This morning I attended a panel discussion called "Being in the World, Being With God: The Rabbi as Citizen in the Midst of World Crisis," featuring my beloved teachers Rabbi Burt Jacobson, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, and Rabbi Tirzah Firestone.
Reb Burt spoke about the Baal Shem Tov and how the BeShT saw his role as a communal spiritual leader, and moved from there to speaking about our obligation to confront tyranny in all its forms. "If it is permissible or even required for a religious leader to confront God's evil, then all the more so it is permissible and required for religious leaders to confront the tyranny of human authorities," he said. He spoke to us about the need to play a role in the restoring of American liberties, and reminded us that even though we have elected Barack Obama to be our next president (baruch Hashem!) our work is far from done.
Reb Arthur (who I profiled in Zeek a few months ago, and who recently started posting five-minute videos to YouTube -- see Gaza Shalom Salaam) spoke about the several world crises we're in, about a theology of these crises, and about what we as rabbis might be able to do. He named the crises: the ecological crisis, the financial crisis, and the danger (if not already reality) of war between Islam and what we call the West. He spoke about theology and power and empire and the desperate need for transformation. "There has to be a new Jewish paradigm to deal with the new paradigm of the planet and the human race!"
And Reb Tirzah spoke about Israel/Palestine. Her remarks were very personal, and they moved me deeply. I want to point you to "In the Shadow of Zion," an essay that she wrote on this subject which has been published in Tikkun and in the Arab Washingtonian. That essay begins:
This past year I have had to face the underbelly of my love of Zion. Like so many American Jews, I had been raised with the unquestioned narrative about Israel's righteousness, its humane practices, and the moral high ground upon which its policies are based. The painful deconstruction of these beliefs began with a journey through the Occupied Territories, where I encountered the shocking effects of my people's fear.
I saw a land sliced by concrete and barbed wire, a snaking wall 450 miles long. Yes, there has been good reason for fear—genuine security threats that have come through the gates and checkpoints. Nevertheless, I found myself questioning the holding back of women in labor, children in need of emergency blood transfusions. I heard stories, not only from Arabs, but from Israeli soldiers who struggled to "carry out orders" while innocent women and children died before their eyes.
In Judaism, saving and defending life trumps almost all else. But does this only apply to Jewish life?
I honor all three of these teachers for their commitment to wakening and raising the holy sparks of transformation in the world. They are inspirations to me.