Category Archives: Spiritual – Religion

American Rabbi prevented from traveling to Israel/Palestine

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Israeli government denied 5 members of an interfaith delegation (Jewish, Muslim and Christian) from boarding a flight at Dulles Airport to Israel.

The five people prohibited from flying were Rabbi Alissa Wise, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) deputy director, Philadelphia, PA; Alana Krivo-Kaufman, Brooklyn, NY and Noah Habeeb, Virginia, both also of JVP; Rick Ufford Chase, of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Rockland County, NY; and Shakeel Syed, a national board member with American Muslims for Palestine, Los Angeles, CA.

Read the press release issued by Jewish Voices for Peace.

I think the Israeli government is retreating from the community of Nations behind its carefully constructed “security” apparatus, apparently fearful of everything.

I’ll just put this information here in case anyone feels it’s necessary to contact the Israeli Embassy in the US.

Embassy of Israel

3514 International Drive N.W.

Washington D.C. 20008
 
Tel: 202-364-5500

Email:
Consular Services consular@washington.mfa.gov.il
General Information info@washington.mfa.gov.il

 

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UCC Synod and Palestinian children

 

Leaders of the United Church of Christ (representing nearly a million people) are convening in Baltimore June 30 – July 2. The UCC Synod will be considering resolutions to guide their actions, everything from becoming an immigrant welcoming church, to studying gun violence as a public health emergency, to a more just economy with living wages and job creation, enacting $15/hr minimum wage laws, and working toward disability justice.

UCC

Two resolutions have especially caught my attention.

A Call for the United Church of Christ to Advocate for the Rights of Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation and The Earth Is the Lord’s-Not Ours to Wreck; Imperatives for a New Era. 

I’m not a member of UCC but I’ve been invited to attend the Synod and share my thoughts about Palestine.  I’ll be joining others outside Friday evening holding signs at a vigil in front of the Convention Center.

Sunday, I’ll go inside and talk with delegates about Palestinian children who have been detained by Israel. I’ll bring my copy of Dreaming of Freedom.  dreaming-of-freedomrecently learned that Israel is the only country that has a juvenile military court, for Palestinian minors, certainly not Israeli minors. The imprisonment of Palestinian minors is so pervasive, there’s even an international campaign to end this abhorrent practice.

I’ve read the UCC resolution on the rights of children living under Israeli military occupation. Someone certainly did their homework. The facts are irrefutable, and they’re all here, along with a slew of footnotes and references.

However, the resolution is more than just exhortations to the State of Israel and the US government to do the right thing.

In addition to a call to action for the UCC members to educate themselves about the plight of Palestinian children prisoners, this resolution provides very detailed guidance to the U.S. Congress and to Israel about what is expected of them. The actions include: (1) withhold military assistance to Israel consistent with the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, (2) lists specific changes that Israel must make in their process of arrests and detention of children, (3) the U.S. Senate must join 194 countries who have signed onto the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, and more.

This military occupation is going to end, and the Palestinians will be free. The wave of public opinion from many different faiths supporting Palestinians is unstoppable. Whether the State of Israel can survive in the future as a neighbor rather than an occupier is yet to be determined.

 

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Enough is more than enough

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From the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship website.

— A reflection from Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Activist Council member Jessie Light on June 5, 2017, the 50th anniversary of the Occupation of Palestine.

When fences become walls become concrete prisons
When tents become houses become tear gas test-sites
When days become years become decades and
the oppression swelters, endlessly.

When a stone is met with a bullet,
When righteous anger is met with murder,
When protest is met with a militarized Caterpillar and
the tears shed could fill the Dead Sea.

What do we call this period of time? This suffocating, asphyxiating fifty years of
Bombs tear gas violence repression checkpoints surveillance microaggressions machine guns
racial profiling settlements innocent deaths cultural appropriation bulldozing brutality

We name it apartheid,
We name it injustice,
We name it occupation.

Fifty years of making an occupation out of violence,
Fifty years of preoccupation with “security,”
Fifty years of military occupation of Palestine.

When will it end? When will life begin anew? When will children walk safely to school?

This holy land,
this wholly divided, wholly splintered, wholly oppressed land
needs our voices, our hands, our righteous anger, our protests, our boycotts, our endless
objection-rejection-opposition-confrontation
of a fifty-year oppressive occupation
of a so-called holy land.

Enough is more than enough.loss-of-landThe Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF) has a long history of activism in Israel/Palestine. PPF regularly sends delegations to Israel/Palestine. The next delegation is set to travel July 22 – August 4, 2017.  Check it out here.  Although the application to join the delegation is now closed, follow their journey online.

 

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Iftar in Baltimore

I will never forget walking down that Cairo street one very hot day in August 2011 and passing a cool alleyway with long tables and benches set up in preparation for Iftar.

Ramadan in Cairo

I turned and snapped a picture quickly, a bit embarrassed because I wasn’t really sure whether it was appropriate or not.  I walked back after sundown and saw the benches full of men and boys eating their Iftar meal to break their daily fast during Ramadan.

Street scene during Ramadan

Cairo was absolutely electric in 2011, just months after Mubarak had been ousted.

There was a lot of excitement and hope in the air. Even a non-Arabic speaker like me could feel it and understand.

So today when I think of Ramadan, as a non-Muslim, I think of hope. Ramadan and hope go together.

ramadan lanterns

Despite the hardships and tremendous daily challenges in Gaza, Ramadan is a very special time for many.

The Gaza Strip has been under an illegal blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt for a decade, and unemployment and poverty levels are at record highs. Nearly one million of the 1.3 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza are relying on UNRWA food assistance to meet their basic daily needs.

I’m joining others around the U.S. to show solidarity with my friends in Gaza, and to raise funds to help assist food insecure families in the Gaza Strip.  With $140 UNRWA-USA can provide enough staples to assist a family for 3 months. My goal is to help ten families or $1,400. 

Unfortunately, my Iftar plans in the Baltimore Inner Harbor have changed due to a family crisis that requires my travel out of Maryland.

I’m hoping friends and “friends of friends” will contribute to my fundraising UNRWA-USA page here because the crisis in Gaza is real and deadly serious. Please read Sara Roy’s description of Gaza from her recent trip a few weeks ago here.

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Lora with orphans in Gaza in 2012.

كل عام وأنت بخير

رمضان كريم

 

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Passover Seder in Baltimore

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Tonight I joined a Passover Seder in Baltimore where Jews, Muslims and Christians gathered to read and sing the Haggadah prepared by Jewish Voice for Peace.

As I understand it, this is a very special ritual for Jews to retell the story of how God liberated them from slavery and oppression under the Pharaohs in Egypt nearly 3000 years ago.

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Moses parting the Red Sea

This time we cannot cross until we carry each other, all of us refugees. All of us prophets. No more taking turns on history’s wheel. Trying to collect old debts no one can pay. The sea will not open that way. This time that country is what we promise each other. Our rage pressed cheek to cheek until tears flood the space between. Until there are no enemies left. Because this time no one will be left to drown and all of us must be chosen. This time it’s all of us or none. – Aurora Levins Morales

Many of us did not know each other before we sat down together tonight. We shared some of the social actions we’ve been working on — stopping an anti-BDS bill; passing a fracking ban; working on transgender issues; and others.

Tonight we have a powerful group of people gathering around this table telling the Exodus story as one way to gain a deeper understanding of oppression and refuel our work for liberation in our time. We are involved in many struggles, in our local communities and around the world, all intersecting and inseparable.

After we raised the first cup of wine (Kadesh) to education, we washed our hands before eating a green vegetable which we dipped in salt water (Karpas).

We dip a spring vegetable into salt water — the spring vegetable reminding us of potential and promise and the salt water reminding us of the tears and the pain along the way. This is an invitation to hold complexity — a reminder that change is possible even in what seems like endless darkness. As you dip the green vegetable into the salt water, affirm for yourself the potential for justice even as we hold the tears of oppression.

Then we broke the matzah.

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Systems of oppression break our world in so many ways large and small. They shatter bodies, families, communities, sometimes whole nations. The militarism we spread at home and abroad unleashes forces we cannot fathom or control. Rarely do we stop to comtemplate our own complicity in systems that wreak havoc in our name.

As we break the matzoh now, we ask ourselves: how do we benefit from the perpetuation of oppressive systems? What are we willing to do about it? And where might we start?

What is broken can never be what it once was. But it can be repaired.

I was really struck by the relevance of the words in this Haggadah to our world today.

As we begin the Exodus story, we read that the oppression of the Israelites resulted from Pharaoh’s fear that their growth would somehow overwhelm the Egyptian nation. These verses certainly have an ominous resonance for the Jewish people. Indeed any member of a minority faith or ethnic group knows all too well the tragedy that inevitably ensues when a nation views their demographic growth as a “threat”.

Today it is all too common to hear Israel’s leaders and supporters suggest that the “Jewish character” of Israel is threatened by the demographic growth of the Palestinian people. How should we react to the suggestion that the mere fact of this group’s growth necessarily poses a national threat to Israel? As Jews living in the Diaspora, how would we respond if our leaders raised questions about the “demographic threat” of a particular minority group to the “national character” of our country? In a multi-ethnic society, can a state’s identity ever be predicated upon the primacy of one ethnic group without the oppression of another?

Memories of Gaza flooded me, especially the olive harvest, as we read from this Haggadah.

The olive tree is one of the first plants mentioned in the Torah and remains among the oldest species in Israel/Palestine. It has become a universal symbol of peace and hope, as it is written in Psalm 52: “I am like a thriving olive tree in God’s house, I trust in God’s loyal kindness forever and ever.” We add this olive to our seder plate as a reminder that we must all be God’s bearers of peace and hope in the world.

At the same time, we eat this olive in sorrow, mindful that olive trees, the source of livelihood for Palestinian farmers, are regularly chopped down, burned and uprooted by Israeli settlers and the Israeli authorities. As we look on, Israel pursues systematic policies that increasingly deny Palestinians access to olive orchards that have belonged to them for generations. As we eat now, we ask one another: How will we, as Jews, bear witness to the unjust actions committed in our name? Will these olives inspire us to be bearers of peace and hope for Palestinians — and for all who are oppressed?

The four questions followed, with each of us taking turns reading from the Haggadah. Then the Ten Plagues.  We raised a second cup of wine to solidarity!  Haggadah_15th_cent

Solidarity is hard work. It requires ongoing self-reflection, clear accountability structures, continual learning and critical thinking. Also: humility, empathy, commitment, hope and love. True solidarity unites communities with different levels of oppression and privilege in the common struggle for liberation. It involves community building, support in struggle, awareness of our own relationship to different forms of oppression, and commitment to action that is accountable to those most directly affected by injustice.

So as we join together tonight to celebrate liberation, we recommit to struggling together for a world where everybody can have their voices heard.

We raise our glass and re-ignite our commitment to the work, responsibility and the joy of solidarity.

L’chayim to solidarity!

Jews will find the following rituals familiar, but it was a first for many at this Seder.

Rach’tzah: washing hands before eating matzah

Motzi & Matzah: blessing over matzah as food and as a special mitzvah

Maror: eating the bitter herbs

Korech: eating a sandwich of haroset & bitter herbs

Shulchan Orech: Then we shared the potluck dishes that everyone contributed.

Tzafun: eating the afikomen

Barech: grace after meal

Third Cup of Wine – L’chayim to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions!

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In the long and varied history of Jewish experience, we are inspired by those who have resisted injustice and fought for freedom. At JVP, we strive to live up to those values and extend that history. This is why we proudly support the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as part of our work for freedom, justice and equality for all people. We join with communities of conscience around the world in supporting Palestinians, who call for BDS until the Israeli government:

Ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantles the Wall; recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

We believe that the time-honored, non-violent tools proposed by the BDS call provide powerful opportunities to make that vision real. By supporting the Palestinian call, we follow in the footsteps of those who supported similar calls to support struggles in the Jim Crow South and apartheid South Africa. In so doing, we make our hope real and our love visible and we claim our own liberation as bound with the liberation of all.

As we raise our third cup of wine, let us rededicate ourselves to the call!

Hallel: praise — torgether we sing songs of peace & hope.

Lo yisa goy el goy cherev

Lo yilmedu od milchama

Nation shall not war against nation,

and they shall study war no more.

And then it was my turn to read from the Haggadah when we raised the fourth cup of wine to community. It was absolutely the perfect spot for me. Very meaningful!

We come together to envision the world we want to live in: a world where every individual has the right to self-determination by participating in shaping our future together. In this world, we look out and care for one another; we practice trust and kindness; we respect each other’s personal (physical and emotional) space; we lend an ear or ask for a helping hand; we believe that everyone comes to do this work with good intent; and, we hold each other accountable when we err.

We will affirm each other in our spectrum of identities. We will model our shared vision of the world by creating a space that is safe, inclusive and supportive as possible for all of us. This includes having thoughtful coversations with each other if/when we hear language used pejoratively or language that perpetuates stereotypes. We all feel the stress of the present state of affairs, and it is physically and emotionally draining. Though it is sometimes difficult to see, we know there is a rainbow on the other side of the storm cloud of injustice; if we didn’t know this, we wouldn’t be participants in the movement for peace and justice. It is because of the rainbow, not the storm cloud, that we act. We raise the fourth cup to the rainbow.

(Adapted from the JVP 2011 National Membership Meeting: Building a Community of Respect and Trust, a note from Stefanie Brendler, JVP Board member)

L’chayim to community!

Nirtzah: Conclusion

Next year in Jerusalem! Next year in al-Quds! Next year in a City of Peace!

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#MLK50AWAKE – Remembering Dr. King

MLK50 sign

True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.

–from Stride Toward Freedom, 1958, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Most of us have those “before and after” moments.  That time when we clearly feel a break with the past, and the beginning of something new. The moment when our lives have changed forever, and we know we’re in new territory now.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

–from ‘Letter from Birmingham, Alabama Jail’, April 16, 1963

My visit to the Gaza Strip (9/2012 – 5/2013) was that moment in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but since my return to the U.S. and with some reflection, I see my personal timeline divided — before Gaza and after Gaza.

Love Not Hate

My understanding of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s impact on the world is a case in point. “Before” — I honored Dr. King’s memory each year knowing his contribution to the civil rights movement intellectually. I could recite most of the great milestones of his life, and I was grateful that America had such leaders. I had read his “I Have a Dream” speech but none of his other speeches.

“After” — something clicked in me. When I learned that April 4, 2017 was the 50th anniversary of his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, I was motivated to read it in its entirety. When he talked about a “revolution of values” and the “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism” — I knew he was speaking to me, to my world, and to my generation.

The blunt truth of his message was much more than an intellectual respect for a great leader but a heart filled with love and sadness that his truth has not rung deeply within the halls of power. To many Americans, the radical revolution is merely hyberbole, and they can’t be bothered with the difficult struggle required to change our society.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

–from Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, April 4, 1967, Riverside Church, New York, NY

On April 4, 2017, I spent the afternoon and evening at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC just two blocks from the White House with an amazing group of clergy and lay people from many different faiths. We gathered to remember and celebrate Dr. King, and to send a message to the White House that Dr. King’s message of #LoveThyNeighbor – with no exceptions – is alive and well.

New York Ave Presbyterian Church is a Sanctuary Church that opens its doors to anyone who feels “threatened or vulnerable.”Church welcomes immigrants

Some people may feel their spiritual calling requires them to stay above the political fray and partisanship that permeates most discourse in Washington these days. Not these clergy members.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.

—from King’s 1963 book Strength to Love

We began the afternoon by getting to know each other, standing up, clapping and appreciating each other’s differences. The Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Quakers, the LGBT, the old and the young, the poor and those who had plenty, and from all different parts of the country and the world.

“Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. – Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958.

Then we broke into groups for workshops on such topics as “Personal healing from Racism to Action” — “Faithful Resistance, Advocacy and Organizing” — “Powerful, Pragmatic and Spirit led Lobbying”, — “Increase Militarism in the Trump Budget” — “Addressing Poverty – Breaking the Silence”.workshop

I joined the Quakers who led the lobbying workshop because I wanted to know how to be more effective on the Hill.  We learned about some of the priorities of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (easy to agree with these priorities), and then went through the nuts and bolts of an office visit with our member of Congress.  The discussion was both concrete and very encouraging.

The take away message for me was: Come to the meeting with my Senator or Representative with the right spirit, with the goal of building a long-term relationship. Our members of Congress need to hear stories from real life to anchor them as they discuss policy and new laws.

At 5:00 pm we picked up signs from the sanctuary and marched down to Lafayette Square in front of the White House. There were about 30 – 40 people marching, with some drumming and others chanting. Probably the most well-behaved March I’ve ever participated in.

The time is always right to do what is right.

–from Oberlin College Commencement speech, 1965

We stood in a straight line, singing, chanting and then mic-checking to the words of leaders who encouraged us to lift our voices to the White House and the visitors and tourists who were gathered around.

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At 7:00 pm some of us reassembled at the church for the 49th observance of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination. Several hundred members of the community joined to listen to people eulogize Dr. King; to hear his words come alive with the reenactments of some of his speeches; and listen to the DC Labor Chorus, the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church Male Chorus, and others fill the church with music. I wish I could have recorded it all.

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The highlight for me was second-grader Kiye Bashiri Corbitt who read some passages from Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream Speech”. He stood up straight, and with great composure read his lines on cue in front of an audience of several hundred adults. Dr. King would be very proud of this future generation following in his footsteps.

Young boy

—from Dr. King’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize (1964).

After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts.

Bless you Dr. King.

And thank you to the organizers for planning this very special day.

Rev. Aundreia Alexander, associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches

Christine Ashley, Friends Committee on National Legislation

Cherie Brown, director, National Coalition-Building Institute

Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director, NETWORK (“Nuns on the Bus”)

Rev. Richard Fernandez, (In 1967) executive director, Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam

Rev. Roger Gench, New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Washington, DC

Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director, Office of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church USA

Rev. Mike Neuroth, Washington Office, United Church of Christ

Jacqueline Patterson, Director, Environmental Justice, NAACP

Bishop Dwayne Royster, political director, PICO National Network

Imam Talib Shareef, Masjid Muhammad, Washington, DC

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center

 

 

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Why I’m Marching in DC on Saturday

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Public Garden in Boston – Photo via Allie Kroner

My PussyHat is knitted, my sign is drying, and I’m ready to hop on the bus Saturday morning in Baltimore for the short ride to DC.

I struggled with the message I want to share at the Women’s March, and decided my friend’s sign in Barcelona, Spain was the perfect message. Gracias Barbara. In Spanish, she wrote “Build Bridges, Not Walls”.  The message is positive, simple and complex all in one. I asked my friends in Gaza to help me write the message in Arabic.

Palestinians know better than anyone the evil associated with walls, as Israel has perfected the process of division, humiliation, and death with the erection of “security” walls and fences. I don’t want America building walls — literally or figuratively. We must expand our spirit of generosity, build bridges at home and abroad, and grow our understanding and appreciation of each other.

Donald wants to build a physical wall, but he’s already succeeded in dividing Americans. I will do my part to resist Donald and shed the light on a different path.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

We Were Made For These Times by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian psychoanalyst, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves

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