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Press Release: 15 Young Leaders Receive Prestigious National Award

Aug29

by: Editor on August 29th, 2015 | No Comments »

Editor’s Note: The Helen Diller Family Foundation is dedicated to supporting the next generation of American philanthropists and visionaries. If you are a young leader who dreams of transforming society, don’t hesitate to apply for consideration at dillerteenawards.org- the Foundation is now accepting submissions for next year’s Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award.

15 YOUNG LEADERS RECEIVE PRESTIGIOUS NATIONAL AWARD AND $36,000 EACH

FOR SUCCESSFULLY ENGAGING COMMUNITIES TO IMPROVE THE WORLD

The Helen Diller Family Foundation Hosts National Event Honoring Teens Committed to Social Good

 

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I Want to Be Left Behind

Aug27

by: Brenda Peterson on August 27th, 2015 | 10 Comments »

Since the best-selling Left Behind series, the religious right in the US has been obsessed with Israel. Their support is not because they revere the Jewish traditions; in this Christian Zionist Armageddon belief, Israel is simply the setting for the longed-for Rapture—an evacuation plan that saves only Christians. All other religions are left to endure the Tribulations.

For decades this belief has dominated our international foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. Even today it is the subtext for much of the pro-Israel “blind support” as Rabbi Michael Lerner writes about in his recent letter: “There are an estimated 30 million Christian Zionists, and they play an important role in shaping the dynamics of the Republican Party and the Christian Right.”

Here’s an excerpt from the recent memoir, I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth, by author Brenda Peterson, which describes the darkly comic, but deeply troubling world view that comes from this Rapture-bound belief still shaping our Middle East policies.


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D’var Torah on Parashat Re’eh for Rosh Chodesh Elul

Aug22

by: Rabbi Michael Zimmerman on August 22nd, 2015 | No Comments »

picture of opened torah

Credit: Flickr / Lawrie Cate

Today (August 15th) is the New Moon ushering in the month of Elul. According to the Maharal of Prague, “All the month of Elul, before eating and sleeping, a person should look into one’s soul and search one’s deeds, that one may make confession.” [1]

There are numerous practices and customs for the month of Elul, all of which are intended to promote the seeking and granting of forgiveness and the powerful process of teshuvah, (“repentance”). These practices all recognize that none of us have utilized our full potentials, acted from our full sense of decency and responsibility, kept our hearts open to our full capacity for compassion. In other words, we’ve missed the mark. It’s no coincidence that cheit, the Hebrew word for sin, and hamartia, the Greek word referring to the character flaw leading to tragedy, both originated as terms in archery for “missing the mark.” Looking into our own souls, what we find isn’t evil; it’s more like sleeping on the job or losing control or letting our emotions get in the way of our conscience and common sense for one regrettable split second.


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Why I’m Not Going to Burning Man This Year

Aug22

by: Daniel Pinchbeck on August 22nd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Editor’s Note: A version of this piece first appeared in Reality Sandwich.

I have gone to Burning Man 15 years in a row. When I went the first time, back in 2000, I was a journalist on assignment for Rolling Stone. That was an amazing introduction to the event, as I was able to go “back stage” and meet the organizers, artists, and geniuses behind the sculptures, lasers, and camps. I was immediately hooked. I couldn’t believe such a place existed – that tens of thousands of people shared the same ideals, and worked together to realize their visions.

I wrote this piece about my experiences. I also wrote a feature about the festival for ArtForum. By proposing that Burning Man had validity as an artistic expression – I discussed Joseph Beuys’ idea of “social sculpture” – I got banned from ArtForum after they published my piece. I also wrote about the festival, personally and philosophically, in Breaking Open the Head, my first book, and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, my second. Burning Man has had a profound experience on my life, in many ways.

This year, I am skipping it. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is that I feel Burning Man – an institution in its own process of ongoing change and evolution – has lost its way. Hopefully, this is temporary. I know and love many of the people who create and run the festival, and believe in their intentions and their vision.

Burning Man has accomplished amazing things, opening up whole new realms of individual freedom and culture expression. At the same time the festival has become a bit of a victim of its own success. It has become a massive entertainment complex, a bit like Disney World for a contingent made up mostly of the wealthy elite. It always had this vibe, to some extent, but it seems more pronounced in recent years. It feels like there is more and more of less and less. The potential for some kind of authentic liberation or awakening seems increasingly obscure and remote.

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Beyond the Affordable Care Act: A Vision for the Healing of Health Care Delivery

Aug21

by: Martha Sonnenberg on August 21st, 2015 | No Comments »

There is no doubt that the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold key aspects Affordable Care Act (ACA), and to thereby preserve the expansion of health coverage to millions of Americans is momentous. That said, the health care system reformed by the ACA still leaves millions uninsured or underinsured, and maintains the strangle hold on health care by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. In spite of the ACA, health care will remain largely unaffordable to many due to co-pays, deductibles, and frequent gaps in coverage. The rising cost of certain drugs is forcing patients into more debt, or to forego necessary medicine. [1] Further, patients with high deductible insurance plans may be pressured to skip care of common conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, hypertension among others. [2] It is our belief that only universal health coverage can assure affordable health care for all.

nancy pelosi speaks regarding the affordable care act

Credit: Flickr / Nancy Pelosi

However, while universal health care is a sine qua non for change, it is not sufficient for the transformational creation of a healthcare system that truly provides compassionate care for patients and meaningful work for caregivers. While the ACA and many single payer plans do include quality improvement aspects, these are mostly metric based measures, and best practice guidelines – they do not fundamentally challenge the culture in which health care is delivered. Further, many of these quality improvement requirements, because they have not been well thought out, have associated unintended consequences to the detriment of patient care. A vision of what a transformed health care delivery system would be would include:


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Noam Chomsky on “The Iranian Threat”

Aug21

by: Tikkun on August 21st, 2015 | 5 Comments »

Editor’s note:  Noam Chomsky’s analysis (read below after reading this) is an important counter to the endless drum of US propaganda from both parties about the threat from Iran. So much self-deception is thrown at Americans that we are not to blame when even the best among us begins to repeat analyses that forget or obscure the actual role that the US plays in the world today, as Chomsky begins to outline (though he doesn’t really explore the more powerful distorting role of global capitalism, which is not to be blamed solely on the US). Unfortunately, Chomsky underplays the anti-Semitism that the Iranian mullahs have fanned in Iran. They may never have explicitly called for Israel’s physical destruction, but they had plenty of time to clarify what they’ve meant by what seems like code language with such destruction in mind—all they needed to do to eliminate what Chomsky considers an unfair charge would be to publicly affirm that they don’t intend or seek to eliminate the state that was created as a refuge for Jews.

We at Tikkun have sent that request to Iranian leaders, but they haven’t responded. Nor have they repudiated past Iranian governments’ attempts to deny the Holocaust, and there is little doubt that the constant calls for “death to Israel”—while not translated into death to the Iranian Jews who claim to be safe in Iran and who support the Iranian nuclear deal despite Netanyahu’s opposition—are rarely perceived by Iranians as somehow distinct from “death to the Jews.” And the mullahs’ near-genocidal policies toward the Baha’i and repression of other religious minorities are outrageous, as has been their suppression of dissent and countless human rights violations. (As an aside, I want to express compassion for the Jewish people whose Holocaust-rooted post-traumatic-stress-disorder still generates a fearful attitude that makes us so easily manipulated by opportunists and militarists like Netanyahu and his AIPAC, American Jewish Committee, Conference of Presidents of Major (sic) Jewish Organizations allies, manipulation that leads many Jews to support policies that are actually destructive to the best interests of the Jewish people, the US, Israel, and the peoples of the world. To consider just two examples: maintaining the Occupation of the West Bank, rather than helping the Palestinians create an economically and politically viable Palestinian state living in peace and harmony with Israel; or the too-widespread Jewish vocal opposition to the nuclear agreement with Iran, though most Jews support the deal. Tragically, and unjustifiably, this tilt toward militarist and ungenerous policies may eventually be the foundation for a resurgence of anti-Semitism globally. I have compassion for my people, just as I have compassion for the many middle-income and poorer Americans who end up supporting right-wing policies that are actually destructive to their own long-term best interests—but that compassion should must be accompanied by our powerful challenge to the policies they support and the racism that is too often a component of their fears.)

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Dying to Know

Aug18

by: Libbie Katsev on August 18th, 2015 | No Comments »

In grainy black and white, Timothy Leary tells Congress about an LSD trip. It involves being eaten by a snake and exploding. (To be fair, Congress asked.) The footage is a little shocking, but not surprising: I expected humor from Dying to Know, a documentary about Timothy Leary and Ram Dass. I don’t think I was alone in this, given how ready the audience (which seemed to be mostly Leary-enthusiasts) was to laugh and shout when the film described more extreme experiences with narcotics. But Dying to Know also goes beyond shock to be at times genuinely surprising. In footage from that same testimony before Congress, Leary advocates that drugs be regulated, and says that we have a serious drug abuse problem in America. Leary of “turn on, tune in, and drop out” certainly comes through in Dying to Know, but so does Leary the psychologist, the Leary who believed deeply in understanding and expanding the mind, and who also saw the danger posed by reckless drug usage.

Dying to Know is divided into four segments, based on four different stages of existence: “Birth, Life, Death, and Soul,” and with a fifth segment, “Here After” tacked onto the end. Director Gay Dillingham tells the stories of Dass and Leary in parallel – or, almost parallel. Their lives converge at a major turning point – their infamous drug tests at Harvard (and later in the Millbrook mansion), and diverge again, as Leary sticks with a neuroscience and psychology-based perspective and runs into increasing political trouble, while Dass (then Richard Alpert) goes abroad and takes up his old quest for knowing, this time with a new religious perspective.

dying to know posterUltimately, Dying to Know comes across as more of a film about Leary, with Dass used both as a counterpoint and a means to access Leary’s thoughts, both personal and intellectual. This may have originated from the initial conceit of the film – Dillingham said in a post-film Q&A that she decided to make a movie after she learned that Leary was dying, and later decided to bring Dass into the project. Through interviews, old footage and photos, and conversations between Dass and Leary toward the end of the latter’s life, Dying to Know creates a surprisingly complex portrait of a figure whose image has in recent decades been turned into something of a caricature. I, at least, often found it difficult to dissociate Leary’s and Dass’s stories from the cultural context into which they’ve already been fixed – especially when, after being fired (or quitting, there’s a little ambiguity there) for including an undergrad in the tests, Leary and Dass set up shop in a New York mansion, live communally, continue the tests, and themselves do a lot of drugs. And Dying to Know certainly doesn’t try to downplay the more recreational aspects of Leary’s and Dass’s quest. But as it turns out, the questions they grapple with are universal, and allowed me to see their search as something with significance beyond its effects on the ’60s counterculture. In the process, it also presents some serious thought about how we live, and – Dying to Know suggests, at least as important – how we die.


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Humanism Unshackled

Aug12

by: Ed Simon on August 12th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

There is welcome news in the July 27th announcement that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has reached a settlement in a lawsuit to recognize humanism as a religion. The result of the lawsuit, filed by the American Humanist Association on behalf of an Oregon prisoner, is that inmates at all federal prisons who subscribe to humanism as a religious belief are now entitled to the same rights as members of any other faith-group. These include the right to form study groups, recognize certain holidays (in their particular case “Darwin Day”), and have access to chaplains. The Defense Department has for over a year now acknowledged humanism as a religion, alongside atheism and other stances which it may seem confusing to some to label as religions.

Charles Darwin standing next to a tree.

Charles Darwin's birthday of February 12 is celebrated by humanists (among others) as Darwin Day, a holiday to promote science. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The immediate cause for celebration is that men and women in our federal prisons who adhere to humanist beliefs are now able to freely exercise their right to act as a participant in their religious community. But perhaps more importantly, the decision helps to complicate and enrich Americans’ understanding of what constitutes religion, something that benefits all of us, whatever religious position we hold or community we belong to. Rather than viewing humanism and atheism as simply the absence of faith and belief, this decision acknowledges that they are also metaphysical positions on ultimate reality, just like monotheism or polytheism. Indeed, the fact that some humanists choose to arrange themselves into communities that mark life with rituals demonstrates precisely that they are a religion and are deserving of the same federally recognized rights that other religions are accorded.


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From Ansel Adams to Calvin: The Surprising Inspiration for Landscape Art

Aug9

by: Mark Stoll on August 9th, 2015 | No Comments »

picture of american landscape

Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Ansel Adams

We Americans love grand, gorgeous landscapes of natural scenery. Landscape photographers and painters produce a never-ending stream of pictures of Edenic beauty. We buy images by Ansel Adams — such as this famous view of the Grand Tetons and the Snake River — by the hundreds of thousands, in coffee-table books, calendars, datebooks, posters, and framed reproductions. In magazines, calendars, and publicity materials, environmental organizations use photographs by him and many others.

Most of this art shows the timeless ethereal beauty of nature. It also lacks or minimizes the presence of people. Not everyone likes this sort of thing. New York critics had little positive to say about Adams’s art for most of his career. Landscape art of most cultures in fact include and even highlight humans and their works. Rarely do the credit lines for contemporary landscape art contain names from southern or eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, or Asia.


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Firebombing of Palestinian Homes & Murder of Palestinian Child, plus Murder at Gay Pride Demo

Aug7

by: Tikkun on August 7th, 2015 | No Comments »

Editor’s Note:

Faced with the horrendous crimes of an ultra-orthodox Jew stabbing participants in a gay pride demonstration in Israel, and the firebombing of Palestinian homes and resulting burning to death of an 18 month old Palestinian baby while others in the family are in critical condition and may not survive, many Israelis and American Jews denounced these horrendous acts. Netanyahu and his government ordered a few Israeli settlers arrested in “administrative detention,” the polite word to describe the practice which till now has been used against thousands of Palestinian civilians–arrest without formal charges, often held in detention for months or more without trial, and in the case of Palestinians often tortured. The Israeli settlers arrested did not face what most Palestinians “suspected” of terrorist acts usually suffer: the homes of the family of the suspect are immediately blown up by the occupying Israeli Army in the West Bank. That no such punishment was immediately meted out to the Israeli settler suspects was not surprising, but just another manifestation of the racist treatment Palestinians in the Occupied territory face (though of course we don’t support this tactic against settlers or Palestinians). As many Israeli human rights and peace advocates point out, the firebombing of Palestinian homes is just one of many variants of violence visited upon Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, the goal being to make life so difficult that Palestinians will eventually be “ethnically cleansed” and Israel can make the West Bank a fully Jewish-majority part of Israel. I should hasten to add that most West Bank settlers do not participate in acts of violence, though they overwhelmingly vote for extremist right-wing political parties whose policies are racist and whose goals are not fundamentally dissimilar to those of their violent West Bank settler neighbors.

For us at Tikkun, all this has left us stunned, saddened, repenting for these horrific crimes on the part of our people, and all the more determined to insist on the need to end the Occupation and create an economically and politically viable Palestinian state, while purging our own peple of the hatred and racism that too many Israelis and their American Jewish allies have been willing to ignore, apologize for, or deny. On the other hand, the attack on homosexuals, equally outrageous and horrendous, does not flow from the policies of the State of Israel, which have been friendly to gays and lesbians in the past decade, but rather from the homophobic perspective of the ultra-orthodox community. Until those attitudes are purged from the orthodox world, gays and lesbians will face oppressive treatment in those communities. As I argued in my book Jewish Renewal, the anti-gay texts in the Torah can be reinterpreted in the same spirit that led the rabbis to redefine all the commands for animal sacrifices to be understood as really commands to pray (avodah zeh hu teffillah). Where there is a communal will there is a Hallakhic way, so just as Jewish religious law has evolved on many other issues, so it can follow the rulings of Conservative Movement in Judaism and make changes in their understanding of Torah on this issue–if the will to stamp out homophobia prevails, as it should.

Below we publish some responses to these events. We will be repenting for these acts at our High Holiday services at Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in Berkeley (click here for more information) and we urge you if you are Jewish to speak to your local rabbis and ask them to explicitly include these issues in the list of “sins” being articulated during the “Al Cheyt” prayers for the High Holidays. The list of “sins” we’ve developed will be online at www.tikkun.org within the next week, plenty of time to approach local synagogues to ask them to include these in their services. If there is no synagogue in your area willing to do that, you are invited to come to Berkeley, Ca. to pray with me! Of course, non-Jews are also welcome to register for and attend these services (and we will be focusing also on the destructive realities of American racism, the growing insensitivity to the needs of the poor and the homeless, and the environmental crisis–issues that are not just for Jews to repent but for everyone!). Please do read the articles below.

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