Call to action: hang image of menorah in your window

This is a call to Jews and allies during a Hannukah that falls in the wake of the most bloody massacre of Jews in US history. Activist Liz Friedman of Northampton, MA, sought to do what folks in a small town in Montana did in the 90s after a Jewish family was the target of a hate crime. It was Hannukah and the town’s local paper published a large photo of a menorah that people, Jewish and allies, cut out and placed in their windows in a show of solidarity. Liz created an anti-hate website,, that is launching an organization to fight anti-Semitism, racism, Islamaphobia, hetero-patriarchy.

Please, let’s stand together against anti-Semitism and for Solidarity against White Supremacy that is strengthening all forms of oppression that are dividing us rather than uniting us to fight for a free, just, and ecological world!

Ecumenism of the Deep Well

Graphic of books surrounded by circle of interfaith symbols

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What does ecumenism have to offer the postmodern world? How do major religions of the world work together in the spirit of ecumenism? How does ecumenism embrace new reemerging, indigenous traditions? To find an answer to these questions, let us first look to the word “ecumenism,” its roots and its evolution to the present day.

According to the Columbia Encyclopedia, the word “ecumenism” comes from a family of classical Greek words: oikos, meaning a “house,” “family,” “people” or “nation;” oikoumene, “the whole inhabited world,” and oikoumenikos, “open to or participating in the whole world.” The early ecumenical movement in Christianity is a child of the Reformation. Since the splitting of Christianity into multiple sects, there have been attempts to bring the “family” together again into one united “house” and to become one united “people.” Since 1948, the World Council of Churches is the main organization that has been responsible for fostering Christian unity in the world.

In the decade of the 1960’s, the ecumenical movement became filled with the energy and passion characteristic of this period of great social change in America. Ecumenical efforts started out simple and grew. Initially, Catholic and Reform clergy began to socialize together. Priests and ministers started holding congregational meetings to educate their parishioners about a new idea called “ecumenism.” Later, Protestant ministers and Catholic priests were invited to give joint lectures about their traditions and to speak at length about their respective worship styles, liturgies and belief systems. Communities began to sponsor interfaith dinners. Interfaith services began to be held. These were all positive developments for faith traditions that a few years earlier had barely tolerated each other.

In addition to ecumenism evolving in Christian communities, the era of the 1960’s was breaking down barriers and posing new religious challenges; for example, the Anti-War Movement, the Women’s Movement and the Environmental Movement to name a few. Americans soon saw strange people dressed in orange robes, who they called “Hare Krishnas,” chanting and dancing at airports and in the downtowns of major U.S. cities. They heard about a peaceful looking man called the Dali Lama, who had just lost his home in a faraway land. They watched on their television sets Buddhist monks in crimson robes setting themselves on fire in protest over the Vietnam War. An Eastern group calling themselves “Moonies” tried to enlist converts on American city streets. Eastern gurus established rural communities in Iowa and Oregon. One of the Beatles traveled to the East to visit a “spiritual master.” A Zen retreat center on the coast of California became a desired “destination.” Meditation and yoga began to be incorporated into the lifestyles of many Americans. The East was meeting the West and, at the same time, indigenous spiritualities were beginning to reemerge. Where did ecumenism fit in this new spiritual landscape? To find an answer to this question, let us look to two sources: Christian Theologian Matthew Fox and to a leader in the interfaith community. Continue reading

Linda Sarsour, the Women’s March, & Anti-Semitism

Image of Linda Sarsour courtesy of Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr.

In recent days there have been some calls from some people in the Jewish community to boycott the planned Women’s March on January 19. This call has been explained on the ground that some of the March leaders have been unwilling to specifically denounce Minister Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam for his many blatantly anti-Semitic views and speeches.

One of the March leaders cited in this call has been Linda Sarsour, an important leader of the Women’s March movement that became powerful the day after Mr. Trump’s inauguration as President, and onward from then.  Ms. Sarsour has not only spoken words but also taken action strongly condemning anti-Semitism.  She has, for example, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help repair desecrated Jewish cemeteries and to assist the survivors of the “Tree of Life” synagogue mass murders in Pittsburgh.

Ms. Sarsour privately circulated a letter explaining her views on these matters.  I was and am deeply moved by it, and asked her permission to share it with the Jewish public.  She wrote back, “Please share as you see fit. Hope it brings some healing to broken hearts.  – Linda”

Here is her letter, followed by some comments of my own about ways in which she and I disagree, and other ways in which we agree.

I am requesting for all who read my email to approach it with an open mind and an open heart with the understanding that you may not agree with what I will put forth and that is okay with me. This is not an email to persuade or to convince, it is an email with my voice and my experience and my truth – one that may not be comfortable for some.

I know and recognize that our Jewish family is experiencing real pain, hurt and trauma. I know this stems from generational trauma and history of genocide and that these past few weeks have triggered insecurity, fear and anxiety. This is a difficult time and it requires us to be clear-eyed and also recognize the real threats so we can protect each other. We are all we got and this movement is all we got.


The Farrakhan controversy began 8 months ago when Jake Tapper and Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL “exposed/ promoted” a video of the Minister Farrakhan at an annual gathering for the Nation of Islam called Saviour’s Day where Tamika D. Mallory was present along with 15,000 other people including many Black celebrities, business people, dignitaries and pastors. She was not a speaker.

Tamika has already discussed in length her longstanding relationship with the NOI after the brutal murder of her son’s father 17 years ago and the positive role NOI played in this Black single teen mother’s life. I won’t rehash this but note it here for context. We heard painful and yet loving critiques from our Jewish friends, we had conference calls, meetings, we put out a statement that came out a few days late BECAUSE we have Jewish women on our staff who were impacted personally and working through a statement that was going to speak to all the concerns was not something that could happen overnight. Since then conversations continued and our important work continued.

Then the horrific Tree of Life shooting happened that took the life of 11 innocent Jewish Americans and all of a sudden Women’s March was being asked to condemn the Minister Farrakhan. There was nothing new that happened between Women’s March and the Minister. Folks decided to rehash 8 months ago. A white supremacist walked into a synagogue and killed 11 innocent people and the focus became the Minister Farrakhan and the NOI.

A few days before that a white supremacist sent dozens of pipe bombs to notable figures and a day before that a white supremacist killed two Black people at Kroger’s (my Muslim American community also raised funds for these two innocent souls as well) after he could not get in to a locked Black church but here we were three women of color who are leading a powerful effective movement with millions of members being demanded to denounce Minister Farrakhan who had no relation to these white supremacists or these acts of violence.

Instead of coming together as a country to call out white supremacy and the violence being inspired by this Administration — the deflection went to a Black man who has no institutional power. —  This is a feature of white supremacy.  Continue reading

A Visit to a Settlement: A Catalyst for Righteous Anger

I have opposed the Israeli occupation and its settlements in the West Bank for as long as I can remember. I have been public about these views in my teaching, my public presentations, and in some of my writings. But until last July, I had never actually visited an Israeli settlement and seen how it works and how some of the people live. The experience has not changed my mind; indeed, it has actually reinforced my view that these settlements remain a colossal impediment to peace in the region and are an egregious violation of international law.

How it happened: I was part of a group organized by Academic Exchange for almost two weeks in early to mid July, 2018. Consisting of approximately 30 academics and a few other legal and diplomatic professionals, the group toured Israel and listened to experts from several fields with multiple perspectives. We mostly heard from Israeli authorities and spent the majority of time in Israeli settings but we also listened to several thoughtful Palestinian figures when we visited Ramallah. To its credit, Academic Exchange provided a multiple perspectives and experiences without any attempt to indoctrinate any particular viewpoint. It offered an outstanding opportunity to gain first-hand experience in Israel and Palestine, including a moving tour of Yad Vashem, and to meet and talk with many people living in this troubled and complex region of the world.

One of the early Academic Exchange visits was to the settlement of Eli in the occupied West Bank. Our bus from Tel Aviv had no trouble entering the area and going through the Israeli checkpoint; that, of course, would not be the case for Palestinians. Shortly before we arrived, an energetic, American-born, middle-aged woman joined us. She became our guide for the next several hours. Well educated, articulate, and extremely engaging, she accompanied us to her home in the settlement.

Continue reading

Light Shines Down on Our Tree of Life

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.” Continue reading

An American Kaddish


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.


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.

An “exodus” rather than a “caravan”

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?


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  (

On a Day Like Today

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.


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.  

Two Poems

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.



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.


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.

Report from the Climate Summit

On Sept. 8, San Francisco became the epicenter of climate change activism, playing host to a new generation of Bay Area climate activists with a climate march and the Global Climate Action Summit, hosted by Governor Jerry Brown.

More than 30,000 came to view the climate murals and march outside San Francisco City Hall, many of whom were young people. One of the muralists was Grace McGee, a student at San Francisco School of The Arts (SOTA). McGee said “[I feel] really concerned as a young person, a part of the generation that is going to be inheriting this planet and all the problems caused by climate change, because I don’t feel like the current political administration is doing enough to protect our right to a safe environmental future.”

Young climate change activists standing in front of banner while being interviewed

Image of young climate changes activists at July 2018 march in Pittsburgh. Image courtesy of Mark Dixon.

Walking around the booths at the climate march later that day, I saw many climate organizations with founders and representatives between the ages of 10 and 25. Under a green awning, I met Tia Hatton, a 21-year-old who is one of the 21 plaintiffs in the lawsuit Juliana v. U.S. against the federal government for violating the next generation’s rights to a healthy and habitable climate. She talked about the importance of youth getting involved in politics so that “politicians are aware that young people and the next generation of voters care about climate change and are going to be disproportionately affected.”

The week after the climate march, I attended the Youth Sustainability Summit where Bay Area high school student activists networked and spoke about the impact of student groups leading the fight against global warming. Aislinn Clark, an incredibly articulate 12-year-old climate activist, presented at the summit about her lobbying work on Capitol Hill with the organization Heirs To Our Oceans. She believes that “policy is going to help us make the biggest difference we can…..[and our] lobbying efforts in Washington made an impact and were successful. A lot of people were listening to us and a few of the bills we were asking them to support even got passed.”

Amongst the youth who participated in San Francisco’s week of climate activities, many expressed their frustration with the current administration’s lack of climate action, though some believe that the only solution to the climate crisis is a complete restructuring of our economic and political system. Interspersed between the green-and-white booths at the climate march, I noticed red flags where socialist groups shared their platform for a sustainable world. According to James (last name withheld), a 25-year-old member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, “the climate crisis has been perpetuated by capitalism and the pursuit of the profit motive… and only a socialist system can roll back or at least try to halt the damage that has been done.”

While there is a disagreement between those who believe in working within the current political system and those who have determined that the political system is too skewed towards protecting the people who are perpetuating global warming, it is clear that young people are going to be the leaders of the climate movement. As Shai Barton, a 14-year-old climate activist with Heirs To Our Oceans, said, “because of the current tone of our federal administration, it’s going to fall upon us as ordinary, young citizens to make change and not depend on our current government for policies we are not getting.”


Ellie Lyla Lerner is a 16 year old high school student and film maker in S.F.