ReNewing a Book for Rosh Hashanah: "The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope & Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims"

In 2004, as religious animosities worsened around the globe, I joined with Sister Joan Chittister, a world-renowned Benedictine nun, and Murshid Saadi Shakur Chisti (Neil Douglas-Klotz), a Muslim Sufi who has written a remarkable series of books on Aramaic, Gnostic, and Sufi spirituality --


You can order the book and get a 20% discount from the regular price by going to --   and inserting the word "tent" (with no quote marks) when it asks for a code.

We sent the manuscript to Karen Armstrong. She was so excited by the book that she wrote a Preface for it.

It was (June 2006) published by Beacon Press and won an enthusiastic "Starred Review" from the Library Journal. That review and others are below.

As we once again approach Rosh Hashanah and prepare to read once again the troubling stories of the expulsion of Hagar & Ishmael from Abraham's family and Abraham's binding of Isaac for an offering to  God, we might see this book as a spur to deeper spiritual reflection on these stories.

The review just below appeared on the Web in August 2006. As you'll see at the end of the review, it especially praises the "fascinating" last chapter of the book, "Why Hagar Left." It does not mention that this chapter, and an essay on "How to Pitch the Tent" –- suggested approaches for how to bring together an interfaith gathering in depth, connecting in all Four Worlds -- are by Rabbi Phyllis Berman.

Yom Kippur as Transformation-time: 3 Keys to Unlock our Hearts

What the Shofar calls us to

Yom Kippur begins in the Western calendar on Tuesday evening, September 25, and ends the evening of September 26. In the Jewish calendar, it is  one of four festivals during the seventh lunar "moonth," a sabbatical moonth for reflection and reconciliation. This year, we at The Shalom Center suggest three ways of enriching the celebration of Yom Kippur so as to encourage new connections between the Jewish community and other communities and the Earth itself -- sharing our deepest values and our highest visions for the healing and transformation of our world toward what Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community.

1. On Rosh HaShanah, we read the story of the estrangement between two families of Abraham – between his wife Sarah and her son Isaac, and his wife Hagar and her son Ishmael.

I believe the completion of the story (as it appears in Gen. 25: 8-11) should be read aloud in every synagogue on Yom Kippur. It is a story of reconciliation, which is what Yom Kippur is all about.

From Ben-Ghazi to Yom Kippur

 On Yom Kippur, synagogues should read the story in Genesis 25 of reconciliation between Ishmael and Isaac, and for weeks and months synagogues, churches, and mosques should visit each other en masse to break the cycle of fear and hatred and violence between the Abrahamic communities that broke into murder in Ben-Ghazi, Libya,  as it did weeks ago in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

That's the bottom line of this essay: Why do I say this?

 “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” --  Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we absorbed the news of a dreadfully disgusting film casting contempt on Islam and the resulting vile murders of four American foreign service officers, I began to think again about the Torah stories we are about to read for Rosh HaShanah.

For they are ancient stories about fear, anger, and estrangement between different branches of the same family. They presage the fear, anger, and estrangement between the Abrahamic families today – and yet they lead toward love and healing. What can we learn from them?

When Abraham Sees God in Oak Trees

When Abraham Sees God in Oak Trees Dear Friends, The Torah portion Vayeira (Gen. 18:1 through 22: 24) itakes its name" from its first word. This word is usually translated "appeared," but it comes from the root for "see," and the same root appears in a different form right afterwards. The second word is "YHWH." That is usually translated "the Lord," but since this sacred unpronounceable Name with no vowels can only be "pronounced" by breathing --- "Yyyyhhhhwwwwhhhh" - I translate it as "the Breath of Life" or "the Wind/ Breath/ Spirit of the world." The first sentence says "YHWH brought-about-being-SEEN to [Abraham] in [b'] the oaks of Mamre."

9/11 and Rosh Hashanah: Reconciling Abraham's Families, Celebrating American Diversity

Dear friends,

Before I share with you some thoughts about the intersection this year of 9/11 and Rosh Hashanah, I want to remind you: I am one of four rabbis who will be leading Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur retreats at Elat Chayyim/ Isabella Freedman, the lovely spiritual center in Connecticut.

The Shalom Center co-sponsors those retreats, and our community is entitled to 20% reductions in the cost of room & board. Just enter SCRH10 as the discount code when you register here.

This year especially, I urge us to plan to include in Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur Torah readings the passage on reconciliation of the two families of Abraham -- Gen. 25: 7-11, when Ishmael & Isaac come together to bury their father and then after long estrangement decide to live together at Ishmael's wellspring. This reading could then open up a discussion of what it means about our intimate families and our larger family, in this generation when the children of Abraham through Hagar & Ishmael and the children of Abraham through Sarah and Isaac are so often at each other’s throats.

Here's why to do this especially this year:

This year, the ninth anniversary of 9/11 falls on Shabbat Shuvah, just after the second day of Rosh Hashanah. The day will be used for a demonstration in New York City denouncing Park51/ Cordoba House (the Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan) by several right-wing political figures, including Geert Wilders, an ultra-right-wing Dutch politician who is on trial there for anti-Muslim hate speech.

They will be trying to inflame hatred of all Islam, including the peace-seeking Sufis of Park51/ Cordoba House, as if all Muslims were responsible for the 9/11 mass murders.

It seems to me that one of the factors (not the only one) in the wave of opposition to Park51 from many conservative, Tea Party, and other right-wing politicians is the hope of using it as a wedge issue to split voting constituencies and communities that generally vote progressive. The obvious target here is the American Jewish community, and it behooves us to take great care not to let anti-Muslim bigotry sweep away the Jewish voting community.

Of course different Jews have many issues to consider, and many different perspectives from which to do so, in choosing whom to support in the November elections and beyond — our varied economic views, our varied outlooks on US foreign policy, our concern about terrorism, our concern for religious freedom and civil liberties. But hatred of Islam, as if all Muslims and their religion were our enemy, should not be one of them. And given the attempts to inflame Jews to feel this way, we need to take special care to oppose such abuses.

How then can we address this question, especially in the light of the confluence of 9/11 and Rosh Hashanah?

Drush on the Akedah, by Esther Ticktin

Rabbi Arthur Waskow


The best contemporary drush on the Akedah that I know is by Esther Ticktin of Fabrangen in Washington, DC:

The two strongest imperatives of Torah are : 1) Rear children; 2) Break idols.

What happens when we turn our children into our idols? (This is what Avraham was doing.) We must break our idolization of them -- kill the image of them we have erected into our idol, since by idolizing them we are blowing off the Breath of Life.


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