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Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: The Holy Cobbler with a Secret

Jul8

by: Shaul Magid on July 8th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

 

Credit: Creative Commons

The day Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi left this world I happened to be mostly in transit. I took two books with me for the day; David Macey’s biography of Frantz Fanon, and R. Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezritch’s Hasidic work Maggid Devarav le-Ya’akov. When I heard the sad news on the train, feeling quite alone, I did what any hasid would do when he heard of the death of his rebbe. I took out a Hasidic work and began learning. I found myself somewhere in the middle of Maggid Devarav le-Ya’akov. It did not really matter where. The simple act of learning Hasidut on that lonely day enabled me to believe that somehow I was participating in the separation of body and soul that the tradition teaches occurs during those first hours after someone’s death. Naïve, perhaps maybe even a little delusional, but it gave me solace nonetheless. At some point I came across a teaching that jumped off the page in the way it seemed to capture what Reb Zalman gave to the world. Below I offer a translation of that lesson and a few observations as my parting words to him and, more importantly, as words to those of us who now have the responsibility to carry his message to the post-Zalman era of Jewish Renewal, may it live a long and healthy life. I dedicate this to Eden Pearlstein, Chani Trugman, Shir Yaakov Feit, Adam Segulah Sher, and Basya Schechter, Paradigm Shifters, each and every one.

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Final report from Jerusalem

Jul8

by: Cherie Brown on July 8th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Dear all,

Credit: Creative Commons

It is Tuesday morning in Jerusalem and I fly home to DC early tomorrow (Wednesday) morning. It is hard to believe a month has passed.  I am sad to be leaving Israel, to be leaving all the people here I love, the views of the Old City from our apartment window, the sights and smells of the Shuk (the Marketplace), and all the beauty and the complexity of this wonderful, ancient place. At the same time, I am very much looking forward to coming home.

This last week has once again been a week of amazing contrasts. This past Tuesday night, we were on Jaffa road (where our apartment is).  We were just walking to dinner, when we got caught in an ugly, racist mob scene with hundreds of young, mostly Orthodox Jewish men, throwing rocks, pulling Arabs out of stores, shouting,  ”We want revenge” and “Kill Arabs,”  and waving banners proclaiming,  ”We are all Kahane”.  I have never been more pained– or more terrified.  What has happened to our people?

The horrible events of the past week, the discovery of the bodies of the three Israeli teenagers and the horrific revenge killing of the Palestinian teenager only added to the information I had been receiving all month from the tours to Hebron, the Jordan Valley, the South Hebron Hills, and the Negev.  All together, each event and each tour has given me a stark, realistic picture, not only of the horrors of life for Palestinians under the Occupation, but also, the depth of collusion, rigidities, and racism of the settler movement, the Israeli army, and the Israeli government — and it’s leadership.  The events of this past week only confirmed what I was already learning and witnessing on the ground all month.  

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Why Choosing to Believe in God can be a Rational Decision

Jul6

by: Catherine Lasser on July 6th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Evolutionary psychology provides evidence that choosing to believe in God can be a rational decision. Rationality can be defined as reasoning based on empirical evidence. The empirical evidence of evolutionary psychology demonstrates that there are three kinds of relationship: power, accountability and mutuality.

They are summarized in the chart below:

Relationship

Evolutionary

Value

Situation

Involves

Moral Implications

Power

(us-them)

(i.e. Richard Dawkins)

Survival of the fittest

Competitive

Self-Interest

and

Dominance

Human Rights

Empowerment

Accountability

(me-us)

(i.e. Joshua Greene, Robert Wright,

E.O. Wilson)

Individuals who cooperate with each other are more likely to survive

Cooperative

Rewards and Punishments

Greatest good for the greatest number of people

Mutuality

(I-Thou)

(i.e. John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth)

Parents and infants who bond with each other are more likely to have infants who survive

Love

Care for another

Equals

Care for self

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you


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A New Litmus Test on Israel

Jul4

by: Ron Skolnik on July 4th, 2014 | 8 Comments »

Just as a litmus test determines where a chemical is on the spectrum from acidic to alkaline, many American Jews seek to label perspectives on a scale from ‘pro’ to ‘anti’ Israel. Jewish reactions to the divestment resolution passed at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) show that it’s time for the Jewish community to recalibrate its litmus test on Israel.

The 2014 Presbyterian General Assembly (US)

Credit: Creative Commons.

The feature resolution at the General Assembly, approved after hours of consideration by a narrow 50.6% majority, was number 04-04, “On Supporting Middle East Peacemaking”. The resolution’s key operative paragraph called for the PCUSA’s divestment from three corporations – Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola – on the grounds that they provide products and services that reinforce Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories beyond the 1967 Green Line.

As expected, the resolution’s passage was met by angry reaction from many in the American Jewish mainstream, who claim that the decision had now aligned the Church with the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a loose network of groups around the world that, by and large, can arguably be labeled ‘anti-Israel’: Global BDS groups, as a rule, assign blame exclusively to Israel, imply that Israel was ‘born in sin’, and remain suspiciously reticent to specify if the end-goal they seek allows for Israel’s continued existence.

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What It Would Take to Make America a Democracy—Reflections for July Fourth

Jul3

by: Elliot Sperber on July 3rd, 2014 | No Comments »

As the Fourth of July is celebrated across the United States – and as economic reports, our ballooning prison system, and a barrage of climatological studies, among other pieces of evidence, lead ever more people to consider whether our collective way of life is in need of a fundamental transformation – an examination of the ostensible objects of our celebration (independence and democracy) seems in order.

People watching fireworks from behind a fence

Credit: Creative Commons/buildscharacter.

Aside from the concept of independence (and the question it implies: independence from what?), democracy, it should be remarked, is an especially vague and ambiguous concept.

Because democracy can refer to egalitarian, emancipatory politics, as well as to the political-economic systems of slavery-based societies like that of the southern U.S. or ancient Athens-an initial distinction should be drawn between egalitarian forms of democracy (which tend to be organized more or less horizontally, with social resources distributed more or less evenly) and what, in practical terms, are really plutocratic societies – or what, perhaps, can be termed market-based democracies (which tend to be more or less hierarchical and representational). And it’s the market-based or plutocratic society that,with only minor egalitarian democratic interruptions and adjustments,exists today and characterizes what democracy has meant since the bourgeois democratic revolutions of the late eighteenth century.

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Feeling Our Pain Is the Way to Peace

Jul2

by: Nitsan Joy Gordon on July 2nd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

On Monday night we found out that the search ended, the three young men who were kidnapped eighteen days ago have been discovered dead, buried in some wadi near Hebron. Apparently they were killed almost immediately after being kidnapped. The smell of revenge is in the air…

In the news some politicians are arguing that the best response is to build more settlements in order to show the Hamas that we are creating the possibility of life where lives were destroyed. Others are talking about increasing public transportation to the settlements so that young people do not have to hitchhike. The Israeli military is destroying homes without any consideration for the law and imprisoning relatives of the murderers, and hundreds of others. Netanyahu is saying, “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.” And Hamas is saying: “All Hell will break loose if you attack.” Planes are flying over us, Gaza is being bombed, and there is a sense that war is just around the corner….

I want to scream ENOUGH to acting out our pain. Can we just take some time to feel it?

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Reflections from Jerusalem: The Murdered Teens, Hebron, and the Future of Israel/Palestine

Jul1

by: Cherie Brown on July 1st, 2014 | 2 Comments »

At four in the morning on Tuesday, I find myself wide awake. The devastating news that the bodies of the three Israeli teenagers were found just came in last night. I had been attending a Teachers’ and Leaders’ class in co-counseling taught by the leader of the Israeli co-counseling community, so we didn’t hear the news until we were in a car on our way back to Jerusalem.

A candle light vigil for the three murdered Israeli teens

Credit: Creative Commons.

Soon after hearing the awful news, a screaming fight broke out in the back seat of the car I was in between two co-counselors. One is a long time peace activist. The other is an ultra Orthodox woman who knew many people in the Yeshiva where the three murdered boys had studied. Each was screaming at the top of their lungs at the other, “You don’t understand anything.” One claimed the other had no sympathy for the murdered Israeli teenagers but only cared about Palestinians. The other screamed back, “You don’t see the outrageous things being done to Palestinians under the Occupation. You have no ability to listen to the other side.” And here I was in the front seat; it’s almost midnight and they are non-stop screaming at each other. The news that the bodies had been found brought up such painful, raw emotion that even these two seasoned co-counseling leaders temporarily could not use their own co-counseling listening skills. I kept thinking how much harder it must be in crisis moments like this for those who don’t even have these listening tools.

There are three events of the last few days I want to write about. All three are deeply etched in my heart as I continue to be confronted by the realities here and search to think through new ways to view what I am learning.

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Tragedy and Humanity in Hebron

Jul1

by: Michael N. Nagler on July 1st, 2014 | No Comments »

Hills of Hebron. Credit: Creative Commons

A little over a week ago I stood in the South Hebron Hills not far from the spot where, we now know, three Israeli teens had been put to death, assumedly by operatives of the Palestinian organization Hamas (though that is far from proven at this time). I was visiting a prominent nonviolent Palestinian activist from the village of At-Tuwani, where successful actions have been carried out against various provocative measures of the Israeli police and soldiers, just as I had visited their counterpart some days earlier, Rabbis for Human Rights, in Jerusalem.

Not only my host, Hafez, but many of the Palestinians I met and many whom I knew from one connection or another before are of like mind with their Israeli counterparts: strong, peace-loving, generous. Why can they not prevail against the madness that inflames the region now? Why, on the Israeli side, does the “tail” of settler fanaticism wag the “dog” of Israeli society, as one of my rabbi friends put it? Why does the fanatical group Hamas so easily drag Palestinian society as a whole into the maelstrom of violence?

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Dead Young Men in Mississippi, Israel, and Palestine: Spirals of Violence and Nonviolence

Jul1

by: Rabbi Arthur Waskow on July 1st, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Freedom Summer Anniversary

Activists take part in the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer in Mississippi. Credit: Freedom50.org.

I spent several days last week in Mississippi:

  • Mourning the murders of three young men fifty years ago;
  • Celebrating a Mississippi that today is very different;
  • Facing the truth that Earth and human communities – especially, still, those of color and of poverty – are being deeply wounded by the Carbon Pharaohs’ exploitation and oppression;
  • Talking/working toward a future of joyful community in which Mother Earth and her human children can live in peace with each other in the embrace of One Breath.

And then, a few days later, came the news of the murders of three young men just weeks ago – three Israeli youngsters, their bodies, like those of Mickey Schwerner, Andy Goodman, and James Earl Chaney, hidden while the search went forward for them.

But not only them. The violent deaths of young Palestinian boys and men as well, during the Israeli Army crackdown on the West Bank. Their mothers also mourning. As the New York Times reported the day before the three Israeli bodies were discovered:

Most Israelis see the missing teenagers as innocent civilians captured on their way home from school, and the Palestinians who were killed as having provoked soldiers. Palestinians, though, see the very act of attending yeshiva in a West Bank settlement as provocation, and complain that the crackdown is collective punishment against a people under illegal occupation.

Is there a danger of “moral relativism” in mentioning these deaths together? Is the cold-blooded murder of three hitchhiking youngsters morally equivalent to killings carried out by angry, frightened soldiers faced with a protesting mob? At the individual level, No.

But at the level of public policy, there is also no moral equivalence between a cold-blooded military occupation and the impotent rage of the occupied.

Above all, there is no “relativism” in the tears of mothers.

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How to Create the Ideal Government and Society

Jun30

by: Roger Copple on June 30th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

This article is not specifically about the exploited working class, the disappearing middle class, or the still-controlling ruling class. Instead, it is about describing how local, state, and the national governments can be improved, preferably under a new national constitution. It is not just about government; it expresses my worldview on several topics.

Some hardcore pragmatists and realists think it is foolish to contemplate ideas that may take 100 years to implement. But to idealists–visualizing the actual goal or dream is what energizes us. In the first half of this long article (I apologize), I identify some of the major political and religious groups in the United States; and then, in the second half, I propose a fair system that levels the political playing field among these diverse groups.

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