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September 2005 > Networking

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Previous Issues
- August 2005
- July 2005

Networking Central: Progressive Group of the Month

We all probably have other good ideas how to make use of our money and time to advance worthy endeavors. In this new section we highlight a new local group each month in order to encourage networking.

Last month we presented The Jewish Relief Agency. This month for we would like to introduce you to the Shalom Center.

The Shalom Center: Voicing a New Prophetic Agenda

The Shalom Center's Work for Peace, Justice, and Healing of the Earth

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

From its beginning in 1983, The Shalom Center has been a pioneering organization, exploring new thought and action rooted in Jewish religious and spiritual wisdom.
There have been four major (overlapping) periods in The Shalom Center's  pioneering history. In each, we have asked what Torah (ancient and modern) taught about them, and how to encode that learning in widespread Jewish knowledge and practice.
In each we have tried to address both the disease and the remedy, the danger of disaster and the possibility of transformation.

We have created a weekly Email Shalom Report with weekly comments on new forms of prayer, meditation, and celebration; on the Torah portion or upcoming holy days; and on public policy from a spiritually rooted progressive Jewish perspective. The Shalom Report often includes user-friendly Grass-roots Advocacy channels for writing members of Congress or editors of local newspapers.  (Click here to subscribe.)
Since 9/11, we have more and more found it necessary and fruitful to connect with those among Christians and Muslims who are also seeking a spiritually rooted path beyond these dangers into new and joyful forms of community.
As part of these efforts, we pioneered in the multi-religious and Jewish communities in raising the question of the use of torture as a defilement of the Image of God that is carried in human beings. For example, we initiated a letter and a face-to-face meeting from more than a dozen Philadelphia-area rabbis with Senator Arlen Specter, and hundreds of our members used our Grass-roots Advocacy software to contact the press and their Members of Congress on this issue.
In all our work, we ask ourselves what are the greatest dangers to the world, and what can we do about them by drawing on Jewish wisdom.
We think the greatest dangers today are:

Likely results: US-China confrontations in the Middle East and Africa, long and lethal occupations of (and guerrilla uprisings in) oil-rich countries like Iraq, Iran, Colombia, and Venezuela, and various economic disasters as the price of oil spirals upward.
All these dangers flow from world-wide changes that also have enormous potential to serve life, celebrate God, and give joy to the planet and the human race.
The most basic change we need is a spiritual transformation that can make a difference in the world of actions and society. A practical sense of planetary community. A sense that all species (and life-forms like the ozone layer and the oxygen level) as well as all human cultures and communities are interwoven strands of the One.
What can The Shalom Center do to help bring that about?
We have decided to focus on two efforts.

The Tent of Abraham

One we are calling "The Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah"  -- bringing together Jews, Muslims, and Christians in face-to-face explorations that share the spiritual journeys of the participants and engender shared social action. . Fifteen of us have met for three long weekends during the past year, and will continue.

This effort also led to the work on "God's October Surprise" (see a companion  piece on this effort) and to a "Call to Peacemaking: The Tent of Abraham, Hagar, & Sarah,"  which was published as a full-page ad in the NY Times.

Beyond Oil

The other major project is called Beyond Oil. It addresses --

This effort will be embodied in a "Philly Beyond Oil" conference on Sunday, September 18, to which we welcome all who want to explore these issues and work toward action.
So our members and supporters gain from our work by

A classic Jewish trio: Torah,  tfilah, and tikkun olam.

God's October Surprise

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow

At just the moment of history when religious conflict, violence, terrorism, and war have reemerged bearing lethal dangers for our different communities and our shared planet, our spiritual and religious traditions have been given a gift of time for reconciliation:

During October 2005 -- and then again in the fall of 2006 and 2007 -- a confluence of sacred moments in several different traditions invites us to pray with or alongside each other and to work together for peace, justice, human rights, and the healing of our wounded earth.

The sacred Muslim lunar month of Ramadan and the sacred Jewish lunar month of Tishrei, which includes the High Holy Days and Sukkot, both began October 3-4, 2005.

And there is more: October 4 is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi; October 2 is Gandhi's birthday, and also Worldwide (Protestant/ Orthodox) Communion Sunday. And in mid-October, parallel to Sukkot, there are major Sikh, Buddhist, and Hindu festivals.

Remembering Francis of Assisi is more to the point than many may realize. He was one of the few Christians of his day who opposed the Crusades, who learned in a serious way from Muslim teachers, and who was deeply dedicated to kinship with the earth and all living creatures.

As the result of initiatives taken by The Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah and by The Shalom Center -- a call from a broad religious spectrum has gone forth for all Americans to set aside the time from sunrise to sunset on October 13 -- which for Muslims is one of the Ramadan fasts days and for Jews is the fast day of Yom Kippur -- as a nationwide fast for Reflection, Repentance, Reconciliation and Renewal. 

The National Council of Churches; the Islamic Society of North America; Pax Christi; ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal and its rabbinic affiliate Ohalah; and the Jewish Committee for Isaiah's Vision have joined in this Call and in urging that this month be dedicated to support public multireligious action to "Seek Peace, Feed the Poor, Heal the Earth."

Here in Philadelphia, on October 16 (4 p..m. at Tabernacle Church, 38th and The Shalom Center is sponsoring a poetry reading by Jewish and Muslim poets headlined by Alicia Ostriker and poets October 23, Jews, Christians, and Muslims are joining in the Muslim time of Ramadan and the Jewish time of Sukkot to build a sukkah -- a leafy hut that is open to the wind and rain -- at Independence Center.

In accord with the Muslim practice of Ramadan, those who sit in the sukkah will not eat till after sunset, and then will join in Iftar a break-fast meal. We fast so as to focus on devotion to God and the practice of compassion, instead of focusing on material acquisition or military conquest.

The Jewish practice of the sukkah, precisely through its vulnerability, teaches us that peace and safety are won not through steel and concrete but by sharing the knowledge that in fact we are all vulnerable to each other, and can achieve peace only by celebrating that truth together. 

Through the day, times of prayer, song, and poetry will be interwoven with learning sessions on how our religious traditions address issues of peace, poverty, human rights, and protection of the earth.

Since the confluence of sacred dates will continue in the fall of 2006 and 2007, we have three years to seal the interfaith connections that flow from this miracle of time.