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A Lack of Precaution is the Biggest Problem in U.S. Chemical Regulation

Jul31

by: Heidi Hutner on July 31st, 2015 | No Comments »

A group of partially used lipstick tubes.

What's in your cosmetics? You may be surprised to learn that many health and beauty products manufactured and sold in the U.S. are filled with harmful chemicals. Find out more by checking out the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. CREDIT: POMO MAMA (flickr).

America is unlike many other countries in that the use of chemicals across a wide swath of applications – from medicinal to pesticide to consumer product uses – there is no “precautionary principle” in effect. This means that chemicals DO NOT have to be proven harmless before they are used and that, once in use, they are only removed from the marketplace if something bad happens. In effect, U.S. policy toward chemicals closely mirrors the country’s judicial system: chemicals are assumed innocent before proven guilty. The precautionary principle, by contrast, is based on the assumed-guilty-before-proven-innocent model, in which chemicals must be proven safe BEFORE they are used.

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Whatever Happened to Student Power?

Jul30

by: Raanan Geberer on July 30th, 2015 | No Comments »

Picture of a high school classroom.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Schplook.

What will the high school of the future be like? Different. It will surely be freer; students will be more independent. High school students of today haven’t reached any peak of possible maturity. The students of tomorrow will be more mature than we are. Just as administrations have already become more liberal about dress codes, so tomorrow they will become more liberal about studies. And `formal education’ will become less formal.

These words from the anthology “Our Time Is Now,” circa 1970, edited by John Birmingham, call attention to a part of history that is all but forgotten: the student power movement in American high schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The stereotype is that all the action as far as demonstrations were concerned took place in the universities, and that if it did spread to high schools, those younger students were copying their elders. Another stereotype is that students were mainly protesting the “big” issues, like civil rights and the war in Vietnam.

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My Last Day of Sunday School

Jul29

by: Rachel Ida Buff on July 29th, 2015 | 21 Comments »

It was the last day of my career teaching religious school at Congregation Eretz Yisrael, but I didn’t know it yet.

Jewish schoolchildren with signs in Hebrew around their necks.

Credit: Creative Commons / surlygirl.

When I arrived at my classroom that morning, two Israeli teenagers, a young man and woman, were standing outside my room, looking uncertain. I recognized them as the shin-shinim: Israeli students who come to the United States after high school, delaying their entry into the Israel Defense Forces for a year. Under the aegis of the Jewish Agency for Israel, these young people act as cultural ambassadors, linking American Jewish communities to Israel.

I took a deep breath and forced a smile. “Are you coming to my class?” I asked.

The young man, strongly built with close cropped hair, nodded affirmatively. The young woman smiled hesitantly, flicking a hank of long, curly hair behind her. The shin-shinim come in pairs, invariably a young man and woman. I wondered for a second why this is, whether they are supposed to represent the possible procreation of the nation of Israel, before suppressing a sigh and inviting them in. I imagined my careful lesson plan flying out the window of our basement classroom.

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What a Nice Jewish Boy Taught Me About ISIS

Jul28

by: Ron Hirschbein on July 28th, 2015 | No Comments »

Hitler being saluted.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Recuerdos de Pandora.

Polite, studious, just a bit mischievous, Henry was every mother’s vision of a nice Jewish boy. His well-assimilated family had lived in Germany as long as anyone could remember. But Henry had a problem: It was 1935. He and his classmates were in for a special treat: classes canceled to see a new movie – Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of The Will.

Now Nazis rarely held women in high regard, let alone those stepping out of the kitchen or nursery. And yet, Riefenstahl produced Triumph of the Will by order of the führer. Hitler praised her portrayal of his 1934 Nuremberg rally as an “incomparable glorification of the power and beauty of our Movement.” Many regard Riefenstahl’s work as the incomparable propaganda film.

Form trumps content. Forgettable, guttural harangues sound like scenes from Chaplin’s parody The Great Dictator. Image is everything. Unforgettable pageantry puts any NFL halftime to shame. Lamentations about German humiliation dissolve as Hitler’s aircraft appears out of the clouds: the savior of all true Germans deigns to touch the earth – salvation for his suffering people. Torchlight parades conjure up Nordic mysticism, and rallies are orchestrated with the precision of Leica cameras. In an iconic scene, Hitler, accompanied by two henchmen, appears at the back of a stadium. They solemnly stride to the high altar before 160,000 adoring countrymen, seated in perfect symmetry and screaming “Sieg Heil” – a collective Tourette syndrome.

I showed the film to a long-ago class and invited Henry to comment. He felt terrible after he first saw the film. Of course! He’s Jewish. But I didn’t get it. He felt awful because his Jewish ancestry excluded him from a glorious movement, a movement that atoned for national humiliation. A great wave was sweeping the nation, cleansing Germany of Weimar decadence. Finally, Germans had something to believe in with all their hearts and souls. He couldn’t be part of it. Jews just weren’t worthy of a “life of obedience, order, and destiny.” The future belonged to Aryans.

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What Religion Tells Us About the Place of Wilderness in American Environmentalism

Jul23

by: Dr. Mark Stoll on July 23rd, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Muir woods.

Muir woods. Credit: CreativeCommons / Aftab Uzzaman.

Wilderness has long been regarded as a cause near the heart of American environmentalism. Typical histories trace rising appreciation for wild nature that runs through Henry David Thoreau and John Muir on up to present passionate defenders of wilderness. This is such solidly received wisdom that hardly anyone, from environmental activist to academic historian, really questions it.

I discovered a rather different story during research for my book, Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism. I investigated the religious backgrounds of major figures in the history of environmentalism. Intriguingly, for over a century they overwhelmingly were raised in just two denominations, even though adult beliefs varied considerably.

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A Plea for Clergy to Affirm Climate Science and Join Together in Action

Jul22

by: Deborah Meinke on July 22nd, 2015 | No Comments »

Editor’s Note: Please bring this to the attention of any clergy with whom you have or could establish some contact so that they could sign it.

A lake with chunks of ice floating in it.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Jay Mantri

Our earth home is running a fever. Time has run out for arguing over climate science. The window for reducing greenhouse gases is still open, and nearly all climate scientists advise decisive actions to slow climate change. Such is the content of the Clergy Climate Letter (http://clergyclimate.org) that emerged from the National Center for Science Education (http://ncse.com). Some months ago, I signed the Clergy Climate Letter. Since then, I have been encouraging my network of clergy colleagues to sign and to become active in a range of efforts to address and reduce climate change.

Why is it important for clergy to sign the Clergy Climate Letter and to share it? The Clergy Climate Letter provides one way for people of faith to rally around common moral and religious values centered on earth stewardship and care for creation. As Pope Francis has done at length in Laudato Si, the Clergy Climate Letter lays out in brief – climate science is sound, and people of faith bear a moral responsibility to heed this science and act to protect our only earth, home to 7 billion human beings and countless creatures, and to preserve its complexity, health, and beauty for future generations.


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Pushing Up

Jul21

by: Kathy Kelly on July 21st, 2015 | 1 Comment »

A woman doing a push up with a grassy hill behind her.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Living Fitness.

July 18, 2015

Last weekend, about one hundred U.S. Veterans for Peace gathered in Red Wing, Minnesota, for a statewide annual meeting. In my experience, Veterans for Peace chapters hold “no-nonsense” events. Whether coming together for local, statewide, regional or national work, the Veterans project a strong sense of purpose. They want to dismantle war economies and work to end all wars. The Minnesotans, many of them old friends, convened in the spacious loft of a rural barn. After organizers extended friendly welcomes, participants settled in to tackle this year’s theme: “The War on Our Climate.”

They invited Dr. James Hansen, an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute,
to speak via Skype about minimizing the impacts of climate change. Sometimes called the
“father of global warming”, Dr. Hansen has sounded alarms for several decades with accurate
predictions about the effects of fossil fuel emissions. He now campaigns for an economically
efficient phase out of fossil fuel emissions by imposing carbon fees on emission sources with
dividends equitably returned to the public.

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The Emerging Truth about Junipero Serra and the California Missions

Jul10

by: Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox on July 10th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California's Indians by the Spanish Missions written by Elias Castillo.A Review of A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions by Elias Castillo

Craven Street Books, 2015

Reading this book set my third chakra racing while my sense of moral outrage boiled over. Yet it is presented in subdued and sober terms, with fact after fact and story after story, building a sure case against the canonizing of Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra. The author, Elias Castillo, a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, tells the truth of the fabled and now postcard-like missions of California, a truth that has often been hidden away in libraries containing correspondence and comments from the days of the mission founding while a myth of benign relationships with the native peoples has been promulgated instead.

In this book Father Junipero Serra, called by some the “Father of California,” is exposed in damning detail as the father of a system, the mission system, that systematically destroyed the culture of the indigenous peoples of California, who had lived at peace with the earth and more or less at peace with themselves over millennia until the Spanish arrived. With Castillo’s new research in hand, it makes all the more scandalous the current effort, supported by two Opus Dei archbishops and the Knights of Columbus, to canonize this sadistic person who is a poster boy for colonization and racism. Why, why, why is Pope Francis going ahead with this canonization? Who profits from it?

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Marriage Equality

Jul8

by: Lynn Feinerman on July 8th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Get Married, Get Equal!

Credit: CreativeCommons / Victoria Pickering.

“Love is legal” tooted the headlines this past week, as we all rejoiced at the expanding vision of who is an “upstanding citizen.” Pride Day parades enthusiastically celebrated the inclusion of non-heterosexual love matches. As well they might.

For me, the most telling commentary on the SCOTUS decision was a one-liner: “Now it is no longer called ‘gay marriage,’ only ‘marriage.’” When I heard that line something in me realized that the gift the gay community may have given all of us is the framing of a vision of two EQUALS, two individual human beings, electing to establish an order in their relationship that has the potential to support the expansion and inclusion of community – a wider community, even deeper community, perhaps. Shall we say, a more enlightened love?

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Darío Mekler Illustrates the Absurdities of Modern Life

Jul8

by: Oona Taper on July 8th, 2015 | No Comments »

Working with oils, watercolors, and acrylics, Argentinian artist Darío Mekler creates bold, colorful paintings that address the complexities of modern life. He skillfully uses fantasy and humor to illustrate human nature, painting monsters, angels, and absurd robots alongside images drawn from everyday experiences.

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