by: Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove on July 15th, 2014 | 2 Comments »
For every season, there is a message. “Do not be afraid.” “Let my people go.” “Take up your cross.” “I have a dream.”
In America today, I’ve come to believe, God’s Word for us is, “Go to hell.”
Unbeknownst to most Americans, our justice system changed radically in the late 20th century. Like most countries in the modern West, roughly one in a thousand Americans were in prison in the early 70s. Today, we incarcerate 1 in 107 Americans. Over 7 million adults are currently in jails, in prison, or on probation. More than 65 million US citizens now have a criminal record, while another 11 million undocumented people live outside the the law, subject to seizure and deportation.
Legal scholar William Stuntz has described the past 40 years as the “collapse of America’s criminal justice system.” Noting the ways “law and order” has landed more black men in prison today than were in slavery in 1850, Michelle Alexander calls it the “new Jim Crow.” Or, as Piper Kerman puts it, “orange is the new black.”
I have been struggling with how to respond to the current crisis in Gaza (and frankly, the craziness of so many things in the world right now – including the horrific reality that Obama is closing our doors to refugee children sending them back to their countries to face horrors unimaginable).
My heart is broken. At Shabbat services Friday night, as we sang a prayer for healing, my thoughts turned to all the victims in Gaza – images of their maimed and murdered bodies (that I had unfortunately seen on the internet) flashed before my eyes, resulting in tears running down my cheeks and sobs of sorrow and grief), just as I mourned the death of the three Israeli teenagers. I sometimes feel a sense of hopelessness at the current situation and know many people don’t have any idea what to do to stop this madness, nonetheless I am now working to expand our Network of Spiritual Progressives to help spread a different worldview and to bring a voice of compassion and empathy to the situation.
Israel, with its overwhelming power, has a moral responsibility to stop bombing Gaza. Israel is killing innocent civilians under the guise of wiping out Hamas when in fact, this sort of attack will only strengthen militant forces and voices in Palestine who will use the attacks to further their position that Israel (and “Jews”) are murderers and only care about controlling all of Israel and Palestine. In addition, this behavior by Netanyahu only perpetuates anti-Semitism and puts Jews at greater risk around the world. When the actions of the State of Israel are equated with the actions of Jews, Jews ultimately suffer.In fact, just today I read about pro-Hamas protesters in Paris trapping hundreds of Jews in a synagogue, chanting “Death to Jews” while throwing rocks and bricks at the synagogue. The police dispersed the crowd. The members left the synagogue – two were lightly injured. Anti-Semitism, like any form of racism, is always illegitimate. But when so many institutions of the organized Jewish communities around the world line up in solidarity with whatever military or political action the State of Israel takes, I can easily see how easy it is for some to equate the activities of the State of Israel with the entire Jewish people (unfair though that is).
by: Tikkun Community on July 12th, 2014 | 1 Comment »
We invited people in the Tikkun community to share some memories of their personal connections to Zalman. We cannot publish them all—so many hundreds of people pouring out their wonderful experiences and wishing to honor this great Tzaddik! So we’ve selected a representative sample.
I have so many memories myself I didn’t mention in the earlier piece I sent out. One that comes to mind as I read the Israeli press describing mobs of Israelis roaming the streets of Israeli towns and beating up Israeli Palestinians that they come upon, while the Israeli army blows up homes of “suspected terrorists” though they have no plausible connection with the horrible murder committed against 3 Israeli youth last week, and reading about the Palestinian youth murdered by Israeli settlers (according to the latest information from the Israeli investigators of that crime).
Zalman and I spent many months in Jerusalem some twenty years ago, and we were talking about the distorting influence on young Israelis of having to serve in the IDF for 3 years before they could go on to college or university. The activities of enforcing the Occupation, often brutal, always discriminatory and implicit racist, generate in these young people the need to justify to themselves the activities they’ve been assigned to do, and this in turn leads many of them to accept either racist or at least fearful stories of who the Palestinian people really are, ideas which then they bring back with them into their lives as citizens after their army service is finished (well, not really finished, because most have to serve a month each year in the reserves, mee’lu’eem, till they are forty).
So Zalman proposed that we try to create a mikvah ceremony for young people finishing their active duty at which we would both immerse them in the healing waters of mikvah and simultaneously urge them to leave behind the ethos of domination (what I subsequently began to describe as “the Right hand of God) and instead embrace the loving values of Torah, including the notion that vengeance is forbidden and that Jews are commanded to Love the Other (which in the case of Israel today means Love Palestinians—rather than oppress them and treat them in ways THEY experience as oppressive). We proposed this to the Rabin government as something that we’d need government cooperation to do, but Rabin had not yet made his turn toward recognizing the humanity of the Palestinians though he was formally trying to make peace with them, so our proposal was never accepted. Here, as in so many areas, Zalman’s creative genius to make use of Judaism’s treasure-trove of spiritual wisdom, was not fully appreciated.
May his memory be always a blessing!
Let’s use July 4 to celebrate all those who have stood up for peace and non-violence, social and economic justice, environmental sanity, human rights, and a world of love and generosity!
We at the Network of Spiritual Progressives invite you to create a local picnic to honor all those in the past and all those in the current world (including YOU) who have taken steps to move the world toward a more loving and just, peaceful and non-violent, environmentally sustainable and generosity-filled reality. Not just the famous people, though we’ll also honor the MLK jrs and the freedom riders and the women who were in the vanguard of the 2nd wave of feminism and the brave glbtq people who fought against homophobia, but ALSO the people who took risks at a smaller level, in their personal lives, possibly alienating friends or family or risking their professional or job advancement, or in other ways that you can tell us. So bring your stories to this celebration.
Here in Berkeley where our office is, we are inviting anyone in Northern California who wants a different kind of energy on July 4 than that of “rockets were there, the bombs bursting in air,” to come to an NSP (Network of Spiritual Progressives) picnic starting at2 p.m.at Picnic Area No. 1 of the Live Oak Park, 1301 Shattuck ave, Berkeley (look for us–you’ll find us in a somewhat hidden area). At2:30we’ll have vegetarian pot-luck. At3:30we’ll start the program and Achi Ben Shalom will lead the music. Please bring songs, poetry, your own stories of how you’ve stood up for peace, justice and/or environmental sanity, and your musical instruments to sing along! We’d welcome your political organization, synagogue, church, mosque or ashram to cosponsor this event with us–let us know! Later that night you’ll be invited to celebrate the Sabbath with Rabbi Lerner at his home at7 p.m.–an energy that will offset the noise of fireworks, at least partially.
by: Ben Theimer on June 15th, 2014 | 1 Comment »
Credit: Patheos Blog
How do we make sense of laughter? We all know its liberating power, but we also know its debilitating sting. On the one hand, laughter has the cumulative strength to tear down seemingly, immovable walls. On the other, it may be the last recourse for sanity, when those walls encroach upon us and overwhelm us. How then, can laughter be both generative—a force for life and power—and protective—a last and often weak defense against the hells of our world? Taking a Project TURN class inside a North Carolina prison got me thinking about Jesus and laughter.
After my fellow Duke students and I went through the metal detectors of the prison, we entered into the foreign world of clanking doors, multiple control centers, long windowless hallways, and dull, florescent bulbs. Our walk to the classroom took us at least ten minutes. Though we ascended floors, the disorientation of it all felt like we were descending into a dungeon. Halfway there, we walked by men who wore red jumpsuits—the classification for death row. It was a sobering walk, one of quiet conversations and occasional head-nods. There definitely wasn’t much or any laughter. But once we entered our classroom, we were greeted as guests (as if you could be a guest in prison) with warm smiles, friendly handshakes, and over time, the handshake to shoulder touch to concluding fist pump.
by: Tikkun Administration on June 12th, 2014 | Comments Off
We are proud that Rabbi Michael Lerner, co-chair of the NSP– Network of Spiritual Progressives, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls that meets in S.F. and Berkeley, stood with other community leaders in urging the conservative Catholic archbishop of San Francisco to withdraw from an anti-homosexual group’s rally in Washington, D.C.
This is nothing new for Rabbi Lerner or for Tikkun. Tikkun critiqued homophobia in the Jewish world starting in 1988, and the famous Rabbi David Hartman, founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and a champion of tolerance in other respects, resigned from the Tikkun Editorial Advisory Board after telling Lerner that Tikkun’s support for gay rights “might endanger the Hartman Institute’s legitimacy in the orthodox world,” given the opposition to homosexuality in the Orthodox Jewish world. Lerner refused to relent in Tikkun’s critique of homophobia both in the orthodox and Conservative Judaism worlds. Rabbi Lerner officiated at gay and lesbian marriages from the time he was ordained in 1995.
It is indeed a joyous time: the last American POW is finally home. Who can deny that the U.S. military has indeed fulfilled its promise that it will leave no man (or woman) behind? Sargent Bowe Bergdahl has hardly been released, however, when the magnificent, wonderful story of courage and patriotism was transformed into, in Jon Stewart’s words, a complicated, clouded, controversial story. He has been called a deserter, a traitor and a coward. It seems as if even our soldiers are not guaranteed our respect after risking their lives for our freedoms.
As a Muslim, should I care? As an American, I certainly should, because my hope is that every soldier comes home safely to his or her family. The problem is, of course, that controversy inevitably follows anything even remotely connected to Muslims today. In the case of Bergdahl, who remained for five years in Afghanistan in the custody of the Taliban, there are indeed a myriad of connections that make me uneasy, but perhaps for not all the same reasons as Republicans.
True, there is the issue of the five Taliban released from Guantanamo Bay in a prisoner exchange. Who knows what they will be up to after their release? For many, that’s a serious concern. It should be, because unconstitutional imprisonment and torture is bound to make people even angrier with the U.S. government. Who knows when or where we’ll meet those five again.
I know this is a difficult time for you and your family, which is partly why I’m reaching out, to let you know that I feel a deep kinship with you, despite the many differences in our circumstances and perspectives. While you lean conservative in your political views, I am an unyielding progressive. While you reside in a small town in Idaho, I am composing this from Pittsburgh, the city in which I live. And while your son was held captive for many years by the Taliban – while you struggled to secure his release with the determined focus only a father’s love could generate – I have struggled in a different way, working to move beyond the terror attack which injured my wife in Israel, an attack which has propelled me to fight for the human rights and dignity of my so-called enemy.
Despite these differences, our struggles have shared several fulcrum points, and these points have made it so difficult for me to watch politicians and the media exploit you and your family’s pain. There are moments this past week in which I have trembled with anger, have felt the need to lash out, to grip someone by the throat and scream, ‘Leave them alone’.
But I’m not a violent person. I’m a writer who acts with the pen, not with fists, and as such I’ve chosen to write to you in public as a way to support you in a country where so many want to reflexively do the opposite.
I hope this letter finds you in peace, and so I’ll begin again by saying שלום עלכם (shalom alechem), which is the Hebrew equivalent for the Arabic السلام عليكم (as-salam aleykum).
Peace be upon you.