Laurence Kant (Larry Kant)

1. Laurence Kant (Larry Kant...

Engaged Mysticism and Scholarship in the Pursuit of Wisdom.

Creation

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Creation is a flow of multiplicity in an ocean of oneness.

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Symbols

Fragmentation and Integration

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We don’t begin with integration. We conclude with it. Fragmentation is always a prelude to integration.

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Is Belief a Jewish Notion?

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A good discussion: Howard Wettstein argues that the question of belief is not important in Judaism. The question as to whether or not God exists is the wrong question. Rather the questions should be:  What is your experience of God? How do you relate to God? Judaism is experiential and practical, not theological: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/is-belief-a-jewish-notion/?

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Israel Ranked as Best Country in the Middle East for Women

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Israel far outpaces other countries in the Middle East when it comes to the position and treatment of women: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/178504#.UzrmE61dXDP

What is a Week?

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Six days and Shabbat: the many in the midst of the One.

PC-USA/Presbyterians Assault on Zionism and Judaism

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The Presbyterian Church/PCUSA has recently promoted as a congregational resource a booklet called “Zionism Unsettled.” This has caused an enormous amount of controversy in the Jewish community (from the left to the right), as it essentially denies the legitimacy of Jewish aspirations and questions the right of Jews to have their own state.The attack on Zionism is not a critique of particular Israeli policies, but rather an assault on Israel as a Jewish state and an attack on Jewish history. It is nothing less than open and unapologetic antisemitism. Among other things, it claims that European Zionism ruined the lives of Middle Eastern Jews and that blame for the suffering of those Jews (the Mizrahi) should fall on European Jews who are colonialist usurpers. According to this narrative, European Jews have duped poor, benighted Middle Eastern Jews who were living blissful lives until those nasty Euro-Jews came along. This is a lie, pure and simple. Middle Eastern Judaism has a long history of love for Israel and hope for a return to their homeland, as do all Jews everywhere on the globe. And Jewish history in the Middle East is complex and often harsh. For example, in Yemen, Jews faced vicious persecution and lived lives of abject poverty and constant harassment and intimidation. They were not even allowed to own musical instruments, and the men were relegated to working in sewers. And, although there were times when Jewish life flourished in the Middle East, Jews throughout the Middle East also faced regular pogroms and persecution for centuries.

Many Presbyterians (if not most at the local levels) do not support this antisemitic position, but a small group of advocates and ideologues have hijacked their church. I wish the challengers all blessings and offer my support in whatever way I can be of use.

For these reasons, I am giving you links to a series of articles that Middle Eastern Jews have themselves written on this topic. I hope you find them of interest.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lyn-julius/presbyterians-have-it-bac_b_4896724.html

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/open-letter-to-the-presbyterian-church-from-an-iraqi-jew/

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/presbyterian-churchs-guide-is-dead-wrong-about-iranian-jewry/

icscholar.org
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Reincarnation is a Jewish Thing

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Many people–including many Jews–don’t realize this, but it’s a fact (as the website below demonstrates). It’s actually the Orthodox who emphasize reincarnation, not liberal Jews.

tp://www.aish.com/sp/ph/Why-Reincarnation.html

Peace Protesters Sentenced to Excessively Long Terms

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I am certainly not a pacifist and would not agree with the protesters on several matters. This includes the notion that we can just unilaterally stop having nuclear weapons or that we should stop using drones.

Further, I expect protesters engaging in civil disobedience to be willing to accept reasonable punishment (which apparently these ones are). These sentences, however, seem retributive and excessive. How do we put individuals like this away for so long when we allow CEO bankers who have engaged in presumably criminal activity and thereby done infinitely more damage to millions of people and to the well-being of our nation and world to go scott-free? Not only do they have their freedom, but they even get to dine and schmooze with leading politicians, including the president, and other glitterati. There’s something wrong here.

Perhaps the government was simply embarrassed by their incompetent and ineffective security around the most powerful weapons in the world.

In any case, we apparently have a two-tiered society: one for the privileged, and one for the rest of us. This will have to change for us to meet our ideals.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/3-peace-activists-sentenced-for-breaking-into-nuclear-site/2014/02/18/13a6bb7a-9815-11e3-afce-3e7c922ef31e_story.html

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Everything is Forgotten — Nothing is Forgotten

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We all will be forgotten at some point. The memory of us will disappear. 100,000 years from now who will know about us? Even recollections of Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln may vanish sooner than we might imagine.

Nothing is really forgotten, however, even the smallest, tiniest acts, because we are always affecting and swaying the world in some way. Ultimately we are not really things or objects, but waves of energy shifting, recombining, and transforming again and again and again. What we do and who we are therefore affects the energy of the world and the universe. The energy we have reshaped and the energy of who we constantly become remains forever. Everything we do affects others and the planet in some way.

So, while memory may be fleeting, our legacy, our impact, our influence are total and world-changing.

That’s why we need to play close, conscious attention to all of what we do and say. Everything enters universal consciousness in some way. For this reason, humans and all sentient beings have tremendous creative capacity and healing power.

For me this is what “spirituality” and meaning are all about.

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What’s a Symbol?

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The universe and all that lies within it are symbols, including ourselves.

What is Compassion?

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What is compassion? Recognizing that you and I are related.

How to Respond to the Boston Marathon Bombings

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Whoever did the Boston Marathon bombings, lets make sure we don’t demonize a group of people, lump people into categories, or try to close ourselves off from the rest of the world. That would be the worst possible outcome I can imagine. Of course, we should protect ourselves and seek justice, but let’s make sure we keep our hearts and heads present and realize that we are living in a fragmented, broken, wounded world. We are all wounded. While we defend ourselves and seek to defeat terrorists, we also need to reach out to one another. It’s difficult to engage in battle and to reach out to others at the same time, but that is the task we have before us.

Is the U.S. Post-Christian?

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Evangelical Christian demographer, George Barna investigates whether the US is a post-Christian nation. He concludes that the US is moving in that direction:

http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/613-how-post-christian-is-us-society

How We Should Respond to a Pro-Nazi Teaching Assignment

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This teaching assignment that compelled students to take a pro-Nazi position against Jews was obviously a bad mistake, but it is one in which we all of us (especially those in the Jewish community) need to demonstrate compassion and forgiveness to the teacher. Justification of hatred is not something that is legitimate in a class teaching students how to think, especially in a classroom of teenagers. Yes, we can justify any horrible action or idea through reasoned argument, but humanism and our ethical principles have to intervene at some point. At the same time, the teacher was probably not intending to promote antisemitism and hatred, but rather the opposite. Further, all the time we permit actors in theater and film to portray Nazis (think Ralph Finnes as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List or Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler in Downfall [Der Untergang]), and we want them to do so in a convincing fashion. In fact, we applaud them for it and give them awards. This is not an easy topic, and it’s one where all of us can go astray. Let this event not be an opportunity for recrimination and shouting, but a teaching moment.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/13/nyregion/albany-teacher-gives-pro-nazi-writing-assignment.html?_r=0

Courage to Resist

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This is the story of those who plotted to assassinate Hitler. But it’s also the story of anyone who resists authority and conventional wisdom, of anyone who is a boat rocker. When you challenge what’s wrong, always be prepared to stand alone. In an ultimate sense you are not alone, but in the normal world you are. It’s a great lesson, though a very hard one:

http://www.truthdig.com/report/print/the_courage_to_resist_20130224/

 

This is a wonderful article by Chris Hedges, but I would also like to see attention drawn to Henning von Tresckow, who was the prime mover of the plot to assassinate Hitler (Operation Valkyrie) and a staunch opponent of antisemitism: http://mysticscholar.org/last-words-of-a-hero-general-hermann-henning-von-tresckow/

Environmental Prophets of Doom

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There is something I want to say about many in the environmental movement. I hear a lot of people predicting “The End” and the collapse of everything. In fact, I understand their point of view, and I have some sympathy with it. We as a species certainly can destroy the earth through pollution, nuclear catastrophe, destruction of eco-systems, and other means.

However, I don’t really see the value in this. What good does such pessimism and hopelessness do? If everything is going to be destroyed anyway in the near future, then please shut up and live your life. We don’t need to hear prophecies of doom any more than we need to have it rammed in to us that we are going to die some day. Yes, I know, but I don’t need someone screaming at me about it every minute of the day.

I guess I place these environmental prophets of doom in the same category as I place fundamentalist Christian evangelists who speak of the coming apocalypse. Doom-saying, apocalyptic Christians can go to Jerusalem or Texas or Salt Lake or wherever else they have a vision to await the return of Christ; ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch Hasidim can await the return of Rabbi Schneerson to Brooklyn and Jerusalem; Shiite Muslims (like the current President of Iran and many others) can go to Damascus to await the descent of the twelfth imam (the Mahdi); and perhaps secular environmental prophets should go to Greenland or the Antarctic or Alaska or Polynesia to await the final collapse of civilization and planetary life.

Yes, we have problems, and they’re serious, life-threatening, even cataclysmic. We’ve been around for a little while now, and empires comes and go, as do societies and peoples. But the earth has continued, so has life, in spite of what human beings have done to the planet (and they’ve done a lot even before now). And the earth is certainly not the only planet with life, nor is this the only universe, and there are other life forms we on the planet have yet to encounter (or perhaps don’t recall).

While there is reason for an apocalyptic voice now and throughout history, sometimes it enters into pointlessness, even silliness. Often it reflects a kind of species narcissism, as if our problems, however difficult, portend the end of all that is. There’s much we don’t know or remember about our our own lives, the history of our species, and the origins and characteristics of our solar system, galaxy, and universe. Yet we presume to predict future outcomes and events based on our own limited knowledge and life-experience.

Just because our efforts do not seem to have much affect, if any, does not mean that nothing is changing. When we assume we are failing or having no impact (and I’ve done that too), we are in fact acting selfishly, assuming the world depends on us, that we have some inherent right to see change, and that our individual lifetimes have a greater value than thousands upon thousands of generations that came before us and that will come after us–not to mention the millions upon millions of generations of every cell and life-form. Maybe we need to lighten up and enjoy the music. I know I need to do that.

Mali and the Cruelty of Fundamentalist Religion

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Mali is a wonderful African country with gorgeous music, a cosmopolitan history, and a diverse population, but Al Qaeda Islamists have wreaked havoc on the northen section, including the culturally renowned cities of Gao and Timbuktu. This is another warning about what happens when the fanatically religious take control of a society (take a look at Christian fundamentalists in Uganda who are persecuting gays). The embedded video is hard to watch, but powerful:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/24/world/africa/mali-victims-speak-out/index.html

 

Martin Luther King as a Visionary Activist, not a Domesticated Politician

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This article  puts MLK into perspective, reminding us that he was not a bourgeoise moderate politician, but a radical social and spiritual acitivist with an economic vision for justice and equality. Whatever one thinks of his economic solutions, there is no question that levels of inequality in our society threaten our way of life, our democracy, and our freedom. MLK was well ahead of his time on that. We need to remember who MLK was and his vision of a just society and not depict him as the main character in a romance novel in order to domesticate him for popular consumption.  .

 

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/martin-luther-king-jr-was-radical-not-saint

 

 

 

Political Leadership: Misconceptions and Myths

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Many environmentalists have criticized President Obama for not leading on climate change. I have defended him on this (see http://mysticscholar.org/climate/), arguing that environmentalists need to produce a movement that is politically effective. This is a question of what political leadership is: 1) having the courage to take positions that your constituents do not support in order to produce legislation that will have long-term positive affects; or 2) having the courage to wait until your constituents are close to supporting a position after you have guided them and persuaded them over time–then you can help them to get over the last impediments to produce the same legislation. It’s my view that #1 can produce short-term results, but cannot produce lasting political change, which only happens with #2.

Of course , there are times of crisis when #1 may be the way to go, in an emergency or a time of horror when waiting is morally and practically indefensible. However, helping people over the last hill that they need to get over is generally what political leadership in a democratic society is. I can’t think of many examples where political leaders in the U.S. have successfully advocated for a policy well beyond where people are ready to go. I include Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt in this. Each one of them took positions as they made sense both from both a moral and political point of view.

For example, it took Lincoln a long time to push for emancipation of slaves; he did not do so until he thought he could so successfully. Now you can criticize him for not doing this sooner given the horror and evil of slavery, but he successfully pulled it off where many others might not have. In the case of Roosevelt, many have criticized him for not intervening sooner in the Holocaust (e.g. not entering the war sooner or not bombing Auschwitz), but the U.S. eventually won the war and defeated Hitler, ending his reign of evil. That was not always a given–it wasn’t even a given that the U.S. would enter the war. It’s easy to criticize Roosevelt in hindsight, but the result was the end of the Nazis. Arm-chair theorists can hypothesize all they want, but political leadership involves difficult decisions that may seem cowardly, yet are in fact acts of courage given the time and situation.

Now, at the same time, it’s the job of activist leaders like Bill McKibben to persuade people to support their positions so that political leaders can act. That what abolitionist leaders in the nineteenth century did. It was true for civil rights leaders such as MLK. It’s the same for women’s rights advocates in the early 1900′s and more recently and for gay rights activists now.

Leadership is different when applied in different contexts. A political leader does not have the same role as an activist leader. Of course, some politicians can AFFORD to act, because their constituents will support them anyway. That was true of abolitionists, and it’s true today of many northeastern and west-coast politicians on the environment. But it’s different for politicians the bulk of whose constituents oppose a particular position and will continue to oppose that politician no matter how artfully or powerfully they craft their oratory.

Of course, many politicians misjudge events either by not acting whey could do so effectively or by acting before people are ready. For example, FDR might have been able to push for healthcare reform, while Bill Clinton did not have the political climate to win on healthcare. Of course, I could be wrong about that too (Clinton’s failure may have set the stage for Obama’s success): in the end, these leadership calculations are an art, not a science.

If you want to push for change before people agree with you, you should be an activist leader (or a writer or scholar or artist), not a political one. That’s one reason why I personally was never interested in professional life in politics. I do not have the patience to operate in such an environment, but thank God there are people who do. Politics is all about patience and the waiting game. It’s only in retrospect that political movements look as if they come from nowhere. They almost never do.

Republicans Trying to Rig the Electoral College

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PriebusRince1

I don’t normally focus on party politics here, but this story is particularly disturbing, because it strikes at the heart of American freedom and democracy. If Republicans succeed in rigging the electoral college so that Democrats win the popular vote by substantial margins but lose the presidency, the U.S. will no longer have a voting system that is free, fair, or representative. I know Republicans are upset about losing elections and the demographics that are making it more difficult to win in the future, but changing the winner-take-all system only in Democratic-leaning states (like Pennsylviania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginian, Florida, Ohio) will lead to a goverment that no longer represents the will of the people. It’s one thing to buy elections so that money rules, which is what we have now, but it’s even worse to set up a voting system that’s more likely to be found in third-world dictatorships. This is a time when Americans of all political stripes need to speak out and try to preserve some fragments of what makes us great and free. Destroying our voting system by ending ‘majority rule’ is a form of evil and ought to be labeled as such.

I see this as a spiritual crisis? Will Americans allow ourselves to have the voting process converted to a meaningless charade, or will we stand up and say that we may disagree on policies and politics, but we believe in the fundamental values of democracy and representative government? If we don’t have that, what’s left?
http://news.yahoo.com/gop-eyes-election-laws-091622720–election.html

Climate Change and Political Action

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Bill McKibben complains that Obama is too patient on global climate change in the Guardian article below. However, we can’t expect Obama or any president or congress to do anything on their own. Politics never works that way and never has. Churchill responded to Hitler only because he really had no other choice other than to surrender to a brutal, maniacal dictator.

Environmentalists complain incessantly about how little Obama has done for the planet. However, it’s not his job. It’s our job and the job of activists. If not enough people accept climate change or the urgency of solving the problem, it’s up to environmental leaders to change the discourse and persuade people otherwise. If they aren’t up to the task, it’s their fault, not that of Obama or any politician.

Politicians like Obama will respond, and respond with urgency, if enough people demand it. Right now there is insufficient political space for Obama to do anything on climate change. Environmentalists must stop whining about the failure of political leaders and create the space themselves. This kind of action is what the planet is calling for us to engage in.

The job of a president (or any political leader in a democratic society) is to push people when they are not quite ready to do something, but need the extra lift to get them going. A president cannot create something out of nothing (only God–maybe–can do that in Genesis 1). It’s the job of the rest of us to move us to a place where the president can act without getting totally eviscerated.

From a spiritual point of view, humanity needs to act locally as members of broad-based coalitions and groups. We have depended far too long on individual leaders to do this work for us. By acting on our own as part of collective movements that transcend nation states, ethnic groups, socio-economic classes, and religions, we move humanity toward authentic empowerment by serving as co-creators.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/06/fossil-fuel-special-interests-barack-obama?commentpage=1

Mormon Women Protest by Wearing Pants

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In a move to assert their rights in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and to bring attention to gender inequalities, Mormon women put out a call to wear pants to church. We may think of women as having achieved parity in many sectors of American society, but in religious institutions women often find themselves caught in the backdraft of ancient traditions and historical precedents.

In my own Jewish tradition, for example, women have found themselves arrested by Israeli police simply for wearing a prayer shawl (talit) while praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. In fact, there is nothing in Jewish law that would prevent women from doing this: it’s simply a custom that men in authority don’t like.

This is another example of religious institutions trailing behind other sectors of society in promoting economic and social progress. In the modern world, organized religion has in fact mostly stood as an impediment to the expansion of freedom and to cultural advancement. In contrast, spiritual thought and practice is much more attuned to the unfolding consciousness that is very gradually bringing humanity to a higher state of awareness and living.

Thanks to these Mormon women for helping humanity move forward just a little bit further.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/20/us/19mormon.html?_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/20/us/19mormon.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121220&_r=1&

 

 

 

Landfill Harmonic

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“People say that we shouldn’t throw trash away carelessly. Well, we shouldn’t throw away people, either.” Favio Chavez, Landfillharmonic.  This is an orchestra from Uruguay that makes its instruments from the trash in a landfill dump  (via Dianne Bazell who excerpted this quote)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXynrsrTKbI&feature=youtu.be

 

 

Real Change

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In the post-Enlightenment era, at least in developed societies, most profound social and spiritual change does not come from religious institutions, but from the middle class.

Larry Kant, Mystic Scholar

The Middle East and the Israeli Political Scene

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THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE ISRAELI POLITICAL SCENE

Laurence H. Kant

Thomas Friedman is right on the mark in this recent New York Times article, “The Full Israeli Experience,” describing (on the one hand) the justifiable frustration Israelis have with left-wing Europeans who don’t understand what it’s like to live in the Middle East and (on the other hand) pointing out the depressing absence of significant political support for peace initiatives among Israeli parties and political leaders.

As Friedman explains, Israelis will not listen if you don’t demonstrate you have a clue as to what’s going on in the Middle East. In my view, most left-wing Europeans–and some left-wing Americans as well–haven’t got the foggiest idea. They just don’t. They live in la-la land without a meaningful sense of the history of the Middle East or of Jews (or of Arabs and Muslims for that matter). Further, their own self-confidence leads them to think that they are somehow exempt from the prejudice and antisemitism that so deeply inhabits their being. They are just too arrogant and self-righteous to see it.

I would add, however, that Israelis are themselves naive at times. They think the US religious right is on their side, and they’re wrong. As some have said, fundamentalist Christians may love Israel, but they don’t like Jews much. Or maybe they like Jews from the “Old Testament” (as they envision it), or if Jews look funny in black hats from another time. However, such Christians are not very comfortable with mainstream Jews (secular, Reform, Conservative, and some Modern Orthodox, among others) who participate in global society, wear modern clothing, and constitute the vast majority of worldwide Jewry. Many millennarian Christians are not that different from the Palestinians in an odd sort of way. The PLO and Hamas are ok with the state of Israel as long as it’s inhabited by Arabs and Muslims. These evangelicals just replace “Arabs” and “Muslims” with “Christians” (after Jews convert, and Israel becomes a Christian state in the millennial age). Other evangelicals just want all Jews to convert to Christianity. Nobody, it seems, can envision Israel as Jewish, or can see Jews as staying Jewish, much longer. Apparently that concept is verboten.

The Middle East climate is rough right now, with the Arab/Muslim world in a whirlwind of tumult. In the midst of that, Israeli politics is more confused and chaotic than usual, an environment that is, to put it simply, a crazy mess (a mischigoss, balagan).

The main thing Bibi Netanyahu seems to care about is winning elections, while Avigdor Lieberman and his party, Yisrael Beteinu, is racist and authoritarian (though Lieberman is progressive on reducing the power of the religious). Lieberman and Netanyahu especially use the settlers (who constitute about 10% of the total Israeli vote) to drive their foreign policy and keep them in power, because in the fragmented Israeli system relatively modest numbers can drive your vote numbers high enough to win a lot of seats.  Moshe Kahlon threatened a breakaway party that would espouse a challenge to corporate interests in Israel, but he decided to stay with Likud and not run this year. Recently emerging further on the right is Habayit Yehudi (The Jewish Home),  a coalition of the National Relgious Party and the National Union, which are further to the right of Israel Beteinu, but represent a religious Zionist approach (in contrast to Likud/Israel Beteinu, which is secular). Led by Naphtali Bennett, this party is a settlers’ movement (closely associated with the West Bank settler’s council, Yesha) that envisions a greater Israel including the West Bank, opposes a two-state solution (in a wierd way, aligning with Hamas),  and takes away votes from Likud/Israel Beteinu.

The religious parties (who represent the ultra-Orthodox Haredi), besides bent on discriminating against women, primarily want welfare for themselves and military exemptions. They are not Zionist or genuine supporters of the Israeli political system. These include primarily Shas (representing the ultra-Orthodox Sephardim, led byEli Yishai) and United Torah Judaism (UTJ, representing the ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi). They rely on the weakness of the Israeli political system to essentially shakedown whatever government (right or left) is in power. Despite the portrayals of them in Western media, these groups have very little interest in, or influence over, the debate on Palestinian statehood or on West Bank settlements.

The center- and left-wings of Israeli politics are splintered and in tatters, filled with narcissists and limelight seekers (there are plenty of them on the right also, but there are more constraints on them at the moment). Friedman’s favorite centrist, Ehud Barak just sold his Tel-Aviv apartment for 26.5 million shekels or 6.5 million dollars–now there’s a real man of the people at a time when many Israelis cannot make ends meet. Beside his fondness for intrigue and drama, Barak also badly misjudged negotiating tactics in the Camp David discussions with the Palestinians in 2000.  Tzipi Livni has added former Labor Party leader, Amir Peretz, to her new party (Hatnua) list so that we have two leaders whom many Israelis perceive as having failed miserably during the 2006 Lebanese war. Most Israelis naturally don’t want them in leadership. Shaul Mofaz, the current leader of Kadima, is not a popular leader, lacking charisma and political skills. Some have floated the name of Shimon Peres. While he’s been quite a statesman and leader (the man partly responsible for Israel’s nuclear program), he’s not at the right age to reenter politics at 89, and, though popular now, he did not inspire confidence in Israelis when he was in power as a Labor Party politician. Ehud Olmert has serious legal problems and his own political baggage. Shelly Yacimovich, the Labor Party leader, who is growing in popularity, has virtually no foreign policy or security experience. Yair Lapid, head of the new party, Yesh Atid, advocates for a secular society and for women’s rights in explicit opposition to the religious, but his platform is probably too narrow to attract enough  votes to make him a significant player. The left-wing party, Meretz, describes itself as the peace party and as socialist, but most Israelis view it as too idealistic and unrealistic.

Overall, most Israelis don’t particularly like Netanyahu, but at least he’s competent in their view.

HBO or Showtime could easily serialize Israeli politics into a weekly evening soap opera, with wild twists and turns, intrigues, plots and counter-plots, jam-packed with drama-kings and drama-queens.

At the same time, one can trace the currently disturbed state of Israeli politics back to the 1995 assassination of Yitzhaq Rabin by a right-wing settler (Yigal Amir) who was himself goaded by the inflammatory rhetoric of settler leaders, politicians, and rabbis. Many Israelis (and diaspora Jews as well) are still stunned by the idea that a Jew would murder the Jewish leader of a Jewish state. Just as it took the US a long time to recover from the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, it may take Israel a long time to find its political way after this traumatic event. The incapacitating stroke of Ariel Sharon in 2006 just after he had successfully led Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza further exacerbated the political trauma and left Israel without another of its seminal leaders. Rabin and Sharon may not have seen eye to eye, but they were powerful leaders who had a vision for Israel and its place in the Middle East. They had obvious military credentials, were tough individuals with strong egos, and possessed a willingness to fight in the political underbrush. They also believed in seeking peace through strength, taking measures to demonstrate both their toughness and their openness to reconciliation. Their loss has had a deeply depressive effect on the Israeli body politic. We should not forget this.

Of course, the structure of the Israeli political system is flawed, allowing for the proliferation of smaller parties some of which wield power well beyond the numbers of their supporters. It makes coherence, consensus, and political stability more difficult to achieve than it should be. What we end up with is an already fragmented electorate even more fragmented.

Israelis are particularly bleak at the moment about the Arab world and about Palestinian society. All you have to do is take a look at the recent statement of Hamas leader, Khalid Meshal, about Israel: “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on any inch of the land.” How do you have a rational discussion with a group that openly states that it wishes to annihilate you? Plus, Israelis have their own internal problems with an outrageous cost of living and enormous divisions between the secular and the religious.

Yet, in the final analysis, most Israelis want peace and will go a long way out of their comfort zone to make peace. Eventually the political culture will reflect that. Unfortunately, it may take more time. Given the situation in the Arab world and the lack of acceptance of a Jewish state, Israel’s neighbors are clearly in no mood to recognize a Jewish Israel. And, given Israel’s own divisions, Israelis find it difficult to harness a unified vision and national identity.

Things never move as quickly as we would like, but still they’re moving, however slowly. For example, attempts to bring Israeli Jews and Palestinians together are flourishing in all sorts of unlikely places in Israel and the West Bank. Within Israel we are seeing attempts from all sides of the political spectrum to lower the cost of living and help disadvantaged Israelis. And there are movements now to bridge the divide between the secular and religious in Israel.

Further, while the so-called Arab Spring could devolve into chaos or produce fanatic Muslim fundamentalist governments (see Iran, but this time potentially mostly Sunni rather than Shiite), it also presents the only real possibility for change in the Arab/Muslim world. The risks are enormous, but the previous corrupt, repressive governments of the Middle East (some of which still exist, with a few more barely holding on to power) would never have been able to bring about peace with Israel or democratic prosperity at home. Realistically, as dangerous and as anxiety-provoking as possible outcomes are, this change is the best hope Israel has for peace.

Part of the problem is that we can visualize peace, and that makes it seem closer than it actually is, but in reality peace is there on the horizon, just further out than we would like. Sometimes hope (as Pema Chodron says) holds us back and pushes us to do things which we should not. What we really need is neither hope nor despair, but an honest, clear-headed view of what’s in front of us, supported and nurtured by a fundamental trust in the universe (which is, after all, the Jewish way).

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/09/opinion/sunday/friedman-the-full-israeli-experience.html (Thanks to Nelson French! for this article)

Looking at Myself

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When I meditate, I look at myself. I watch myself breathe, sit, listen. So who is the one breathing, sitting, listening? Who is the one watching all this? I realize that I am neither the doer nor the watcher. I am the one who contains both the watcher and the doer. I exist somewhere else in another place, in another home, of which all this is but a small part.

We are each so small and so large, so near and so far. No/thing contains us, and we contain all that is.  We are right next to ourselves, yet an eternity away. We are bodies and DNA scrolls crossing space and time, conveying new stories as we compose poetry in energy, condensing and scattering, then reformulating ourselves in new patterns and structures, like a living kaleidoscope.

Israel, Obama, 1967, and Obama

Freedom from Bondage

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Freedom from bondage in Egypt still has not finished. We are still wandering in the wilderness to the extent that we are in bondage to the expectations of others. Such a plight might indicate “peer pressure,” but even more it refers to the manipulations of powerful cultural forces and vast corporate empires.

Yet, in the din and confusion of screeching bullies and con-men, it is within our power to listen to our own authentic voices and act accordingly. A difficult journey faces us, but the land of milk and honey beckons.

Awareness

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When an incarnate being enters into full awareness, the many and the one melt into one another

The Valmadonna Book Collection Goes on Sale Again

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A fascinating story that illustrates the precariousness of Jewish cultural heritage:

http://www.forward.com/articles/137521/ (via Dianne Bazell)

Anxiety and Fear

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Anxiety and fear are like bushes and branches on a path. All you have to do is step over them or around them or just clear them away. Then you’re back on the path that was always there anyway.

Immigrants are the Core of Who We are in the US

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I could not agree more with Reverend Wallis.  As the recent dismissal of  Chipotle employees (in Washington, D.C.) demonstrates (because the company was afraid of their legal status), our immigration system is broken. Reverend Wallis is right when he notes that our country would grind to a halt without Latino/a immigrant workers. We would simply not function as a country without them. These are hard-working people with the kind of drive and energy that is at the core of the prosperity and dynamism of the U.S. The xenophobia and fear that characterizes so much of our national discourse on this topic is not only economically and morally harmful to us, but it diverts us from the real problems we face.

Except for Native americans, we are all immigrants, including my grandparents who came to this country from Russia and Poland. The Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”) is one of our greatest symbols, representing the most deeply held values of our people. Let us not react to our anxieties and hatred, but let us live out our dreams and hopes. That is the meaning of every great moral and spiritual tradition.

http://blog.sojo.net/2011/05/19/chipotle-firings-one-story-of-a-broken-immigration-system/#disqus_thread

Ethical and Spiritual Dimensions of Health Care as a Human Right

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I could not agree more with Bernie Sanders. It’s also practical if we want our country to be able to compete effectively in the world. Right now our companies are saddled with huge costs, and patients face obscenely high payments and inadequate, uncertain coverage.

I think there is a deeper issue here as well. Giving everyone access to basic health care means they many more individuals will have the opportunity to embark on building start-up companies and on accepting higher risk jobs without fear of losing their health insurance coverage. I see universal coverage as an issue of freedom. When you don’t have to stay in a job in order to have your health problems covered, then you are free to take on careers and jobs that are more meaningful and rewarding. Universal health care adds to our liberty, because it gives us more choices and more mobility.

I wonder sometimes whether opposition to universal coverage stems from a fear of allowing people too much freedom. Universal coverage would take leverage from those in power (in corporations and in government) and put it into the hands of working people and our creative class. Denying individuals this opportunity concentrates power in the hands f those who already have it.

Thus, there are ethical and politco-spiritual dimensions here: ethical in that a civilized society needs to insure basic health care for its citizens; and politico-spiritual in that universal health coverage increases the level of human freedom, putting more decision-making power into the hands of more people. Universal health care coverage is a global, transformative movement of the human species toward greater freedom and independence.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/may/10/healthcare-congress

Esau and Jacob

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Who is Esau? He whom Jacob makes whole. Who is Jacob? He whom Esau makes whole. Separately they are fragments, shards. Together they comprise a complete vessel holding the light of the Source in one integrated consciousness.

The Curved and the Straight

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Living on right angles and along straight lines gives us the illusion that we are moving from Point A to Point B, from Moment X to Moment Y. In reality, space and time are curved, and we live along a continually shifting,  four-dimensional time-circle or time-helix.  Points A and B and Moments X and Y might intersect or overlap. Or Point B and Moment Y might precede Point A and Moment X.  Or Points A and B might be the very same place, and Moments X and Y might happen at exactly the same time. Yet, even so, the journey makes all the difference in the world, making each place and each time a new experience–indeed a new place and a new time.

Where are you? Nowhere, yet everywhere.
When are you here? Never, yet always.

Afghanistan and Reverend Jim Wallis

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I respect Reverend Wallis, and I understand his point of view on Afghanistan. War is always awful and tragic, and hideous things have certainly happened in Afghanistan, including American military kill teams and our support for corrupt and misogynist Afghani political leaders, among others.

Yet, the nature of war and violence does not necessarily make it wrong in every case. The American Civil War and World War II are two wars that were ethically defensible and, in fact, morally required. Sometimes war is the best option among a set of worse options. That does not justify the crimes and horrors inevitably committed in violent contexts that degrade our consciences and moral compasses, but it does justify the use of violence in certain instances.

We did not go to war in to Afghanistan simply to kill Osama Bin Laden, but also to destroy the Taliban and to assist in creating a Afghan society that is stable and free, able to resist corruption, terrorism, and tyranny. We made that promise when we decided, in a bipartisan fashion that crossed political lines, to bring our troops into Afghanistan. This was not supposed to be dependent on how simple or swift the task was or to be a quick jaunt that we could end when the going got muddy and rough. We gave our implicit word that we would stay the course until we transformed a divided, undeveloped society into a nation that could function healthily and proudly on its own.

This was never going to be easy or quick. From the beginning, anyone who knew something about Afghan society understood that this was a long-term task that would realistically last no less than ten years and could take 20-40 years. If we aren’t ready to embark on such ventures, then we shouldn’t make the commitment to others. If we don’t hold to our commitments, no one will take us seriously on anything.  Other countries will view as fair-weather friends.

The majority of Afghans have experienced violence for centuries and understand that our military will screw up and do bad things (it’s in the nature of war and human weakness).  Most also realize that screwing up does not mean that we should give up. That’s an adult view of the world.

I support continued involvement in Afghanistan, but with a lower military footprint and a stronger non-military, society-building presence. Many Afghans don’t currently trust us for good reason–not because of kill teams and incompetence, but because they believe that we will leave sooner rather than later.   Let’s prove them wrong. Let’s show that we stand by our commitments and don’t abandon those who put faith in us.

http://blog.sojo.net/2011/05/12/afghanistan-no-more-excuses/#disqus_thread

Passover Coke

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Rabbi Geffen sounds like a great man who understood the importance of maintaining tradition while adapting to new cultures. To me that’s being Jewish is all about.

I actually do eat corn during Passover, and I don’t see the problem. Corn is not a grain and is not leavened in any case. Ashkenazim don’t eat corn (along with beans, rice, and other similar plants), but Sephardim do. In fact, I believe the Ashkenazi understanding of “grains” is wrong and should be consciously repudiated. It’s a silly rule. I would even eat barley and oats as long as they are not leavened, which means cooked for more than eighteen minutes. This putting “a hedge around the Torah” business sometimes gets ridiculous, obsessive, and comical.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/23/us/23religion.html?src=un&feedurl=http%3A%2F%2Fjson8.nytimes.com%2Fpages%2Fnational%2Findex.jsonp (via Nelson French)

Creation

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Creation is a process that never stops (Gen 1-2)

Gateway to the Source

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For at least one other person, each of us is a gateway to the Source (God).

Truth

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What is truth? What makes us first anxious and defensive and then relieves our burden.

The Horizon

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Wherever earth and heaven meet, that’s the horizon.

Delphi

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I have been to Delphi three times, twice with other graduate students, faculty, and archaeologists, and again later with Dianne, my wife, who was then a graduate student herself.  In 1986, Dianne and I visited Delphi so that we could share travel in Greece together.  It was that third time that Delphi became a magical place for me, full of wonder and deep feeling.  We spent three days there, enjoying great food and scenery, with Mount Parnassus majestic in the background.  Yet it was during our visit to the archaeological site, with our Blue Guide (and other guide books), methodically going over as many stones in as much detail as we possibly could, when we encountered the sacred character of this site.  Anybody who watched us would think we were somewhat compulsive, trying to figure out the location of as many details in the Blue Guide as we possibly could.  We spent hours and hours identifying the monuments, thinking about their organization and layout, and reflecting on the religious nature of the place (including the Sybil who apparently ingested hallucinogenic gases to open her up to cosmic forces).  Somehow, as we read painstakingly through this rather dry book, the Dephic energy arose almost out of the ground itself suffusing us.  We did not go there looking for something, seeking some kind of mystic message,  Rather, it was by studying and observing, and relating to each other that (even when we did not fully understand things) we unexpectedly felt what it was to be in a holy place.

Many Paths

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We have many paths to choose that lead us to different places, but each one is part of a larger map laid out for us.

Love

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Love stems from the awareness that we are not alone.

The Horizon

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Keep your eyes on the horizon. That’s where present and future merge.

Promised Land

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Does the Source want us to reach the promised land? No. The Source wants us to be on our way there, to walk toward it.  There is no promised land: only a dirt path with spectacular scenery, our two legs, and good travel companions.  The path is rocky and slow-going, but we learn much along the way. There are lots of alternate routes, and each one takes us to new vistas and landscapes.  When we finally do arrive at the place for which we yearn, we find that it’s just another dirt path taking us somewhere else.

Being and Becoming in Shabbat

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Shabbat closes the weekly circle, being completing becoming.  Then a new curved line swirls outward, moving forward, waiting to meet its sibling at the beginning and at the end, to commence again in an eternally re-forming helix.  This is the 7-day ourobouros, the snake swallowing its tail, shabbat swallowing six days of creation.  We go forward, only to begin again, before the Source swallows us, and life then continues in a new form.  A day, a week, a month, each a re-forming of days, weeks, and months before them.  No different from life, Gilgul:  we are born, we live, we die, rest a while in shabbat, to move gain as new life forms, beings in the midst of becomings.

Jacob’s Ladder

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Jacob’s Ladder: Dreams allow us to move from one dimension to another.

Lost

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Lost we wander in the wilderness trying to find an oasis, not realizing that both the wilderness and the oasis are inside us.

Burdens

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When your burden is too heavy to bear, let others share it.

When Things Look Down

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When things look down,  look up.

Truth and Authenticity

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Truth is the core goal of seekers. Authenticity is its sibling.

Helping Others

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We may never know those whom we are here to help, but we are here for them just the same.

Thinking is a Scion of Feeling

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Thinking is a scion of feeling, one of the senses, a metaphorical, symbolic realm filled with the vibrant colors of awareness, the smells of memory, the voices of inspiration, the touch of knowledge, and the light of clarity.

Sweden and the USA

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This article by David Michael Green argues that Sweden is a much better county in which to live than the USA.

Of course, Sweden, that paragon of freedom, democracy, and equality, is now riven with conflict between Swedes and immigrant Muslims, turning antisemitic (I don’t think it’s the place for people like me with its distaste for MOTs),  and busy trying to extradite Julian Assange so that it can protect governments from that wicked scourge of (gasp)–transparency. Diversity is not exactly one of Sweden’s hallmarks.

Worshipping Sweden reminds me of a Euro-version of Edward Said’s “Orientalism”: the left romanticizing modern Norsemen in their quest for a homogenous Valhalla that doesn’t really exist.

Everything looks greener when you don’t live there.

Sweden, I’m sure, has wonderful attributes, but it’s not nirvana. I’ve always said that you don’t really belong to any group until you see its underside and still love it. That’s a grown-up way to view the world. The other is for children.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/03/06-2

Dealing with Evil

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Sociopaths, murderers, con-men, sadists, and bystanders before violence are all part of the same cosmic body as heroes, rescuers, protectors, saints, and gentle souls. We are all on the same path, only some of us perhaps further along than others. When we punish evil, which we must–often harshly–we need to remember to have compassion for all human beings, no matter how rotted and degraded they are. They are our family; they are us. That is a form of wholeness: to be able to condemn (sometimes to kill to protect the lives of others or our own) while also acknowledging our common humanity and shared divine spirit.

Shalom

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Where do we find shalom? Inside ourselves, then exhaled as life-giving breath for others.

The Right Relies on Anger and Vitriol, but…

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He’s right.  Of course, the left relies on sanctimony.  So its raging anger vs. pious sanctimony.  Oy vey.
http://prospect.org/cs/articles?article=are_republicans_just_idiots

Idolatry

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Anything can be idolatrous. Therefore, question everything.

Genesis

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Genesis is the story of flawed characters just like us.

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