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Rabbi Lerner I understand if you feel deeply troubled by what has been happening in the United States and around the world this past year. I know I do. But I also have a lot to be grateful for in my personal life – my son finished writing his first book (on a phenomenology of hope with a special focus on Martin Buber) and my grandchildren are flourishing into wonderful pre-adolescents. And I’m very proud to tell you that four weeks ago Tikkun magazine received the “Magazine of the Year Award” from the Religion Newswriters Association, reminding the public at large of the high quality of our magazine. And I’m proud that we were among the cosponsors of the Great Climate March in New York City. A Tikkun and Network of Spiritual Progressives contingent marched in it, and I loved being there with 400,000 demonstrators – so many caring and joyous people!
Yet despite these achievements, the political developments in the United States, Israel, Palestine, Iraq, and Syria have been so upsetting that they have interfered with my sleep and the writing I had planned for the year. I have been so upset by the outrageous behavior of ISIS and the simplistic response of the West (“let’s bomb them and then see what happens”), which threatens to deepen the mess we in the United States helped to create with our last invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
All this came after a summer in which Israelis, understandably fearful from the daily bombing attempts that sent them (often several times a day) into air raid shelters to avoid the missiles beings launched by Hamas, allowed themselves to forget (if they ever really understood) the horrible conditions that the Occupation has imposed on Palestinians and the hunger and poverty that their seven-year blockade of Gaza has imposed on Gazans (with the resulting attitude of “if we are going to perish, let’s do it by fighting back” that was propagated by the leadership of Hamas). Meanwhile most Americans rallied around Israel, forgetting that Israel had broken off peace negotiations with the nonviolence-enforcing Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. While the American Jewish community told itself Israel “had no alternative,” we at Tikkun were speaking out to remind people that there actually is an alternative: to end the Occupation of the West Bank. In doing so, Israel would need to embrace generous and caring terms that show real respect for the humanity of the Palestinians – in other words, Israel would need to decide to make peace with the Palestinian people rather than beat them into submission. I’ve specified the terms that I think would bring real peace in the Winter 2014 issue of Tikkun and more fully in my book Embracing Israel/Palestine.
And as if this weren’t bad enough, the right wing in the United States may be on the verge of capturing both houses of Congress. This right-wing resurgence has drawn strength from the racism that has been systematically directed at President Obama. At the same time, Democrats have suffered from Obama’s failure to fight for a coherent alternative to militarism, to resist hate-based policies toward immigrants (he deported more undocumented immigrants than any previous president), and to counter the ethos of selfishness and materialism that is championed by our corporate-dominated culture. And now, the Supreme Court has struck down every legislative attempt to restrain the ability of the rich to shape elections and defacto buy themselves the best Congress that their wealth can buy.
Reading the New York Times these days can leave one feeling heartbroken and powerless. Yet, times like these call us to open our hearts in empathy to all beings and take a stand for love, kindness, and generosity). Times like these call us to push beyond our sense of despair to engage in work that promotes a new worldview – one that inspires us to move beyond our limited belief of what is realistic to imagine and work toward what is desirable. And they call for an alternative that we at Tikkun and our Tikkun Community, also known as the interfaith and secular humanist and atheist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives, has been developing. But to keep that alternative alive, we need your support!
We at Tikkun have some very important ideas about how to change the dominance of the militarists, the cheerleaders for the 1 percent, and the voices of cynicism and despair, but I worry that you and others may have gotten so exhausted by the suffering in the world that you might no longer recognize how important it is to keep Tikkun‘s voice strong by making a generous donation now, even if you already donated this year or rejoined our Network of Spiritual Progressives. I want to highlight some of our great work to help you recognize how important our work is and to inspire you to support us yet again with a tax-deductible donation.
1. We have been leading workshops on “Grieving and Mourning What’s Happening in Israel and Palestine and Learning to Communicate Across Differences” in response to requests from folks throughout the country. This is what some have said about these trainings: “It was a powerful, life changing workshop yesterday”; or from another: “I actually feel a sense of spaciousness and hope that I can have these conversations in a more productive way.” We are now working with students on university campuses who have been trying to challenge the policy of Hillel Foundations which will not allow Jewish speakers who are critical of Israeli policies, and we are finding that despite the near-universal control of the Jewish media by the pro-Netanyahu forces, there are growing numbers of younger Jews who understand that Israel’s policies are actually fostering anti-Semitism rather than protecting Jews from the irrational hatreds that led to previous pogroms and genocide against us. Tikkun is speaking to that generation (but they are mostly not yet in a position to financially help Tikkun survive).
2. We have been leading “Trainings for Transformative Activists” in which participants learn how to unify fractured, local, social change groups behind a shared vision of a caring society and the Tikkun/NSP idea of “A New Bottom Line” (namely: our social, economic, and political institutions would be judged efficient, rational, and productive to the extent that they maximize love, caring, kindness, generosity, and environmentally sustainable and ethical behavior, helping us to treat other human beings as ends in themselves rather than solely as means to our own ends). Such a society would help us respond to nature with awe, wonder, and radical amazement, enabling us to make the difficult changes necessary to sustain our planet. People have never heard progressives talk this way, and when they hear it, they love it.Articulating what we are for, not just what we are against, would greatly help progressives. The next such training will take place in Brooklyn, NY, on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 13 and 14. Cat Zavis, the executive director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) will be sending you an email about that in the next seven days.
3. We have organized conference calls for Tikkun subscribers and NSP members to talk with leading thinkers and activists (most recently with Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist and former member of the Knesset, and Sami Awad, a Palestinian peace activist and director of the Holy Land Trust). We will be doing similar calls every month starting later this fall.
4. Cat Zavis has been strategizing with chapter leaders to revitalize our international network, energize members, and provide the support necessary to sustain their work. Would you be willing to help create a local chapter of NSP? Cat can help: email her at Cat@spiritualprogressives.org. She is also creating task forces in which professionals use the idea of the New Bottom Line to re-envision how their professions would function in a caring society – and then work to transform their workplaces accordingly! Are you a professional who might be interested in engaging fellow professionals in this creative work of envisioning what your profession might look like if people were being rewarded for their capacity to generate more caring, environmentally sensitive, ethical, and generosity-oriented consciousness in the world? Or do you have friends or contacts that might be interested in that kind of activity? If so, contact Cat@spiritualprogressives.org.
5. Tikkun and the Tikkun Daily blog have expanded their writer base, drawing in brilliant new younger writers and increasing interfaith diversity. But this, like our other activities, can only be sustained with your financial help.
6. We’ve drawn national attention and recognition for the amazing quality of the print edition of Tikkun. We’ve reported on the exciting new frameworks and projects that could lead us toward opening our borders, ending deportation, ending mass incarceration, ending predatory cycles of debt, and rethinking the relation between identity politics and class struggle. And we’ve opened readers’ eyes to some radical ideas and interfaith discussions about God (not the “big man in heaven”). Our publisher (Duke University Press) doesn’t allow us to share the full versions of these articles freely online, so to get them you have to sign up for a print or online subscription (which is free with membership in the NSP).
7. We’ve been in the forefront of showing what a real solution to the Israel/Palestine struggle could look like. I was honored to have my article on how I am mourning for an Israel that seems to be murdering Judaism and Jewish values picked up by Salon.com and by CNN, which gave me a solid interview seen by millions of people around the world. Our prophetic and provocative High Holiday supplement (“For Our Sins”) was reprinted on “The Daily Beast” and read by millions of young people around the world. Many people from a variety of faiths have responded warmly, saying that the love-oriented Judaism I’ve advocated has given them new hope. We understand that to be pro-Israel one must be pro-Palestine and to be pro-Palestine one must also be pro-Israel because there will be no sustainable solution that doesn’t meet the needs for security, justice, and respect of both peoples. And while Tikkun emerged from the Jewish world, if you look at the magazine you’ll see that we are also deeply interfaith (and welcoming of secular humanists), and that we present some of the most cutting edge ideas in American politics (for example our forthcoming issues calling for the abolition of debt, just as we’ve called for a phasing out of national borders and a comprehensive global project to save the environment). The narrow pragmatism of the Democrats has not led to inspiring the growth of a liberal and progressive consciousness in America–what is needed is precisely the visionary and prophetic voices that we promote in Tikkun and in the NSP!
8. And of course, we continue to promote and champion our Domestic and Global Marshall Plan and our Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Our petition for the amendment received thousands of signatures on MoveOn.org and was discussed widely at the Great Climate March.
Tikkun is one of the very few voices in the progressive world that provides an alternative vision to that of the Right. The big picture is this: the message of our economy, which rewards selfishness and materialism, is reinforced by media that increasingly validate “looking out for number one” and the need for endless economic growth.
This message is further amplified by our culture, which sees “success” as measured primarily in terms of how much money or power one accumulates. What gets rewarded in the economy–a “look out for number one” and “don’t trust others because all they care about is themselves” consciousness, which is then dramatically reinforced by the media with their daily drumming into our heads that people are all about getting power and money for themselves–inevitably seeps into the consciousness of people in their private lives and in their relationships. All of this generates a population that is increasingly cynical, resigned to living in a world without idealism or hope, and increasingly unable to sustain long-term relationships. This creates loneliness in many people’s lives.
People are desperate for a sense of meaning and purpose that transcends the selfishness and materialism of the competitive marketplace, and in their attempts to find a community that feels nurturing, many turn to fundamentalist religion or secular nationalist extremism. And indeed they momentarily find in these communities some real caring people who treat them with the respect that they never get in the rest of their lives. But there is an unfortunate cost to all this: they then learn to accept the notion that some “other” is the cause of their despair, and that “other” is then demeaned or even murdered. If you understand this, you understand that a long term strategy to undermine the extremists can’t rely on bombing them into sanity, but must instead address the underlying and legitimate needs for respect, caring, love, and economic and political security that then drive them into communities that offer some of this but at the expense of adopting hateful attitudes toward those outside these communities.
Our vision of a new bottom line with a solid commitment to non-violence, empathy and genuine caring for all (not just a narrow community of the “saved” or “elect” or nationalist fanatics who exist in almost every nation state in the world) is a step toward providing an alternative framework of meaning and purpose in life, and a way to address the needs that have led so many people into irrational and even hateful political, religious, or social movements.
There are thousands of wonderful social change groups, many of which do valuable work on a single issue or with a local focus, and we do our best to highlight these groups and celebrate their accomplishments. But the deeper truth is that unless these groups build more vibrant and lasting coalitions strengthened by a shared worldview, and unless they succeed in creating a sense of loving, caring communities, people will continue to turn to fundamentalist groups, and more sweeping change will remain out of reach. Right-wing Americans, massively aided by the media they mostly control, have focused on shaping the dominant discourse. Meanwhile many liberal groups have adopted some of the key assumptions of the Right, imagining that if they steer clear of class struggle and progressive worldviews and instead focus narrowly on specific reforms they will win greater support. As a result, U.S. policies have moved markedly to the right over the past thirty years.
We need a unifying alternative vision – not a series of complaints about what is wrong, but a positive view of the world we really want. And that is precisely what makes Tikkun and the NSP so unique – because in both Tikkun and our Network of Spiritual Progressives, we address the underlying psycho-spiritual crisis in people’s lives and provide an alternative vision of the world most people actually want, but don’t dare articulate for fear that they will be dismissed as “unrealistic” or “utopian.” Yet it is precisely that kind of a vision that is the only hope for regenerating a social movement capable of providing a viable and powerful alternative to the Right, to the fundamentalists (both in the US and around the world), and to the passivity-generating cynical columnists and talking heads who deaden political life with their supposedly intellectual distancing from the suffering of humanity and the increasing destruction of the life support system of our planet. Many liberals and progressives are already motivated by a concern about this underlying crisis, but they rarely name it, instead framing their goals through a narrow language of political “rights” and economic “entitlements,” while ceding the underlying values language to the Right. Our framework provides the language and vision that could give liberal and progressive forces a new energy.
Here’s the challenge: given that our work focuses on society-transforming consciousness change and long-term solutions rather than short-term fixes, we have more difficulty securing donations and funding than more narrowly targeted social change organizations do. To sustain our work we need people who already love and appreciate our work – including you! – to step up and contribute. So, will you please help us by making a tax-deductible contribution (even if you already are a member of the Network of Spiritual Progressives or have already donated toTikkunthis year)?You can do so online by clicking here, by sending your check to Tikkun at 2342 Shattuck Ave., #1200, Berkeley, CA 94704, or by calling 510-644-1200 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Pacific Time during the work week. Honestly, we have no one else to turn to for this support, so we beg you to stretch beyond what you would normally find comfortable donating. Could you afford to donate $30 a month? or $20 a month? or $10 a month?–we can arrange that to be deducted from your credit card if you go to our web page or if you call our office 510-644-1200 between 9 am and 5 p.m. Pacific Time.

Whether or not you donate, let me take this moment to send my blessings to you for a coming year of physical, psychological, and spiritual health – a year in which you are nourished with love and a sense of fulfillment and meaning to your life, and a year in which we all see major advances toward a world of love, generosity, social and economic justice, environmental sanity, and peace.

Rabbi Michael Lerner
rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com

(Yes, I’m really here, I look at every person who donates to Tikkun or the NSP or subscribes to the magazine, and really honestly and deeply appreciate it–because I can only keep going when I know there are people like you willing to stretch to donate something to keep this venture alive – and though you are not the only one receiving this, you are the one I have to rely on, because as Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me, but if I am only for myself, what am I, and IF NOT NOW, WHEN?” So please help us out, and if you really can’t, chances are you know someone who can, or you or someone you know can put us in their will for a bequest when they pass away, or you know people who would love Tikkun if you’d buy them a gift subscription for the Winter holidays of Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, or a secular winter holiday. And no, they don’t have to be Jewish to find a huge number of articles that will speak to them – just read our home page at tikkun.org to remind yourself of how broad our vision is, and how much it would appeal to many people you know).
P.S. Please don’t write to me to tell me why you can’t afford to give anything. I’ll assume that you have the best of intentions, even if you don’t donate. But I’m sure there is someone you know who could afford to donate – so why don’t you reach out to them and convince them to donate! And by the way, I hate to have to be asking you, but on the other hand, I also accept the Jewish tradition’s position on this question: that it is a good deed to give you the opportunity to help heal and transform our world by supporting the only internationally distributed magazine explicitly aimed at healing and transformation (tikkun). I’m not supposed to be embarrassed about asking you for this help, even though I am a bit.