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New Poems from Ari Banias: “An Arrow” and “Bouquet”


by: Ari Banias on June 27th, 2016 | Comments Off

Credit: Nan Palmero Flickr



Too often I’d like some direction

but am ashamed of this fact, still I ask for it,

men are supposed be bad at admitting

they’re lost though why men agree

to fulfill this is lost on me.

Who cares what men are. Can’t we

scrap this whole enterprise, seriously

top down management

small talk, normative dating. A little box

I fill in over and over, like feeding pennies into a slot

it leads somewhere I think

I’m saving them. For when? The pulldown menus

reach longer and longer, so to scroll becomes

the new version of a sweeping gesture, more ways

to be erased. At the end of the day

we still march on directionless,

used by pronouns & all the livelong

language still drags us through its shitty toll plazas,

do “you” have a highway phobia like “I” do.

Or who do you feel most related to.

Under my breath I say Love

thy neighbor as thy self

is to thy as neighbor is to the scraggle

in my front yard is to a badly pruned bush

across the street. But love it & those neighbors

drunk and too loud on their porch while I’m trying to sleep

to love us all better. The steepest hill

in maybe all of Oakland California, pointing my body up it

walking leg muscles burning, love the fortune

to have legs the cinderblock the succulent and none of them equal,

fuck equality, predicated on sameness

why not by now insist on a complex star cluster

a fuck of will and willingness and imagination, all our most unwieldy crap?

But crap, I’m daily losing my grip as if having

handed my only bow and arrow to a stranger who

might shoot it off look at that thing! it could hit

someone I care about or love, you myself anyone or a bush

here’s another bush and another they all mash together,

one is pine-ish the other has purple flowers, it’s basically formless

& somehow I feel it’s my key relative

that cousin I’m always close to no matter how many years pass,

who once cared about art now he’s a depressed socialist

vaguely entrepreneurial by necessity, as once I was

a slutty teenage girl they now call Sir, I guess I can see that

here’s another bush that could be shaped into another form

or just left alone. Outside the neighbor kids

shout without regard like their parents

before them, I saw one kid the other day point a phone

from their window into mine to take a photo of me I wanted to take

one in response as reminder that hey it’s a window

not a mirror and the object talks back



Today I build flowers out of concepts

in order to speak to you sincerely.

Today you want nothing because wanting

comes too close to feeling.

And though a sad old person

who combs their silver hair

all afternoon in a high window

curses you with great acuity,

you being anyone in a suit, a suit

being whatever you insulate yourself with

so you don’t hear that voice up there

calling you out, you keep going

as grim fleets of semis keep going,

shuttling dry goods across the continent.

In their fervent rumble lives

a hope to be getting paid soon. I get it.

Even last night’s cream roses still in their cellophane

and chucked on a downtown sidewalk

by their recipient have been called out.

These are the conditions of our times, you say,

stuffing ourselves with what’s greenish,

filming quickly in a garden

whose foliage is nearly realistic.

Once, we faced each other.

Now the unused filaments grow limp in us each day.

What huge thing catapults through you

when alone on the edge of your bed

is sincerity, or a need to absorb

its most mineral clarity & let it

bloom out your eyes,

but you’d rather it didn’t.

Theory of feeling will sling feeling back to you

so you can just think it.

I offer these compact shapes of affection and sadness

which the words affection and sadness do not convey.

Cancer’s sincere, shit is, indigestion, resentment

is sincere, sweat, dogs, mint, rust,

certain friendships are utterly sincere, and genitals

are sincere, though a flower is indifferent.

Ari Banias is author of Anybody, forthcoming from W.W. Norton in September 2016. He currently lives in Berkeley, CA and holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an MFA in poetry from Hunter College, where he was a teaching fellow. The author of a chapbook,What’s Personal is Being Here With All of You (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2012), his poems appear in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, FIELD, Guernica, The Offing,The Volta, and as part of the exhibition Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects. He has earned numerous fellowships and awards.

The Chuppah That Held Us All: What We Found in Our Gay Marriage That the Supreme Court Missed


by: Michael Rothbaum on June 24th, 2016 | Comments Off

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum and his husband Anthony Russell under the chuppah.

“We probably have to leave at some point, right?”

I stood at the edge of the bandstand, Anthony’s hand in mine. We were under the chuppah, having just crushed the glass, two feet descending on one piece of fragile stemware. The weight of two grown men – men who had waited to know the time was right, who had waited to be ready, who had waited for the law to catch up with them – came crashing down on that one glass. It never stood a chance.

We had been led on this journey by my mentor and teacher, Rabbi Les Bronstein. His words, in that place at that moment, brought tears to our eyes. His partner in work and in life, Cantor Benjie Schiller, had composed a setting of selections from Song of Songs especially for the occasion. The ceremony was perfect.

But it was not the ceremony that led me to look over my shoulder at Rabbi Bronstein and ask the question I did. It was our friends and family, the people who stood facing us, cheering and hooting and clapping and hollering, after we had stomped on that glass. It was the love we felt from them, a love so fierce it felt like it would hold us up if we leaned forward. A love that did hold us up.

“We probably have to leave at some point, right?”

We did, of course, eventually leave the bandstand, the protection of the chuppah, the love of the community assembled that day. Within a week, we would receive news of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that granted marriage licenses to same-sex couples in every city and town throughout the country. Throughout the country, there was jubilation, celebration, and talk of rights – gay rights, marriage rights, individual rights.

But in all the talk of individual rights, something felt a bit off. Anthony and I had come together, married each other, two individuals joining together as one. It was amazing, it was miraculous, and it was legal. But what about all those people who hollered and cried and cheered along with us? Where were they in the conversation, in the celebration of same-sex marriage?

Could it be that in the struggle to achieve the right to marry, we’ve lost sight of something, something key to the redemptive power that the tradition of marriage promises?


Far be it from me to turn a cause for celebration into a cause for concern. A year out of that momentous moment, the fact that our marriage is legal remains a source of great joy and much appreciated reassurance. We do not have to worry about forbidding healthcare regulations, pernicious tax codes, or burdensome inheritance laws (at least any more than straight couples do).

So why not rejoice over the victory of our newly recognized rights? It is the “individual” part of these “individual rights” that gives me pause. Courts have ruled that the right to marry resides with the individual. And thank God that they have. But to define our marriage in such a way separates us as some sort of other, a lone couple protected from the larger community’s disapproval of our strangeness.

What is missing is community.

Queer folks are queer, yes, but not to each other. We belong to each other, in the same way that members of other groups similarly have in-group allegiance. While it goes without saying that courageous individuals took the lead in achieving this legal milestone, the fact that the Supreme Court decided that we are indeed included in the protections of the 14th Amendment is the result of decades of visionary struggle on the part of a community of activists.

Even for queer people who reject marriage as fundamentally heteronormative, the victory of this movement represents the successful establishment of a multi-generational community, comprised of any and all queer folks who dared to publicly demand the recognition of our full humanity. From the Mattachine Foundation to Lambda Legal, from the Daughters of Bilitis to ACT UP, from support groups to sanctuaries, from parties to prayer circles to parades, queer community had to be created for queer people by queer people. This triumph of “individual rights” is also the triumph of community, self-created and self-sustaining.

And when we were reminded that queer people remain targets of violence in this world, at a nightclub that became a crime scene, it was community that came together to mourn, to uphold, to begin to heal.

It’s obvious that Justice Kennedy’s declaration that the “right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy” could have only come about through exhaustive efforts of generations of queer activists, networked into underground community, often at great professional and personal danger.

Paradoxically, celebrating same-sex marriage as a victory for “individual autonomy” does an injustice to the power in those communities that continue to support us.

Even as a married couple, Anthony and I do not exist as a solitary unit, quietly living our private life of discreetly-exercised rights. As vital as the rights paradigm is, what it misses is the lived history of actual gay people, not just as individuals but within communities – the very real communities queer folks have had to build in the absence of a civil society or infrastructure that refused, until very recently, to acknowledge our full humanity.


A rights-focused discourse misses something else. For generations, Jewish communities have assumed the responsibility to support and sustain married couples – like the very real Jewish community that loves and supports our marriage to this day.

Anthony didn’t know it then, but it was in 2013 that I began planning to propose. In June of that year, the Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Windsor that the “Defense of Marriage [sic] Act” (DOMA) unconstitutionally denigrated same-sex couples; in the same session, the Court refused to uphold California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that had prohibited same-sex marriage.

Our marriage would thus be fully legal under both California and federal law. I began to make plans to propose. In a beautiful June afternoon, on the bow of a sailboat in San Francisco Bay, I gave Anthony a filigree gold hamsa pendant with a tiny diamond in the center. I asked him if he would marry me. He said, “Of course.” We hugged and kissed, two figures finally legally permitted to one another, blissfully floating in solitude.

We wouldn’t stay that way for long.

Only one year prior to U.S. v. Windsor, the Conservative movement of Judaism had formally sanctioned same-sex marriage, and created ritual language sanctifying those relationships. Yet, from the response to our engagement by our community, Congregation Netivot Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Berkeley, you would not have known that this was in any way new or novel. Love poured in from all quarters. People interrupted their davvening (and sometimes ours) to wish us the best, to inquire about plans, to pour out their support and joy and blessings. It was so sweet. And pleasantly surprising.

But in planning the wedding itself, we awoke to the stark reality of making a big gay American Jewish wedding. Catering, music, clothes, flowers, linens, not to mention the chuppah and ketubah and (of course!) the rabbi and cantor – there were dozens of details to arrange, each seemingly comprised of a dozen more. (Let me publicly apologize, here, to all the couples at whose marriages I officiated: I’m so sorry. I had no idea.) We were baffled. We were exhausted. We were short-tempered, with the process and with each other.

It quickly became clear that the individual autonomy championed by Justice Kennedy is refracted through the lens of a wedding industry that sees autonomous couples as autonomous consumers, celebrating their private rights in the private sector. Having once snickered at the idea of a professional wedding planner, we soon came to understand why couples hand over hard-earned money to someone hired to handle the details. Two individuals come together as an individual couple to make an individual celebration. Why not hire another individual to make that celebration happen?

Little did we know that as our anxieties began to mount, help was already on its way. The wedding industry was telling us that the way to celebrate a wedding was by creating a moneyed extravaganza, our love measured by the heft of the price tag. Our community told us otherwise. All the people who offered their love when we announced our engagement were now offering their assistance. Friends (and, to be honest, people we didn’t realize were friends) offered assistance with logistics, ritual, emotional support. “Can we help you with the chuppah?” “Do you need help with place settings?” “Do you need help with food?” “Do you need a coordinator for the big day?” It was completely overwhelming. And completely wonderful.

And so it was when our shul friends danced around us at our aufruf, we were encircled by the people who had helped prep our place cards and table signs, by the people who would transport our chuppah, by the people who picked up our ketubah, by the people who had fed us the night before at a Shabbat dinner for dozens of out-of-town guests, by the people who would bake ten challahs for the wedding.

It was our friends who took Anthony and me to our respective mikvehs. It was those friends who helped us with clothes and shoes and kittels. It was those friends who led the dancing and the entertainment at the reception, and it was those friends who calmed and soothed my tears and trembling on the big day. It was those friends who, directly following our ceremony, guarded our holy space in our first moments of married life. It was those friends who would host us, in homes across the Bay Area, for sheva brachot celebrations the week following our wedding day. And today, it is those friends we count on to help us through the vicissitudes of married life.

Some question the logic of going through any of the “typical” wedding rituals. Why follow convention at all? Certainly, in the Bay Area, many couples reject entirely the trappings that accompany modern wedding. Anthony and I both harbor traditionalist tendencies; we knew that wouldn’t be our path. What we didn’t know, however, was how much love and sweetness would come through to us through those old words and rites. Even me! Even a rabbi who has led countless couples on this journey, I didn’t fully understand the deep wisdom in the wedding rituals of Jewish that evoke the love and support of those around us.

In short, we have been held and sustained by community before, during, and after our wedding. This community is not our “right.” It is our blessing. And our wedding could not have happened – not in any way resembling the awesome, precious way that it did – without the blessed love of that community.


In his decision affirming the legitimacy of same-sex marriage, Justice Kennedy utilized particularly majestic language. His words are beautiful. Marriage, he argued, is a response to “the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there.”

In doing so, it promises “the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.”

Like I said, beautiful. But Anthony and I have learned that the marriage is not just the response to a call from one “lonely person” to another. It also a response to the anxious call of a “lonely couple,” afraid they might call out only to find no kinship there. It holds out the promise that this loving couple will become part of a loving community, an entire collective that cares for each other.

Our marriage, we continue to discover, is more than a mere two-person union. It is two people held in communion, sacred and spiritual association, by their community.

The rituals of Jewish marriage attest to its communal nature. Numerous Jewish commentators have noted that the chuppah is open on all sides, a paradigm of the welcoming home the couple is expected to create. Jewish texts instruct that the ketubah is signed by witnesses unrelated to the couple, and read before the community. The wedding blessings praise God not for the couple, but for all couples, for all the house of Israel, for all of creation.

A wedding in any religious tradition, if done right, is not just a moment or space for a couple. It’s not just an opportunity to drop a load of cash on a personal dream of a lavish party. Our celebration was not just a celebration for us, just as our wedding day was not just a day for us. It brought everyone together; queer couples forced to marry several times in various jurisdictions; straight people who only had to marry once; single people who hadn’t yet married; and single people, gay and straight, partnered and uncoupled, who had no interest in marriage. They all elevated us in celebration. And we found that our celebration, in turn, elevated them.

Early on in our planning, Anthony told me that his ideal Jewish wedding was the wedding in Fiddler on the Roof. I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. “The walls of the wedding were the walls of the community,” he told me, in that way he has of making me wonder if he should have been the rabbi rather than me. “The trappings of that wedding were the joy in other people’s faces.”

Anthony and I belong to each other. We declared as much under the chuppah. But now, as a couple, we belong to our community. And our community belongs to us.


County clerk Kim Davis briefly achieved notoriety last summer when she went to an honest-to-goodness jail cell in rural Kentucky rather than grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It was, she said, “a matter of religious liberty.” A judge ruled that Kim Davis has the right to hate gay people, to refuse to sign those licenses, as long as she doesn’t interfere with the ability of her deputies to issue them.

Some people hate her for hating us, but I’m not sure I begrudge her that right. We still have the right to be married. And as long as Davis can’t interfere with that right, she has the right to not want to take part in it.

Judges speak in the language of legal rights and liberties. That’s their job. Like same-sex couples throughout the country, we now have the right to a marriage license. But just as it’s the job of judges to speak in the language of rights, it’s the job of religion to speak in the language of communal responsibility and connection and love. And it’s the job of sacred community to cultivate sacred space around married couples, supporting and sustaining them on their journey.

Al tifrosh min ha-tzibur, Rabbi Hillel teaches in the Talmud. “Don’t separate yourself from the community.” More than a set of legal rights – even the most crucial of rights – marriage opens a couple to a constellation of love, within them and surrounding them. Having dwelled within the awesome miracle of our wedding, it is plainly obvious that individual marriage rights and sacred community move in concert, two newlyweds dancing in counterpoint, held in holy embrace.

For us, Anthony’s vision came to life, the walls of our blessed community containing and defining our wedding. It was the joy in their faces that embraced us, inviting us to embrace them. We did ultimately have to leave the chuppah, to walk off the bandstand and walk into the unknown of our married life together. But the chuppah didn’t leave us, just as our friends and family didn’t leave us. They continue to sustain and support us, defining marriage not merely as a legal contract, but as an integration of souls – with each other, and within a holy community.

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum speaks, teaches, and writes about the intersection of culture, politics, justice, and Jewish choices. He serves as Co-chair of the Bay Area Regional Council of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, and lives with his husband, Yiddish singer Anthony Russell, in Oakland. Photo credit: Clara Rice.

After the Colombian Ceasefire Deal: Can Grassroots Communities Show a Pathway Toward Reconciliation?


by: Martin Winiecki on June 24th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

History is being made in Colombia. After three and a half years, the peace negotiations between the administration of President Santos and the FARC-Ep guerrilla group taking place in Havana, Cuba have reached a breakthrough with a “bilateral and definite ceasefire” signed by both parties on Thursday, putting an end to the longest lasting internal war the world has ever seen.

The armed struggle between the Marxist-Leninist rebels and the Colombian state, persisting over 52 years, killed more than 220,000 people, displaced over 5,700,000 and left the country traumatized. FARC-Ep, a guerrilla troop, which had started out as defenders of the marginalized and silenced, became wrapped up in the drug trade, vile kidnappings, and extreme blood-shedding as their movement mutated from one of resistance to survival, by any means necessary. After a tumultuous journey, they have now committed to renounce violence and participate nonviolently in the social and political process of the country.

This is a crucial milestone for Colombia and Latin America, which we have to salute. At the same time, however, we must not be mistaken: This does not mean there is peace in Colombia now. This is merely a first important step in a long process. The negotiations will continue to define the details of the peace deal until August; there still are many open delicate questions to be answered. In addition to the deal with FARC-Ep, the government is leading another negotiation with ELN, the second largest Colombian guerrilla force. Beyond the cessation of hostilities between the government and the guerrilla, peace in Colombia will require the beginning of a reconciliation process, which above all must support and protect those most direly affected by the war – farmers, indigenous people, human rights defenders, and union activists. Among these, still many doubts about the peace process remain. Warning voices come from some of the country’s most courageous activists, for example the peace community San José de Apartadó.

San José is a community of over 600 persecuted farmers in nonviolent resistance in the north of the country. Their history epitomizes the drama of this country and more broadly, of persecuted people throughout the Global South. Since 1997, the people of San José have been establishing an island of humaneness in the middle of a bloody civil war. As they did not receive any protection from massacres and expulsions by the Colombian state, founding a solidarity community with a neutral stance in the war seemed to be their last hope for survival. They refuse to cooperate with any armed party, do not carry weapons and allow no drugs. San José is a ‘realized utopia’ for a world of solidarity and peace and has inspired other villages in the country to establish similar “neutral zones.” Today the project represents a movement of farmers, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities throughout the country, which have long been powering another peace process – from the bottom up.

Yet paradoxically, it seems that the Havana peace deal could be used to dismantle projects like San José. How can this be?

San José de Apartadó is located on land rich in natural resources, which multinational companies have been eager to exploit for many years. This is a major, yet far less known, aspect of the Colombian war. In the shadow of the conflict between government and guerrillas, paramilitary troops have long terrorized the civil population. According to estimates, paramilitaries have killed far more people than the war between guerrilla and the state, yet the paramilitary violence has continued during the peace negotiations. These right-wing death squads were initially formed in the 1980s, predominantly financed and deployed by landlords, politicians, and multinationals to drive the rural population into the cities and crush civil resistance to make way for lucrative mining and agricultural mega-projects. “The paramilitaries became the hidden right hand of the state,” says Arley Tuberquia, spokesperson of San José, “commissioned for the dirty work that the army cannot carry out in the light of day.”

After many years of the Colombian government denying the existence of paramilitary troops in the country, Thursday’s ceasefire deal was a positive surprise as the common declaration of government and FARCE-Ep states their intention to disarm paramilitary groups and their successors. However, in the final deal and its subsequent implementation they will have to prove the sincerity of such statements. Without dismantling the paramilitaries, there will be no peace in Colombia.

As they refused to leave their lands and established an alternative community that resisted the exploitation of the multinationals, the people of San José became the target of a ruthless extermination campaign, carried out by paramilitaries in alliance with the state army as well as mass media and former president Uribe, slandering them as “terrorists.” The community suffered countless massacres killing more than 200 of their members. Despite all they endured, they have continued, bound together by a deep solidarity and the unwavering commitment to overcome hatred, to answer the atrocities by creating a living example of another possible world. As their late visionary Eduar Lancheros said, “As long as we are able to transform pain into hope, there will always be community.” Essential to their survival has also been the support of numerous NGOs and international activists. San José allied with the Tamera peace research center in Portugal and other like-minded projects around the world in building models for a sustainable, post-capitalist culture free of war.

There have been less killings over the past years, yet the efforts to dismantle San José have not stopped. Many community members have been offered money to vacate and there has been ongoing trickery in attempt to take away the farmers’ properties. After the peace treaty, many international organizations that have so far supported persecuted people in Colombia will likely move on to other crisis areas, thereby leaving San José in a very vulnerable position. Gloria Cuartas, former mayor of Apartadó, has accompanied the peace community since its foundation. She says, “While the world will soon believe there is peace in Colombia, paramilitaries still continue to go behind those working for human and union rights. We have evidence that parts of the government and multinationals will use the cover of apparent peace to manage what they so far have not – ending the peace community.”

An international alliance, including world-renowned linguist and scholar Noam Chomsky, Bolivian water warrior Oscar Olivera, Mexican writer Gustavo Esteva, former Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim, Tikkun editor Rabbi Michael Lerner, among many others, are now urging the negotiating parties in Havana to include a clause in the final agreement guaranteeing the right for Colombian peace villages to live freely on their land. The success of this calling would not only usher a new era for San José, but be a milestone for territorial justice – for the rights of countless marginalized farmers and Indigenous Peoples all over the country.

Tens of thousands of guerrillas will soon cease fighting and try to reintegrate into society. This will likely be more difficult than reaching a political contract – and in order for this process to succeed it will require authentic examples for reconciliation and nonviolent coexistence. Could villages like San José de Apartadó, which have been most brutally persecuted, now turn into role models for a future without war in Colombia? As the alliance of human rights experts and peace activists argue, such grassroots peace projects indeed hold an essential key for the next phase of the Colombian peace process, turning the silence of arms into lasting social justice.

Martin Winiecki, born in Dresden, Germany in 1990, is a writer, speaker, and coordinator of the Institute for Global Peace Work at Tamera, Portugal.

Trump: The 2016 Election and the Rise of American Fascism


by: Frederic C. Tubach on May 5th, 2016 | 6 Comments »

Editor’s Note: Tikkun does not and cannot endorse or oppose candidates or political parties. We are actively seeking articles in support of any candidate for the US presidency and from any political party.

“Willst Du nicht mein Bruder sein, so schlag’ ich Dir den Schädel ein (If you don’t want to be my brother, I’ll smash your skull in)”

This Brownshirt slogan reflected the mindset of fanatic Nazi supporters, the street thugs who played an important role in helping Hitler destroy democracy in Germany and replace it with absolute power over a disoriented population. This extraordinary transformation took place within a four-month period between November 1932 and March 5,1933, the date of he last free election in Germany. Anyone who has studied this fateful moment in German history cannot fail to notice the similarities with what is currently happening in the United States.

Presidental candidate Donald Trump. Source: Flickr (Gage Skidmore).

In November 1932 the Nazis did well in the elections, but the traditional democratic parties on the right and left believed Hitler’s effectiveness would be short. After all, they reckoned, people would soon unmask the slogans for what they were – empty phrase-mongering. However, and tragically, the insecurity of the populace increased dramatically after the parliament building was burned down on February 28, 1933. A week later the March 5th election swept the Nazis into power thus ending democracy in Germany. The Germans clamored for a strong man with simple ideas who would empower them and free them from the victimhood that would be forced upon them by Soviet communism from the outside and from ineffective party babble on the inside.

American fascism is on the rise under the Trump banner. At first glance this claim may seem exaggerated, because there are no visible swastikas and no head-bashing armed storm troopers, and Trump uses none of Hitler’s hyperventilating antics. But what Trump and Hitler have in common is their approach to politics, which is/was radically new and geared to contemporary problems and uncertainties. The newness in both cases gave these two fascist movements added power at the onset.

The similarity between the two movements is striking when it comes to dealing with those who do not agree with them: dissenters are not just wrong, they are unpatriotic. This kind of fascist patriotism is most effective when expressed through collective action. Three examples will illustrate what I mean.


Wrestling with God: Church Shootings and Gay Wedding Cakes


by: Reverend Max Lynn on April 15th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Transcribed from the sermon preached July 12, 2015
Scripture Readings: Genesis 32:22-32, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1865 painting by Alexander Louis Leloir)

The story of Jacob’s wrestling match with God falls between the stories of Jacob’s tricking his brother Esau out of his inheritance and their reconciliation. You may remember that Jacob, the younger son, conspired with his mother to trick his father into giving him both the first born birthright and blessing. Gypped twice by his brother, Esau was fuming, and promised to kill his brother after his father died. Now Esau did alright for himself despite Jacob and is coming with an army. Jacob, hoping for forgiveness and reconciliation, sends out a sequence of offerings to soften his brother’s anger.

Awaiting the actual meeting with his brother, Jacob is camped along a river. As it becomes night, Jacob runs into a man who seems to be the guardian of the river crossing. They wrestle all night. Eventually, Jacob decides this guy is related to the divine and asks for a blessing. Jacob won’t give up so the guy injures Jacobs’s groin. But Jacob still won’t give up and demands a blessing. Finally, the guy blesses Jacob with the new name Israel, because he has struggled with God face to face.

If all goes according the convention in the culture, Jacob is not someone who gets to be primary protagonist in scripture. “Bless me, make me a cake,” he might say, and his father would say, “no, that is not the way it goes. You don’t get the blessing. The established order says your brother gets the blessing.” On the one hand Jacob is a bit of a snake. On the other hand, who came up with the conventional order anyway? This bucking of the conventional culture is going to reverberate in the story of David, the young brother who makes his way from musician to giant killer and then king. This theme runs through scripture: don’t give up, be faithful to God, wrestle with him enough, and you just may get a blessing.

The other night I went over to St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church to hear Cornel West. Now one might be tempted to look at the ongoing struggle of the African American Community and just say, the heck with God. Certainly more and more people have decided God is not making much of a difference. God is not preventing racist lunatics from shooting down church folks. God has not ended racism. God has not ended poverty and violence and discrimination. Meanwhile Central America is turning into a present day Sodom and Gomorrah, where society is disintegrating before the raw violence, corruption and disrespect of human life to such a degree one might be tempted to just erase everything and start over.


All Real Living Is Meeting


by: Matthew Gindin on December 2nd, 2015 | Comments Off

All real living is meeting.- Martin Buber

As is so often the case, the events of the last weeks and their questions resonated with the parshayot (torah readings). How should we relate to the other that we fear? Who are our fellow travellers? Where is God in the tortured conflicts of our time?

In the Bible portion Vayetze Jacob leaves Be’er Sheva in the Holy Land and goes north to Haran. The Hasidic commentator the Sfas Emes points out that this symbolizes the soul leaving behind the well (be’er) of Shabbat (sheva) to go into the materiality of the world- from the place of p’nimiyut (internal spirit) to the place of gashmiyut (worldliness). In parshat Vayishlach, last week’s portion, Jacob is returning to the Holy Land and therefore to the place of p’nimiyut, which besides internality can also paradoxically mean the Face (panim). Jacob will descend into his own depths and emerge to a confrontation with the face of the Other.

“And Jacob was left alone (levado)”(Genesis 32:25). The Midrash says, “Jacob was left alone (levado)”- this is like the aloneness of the Holy One who pervades all the universe (Genesis Rabbah, 77:1)”. How is Jacob’s aloneness like the aloneness of God?

The Holy One’s aloneness is described as ein od milvado -there is nothing besides Him alone (Devarim 4:35). On one level Jacob is in a place of great aloneness where he must rely on his own resources (Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dynov, Igre de-Kala, quoted by Rav Itamar Eldar). This is one way in which his aloneness is like the Holy One’s- it is an aloneness of self-sufficiency. Further R’ Tzvi Elimelech and others connect this verse to another one from Isaiah: “And human haughtiness will be humbled and people’s pride be brought low, YHWH alone ( levado) will be exalted on that day (Isaiah 2:17)” Here Jacob lets go of pride and self and thus attains to an “aloneness with the alone”. Jacob’s aloneness is one where he comes into an unmediated meeting with the Divine presence, as taught by the Shem Mi-Shmuel (Vayishlach 1878). This last type of aloneness is a seclusion even from ideas of self and other, past and future. Jacob enters into a deep stillness where he transcends stories about himself and his brother. Jacob is alone, but not in the sense of isolation. In this aloneness his consciousness becomes unrestricted, and it is in this sense that his awareness “pervades all the universe like the Holy One”.

It is from this ultimate place that the Other can be met completely, free from the cage of concepts based on the past. Here transformation of our attitude to the other can really occur, even if we only glimpse this state briefly. Without it, change tends to be more superficial.


The Reign of Absurdiocy by Uri Avnery


by: on November 27th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

There is no such thing as “international terrorism”. To declare war on “international terrorism” is nonsense. Politicians who do so are either fools or cynics, and probably both. Terrorism is a weapon. Like cannon. We would laugh at somebody who declares war on “international artillery”. A cannon belongs to an army, and serves the aims of that army. The cannon of one side fire against the cannon of the other. Terrorism is a method of operation. It is often used by oppressed peoples, including the French Resistance to the Nazis in WW II. We would laugh at anyone who declared war on “international resistance”.

Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military thinker, famously said that “war is the continuation of politics by other means”. If he had lived with us today, he might have said: “Terrorism is a continuation of policy by other means.” Terrorism means, literally, to frighten the victims into surrendering to the will of the terrorist. Terrorism is a weapon. Generally it is the weapon of the weak. Of those who have no atom bombs, like the ones which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which terrorized the Japanese into surrender. Or the aircraft which destroyed Dresden in the (vain) attempt to frighten the Germans into giving up.

Since most of the groups and countries using terrorism have different aims, often contradicting each other, there is nothing “international” about it. Each terrorist campaign has a character of its own. Not to mention the fact that nobody considers himself (or herself) a terrorist, but rather a fighter for God, Freedom or Whatever. (I cannot restrain myself from boasting that long ago I invented the formula: “One man’s terrorist is the other man’s freedom fighter”.)

MANY ORDINARY Israelis felt deep satisfaction after the Paris events. “Now those bloody Europeans feel for once what we feel all the time!”

Binyamin Netanyahu, a diminutive thinker but a brilliant salesman, has hit on the idea of inventing a direct link between jihadist terrorism in Europe and Palestinian terrorism in Israel and the occupied territories.


A Hindu Call to Action in Fighting Climate Change


by: Murali Balaji on November 25th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Editor’s Note: A version of this piece first appeared on the Huffington Post.

At the end of this month, leaders from around the globe will convene in Paris for the latest round of talks to combat climate change and global warming.

For the first time, Hindu teachings will take a prominent role in this effort, as a growing coalition of Hindu organizations, leaders, and interfaith allies are ramping up efforts to protect Matru Bhumi through the Bhumi Devi ki Jai! A Hindu Declaration on Climate Change.

The declaration, first signed six years ago, is now back on the frontlines as the majority of world leaders are finally acknowledging the reality of climate change and the urgency of fighting it.

The declaration, authored by the Oxford Center for Hindu Studies and the Bhumi Project, with support from the Hindu American Foundation, is a call to action for the world’s approximately 900 million Hindus to take the lead in combating global warming. As Hindu leaders note, the effort highlights the natural leadership of Hindu scriptures in calling for action.

The declaration, in part, reads:

“Today, with the 2015 Paris Climate Conference nearly upon us, members of the global Hindu community again urge strong, meaningful action be taken, at both the international and national level, to slow and prevent climate change. Such action must be scientifically credible and historically fair, based on deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through a transition away from polluting technologies, especially away from fossil fuels. A transition towards using 100-percent clean energy is desperately needed, as rapidly as is possible in every nation. Doing so provides the only basis for sustainable, continued human development. It is the best hope for the billions of people without electricity or clean cooking facilities to live better lives and reduce poverty.”


Life in Kabul Goes on Under the Helicopters


by: Brian Terrell on November 12th, 2015 | 7 Comments »

When I arrived at the Kabul International Airport on November 4, I was unaware that the same day the New York Times published an article, “Life Pulls Back in Afghan Capital, as Danger Rises and Troops Recede.” My friends Abdulhai and Ali, 17 years old, young men I have known since my first visit five years ago, greeted me with smiles and hugs and took my bags. Disregarded by soldiers and police armed with automatic weapons, we caught up on old times as we walked past concrete blast walls, sand bag fortifications, check points and razor wire to the public road and hailed a cab.

The sun was just burning through the clouds after an early morning rain and I had never seen Kabul look so bright and clean. Once past the airport, the high way into the city was bustling with rush hour traffic and commerce. I was unaware until I read the New York Times on line a few days later, that this time I was one of only a few US citizens likely to be on that road. “The American Embassy’s not allowed to move by road anymore,” a senior Western official told the Times, which reported further that “after 14 years of war, of training the Afghan Army and the police, it has become too dangerous to drive the mile and a half from the airport to the embassy.”

Credit: Brian Terrell

Helicopters now ferry employees working with the United States and the international military coalition to and from offices in Kabul we are told. The United States Embassy in Kabul is one of the largest in the world and already a largely self-contained community, its personnel are now even more isolated from Afghan people and institutions than before. “No one else,” other than US and coalition facilities, the Times reports, “has a compound with a landing pad.” While proclaiming its mission there “Operation Resolute Support” for Afghanistan, US officials no longer travel on Afghan streets.

We have no helicopters or landing pads, but the security situation in Kabul is also a concern for Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a grass roots peace and human rights organization that I work with and for our friends in the Kabul-based Afghan Peace Volunteers that I came to visit. I am fortunate with my grey beard and darker complexion to more easily pass for a local and so I can move about a bit more freely on the streets than some other internationals who visit here. Even then, my young friends have me wear a turban when we leave the house.


Jay Janson on Veterans Day


by: Jay Janson on November 11th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Editor’s Note: In sharing articles in Tikkun, we often print articles with which we don’t agree to make Tikkun a lively forum for ideas​. This article ​is a classic case. Though Jay Janson has a very strong point in critiquing the way that veterans lives have been sacrificed to serve the imperial goals of America’s elites (as has been true for veterans in almost every war in history as people died to serve their own country’s elites), it is not true when thinking about the veterans who served the North in the Civil War nor those who fought the Second World War. War is almost always wrong, but many​ those who fought them have often been motivated by goals quite different from the goals of those who instigated the wars.

We at Tikkun want to see an end to all wars, but we don’t want to negate the decency and even idealism of many who have fought in these wars, an idealism that has often been manipulated by unscrupulous leaders like, in the case of the U.S., Presidents Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Bush, and perhaps Obama also (in his escalation of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq), and by advisors like Henry Kissinger and Vice President Cheney, and the list could go on and on on. Of course, it makes sense to emphasize that soldiers engaged in human rights abuses during those wars also do not deserve to be honored, as for example the Nazis, Stalin’s Soviet armies in the 2nd world war, and some U.S. soldiers in Vietnam and Iraq, not to mention that role of the School of the Americas in training South and Central American soldiers and police in torture techniques (and that School still persists at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA).

Indeed, we do not deny that there is something fundamentally evil about every war-and the untold abuses of others that almost always accompany every battle and every army. We want to see them all ended, right now.

​ And individual soldiers have some responsibility to make determinations for themselves about whether the war they are being asked to serve in has any moral legitimacy. I sent my draft card back to my draft board in 1968 and told them that if they drafted me I’d use the opportunity to organize my fellow soldiers against the Vietnam war. Certainly in the present period in the US, Veterans Day would be a good time to HONOR THE REFUSENIKS WHO Would NOT SERVE IN AMERICA’s IMPERIAL WARS. The Quebec Chapter of the NSP–Nework of Spiritual Progressives under the leadership of former American war resister Isaac Romano has made support for resistors an important part of their activities.

So Jay Janson’s point deserves a lot of public attention, but won’t get it because it doesn’t include these kinds of more nuanced reflections. Yet in its outrage at war, and its constant reminder that we should not celebrate all veterans but only those who did not consciously aid in manipulating us into wars and did not engage in activities like those in Guantanamo and the dozens of other torture centers run by the U.S. military and intelligence forces around the world, Janson has an important point that should be discussed by everyone on Veterans Day. And we should insist that the best way to honor Veterans and all they went through is to end all wars starting NOW.

-Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun