Hope for the Holy Land

Yesterday morning I particiapted in a conference put on by the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development (Stephen Cohen) which had a large group of Egyptian and Jordanian muslims who are interested in inter-religious paths to peace.

In the evening, I met Rachel Bronson from the Council on Foreign Relations last night. She spoke at a parlor meeting on Israel/Saudi realtions. She was hopeful --perhaps post Arafat some things can move back on track to Taba.


On with the show...

The new information about Vital Signs is now up. Here's the bio of Emanuel, one of the leads in the show.


Rabbis for Human Rights

Last night was an event at Jerry and Alicia Ostricker's home for Rabbis for Human Rights. Rabbi Brian Walt spoke beautifully of Yakov and Esav's reunion and Arik Aschermann told stories of driving his Honda Civic in the territories, protesting abuses by the IDF and planting trees. Congressman Rush Holt was there and I had the opporunity to dare him to wear Ruth Goldston's button "Proud Liberal with Moral Values" - he took the button, but placed it in his pocket.


Here's the Press Release for Driving School!

November 15, 2004 - by BWW News Desk

VITAL THEATRE COMPANY is pleased to present its ninth installment of VITAL SIGNS, the company's annual new works festival. The three-part series begins Wednesday, December 2nd at 7:00 p.m. Each series runs 1 week - Wednesdays through Sundays at 7:00 p.m. - through December 19th. Tickets are $15.00, $10.00 for students. TDF Accepted. To purchase tickets, please log onto www.TheaterMania.com or call (212) 352-3101. For more information, visit www.vitaltheatre.org. Vital Theatre Company is now located at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre above the Promenade, 2162 Broadway on the 4th Floor at 76th Street.

Series One: December 2 -5
For two men, the gravitational pull of JUPITER is stronger than either might have suspected, as written by Scott C. Smith and directed by Andrew Sheppard. In STRESS TEST, by Pat Pfeiffer and directed by Mahayana Landowne, a patient's test checks more than stress. In DEATH COMES FOR THE THERAPIST, by Laura Owen and directed by Jason Chimonides, it's just another day for a busy and caring therapist -- until a young woman appears in her office claiming to be the Angel of Death. Is this really it -- or can the problem be solved with a little therapy? Norma Kline writes and directs LOCAL POTATOES, in which a young carpenter gets more than he bargained for when he asks a farmer why he wants to sell the car on his front lawn.

DRIVING SCHOOL OF AMERICA, by Daniel Brenner and directed by Joanna Luks, tries to find out what a Chinese scientist and a Dominican ex-seminary student have in common.

Series Two: December 9 - 12
Thriller, the Pepsi fire, cocaine cowboys, and a white family moving into a black neighborhood: it's 1984 in Miami and life is about to get a whole lot more confusing for a group of kids who want to be MJ in DEFACING MICHAEL JACKSON by Aurin Squire, directed by Denyse Owens. In MINA, by Kyoung H.

Park and directed by C.S. Lee, a young Korean woman raised in Lima, Peru, falls in love with a Peruvian-Japanese man, only to ignite intolerant rage which dates back to the conquest of the Incan empire. Mom and Dad fall in love and out of love in 20 minutes and every word of it is true in TRUE LOVE STORY OF MY PARENTS by Elizabeth Meriweather, directed by Shira Milikowsky.

NEVER NEVER LAND - penned by NYC writer Laura Rohrman, directed by Habib Azar -- is a psycological drama about where grief can take us. When Wendy comes home to her small town for her best friend's funeral she is forced to deal with unresolved issues or be haunted by them forever. In #9, by Chisa Hutchinson and directed by Christopher Kloko, a white woman has decided to rage against the machine by (what else?) having an affair with a black man.

When caught by her husband, she presents him with a rather bizarre solution to their socio-sexual problems. An unseen danger lurks in the darkness in COYOTES, by Catherine Gillet and directed by Emily Tetzlaff.

Series Three: December 16 - 19
William Borden's FALLING, as directed by Aimee Hayes, imagines the thoughts of two, and for a moment, three, of the people who were forced to jump from the World Trade Center the morning of September 11, 2001. Dark fun in Hell is had in JUICE, written and directed by Jane Shepard, this year's winner of the Robert Chesley Playwriting Prize & the recipient of last year's Berrilla Kerr Playwriting Award. Gothic mystery and mayhem collide in Ian Finley's stylish SUSPENSE, directed by David Hilder. JESUS HATES YOU by Robert Shaffron, directed by Paul Adams, explores heterosexual marriage and values, 2004-style. In Samuel French One Act Competition 2004 winner Kellie Overbey's OVERHEAD, directed by Linda Ames Key, the playwright takes an unflinching look at modern-day morality.

Now in its seventh season, VITAL THEATRE COMPANY programs include the VITAL MAIN STAGE, VITAL SIGNS New Works Festival which has seen 14 new short plays go on to publication, VITAL CHILDREN'S THEATRE which commissions and presents new plays with music for young audiences, performed by adults, VITAL VOICES Education Outreach and VITAL DIRECTIONS. Vital Theatre Company is a six-time winner of the Off-Off Broadway Review's Award for Excellence and was also named 2002 Theatre Company of the Year from The New York Theatre Experience.

For more information, please visit www.vitaltheatre.org.


Eliyahu McLean

Born in a Sikh in Hawaii, now a Chasid in Jerusalem, Eliyahu Punjab McLean is a one-of-a-kind. I got a mention in McLean's wonderful diary of peacemaking.

Invocation for Rabbi David Rosen

Rabbi David Rudin, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland and head of the Council of World Religions for Peace spoke last night at Auburn. I was asked to deliver an invocation:

The father of many, Abraham, dug wells, and a desert thirst was quenched with those waters. But as time went on, the wells were not taken care of and they became clogged. So, we read this week that Isaac dug anew the wells of his father, drawing fresh water from an ancient source.

May the Eternal one, the source of all blessing, the one who breathed life into us, sustains us and brings us here tonight guide us as we come together to drink fresh water from ancient wells of wisdom. In a world clogged at this time by division and enmity, let us unearth the life-giving source of our common humanity.

Holy One, tonight, in this space, let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you- guide us to accept the ethical obligations that you demand of us so that the words we take away tonight may be a wellspring for others. May your name be praised on high and in our hearts.


UTS Address

I had the great honor of giving the sermon during the services today at Union Theological Seminary. I was asked to speak on Isaiah 65.....here goes:

"I create Jerusalem a rejoicing" - Isaiah 65

If there is peace in Pittsburgh, the residents of Squirrel Hill will rejoice – as will residents all around the three rivers, the suburbs, and much of Western Pennsylvania.

If there is peace in Belfast, not only Northern Ireland, but all of Ireland, indeed all of Great Britain will be able to breath a little easier.

No I do not wish to belittle Pittsburgh or Belfast…I wish them well.

But if there is peace in Jerusalem…if any person, from any nation could walk through the cobblestone paths of the shuk – offer prayers at the ancient churches, mosques, or synagogues and not once fear for their life – if never again would blood shed by bullet, rock or bomb have to be cleaned off those stones then this is a new earth. And if this is a new earth, when we gaze into the theological mirror we will see that there is also a new heavens.

In Isaiah’s words: I create Yerushalayim a rejoicing and all her inhabitants a joy – and the voice of weeping shall be heard no more, the voice of crying.

How is it that the restoration of Jerusalem will bring about a new earth?

Isaiah’s vision rests on an ancient idea about God and furniture. Like in Archie Bunker’s living room The heavens are God’s favorite chair, and one spot on earth where God’s feet touch the ground is Jerusalem. God’s footstool is the Holy City – and the giant Temple that once stood was like a big Ottoman. No wonder God is upset when the Temple is crushed by the Romans and the Jews are exiled to Iraq.

But why obsess about this one ancient walled city in a world with hundreds of ancient walled cities? What is so vital about this place built around a rock and some underground caves? If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all overlooked it when building their altars, why should we be so concerned about this spot now? Tongues cleaving to the roofs our mouths like eating peanut butter from the jar with a spoon.

A local legend concerning Jerusalem, first recorded by the French ethnographer Alphonse de Lamartine in 1832 teaches us about the origin of the city.

It is said that a story of two brothers who lived on separate sides of a mountain. One was blessed with a large family, but was poor; the other was blessed with wealth, but had no family.
They became partners in a farm and split its produce evenly. Since they loved each other dearly, each felt the other’s plight. The wealthy brother thought, “My brother has a large family. He needs this more than I,” and he would secretly move some of his produce to his brother’s section in the middle of the night. The brother with the family thought, “My brother is all alone, with no one to take care of him. He needs this more than I,” and he would secretly move some of his produce to his brother’s section.

Each was amazed that, no matter how much he gave away, his produce did not diminish. Knowing that G-d works in mysterious ways, they didn’t question too much. Then late one night, they inadvertently ran into each other at the top of the mountain. Both were carrying some produce. They fell into each other’s arms and cried.

Their actions, so pure and selfless, affected the very mountain upon which they stood. G-d vowed that the divine presence would never leave this place. This farm later became a village, then a city, and eventually the capital of the Jewish nation under David.
So Jerusalem is, mythically, symbolic of the way in which we are to live with one another. As Ibn Ezra taught – Friendship is one heart in two bodies. Spiritually, looking toward’s Jerusalem’s walls we are to envision an ideal city – a city of God

If only we could look towards Jerusalem and think of it in this way today. Sadly, voices are calling from all sides that are undermining this message. Voices from within my own tradition that see in Jerusalem the restoration of an ancient theocracy, voices within Christian circles that see the blood in Jerusalem’s streets as fuel for a purifying global fire that will separate believers from heathens, and voices in the Islamic world which see it as a sacred land defiled and polluted by Jews and Christians alike. All of us, Christian, Jews, and Muslim, who envision Jerusalem as a city of coexistence – a city where all can worship in peace, have our work cut out for us.

From whence will help come from?

I want to make a radical suggestion. Perhaps the help will come from Tel Aviv. I say this after reading an e-mail from my friend Amos. He writes:

Yesterday we were at a beach north of Tel Aviv with a group of Israeli families. Soft waves, gentle breeze, a campfire, and an idyllic moonlit Mediterranean night. After dinner Maia 9his seven year old), and her friend — also named Maia — entered the water for a twilight swim. Perhaps 20 seconds later I followed them into the sea with Lea in my arms. By the time I was waist deep, a riptide had pulled the two Maias about 30 yards from the shore. They screamed for help as the rough sea wrestled them further and further out. Thinking I could stand as the girls were only 10 yards from me, I stepped out and extended my hand. But the riptide was fierce and sucked Lea and me right out with them. Out here the waves were choppy and tumultuous, and the three girls shrieked in panic. With Lea clinging to my neck screaming “I’m scared! I’m scared!” I tried calmly — and to no avail — to push each of the Maias alternately toward the beach. A dark man, roughly my age, appeared seemingly from nowhere. I could tell he wasn’t a strong swimmer, but together — both grunting and gasping — we tried pushing the three girls ashore. As we pushed one girl, one of the other two would submerge gagging under the vicious tide. I have lived through many things (including the mayhem of 9/11) and no fear in my life has come close to the thought of one of these three girls (and/or myself) dying just yards from the beach. Close to three excruciating minutes later, the stranger and I managed to push the two older girls to the safety of the shallow water. The two Maias sprinted to the beach, screaming for help, as the riptide continued pulling the stranger, Lea, and me back out to sea. I tried in both Hebrew and English to summon help from my friends on the beach. The sea was deafening and no one heard. Suddenly the stranger began waving his hands and shouting for help — in Arabic. Within 20 seconds a line of seven or eight men formed a human chain on the beach. A dark-skinned teenager scurried out on a boogie board. A proprietor from a nearby falafel stand darted into the waves with a lifesaver in hand. With the total coordination of the entire assembly, the falafel stand guy grabbed Lea, now hoarse with terror, and pushed her onto the lifesaver, and the human chain dragged the three of us back to the shallow water. After the trauma there were slaps on the back, thank-yous, and hugs. It was only then, after I finished heaving my guts out onto the nearby dunes, that I learned that the stranger was not only an Arab from a nearby village but also that he didn’t know how to swim. I learned, too, that the human chain that brought the five of us back to the shore comprised almost equally Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. The Arab stranger and I both agreed that the situation could have ended up much worse. He said, “Baruch Hashem!” — Hebrew, not Arabic, for “Thank God.” Such events can evoke sweeping sentimental statements and oversimplified metaphors about how there will be peace “if only” this and “when only” that. I will try to refrain. Sometimes, though, we are given a glimpse. Sometimes we are not Arabs or Israelis or Americans or Muslims or Jews. Sometimes we are just two tiny men, sea-choked with fear, pushing three little girls toward the calm shore and the warm fires of their particular tribes.

When I first read Amos' story it hit me that it was a great metaphor for all of the holy land's people -- while some are actors in the violence, most have felt pulled out by a rip tide. And they all look for a human chain to remind them of Isaiah’s vision:

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain – says Adonai.

Amos Oz, one of Israel’s greatest writers and a tireless advocate for peace, wrote recently that “it is deadly enemies, swearing to cheat and betray who sign peace treaties. This would be a divorce that results not in a honeymoon, but in an emotional de-escalation that will take generations. Look at the Europeans. It took them a thousand years to make peace. Even as they wag their fingers at us like a Victorian governess, they have a history of rivers of blood. I will risk a prophecy: It will not take the Middle East as long to make peace as it did Europe. And we’ll shed less blood.”

To quote a Yiddish saying on contemporary prophets: From his mouth to God’s ears.