Heart and Soul

Scratching Each Itch -- A Dangerous Pleasure in the Body Politic

Last week, I lived through both an intense medical experience and an intense socio-political experience. The spiritual meaning of the medical challenge suddenly taught me the spiritual meaning of the politics.  And let me emphasize, just as the medical challenge was my own, so my response to it is my own; in this essay I am not speaking for The Shalom Center.

The medical experience was a preventive mid-level surgery to deal with the danger of an umbilical hernia. For almost everyone, it seems to be not problematic. But for me, a medicine prescribed to deal with moderate pain unexpectedly turned on my body’s inflammatory system.

I ended up with a widespread rash that was extremely itchy. The temptation to scratch was intense, but –- as I discovered -- self-destructive. (And just to be clear, I’m over it now and all is well.)

The other experience was helping lead a prayerful multireligious service that began the March for a Clean Energy Revolution on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. The March itself had no commitment or opposition to any particular presidential candidate. Among participants I met were supporters of Hillary Clinton, of Bernie Sanders, and of diehard insistence on some other response if Clinton were nominated for president.

What does the one have to do with the other?  In the quiet of a night, I realized that each scratch of an unbearable itch was intensely pleasurable.  I could feel my brain and my body responding to that momentary pleasure.

But within seconds, each scratch multiplied the itching. I was creating an addiction to scratching that was solving each specific itch for a moment but multiplying the danger of an even greater inflammatory response in my whole body – – a disaster.

I think the same is true about the urge of some burning feel-the-Bern supporters to scratch the infuriating itch of their defeat. Each scratch brings with it the intense pleasure of “voting my conscience" – – the individual conscience like each individual scratch. Each scratch relieves for a moment the pain of failure, the pain of fury at the 1/10 of 1% who rule America and impose impossible debts on college students, mass incarceration on Blacks, contempt on Muslims, deportation that tears apart Latino families.

But each individual scratch ignores the larger danger of inflaming the entire body politic. It ignores the danger of electing to Presidential power an outright bully who wants and would be able to carry out a bully’s politics: fascism.

Transcendent Moments from the Reb Zalman Memorial

  Dear Chevra, An utterly amazing weekend at the Reb Zalman Memorial in Boulder.  All of us, each of us, experienced — grokked! -- some transcendent moments. These were mine:

1.    We sat transfixed and transformed on Sunday morning as we listened to the breath-taking/ Breath-giving  sound of Reb Zalman inviting us to focus on what karma we want to clear, followed by his jazz duet on shofar and flute with Paul Horn at a gathering in India. (Horn died two days before Zalman.)

That recording begins the CD “Sing Shalom!” that The Shalom Center created seven years ago. Zalman gave us the passage as an act of love and support.  It is followed by some other extraordinary moments from other Ascended Masters — Pete Seeger singing Rainbow Race for the first time, Debbie Freedman, Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield.

And other amazing singers who are, thank God,  still with us:  Peter Yarrow,  Linda Hirschhorn, Shefa Gold,  David Shneyer,  Margot Stein, and many others. Plus me telling the story of learning Freedom songs rooted in the Exodus, from Fannie Lou Hamer during Freedom Summer in 1964, with Reggie & Kim Harris then singing those songs.

You can receive that amazing CD, especially precious to us all now with Zalman’s voice and shofar-music, as a thank-you from The Shalom Center for giving a gift to strengthen our work, as he gave the gift of that  passage to strengthen our work.  Click to 
<https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=1> >

2. We read and learned/ shared the Torah passage from the weekly parashah on how our actions can bring on the life or death of rivers and of rain, with Reb Zalman’s midrashic translation. Then I invited everyone to sit in “the Rebbe’s chair” for an open discussion in which to speak the rebbe-spark within, as Zalman used to have us do. And we did! -- reviving, renewing, giving new life to the traditional second paragraph of the Sh’ma.  I keep wishing every prayerbook would print that paragraph in bright green letters.

3. We  saw an amazing, deeply moving photomontage of Zalman’s life.  It included that famous photo of Zalman & the Dalai Lama. Everyone loves that photo because

Reb Zalman: His Light is Buried like a Seed –- to Sprout

Reb Zalman w/ Dalai Lama, 1990, w/ Rebbitzen Eve Ilsen between them

As you receive this letter on the morning of July 4th, 2014, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi is being buried  in Boulder, Colorado – and in some deep sense, buried and given new life all around the planet.

Does the death and burial of a Great Teacher mean his light has gone out?  We are taught, “Or zarua latzaddik” -- the light of a tzaddik is buried in the fertile soil like a seed.” -- It sprouts again and again; and in Zalman’s case, has already and will often again give birth to new seeds of light.

No one else in the 20th/ 21st century  brought such new life, new thought, new joy, new depth, new breadth, new ecstasy, new groundedness, new quirkiness, into the Judaism he inherited –- and transformed.

Losing a Gentle Prophet: Vincent Harding

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Rabbi Phyllis Berman *

 Last week, in Philadelphia, one of the great lights of the Southern Freedom Movement – Dr. Vincent Harding -- died. He was an extraordinary gentle, persistent, clear, loving, and prophetic voice for peace and justice in America and in the world. And he was our beloved friend.

1st-Borns, ReBirth, & Passing Over: My Own & All of Us

This year I am feeling haunted by one of the lesser-known aspects of Passover: On the morning before the First Seder –- which means this very morning –-- First-born sons (or in this generation, first-born children) are supposed to fast from daybreak till the Seder.  

We first-borns are released from this obligation if we study Torah and then conclude with a “seudat mitzvah” – a meal celebrating the fulfillment of a mitzvah, which means a commandment or a connection-making between ourselves and the Holy One of Being, the Breathing-Spirit of the world.

Why should we first-borns fast as we approach Passover? Presumably in grief, relief, and gratitude – grief for all the first-borns of Egypt, Mitzrayyim, the Tight and Narrow Place, who according to the Exodus story died that night, and in relief and gratitude that our families of the Godwrestling folk were spared the disaster.

So from 1971 or ’72 on, as I found my way through the Freedom Seder deeper and deeper into Passover and Torah, I have fasted –-- or studied Torah – during this day, in honor of the ancient story.

But this year I am feeling a more personal grief. In some strange way I am no longer a “first-born” -- because my younger brother died two years ago. Indeed, on his deathbed I said to him that he had become for me the older brother that he wished I had been for him. He nodded, using the little breath left to him: “It’s true.”

When I Sued the FBI -- and Won.

 During the last three months, we have been learning a great deal about massive and continuing wiretapping of the phone calls and emails of hundreds of millions of Americans by “our” Government.

For me, this has had a strong personal “kick” to it. To explain why, I have to share with you a story that began 45 years ago.

Beginning in 1968, the FBI undertook an effort called “COINTELPRO” –  short for “counter-intelligence program” –-  that used such  illegal means as warrantless wiretapping,  theft, forgery, agents provocateurs,  and worse –- to disrupt the lawful  civil rights,  Black-liberation, and antiwar movements.

It was directly supervised by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, with orders to keep it totally secret within the FBI.

But in 1975, post-Watergate investigations by a Senate committee chaired by Sen. Frank Church made COINTELPRO widely known

So in 1976, nine Washingtonians – including me – sued the FBI for violating our First Amendment right “of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Our suit won.

Years later, it became the subject of one chapter of a book by ELLEN ALDERMAN and CAROLINE KENNEDY.  --  Yes, the Caroline Kennedy who as I write has just been appointed Ambassador-designate to Japan.

You can read the whole chapter at https://theshalomcenter.org/node/2086

The book is about the real-life importance of various provisions of the Bill of Rights in protecting the rights of grass-roots American citizens. Its title is In Our Defense:  The Bill of Rights in Action (Morrow, 1991).

"In Our Defense": Caroline Kennedy & Ellen Alderman: the Bill of Rights

[Below you will find a chapter from a book on the real-life effects of various provisions of the Bill of Rights in protecting the rights of grass-roots American citizens. This chapter is about the right of free assembly, and it focuses on a court case brought by nine Washingtonians -- including me -- against the FBI and the DC Police Department.  The book is by ELLEN ALDERMAN and CAROLINE KENNEDY.  --  Yes, the Caroline Kennedy who as I writ

My First Arrest: Gwynn Oak in Baltimore, 1963

(Written July 7, 2013; Copyright © 2013 by Arthur Waskow. All rights reserved. Write me at Awaskow@aol.com  to ask permission to publish.) )

How did I come to be arrested 50 years ago? On July 4, 1963, I was a Senior Fellow at a tiny research center, the Peace Research Institute. As I had done for a number of years on the Fourth, I was rereading the Declaration of Independence. when I got a call from Carol Cohen McEldowney, may her memory be a blessing. She was my research assistant.


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