Credit: Pew Research Center.
The Pew Research Center’s recently published “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” a summary of its findings drawn from 70,000 screening interviews and 3,475 in-depth interviews with Jews in all fifty states. What is most striking to me (and to Arthur Waskow with whom I’ve been engaged in discussion about these results) is that the Pew survey seems oblivious to the spiritual hunger of American Jews, and hence does not ask a series of questions about this hunger. For example, the survey never asks respondents, “In what forms do you seek spiritual growth or spiritual experience?” which would have been a more important and revealing kind of question for the under-seventy crowd than questions about their religious observance.
Here are some of the conclusions published in the Pew Research Center report:
Jewish identity is changing in America, where one-in-five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion.
The percentage of U.S. adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has declined by about half since the late 1950s and currently is a little less than 2%. Meanwhile, the number of Americans with direct Jewish ancestry or upbringing who consider themselves Jewish, yet describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion, appears to be rising and is now about 0.5% of the U.S. adult population.
The changing nature of Jewish identity stands out sharply when the survey’s results are analyzed by generation. Fully 93% of Jews in the aging Greatest Generation identify as Jewish on the basis of religion (called “Jews by religion” in this report); just 7% describe themselves as having no religion (“Jews of no religion”). By contrast, among Jews in the youngest generation of U.S. adults – the Millennials – 68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.
After many years as a psychotherapist studying the psychodynamics leading Americans to move to the Right, (before I became a rabbi and editor of Tikkun), I began to understand why a fringe and extremist group could be so successful in gathering support that would eventually lead to its ability to shut down the functioning of the government. If you read to the end of this letter, I promise you’ll get some new perspectives on what is happening right now in American politics.
Tea Party members protest in Washington. Credit: Creative Commons/theqspeaks.
I’m writing to you, as a reader of Tikkun Daily, because I need your help in getting a new perspective into the public arena so we can build an effective movement to counter the Tea Party before it is too late. I’ll lay that perspective out below.
That help can take two forms:
a. donating to Tikkun Magazine and/or our public education arm, the (interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming) Network of Spiritual Progressives;
b. joining our network and possibly even coming to the training we will be doing in January 2014 to prepare people for the struggle ahead to stop the plunge toward the Right before it becomes overtly fascistic both in style and content (read more about this at spiritualprogressives.org/training). If you read this letter through, it might hopefully contribute to understanding why the right-wing extremists are winning and what we could do (with your help) to change the picture dramatically.
Here’s what I learned about why right-wing extremists are on the ascendency:
Today, the sentencing phase of U.S. soldier Bradley Manning’s court-martial begins: Manning faces up to a maximum 136 years in prison. The sentencing follows Manning’s conviction yesterday by a military court (justice is to military court as generosity is to selfishness) on nineteen of twenty counts.
"Whistle Blower" by Ben Sanders. Credit: Ben Sanders/National Accountant Magazine, Australia.
Yet what Manning did was to reveal information that should have been available to all Americans in order for us to know the illegal acts of our government, including in one instance the videotape of American military personnel laughing as they shot down innocent civilians who were coming to take away the bodies of others that these same military men had just killed. Instead of prosecuting the military murderers, the Obama administration is prosecuting the courageous hero who at huge personal risk revealed this information to the rest of us.
This past Sunday the Network of Spiritual Progressives and Tikkun purchased a small ad in the New York Times calling upon President Obama to stop prosecuting whistle-blowers. It was paid for by donors to the ad. Now that Manning is facing sentencing, you might want to add your name, donate so we can send an even larger ad to other media, or at least just read the ad. You can do so at: tikkun.org/STOP
Protestors gathered in New York City yesterday in response to Zimmerman's acquittal for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Credit: Jay Stephens.
…………… The jury’s acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and murdered the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, was emblematic of the consistent racism and double standard used in the treatment of minority groups or those deemed “Other” in the U.S. and around the world. Where is there justice in a world in which so many people suffer oppression and in which those who choose to use violence as a way to address and deal with their hatred and fear often seem to triumph?
Jewish theology holds that there is a karmic order, so that evil actions will not always run the world. Justice and compassion are both essential to the survival of the planet. Unlike many religions that focus on individual sinners and imagine that they will be punished in some future not currently verifiable – for example in a heaven or hell after life, or in a reincarnation in some form that provides rewards or punishments for how one lives in this world, most of Jewish theology sees karma as playing out on a societal scale, and over the long run.
There may never be a this-world punishment for George Zimmerman. Murderers and other perpetrators of evil too often get rewarded instead of punished. James Comey, who played an important role in approving water-boarding and indefinite detention without trial when he served in the Bush Administration, was appointed last week by President Obama to head the FBI. The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress in denying NSA surveillance of American citizens, but it is Edward Snowden who is now seeking asylum for whistle-blowing and revealing the extent of that lie. Henry Kissinger who played a central role in prolonging the Vietnam war (causing thousands of deaths) still receives public acclaim. Those bankers and investment brokers who were responsible for the 2008 meltdown of the economy and the loss of homes for millions of Americans received rewards and huge bonuses instead of prison sentences. And corporate leaders who have been responsible for polluting our air, water and land around the planet remain firmly in power while environmentalists are scorned and their message largely ignored by the Obama Administration.
So where’s the justice?
The environmental crisis is the no. 1 spiritual challenge facing the human race in the 21st century.
Spiritual Progressives should provide leadership in this struggle. We understand the dimensions of the issue, understand that we cannot save the planet without defeating the globalization of materialism and selfishness which provides the engine for unlimited exploitation of the earth without regard to the future consequences, and understand that a serious environmental movement would not only be involved in the day-to-day challenging of the worst offenses (as will happen at the demonstrations this weekend) but would ALSO be seeking to change the fundamental underlying assumptions about what is rational, productive and efficient in our economy, politics, and daily life. That is what we do with our “New Bottom Line” which is at the center of our Spiritual Covenant with America, and with our proposed ESRA–the Environmental and Social Responsiblity Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
No wonder then, that the Network of Spiritual Progressives has joined with over one hundred other organizations to support the Forward on Climate Rallies this Sunday, not only in the big rally in D.C. but also in the many other rallies around the country. Below is a list of locations we just received. If you can, bring copies of the ESRA to the rally, and signs indicating that you are one of the many Spiritual Progressives involved in this struggle (because doing so will encourage other spiritual progressives to feel safe to come out of the closet despite the religiophobia many people report experiencing in some liberal, progressive and/or environmental circles–and it will help alert secular demonstrators that they have spiritual progressive allies in this struggle to save the earth).
Hope to see you there this Sunday at one of the many sites!
Eli Zaretsky is one of many Tikkun Daily bloggers, and the blog posts on Tikkun Daily and articles on www.tikkun.org are all perspectives we value but do not necessarily agree with. For example, in Zaretsky’s recent blog post, “The Obama Presidency: An Assessment,” we think Zaretsky a bit more negative about Obama than we feel. On the other hand, Zaretsky reads as a good counter-balance to the wild claims of the New York Times on Jan. 22, 2013, which stated that Obama’s second inaugural speech presented a progressive worldview. What Obama did was to list a set of liberal issues, including the need for government to play a role, supporting fair treatment for immigrants, and including gay rights — causes that did not get the support they needed through most of his first four years till he started running for reelection.
There was no unifying theme or progressive vision, no critique of the role of corporations in pursuing self-interest at the expense of societal well-being, no challenge to the distorting role of big money in elections and a reiteration of the basic foreign policy that both Democrats and Republicans (but not progressives) have pursued for the past decades in which we (the United States) try to get our way and serve our economic and political agenda around the world without much sensitivity to the need, much less the human rights of others (in fact, Obama may well be remembered for having initiated an extensive use of drones and for signing on to a policy of legitimating lifetime imprisonment without trial of those suspected of being terrorists).
In her interview in the Fall 2012 issue of Tikkun magazine, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein predicted Obama’s betrayal of the interests of poor and working people (the “middle class”) which she now documents in her analysis of “the compromise” between Obama and the Republicans which was worked out as the alternative to “the fiscal cliff” two weeks ago: “The Real Obama Emerges Again.”
“Obama better than Romney?” In regard to the economic interests of the poor and working class, almost certainly. But for those spiritual progressives who voted for Obama (and our information leads us to believe that most did) the ethical question that emerges is: “knowing who he was after close to four years in office, and choosing to vote for him rather than a protest candidate (even in states where the election wasn’t close), what level of responsibility do we have for the programs he is now enacting when they hurt the poor and the most vulnerable in our society, when he continues to support drone killings around the world, when he refuses to push for a carbon tax or other measures appropriate to saving the planet, when he continues to support the jailing of people who use marijuana, when he continues…. (well, you can add your own here)?”
At the Philadelphia “Heschel/King Festival” last week, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s death (his Yarhzeit), I was asked to speak about what this man, now recognized as the most significant American Jewish theologian of the 20th century (and my mentor at the Jewish Theological Seminary) would have been advocating or what would he want from us were he alive today. Here’s much of what I said:
What Does Heschel Want from Us Today?
Abraham Joshua Heschel, z”l (Zeecrhono Lee’vracha — “may his memory be a blessing”), taught that
Judaism is spiritual effrontery….The most urgent task is to destroy the myth that accumulation of wealth and the achievement of comfort are the chief vocation of humanity. How can adjustment to society be an inspiration to our youth if that society persists in squandering the material resources of the world on luxuries in a world where more than a billion people go hungry every night? …[we must] insist that life involves not only the satisfaction of selfish needs, but also the satisfaction of a divine need for human justice and nobility.
(This excerpt is from the essay “existence and celebration” in the collection MGSA Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity).
Heschel insists on the centrality of a tikkun olam, a transformation of the world. He is not talking of the trivialized notion of Tikkun Olam that got adopted by the Reform Movement in Judaism and is now mostly about maneuvering for liberal legislation in Washington D.C. or about once a month inviting homeless people for a warm night in your synagogue, valuable as both of these activities really are. No, he is talking about fundamental global transformation.
Lawmakers from the Senate and House met in a closed-conference and released the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Conference Report Tuesday night, whereby conferees reinserted language in the bill that allows for the indefinite detention of Americans without charge or trial. The NDAA is unconstitutional and un-American.
Tell your representative to say NO to indefinite detention and vote NO on the NDAA!
To close the Guantánamo prison was a hallmark of the president’s 2008 campaign. Urge President Obama to VETO the 2013 NDAA and tell him that he campaigned on the promise of a renewed commitment to the rule of law, and by signing the defense bill, he will not be able to fulfill his commitment to closing the infamous detention center in Guantánamo once and for all.
Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., following a shooting there Friday. Credit: Newtown Bee.
Some thoughts and a prayer after the latest mass killings, this time of elementary school students:
Banning all guns is necessary but not sufficient in light of the increasing violence in our society. We need a fundamental transformation as well as banning guns. Otherwise, we will now revert to the normal debate between liberals wanting more gun control and conservatives saying that it’s not guns that kill but people. Both are right. So here is what we need to do:
1. A constitutional amendment to ban all guns, and to create special holding units for hunting rifles to be held in control of locally elected officials in every neighborhood who keep the rifles under lock and key except when given to hunters during a hunting season and to be returned immediately thereafter, with all necessary criminal controls and penalties for those who do not return them in a timely manner and those who continue to hold on to their guns privately. No private ownership of guns of any sort. Police must similarly be disarmed, and allowed only to use billy clubs and mace, except in emergencies in which a judge signs a warrant for the temporary use of lethal force against someone who is using lethal force. Lesser measures (background checks, banning only extreme assault weapons, etc.) are insufficient and will have only slight impact.
2. We must create a track of education in every school and every grade level that teaches nonviolence both as a philosophy of life and as a practical way to live one’s life. This track must also teach nonviolent communication skills. Moreover it must teach children and teenagers and college students: