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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category



I Want to Be Left Behind

Aug27

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

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

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

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


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Why I’m Not Going to Burning Man This Year

Aug22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Noam Chomsky on “The Iranian Threat”

Aug21

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

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

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

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Dying to Know

Aug18

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

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

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

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


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What It Takes to Support a Conscious Disruptor

Aug11

by: on August 11th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

It takes a team. By High Spirit Treks, CC on Wikimedia

A couple of months ago, while leading one of my Leveraging Your Influence retreats, I spoke for the first time in public about the fact that I have four people with whom I connect, on an open, intimate level, on a daily basis; about fifteen more with whom I connect on the same level, regularly and frequently; and about fifty more with whom I connect deeply whenever we connect, without any particular pattern of frequency. Speaking about it, in the context of that retreat, was transformative, because it showed me, for the first time, the direct link between the way that I choose to live and do my work, and the necessity of so much support.

I have known that these riches are not common; that most people, at least in this country, live their lives with orders of magnitude less support and connection. I have also known that this is an essential ingredient for my sanity, for my ability to do the work, without quite knowing what made it essential. I had been thinking of it in terms of strengthening me because of having unusual sensitivities and therefore needing more support than others.

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

Aug9

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

picture of american landscape

Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Ansel Adams

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

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


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Hoovervilles for the Homeless? or Legalized Camping?: San Jose

Aug9

by: on August 9th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Hooverville 1932 credit Tony Fischer

Herbert Hoover, like many politicians in the Bay Area today, believed that the market and private philanthropy could solve all ills even while shantytowns (similar to San Jose’s Jungle) cropped up around every major city: the direct result of mass unemployment, mass eviction, and bankruptcy.

Then as now, people constructed homes of cardboard, lumber, tin, and canvas. They dug holes in the ground. And they situated themselves near waterways. One of the largest Depression-era “jungle” was located outside St. Louis by the Mississippi River, a settlement of 5,000 people with a “mayor” and four churches! Another major Hooverville sprang up in Seattle. Then as now, local governments tried to evict them only to have them return. In Seattle, they reached an agreement on co-existence and self-government that lasted through the bad times.

Recently, San Jose’s mayor Liccardo spoke at the Vatican about moving forward with motel conversions, micro housing, and finding jobs for the homeless. The mayor mentioned a site where 150 micro-houses will be installed, but no one in the housing activist community seems to know where that site is. Some say private philanthropy has been slow to materialize. Maybe San Jose’s wealthy need to have “thrift parties” as they did in the 1930′s where socialites paid a lot to wear old clothes and eat hot dogs, and the proceeds went to shantytowns.

It’s true that some formerly homeless, perhaps several hundred, are now housed. That’s important. Others have gone through rigorous austerity-education programs only to discover that, rationally, they cannot afford to live in San Jose at all.


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An Open Letter to Bill Cosby

Aug7

by: on August 7th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

August 1, 2015

Dear Mr. Cosby,

I hope this letter finds you. I am counting on social media and the six degrees of separation between every human being on earth, that someone who reads this knows you or knows someone who knows someone who knows you and can forward it on to you. My purpose for writing is to make you aware of the principles of restorative justice, and I hope that you and your legal team will consider this approach within the context of the allegations of rape against you.

However, before I write about restorative justice, I want to thank you for the more than fifty years of comedy, creativity, education, and philanthropy that you have given to this world. I know you are familiar with Shakespeare’s line in the play Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” It seems that at this time, the public wants to bury the good that you have done while you still walk the earth. I have not forgotten.

Over the years, I have enjoyed all of your television shows. When I was a girl, I watched I Spy on television with my parents. We enjoyed the chemistry between you and Robert Culp. After reading Mark Whitaker’s biography of you – Cosby: His Life and Times – I have a new appreciation for the show. Black actors and singers such as Ivan Dixon, Cicely Tyson, Eartha Kitt, and Nancy Wilson received national exposure thanks to their appearances on the show. My children and I watched The Cosby Show together. They watched The Electric Company and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. It seemed that life had come full circle when as an adult I was again watching you on television – this time the show was Cosby – with parents who were then retired. You have been part of the family.


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Whatever Happened to Student Power?

Jul30

by: Raanan Geberer on July 30th, 2015 | No Comments »

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.

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My Last Day of Sunday School

Jul29

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.

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