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Armistice-Veterans Day 2018

Nov12

by: on November 12th, 2018 | No Comments »

As human beings, we are a carbon-based life form.

We are close kin to the higher order apes.

We are homo sapiens, a bit of earth that can think.

We stand up straight; have an opposable thumb; have the capacity for rational thought; are able to use symbols to communicate abstract thoughts; we can use symbols to communicate about symbols; we can remember the past and plan for the future.

The gospel according to Jamie Lannister of the television version of “Game of Thrones”: “Strange thing, first time you cut a man, you realize we’re nothing but sacs of meat, blood and some bone to keep is all standing.”

I say: we are bags of water, flesh, blood, and bone called by a proper name.

We are body soul mind mysteries as long as we breathe the breath of life. We are character and personality that loves and hates, that laughs and cries, that sings and dances, that wills and desires, and sometimes just does not give a care. And when the breath leaves for the last time, our bodies become dust and ashes. We leave an empty space. Other human beings grieve.

The chemicals in our bodies are worth about one dollar.

So, what sense does it make to think that the color of the bag of water flesh blood and bone called by a proper name makes an individual more or less than any other? What sense does it make that the shape of it or the strength of it gives an individual the right to treat the Other as an object for one’s own drunken pleasure to be tossed away and forgotten like used tissue? What sense does it make that some bags think that they are superior because of the bit of earth upon which they were born or upon which they now stand or that they have a right to keep other bags from coming to that place? What makes the bags that we are fear the Other, hate the Other, and want to kill the Other to point of war?

World War I stands as one of the most deadly wars in the history of humankind. Between 15 and 19 million human beings died. Some 23 million military personnel were wounded. We do not know how many lives were shattered because of post-traumatic stress disorder, known at the time as shell shock.

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Light Shines Down on Our Tree of Life

Nov8

by: on November 8th, 2018 | No Comments »

Ner Tamid hanging in a synagogue. Image courtesy of FLLL/Wikimedia.

Days after eleven lives are extinguished, the ner tamid shines brightly. The ever-glowing light shines in every synagogue, never extinguished. It’s a remembrance of G-d’s fire-filled conversations with Abraham and Moses, a promise that the Jews will one day be as plentiful as the stars burning in the sky. The ner tamid continues to shine when there’s a bris, when there’s a marriage, when there’s a massacre.

Each synagogue is connected through these pinpricks of light, a map to a global community. The constellations light from every continent, shining bright in the darkness. Jews are guided among and between these North Stars, pointing the way toward a better world. As more people are guided to the light of each synagogue, the warmth of our community grows.

The spark of life within each of us darkens with each tragedy, but also drives us toward one another. At the Sacramento memorial gathering, the crowd pulses with emotion and one feels the vibration in the air. Mournful songs ring out, but there is also hope as people clap wildly for speakers who promise there is a brighter future. Behind me are a thousand people spread out within and between seats set up for a few hundred. The synagogue’s walls reverberate with communal love, and we shine together to reflect the darkness that comes after a massacre.

As the Hebrew mourning prayers surge through me, my grandfather’s memory rises within. The Holocaust was a dark shadow upon his life, and his family’s existence was a great middle finger to Nazis’ attempt to condemn his life. Tears stream down my face as I silently repeat, “Let it only be these 11. Please don’t let them have died in vain. Please, G-d, don’t let the light of our community dim like it did 80 years ago.”

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Isolation Versus Community

Nov8

by: on November 8th, 2018 | 4 Comments »

Tree of Life Synagogue

Tree of Life Synagogue / Creative Commons / Common Dreams

Last night after meeting with my LGBTQ book club and talking about social isolation, and what I had written but not yet posted about the massacre in Pennsylvania, I thought I should go ahead and post the piece here.

Then, this morning, I woke up to another massacre, this one in a Southern California club. In the hopes that in the midst of so many of our hearts breaking over the news, wondering what in the world we can do to make a difference, I post this so that it might be food for thought and perhaps food for action and hope.


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Voting, A Patriotic Duty

Nov6

by: on November 6th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

I am a black woman in America.

I am a woke black woman who has been woke before woke was cool.

I also love America.

I am an American patriot, an Angela Davis patriot. I heard Angela Davis explain to a television talk-show host that her activism did not come from a hatred of America, rather, it comes from her love for her country. Angela Davis patriotism is not a cheap “my country right or wrong” patriotism. It requires more than simply standing with hand over heart when the national anthem is performed before some sporting event. Angela Davis patriotism is filled with womanist virtues of love, responsibility, commitment, and complexity.

I love America because it is my home. The bones of my ancestors are interred in its ground. Their ashes are scattered over the waters that flow across the earth from its shores. The lives that they lived made America’s history that has become today becoming tomorrow. My West African ancestors came in the early 19th century in slave ships. They survived the horrors of the Middle Passage and the barbarisms of slavery and the injustices of Jim Crow to give me life and a country that allows me more opportunity than they ever had, that requires me to try my best to help this country become a more perfect union for all those who will come after me.

I do not know the story of my Irish and Scandinavian ancestors. I do not know how or when they came to the United States. I do not know the story behind the relationships that made them a part of me.

I do know that my ancestors have fought for their freedom and for the preservation of the United States. One of my ancestors walked away from slavery in Mississippi and joined the Union army to fight for his freedom. This summer my 96-year-old uncle who had served in North Africa and in Europe during World War II died. I have another uncle, now with the ancestors, who served in Vietnam as a member of the Special Forces. I have cousins who have made a career of the military. Some have served in America’s most recent wars. This spring I, a peace activist, pinned decorations on my nephew’s uniform on the occasion of his graduation from his Army basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, the same base where his grandfather completed his basic training before deploying to Korea to fight that war.

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An American Kaddish

Nov2

by: Daniel Stein Kokin on November 2nd, 2018 | 1 Comment »

 

Yitgadal ve’yitkadash sh’mei raba.

Columbine (1999; 13, 24)*

B’alma di v’ra khir’utei,

Santana (2001; 2, 13)

v’yamlikh malkhutei,

Red Lake (2005; 9, 5)

b’ḥayeikhon u-v’yomeikhon,

West Nickel Mines (2006; 5, 5)

u-v’ḥayei d’khol beit yisrael,

Virginia Tech (2007; 33, 17)

ba-agala u-vi-z’man kariv,

Fort Hood (2009; 14, 33)

v’imru amen.

Y’hei sh’mei raba m’vorakh l’alam u’l'almei almaya.

Yitbarakh v’yishtabaḥ v’yitpa’ar v’yitromam v’yitnasei,

Sandy Hook (2012; 28, 2)

v’yit-hadar v’yit’aleh v’yit-halal,

Aurora (2012; 12, 70)

sh’mei d’kudsha, brikh hu.

Washington Navy Yard (2013; 13, 8)

L’ela min kol birkhata v’shirata,

San Bernardino (2015; 16, 24)

tushb’ḥata v’neḥemata

Charleston (2015; 9, 1)

da-amiran b’alma,

Umpqua (2015; 10, 8)

v’imru amen.

Y’hei sh’lama raba min sh’maya,

Orlando (2017; 50, 58)

v’ḥayim aleinu v’al kol yisrael,

Las Vegas (2017; 59, 851)

v’al kol yoshvei teiveil,

Sutherland Springs (2017; 27, 20)

v’imru amen.

Oseh shalom bi-m’romav,

Stoneman Douglas (2018; 17, 17)

hu ya’aseh shalom

Santa Fe (2018; 10, 13*)

aleinu v’al kol yisrael v’al kol yoshvei teiveil,

Pittsburgh (2018; 11, 6)

v’imru amen.

 

* The numbers in parentheses refer to the date of the mass shooting; the number of people killed, and the number of people injured.

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Based in Berlin, Daniel Stein Kokin teaches Jewish Studies at the University of Greifswald in Germany and is currently back in his hometown Los Angeles as a visiting professor of Israel Studies at UCLA.

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My Dinner with the Devil (a short story)

Oct31

by: on October 31st, 2018 | 1 Comment »

He was a tall, dark, and handsome stranger standing in front of me in the grocery store line. He was “Oh my goodness fine.” But, I was cool, thumbing through a special edition of Rolling Stone about John Lennon.

The man said something out loud, and I looked up. He seemed to be reciting his grocery list.

“Excuse me,” I said.

“Oh no. It’s nothing. I am talking to myself,” he said.

“That’s fine. As long as you do not answer yourself, you are ok,” I said looking back at the magazine.

“And if I do answer myself?” he asked.

“Then I would suggest to you that you seek professional help.”

We both laughed.

“I suppose that may not be a bad idea,” he said.

“Absolutely not,” I replied. “More people in the United States of America ought to seek professional help. If you are not already crazy, this country, especially now, will make you crazy.”

“Sign of the times,” he said.

“Look around. Violence, drug and alcohol abuse. We all need to have a mental health primary care doc the same say we have a physical primary care doc,” I said.

“I think you may be right,” he said. “Are you a Beatles fan?” he asked noticing the magazine.

“”I am,” I said. “I am especially interested in John and his opposition to war in general and to the Vietnam War in particular.”

The line had moved forward, and he not only paid for his groceries but he paid for mine as well. I protested, but he insisted. So, I just said thank you.

As we were leaving the store, he asked me out to dinner, saying he would like to talk some more about my ideas on war and peace and John Lennon. My shields went up. I was at once wary and intrigued. What is the deal with this handsome stranger who just paid for my groceries?

“You ought to know that I am a personally conservative and politically radical,” I said. This was my way of saying that he had not bought a sexual encounter.

“That sounds interesting,” he said. “I tell you what: let me give you the name of a restaurant that I like and if you want to join me for dinner, say Saturday night around 6, then come. If you do not come, I will not be hurt.”

He did not ask for my number. He did not say that he would text me. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a small notebook and a very expensive pen and wrote down the name and address of a very expensive downtown restaurant. He handed me the paper with a smile. A beguiling, charismatic, intriguing smile.

“I will think about it,” I said. “What is your name?” I asked.

“Belial Set,” he replied.

I told him my name. We shook hands and parted ways.

“Belial Set,” I thought. “This is a strange name.” I said it to myself a few times because I did not want to forget. The moment I got home, I would Google him.

When I did Google him, I found a connection to the devil, but nothing else. Set was the Egyptian god of chaos. This man was not real. He could not be serious. “Who would name their son Belial?” I thought. Maybe he is crazy. I thought and thought for days until I finally decided to go. There was room on my credit card to pay for a nice meal at an expensive restaurant and to get myself there and home.

Saturday night came. It took me a minute to decide not to wear the high heels with my going out to dinner at a nice restaurant little black dress. I have decided to unbind my feet from high heels, so I chose the rose gold flats. I powdered my nose and was out the door.

He was at the restaurant when I arrived, waiting at the bar looking as handsome, no as beautiful, as I remembered. He waved me over and we did not have to wait at all for a table. We were seated at a very nice table. The wait staff at the restaurant knew him well. I was intentional about paying attention to this man, how he walked and talked and interacted with people. There was something different about him, but I could not quite put my finger on what it was. He was alluring.

“I Googled you,” I said. “But, did not find out much. What do you do, and why do you not have an Internet footprint?”

“You could say that I am in mergers and acquisitions,” he replied. “I have an Internet footprint, just not the kind you are accustomed to finding because I am Satan aka Lucifer.”

“I am out to dinner with a crazy man,” I thought. “How am I going to get myself out of here quickly and safely?”

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An “exodus” rather than a “caravan”

Oct31

by: Rev. Dr. Karen Bloomquist on October 31st, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Image of Honduran refugees trying to cross a bridge and being blocked

2,000 Honduran migrants traveling toward Mexico. Image courtesy of boitchy (Flickr).

Rather than referring to the thousands of mostly Hondurans now journeying across Mexico as a “caravan,” with all the fears and dangers this can stir up, the public discourse can shift significantly if this is referred to instead as an “exodus” of people fleeing from oppression and violence. It is similar to the Exodus described in the Bible, as well as the many stories and waves of immigration throughout Scripture. Exodus politics are at work whenever those in power take advantage of and exploit the powerless, as US policies have been doing for decades in Central America.

This is consistent with the many ways the story of the Exodus has empowered many people throughout history, such as African-Americans and Central Americans seeking freedom and liberation. “Exodus can be read…as the story of the revolutionary struggle of an oppressed people who search for their liberation, and as the story of the formation of a new society based on other principles…than the generalized slavery of Egypt and Canaan.” [J. Pixley in Global Biblical Commentary, p. 28]

Those desperately fleeing from extreme poverty and violence in this exodus today may seek a better life in a “promised land” but what awaits them is far from that! There are powerful forces of resistance, militarization and even criminalization that await them, and if they are even able to reach the US, no promise of a better life assured. But this does not deter them, nor did hurdles turn back the ancient Israelites. Instead, as one exclaimed on behalf of many, “only God gives us the strength to go on, and to hope.”

In the original Exodus story, the Pharaoh was so fearful of the oppressed people growing in number and power that he ordered the midwives Shiprah and Puah to kill all their male babies (Exodus 1). However, they deceived and went against the Pharaoh’s order and instead, respected God. How might people of faith along with others today be like these midwives and resist, even block what the current “pharaoh” is intending? What policies might be developed on the basis of compassionate justice rather than the perpetuation of fear and more violence?

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The Rev. Dr. Karen Bloomquist is a Lutheran pastor and theologian living in Oakland CA, who seeks to connect faith perspectives with what is occurring politically today  (bloomquistkaren@gmail.com).

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On a Day Like Today

Oct31

by: Bruce Silverman on October 31st, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Image of hands holding candles at vigil

Image from vigil in Pittsburgh courtesy of Governor Tom Wolf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are feeling the first
glint of shock that our
ancestors felt the day they
were expelled from Spain.

Now our restive hands
are sensing the first drops
of pelting rain that fell on
loved ones who boarded an
unspeakable train.

We remember those who wore
yellow stars and perhaps those
times are not so far away.

Maybe soon on a day like today
we will see crescent moons on
the sleeves of those who have
no place to pray.

Glance upwards at the angry
sky casting an ominous pall
over the frightened heads of
brown-skinned children who
are pleading: why?

The latest version of “it can’t
happen here” is no longer
news from a distant
shore; it’s here at our door.

My hope is that you and I will
awaken and be vigilant on
behalf of all that we hold to
be dear,

And my prayer is that our tired
eyes can see and our broken
hearts can hear.

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Trained as a transpersonal psychotherapist and musician, Bruce Silverman  has been in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1984. He has been on the faculty of a number of institutions of higher learning, including Holy Names University, Naropa University, and Wisdom University, since its inception in 2005. He teaches World Drumming, Embodied Dream Work, Group Facilitation and Ritual Practice. He is the founder and director of The Orpheus Healing Arts Institute in Berkeley, California, and regularly presents his music and poetry at the services of both Chochmat Halev and The Torah of Awakening.  
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Two Poems

Oct30

by: Neil Silberblatt on October 30th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

One person lighting the candle of another in darkness

Image from vigil in Pittsburgh courtesy of Governor Wolf

Such Things

“The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions a statistic.”
         Statement by Joseph Stalin to U.S. Ambassador William Averell Harriman

By now,
as experienced as we are,
we should have developed a liturgy
for such things.

By now,
we should have learned
to be more frugal,
more economical,
lest our cries overtax His ears.

Like the express lane
at Stop & Shop -
a dozen Jews killed in a single synagogue
counts as a single item
which can be swiped with
a single prayer.

A Kaddish for Kishinev.
A novena for Novgorod.
One pater noster to cover the whole entire
slaughtered family.

But, like those entering this world,
those leaving insist on doing so
one bloody scream
at a time
and each must be tallied
and accounted for.

 

Rending

If – in accordance with tradition -
I rent my garments with each
slaughter, each pogrom, each shooting,
for each victim piled high
like those mountains of glasses
which will never again see.

If – like Job – I tore at my clothes
with each loss.

By the end, I would be standing
naked before you.

And then, perhaps, you might finally notice
that – like you – I am human.

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Neil Silberblatt whose work has been published in numerous journals and anthologies – is the author of So Far, So Good (2012), and Present Tense (2013), and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  His most recent book, Past Imperfect (Nixes Mate Books, 2018), has been nominated for the Mass. Book Award in Poetry. Neil is the founder/director of Voices of Poetry – which has organized and presented a series of poetry events (featuring acclaimed poets) at various venues in NY, NJ, CT and MA.

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With A Perfect Hatred (part 2)

Oct29

by: on October 29th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

I hate liars and lies with a perfect hatred. As it is written in the Psalms: “I hate and detest falsehood, But I love [God's] law. (Psalm 119:163)

As I write this, the United States has been rocked by multiple acts of violence in the past few days. A Florida man has been accused of sending multiple pipe bombs to prominent Democrats. Thankfully, the bombs did not explode. As we were reeling from this act of terrorism, a white supremacists tried to break into an African-American church to do harm. When he could not get in, he went to a local Kroger store in Kentucky and shot two African Americans dead. While we were processing this tragedy, a white nationalist walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 worshippers and injured six.

Violence is lazy and stupid.

What did these men think? Did the Florida man think that he would send bombs to high-ranking Democrats and progressive thought would go away? Did he think that people would say; “Oh my goodness, these people are dead, I ought to support Donald Trump now.”? When the killer shot two African Americans in a Kroger store did he think that all black people across the globe would vaporize? When the shooter entered the Tree of Life synagogue did he think that a religion that has maintained for millennia through countless purges and the Holocaust would suddenly disappear? Stupid.

These killers clearly do not know history. The moment blood is shed in the name of a cause or as an attack on a segment of humanity for no reason other than who they are, the blood sanctifies the cause and humanity remembers that human life is precious. Violence makes people more dedicated to their cause. Violence makes people more determined to live and to render the violence ineffective.

Violence is lazy. It is lazy because it somehow believes that a cause can be defeated through violence. In reality, one cannot bomb a political ideology. One cannot shoot and entire race of people. One cannot mass murder a religion.

In the face of lazy stupid useless violence, what am I to do with my perfect hatred?

I wish it were a tangible thing that I could pack away in a box and put it in the back of the basement to await death cleaning. Or, would that it were a thing that I could toss in the kitchen garbage then put on the curb for the weekly trash truck to pick up and dump in the local landfill. There it could rest for a thousand years until an archeologist digs it up and dusts it off to learn about a culture long gone. Sadly, this is not how a perfect hatred works.

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