1. The State of the Spirit, 2018
This has been a difficult period for all of us spiritual progressives (whether secular, militant atheists, or religious progressives) who seek a world of love and justice. The dismantling of environmental protections for the earth, the dramatic reduction in support for the poor while simultaneously reducing taxes on the super-rich, the escalation of the assault on refugees (already dramatically increased in the Obama years, but now including separation of children from their parents in a cruel and irresponsible way), the militaristic rhetoric and attempt to legitimize nuclear weapons as a tool for the U.S. getting its way in the world, the rise of quasi-fascist forces in Europe—these are just the tip of the iceberg of what makes things difficult.
To understand how this could be happening in our wonderful country, we need to contextualize all this within the framework which we at Tikkun teach: that there are two worldviews that have been in conflict with each other ever since class-based societies and patriarchy emerged thousands of years ago, yet still shape our lives today.
The first I call the worldview of fear and domination or “power over others.” It asserts that we are all thrown into a world by ourselves, and that as we come to consciousness we recognize that the world is filled with people who will seek to manipulate, dominate and control you and others in order to advance their own self-interest. Given that such is the reality of our world, according to this worldview the only rational way to live is learn the skills of manipulation, domination, and control in order to enable you to dominate others before they dominate you. This contributes to each of us feeling alone, scared, and needing to get the tools that might protect us, for example: guns, police, armies, etc. And on a global level, this worldview encourages many in the richest societies on the planet to invest in forms of domination. Republicans and Democrats disagree about what is the most viable mechanism to achieve this domination, the former cheering on direct military interventions, the latter convinced that economic and cultural penetration plus diplomacy may be a more effective way for one’s nation to get its way over others.
To the extent that people are influenced by the paradigm of domination, we begin to believe that we need some way of exercising control over others, both domestically and internationally, to achieve “homeland security.” Similarly, it is this way of thinking that produces the widespread belief among millions of Americans that they need to have guns and other weapons to protect themselves against those who might seek to harm them or take from them whatever goods they have accumulated in their lives, and/or the money and other forms of wealth that they inherited as winners of “the birth lottery” (being born into a family with great wealth and/or political power).
The alternative worldview tells us that we were not born alone, but rather that we were born through a mother and that our mother (or mothering-other, perhaps a father, relative or supportive caretaker) made it possible for us to survive. Without that initial caring in the first few years of life, children often die or have dramatic deficits in their physical, psychological, and/or intellectual capacities which they carry with them all their lives. It is from this caring through the first years of life that we get the psychological foundation for what I’ll call the worldview of love, generosity, and caring as the best path to homeland security. When we act in a generous and caring way, we often elicit that loving part of the other that also had such experiences when they were infants or children. It is on this foundation that most religions that have survived for more than a thousand years were originally based.
The preaching of commands from the Bible’s book of Leviticus to “love the stranger/the Other” and to love our neighbors, to share with the poor, and to defend the powerless was an articulation of this love-oriented generosity of spirit. It was summed up most powerfully 2,500 years ago when the Biblical prophet Isaiah stood in front of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem as people were entering on the day of fasting for our sins called Yom Kippur, personally challenging them. These same words have been read for the past 2,000 years in synagogues on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), but apparently with little impact on Jared Kushner or many other orthodox Jews (with important exceptions) who support the Trump presidency despite its systematic violation of Isaiah’s message.
ISAIAH Chapter 58, sentence 1 – 9
Declare to My people their transgression,
To the House of Jacob their sin.
To be sure, they seek Me daily, Eager to learn My ways.
Like a nation that does what is right, That has not abandoned the laws of its God,
They ask Me for the right way, They are eager for the nearness of God:
“Why, when we fasted, did You not see?”
Because on your fast day You see to your business And oppress all your laborers!
Because you fast in strife and contention, And you strike with a wicked fist! Your fasting today is not such As to make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast I desire A day for men to starve their bodies? Is it bowing the head like a bulrus And lying in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call that a fast A day when the LORD is favorable?
No, this is the fast I desire: To unlock the fetters of wickedness, And untie the cords of the yoke To let the oppressed go free; To break off every yoke.
It is to share your bread with the hungry, And to take the wretched poor into your home; When you see the naked, to clothe him, And not to ignore your own kin.
Then shall your light burst through like the dawn And your healing spring up quickly; Your Vindicator shall march before you, The Presence of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then, when you call, the LORD will answer; When you cry, He will say: Here I am. If you banish the yoke from your midst, The menacing hand, and evil speech.
And you offer your compassion to the hungry And satisfy the famished creature-Then shall your light shine in darkness, And your gloom shall be like noonday.
The teachings of the Isaiah and the Jewish prophets of ancient Israel, of our brother Jesus (before his teachings were appropriated and transformed by those who did not know him and by the ruling elites of Rome), and more than a thousand years later, the teachings of St. Francis and later still Rumi, the Muslim teacher and poet, are at the core of almost every religion ever since. Yet patriarchal ruling elites have done their best to control the religious communities in order to neutralize and marginalize this kind of consciousness, though never having the power to totally erase these teachings from the holy scriptures of their traditions. So it may come to many who have rejected religion as fundamentally reactionary to realize that these liberatory messages were part of Judaism and Christianity till the voices of fear managed to overwhelm the voices of love and generosity. It’s time to change that now, in every aspect of our lives.
Here is the fundamental truth: most people on the planet have heard both the message of the domination strategy and the message of the love/caring/generosity strategy. Both are in almost everyone’s head. In every interaction, one or the other of these messages comes to mind. We meet someone new, or someone we’ve known for years, and we might approach them with openness but they say something that suddenly makes us cautious and we revert to the worldview of fear and domination, no longer trusting or being open to the other. Or the reverse: we approach a person with fear and distrust, and then they say something that makes us start to thaw that distrust and open to the possibility of deeper connection. These alternations can happen frequently in the same conversation, and not only with strangers but with one’s lover, spouse, parents, or children, most often unconsciously.
We are all impacted by those two worldviews, though in patriarchal and class-dominated capitalist society, the worldview of fear has the upper hand because the daily experiences we have in the world of work, the competitive economic marketplace, and the messages we absorb from the mass media reinforce the worldview of fear and domination more often than the worldview of love and generosity. This worldview also appears in many religious communities and distorts their stated commitment to love and generosity. It it is communicated nonverbally in the secular schools and workplaces of the society where we are constantly being pushed to compete with others for scarce rewards.
In assessing the state of the Spirit, what we really have to assess on a personal, community, national, and international level is how much of our actions, the actions of our political leaders, and the messages given to us by friends, coworkers, media, and others reflect more of the worldview of fear and domination and power over, or more of the worldview of love and generosity and caring for each other.
The first paragraph of this editorial gave a brief recounting of some of the realities that strengthen our fears. To the extent that there is not a mass nonviolent uprising against the Trump presidency, there is a tendency on the part of many to despair that the worldview of fear and domination is so powerful and popular that any significant change is unlikely or impossible. That, in turn, leads many people to not bother to vote, or to avoid reading the newspapers or listening to the news on radio or TV, and to shun involvement of any sort. It leads many leaders of the Democratic Party to seek to nominate for Congress or other elective offices more conservative candidates (in some cases people who were recently Republicans) in the desire to win control of the Congress (totally forgetting that when the Democrats under the leadership of Rahm Emanuel used this same strategy to win back control of the Congress in 2006, they produced a Congress which was unwilling to support even the scantily progressive programs Barack Obama proposed in 2009-10. The resulting disappointment at the badly compromised programs the Democrats produced led many who had voted for him in 2008 to not bother to vote in 2010, which then contributed to the ability of Republicans to win back the Congress in the midterm election and then redistrict the Congressional and state Legislative districts to make likely many Republican electoral victories through 2020). Why did they do this? Because they don’t trust the American people to support progressive ideas (ignoring the immense popularity of Bernie Sanders in his campaign for the presidential nomination). This is just one example of how, when the social energy is moving toward fear, that same energy is passed on from person to person creating an experience that deepens the fear and validates that worldview.
So here is the good news: there is a deep yearning in every human being on the planet to live in a world of caring and love, even though the society does a huge amount to educate and condition us away from that yearning, to deny its reality, and to label that yearning as unrealistic, a utopian fantasy, a dangerous illusion that will ultimately lead us to totalitarianism, or some other evil. And then there is the set of internal voices yelling at us to “be realistic” and to abandon any hopes of fundamental change—I call these “the reality police” and urge you to not listen to them.
Yet no matter how hard they try, despite all the forces inside us and around us, with all their powerful ways of convincing us to “be realistic,” there is in everyone this yearning for a different kind of world. It popped up when people rushed to the airports to block Trump’s first anti-Muslim travel ban. It manifests in the Black Lives Matter movement, in the large environmental and women’s rights movements, in the #MeToo unveiling of sexual abuse, in the Poor People’s Campaign led by Rev. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, in the outrage that greeted information about the way the quasi-fascistic ICE rips children away from their parents, and the way tens of thousands of junior high and high school students demonstrated for rational gun controls after the repeated killings of students in some schools had finally broken through people’s consciousness (at least momentarily). It might even manifest in the 2018 midterm elections and even more clearly in 2020.
This yearning for a world of love and justice will never be fully extinguished and because the champions of the worldview of fear really understand that, they resort to repression of all sorts to forestall the surging of hope once again.
Don’t be fooled if the Democrats win Congress and then in 2020 the presidency. Unless they move beyond their narrow economistic consciousness, the changes won in the next four years will be weakened or reversed again. Nothing will fundamentally change until we have a political movement that can explicitly speak to this deeper yearning and is willing to create a Tea Party of the Left that works both inside the Democratic Party to push it toward a love and justice perspective, and outside of the Democratic Party when needed.
It will take people with tremendous courage to insist that it is the path of love and generosity that is the best path to homeland security (see our proposed Global Marshall Plan www.tikkun.org/gmp) and to insist that corporate power must be subject to democratic restraints (see our proposed ESRA—Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at www.tikkun.org/esra). It will take people who understand the craziness of allowing corporations to rape the earth in order to sustain endless growth. It will take great strength to stand up to the cynical and to insist that a politics of love and generosity is the best foundation for creating environmental sanity and human survival. I lay out in detail how this could be accomplished in my forthcoming book Revolutionary Love—please read it when it comes out in 2019. It goes way beyond anything we’ve been able to present in Tikkun, though based on the teachings that many of us have been offering on these pages.
So what is the State of the Spirit? The Spirit hungry for love and generosity cannot be permanently repressed, but it is facing very serious challenges that may worsen in the coming years. It has on its side the core idea of Judaism: that there is something in the universe, we call it YHVH or Yud Hey Vav Hey, or “God,” that makes possible the transformation of “that which is” to “that which can and ought to be.” You don’t have to the be Jewish or believe in a supernatural being to share this faith in the eternal possibility of possibility in human affairs. This is the belief which Tikkun magazine came into the world to proclaim and support. And we will continue to do so with your help as you’ll see when you read the 3rd editorial.
2. Israel is NOT (yet) a Jewish State
Medinat Yisra’el, the State of Israel, has a very large Jewish majority population. It is a state with lots of Jews. But that doesn’t make it a Jewish state.
To be a Jewish state, it has to reflect Jewish values.
If you had a way of describing to Jews living any time between 100 BCE and 1800 C.E. the behavior of the State of Israel toward Palestinians or toward each other, most would have insisted that we couldn’t possibly be talking about a Jewish state because the behavior is in such striking contrast to the Judaism that prevailed in Jewish societies through much of Jewish history.
To take one example, Jewish men have, for most of the past two thousand years, put an emphasis on Torah learning as the best way to spend one’s life. The highest honors in Jewish life until Jews started to assimilate into capitalist societies in the past 150 years went to the scholars who spent their days studying, explicating and teaching the wisdom and ethical guidance embedded in Jewish religious texts. Of course, this was a luxury not available to the majority of Jews who were dirt poor, but it was also a great honor for a wealthy family to marry their young daughters to emerging scholars no matter how poor rather than to another rich man. Of course, we do not have definitive data to prove that this was always the practice, but we do know that the folk wisdom of the Jewish people claimed that it was the practice, thereby giving evidence that such behavior was honored and esteemed in the Jewish world.
Another such value was the sharing of one’s wealth with the poor. Jews traditionally were, and today in much of the world remain, one of the most charity-oriented peoples. Giving money, food, or other means of support to the impoverished was such a high value that in the ghettos of Europe, a wealthy person not giving enough to the poor could be put on trial and sent to a Jewish prison in the ghetto. Jewish law, strictly enforced, forbade one from loaning money to a fellow Jew with interest. “Hebrew Free Loans” are still available in many communities around the world including in many cities of North America.
And then there is the Torah command “Justice, justice shalt thou pursue (or run after).” The Talmudic rabbis close to 2,000 years ago said that the double use of the word “justice” was to teach that one must pursue justice in a just way, or in other words, that the desirable end of justice requires that the means to achieve it are as holy as the ends achieved.
Well, you can quickly see that Torah-tradition ethics run counter to the values of the capitalist marketplace which encourages each individual to seek his or her own wellbeing without regard to others. Already enshrined in Anglo Saxon law, this approach shows no requirement to care for anyone else, not even to save a person drowning when you have the strength and skills to do so. Counter to that, the Jewish tradition prescribes an ethos of caring for the other, and even caring for the animals (read here property) of those whom you deem to be your enemies. An ethos of caring for others and providing assistance when you can is central to Jewish ethics.
Now these are the low-hanging fruit of Jewish ethics. And if Israel were in fact a Jewish state, these would actually be guiding principles of Jewish life. But Israel chose instead to be a modern capitalist state, with rules of behavior and institutional arrangements which, particularly under the Likud governments of the past several decades, developed a consciousness among its citizens which copied that of the most individualistic of societies.
Though the early founders of the Israeli State professed socialist leanings, and created a health care system which remains far superior to that of the U.S. in its inclusion of all Israeli citizens, the socialism was often reducible to an ethos of respect for hard work and sharing with each other member of the kibbutz the material benefits of that work. Little attention was paid to the way capitalist values were undermining solidarity in the larger society, the way racism was allowing Jews from Arab countries to be treated at times as second-class citizens, and solidarity with anti-imperialist struggles in the global South and East was barely mentioned.
While some kibbutzim remain functioning even today, many collapsed. Their young people were not introduced to a Jewish value system embodying the Jewish values of love, caring, justice, and solidarity. On the contrary, they saw that the kibbutzniks were most interested in getting more consumer items to make their lives as comfortable as they imagined the lives of those middle-class Israeli living in Tel Aviv had become. But if those are the values you learn from families and friends and from the radio or later the television, then why not go whole hog (whoops, sorry) and actually move to Tel Aviv, Haifa, or one of the other growing, wealthy Israeli towns? And that is precisely what many of them did, making those who remained feel that they too ought to be doing something more, though not sure they had the skills to “make it” in the cities.
It was these consumer aspirations, unfettered by a socialist ideology that was no longer taught on most kibbutzim by the mid 1980s, that made it easy for the Likud to stoke anger among poorer Jews from North African and Arab societies of the Middle East, called ‘mizrachim’, who saw the kibbutzim accumulating goods aided by a Labor government. The mizrachim saw those kibbutzim as never showing any interest in addressing the poverty that these newer immigrants faced. So for all their talk of being socialist kibbutzim, very few of them sought to help their Mizrachi neighbors or to seriously address the growing poverty among those neighbors. Those mizrachim have provided the margin of victory to right-wing governments ever since.
In the 1970s, many of the kibbutzim borrowed money from Israeli banks to ensure that they could grow their businesses of selling goods to the cities and increasing the amount of consumer goods for their members. But in the 1980s, a set of recessions in the advanced industrial world also impacted Israel, and the kibbutzim no longer had the money to pay back the interest on their loans, much less the principal that they had borrowed. Under previous Labor governments, they could count on the state stepping in to relieve their debts. But in the Israel that was emerging in the 1980s, the Likud government had no desire to help the kibbutzim, and soon many of them had to turn themselves into quasi-capitalist enterprises or simply give up. So much for “socialism in one kibbutz” without paying attention to the larger needs of people in the society. Many of their children joined the larger capitalist society in the big cities, some even embracing the fantasy of “liberation in one mind” that had become the watchword of middle class aspirers to personal growth while ignoring the growing gap between rich and poor and the resultant suffering.
The main point here is that Israel could not become a socialist society in the midst of a world run by other principles unless it had an ideology that explicitly fought against those values of patriarchal capitalist societies. Yet even the older generation of socialists, having resisted earlier generations of communist Jews in the Zionist movement, had popularized an anti-ideology ideology, and that anti-ideology included a rejection of Judaism (which by this point was so fully identified with the coercive laws imposed by the official religious establishment as the condition for their supporting whatever government coalition was being put together, that most Israelis, not just kibbutzniks, detested).
Some of the early Zionists stated that their goal was to end Jewish exceptionalism, which they (in my view, mistakenly) saw as a reason why Jews were hated in much of the European continent. So they talked of the goal of a Jewish state as making the Jewish nation am ke’khol ha’amim, a nation like all other nations. They explicitly relished the idea of a state with Jewish police and Jewish prostitutes—they wanted to be like all the other nations. And they succeeded in doing so, but only by rejecting the Jewish values that I mentioned above. The loans to kibbutzim would be to profit the capitalists, the notion of caring for the poor was replaced with a neoliberal economics that increased the gap between poor and rich, the education system became subordinated to teaching the skills that would give each Israeli a good chance to be successful in the emerging global competitive marketplace while scoffing at the notion of education and learning as an end in itself. Honors started going to the richest Jewish capitalists rather than the most intellectually or spiritually creative amongst us.
And I haven’t even mentioned the way that Israel became the antithesis of the Torah’s most frequently repeated command, variants of : “thou shalt love the stranger (the other)” and “you shall not oppress the stranger; remember that YOU were strangers (the other) in the land of Egypt.” Every day one need only read Ha’aretz, Israel’s equivalent of the New York Times, to count the many ways almost every day this command is violated both by the government and by the Jewish majority in its choice of political parties and in its racism toward Palestinians, Bedouins, African refugees, and to a lesser but real extent, toward its Christian and Muslim Israeli citizens. We have been chronicling this on our website and carrying in English the messages of the Israeli Human Rights Organization B’tselem (which means “in the image,” a reference to another central Jewish teaching, that ALL people of every race, color, creed, gender, sexual preferences, etc. are created in God’s image and hence deserving of equal respect). The article in this issue by Stephen Zunes and the articles in our Summer 2017 issue on Israel’s 50th anniversary of the Occupation has enough critique of what Israel has been doing toward the Palestinian people to relieve me of trying to remind you of its latest sins against Jewish and universal values and human rights, though I went through a new set of mourning for Judaism when I heard and read American Jewish organizations embracing the false and misleading statements of the Israeli leadership as Israeli soldiers were firing into crowds of unarmed civilians, killing over a hundred and wounding over two thousand on the Gaza border in May, 2018.
Let me be clear that this behavior on the part of Israelis is not some special perversion of Israel’s—it is typical of most countries in the world. Israel is as screwed up as most of them, not more so and not less so in most respects. Its claim to be a democratic society is on its face ridiculous when at least a third of those whom it rules over, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, have no representation in the Knesset. For that matter, in many respects the U.S. is not really a democratic society, nor could it be, given the extreme gaps between rich and poor and how they play out in the political realm. So I don’t want to be holding Israel to a higher standard to the extent that I’m within the dominant discourse of global patriarchal capitalism. But of course the question I’ve been pursuing here is whether Israel is a Jewish state, and for that question we don’t accept the standard of capitalist societies, but of Judaism.
Sadly, Israel does not reflect Jewish values– no matter that they observe their weekend day on Saturday, they speak Hebrew, and some even learn something about the Bible in school, through mostly it is about the geography of the land that (and here many Israeli secularists suddenly become religious) “God promised to us Jews the Land of Israel, so therefore we had the right to take it back regardless of the consequences to the people who lived here before the Zionist movement sought to turn it into a Jewish homeland.” For an Israeli population that is mostly secular, this selective use of “god language” is made compatible with the “power over” themes in Judaism, rather than in the love and justice themes of our prophets!
In my book Embracing Israel/Palestine, I have shown that much of the conflict continues for so long because we have two traumatized people acting out their traumas on the other side. Despite growing left-wing antagonism to Israel, and despite Tikkun’s frequently articulated outrage at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, we see both parties as acting out of their trauma in ways that re-traumatize the other, although we also recognize that Israel’s far greater power gives Israel the greater responsibility for taking actions to end the Occupation and repent for its part in the creation of the Palestinian refugees by providing reparations to the Palestinian people wherever they live now in this world.
Sadly, trauma often brings out the worst in people, not their highest selves. It pulls them to the worldview of domination and to distrust the worldview of love and generosity. So Israelis and Palestinians both deserve empathy, compassion, and yet firm direction to find paths to reconcile with each other (some of which I’ve outlined in my book on this subject which you can order from online bookstores or directly from Tikkun at www.tikkun.org/eip). Still, the bottom line here is that this state is in fact a state like all other states, and does not yet qualify to be a Jewish state, much less “THE” Jewish state representing Jews around the world (though we Diaspora Jews never voted to give them that responsibility or right).
Why do I then say it is not “yet” a Jewish state? My reason: just as I believe that all people have a yearning for a world of love, generosity and caring, I believe that yearning exists among Jews and Palestinians, no matter how traumatized. So I believe that there will come a time in the next several decades when a new generation will arise in Israel that is far enough away from the sources of Jewish trauma to begin to act to create a society that does in fact manifest Jewish values. And in so doing, it may even play a role in helping at least some other states to join in alliance against the values of the capitalist marketplace and the legacy of the oppressed that in many cases leads people to embrace the worldview of fear, domination and control which I described in my above editorial on The State of the Spirit.
I know I will not live to see the triumph of the love and generosity worldview in Israel. It may have to become prevalent in the U.S. and other Western countries first. Meanwhile, people of conscience will have to be challenging Israel and its primary empowerer, the U.S. Yet I believe that this kind of transformation can happen even in the U.S. and other deeply screwed up societies that are, at the moment, largely marching to the tunes of the fear and domination worldviews. But as a firm believer in the possibility of possibility and hence in the possibility that love, generosity, justice and environmental sensitivity will triumph before the life support system of the planet has been totally destroyed by capitalist selfishness and materialism and unending commitment to get more and more things, in the process exploiting the earth, so I also believe that Jews can at some time return to Jewish values, recognize them as universal values for all people and hence value all people and not just Jews, and in that process turn the State of Israel into a Jewish state living in alliance with a nearby Palestinian state and with other Muslim,
Christian, Hindu and secular states all around the world who have placed love, rather than domination, at the center of their society and of daily life.
Keeping that dream alive is one of the central tasks of Tikkun, which is why I invite you to help us become one of the most widely read websites and help provide us with the financial backing to make it possible for us to continue promoting these ideas.
3. Don’t Let the Light Go Out.
Wow, what an amazing trip it has been. We started producing the magazine in my home 32-plus years ago when I was only 43 years old. We’ve had authors such as U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, Rachel Adler, Harvey Cox, Annie Dillard, Christopher Lasch, Arthur Waskow, Daniel Matt, Judith Plaskow, Cherie Brown, Daniel Berrigan, Allen Ginsberg, Vandana Shiva, Congressman Keith Ellison, Jonathan Schell, Fritjof Capra, Arthur Green, Omid Safi, David Loy, Kabir Helminski, David Biale, Martin Jay, Cornel West, Marshall Berman, Anton Shammas, Yehuda Amichai, Francine Prose, Jessica Benjamin, Michael Eric Dyson, Ayelet Waldman, Zalman Schachter Shalomi and literally a thousand other amazing and creative people. We were one of the first English-language magazines, and certainly the first widely read Jewish magazine, to print Beni Morris and other “New Israeli Historians” who challenged Israel’s official account of the 1948 Israel/Palestine war, helping Americans understand why Palestinians still today talk of “The Nakba” as a great human rights disaster.
We also challenge the idea that you have to choose between being progressive and being religious or spiritual. We coined the terms spiritual progressives and spiritual activism for social change. We launched the idea of a “politics of meaning” that recognized people’s yearning for a life that was not just about accumulating money or power or fame, but about having some higher ethical or spiritual meaning, and have been working to bring that message to liberal and progressive forces ever since, so that they could transcend the narrow economistic discourse that has limited their appeal.
In the Jewish world, we published new cutting-edge visions for a spiritual reawakening in Judaism. We wrote a supplement to the Passover Haggadah and to the Selichot/forgiveness prayers for High Holidays and printed dozens of controversial articles supporting Jewish feminism way before it became popular in the the Jewish world, defending LGBTQ communities and insisting that Judaism open space for them, printing new directions in Jewish and Christian and feminist theology, rejecting the use of Holocaust memories to justify Israeli policies toward Palestinians, insisting that Jews re-embrace Jesus not as a god or messiah but as great Jewish teacher and prophet who had limitations like all other teachers and prophets, insisting that critiques of Israeli policy did not equate to anti-Semitism, but also publishing The Socialism of Fools: AntiSemitism on the Left (revealing the long history and current reality of some anti-Semitism in the liberal and progressive world), reaching out to Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim allies and inviting them and secular humanists to use our pages to discuss the issues they face, and challenging the American Jewish community to embody Jewish values. And in every issue we published poetry from some of the most creative and respected poets!
Tikkun evolved into being the prophetic voice of liberal and progressive Jews, and also an interfaith voice for progressive Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and secular humanists of every possible background. We provide support for those who see the need for an ethical and spiritual transformation globally as the prerequisite for saving the earth from the capitalist imperative to grow endlessly without regard to the survival of the life support system of Earth. We seek a nonviolent revolution and uprising (yes, drawing on the accumulated wisdom of the human race) to replace global capitalism with an economic system based on love, justice and generosity. And we created conferences and then the Network of Spiritual Progressives to help get our call for “a New Bottom Line” into public discourse and to provide a way for people to move from ideas into action.
When I’m invited to speak around the U.S. and Canada on college campuses, synagogues, churches, and community centers, I always meet people who generously tell me that reading Tikkun changed their lives in meaningful ways. For many Jews, the kind of Judaism we’ve presented gave them a way to embrace a Judaism that had previously seemed to them materialistic, politically conservative, and drenched in a narrow form of Jewish nationalism. People of other faith traditions told me that Tikkun influenced how they approached their own religious traditions and gave them tools to grapple with and challenge racist, sexist, and homophobic elements that were still there. Others found in our pages an approach to American politics that affirmed the humanity of people with whom we strongly disagree, a critique of the neoliberal economics that were championed not only by Republicans but by the presidencies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and an insistence that a progressive politics must address not only economic deprivation but also the deprivation of respect, love and generosity. Still others told me how much it meant to them when I argued on national TV, public radio and in consistently in the pages of Tikkun that we must not be “realistic”—since in American politics being realistic has meant compromising with militarism, class oppression and capitulation to an unethical status quo. As we’ve often said in Tikkun, thank God that African Americans fighting segregation and apartheid, women fighting sexism, LGBTQ people fighting a variety of forms of homophobia and gender oppression all refused to be realistic, and hence were able to make amazing changes in our world that the realists told them would be impossible (though afterwards those some realists told them that their victories were inevitable and would have happened anyway–anything to discourage people from struggling for fundamental change).
I’m gratified that many of the ideas we pioneered have now entered public discourse. Some of those ideas appeared in my national bestseller Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation in 1994, or in my second national bestseller The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right in 2006, in part because our readers spread the word about the importance of these books to friends and through social media, pushed their local bookstores to carry them, and invited me into their churches, synagogues, mosques, community centers, and college campuses to talk about them. I’m hoping that you’ll help too when my next book, Revolutionary Love, comes out in 2019: an attempt to present to the English-speaking public the Tikkun analysis of what ails our world, and how social change movements could be much more effective.
Being editor of Tikkun has been a wonderful gift to my life, both because of all the wonderful people I keep meeting through Tikkun, and because it gives me a way of serving God, humanity and the Jewish people with love and joy. I thank the God/dess of the universe for creating such a beautiful planet earth and putting on it so many wonderful people. So despite the bummer of having to live through the Trump presidency, I stand in awe of the goodness and beauty of creation and all the earth’s creatures. And I especially feel love and appreciation for all of you who have been and continue to be my allies in the attempt to make a contribution to the healing and transformations (tikkun olam) our global society so badly needs.
And yet, disappointingly, we simply do not have enough financial backing to keep Tikkun in print on paper. So you are reading our last print issue. But that doesn’t mean Tikkun is not going to continue. It will, in a different format. I’m excited to tell you about what we are going to do — with your help.
We have developed a stunning and integrated new website which will make it easier and less intimidating to get our ideas and information at www.tikkun.org. Almost every day we will have new perspectives to share (not all of which we will agree with;we aim to be a location for multiple liberal and progressive voices to be heard). In addition, Tikkun magazine will continue to be published on this website, in a space that will only be open to subscribers, donors of $50 or more per year, and members of the Network of Spiritual Progressives who have joined at the $50/year level or more). We can keep that website going for decades more, long after I’m dead, if you will donate generously each year to Tikkun.
I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge some sadness on my part that this will be our last print issue. We’ve made this decision because financially, it is more sustainable, and because through this transformation we will reach younger generations. With your ongoing generous support through subscriptions to the magazine, membership in the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and generous annual, tax-deductible donations, we will be able to finance the web magazine and future generations will continue to benefit from our unique voice and analyses for years to come.
During our 32-plus years, we won numerous accolades, honors, and awards, including “The Best Magazine Coverage of Religion of the Year” in 2014 and 2015 from the Religion Newswriters Association. Mainstream media quoted our positions numerous times over the years. Nevertheless, major foundations and individual funders have not come through for us, explaining either that we are too critical of Israel or too supportive of it, too willing to give credence to spiritual and religious writing or not religious or spiritual enough, too Jewish or too interfaith, and too critical of capitalism or not critical enough. We approached many foundations and wealthy individuals over the years, rarely with much success.
For some we are too extreme in one way or another. The truth: we are extreme only in our commitment to a world based on love, justice, generosity, environmental sanity, nonviolence, and kindness, our insistence that the path to get such a world must itself embody these values, and our firm belief that such a world is still possible! Such a belief makes many wealthy people uncomfortable. Yet in our view, such a world would give everyone much more fulfillment and sense of being part of a life that had ultimate meaning than even the most wealthy people can attain today.
We are deeply grateful for all the support we received over the years that has sustained us to this point. In particular, we are grateful to those who included Tikkun in their Wills, and to those who contributed beyond what they would have ever done for a nonprofit. We are deeply indebted to our founding publisher (Nan Fink, now Gefen), our second publishers Danny & Victor Goldberg, and our third publishers my sister Trish Vradenburg z’l and her husband George, who supported us for ten years. When Trish and George turned their charitable giving toward creating a very wonderful project, called USAgainstAlzheimers (may that project succeed quickly in generating cures and government support for research and funding of care-givers), we were sustained by a bequest to us in a Tikkun supporter’s Will (hey, please put us in yours, just in case). But the basic finances we needed were running out. And last, but certainly not least, we are grateful to Duke University Press for being our publisher for the past seven years. Tikkun would not have possible without all of these people and organizations.
And of course, the magazine thrived because of the incredible dedication of our tiny staff, talented volunteers, unpaid interns, and awesome writers and artists who have contributed their writing and art to the magazine. Their voices and artistry have helped make Tikkun the incredible magazine it is and will continue to be.
And to you – our subscribers, NSP members, and keep who have been the backbone throughout our existence – thank you! Receiving your emails and letters of gratitude and appreciation that our voice is alive means so much to us. It is impossible to know the influence of one’s work in the world, so in addition to your gratitude and appreciation in the form of financial support, your personal notes, letters, and cards nourish us daily. Thank you. We could not and cannot continue without your support.
Where do we go from here? In addition to the new website, we are starting a program called The Tikkun Institute to help sponsor research on healing and transforming the world, and we are taking applications from Tikkun writers, readers, and social change activists who share our worldview and want to volunteer time as “Tikkun Institute Editorial Fellows” to taking over some of Tikkun’s major editorial tasks—recruiting articles and editing them. While it would be great if you wanted to do this and lived in the Bay Area, we will also work with Tikkun Fellows online from around the world. I’m hoping to gradually reduce my role and make the editing a more collaborative enterprise in the coming years, in part so that I can have more time to read, think, and write. Want to learn more? Please contact Chris at Chris.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our next edition of Tikkun magazine will appear online, edited by Cat Zavis and Martha Sonnenberg, and will have a special focus called “Beyond Patriarchy and How to Get There.” Please be sure to visit our website frequently and share articles from it on social media and with your networks. We believe we will be able to reach a wider audience, and to do so we need your involvement and support. And we will continue our tradition of making Tikkun beautiful as well as intellectually and culturally provocative, exciting, rigorous, and cutting edge. It’s up to you—don’t let the light go out.
DON’T LET THE LIGHT GO OUT. As we approach the time of year when many of our readers celebrate Chanukah or Christmas, both holidays celebrating light in the time of darkness, affirming the possibility of a different kind of world in which oppression is overcome, Tikkun’s message is too important to let it disappear. Please generously support us to continue. We still need your tax-deductible financial support and annual donations. Most online magazines make appeals to their readers for financial support and so will we. Our small staff can continue to do the basics needed to create an online magazine, but only if you and others generously contribute (all tax-deductible). If you never did before, please do so now, at www.tikkun.org/donate or by sending a check to Tikkun, 2342 Shattuck Ave #1200, Berkeley, CA 94704, or by calling Chris at 510-644-1200.
Till we meet again on our website, many blessings to you!