Rabbi Arthur Waskow is one whom I am privileged to call my rabbi. He is the director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia and writes regular, thoughtful reflections that are as inspiring as his actions. Arthur not only writes and speaks, he also walks the walk.
In December of last year, he together with Rev. Sekou of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq initiated the interfaith response to the kidnapping of four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq. NCC helped circulate this through this blog and our e-advocacy network Faithful America.org and generated over 15,000 signatures, which we sent to Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya TV stations. While we mourn death of Tom Fox and rejoice in the release of the other three peacemaker team members, I want to offer a special word of gratitude for the valuable partnership we have with Arthur and the Shalom Center and celebrate the ways we can work together to achieve important goals for peace and justice.
Poignant as always, the following reflection by Arthur at this important time in Jewish life, the Passover, puts in context a critical issue of our time, immigration.
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To my Jewish friends: A Blessed Passover.
A prophetic voice in Jewish, multireligious, & American life
Passover in Spanish – in the Streets of America
By Rabbi Arthur Waskow *
"Passover" is happening in the streets of America this week.
It is coming not from a written book, but from the hearts and minds and legs and prayers of a people. It is happening in Spanish and "Spanglish" more than in Hebrew.
Two million people in the streets against a Pharaoh who is saying "Let us make it a criminal act, a felony to be punished with prison at 'hard lab or,' to live in the United States without a document. Let us make it a felony to feed or heal or educate or comfort these criminals.
"Let us build a wall, with guns to kill anyone who dares to cross it; – just as the ancient Pharaoh ordered the murder of the boy-children of this folk whose name, "Hebrews," meant "the ones who cross over"; the wetbacks.
Read Exodus 1: 9-10: "Now Pharaoh said: "Here, this people is many-more and mighty-numerous. Come now, let us use our wits against it, lest it become even many-more!" So they made them subservient with crushing-labor; they embittered their lives with hard servitude."
Why did the ancient rabbis teach that the lunar Jewish calendar must be con stantly adjusted so as to keep Passover in the spring? Because just as the flowers rise up against winter in the springtime, so the People rise up against Pharaoh in springtime.
Because as lambs are born and barley sprouts in the springtime, so new peoples are born and freedom sprouts new in the springtime. Just as the palm-waving street demonstration in Jerusalem two thousand years ago that we call "Palm Sunday," and then the Last Supper and Good Friday and Easter came from the new-uprising hopes of the Jewi sh community of ancient Palestine during Passover – when else? -- so millions are marching in the streets for this same holy time, these weeks.
Just as the Roman imperial authorities tried to smash the uprising energies by torturing and killing its leaders two thousand years ago, so the Empire can be expected to try to repress this energy today. (It has already justified using torture against even people later found to be utterly guiltless.)
It was not only Jesus who was tortured to death; on Yom Kippur, Jews recite the stories of ten other great rabbis who were tortured to death for refusi ng to obey the Roman edicts.
The real answer to the immigration puzzle is certainly not cruelty: imprisoning the hopeful, shooting at the desperate, breaking up families. It must include an invitation to become US citizens. But even more basically, it demands addressing the question of poverty and despair BOTH in the US and in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean. It means taking the steps to help grass-roots organizers -- labor unionists, farmers, teachers, clergyfolk, environmentalists, often women – to lift the wages and working conditions below the Rio Grande, as well in the US.
To make "Free Trade Agreements" into Fair Trade Agreements, wiping out sweatshops and sweated fields on both sides of the river.
To set the Federal minimum wage in the US at what is a decent "living wage" for a family.
To insist not only on a living wage but "livable hours" -- decent working hours that allow for freeing the time that a free people needs if it is to learn, sing, govern itself, breathe .
The ancient Israelites turned the tight spot and narrow space of ancient Egypt into a narrow but fruitful birth canal that brought them into open space and time. Once they had broken the waters of the Red Sea, they were able as their first collective act to make the Sabbath -- to live in broad spaces and open-ended time, with elbow room to create, to explore, to hear God's Word, to make a new society.
So may it be with us.
* Rabbi Arthur Waskow directs The Shalom Center and has written many books on spiritual renewal and public policy, including Godwrestling – Round 2. The Shalom Center www.shalomctr.org voices a new prophetic agenda in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. To receive the weekly on-line Shalom Report, click on --http://www.shalomctr.org/subscribe