Tikkun at 25

Those of us who founded and shaped Tikkun for the past twenty-five years have been solidly committed to supporting the manifestation of the Spirit of God in this world. In our view that means advancing the possibilities of a world based on love; kindness; generosity; individual and collective freedom; mutual recognition; thanksgiving; pleasure; joy; the evolution of scientific knowledge, spiritual wisdom, understanding of self and others, and deep levels of individual and global consciousness; the triumph of social justice; peace; equality; material well-being; environmental sanity; mutual forgiveness and caring for each other; and awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of the universe. Our goal of tikkun-ing the world (healing, evolving and transforming it), has a long tradition in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and in other spiritual and religious communities as well. We are merely one contemporary embodiment of that tradition.

The Promise, Successes, and Problems of the NSP

Knowing that people often find that their highest progressive ideals cannot be expressed freely in their various religious communities, or at least not acted upon in those institutions, we decided seven years ago to create the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) to be the educational and activist arm of Tikkun. Even the most progressive denominations (such as the Unitarians, UCC, Quakers, and Methodists, as well as Sufi Muslims and Reform, Renewal, and Reconstructionist Jews) were sometimes — reasonably enough — afraid of causing splits within their own membership by seeming too “radical” in their pursuit of tikkun olam (the healing and transformation of the world). But this often restrained their most progressive leaders from sharing publicly what they believed privately. So progressives in these and all other religious and spiritual communities have often felt isolated, not least from their natural allies in other denominations. No such sensibilities restrained the Right from aggressively pursuing its agenda within and outside of those religious communities.

We imagined that the NSP would provide an interdenominational and interfaith home for these people so that we could team up with each other, become a self-conscious vanguard of spiritual transformation and tikkun olam, share strategies about how to work in our separate denominations or religions, and also act together when our separate religious homes were unlikely to take action that expressed our deepest understandings. We made a special effort to make clear to atheists and agnostics who had a spiritual dimension to their consciousness that they too were welcome and honored within the NSP; many such have been in leadership roles and have become known for their articles in Tikkun magazine. We are happy that the NSP has provided this kind of an interdenominational and interfaith home for many religious and spiritual progressives.

Yet the NSP has had its problems. The extreme religiophobia in the Left has often marginalized us and our ideas. Whereas the Right never feared to learn from its spiritual or religious wings, most of the Left, dominated by great fear of religion (in part based on real experiences of being oppressed in some religious communities, but then unfairly generalizing that to all religious or spiritual enterprises), has systematically ignored or rejected our overtures to work together and has been unwilling to support anything that uses the language of spiritual consciousness or words such as “love,” “caring,” and “generosity.” In addition, many of those who have been turned on by our ideas remain unwilling to commit either financially or with the amount of time and energy that people in the Religious Right have. Finally, the absence of enough money to hire national and regional organizers has made it hard to build on the excitement and energy people first feel when they hear about the NSP and read our ideas.

Why the Right Opposes Us More Strongly than the Left Supports Us

Ironically, the Right understands the power of our ideas and has given far more attention (albeit negative) to us than the Left or independent media such as NPR or Pacifica. For the Jewish Right, attacking Tikkun has been a continual theme. Our progressive middle path for Middle East peace (one that acknowledges the narratives of both sides as containing substantial truths, while simultaneously criticizing both sides for their insensitivity and cruelty toward each other) has been denounced forcefully by the Jewish Right, which responds as if we were interested in destroying Israel, and just as forcefully by people on the Left who believe that Israel is totally evil and the Palestinians are “righteous victims.”

The moderate path we’ve forged — which also incorporates a critical analysis of the role of international colonialist, imperialist, and capitalist forces that have used this struggle and sometimes advanced it through huge arms sales to all sides — has now been joined by J Street and groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights. As a result, they too now stand accused of being “extreme” and anti-Israel — denunciations that no amount of political positioning or inside-the-Beltway smarts is sufficient to head off. Our own impact in shaping the discourse in liberal and progressive circles has been limited by the effectiveness of AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major (sic) Jewish Organizations that have sought to convince the media and the political parties that any incorporation of peace- and justice-oriented ideas would be political suicide for them. That same ruthless attempt to discredit us is now directed at J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace, just as it continues to be directed in synagogues against almost anyone who dares question Israeli policies. The more Israeli policies are seen as transparently repressive and irrational, the more the attempts to repress those who support more rational policies escalate.

Nor is this much different when it comes to issues in mainstream American politics. From the moment Tikkun began, but particularly after our ideas for a Religious Left or politics of meaning seemed momentarily to be embraced by Hillary Clinton in 1993, the right-wing media, from Rush Limbaugh to the once-liberal New Republic, has relentlessly crusaded against us, not only because of our stand in favor of ending wars and creating social justice and kindness, but also and most importantly because the Right understands how powerful a progressive movement would be if it adopted the language and spiritual consciousness that we’ve been promoting in Tikkun and the NSP.

Could it be that many from the Right, like some from the more rigid parts of the Left, are afraid of our ideas because they are afraid of the pull within themselves toward love, generosity, nonviolence, and empathy — a pull that their own inner defenses are constructed to deny, co-opt, and negate? Instead of demonizing people on the right, we need to understand that they too are moved by the same inchoate and repressed desires for love, kindness, gentleness, and generosity that all people share. Each of us represses those desires to varying degrees due to our own disappointments and the humiliations we’ve suffered when we’ve trusted these yearnings and then been smacked in the face by the existing social realities of a society based on individualism and selfishness. It is these frustrated yearnings that account for the ferocity of attacks on those of us who are willing to insist that love and generosity can and must prevail. Many people fear that if they responded to those yearnings they would again be subject to the humiliations that they experienced earlier in their lives back when they did actually hope for a world of love and kindness. This fear accounts for their anger and vehemence against progressive ideas in general and toward spiritual progressives in particular.

Tikkun’s Achievements

We at Tikkun and the NSP are well aware of our screw-ups, and we approach our work with a spirit of humility and gratefulness at having the opportunity to use our life energies to create NSP and Tikkun. We have printed works by over two thousand authors in these past twenty-five years. Many of them gained access to employment in larger media, in academia, or politics or religious institutions in part through the recognition and connections they made by writing for us, mostly without any financial compensation (we haven’t been able to afford to pay writers for more than fifteen years). Yet we’ve also had to turn down another 25,000 manuscripts, many of which were works that deserved to be in Tikkun but for which there was no space, given that we only could afford to publish once every two months. We ourselves contributed to the undermining of a spirit of “we” because we articulated ideals that raised hopes and then did not have the staff capacity to write individual letters to those who submitted articles explaining to them why those articles were not published. And we made many other kinds of mistakes, and still do.

Yet we’ve also been able to do an amazing set of things. We’ve brought hope to tens of thousands of readers, and hundreds of thousands of others for whom the very existence of Tikkun has been a source of strength that allowed them to take more seriously their own most idealistic tendencies. Over these years I’ve met thousands of people, particularly college students, who have told me that, though they are not subscribers, their encounters with Tikkun on newsstands, in bookstores, or in organic food stores have changed their thinking and deeply affected their lives and the lives of their friends. Our mantra — “Don’t be realistic; spend your energy and resources to go for your highest goals and beliefs, not those that the people with power tell you are realistic” — has empowered young people as well as old, and across all the different identity lines!

We’ve helped tens of thousands of people who had bad experiences with religion to find for themselves a path back to the God of the universe (or Spirit, or however you want to name it).

We’ve played a major role in breaking through the almost totalitarian control that right-wing versions of Zionism have exercised on the Jewish world, and we’ve helped to bring back to the Jewish world or to Judaism thousands of younger Jews who learned through us that they could retain their ethical sensibilities and spiritual yearnings and did not have to swear loyalty to Israel or to the sexism, racism, or homophobia that some discovered in the sections of the Jewish world in which they grew up.

We were the first magazine to publish the articles of “the New Historians” in Israel who unveiled the tragic story of the 1948 “war of Independence” for Israel and helped people understand why that was a Nakba (disaster) for the Palestinian people, refuting the narrative that put all the blame on Palestinians. We were the first magazine to publish the inside story of the suffering caused by homophobia among religious Jews who were gay. We were the only Jewish magazine to refuse to accept the false Zionist story that “there is no one to talk to” to make peace with Palestine. We were the first magazine to equally honor the contributions of spiritually progressives atheists, religious Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus — the very smart intellectuals who never get into the New York Review of Books or Harpers or The Atlantic because they take religion or God or spirituality seriously.

Together with sister publications like Sojourners, Shambhala Sun, Tricycle, and the Christian Century, the web-based BeliefNet, and Bill Moyers’s television shows; together with organizations such as Zen Peacemakers, School of the Americas Watch, the Shalom Center, and the Zaytuna Institute; together with denominations such as the Methodists, Quakers, UCC, Disciples, Reformed churches, and Unitarian Universalists; and together with various peace organizations in the Baptist, Catholic, and Episcopalian Churches, we’ve had some impact on the larger society in legitimating ethical and spiritual discourse in politics. We have undermined some of the cynicism that still plays a central role in the media and have even managed to get the idea of a politics of meaning more widely heard and understood.

Tikkun’s Future

We still hear the call to work with all our hearts, our souls, and our might to contribute to the healing and evolving and transformation of the world. We will do that. Although for environmental, generational, and financial reasons we are becoming a magazine that comes out quarterly and has fewer pages, we are happy to announce that we are expanding our presence as an online magazine and preparing to launch a beautiful redesigned website at tikkun.org where some of our most creative writers and thinkers will be accessible (the launching of our new website will be no later than March, but possibly earlier). And if you join our Network of Spiritual Progressives (spiritualprogressives.org) or renew your subscription, you’ll continue to get Tikkun as a print quarterly.

As we make this transition it is vital for us to be able to reach you with information about the new site and its great content. If you don’t already get emails from us, please sign up at tikkun.org/mail or send an email to natalie@tikkun.org. And please take the time to open our emails and explore the new site rather than deciding to walk away because our print version is becoming smaller starting next issue.

Our Gratitude to You

We’ve been sustained these many years by your generosity and the generosity of other readers. By joining the Network of Spiritual Progressives and renewing their membership yearly, by making a tax-deductible contribution, or — in the case of some — by leaving us a bequest in their last will and testament, our readers have joined with a few wealthy donors to make it possible for Tikkun to continue.

I feel deeply grateful to all of you who have done that for us in the past, and feel certain that at least some of you will do that even if we can’t afford to sustain the print edition at all (though at the moment we will in a scaled-down form). There is nothing quite like Tikkun, and I know many of you feel it would be a disaster if its voice were silenced.

I’m also deeply grateful for the enormous generosity shown to us twenty-five years ago by our cofounding publisher Nan Fink (my wife at the time), whose wisdom and financial assistance were indispensable in the founding of Tikkun. I am deeply grateful to Danny Goldberg, who became our next publisher and financer. And I am deeply grateful to my sister Trish and brother-in-law (and Tikkun’s “Contrarian” columnist) George Vradenburg, who have been the publishers and financers of the magazine for these past ten years and whose generosity and kindness have given me renewed faith in the abiding importance of family. I’m proud of George and Trish for their simultaneous work to develop congressional support for the funding of research on Alzheimer’s disease — a lasting memorial for my mother Beatrice Hirschman Lerner, who died of Alzheimer’s.

I also want to thank my special friend and comrade in making Tikkun happen, Peter Gabel, who has shaped this magazine with his brilliant and insightful articles and with his moving speeches at our conferences. Tikkun should really be viewed as a joint enterprise from the two of us: we have worked as comrades for the past thirty four years since we started the Institute for Labor and Mental Health in 1976, and we have collaboratively developed the spiritual and political perspective that has guided this magazine for the past twenty-five years and will continue to guide it in the future.

How We Can All Assure Tikkun’s Future

Some people have said to me, “There must be someone or some group of people out there or some foundation that would keep Tikkun going in the form that it has been in these past twenty-five years.” Well, we haven’t found them — we would need to have about half a million dollars a year more than we get through your donations and membership in the NSP. Of course, for the wealthy, the corporations, and even for some of the large institutions of the Jewish world and the liberal foundations, that is not so much money. But they haven’t been willing to help. Or if you and five hundred others could commit to giving a thousand dollars a year for the next five to ten years, that would make the difference. Obviously, if you could give that amount or more, that would be a terrific help. Indeed, whatever you can afford to give, your donation is indispensable for our future. If there is a reader who can step forward financially as a major donor to preserve the magazine in its present form, please know that at this moment we need you. Or if you have a contact with someone who can connect you with a foundation, corporation, or wealthy individual who could help us, this is the time to come to our aid. Otherwise, this will be the last issue of Tikkun to have this level of size and staff to put it together. However, Tikkun is not closing down. As I mentioned earlier, you can expect to continue to receive Tikkun quarterly in a print version that is half the size of this one. Our major efforts will now go into making Tikkun a vibrant online magazine — one of the most intellectually serious, thoughtful, and provocative voices on the Web.

Expanding Tikkun’s online presence opens up some terrific possibilities. While I, and many other Tikkun readers, love the feel of a magazine in our hands, a new generation has arisen that gets its information primarily online, and good luck trying to convince them to subscribe to a print magazine. We believe that we will reach many more people than we can through the print edition once we are a robust online magazine. If you haven’t signed up for information about our online content yet, please do so at tikkun.org/mail or send an email to natalie@tikkun.org so that we can send you (probably sometime in February or early March) a digest of our first online edition. You can go there anytime: tikkun.org. And you can make a contribution at tikkun.org/donate or by sending a check to Tikkun, 2342 Shattuck Ave, #1200, Berkeley, CA 94704, or by calling 510-644-1200 with your credit card information 9:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Pacific Time during the work week.

Ultimately, the future of Tikkun is in your hands, just as we all are in God’s hands. I thank God and each of you for giving me this incredible opportunity to do my best, with all my limitations, to carry forward the message of healing and evolving and transforming the world to the best of my capacities. I will continue to do so as long as you (through your support) and God (through the health I receive) allow me to do so. In preparing this issue of Tikkun, I went back through the past twenty-five years worth of magazines, and I have to say I’m incredibly proud to have helped make this magazine a reality. We are working now to create a full archive of past issues that will be available online, and I think if you start delving into articles in Tikkun from twenty-five or twenty or fifteen or ten or five years ago you are likely to be as astounded as I am now at how many of those articles are just as much on the cutting edge of culture, social theory, politics, philosophy, theology, spirituality, and psychology today as they were when we first printed them — and the poetry and fiction just as compelling!

By the way, in the online version of Tikkun we’ll also welcome submissions for fiction, which proved too difficult to fit in to the magazine in the past ten years but which cyberspace will permit us to consider once again. But to make that vision a reality we will need a volunteer fiction editor to select the work, just as Josh Weiner has been doing for us for poetry for the past many years. And that fiction editor will also need to have the copy-editor’s eye and web skills necessary to polish and proof the stories and then format and publish them online.

We will continue to have plenty of need for volunteers and interns at our office in Berkeley, California, plus need for your help in getting our campaigns for a Global Marshall Plan and for the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment (ESRA) to the attention of locally elected political leaders, civic organizations, professional and union organizations, and religious communities for their endorsement and support. For the larger picture of where we are as a society, please read my editorial “The State of the Spirit, 2011” which you’ll find at the beginning of our special section in which many writers present some of their Tikkun-related wisdom, starting on page 17.

And I will continue to urge you to support our various causes, to make tax-deductible contributions and buy gift memberships to the NSP for your friends and family, to join me in campaigns and demonstrations, and to help me learn from you as we do our best to embody the ideals we hold and remain compassionate about our own and each other’s limitations.

Our task is as clear today as when we started Tikkun: l’taken olam b’malchut shaddai. Our task is to heal, evolve, and transform the world under the guidance of the feminine (caring-oriented) Power of Transformation and Love in the universe. And as Rabbi Tarfon told his students two thousand years ago, “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to desist from pursuing it.” May we be granted the ability to do this with joy, grace, humor, and wisdom.

Lerner, Michael. 2011. Tikkun at 25. Tikkun 26(1): 6


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