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


by: Mark Stoll on August 9th, 2015 | Comments Off

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.


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


by: Tikkun on August 7th, 2015 | Comments Off

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.


Against The Tide: The River Of Discrimination Flowing Against People With Disabilities


by: Hannah Finnie on August 3rd, 2015 | Comments Off

Credit: CreativeCommons / Catherine Oakley.

There is a constant flow of discrimination against people with disabilities. That river is tucked away, far from most Americans’ consciences. Maybe when there’s a p.r.-heavy milestone, like the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act happening later this month, people
pay attention. The rest of the time, Dara Baldwin tells me, people tend to forget.

Baldwin has been working professionally in the field of disability rights since 2009, but her advocacy work began when she was much younger, growing up with family members who had disabilities. Her maternal grandmother had rheumatoid arthritis, and used a wheelchair from age twenty two onward. Seeing the challenges her grandmother faced, Baldwin decided to dedicate her career to advocating for disability rights. Now, she works as a public policy analyst at the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), finding legislative solutions to the kinds of problems her grandmother faced on a daily basis.


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


by: Heidi Hutner on July 31st, 2015 | 2 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.


Whatever Happened to Student Power?


by: Raanan Geberer on July 30th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

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.


Deirdre Weinberg


by: Oona Taper on July 29th, 2015 | Comments Off

With a style that ranges from realistic to abstract and mysterious, Deirdre Weinberg depicts a variety of subjects from landscapes and cityscapes to scenes from everyday life. A creator of paintings, illustrations, and murals, Weinberg considers herself a figurative painter whose work “always has political or social underpinning.”

Painting of candles and a cross in the trunk of a carWeinberg feels that being an artist is innate to who she is; for her, she says, making art is “such a part of you – like an extension of your hand.” Even though her family urged her to study art formally, Weinberg decided not to go to college for art, because, she explains, “I was worried about being trained and not having a chance to develop my own style, of being taught only to develop the vision of the teacher and not my own.” Instead she studied landscape architecture and went on to work as a city planner. This education influenced her art in its own way, contributing to the underlying structure that she incorporates into her work.

Weinberg constantly pushes herself to grow by integrating new ideas and techniques into the elements of her work that she feels are already successful. A recent project of hers was to paint one painting of something in San Francisco every day. Although she created, as she says, “a document of a time and place,” her primary goal was to improve her ability to see and think about the world around her. She was pleased when this project challenged her. She says, “There were days where there was nothing new and I had to find something interesting, something worthy of painting, so I went searching – either going to a new place or looking at details.” Currently, Weinberg is looking for ways to integrate the collaborative process, which she enjoys while making murals, into other art projects.

abstract painting

At an artist residency she recently attended in Argentina, Weinberg decided to embrace more abstraction. Although she is excited about this prospect, she still doesn’t feel like she has completely incorporated abstraction into her practice: “at this point I think I’m just making pretty pictures, and I am still looking for ways to integrate the underlying ideas,” she says. In all her work, Weinberg tries to convey a message – she is interested in “environmental issues, labor issues, and cooperate domination and] how they play out a hundred miles down the road” – without being pedantic. She is searching for “a hazy middle ground,” she says, between being “overly literal, hitting you over the head with significance” and creating works that are purely decorative. This is clear in her work, all of which shows larger themes through individual experiences and lives. She hopes her paintings can be “inroads to conversations.”


To see more of Deirdre Weinberg’s work visit the Tikkun Art Gallery or the artist’s website

My Last Day of Sunday School


by: Rachel Ida Buff on July 29th, 2015 | 28 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.


What a Nice Jewish Boy Taught Me About ISIS


by: Ron Hirschbein on July 28th, 2015 | Comments Off

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.


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


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.


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


by: Deborah Meinke on July 22nd, 2015 | Comments Off

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.