointment 
where the women kneel to pray 
for the grace of God in the desert here 
and the desert far away: 
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A. 

Sail on, sail on 
O mighty Ship of State! 
To the Shores of Need 
Past the Reefs of Greed 
Through the Squalls of Hate 
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on. 

It's coming to America first, 
the cradle of the best and of the worst. 
It's here they got the range 
and the machinery for change 
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. 
It's here the family's broken 
and it's here the lonely say 
that the heart has got to open 
in a fundamental way: 
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A. 

It's coming from the women and the men. 
O baby, we'll be making love again. 
We'll be going down so deep 
the river's going to weep, 
and the mountain's going to shout Amen! 
It's coming like the tidal flood 
beneath the lunar sway, 
imperial, mysterious, 
in amorous array: 
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A. 

Sail on, sail on ... 

I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean 
I love the country but I can't stand the scene. 
And I'm neither left or right 
I'm just staying home tonight, 
getting lost in that hopeless little screen. 
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags 
that Time cannot decay, 
I'm junk but I'm still holding up 
this little wild bouquet: 
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

### ### ###  

 P..S My newest book, Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion is my sketch of the do-able future. Gloria Steinem, Ruth Messinger, Rev. William Barber; Rabbis Art Green, Jonah Pesner, and Jill Hammer; Bill McKibben, Marge Piercy, and Jim Wallis have all read and praised it. Join them! Order it from The Shalom Center or from Orbis Books. See --- https://theshalomcenter.org/content/ordering-dancing-gods-earthquake-rabbi-arthur  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.

Justice & Freedom Are LOVE, Spoken in Public: Can We Keep Them Nov 4?

Dear Friends, Yesterday’s NYTimes carried an article, based on confidential interviews with ten high officials of the Trump Administration, that warned of possible attacks on American democracy that could begin on Election Day itself.  The article is by Ron Suskind, an investigative journalist who has written about the presidency and national affairs for more than three decades. Following, our excerpts from the article. – Here is the full link:


and after the excerpts my comment about what to do in case.  --  AW, ed]

By Ron Suskind, NY Times, Oct 30, 2020

Key officials in several parts of the government told me how they thought the progression from the 3rd to the 4th might go down.

They are loath to give up too many precise details, but it’s not hard to speculate from what we already know. Disruption would most likely begin on Election Day morning somewhere on the East Coast, where polls open first. Miami and Philadelphia (already convulsed this week after another police shooting), in big swing states, would be likely locations. It could be anything, maybe violent, maybe not, started by anyone, or something planned and executed by any number of organizations, almost all of them on the right fringe, many adoring of Mr. Trump. The options are vast and test the imagination. Activists could stage protests at a few of the more crowded polling places and draw those in long lines into conflict.

A Proud Boys rally in Portland, Ore.Credit...Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi for The New York Times

Would that mean that Mr. Trump caused any such planned activities or improvisations? No, not directly. He’s in an ongoing conversation — one to many, in a twisted e pluribus unum — with a vast population, which is in turn in conversations — many to many — among themselves. People are receiving messages, interpreting them and deciding to act, or not. If, say, the Proud Boys attack a polling location, is it because they were spurred on by Mr. Trump’s “stand back and stand by” instructions? Is Mr. Trump telling his most fervent supporters specifically what to do? No. But security officials are terrified by the dynamics of this volatile conversation. It can move in so many directions and very quickly become dangerous, as we have already seen several times this year.

The local police are already on-guard in those cities and others around the country for all sorts of possible incidents at polling places, including the possibility of gunfire. If something goes wrong, the media will pick this up in early morning reports and it will spread quickly, increasing tension at polling places across the country, where the setup is ripe for conflict.

Conservative media could then say the election was being stolen, summoning others to activate, maybe violently. This is the place where cybersecurity experts are on the lookout for foreign actors to amplify polling location incidents many times over, with bots and algorithms and stories written overseas that slip into the U.S. digital diet. News of even a few incidents could summon a violent segment of Mr. Trump’s supporters into action, giving foreign actors even more to amplify and distribute, spreading what is, after all, news of mayhem to the wider concentric circles of Mr. Trump’s loyalists. Groups from the left may engage as well, most likely as a counterpoint to those on the right. Those groups are less structured, more like an “ideology or movement,” as Mr. Wray described them in his September testimony. But, as a senior official told me, the numbers on the left are vast.

Violence and conflict throughout that day at the polls would surely affect turnout, allowing Mr. Trump to claim that the in-person vote had been corrupted, if that suits his purposes. There’s no do-over for Election Day.

Under the 12th Amendment, which Mr. Trump has alluded to on several occasions, the inability to determine a clear winner in the presidential election brings the final decision to the House of Representatives. The current composition of the House, in which Republicans control more state delegations even though Democrats are in the majority, favors Trump. But the state count could flip to the Democrats with this election.

There are many scenarios that might unfold from here, nearly all of them entailing weeks or even months of conflict, and giving an advantage to the person who already runs the U.S. government.

There will likely be some reckoning of the in-person vote drawn from vote tallies and exit polls. If Joe Biden is way ahead in these projections, and they are accepted as sound, Mr. Trump may find himself having to claim fraud or suppression that amounts to too large a share of votes to seem reasonable. Inside the Biden campaign they are calling this “too big to rig.”

Races tend to tighten at the end, but the question is not so much the difference between the candidates’ vote totals, or projections of them, as it is what Mr. Trump can get his supporters to believe. Mr. Trump might fairly state, at this point, that he can get a significant slice of his base to believe anything.

But he could use all the help that he can summon to invalidate the in-person vote.

Senior intelligence officials are worried that a foreign power could finally manage a breach of the American voting architecture — or leave enough of a digital trail to be perceived to have breached it. There were enormous efforts to do so, largely but not exclusively by the Russians, in 2016, when election systems in every state were targeted. There is also concern that malware attacks could cripple state governments and their electronic voter registration data, something that could make swaths of voters unable to vote. A senior official told me that provisional ballots can then be passed out and “we keep all the receipts,” meaning that these votes would have a paper ballot trail that can be laboriously counted and rechecked. But a breach or an appearance of a breach, in any state’s machinery, would, in a chaotic flow of events, be a well-timed gift to Mr. Trump.

The lie easily outruns truth — and the best “disinformation,” goes a longtime C.I.A. rule, “is actually truthful.” It all blends together. “Then the president then substantiates it, gives it credence, gives it authority from the highest office,” says the senior government official. “Then his acolytes mass-blast it out. Then it becomes the narrative, and fact, and no rational, reasonable explanation to the contrary will move” his supporters “an inch.”

No matter how the votes split, there’s an expectation among officials that Mr. Trump will claim some kind of victory on Nov. 4, even if it’s a victory he claims was hijacked by fraud — just as he falsely claimed that Hillary Clinton’s three million-vote lead in the popular vote was the result of millions of votes from unauthorized immigrants. This could come in conjunction with statements, supported by carefully chosen “facts,” that the election was indeed “rigged,” as he’s long been warning.

If the streets then fill with outraged people, he can easily summon, or prompt, or encourage troublemakers among his loyalists to turn a peaceful crowd into a sea of mayhem. They might improvise on their own in sparking violence, presuming it pleases their leader.

If the crowds are sufficiently large and volatile, he can claim to be justified in responding with federal powers to bring order. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, have both said they are opposed to deploying armed forces on American soil.

The F.B.I., meanwhile, is bracing for huge challenges. “We are all-hands-on-deck for the foreseeable future,” the F.B.I. official I mentioned earlier told me. “We’ve been talking to our state and local counterparts and gearing up for the expectation that it’s going to be a significant law-enforcement challenge for probably weeks or months,” this official said. “It feels pretty terrifying.”

In the final few weeks of the campaign, and during Mr. Trump’s illness, he’s done two things that seem contradictory: seeking votes from anyone who might still be swayed and consolidating and activating his army of most ardent followers. They are loyal to him as a person, several officials pointed out, not as president. That army Trump can direct in the difficult days ahead and take with him, wherever he goes. He may activate it. He may bargain with it, depending on how the electoral chips fall. It’s his insurance policy.

The senior government official who discussed Mr. Trump’s amplifying of messages spoke with great clarity about these codes of loyalty. The official was raised in, and regularly visits, what is now a Trump stronghold.

Credit...Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

“They’re the reason he took off the damned mask when he got to the White House” from Walter Reed, the official said. “Those people eat that up, where any reasonable, rational person would be horrified. You are still actively shedding a deadly virus. You are lucky enough to have the best and brightest doctors, trial drugs, whatever. You get flown back to the White House, and you do a photo-op with a military salute to no one. You ask it to be refilmed, and you take off your mask, which, in my mind, has become a signal to his core base of supporters that are willing to put themselves at risk and danger to show loyalty to him.”

But across the government, another official — a senior intelligence official in a different department — argues that citizens may yet manage to rise to the challenge of this difficult election, in a time of division.

“The last line of defense in elections is the American voter,” he told me. “This is the most vulnerable phase,” now and the days immediately after Election Day, “where we’re so eager to have an outcome, that actors both foreign and domestic are going to exploit that interest, that thirst, that need for resolution to the drama.”

I asked him what he would say to American voters. “Look,” he said, softly, “just understand that you’re being manipulated. That’s politics, that’s foreign influence, they’re trying to manipulate you and drive you to a certain outcome.”

“Americans are, I think, hopefully, made of sterner stuff.”

###    ###

Comments by AW, ed:

If you are in a group of progressives who have chosen to be peacekeepers and protect voters at a polling place, first if possible come with a clear plastic face shield over a cloth mask and a bicycle helmet, a bottle of water, and a shared commitment to nonviolence. Try to stay six feet apart.

If  some rowdy right-wingers try to make trouble at your polling place, first, most important: stay nonviolent and encourage others to! There is lots of evidence that attempts at coups are much more likely to be defeated by nonviolence than violence.

Use chants and songs that inspire your friends and invite others to join, instead of demonizing them: For instance,  “Join us, brothers! Join us, sisters! Join us, all!” 

Sing the better-known verses of “America the Beautiful” and  this actual original verse (slightly altered to modernize language):

O beautiful for patriots’ dream

That sees beyond the years

Your complicated cities gleam,

Undimmed by human tears!

America! America! God mend your every flaw:

Confirm your good with brother-sisterhood,

Your liberty with law!”

“We are building up a new world“

Melody as in “We are climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” Words by Vincent Harding

We are building up a new world (3x)

Builders must be strong.


Courage brothers don’t be weary,

courage sisters don’t be weary

Courage people don’t be weary,

though the road be long.


Rise & shine & give God glory  (3x)

Lift every soul in song!


Olam chesed yibaneh. In a Jewish crowd you may want to sing this song by Rabbi Menachem Creditor --- or sing it chiefly in English to these words as shown at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfu12qKYwTg

Olam chesed yibaneh, dai dai yai, dai dai yai dai dai

I will build this world with love,

And you must build this world with love

And if we build this world with love

Then God will build this world with love


If violence continues, either withdraw singing or sit down singing, protecting your head, your face shield, and your mask. Try to stay six feet apart.

See also Election Defender Trainings at:

 Training 1: e-defend.in/training-1 (en español) (passcode: @edefenders1)
 Training 2: e-defend.in/training-2 (en español)
 Training 3: e-defend.in/training-3 (en español)
 Training 4: e-defend.in/training-4 (español)
 De-escalation Training 1: e-defend.in/de-training-1
 De-escalation Training 2: e-defend.in/de-training-2
 Sunday 25Oct Mass Training 1: e-defend.in/mass-training-1 (edited)

This Week's Torah to America: Love & Lech L'cha!

The Torah reading for this coming Shabbat is called in Hebrew “Lech l’cha,” usually translated “Go you forth.” It is YHWH’s loving call to Avrum, who lives in the edge-lands of the great Babylonian Empire, to go beyond them, to where small communities tend sheep or tiny farms on rocky hillsides.

But “l’cha” means literally “toward you,”  maybe “toward yourself” or even  “ toward your self.” 

 Walk forth, away from where you are -- where you are used to -- to find your true self.

 Who sends him on this journey? YHWH, the sacred Reality Whose Name can only be pronounced by simply breathing. (Try pronouncing “YHWH” with no vowels, not “Yahweh” or “Yehovah.”) The Breath of Life has sent him forth to find himself.

This week, the American people has heard this Call. We are living through many unaccustomed earthquakes, which have toppled many of our accustomed idols.

 Some of these idols we ourselves have begun to rock from their pedestals. The idol that said that health was only a private concern and didn’t need any serious public action. The idol that said racism was only a private nastiness, not a systemic infection. The idol that said we could do anything we wanted to Planet Earth, and never have to deal with fires, floods, or famines. The idol that said that billionaires amidst dead-end poverty did not threaten our democracy. 

Do we try to run back to prop up these once-familiar idols, or “go forth to find our true selves”?

 Lech l’chasays the Breath of Life to  America!

Flood, Ark, Rainbow

Celebrating Shabbat Noach

We read in Torah this coming Shabbat the story of the Flood, Noah, the Ark, the Rainbow.

For centuries of Modernity, enlightened opinion about the biblical story of the Flood was that it never happened and it never can, it never will.  The destruction of all life on Earth? Preposterous!

No longer.  The ancient midrash that human beings might bring about a Flood of Fire --  given new force in a Black Southern song:

”God gave Noah the Rainbow Sign:

No mere water, the Fire next time!”

What can we learn from this preposterous story, now that it stares us in the face – thermonuclear fire and global scorching, fire of our own making? We can see it nit as factual history but as a teaching story, a parable.  Waiting for a day to come when we would need to investigate its wisdom.

One oddity in the story can point us toward a specific change: Dates. Times. .  It specifies the date when the rain began to fall as "the seventeenth day of the second month."  It names the date when the Ark’s passengers could disembark and receive the Rainbow Covenant: the "twenty‑seventh day of the second month." One lunar year plus eleven days: exactly one solar year.

A bow to the universal: If some other nations use a solar year, this happened to us all, we must take account of both ways of measuring time.

And the story specifies how long the rain lasted, the date when the waters stopped their rising, the date when dry ground first appeared, the date when the Ark landed.  They are the only dates in all of Genesis: not Abram’s leaving home, not Jacob’s Godwrestle. Connect this fascination with the specific terms of God's response in the Rainbow Covenant. God mentions precisely the timely cycles through which life renews itself:

Never again will I doom the earth ...

Never again will I destroy all life

So long as the earth endures,

Seedtime and harvest,

Cold and heat,

Summer and winter,

Day and night,

Shall not cease.

... This is the sign that I set

For the covenant between Me and you

And every living creature with you,

For the generations forever:

I have set my bow in the clouds.

What are we to learn from this?  In the age of Modernity, the sacred cycles of time have been thwarted. We have let our desire for “productivity" destroy our sense of holy time and holy cycles.  We have become so drunk on our new ability to produce goods that we have forgotten to rest, reflect, contemplate, meditate, celebrate. 

This hyper-productive mode, in which time is only a raw material of production, has taken us to the brink of hyper‑destruction.  In a world that discards meditation and celebration as —literally —  a waste of time, the H‑bomb, deforestation, the climate crisis, are all inevitable.  The Flood and the Rainbow remind us that we must renew the cycles and our celebration of them in order to live.

Noah’s own name means “the restful one.” Only willingness to rest can save all life.

Religious communities are especially responsible to say that not only hard work and dire warnings, but also joyful rest and joyful hope are necessary if we are to heal our planet.

What else does the Rainbow teach?  The Bible specifies that the Rainbow came on Mt. Ararat. This is surprising and important.  Although the Flood was mythically universal — like water in that there was no place to pin it down —  it ends at a well-known place with a specific name.  Why there? 

Because from Ararat, the mountain peak that looms in Turkey high above the Middle East, the Fertile Crescent is a unity.  Just as the earth looks like a unity from space, so the "whole known world" looked from Ararat.  That was where the human race looked like a single family in all itsinner variation: From many colors, one “adam.”

Indeed, the Rainbow itself was a heavenly reflection of the great arc of human
settlements across the Middle East. And the Rainbow’s varied colors remind us
that we can only preserve human unity if we accept human diversity. Just as the Flood perched the Ark upon Ararat where the Crescent could appear in its unity,
so the same technology that gave us the Bomb and global scorching perched the rockets high above us, to give us our first glimpse of ourselves as one great
ball of beauty. It is our collective danger that teaches us we are connected.

The great rabbinic commentator Nachmanides wrote that God gave the Rainbow by turning upside‑down the bow of war.  "See," said God; "My bow can no longer shoot from Heaven.  It is now my sign of peace and love and hope."

And in our day, ultimate destruction is also connected with the mutilated Rainbow.  Those who have observed the awesome explosion of an H‑bomb have reported how beautiful and terrifying are the flashing myriad sparks of color that appear within the mushroom cloud.  All the colors of the rainbow ‑‑shattered. 

Similarly, in the oil slicks that spread for hundreds of miles across the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the smeary, distorted colors of the Rainbow shone as a symbol of the disaster.

So the danger of the Flood of Fire still surrounds us. Those of us who, like Noah, are no experts must begin the building of the Earth as Ark. We must turn away from metaphors of military and economic warfare. In a war, having more weapons than the enemy might bring victory. But having more H-bombs than the “enemy” brings only more disaster to everyone. Pouring more CO2 into the atmosphere in order to win a “trade war” does not bring “victory”; it brings more disaster for everyone. Suppose we see actions that cause major ecological damage –- nuclear "war" and "trade wars" – not as war at all but falling into the category of Flood?  That might change our ethical outlook in dealing with such actions.

Finally, the biggest lesson of all: The need for profound change. The story of the Flood recounts that even God must change at a time of great crisis. The story begins when God, seeing that the human imagination was drawn toward evil, determined to destroy all life,  except for one human family led by Noah, and one pair of every species.  God rained death on every being except those who took refuge with Noah on the Ark. 

One solar year later, the waters subsided so that these refugees could emerge.  And then God, though explicitly asserting once again that the human imagination is drawn toward evil, took an almost opposite tack: God promised that the cycles of life must never be destroyed again, insisted that new rules of behavior must govern human action in the future, and gave the Rainbow as a sign of this covenant.

Reinterpreting our older wisdom is the method by which we must learn today.  It is not enough to reject the old traditions; nor is it enough to accept them.  We must hear them, learn from them, wrestle with them, wring from them their quintessential truth, cast aside old husks of former meaning that are no longer fully truthful ‑‑ and we must live by our new understanding of their ancient wisdom. In my newest book, Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion, I have tried to do that.)

When Jews have been at our best in living life, this has been their most life-giving method — the midrashic method, the Godwrestling method. But in a time when the Flood threatens and the Rainbow beckons, this process needs to become a path that everyone, not only Jews, can walk. So here is a crucial learning that the Jewish people can offer, from its own corner of the hologram, to all of earth and all its earthlings:

You can learn from your own wisdom and transform it, without abandoning your own identity. We have done it when in a moment of great crisis we invented Rabbinic Judaism. In the story of the Flood, God does it; each human community can do it. Indeed, we must — if we are all to share in the planet’s flowering, not its doom.

Why is this important? Because most human communities would rather die than abandon their identities. They will choose to live and change only if they understand how to do this by renewing their identities.

Our sacred stories need to be renewed, understood anew, transformed. And so must be the more mundane pathways of our lives: our foods, our energy sources, our jobs, our businesses, our governments, our international and transnational relations. 

Sex, God, & the Supreme Court

In traditional Jewish law, if a fetus threatens the life of the mother it is obligatory, not optional, to kill the fetus to save the life of the mother. That is exactly the opposite from “official” Roman Catholic teaching.

Now suppose I were being considered for a seat on the Supreme Court. Would it be legitimate for questioners to ask whether I held by that version of Jewish law, and whether I would impose it on Jewish or non-Jewish women against their will? Would I interpret the Constitution in accord with my deepest religious values?

By my lights the question would be totally appropriate, and not at all an invasion of my religious freedom.  

(My answer would be that my understanding of evolving Torah as well as the Constitution is that pregnant women, like all other women and all other adult human beings, have moral agency: that is, they get to decide crucial moral and ethical issues about their own bodies.  But notice --  I am interpreting the Constitution in accord with my own deepest ethical/ spiritual/ religious beliefs. How could I not?)

The nomination by President Trump  of Amy Coney Barrett, a serious and pious Roman Catholic, to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the  Supreme Court, has raised a number of questions about whether her religious beliefs -- as the particular kind of Roman Catholic that she is -- belong in any discussion of whether she should be confirmed to sit on the court.

 Her supporters assert that raising such issues violates both decency and the Constitution’s prohibition of any religious test for taking office under the United States. Her opponents, quaking in their boots lest millions of Catholics condemn them for being anti-Catholic, discuss her religious beliefs only in mutters and whispers.

 I doubt that either of those responses is correct.

As it happens, my new book, Dancing in God's Earthquake : The Coming Transformation  of Religion, looks seriously at the past, present, and future of the strand of Catholic belief in sexuality that was codified by Augustine of Hippo. (I won’t call him a saint.) It is important to know that although the official teaching of the US Catholic bishops follows Augustine, there are many many Catholics who don’t. There is a magazine called, appropriately, Conscience, published and edited by committed Roman Catholics, which affirms that the importance of individual conscience in Catholic theology supersedes Augustine’ theory of sex.

Very well: What is his theory?

Augustine was obsessed with the attractions of sex. His sexual nerves were strung so tight as to thrum at the barest touch. He could not bear to be so lured, and so turned to revulsion. He saw the Bible’s vision of the earliest moments of human history through the eyes of that revulsion. 

 Augustine powerfully affected many leaders of the Christianity of his time. They must have shared much of his tightened strum of tension. Ever since, Catholic thought –and even 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, a major aspect of much Catholic dogma has seen sexual pleasure or love sinful – unless it is intended to produce children.

[This painting of Adam, Eve, and Snake in Eden is by Peter Paul Rubens].

For sex is necessary to keep the human species going. So procreation -– not pleasure, not the joy of deep communion – became the only legitimate reason for sex. That meant all sexual acts not deliberately intended to procreate children are sinful: masturbation, homosexuality, the use of all means of birth control except sexual abstinence, abortion (because it ex post facto negates the sex that had produced a possible child), and even marriage for priests, the most holy bearers of Spirit --  all prohibited.

 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.

 When Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy affirmed that the bearer of spiritual leadership and religious wisdom could be not a single celibate man but a family – a man, a woman, and their children – it was already in body, even if not in words, asserting that sex could live in the heart of religion, not merely in its less serious followers. By insisting on male celibacy for almost all its priests and prelates, the Roman Catholic Church pursued a profoundly different worldview.

And in many countries, including the United States, the official bearer of Catholic authority – the bishops – have acted to encode this view into compulsory law. Compulsory on everyone. Not just to prohibit abortion, but to oppose the legitimacy of gay and lesbian marriage, to give an employer’s claimed religious objection to birth control much heavier weight over his workers’ own religious consciences if they choose effective birth control.

I realize that the abortion debate is often framed not in this theology of sex but as “the right of the fetus to life.”  But if that were all, why is opposition to birth control and gay and lesbian sex and marriage on the Catholic agenda? Why is not the life of the fetus weighed along with the lives of women who die from illegal abortions where abortions have been outlawed?  Why is ”life” not taken into account in regard to the tortured lives and deaths of fetuses who have incurable biological defects and whose mothers want to save them  from impossible pain? Why not focus on the last trimester of pregnancy, when the fetus is more likely viable, when Roe v. Wade held there might be some limits on the woman’s agency?

Why should Judge Barrett not be asked what her Catholicism means? Augustine or Conscience magazine?

There are other questions she should face: her appointment so close to an election that millions have already voted. Her views on government’s role in protecting workers, healing the sick, welcoming refugees, empowering the poor, controlling guns and nuclear weapons, and healing our wounded Earth (all subjects of other strands of Roman Catholic theology  -- more concerned with calming human suffering than with punishing sex). Does Judge Barrett affirm or ignore those threads?

And all while keeping in mind the aphorism of Congressman Jamie Raskin when he was still a member of Maryland’s legislature:  “We swear an oath upon the Bible to uphold the Constitution, not an oath upon the Constitution to obey the Bible.”

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

### #### ###

If sex was not "the original sin," what was the real misdeed that the parable of Eden tried to teach us to prevent?  And how do other ancient tales change meaning as we live through the earthquakes of today?  Rabbi Waskow’s newest book is Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion. Write Office@theshalomcenter.org to receive personally inscribed books. Otherwise order at Orbis Books, 1-800-258-5838. He calls it the “harvest of all my life-experience – and like a harvest, it draws on the past but to feed the future.”

To help The Shalom Center keep working from the root of Spirit to heal our country’s and Earth’s deep wounds, please click the “Contribute” button just belowon the left-hand margin.

Trump: Repentance?

Dear friends, I received an email yesterday that asked, “With the President sick, what are you praying for?  For him to get well quickly, or that he be disabled and all his ill deeds stop?”

 I thought a while, trying to plumb my deepest feelings.  This is what came: I am praying for his spiritual recovery. Praying for what in Hebrew we call “tshuvah,” “turning,” repentance. Not just emotional change, but action too.  

 This is what I pray for, to hear from a hospital bed at Walter Reed. Shalom,  Arthur

“I was wrong. What I spoke was wrong [cough], what I did was wrong.

“I thought my shouts and my sneers could outshout the virus. I was wrong.  That itty-bitty thing, so small I can’t even see it, and it laid me low. [cough cough]

“No mask, no distancing.  I thought that would make me more [cough cough] imposing, more powerful [cough]. Maybe with people they did; not with the virus. Every time I opened my mouth to shout or sneer, people quailed and the virus [cough] flew right in.

 “And it’s not just the virus. It’s the CO2.  The California Fires, the mid-West floods, the more I sneer at the climate hoax [cough cough cough cough], the worse they get. The fires and floods for the country, they’re like the virus inside of me. [cough]

 “And that debate. The more I yelled, the tougher the nasty press and some of my own supporters got. It’s not working with them, either.

 "[Cough cough silence] I can hardly breathe. Funny. Me and those black guys. Who’d have thought? Maybe ----  

“The nurse --  when I tell her what to do, even when I shout, she smiles at me and does something different. Usually feels much better. If shouting doesn't work any more, maybe what I need [cough] is people who know how to help. Not just do [cough cough] whatever I tell them.

"Maybe I need to pull. Back. From the whole thing. This whole campaign is about yelling. Maybe just stop campaigning. [c-c-coug [silence]h cough cough cough]. Can't. Breathe. I. Need. Help.  Nurse! “

Seder for Sukkot: Green & Grow the Vote


What must you do?
Connect what you see with your eyes

To what you do with your hands.

Look with joy and respect
On the threads of connection
That you tie as fringes
On the edges of your self.
Smooth Mountains of Power
Into valleys of abundance.
Turn to sun and My Wind
To empower my people.
Make My breath amidst you
A Hurricane of justice —

Then the grass will grow,
The forests will flourish,
And all life will weave the future in fullness. Then eysh and mayim,
Will join in shamayim:
Fire and water,
No longer in battle,
Will each find its place
In the balance of Earth:
The heavens will clear
And your lives will be lived
in heavenly joy

From A Prayer in a Time of Planetary Danger by Rabbi Arthur Waskow



Full moon, full harvest, full hearts. As the moon of Tishri draws to fullness, we are ready to celebrate Sukkot – the Festival of Huts. We have experienced the moment of rebirth, the rediscovery of our true identity, the re-examination of our selves, the return to our true path – at Rosh Hashanah, the moment of the new moon. We have experienced the moment of intense contact and reconciliation with God at Yom Kippur, in the swelling of the moon. And now at the full moon we celebrate Sukkot – the festival of fulfillment, of gathering in the benefits that flow from repentance and forgiveness. The harvest that takes the form of joy and shalom, harmony, in the world.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy

And yet, in the midst of joy, through the open spaces in the walls of our Sukkah we hear the cries those most vulnerable among us, of Mother Earth wounded and burning, of all of creation. The festivals are the offspring of a love affair between the Jewish People and Earth. Now Mother Earth is badly wounded, and many human beings suffer from poverty, racism, war and war-like policing. Earth and Humanity need the healing help of their children the festivals. Earth and Humanity need the healing help of their children the festivals.

Photo by Alexis Antonio, www.unsplash.com


Opening Blessings and Rituals Air: Sacred Breath, Sacred Name

Moses heard that Name, “YHWH,” at the Burning Bush. In biblical writing it is not replaced by “Adonai, Lord,” and rarely connected with “Melekh, King“. Those were substitutions made by Rabbinic Judaism.

The Name never had vowels, and so was not “Yahweh,” nor”Yahovah.” If one tries to pronounce it, what comes is simply a Breath. Its brilliance as a Name of God is that It alone, Breathing alone, is “spoken” in every human tongue. All the myriad names of God have breath as their root and nurture. And not only human languages – but also every grass and tree, every frog and leopard. The interbreathing of oxygen and CO2 between animals and vegetation is what keeps all Earthly life alive.

As the Siddur teaches, “Nishmat kol chai tivarekh et-shimcha, YHWH elohenu -- The Breath of all life praises your Name, Yahhhh our God” because the Name is the Breath of all life. In that phrase, “our God” does not mean the Jews’ God, nor the humans’ God – but the God of all living, breathing beings.

And in our era, when the entire web of life on Earth is threatened by the insistence of some human Carbon Pharaohs on choking us with more CO2 than all the trees and grasses can transmute to oxygen, what we call the “climate crisis” is a crisis in the very Name of God.

Naming God as “the Interbreathing Spirit of the world, Ruach Ha’Olam” is to see each being as unique, all interwoven into Echad, the One. No “Melekh,” no ruler, no subjugator.

-- Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Dancing in God’s Earthquake


Air: Sacred Breath, Sacred Name

Draw gathered community into Echad Oneness by connecting with the Interbreathing Spirit of the World. Blow the Shofar to awaken our hearts and souls

Click here for the video of Rabbi Randy Fleisher leading us to sing together: Strong Wind, Deep Water :

Strong wind, deep water, tall trees, warm fire I can feel it in my body. I can feel it in my soul. Heya, heya, heya, heya, heya, heya, heya,ho Heya, heya, heya, heya, heya, heya, heya,ho

Adamah V’shamayim, Chom Ha’esh, Tzlil hamayim Ani margish zot begufi, beruchi, benishmati.
Heya, heya, heya, heya, heya, heya, heya,ho Heya, heya, heya, heya, heya, heya, heya,ho


Fire: Light Sacred Fire

A Prayer for Lighting Candles of Commitment. All recite in unison

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. The rainbow in our many-colored faces.

Photo by Mike Labrum, unsplash.com

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze, Not fire and fury,
But the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different, All of us bearing

One Spark.
We light these 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


Fire: Light Sacred Fire

  • Baruch atah YHWH -- Yahhh -- elohenu ruakh ha’olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvot vitzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Sukkot.

  • BlessedareYou,InterbreathingSpiritoftheworld,Sourceofallcreation,Who calls us into holiness through making connections with each other, and Who connects us by kindling the lights of this festival, Sukkot.

Light candles of commitment and joy

Photo by Jeff Sukoff, unsplash.com


Water: Libation Ceremony Honoring the Ushpizin Ancestors in the Sukkah

The Temple ceremonies for Sukkot included a ritual that is not mentioned in the Torah: the water pouring, which became the focus of the joy that the Torah commands for Sukkot. Both water and wine were offered in this ceremony; water being the offering that every Israelite, no matter how poor, could bring.

– Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy

Libation offerings have been part of many religious traditions throughout time including today. Many cultures honor and remember ancestors by pouring libation, that meaning has been added here as we joyfully invite ancestors to join us in the sukkah.

In these times, when we acutely feel the descending darkness of our national climate, remembering our ancestors infuses us with power to kindle our own light of love. Their memory emboldens us to speak our authentic truth, to unleash our power and strength, to live and act in audacious hope so that we can rebuild this world in love.

– Karen Flotte, Remembering our Ancestors Transformation and Hope

Photo by Chris Abney, unsplash.com


Water: Libation Ceremony Honoring the Ushpizin (Sacred Guests) in the Sukkah

These last days and months the losses seem immeasurable, incomprehensible. Each one a light, a teacher carrying a unique lesson into this world. In two months we lost two great lights of the American People, Congressman John Lewis on July 17 and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hours before Erev Rosh Hashanah on September 18. Before we invite the Ushpizin into our sukkah, let us pause to remember Congressman Lewis and Justice Ginsburg. Add to their names those who you can no longer touch but who have touched your life deeply. Light a Yarzheit Candle

What is the candle we kindle here,
The fires we light?
We among all life-forms
face the nightmare of a Flood of Fire
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth. We come 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 --
As that inner fire burned in the heart of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Lewis --
The fire that did not destroy but loved and liberated Loved and liberated women and men;
Loved and liberated Black women and men denied the right to vote;

Sought to love and liberate us all.
Both became a great light of the American people, Calling forth the fire within us,
Each of us and all of us,
Our fire of love and liberation.
For that 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 these loving lights we kindle now

in which we see more clearly
The Rainbow Covenant glowing
in the many-colored faces of all life.

Adapted from Erev Rosh Hashanah Candle Lighting, Rabbi Arthur Waskow


Water: Libation Ceremony honoring the Ushpizin (Sacred Guests) in the Sukkah

Invite the Ushpizin to Your Sukkah

Pass a pitcher of water and beautiful vessel. Each person invites one of the martyrs and heroes for voting rights throughout our history, using the words below and then reading the description from the The Shalom Center’s Ushpizin posters and pouring a libation from the pitcher into the vessel

“I invite to this meal the exalted guest, (Name and Description on the poster) Ruth Bader Ginsburg

John Lewis
James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner Heather Booth
Charles McDew, Fannie Lou Hamer, Bob Moses
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, Arnold Aronson
Ida B. Wells, Rosika Schwimmer


Earth: Blessings for the Sukkah and Bensching the Lulav

Bensching the Lulav
“What is going on in the waving? There are many possibilities of spiritual approach:

Close your eyes as you wave. Focus on the rustling sound of the lulav and the smell of the etrog. Let them become your branches and your fruit, so that you are the four-in-one tree whose fruit and branches are waving in the wind. You. Are. The. Tree. The. Tree. Of. Life, which according to tradition is whet the Torah is. A human being living a decent, holy life becomes a Torah, a Tree of Life. Such a person becomes an organic part of the natural world, a microcosm of the universe.

As you wave, be conscious that you are pulling all outward six directions of the universe toward you, the seventh direction -- the inner direction and for a moment the very center of all the worlds. They all are depending on your internal clarity and unity.

The four species represent the four letters of the Name. The etrog looks like a yod; the soft and curving myrtle like a hay; the tall and springy palm branch like a vav; the soft and curving will like a hay. The bringing together of of the right and left hands unifies the Name. It is spelled in the right order only for someone facing you. God? Your friends and comrades? Those who are not yet conscious of the Unity, since Sukkot is the moment when God’s Name will become One to all who live on earth?)

And each new experience with waving lulav may lead to a new sense of what is going on.”
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy


Earth: Blessings for the Sukkah and Bensching the Lulav

Take up the lulav and etrog.

Wave the lulav and etrog, in the seven directions --- six outward – Left, Right, Front, Back, Up, Down – each time bringing the lulav inward to touchyourheart-- theseventhdirection,accompaniedbyblessings.

Say: Maymythoughtsbeholy,intokenoftheabundanceofblessing that is mine from heaven and earth. With these fourspecies, I reach out to the Interbreathing Spirit of all Life, whose Presence is with us in all directions and all ways.

Wave the species in the seven directions and recite the blessing, first in masculine, then feminine.

Baruch Atah Yah, Eloheynu ruach haolam, asher kid’shanu b'mitzvot v'tzivanu al netilat lulav.

Bruchah At Yah Eloheynu ruach haolam asher kid'shatnu b'mitzvot v'tzivatnu al n'tilat lulav.

Blessed are you, Yah, Breath of Life, who makes us holy us with Your commandments [or “connections”] and has enjoined upon us the mitzvah of the lulav.


Earth: Blessings for the Sukkah and Bensching the Lulav

Blessing for Being in the Sukkah:

Eternal God spread over us sukkat shlomekha, your sheltering peace. Surround us with your radiance and open our hearts that we may feel your abundance. Let there be food and drink for all who hunger and thirst.

Baruch atah Yah eloheinu Ruach ha-olam asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotah, v’tzivanu leisheiv basukah

Blessed are You, YAH, Breath of life, whose Presence fills creation making us holy with your mitzvot, inviting us to dwell in the sukkah.

Barukh Atah Yah, Eloheynu ruakh haolam, shehecheyanu v'kiy'manu v'higiyanu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are you, Yah, Breath of Life, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment.

zachi dvira via the PikiWiki - Israel free image collection project


The Sacred Meal

Blessing Over the Wine

Baruch Atah Yah Eloheinu ruach ha’olam,borei p’ri hagafen

Blessed are You, Yah, Breath of Life, creator of the fruit of the vine.

Blessing Over the Bread

Baruch Atah Yah Eloheinu ruach ha’olam, hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.

Blessed are You, Yah, Breath of Life, who has brought forth bread from the earth.


After Meal Song of Praise: Psalmish

Written at the beginning of sheltering in place this year, Rabbi Randy Fleisher was hoping to find solace in the Psalms and found they contained beautiful poetry about so much of what he treasures in creation-nature, music, and sacred gatherings-but they were wrapped in an ancient theology that did not resonate with him. So, he wrote something like a Psalm, one he could sing with integrity, and called it a Psalmish. It was also inspired by Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi of blessed memory, a great teacher of Rabbi Randy’s as well as many others. Randy remembered the first time he saw Reb Zalman lead davening, he sang the 150th Psalm to the tune of ”Michael Row the Boat Ashore” which is perfection because the last Hebrew word in the Psalm (and therefore the last word in the entire book of Tehillim) is also the refrain of “Michael Row”–Hallelujah-praise the Breath of all life!

(lyrics and video on next page)

Photo by David Clode, unsplash.com



Words by Rabbi Randy Fleisher Sung to Michael Row the Boat Ashore

Click here for a video of Rabbi Randy leading us in Psalmish

Response after each line: Halleluyah!

Praise Yah for the mountains high. Praise Yah for the ocean tides. Praise Yah, dense forests of trees. Praise Yah, deserts, valleys.
Praise Yah thunderous waterfalls. Praise Yah creatures large and small. Prasie Yah promise of sunrise.

Praise Yah sunsets then the stars. Praise Yah for dance and song.
Praise Yah strings, flute and horn. Praise Yah for drumming that resounds.

Praise Yah joyful noises that rebound. Praise Yah for folks of every kind. Praise Yah hearts souls and minds. Praise Yah speaking truth to power. Praise Yah letting our best selves flower. Praise Yah vision over visibility.

Praise Yah in Oneness we believe.
Praise Yah arms open wide.
Praise Yah Beloved gatherings every size. Let every soul and voice give thanks and praise.
Kol HaNeshamah Tehalel Yah.
With every breath we renew our awe. Kol HaNeshamah Tehalel Yah.

Text, © 2020 Randy Fleisher, All Rights Reserved


Texts, Teaching, Reflection and Discussion Grow the Vote! Green the Vote!

There are many values hidden in the Sukkot festival that may only show up when you need them. One is hidden in plain sight: Because both Sukkot and the dates of major U.S. elections are connected with the Harvest, Sukkot in every national election year always comes several weeks before the election. The festival can be a period of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual preparation for voting.

If the religious communities of America are serious about our deepest spiritual teachings of the profound worth of every human being and every species, Growing the Vote is crucial. For Jews, sharing Sukkot (the festival from the evening of October 2 to the evening of October 9) and its profound teachings with the “seventy nations of the world” and drawing on its wisdom to Grow the Vote is crucial. In our lives, that includes making sure the poor, the disabled, the young and the old get to vote.

  • In the midst of the pandemic, do we have a clear understanding of all the ways that we can vote safely?

  • Are we in a position to assist in getting information out about how to vote?

  • How can we develop strategies as individuals and as a group to support all the ways people can vote and vote

    You can find our guide here.


Grow the Vote! Green the Vote!

The sukkah is a home for the homeless. Torah says that sukkot were the first homes of the Exodus band of runaway slaves – refugees – who created a community of freedom. So they remind us of to learn and share the sacred practice of empowering disempowered and marginal people, especially refugees from despotic and violent power. So Sukkot affirms the value of protection for refugees an important issue in the upcoming election

Sukkot’s relationship to the fall harvest strengthens its connection with Earth. And the sukkah is open to our Mother Earth, reminding us to heal her from the wounds of modern Carbon Pharaohs.

The elections offer us the chance to cry out when it matters. If we stay silent now, the Carbon Pharaohs will do their best – their worst --  to control the next Administration, no matter who wins. Incremental steps are not enough. If we are standing at the edge of a precipice, incremental steps will just plunge us into the abyss of death. We must leap into a new society, as our forebears crossed the Red Sea.


Grow the Vote! Green the Vote!

Action strategies:

  • Write two newspapers a letter to the editor. One to your biggest metropolitan paper. One to a communal paper. Maybe your Jewish paper. Or your neighborhood paper. Or your congregational newsletter. Say this: “The West is afire. The climate crisis is no hoax. I demand that the candidates for President and our local candidates for House and Senate (name the ones you mean) speak NOW on what they will do to face the climate crisis. A program.”

  • Call your local Presidential and Senatorial campaign offices and say the same thing. Call them once a day. Ask your friends to call. Share this letter with them.


Grow the Vote! Green the Vote!

Evaluate all candidates – local, state, federal -- using these questions, share your thoughts with others:

  • How do candidates plan to address the systemic racism that pervades U.S. law enforcement agencies, especially the police?

  • What measures will the candidate take to protect Native American lands from exploitation by the fossil fuel industry?

  • How will the candidate work with community groups to reduce the pollution that disproportionately impacts communities of color?

  • What is the candidate’s plan to address the inequities in our public education system that disadvantage students of color?

  • What is the candidate’s position on raising the minimum wage to a living wage?

  • What are the candidate’s plans to reform our criminal justice system which criminalizes people

    of color and incarcerates them at rates much higher than their percentage of the population?


Grow the Vote! Green the Vote!

More questions for evaluating all candidates – local, state, federal-- on the environment:

  • What has the candidate said about policies/programs needed for the protection of our land, water and air?

  • What has the candidate said about oil and gas drilling on land and in the water? What protections has the candidate advocated for?

  • What has the candidate said about the Paris Climate Agreement? Would the candidate support the US re- entering the Agreement? If so, what action would the candidate take?

  • What has the candidate said about strengthening and supporting the Environmental Protection Agency to protect and promote clean air, clean water, and renewable energy?


Justice Gardeners: Nourishing our Neighbors, Nourishing Ourselves, Healing Our Mother Earth

There is an ancient tradition that Sukkot celebrates the harvest of abundance and justice not for Jews alone but for all “the 70 nations” of the world.” So Sukkot represents a commitment to a loving relationship for all nations with all Earth. The sukkah itself – a fragile hut with a leafy, leaky roof – is the house of the poor just as matzah is the bread of the poor. The tradition of inviting Ushpizin into the Sukkah includes inviting guests from those most vulnerable in our community. The intersection of the climate crisis, racism and inequality is having cataclysmic impacts on those most vulnerable among us. Through the open spaces in the walls of our Sukkah we hear their cries, their demand for justice. We open our hearts and souls with compassion.

Rapidly rising rates of hunger in this nation were heartbreaking before the pandemic. Recent images of cars lined up for miles at food pantries tell the story of parents and grandparents stretched beyond imagination to provide for theirfamilies. Foodpantriesarescramblingtomeetthesefamilies’nutritionalneeds,especiallyfreshfruitsand vegetables so essential to support growing bodies and strong minds for learning.

Justice Gardeners, a new movement emerging in St. Louis has a powerful vision to address economic, inclusion and environmental justice through faith based communal gardening for those that are most vulnerable in our communities.


Justice Gardeners: Nourishing our Neighbors, Nourishing Ourselves, Healing Our Mother Earth

Drawing on their experience leading The CRC Mitzvah Farm which produces Justice Gardeners leaders have created a communal garden model which is easily replicated, focused on relationship, grows food determined by the pantry guests and builds communities seeking justice. They have trained and mentored 12 other gardens in the region. With a small budget, small group of volunteers and a small plot of land can have a significant impact on food security, biodiversity and building community. For example, the CRC Mitzvah Farm, produces 1,500 pounds of organic produce to families’ dinner tables each year. Imagine the impact if 50, 100, or even 1,000 places were growing organic food for those facing food security and healing the earth?

Can you imagine this happening in your own community? Does your community or synagogue have access to :

  • A small amount of land with sun?

  • A source of water?

  • 5 or so volunteers?

  • $500 or less for seedlings and supplies?


Justice Gardeners: Nourishing our Neighbors, Nourishing Ourselves, Healing Our Mother Earth

Justice Gardeners envisions a world where gardens become spaces of resistance in which communities reclaim their sacred interconnectedness, nourish body and soul, respond to community concerns, and build resilient, sustainable communities with love. Join this nascent movement.

Justice Gardeners provides free training and mentoring to develop your own Justice Gardener team. Please visit www.JusticeGardeners.org to dream and sign up for our October and November online seminars.



We are grateful for the creative contributions of the following friends of The Shalom Center for this Seder:

Rabbi Randy Fleisher of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, MO for lending us Psalmish and for creating video recordings of the music.

Sheila Daly for producing the Zoom ready Powerpoint presentation.

Susala Kay, one of the founders and stewards of JeWitch Collective and JeWitch Camp, and Karen Flotte for lending us the framework for the Beginning Rituals and Blessings from their work, Food Justice Sukkot Ritual.

And especially Karen Flotte, for weaving this Sukkot Seder together.

Coronavirus: The Lightning Flash, Revealing Truth

One generation ago, my friends and I were struggling to end the US War Against Vietnam. Howard Zinn of blessed memory, the author of the People’s History of the United States, told me that for most of our lives, we walk in the dark. The jagged edges of our society may stab and bloody us, but we cannot see them. Once a generation, a lightning flash may light up the truth. Our job when the lightning flashes, he said, was to see – and to remember.

The war then became, and this Coronavirus moment now has become, a lightning-flash to light up our reality and its failings. Let us emblazon onto our brains what we saw in that moment, so that we can act to heal ourselves, not fall back into a fake nostalgia.

There are two ways to see within and beyond this lightning flash. One is to look at it as if we have never seen a plague and were looking for the first time. The other is to look at it as “the eleventh Plague” -- drawing on our knowledge of the ancient story of the Ten Plagues brought on by a cruel and arrogant Pharaoh.

What we can learn from the Coronavirus Crisis itself:

1. Perhaps the simplest, most obvious lesson of all: We must have universal health care and we must turn far more attention to public health, not merely to health insurance poised for individuals.  Long before a crisis, long-view imagination and planning is necessary. Starving an agency so that it can barely meet immediate needs – as much of our public-health system was starved -- leaves it helpless to address an unplanned, unexpected emergency.

2. We really are one planet. Even prohibitions on “foreign” travel have mostly been too late to prevent transnational contagion. This is true even when human travel is the carrier. Can we translate that knowledge to even stronger cases, like the unity of our dangerously and recklessly overheated atmosphere and oceans affecting the whole pl

3.Governments, businesses, and families can move swiftly for profound change when sufficiently motivated. Many of them at first respond antidemocratically, with silence and lies. They may take serious action only when public outcry cannot be silenced and their own power becomes precarious.

4. Lesson from #3: When we face a crisis, make the grip on power of conventional “leaders” precarious.

5. Our response to the Coronavirus Crisis bears two lessons for our response to the Climate Crisis. We can respond to the Climate Crisis. Our response may come too late for many whose lives were lost by delay rooted in greed. And yet our response can save and transform human society and the web of life on Planet Earth. To do so, we must engage more people in active political struggle. For examples: More effort to fill our activism itself with love, celebration, and community. More engagement by the religious communities, especially each year as we approach Passover and Holy Week. New forms of interconnection, like solar co-ops and change-insistent groups that celebrate together (on-line and in person). Increasing our direct challenge to governments, including our own,  that they will lose power if they don’t respond to the Climate Plagues as vigorously as some of them have – late --to the Coronavirus Plague

6. Protection for the most vulnerable has become a political issue but not yet a political given. How do the homeless “self- isolate” without homes? How do hourly-paid workers choose to stay home and keep themselves and others safe and healthy, if they have no paid sick leave and no health insurance? How do children whose only daily bread is a school lunch eat when schools are closed? How do asylum-seekers stay healthy when they are packed into filthy detention centers or forced into jammed vehicles and sent back to tent cities? And prisoners and guards in way-overcrowded prisons?

7. The lightning-flash  revealed to all of us what some of us knew already: that these specially vulnerable communities over and over had one thing in common: that they were way over-proportionally defined by "race": that Black, brown, some Asian, and Indigenous peoples were killed and damaged by social responses to  the Pandemic far more than their “white” analogs.  That we do not live in a “post-racial” -- let alone a “post-racist” --  society. That if we want to reshape America beyond its inheritance of genocide and slavery, it will take vigorous action to bring about “reparations” --  economic and political and spiritual. transformations.

8. We must also make sure that special government and other aid goes also to those displaced and disemployed people who are worst affected by the Corona Crisis and by the Carbon Corporate poisoning of air and food and water, and most hurt by sudden great shifts in the economy.

9.  “Social distancing” in this crisis must go on long enough to make sure that medical tests and equipment, medical spaces, and trained medical workers are in place, and that the process of contagion has been halted. Any future crisis must be met with thorough healing.

10. Then, as soon as possible, we must make sure that we do not make “social distance” or some other cramping of our lives into a habit. The isolation of our bodies from each other is dangerous to our souls and to the soul of democracy. The open society has to take place in open workplaces, open homes of prayer and Spirit, open visits to open government offices, open vigils and protest rallies, open hugs and handshakes.

11. When deep change does happen, along with death and danger it may swiftly bring forth its own unexpected rewards. The sky above Wuhan, dirty and smoggy for decades, has become blue again during the Great Pause. The waters of Venice, long impenetrably muddy, have become once again transparent during the Great Pause. Though the first motive for the Pause was fear, many people are reporting that the social responses are filled with love and a desire to strengthen community even as “social distancing” strains it.These blessings may more likely come to the more privileged; those already marginal and deprived will probablky become still more so.Having seen the possible joy and possible degradation, many from both experiences can choose to make the blessings universal. We can choosee to make this Great Pause a restful, just, and joyful Shabbat for all – even perhaps a Several Sabbatical Months.

12. And somewhere, somewhen, as with the weekly and the seventh-year Shabbat, but not till we have freed society from the Plague, we must take up the joy and justice-seeking of honorable work for good lives and livelihoods, in physical communities of work as well as celebration. We must integrate into the fullness of our ongoing lives what we have learned from this moment.

13. What did we learn? That all Earth and all Humanity are intertwined, a Grand Ecosystem connected by the Breath of Life and tinged with Divinity. And that efforts by any part to subjugate the rest will destroy us all.  That we must transform our biology, our politics, our culture, from the assumption of Hierarchy and Subjugation to the patterns of Ecology: affirming diversity that makes up the larger One.


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