High Holy Day Reflection
L’Shana Tova. Happy New Year. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, continuing into the celebrations of Sukkot and Simchas Torah, give Jews ample points for meaningful reflection. We celebrate the harvest as we move into the darker time of the year, day and night somewhat balanced as the light wanes. I often observe the light in the dark and the dark in the light, like the little spot of the opposite in a yin-yang sign. I pray for that awareness to sow in me understanding and compassion and make me slow to judge, yet also strong in my work to alleviate suffering even when I dance, sing and laugh.
We celebrate on Rosh Hashanah, but we also cultivate humility and are especially ready to apologize and are slow to cast aspersions, deflect blame or shirk responsibility. May our Yom Kippur fasts not be for show. May our hunger pains remind us to feed the divine within and help each other fulfill our God-given potential.
The precarity of a sukkah (a temporary, outdoor shelter) for us to eat and dwell in feels very poignant personally and politically. I am still not sure of my future housing despite my recent expectations at something more permanent. Still, I am blessed with a comfortable house-sit in Berkeley that was extended a few more months. It’s not all about me though, and the recent devastation in the Caribbean, Mexico, Houston, Yemen, Bangladesh, Burma and elsewhere that has led more and more people to flee or be forced from homes eclipse my own insecurity on a whole other scale. I tend to diminish my own discomfort or needs by reminding myself of all that I have and the privation and torture I am free of.
And then Simchas Torah comes as the reading through of the five books of Moses is completed and started anew. The end and the beginning are shared–a reminder of eternity and the wheel of life like the ouroboros. I always want to highlight the Yom Kippur morning Haftorah portion (A reading from the non-Torah part of the Hebrew Bible, in this case, Isaiah 57:14-58:14). There are many passages that I try to take to heart and live by. This is one of my favorite bits, in this case, taken from a translation by The Velveteen Rabbi: “If you banish oppression, scornful finger-pointing and hateful speech;
if you offer compassion to the hungry and sustenance to the famished; then your light will shine in the darkness, your gloom will disappear like fog at noon. Adonai will guide you. God will slake your thirst when you are parched, God will give you strength deep in your bones. You will be like a watered garden, an unfailing spring. You will rebuild yourselves, you will restore foundations laid long ago. You will be known as one who restores what has fallen.”
Just World events in the Bay Area
I am settling into my job as western representative of Just World Educational Foundation. As I mentioned in my August Missive, Just World Books has some great authors and titles. One of them, Miko Peled, will be speaking in the Bay Area on October 5 (Petaluma) and October 6 (Lafayette). Check out the Just World calendar of events.
Right now, I’m organizing mostly about Gar Smith‘s forthcoming anthology, The War and Environment Reader. I’m excited at the response I’m getting when I call stores, organizations and radio stations to pitch this important work that brings together many voices and issues into a shared focus. I hope people come to the bookstore readings and buy copies there to support brick-and-mortar book sellers. First though, I really hope people come on out to the book launch event on October 7 in Berkeley!
October 7 Book Release Party — Refreshments at 7:00. Event at 7:30.
Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, 1924 Cedar at Bonita, Berkeley, CA 94709.
October 11 at Diesel, A Bookstore — 7:00 pm
Marin Country Mart, 2419 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur, CA 94939
October 17 at The Green Arcade Bookstore — 7:00 pm
1680 Market St. at Gough St., San Francisco, CA 94102
(Note that this is NOT Green Apple Books out in the Richmond!)
We are also setting up other events in the Bay Area including in Santa Cruz in conjunction with the Resource Center for Nonviolence and local 350.org organizers there and in December in Lafayette with the Mt. Diablo Peace Center. The reaction to this work, which brings together two struggles that need to be seen in one light, has been overwhelmingly positive. Gar Smith will also be on the radio: October 5, 10 to 11 am on KALW, 91.7 FM San Francisco on Rose Aguilar’s Your Call Radio. Also, on November 7, 6 to 7 pm on KZFR, 90.1 FM Chico he’ll be on Ecotopia with Stephen and Susan Tchudi.
Zohra Drif’s translated memoir (Inside the Battle of Algiers) about being an Algerian freedom fighter in the 1950’s is a totally engaging read, and her events, though delayed by visa issues, went very well on the east coast. Coming out in November is yet another important work to be published by Just World Books: Untold, by Ian Williams. This is a compelling expose of goings on at the UN by someone dedicated to its mission, not its destruction. Delightful artwork by Krishna helps bring this work of truth-telling to life.
Gaza 5k Walk/Run Saturday, October 14
benefiting the United Nations Relief Works Administration
Move for mental health with UNRWA USA at the fifth annual San Francisco Gaza 5K on Saturday, October 14! I haven’t participated in fundraisers like this before, but I know that they can raise awareness with people who don’t follow politics as much as I do, and it can raise important money for help for the people of Gaza. The United Nations Relief Works Administration (UNRWA) has been a key lifeline for the people of Gaza going back to the start of the Palestinian refugee crisis in 1948.
Jewish Voice for Peace-Bay Area has been a very helpful team in years past, and I want to help this year’s effort to hold up as well! Register to join Team JVP or donate via my page which then shows I’m helping our team (beyond my own registration fee), and more importantly, helping help UNRWA help Gaza. This year’s money is going to UNRWA’s Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) which changes lives and restores hope for children impacted by trauma.
Lake Merced Park, Sunset Blvd and Lake Merced Blvd, San Francisco
Sign up and save! Early bird rates are available until October 1:
Child (12 and younger): $20
Race day timeline:
9:00 am – Check-in begins
9:45 am – Program begins
10:00 am – Race begins
11:00 am – Closing Ceremony
News from my Center for Jewish Nonviolence partners
Anyone thinking of being in Israel/Palestine at the end of the year should consider joining the Sumud Freedom Tour from December 21 to January 3. It looks like I’ll be giving at least one report-back in Las Vegas in November. Jewish Voice for Peace Las Vegas and I are honing in on the where and when, but pretty sure I’ll speak at a public event they’ll host on Sunday November 12.
Jews in Israel who I got to know and respect on my trips with CJNV definitely include activists with Solidarity of Nations – Achvat Amim. Now, Masa Israel (an organization of the Jewish Agency) has withdrawn it’s support for the Jerusalem-based program. They had given participants scholarships to take part in critical education focused on the conflict and meaningful human rights for the past 3.5 years. Why are they withholding the scholarships? Because of pressure from the right. Co-founder/Educational Director of Achavt Amim, Karen Isaacs talks about the situation very movingly in this article in 972mag.
They’re determined not to let this stop them from building and growing this movement. Help them out via their crowdfunding page to make sure none of their participants feel the material impact from this attack or visit www.youcaring.com/achvatamim Also, folks are spreading the word with the hashtag #IStandWithAchvat.
Issa Amro and Youth Against Settlements (Hebron)
(From YAS on 9/24) Last week, 3000 settlers forced their way into the Ibrahimi mosque. The Israeli military provided them with protection.
Jim and Issa in Sarura in May, 2017.
This followed last month’s declaration by Israel that Hebron settlers would receive their own municipality and official settlement status.
Meanwhile Issa Amro, Palestinian human rights defender who I speak of in almost every missive, still faces his Israeli military court “trial” in October, but on September 4 he was arrested by the Palestinian Authority for social media posts he made. He was released a week later, on bail, but many Palestinians are raising their voices against the new “electronic crimes” law enacted by the PA’s head, Mahmoud Abbas that Amro denounced. It is important to decry Palestinian leadership when called for, but we must never lose sight of the fundamental problem faced by the Palestinian people–the violent dispossession they continue to face at the hands of Israel. Support Youth Against Settlements!
It is heart-wrenching to see Facebook posts with images and videos of destruction in Um Il-Khair. The settlers of illegal Carmel Har Hebron, with their well-built houses connected to water, power and other municipal services, are increasing their violent attacks on the people of Um Il-Khair. All of September settlers have been throwing rocks at anyone they can hit. They sent a journalist, Guy Butavia, to the hospital. Last month I showed a picture of a bulldozer the settlers ordered to destroy a Bedouin structure. It is hard to know how to be very helpful. As Isaiah said though, the less we look away in embarrassment or powerlessness, the more we create the world in which we want to live.
Racist, antisemitic threats and attacks in the USA are fostered by mainstream Jewish and Christian groups, not Muslims
I was aghast to see posters that the David Horowitz’s foundation put up at UC Berkeley FOR ROSH HASHANAH. Even more disturbing are the posters that have been put up at San Francisco State. They really feel like images I was shown as a kid in Jewish Sunday school about the propaganda created by the Nazis to dehumanize Jews. I didn’t want to sully my Missive with them, but in the spirit of Emmett Till and his mother, and in the spirit of Isaiah’s admonition not to look away from our people in need, I have to show them to you. These posters mock and threaten people I know, like and respect. They impugn whole groups and the people in them. To people who believe that Rasmeah Odeh is a convicted terrorist and shouldn’t deserve any standing or rights, I say, “By what right do you demand nonviolence of another? Do you renounce violence and armed struggle in general? Would that you wanted to banish, ostracize or imprison the likes of Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon or some US war-criminal.” More broadly, I can’t stand how Horowitz and Canary Mission don’t give any credence to fundamental wrongs being perpetrated on the Palestinians, blames them for the violence being done to them and acts like they have nothing to fight against. And they alternately deny Jews like me exist, or they threaten us and say that we harbor violent antisemites when really they work with the likes of John Hagee and Christians United for Israel!
In Jewish schools, we talk a lot about Rabbis Hillel and Shammai. In the Talmud, Hillel is always the one appealing for mercy, to let “sins” be forgiven rather than cause for punishment. Shammai is generally the stickler for detail and seen as unforgiving. Naturally, I usually prefer Hillel’s interpretations of law. These days though, it is Shammai I resonate with, and I hear him crying out against Horowitz, Pam Geller, David Brog, Netanyahu, Jared Kushner, Chuck Shumer, and other dismissers of anti-Palestinian violence as he rolls over in his grave.
Pushing Aside the “Asides” in Political Asides
I’m really feeling the weight of the bombs the United States is dropping all over the place. Both real and metaphorical bombshells are killing people. I refuse to give into feeling powerless to help, or that the downward, so I don’t want to avoid thinking about the death and destruction caused 100% by humans like in Yemen and to the Muslims of Burma I the devastation caused by joint human/natural disasters like violent hurricanes in Florida, Houston, Puerto Rico, Cuba, other Caribbean Islands, Mexico…and Bangladesh where 30% of the country has been poisoned by sea water, dead things and toxics of all kinds.
Donald Trump went to the U.N. and made threats there that violate the UN’s own Charter. His ignorance and braggadocio are extra scary, but it is standard operating procedure for US presidents to extol the value of OUR exceptionalism and denounce that of others and undermine international treaties and norms that level the playing field for all nations. [Double entendre alert: Trump and Co. are leveling the playing field too, but in his case, Trump is leveling the field by destroying its features, not by cultivating equal opportunities.] I have been arrested demonstrating against the frequent missile test the United States conducts. I am aghast at the nuclear arsenal that now is in the hands of a modern Nero and that most Americans, including activists, act like don’t exist or are a threat worth bothering about.
We’re arming the Saudis to kill Yemenis. Even though 15 of 19 hijackers from September 11 were Saudis, we have destroyed much of Afghanistan and Iraq and are helping Saudi Arabia’s wealthy elite kill many more in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, and and continue to spread a violent brand of Islam. I don’t want us to ban Saudis or kill their families, but the hypocrisy of ignoring what they are doing is as unforgivable as anything I can think of.
Like all violent, religious exponents, they have more in common with one another than with most people of their faiths. Antisemitic, Islamophobic Christian Zionists team up with Jews who seem to care more about Israel than about Judaism and Jewish teachings. And somehow they get otherwise righteous people to blame the Palestinians for the systematic violence being done to them. Like if they aren’t perfect in their resistance, they are to be damned.
The prophet, again, calls us to be our higher selves. Looking away breeds cynical hopelessness. Confronting our problems is a duty and a blessing that creates beautiful communities of resistance.
On a Personal Note…
I’m still house-sitting in Berkeley at least through November. I am grateful for the friends I have to lean on, and I am grateful for you all. I also feel like the streets aren’t that far away. I may soon find that to have a residence, I need a more substantial income than I am used to earning. Housing requires money, which is easier to work for having a place to live, which requires money, which is easier to work for having a place to live, which requires money, which is easier to work for having a place to live, which…is a treadmill I have generally not ran on. The way I have lived and worked is akin to living in a rickety sukkah. It feels a bit unsafe, windblown, piecemeal, fresh, exposed and liberating: blessed, but with no guarantees.
I’m hanging in there/here. I hope you are too. The grace and resilience of people less fortunate than myself really does inspire me beyond belief! Let’s continue carrying on carrying on. We’re all in this together.
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