Sunday, June 27, 2010

Oracion por la Noviolencia (Nonviolence Prayer)

La violencia está en nosotros y en nuestro mundo.
Pongo mi espíritu y mi mente en evitar ofender más.
Me propongo hoy ser noviolento.

Violence is in us and in our world.
I offer my spirit and my mind to avoid offending again.
I commit today to be nonviolent.

La violencia existe por la desigualdad que hay entre nosotros.
Pongo mis manos y mi esfuerzo para disminuirla.
Me propongo hoy ser más justo con todos.

Violence exists because of the inequality that exists between us.
I offer my hands and my effort to diminish it.
I commit today to be more just with everyone.

El egoísmo y ambición causan sufrimiento a nuestro alrededor.
Pongo mi voluntad y mi ser para disminuir mis deseos.
Me propongo hoy servir mas al que más me necesite.

Selfishness and ambition are the causes of suffering around us.
I offer my will and my being to reduce my desires.
I commit today to serve the one who needs me more.

Hoy debe de haber Paz en nuestras vidas.
Pongo mi corazón y mis sentidos en lograr este fin.
Me propongo llevar esta Luz de Paz por donde hoy camine.

Today there should be Peace in our lives.
I offer my heart and my senses to accomplish this end.
I commit to take this light of peace where ever I walk today.

La pobreza, la desigualdad, el egoísmo, la ambición, el deseo y nuestro ego son las causas de la violencia.
Poverty, inequality, selfishness, desire and our ego are the causes of our violence.
Pongo mi espíritu, mi mente, mis manos, mi voluntad, mi esfuerzo, mi corazón, mis sentidos y todo mi ser para dejar de ser violento.

I offer my spirit, my mind, my hands, my effort, my heart, my senses and all of myself to stop being violent.
Debo de ser más justo y servir mejor para crear la Paz.
I have to be more just and serve better to create Peace.
Debo de aceptar mejor sufrir yo, antes de causar sufrimiento a otro.
I have to accept to suffer, before I cause suffering to others.
Entrego la fuerza de mi espíritu que es el amor, a todo lo que fue creado.
I offer the force of my soul, that is love, to all that was created.

Hiroshima Peace Prayer Statue

Monterrey, México 12 de Septiembre 2009
Fernando Ferrara Rivero

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Where the Book Is the Sword Is Not

Long ago, when I first decided to become a rabbi, my mother sent me a simple white card with a pen and ink drawing by Ben Shahn illustrating the rabbinic teaching, where the sword is the book is not, and where the book is the sword is not. That card continues to offer its finely penned wisdom from where it rests upon a shelf in my study, surrounded by books.

Learning for its own sake, Torah Lishma, is meant to sensitize, to create a world of discourse wherein debate is for the sake of Heaven and the sword is not. Rabbi Meir says: One who engages in the learning of Torah for its own sake merits many things…. Rabbi Meir continues, saying that the entire world benefits through the merit of such a student. Torah is meant to incline one toward good deeds in the world. The world benefits because the study of Torah is complete only when learning leads to doing, and because learning is meant to soften the heart and calm the soul. Called a lover of God and a lover of humanity, one who learns Torah for its own sake, imbued by the spirit of holy words, can help to make the world a more gentle and peaceful place to be. Such is the pure ideal of learning in Jewish life. Encountering God’s word through dialog with each other, knowing the engagement of heart and mind as the miracle of life itself, how can we then go forth from the presence of the book and harm another of God’s creatures?

Tragically, in the study halls of some of our people the book becomes the sword, a source of division and strife. Such is the danger when the holy books of other faiths, as well, are studied in fundamentalist settings, narrowing God’s encompassing embrace to include only one’s own. In the Torah portion of Korach (Numbers 16-18), Korach in his own way uses Torah to divide. Seeking to wrest power from Moses, the rabbis present Korach as using Torah to challenge and embarrass Moses, asking questions that if asked with different purpose and spirit would be quite reasonable. Citing the requirement to have one blue thread among the tzitzit, the fringes, of a prayer shawl, Korach asks Moses if making the entire prayer shawl all of blue would not exempt one from the blue thread. He then responds sarcastically to Moses’ affirmation of the commandment as given in the Torah, saying, a prayer shawl entirely of blue does not fulfill the commandment, but four threads do fulfill it? Similarly, he asks if a house filled with books would not exempt one from placing a mezuzah. To Moses calm affirmation of the commandment of mezuzah, Korach again responds with sarcasm, the entire Torah of two hundred and seventy-five portions in it does not exempt a house from mezuzah, but two paragraphs that are in the mezuzah are sufficient? In the way of using Torah, the book, to divide, the rabbis said of Korach, p’lig al shalom/he contends against peace. The Slonimer rebbe adds that his contention is also against God, against the Sabbath, and against Torah, each of which is called Shalom, for of Torah, as we sing when returning it to the holy ark, kol n’tivoteha shalom/all her paths are peace.

At a time when the world was filled with darkness, in the tents of Jacob there was light. From the dwelling places of Israel the light of learning shined more brightly than the glint of foreign light upon cold steel. For us, the book was and the sword was not. Before the printing press, a quill in the hand of scribes became the mightier instrument, entrusting knowledge to the page, transmitting the sacred, insuring survival. A member of my congregation in Victoria, British Columbia, whose father had collected antique Judaica, gave a precious gift to me once. It resides now as a treasure in a specially constructed archival box. A small, ever so fragile volume, it is a handwritten six-hundred-year old book. Written in Italy before the printing press, the fifteenth century volume contains selected verses from each week’s Torah portion and accompanying selections of commentary. On the age-stained page of charred edges that begins the portion of Korach, the humble scribe of fine hand and forgotten name records a teaching that the letters that spell Korach stand for bow, lance, spear, and sword. Seeking power, the way of Korach is violence and these are his tools. I associate this little volume, representing for me the triumph of the book, with the portion of Korach. For all of its fragility, in its perseverance and longevity, the book itself becomes its own prayer and ours that someday, in the manner of our living and learning, the entire world will become a place in which the book is and the sword is not.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Friday, June 18, 2010

Depression Tonic

Years ago I found myself clinically depressed. It was in the midst of the Vietnam War. As an activist against the war, it seemed as if nothing we did had any effect. The war just wore on and on. The politicians talked. The Presidents promised. The military ground up more recruits.

We wrote. We protested. We marched. We were arrested. Some Buddhist monks, and one good friend, set themselves on fire. I got depressed.

I was aware I was in deep trouble when I was sitting at the dining room table preparing to wrap Christmas presents. I couldn't do it. Not only wasn't my heart in it, neither were my hands. To pick up a box and wrap it felt like trying to lift a truck and cover it with paper. It was hard to understand how I had managed to get out of bed.

I called a counselor I trusted. With his help, I discovered the war was the problem and my need was focus. When we struggle against these huge manifestations of institutional violence, it's important to act. But there's no future in feinting at windmills. What we need is focus and community. Even a modest attempt at change, with others, can have an impact. So I started withholding the telephone tax, instituted by Congress to help pay for the Vietnam war. It was only nickels and dimes every month, but with others all across the country, it added up to thousands and it introduced me and hundreds of others to tax resistance. Soon the IRS was garnishing our wages and trying all manner of intimidation tactics. Finally, somebody in government was paying attention!!

I'm remembering the depression today because of the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. It seems so enormous and deadly. And once again, there's lots of talk and a profound sense of helplessness among common people (the "small" people in Tony Haywards lexicon).

I'm reminded we need to focus, act in community. Things we can and will do with others right here:

1. Continue our Stand for Peace ... BP is the largest supplier of fuel for the war in Afghanistan. So they mine the deep waters of the Gulf, killing the ecosystem, to help us kill Afghans a half world away. BP profits come from the American tax payer by way of the Defense Department.

2. Continue our support for the Farmers Market, local Food Coop, and CSAs ... a lot less oil used for food transport and a lot fresher food.

3. Boycott BP ... buy Citgo! Cut gasoline consumption.

Carl Kline

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Nonviolence of Tone and Spirit

When I think of a naval blockade on the Mediterranean Sea, beyond recent images, a scene indelibly imprinted for me since I was ten years old comes to mind. It is the scene from the film “Exodus” and the Hagannah ship of that name, when a blue and white flag is defiantly unfurled above her rusted hull and wretched human cargo, as her crew valiantly tries to run the British blockade and reach the shores of Eretz Yisrael. It is an image that invariably brings tears, even as I write now, filling me with emotion as though I had been there. As Jews of every generation are to see themselves as part of the exodus from Egypt, so were all there on that ship. It is the story of our people. From out of our own story, we are meant to listen and to learn the way of compassionate response to the stories of others.

It has been a wrenching time. The images continue to distress, of soldiers descending onto the deck of a ship; the fear that must have filled all of those human beings, those on deck and those descending. And in the end, death, and rage, recriminations and bitterness, aloneness, stories unheard, impossible to be heard, and who knows for how long, all the inevitable legacy of violence. In one small realm of the events of this week, in the face of violence unleashed, I have found myself engaged in a deeply personal wrestling, experiencing inner torment and turmoil. From my own perspective, even as I respect and acknowledge different perspectives, the nature of the violence we have seen is clear to me. All of it expressed as self-defense, however disproportionate, whether of Israeli forces or of those on the ship, I think all violence is wrong. I am clear in my own mind that the violence of the occupation is wrong, and so too the violence of a blockade that imprisons Gazans in misery, the violence of their own leaders notwithstanding. Even as we continue to process details of the Gaza flotilla raid and response, I think that violence in the cause of resistance, or, with all of its bitter irony, in the service of peacemaking or humanitarian work, is wrong. For all of my own criticism, I have cringed when hearing gratuitous attacks on Israel, and even in hearing critiques similar to my own, but that come from a different place of heart than their source in my heart. In the end, it has been with questions of nonviolence and the nature of its practice that I have most wrestled this week.

As the first news reports began to emerge, with urgent desire to respond, I signed on to a letter of a small group of rabbis committed to nonviolence. I feel a close bond and much respect for the other signers. The statement went out fairly quickly, a lesson in itself, and introspective wrestling began to fill the list serve by which we have communicated with each other. I have struggled with whether the tone of the letter was true to an essential principle of nonviolence, affirmation of the other’s humanness and striving through word and deed to appeal to the best in our opponent. In a painfully strange and dizzying way this week, as a Jew committed to Israel, I have found myself as “other” on both sides of the equation. So, too, in relation to the wider Jewish community of Boston and beyond. In the face of a lockstep, one-dimensional view of supporting Israel, I have felt as other among my own people.

In the context of wrestling with self and giving context to the events of this week and our responses to them, communication with two Israeli friends found their place among the touchstones of my thinking and feeling. One came from a long-time friend who came across an earlier letter I had signed in regard to the Goldstone Report. This letter, signed by many of the same small group of rabbis, found its way into the “Palestine Telegraph,” published in Gaza. Having come across it while doing some research, my friend was horrified. The other communication is with an Israeli pacifist who spoke at Nehar Shalom Community Synagogue last year with a Palestinian counterpart from Combatants for Peace. Having sent him the letter of this week, he took me to task precisely for the tone of the letter, which lay at the heart of my own inner struggle.

As with wrestling through the challenges that arise in all facets of life, this too finds a context in Torah. The Torah portion of the week in which the flotilla raid occurred was from Numbers 13-15. Moses has sent scouts out to explore the Land. All but two, Caleb and Joshua, come back in despair and say it will be impossible to enter the land because of the giants who live there. In Chassidic literature, exploring the land is taken metaphorically to mean exploring ourselves, scouting out and taking stock of our own inner landscape. So it has been a time of scouting out the land of self. In response to the report of the scouts, the people rise up against Moses and Aaron and demand a new leader to take them back to Egypt. Of Caleb, the Torah says, vayahas Calev et ha’am/and Caleb quieted the people. Later we are told of Caleb, there was a different spirit with him/ru’ach acheret imo. Caleb was able to quiet the people because of his different spirit. In his own wrestling to be in accord with his name, which can mean “as or of the heart,” Caleb had to step back both from his place among the scouts and from the people.

Sometimes the greatest challenge is in addressing differences with one’s colleagues. However much I struggle with the conquest of the land toward which Calev urged the people, I have thought much about him this week and of what it means to discover and then to act in the way of one’s heart.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Raising Up Light Together

On a day filled with sunshine and of flowers swaying on a gentle breeze as though in prayer, I have felt light diminished and then given to rise. This week’s Torah portion, Parashat B’ha’alotcha, opens with the raising up of light, instructions given to Aaron regarding the manner in which the menorah in the sanctuary is to be kindled. Strikingly, the word l’hadlik/to kindle, as in l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat is not used. Rather the Torah says, b’ha’alotcha et hanerot/in your causing the lights to go up. There is an image of light shared, passed from one to another, each one as the shamash candle that lights the other candles, that causes light to go up in the Chanukkah menorah, light held to the wick of another, two flames rising as one, more brilliantly in that moment than either alone, and in their continuing to shine, neither light diminished for the sharing of its essence.

Light diminished and light raised up. Last Saturday, as we were enveloped in the light of Shabbos, Governor Patrick spoke at the new Mosque and Cultural Center in Roxbury to a gathering of over one thousand Muslims from across Massachusetts. The program was part of an effort to help Muslims engage in American civic life. Even as terrorism was condemned and pluralism espoused, State Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Timothy Cahill issued a statement denouncing Governor Patrick for attending the program and accused him of “playing politics with terrorism.” With each word that Mr. Cahill cast, another candle in the menorah of understanding was blown out. The light of so many Muslim souls among us was diminished, through the pain of Muslim and terrorist becoming one in the understanding of a politician, manipulating fear, while smearing an entire community. Mr. Cahill said, “I am deeply concerned about keeping Massachusetts and our country safe,” referring to Gov. Patrick as “pandering to special interest groups with talk of ‘cultural awareness training’ for law enforcement and promises to urge employers to allow Muslims to leave work early on Fridays so that they can make it to Mosque for prayers.”

I was part of a group of interfaith clergy who met early on a recent morning at a Roxbury church with Timothy Cahill. It was a sad and distressing interaction, yet one whose context came to be embroidered with hope. Most distressing to me was the constituency of fear that Mr. Cahill seemed to be speaking for and to. Continuing to blame the governor and the media, he failed to see that it was not about either the governor or the media, but about his own framing of a concern for terrorism that everyone in the room shared. Whether speaking about Muslims or “illegal” immigrants, he failed to recognize the common humanity that joins us all and which needs to be acknowledged in the way that we address serious challenges we face together. While agreeing to meet with the Muslim community, he was not prepared to retract his statement. With several rabbis present, a clear Jewish thread gave its glow to the tapestry of light.

While the director of one major Jewish communal organization was present, seemingly more as an observer, she made it clear that she would not be at a subsequent press conference due to the sponsorship of the Muslim American Society. The lack of moral vision on the part of major local Jewish organizations in regard to building bridges with the Muslim community continues to grieve me.

The press conference took place in the afternoon on the steps of the Roxbury Mosque. With a large media presence, there was a rainbow of clergy from across a broad interfaith spectrum. The sense of connection among those gathered was powerfully moving. There to support our Muslim neighbors, it was clear that all were there to support each other, and that each would be there at the other’s time of need. Stretching across the grand steps of the mosque, it seemed to me that we were all the candles of a beautiful menorah, each one raising up the light of another.

Rabbi Victor H. Reinstein

Friday, June 4, 2010

We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest

One of the most inspiring vocal groups I've ever heard is Sweet Honey in the Rock. It's my joy to share with you this video of "Ella’s Song," a piece composed by the group's founder, Bernice Johnson Reagon (pictured left, center). After more than thirty years leading the internationally-renowned ensemble, now proudly gray-haired, Reagon is still one of its strongest voices, and every bit the rock on which its harmonies are built.

The name of this a cappella group comes from Psalm 81:16, where the wandering and hungry are reassured that they will be sustained; that even when all hope seems lost, honey will flow out of rock and give them life. Says the group's website, "Honey–an ancient substance, sweet and nurturing. Rock–an elemental strength, enduring the winds of time. The metaphor of sweet honey in the rock captures completely these African American wome
n whose repertoire is steeped in the sacred music of the Black church, the clarion calls of the civil rights movement, and songs of the struggle for justice everywhere."

The metaphor of "sweet honey in the rock" also captures completely, I believe, the spirit required of us who join these women in the long struggle not only for justice, but also for peace, for freedom with dignity, for human rights, and for the welfare of the earth and its manifold creatures.

Reagon composed "Ella's Song," the piece you're about to see performed, in tribute to Ella Baker (1903-1986, pictured right). As Reagon explains, the lyrics are the words of Baker herself, who, while largely unknown, was a powerful figure in the Civil Rights struggle. With Martin Luther King, Jr., she co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and served as its executive director. She also helped young people create the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Working largely behind the scenes, she was steadfast, and never sought recognition for her contributions to the struggle. She was, in a phrase, "sweet honey in the rock."

In this 201o performance Reagon and her group join with the VocalEssence Chorus in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to create a stirring rendition of "Ella's Song." Here are the lyrics, if you'd like to follow (or sing, or clap, or dance) along:


We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons

That which touches me most is that I had the chance to work with people
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me
To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail
And if I can I'll shed some light as they carry us through the gale (Refrain)

Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot, I've come to realize
That teaching others to stand and fight is the only way the struggle survives
I’m a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard
At times I can be quite difficult, I’ll bow to no man’s word

(Note: If you're unable to see the viewer below, click here to watch the video.)