30th Anniversary Special Editorial: Tikkun at 30
Ok, I’ll admit it — I am proud of our role as a prophetic voice for peace, love, environmental sanity, social transformation, and unabashedly utopian aspirations for the world that can be.
Over these past thirty years Tikkun has been a platform for young writers to emerge as public intellectuals and for established thinkers and academics to posit groundbreaking philosophies and radical ideas. It has also been a stage for novelists and poets to flex their minds and for spiritual progressives and social change activists to urge self-reflection, inner psychological and spiritual healing, and direct action.
Our goal of tikkun olam — the healing and transformation of the world — is far from having been achieved (duh!). But the Tikkun community has made some important contributions along the way, including a perspective on the psychodynamics of American politics which, had it been adopted by liberals and progressives, might have spared us some of the most troubling features of American politics in 2016. Our writers and thinkers have much to contribute to the world, and for this 30th anniversary issue of the magazine, we want to celebrate some of those ideas.
When I say “Tikkun community,” I mean it. Tikkun has been a product of the creativity and hard work of thousands of authors, artists, editors, interns, and volunteers — plus the support of tens of thousands of readers who have donated to make it possible for the unique voices in Tikkun to be heard in the public sphere. We don’t have major outside funding these days, and without readers’ generous tax-deductible donations, Tikkun would not be able to stay alive. I am also grateful to the publishers who have contributed so much to our enterprise; Nan Fink Gefen, the co-founder and original publisher of Tikkun; Danny and Victor Goldberg in the mid and late 1990s; Trish Lerner Vradenburg and George Vradenburg for the first decade of the 21st century; and Duke University Press (current).
In this, our 30th anniversary issue (loosely themed “Tikkun: The First Decade”), we highlight some of the ideas that we’ve helped pioneer and re-present some of the most compelling articles we’ve run. We selected some of our favorite pieces from the first ten years of Tikkun’s existence (1986 through 1996). Because there were so many we wanted to include, we mostly printed shorter excerpts of the articles. We urge you to read the full versions online at www.tikkun.org/tikkunat30. Think of each excerpt as a small taste of the whole piece. Why from only the first ten years? Simple. There have been so many amazing articles throughout the last 30 years that we’d need at least ten full issues of the magazine just to present a sample of those we liked best (and even for the first ten years we had to leave so many great pieces out because of space). On our website we not only print the full versions of articles we’ve excerpted here, we also print full versions of many other articles that equally deserve your attention from that same period.
But before we get to those excerpts, let me recount how the Tikkun community and the magazine came into existence and share our mission for the next thirty years.
We trace our mission and worldview to the heritage of the Jewish people, who shared with previous religious traditions a sense of awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe. Yet most of those spiritual traditions had been shaped by ruling elites who wanted ordinary people to embrace a world of unequal power and injustice, in part by claiming that the gods had shaped a fixed hierarchical social structure that could not be changed and was built into the structure of the universe.
In contrast, the Jewish people’s message was that the social world was constructed by human beings who were fundamentally good or had the unlimited potential to be good, but had gone astray, and that we, the human race, have the potential to create a very different kind of reality. What makes that possible is that we are created in the image of the Force of Healing and Transformation (Yud Hey Vav Hey, sometimes read by non-Jews ‘Yahveh’ or ‘Jehovah,’ a.k.a. God). As I’ve argued more fully in my book Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation, God is the spiritual energy of the universe, ingredient in every ounce of all that is, that makes possible the transformation from “that which is” to “that which ought to be.”
Torah also taught us that one of our central obligations is to build a world based on love and justice. Importantly, the love is not only for our neighbors, but also for those who are “the other” or “the stranger.” We are enjoined not only to do justice to that stranger or other, but also to love her. The belief that it is actually possible to build a world based on these principles of love and justice was foundational for Tikkun magazine.
The urgency of Torah’s message was dramatized in the Jewish prophetic tradition from Amos and Hosea, through Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Yeshu (a.k.a. Jesus of Nazareth), and down through the ages to its re-articulation in Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Prophets. By the time Nan Fink Gefen and I started Tikkun in 1986, the reverberations of the prophetic tradition in the past few hundred years provided another part of our foundation. It took secular form in the works of Marx, Freud, and Wilhelm Reich, Herbert Marcuse, Sheldon Wolin and Richard Lichtman, Erich Fromm and Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Einstein and Noam Chomsky, Rosa Luxemburg and Simone de Beauvoir, Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, Nelson Mandela and Che Guevara, Betty Friedan and Shulamith Firestone, among so many others. And it took religious form in liberation theology and in the writings and life experience of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Buber and Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Matthew Fox and Rachel Adler, Arthur Waskow, Mordecai Kaplan and Emmanuel Levinas, and through the years of interactions with my personal mentors Heschel and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. We also drew inspiration from a wide variety of movements including the Civil Rights, anti-war, feminist, and LBGTQ movements, the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the Catholic Worker Movement, wisdom from all branches of Judaism, P’nai Or, which became Aleph: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal, the Jewish Peace Fellowship, Breira, the Israeli branch of Peace Now, Yesh Gvul, Greenpeace, and the American Friends Service Committee.
These were some of the thinkers, movements, and traditions we drew upon for inspiration and wisdom when we started Tikkun, always aware that we were inheritors of great richness of thought and experience. At every stage along the way we’ve been guided by the wisdom of Peter Gabel, my associate editor-at-large, who was my partner in shaping many of the ideas that filled Tikkun with creative energy.
The Path to Tikkun
Tikkun is a project of the Institute for Labor and Mental Health that I helped create in 1977. The original group of founders included psychiatrists, psychologists, and several labor union activists and leaders of local unions. My original intention in bringing these people together was to try to develop a way to understand the psychodynamics of American society and to understand the massive defections from the labor movement that had been an important source of support for progressive social welfare measures, and a central force in achieving some degree of wage increases and safety and health protections not only for its own members but for the working class as a whole. After receiving a Ph.D. in psychology from the Wright Institute, I wrote a research grant proposal to the National Institute of Mental Health to fund the Institute for Labor and Mental Health to help us understand what was happening in working class consciousness. In the ensuing ten years of research what my colleagues and I discovered was that there was a massive spiritual crisis in American society that was being addressed by the Right, albeit in distorted form, and that the Left didn’t understand at all.
In our workshops, trainings, individual and group research sessions, and mass events we learned about two sources of stress at work that are brought home and together generate a great deal of suffering for many: the internalization of the values of the marketplace and the self-blaming inherent in the view that we live in a meritocracy.
First, the values of the marketplace. We discovered that most people in capitalist society spend the bulk of their waking hours in work environments where they quickly learn that their value is judged primarily by how well they contribute to the current bottom line of money and power for the owners and managers of these institutions. In an economy which rewards those who are seeking primarily to advance their own self-interests without regard to the consequences for other people or for the environment, people who expect to keep their jobs or advance their chances of being “successful” quickly learn to see others through a utilitarian lens (“What can you do for me?”). Living in this consciousness all day long, day after day, year after year, most working people inevitably bring it home to their personal lives and families where it is massively reinforced by television sitcoms, movies, and cynical news media. Overall, what they have learned is that to be rational means “looking out for number one” because everyone else is going to be maximizing their own advantage wherever they can.
The more this market-driven, capitalist worldview sinks in, the more people treat each other as objects to be managed or manipulated to advance one’s own personal interests or perceived needs. The consequences are multifold in daily life. Friendships become weaker and the solidarity ethos dissipates. Seeking a partner, love, or relationship becomes like shopping at the supermarket — just think about speed dating to get a picture. And family life seems less secure because one’s spouse might, as a rational maximizer of self-interest, leave you at any time if s/he believes that some other person might satisfy more of his/her needs or desires. Even one’s own children, we learned, sometimes approach their parents with a “what have you done for me lately” kind of attitude. It became clear in our research that it is almost impossible to live in this society and not have internalized the logic of the marketplace. Yet doing so creates great instability in family life and makes people feel more lonely and less trusting of others.
Second, self-blaming. All day long people are told that the kind of jobs they can get, the degree to which their jobs allow them to use their intellectual and creative capacities, and the incomes they receive are simply an objective measure of their actual value as human beings. This notion that the economy is a meritocracy and that where one ends up in it is a reflection of one’s human worth undermines the ability of many workers to act on the anger they might feel at an oppressive work situation. Instead, they internalize that anger, directing it against themselves for not having been more successful. All this was intensified for many by the move of capital to shut down manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and move them abroad where they could pay workers less, avoid safety, health, and environmental regulations, and boost the super-profits of the owners. The uncertainty about their economic future, the viability of their pension funds, and the looming possibility of unemployment added yet another element to the insecurity many working people were experiencing, and those tensions were also brought home where they manifested in depression, anger, or emotional distancing that impacted family life. Ironically, the power of the meritocratic ideology, combined with the willingness of labor leaders and the Democratic Party national leadership to go along with these developments rather than use the instruments of government to fight the de-industrialization of America, led many of those facing this problem to blame themselves for having failed to secure for themselves a job or career that could (they imagined) avoid the looming unemployment, or partial employment, or employment in jobs with more marginal pay, than had been possible for the majority of the American working class from 1945-1971.
These factors became central to the surge of divorce rates. As families and relationships increasingly fall apart, in part as casualties of the triumph of materialism and selfishness discussed above, most people blamed themselves for not having the more idealized relationships that the media seemed to be suggesting was available to everyone who deserved it. Loneliness, even in a marriage and with friends, and a pervasive feeling of distrust of others, combine to generate a great deal of inner rage that is often momentarily drowned out through alcohol, drugs, sexual acting out, television or internet addiction, frenetic texting, exercising, eating, and … well you can probably name some more.
Most of the middle-income working people we studied actually hated the ethos of selfishness and materialism they encountered all around them, and felt dirtied by it. They hungered for more meaning in their lives — they wished their work could be serving some higher good, contributing in some way to the good of all. They yearned for a more spiritual world, even when another part of them seemed to be telling them that such a world was not to be had, and even when acknowledging such needs might make others see them as weird or crazy.
What people were telling us is they had a part of themselves that we subsequently began to call a spiritual consciousness. They yearned for a world in which people see others not through an instrumental or utilitarian framework, but rather as inherently deserving of our love and respect just by virtue of being a human being, or in religious language, as having been created in the image of God. To see every other human being as a subject, not an object, or as Martin Buber put it, as someone to relate to in an I-Thou rather than I-It way, is to recognize the Other as inherently valuable and as a manifestation of the sacred. Rather than see the obstacles to creating these kinds of friendships and marriages as reflecting the prevalence of the ethos of the capitalist marketplace, most people blamed themselves.
Amazingly, the new Right of the 1970s managed to position itself as champion of this need for spiritual coherence. The Right recognized that there was a spiritual crisis based on the triumph of selfishness and materialism in daily life, and that that spiritual crisis was at the core of the disintegration of the sense of security and safety that people used to feel in their families and daily lives. In this the Right was entirely correct. By pointing out that the fear and pain people were having was not irrational and not their own fault, but a product of a societal ethos of selfishness and materialism, the cultural Right helped alleviate people’s inclination to blame themselves and won tremendous appreciation from many who were hurting.
Unfortunately, the Right then went on to explain where selfishness and materialism was coming from by blaming the already demeaned elements of the society, particularly those who were trying to rectify centuries or even millennia of persecution and discrimination by demanding, as they had in the 1960s, equality and rectification of past discrimination, oppression, or in the case of African Americans, slavery and then segregation. Societal selfishness, the Right claimed, came from these “special interests” that were seeking something for themselves (affirmative action, higher wages, “special treatment”) and using government to advance their own interests. It was these groups, and their liberal backers who were expanding government and increasing taxes to pay for these new programs, who were really the source of the breakdown of traditional values of solidarity and instead were the proponents of “everybody for themselves.”
Native Americans, African Americans, feminists, homosexuals, immigrants, the undocumented, liberals, and progressives were all targets of this blaming. The effort to rectify previous wrongs was dismissed as “political correctness,” turning the resentment against the ethos of selfishness into anger at these various groups.
With this approach, the Right was – and remains to this day – at once both a sympathetic and empathic voice for those suffering from the selfishness and materialism of the capitalist market, as well as ironically a champion of the marketplace whose role in creating and celebrating the selfishness and materialism is hidden from consciousness. Thus the Right has been able to simultaneously speak to the pain, suffering, and free-floating anger that people feel in their daily lives, help them reduce their self-blaming, and direct their anger against others who are often the most vulnerable and least able to protect themselves. For many on the Right, the loving and supportive atmosphere in their churches, synagogues, or mosques provide them with precisely the momentary sense of connection to others and to a higher meaning in life, yet does not lead them to challenge the institutions of capitalist society which generated their pain but instead to channel bitterness toward those outside their communities who are seen as the source of the bad values that are supposedly destroying families and making people feel lonely and disrespected.
How do they get away with this? It’s easy, because the Left isn’t even in the relevant ballpark. The Left is missing the point when it asks, “Why do so many people vote against their economic interests by supporting right-wing candidates in elections — thereby voting against their own real needs?” This question is based on the erroneous assumption that people only have material needs. The Left doesn’t recognize nor understand the psycho-spiritual crisis so it can’t provide an effective counter analysis of the crisis. As we are witnessing again today, tens of millions of Americans are in deep pain and they respond to leaders who seem to understand that pain and offer dramatic solutions to it.
During our research we often heard middle-income, working-class people tell us of how they found themselves belittled when they revealed these spiritual or religious interests to others in social change movements. The implicit message they got from the “lefties” or activists was: “we need you in our unions, our demonstrations, our electoral campaigns, we need your activism, votes or donations, but we see you as a little less evolved psychologically or intellectually than we are because of your religious/spiritual leanings. We hope that as time goes on and you are involved with us secular people who are running the social change movements for peace, social and economic justice, a better environment, human rights, and/or anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, that you’ll become more like us.”
This demeaning response, our research subjects told us, creates a deep sense of loneliness and “not really belonging.” Some reported a need to hide their religious or spiritual sides while interacting with the activists, others told of eventually leaving these movements and seeking solace in right-wing places of worship where they felt a fuller sense of being respected and cared for, even though they didn’t agree with some of the politics they were hearing in those places of worship. And the Right’s claim that liberals and lefties are “elitists” resonated for this reason — so many people have felt put down and disrespected by people who identify as liberal or progressive.
After years of this type of research, we tried to bring our findings to various liberal and progressive movements. We argued that our research should lead progressive groups to incorporate into their discourse a “politics of meaning” that helped people see that the pain in their lives derived from the ethos of selfishness and materialism endemic to the capitalist marketplace, not the striving to rectify past unfairness that characterized the demands of African Americans, feminists, gays and lesbians, immigrants, refugees or religious or ethnic minorities. We tried to show these movements that they would be far more successful in their own goals if they could more explicitly articulate and integrate these “meaning” needs into their discourse and the experience of their activism.
We were disappointed at the hostile reactions we received in the Left. The overwhelming commitment to a materialist reductionist view of human beings continues to lead many in the Left to believe that people only want material benefits that can be easily quantified, and that talking about “meaning” or “spiritual needs” is a distraction. At the top of many national liberal organizations and the Democratic Party there are people who are themselves benefitting from the capitalist system or whose funding comes from the 1%, and so they immediately turn away from any analysis that would lead them to challenge capitalist values. But even on the more grassroots level of many social change and human rights organizations there is a widespread acceptance of a narrow materialist view of human nature that feels uncomfortable with discussion of spiritual needs, and quickly dismisses talk about the need for more love and generosity as either psychobabble or New Age nonsense.
We were up against powerful resistance. We knew we needed a vehicle to challenge these dynamics in the liberal and progressive world. As social healers we knew that the results of our research, if fully understood and integrated into the way society was organized, would be the best possible way to improve mental health and decrease the stress people experienced, and overall improve their lives spiritually and materially. And as people interested in building a healthy society, we knew that our message was critical for the possibility of future success for social change movements.
We didn’t have the money to do most of the things the ruling elites on the Right could do, but when Nan Fink Gefen became involved in the work of the Institute, we decided together to create a magazine in the liberal and progressive world that could disseminate what we had learned and simultaneously allow for an approach to the world of ideas that integrated psychological and spiritual sophistication and create safety both for spiritual progressives and for progressives who yearned for a magazine that was not about “exposing” the evils of contemporary America (the Left had plenty of that), but about developing a deeper understanding and long-term strategies to heal and transform our world. So Nan and I began to fantasize about, and then to actually build the infrastructure for, a magazine. We realized that while we sought an interfaith and secular humanist readership, we should also make our magazine one which reflected the particular issues that emerge for Jewish progressives.
By spirituality we were referring to all aspects of human experience which did not fit the narrow scientism that predominates in Western societies. This scientism asserts that whatever is “real” or whatever can be known must be verifiable or falsifiable by some empirical experience, or be measurable. For us, the word “spiritual” would include ethics, aesthetics, philosophy, love, and experiences generated by awe and wonder at the universe, and much more than merely religious or consciousness-expanding elements of life. And part of our message was that the liberal and progressive world should be welcoming to the spiritual dimension. Our magazine would be rooted in Jewish identity and yet address and speak to a much broader universalist constituency including atheists, secular humanists, and people in all other religions.
Nan and I decided to call our magazine Tikkun, a powerful word and concept that is used in Jewish liturgy as “tikkun olam,” the healing, repair, and transformation of the world. Part of that repair is reclaiming what Heschel had taught me when I was at the Jewish Theological Seminary — the centrality of awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of the universe, combined with the passionate struggle for a world of social and economic justice, kindness, love, and generosity.
While neither I nor Tikkun ever identified ourselves as Zionists, we have for the past thirty years been champions of much that is good in Israel even while being one of the most vocal voices fighting for Palestinian rights and an end to the Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. We knew this was a dangerous path, and indeed it has proved such, as Tikkun was boycotted in many of the synagogues and institutions of the Jewish world and I was repeatedly described as one of the leading “self-hating Jews” by right-wingers and many Zionist extremists.
While it was not our original intention to make the issue of the Occupation and the denial of human rights to the Palestinian people a major focus of Tikkun, once the first uprising of the Palestinians in 1988 began (the First Intifada), we had to make a choice — either follow the path of Jews who could be liberal on matters of civil and human rights, peace, non-violence, and social and economic justice in the U.S. but who eschewed applying these principles when it came to Israel’s treatment of West Bank Palestinians, or identify with the prophetic tradition in Judaism and the unequivocal demand of the Torah to “love the stranger.” The route of avoidance was the safest one to take if we wanted our main purpose to be most effectively served, namely to help the liberal and progressive world change its focus from a crude reductionist materialism to a more nuanced and spiritually-friendly politics of meaning. But we could not ignore the suffering of and cries for help from Palestinians. Out of loyalty to the teachings of the prophetic tradition in Judaism and loyalty to the plain meaning of the Torah’s frequent calls to honor, treat justly and even love the stranger, there really was no way we could let opportunism triumph over what ethical consciousness demanded.
So, at the expense of losing huge amounts of our financial support and significant sections of the Jews who had originally welcomed a liberal voice like ours in the Jewish world, we became the truth tellers that many American Jews didn’t want to hear. We published articles from “the new Israeli historians” whose access to the newly opened archives of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) revealed that though some of the 800,000 Palestinian refugees who fled in 1948 were doing so with the encouragement of their leaders, close to 100,000 of them had been forcibly marched from their homes into exile by the Israeli army, and hundreds of thousands more fled because of fear generated by Israeli terrorists led by future Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir (whose nefarious strategy to clear Israel of Arabs involved attacking Arab villages that explicitly had sought to live in peace with the Zionists). Recognizing that the Zionist story of Palestinians voluntarily leaving their homes in 1948 was a huge distortion put a different light on the plight of Palestinian refugees, who by now with families grown up in refugee camps may number close to four million people. So Israel’s absolute refusal to consider even allowing token numbers of refugees to return to their homes or to provide them with compensation made every supposedly “generous” peace deal sponsored by Israel seem rather empty to the representatives of the Palestinian people, and telling that story to American Jews made them furious at Tikkun. Unfortunately, because of our love of and support for other aspects of Israeli society, some in the ultra-left Jewish world and Palestinian world did not support us either.
Our willingness to champion Palestinian human rights while refusing to categorically demean all of Israeli society, our insistence that we need a nuanced approach to Israel in order to empower the peace forces there, our recognition that Palestinians had also massively contributed to the conflict and that their support for violence against Israeli citizens was morally unacceptable, and our insistence that the Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza must stop, has distinguished Tikkun from so many other Jewish progressive voices, who either focus on social justice everywhere else except Israel, or come up with bland statements of support for justice in Israel on every other issue except the oppressive policies of the Israeli government’s West Bank Occupation and blockade of Gaza. Our nuanced account of how both sides have been unreasonable and yet both sides have a legitimate set of claims is told in my book Embracing Israel/Palestine (order it at www.tikkun.org/eip).
So, we became the prophetic voice on Israel for those who were both outraged at what Israel was doing to Palestinians, but unable to ignore all that was and remains good in Israeli society. We could be outspoken about the ways Israel was defaming the Jewish people and turning Judaism into an idolatrous worship of a nation-state but we did not join those who wished to see the elimination of the Jewish state. We could not forget that Israel had been set up in part as an affirmative action refuge for a people whose tragic history of oppression had left so many Jews so badly wounded. If Israel and its Jewish supporters around the world are acting self-destructively, arrogantly, and in the process generating a global resurgence of hatred of Jews – this time based not on theological distortions in Christianity and Islam but on the actual current behavior of the Jewish people in giving Israel a blank check to continue to oppress Palestinians – we saw this as a tragic consequence of the post-traumatic stress disorder that was blurring their vision and weakening the capacity for empathy that had for so long been one of the great assets of the Jewish people. As a psychotherapist and as a follower of Torah, I could not suppress my own love for the Jewish people, empathy for their suffering, and compassion for their tragic mistakes, no matter how badly wounded, how distorted their actions in support of horrific Israeli policies. And as an inheritor of the Jewish prophetic tradition I could not silence my outrage at how it was treating the Palestinian people and how it was distorting Judaism. Thankfully, in the last decade we’ve been joined by J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace which now play important roles in amplifying some of this message and providing important strategies to help bring a lasting peace with justice, and we will continue to work with them and with those many Palestinians who share our approach.
We held conferences and public gatherings in every part of the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Israel — some of which drew thousands of people — to put forth a vision for how to transform Israeli policy and practices. In 1991 we created a conference in Jerusalem to bring together the secular and religious branches of the peace movement, and the Ashkenazic-dominated parts of that movement along with many Sephardim/Mizrachim who had felt excluded. We brought U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, a columnist for Tikkun, and added to the rough and tumble debates some wisdom from Yeshayahu Leibowitz, poets Yehuda Amichai and Dalia Ravikovitch, and presentations from A.B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz.
In addition to our efforts on Israel/Palestine, we continued to put forth a broader vision for a world based on love and justice and highlighted people we believed were worthy of honoring with a “Tikkun Award” for those who had made literary or political contributions to the healing and transformation of our world. Among those who accepted the Tikkun Award: Shulamit Aloni, U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, Grace Paley, Marge Piercy, Francine Prose, Yossi Sarid, Howard Fast, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Marshall Meyer, Allen Ginsberg, Art Spiegelman, Tony Kushner, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, South African Justice Richard Goldstone, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, Congressman Raul Grijalva, Cornel West, Naomi Newman, C.K. Williams, Yehuda Amichai, Susannah Heschel, Marian Wright Edelman, David Grossman, Sister Joan Chittister, Pete Seeger, James Hillman, Howard Zinn, and Rabbi Marcia Prager.
For a brief moment in the 1990s it looked like we might be getting some powerful supporters. Bill Clinton wrote me in 1988 to commend Tikkun, and when I heard him speak during the 1992 election he seemed to be quoting one of my Tikkun editorials almost word for word. In 1993 Hillary Clinton publicly endorsed the Politics of Meaning (some of her speech can be found in this retrospective issue of Tikkun) and invited me to the White House where the two of us met in her office and discussed strategies for taking Tikkun’s ideas into the public sphere. She told me that she and Bill had read every copy of Tikkun for five years and fully agreed with our approach to American politics and our stance on Israel and Palestine. Sadly, some media outlets declared me “Hillary’s guru” and then a full-scale sexist assault on Hillary ensued in which she was said to be having a teenage identity crisis and her mind taken over by her guru (me). This weakened her position inside internal White House politics. Moreover, the Jewish establishment, fearing Hillary would become an advocate for Tikkun’s Middle East pro-peace perspective, joined in ridiculing her and me. To add insult to injury, Rush Limbaugh and many others on the Right, fearful that the Left might suddenly start appealing to their constituency through an embrace of religion and spirituality, ferociously insisted that our Politics of Meaning was nothing more than sheep’s clothing over the old fashioned New Deal liberalism that the Clintons had sought to replace with their positioning themselves as centrists. Within no time, Hillary was distancing herself from me and Tikkun, especially around Israel but also about our opposition to U.S.-initiated military interventions around the world, and opposition to the neoliberal politics that her husband was introducing.
Eventually we decided to augment our role as a magazine with an activist organization for those who wanted to bring our ideas into social change movements and politics. In the early years, we called it the Tikkun Community, then in 2005 switched to call it the NSP — Network of Spiritual Progressives so that the name would make clear that we were not just for Jews, but welcoming to people from all faiths and none. The NSP has as its major focus advancing our core idea of a New Bottom Line so that productivity, efficiency, and rationality are no longer judged according to how much money or power gets generated (the Old Bottom Line) but by how much any institution, corporation, government policy, or even our own personal behavior tends to generate love and kindness, generosity and compassion, social and economic justice, and caring for each other and caring for the earth. After years of consultations with our members around the U.S., we developed a Spiritual Covenant with America, which presents some of our suggestions about what that New Bottom Line would look like in practice (please read it at www.spiritualprogressives.org/covenant). The NSP today is directed by Cat Zavis, whom I had the honor of marrying in May 2015. Together with our new managing editor Ari Bloomekatz and our outreach director Leila Shooshani, the four of us are the staff that give the daily structure and reality to Tikkun and the NSP, supervises interns (who come to our office in beautiful Berkeley, California, from around the U.S., some as students, some as people in mid-career changes, some as retired seniors), produce a quarterly magazine, a lively Tikkun Daily blog (www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily), and a powerfully exciting online magazine at www.tikkun.org. Poetry editor Josh Weiner supplies us with first-rate poetry, and our contributing editors meet once every three months on a conference call to give us valuable ideas and help us recruit new writers, as do some on our editorial board.
For me, the enterprise of being editor of Tikkun has been a tremendous gift. I’ve loved being able to work with so many gifted people, and I hope to continue to do so for many years into the future. I’ve loved giving young people internships that opened many doors for them to employment in media, government, politics, and more. And I’ve loved being able to publish ideas and perspectives that were too controversial or “out there” for much of the rest of the intellectual world.
As I look back over these past thirty years it seems clear that Tikkun has had a significant impact on public discourse. Our view of the Israel/Palestine conflict has now been accepted by a very large section of newer generations of Jews, even if many of the older generation and Orthodox still vigorously oppose it. Our pioneering ideas on how to think about God opened the door for some of the most creative theological thinking in recent years. Our spiritual progressive vision for Western politics has gained important support among some social change activists. Many of the ideas that are now baseline assumptions in progressive circles were first articulated in Tikkun.
And much remains to be done. In our Global Marshall Plan (www.tikkun.org/gmp) we’ve put forward an approach to foreign policy based on replacing the current Strategy of Domination approach to achieving “homeland security” with a Strategy of Generosity that could eventually undermine the appeal of fundamentalist terrorists around the world. Our Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment (ESRA) to the U.S. Constitution (www.tikkun.org/esra) provides a detailed path to regain democratic control over our political and economic system.
The environmental crisis facing our planet is currently our most pressing concern and can only be fully addressed as we move to replace the capitalist system with a system that gives priority to caring for each other and caring for the earth. We also need to overcome the nation state with its inherent militarism and economic competitiveness, replacing it with environmental districts whose primary focus is on how to organize the production of goods and services for the well-being of everyone on the planet and in accord with our commitment to respond to the universe not as a “resource” for our needs but as a source of awe, wonder and radical amazement.
To be “realistic” in this historical moment requires overcoming all the advice of “the realists” and instead embracing utopian thinking. All my experience has led me to believe that one never knows what is possible until one puts one’s life energies, monies, and intellectual and emotional commitments behind the struggle for what is desirable. As the huge advances made by the second wave of feminism, the ending of apartheid in South Africa, the advances against racism in the U.S., and the winning of marriage rights for gays and lesbians has shown, the realists are usually wrong about what is possible, and the utopians turn out to be the wise ones who have changed reality rather than bowed to it. So respond to the hate-mongers by becoming love-and-generosity-mongers — and do it with us, create a local study group to read articles in Tikkun once a month, bring people together into a chapter of our NSP, get people to endorse The New Bottom Line, our proposed Global Marshall Plan, and ESRA (read about them at www.spiritualprogressives.org/covenant), then help us get endorsements of these programs from your local political party – whatever it is – your local social change organizations, nonprofits of every sort, religious communities, professional organizations, unions, and anyone who is asking for your vote in the 2016 elections and thereafter. We’ll help you if you contact us after joining the NSP. And if you can’t afford to join but really want to work with us, just tell us what you can afford — because money is NOT our bottom line, though we badly need a lot more of it to keep functioning (we really have to depend on each other, because most people with lots of money haven’t stepped up to support us — go figure!). And donations are tax-deductible!
So that’s where we have to go in Tikkun’s next thirty years. The problems we face will not be solved through economic or scientific strategies or approaches, though they will be a part of the solution. We at Tikkun will continue to help people understand the spiritual and cultural crises unfolding as the values of a narrow scientism and economism organized through a global system of selfishness and materialism lead people to embrace solutions and ways of life that are both psychologically and environmentally destructive (witness the 2016 rise of quasi-fascist movements in the U.S. and around the world). It is time for us to address the psycho-spiritual crisis facing our human community and eroding our environment with the same energy and activism that currently is given to narrowly framed single issue struggles or local activism. We value all those struggles, but we know that the people of this planet will continue to suffer economically, politically, culturally, and that our health and environment will be at great risk until we come together as a human race to transform the fundamentals of our global system toward a world of love, justice, generosity, empathy, environmental sanity, and with great awe and wonder at the marvels of this universe and the sanctity and beauty of human life. We will not fully achieve the world we want nor protect the earth without this sea change in our public consciousness.
We at Tikkun and through our Network of Spiritual Progressives will be a vehicle for thinking about the ways to make the impossible become actual. We will overcome fear with love and overcome the pain so many people experience with a generosity of spirit and action. We know that consciousness change is the central first step, and we also know that those changes cannot be sustained without changes in the economic and political system in which we live our daily lives. We will be the vehicle for trying out new and out-of-the-box solutions to the environmental crisis, ways to overcome the persistence of racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, religiophobia, and the distorting impact of global capitalism. And we will be a place where you can also transcend all that is evil or distorted and also encounter the beauty and magnificence of human life, the awesome nature of the universe, and the joyful spontaneity of people bursting with creativity, humor, erotic energy, joy, and God-filled blessings for each other and for you. We will lead with empathy, compassion, psychological sophistication, and commitment to remain connected to awe, radical amazement, and celebration of the grandeur of the universe and life itself! Thank you for the financial support that will make it possible for us to be this particular voice that can transcend all the empty chatter that goes for public discourse in the contemporary world.
What an amazing time to be alive. What a joy to be part of a movement of people who wish to celebrate the grandeur and mystery of all being, recognize our fundamental interconnectedness with all other beings and with all other life forms, and are willing to dedicate time, money, and energy toward the next steps in healing and transforming our world!
Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor Tikkun | RabbiLerner.firstname.lastname@example.org |
2342 Shattuck Ave. Box 1200, Berkeley, CA 94704 |
Join us at www.spiritualprogressives.org/join or call 510-644-1200