Muckoseegee Reconstructionists

I snapped this photo on a recent airboat tour of the Everglades near Miami. Repairing damage done by Hurricane Wilma, these Muckoseegee tribesmen are reconstructing a Chickee hut on a small, gator infested island. While much has been lost as the tribe has shifted from fishing (mercury levels got too high) to casino gambling and NASCAR, it was great to see an ancient practice like Chickee building done outside the confines of the museum. My aunt Sorah, a Lubavitcher recently immigrated to South Florida, explained that they fold the palm braches in half and nail them down like shingles, slightly overlapping one another. Back in the day, they slept in the roof area (the rafters) to protect their children from the gators.


Christmas! Attack!

Twas the War On Christmas

By Daniel S. Brenner

Twas the war on Christmas, when all through the land
’holiday’ greetings of happiness were banned.
Christmas cheer was spread to Sikh and Hindu,
’Christ is Born’ cards sent to the ACLU.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions 360 danced in their heads.
And mamma on her yoga mat, and I in my jeans,
Had just clicked on the TV for some more of split screens.

When there on the tube there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my Sudoku to see what was the matter.
a long haired Galilean like from olden days
was wishing Americans ‘Happy Holidays’

The moon high above the new-fallen snow
projected his image on WalMarts below.
in vast parking lots appeared all sorts of peoples
the sort who sway hands under megachurch steeples.

He spoke without parable, in verse slow and quick:
’I think that you have me confused with St. Nick!
It wasn’t to bring more possessions I came,
but to glorify, dignify God’s holy name!

"Now O’Reilly! now, Falwell! now, McCullough and Gibson!
Now, Farah! Limbaugh! Now Coulter and Dobson!
To the pew you should go! To your knees you should fall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
these warriors for Christmas let out a cry.
they wept, they lamented, they let out a plea,
Didn’t we learn anything from watching the Passion DVD?

And then, in a twinkling, my speakers blew
and somehow I heard the sounds of U2.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Bono came with a bound.

He was dressed all in black, from his head to his foot,
And his old leather jacket was tarnished with soot.
An old Stratocaster he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His shades how they twinkled! His song so sublime!
Feed the world! Let them know that it is christmastime!
His mike to his mouth was drawn up like a bow,
Donating all proceeds that flow to the show.

Now this was a war for right jolly old elves!
To give to some cause other than themselves!
To think of Darfur and those in extreme need,
rather than waste more hot air on some holiday creed.

I sprang to my feet, gave my neighbors a call,
Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus et. al.
Let us give from our hearts and do what is right,
"Happy Holidays to some, and to others good-night!"


Jealous of The Rabbi's Cat

Back when I was scribbling cartoons in rabbinical school, I dreamed of spinning one of my one page talmudic inspired strips into a full length color tale. Searching for a copy of R. Crumb's Kafka book, I came across Sfar's work and at first was paralyzed by jealousy - this is the kind of book I had hoped to draw/write someday. I was ready to hate it. But then I started reading - and Safr's humor and brilliance won me over. I bought the book, brought it home, and stayed up late to finish it. Needless to say, this is now one of my favorite books. It ranks up there with Contract with God, Maus, The Jew of New York, and Blechman's Jonah in my Jewish graphic novels hall of fame.


Mixed Doubles

I spoke this week at the following event:

BRIS OR BAPTISM? -- AND OTHER RITUAL ISSUES FACING INTERFAITH FAMILIES What do basic rituals mean in each of our traditions? Do they determine identity, membership, salvation? Can they be delayed or chosen later in life? Can -- or should -- they be modified for interfaith families? Can -- or should -- children be given a "dual religious passport"? Join us to hear Jewish, Roman Catholic, and mainstream Protestant (Presbyterian) clergy discuss the meaning of some of the central rituals in our religious traditions.
The seminar will be led by Rabbi Daniel Brenner; Rev. Mark Hallinan, SJ; and Rev. Anne Conroy.

The discussion was fascinating - particularly the questions of the Hindu-Jewish couple and the Black Southern Baptist -Israeli couple. Thankfully, a moyel came who could speak to the medical questions.


Teaching Religious Diversity in the Public Schools: A nice write-up from the NY Outward Bound Newsletter

Exploring Global Beliefs First-Hand

Bronx Expeditionary Learning High School (BELHS) teacher
Steve Gilman led his Global History class in studying world
religions and philosophies this spring.
Following extensive classroom work, students explored the three
monotheisms—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—in one day of
intense fieldwork.
Rabbi Daniel S. Brenner, director of the Center for Multi-Faith
Education at Auburn Theological Seminary, led the students in a
workshop on religious diversity and tolerance. The rabbi also
described the "Face to Face—Faith to Faith" program which initiates
dialogues between young people in conflict areas like Israel-
Palestine. This held special interest for BELHS students, who had
designed compelling Israeli-Palestinian peace plans while studying
the Middle East conflict.
Josh Borkin of the Auburn team escorted the students to the
Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where they focused on how religious
beliefs are expressed through ritual, memorials and church
architecture. The class shared ideas on faith practices that create
community within and among beliefs, asked questions of the priests
and lit a few candles as they explored the massive stone Cathedral.
Poems they had written about religious diversity and tolerance will be
added to the Cathedral’s Poets Corner.
Then the students joined some 1,000 Muslims for Jumma
prayers at the Islamic Center on East 96th Street. The girls, who had
covered their heads en route to the mosque, sat in the balcony, separated
from the boys who lined up with the men downstairs. Those
who felt comfortable doing so joined in the prayers, kneeling on the
carpet, before the imam, Sheikh Omar Saleem Abu-Namous
(pictured left), delivered his sermon.
After the service, the imam led students in a discussion of Islam
and answered a number of tough questions about faith, justice, and
gender roles in Islam. Many dealt with the diversity of the faith community
in Jerusalem, a central theme in the students’ examination of
monotheisms. During the discussion, a young couple approached
the imam and asked him to marry them. He obliged, and with students
surrounding them on the carpet, the couple nervously took
their vows as the imam explained their marital obligations according
to the Koran—an unforgettable cap to this extraordinary day.
Back in class, students debriefed their intense experience, discussing
gender and social justice issues, tolerance and other topics
that arose during the fieldwork. "Students came to some eye-opening
conclusions about their beliefs, and how they believe others practice
their beliefs," Steve said.


Lox with Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks

A quick story from Rabbi Sack's lecture this morning: He and the Archbishop of Cantenbury are Arsenal soccer fans. They went to a game and gave blessings to the team. The team lost to Manchester United 6-2, thier worst defeat in 67 years. The London newpapers the next day declared "If this is what these religious leaders bring us then it is proof that God does not exist." Sacks went on BBC that afternoon and said "Do not fear, my friends, God does exist. But apparently he is a fan of Manchester United."


Monday, December 12th -- 7PM at Auburn

I hope that folks in NYC will join me for the MULTIFAITH POETRY FESTIVAL. I'm honored to host:

KATIE FORD, winner of a 2003 Academy of American Poets Prize, is the author of Deposition, published by Graywolf Press. Ford holds a Masters of Divinity from Harvard and her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, The Partisan Review,The Seneca Review, Poets & Writers and other journals. She teaches at Loyola University in New Orleans, and is associate poetry editor of The New Orleans Review.

KAZIM ALI’S poems and essays have appeared in such journals as The Iowa Review and Catamaran, and in the anthologies Writing the Lines of Our Hands and Risen From the East. A graduate of the NYU Creative Writing Program, he is the author of a novel,Quinn’s Passage. His most recent book, The Far Mosque, was published October, 2005.

EVE GRUBIN’S poems have appeared inThe American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, LIT, and The New Republic. She is the poetry editor at Lyric, she teaches at The New School University and the Drisha Institute in New York City, and she is the programs director at the Poetry Society of America. Her book, Morning Prayer, will be published in December, 2005.


Here's a Herald News report on the Masjid Beit Ul-Wahid event

Fostering tolerance goal of multifaith discussion

Monday, November 21, 2005 By TOM MEAGHER

FAIRFIELD - As many North Jerseyans sat rapt in front of televisions cheering on football teams Sunday, nearly 100 others gathered to discuss a different kind of rapture.
Men and women of different religions sat in the ballroom of the Wellesley Inn to listen to spiritual leaders from seven faiths discuss their perspectives on salvation. The purpose, according to the conference's organizer, Aamir Khokhar, was to promote social harmony and religious tolerance at a time of political and spiritual turmoil.

"No religion preaches hate and violence. It's important for people of different faiths to come together," Khokhar told the audience.
Khokhar belongs to the Clifton chapter of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Association. The movement is a denomination of Islam founded in India in the late 1800s and devoted to peace, brotherhood and devotion to Allah. Each year, the local chapter hosts the interfaith conference to draw people together.
Vinay Vakani of the Jain Society of New Jersey in Essex Falls began the discussion by comparing the different religions to the old parable of a group of blind men inspecting an elephant.
"Each one of us sees things from our own point of view. Consequently, we acquire a view that is only partially correct," Vakani said.
He stressed that the Jain religion, which was founded in India in the sixth century B.C., is based on non-violence and acceptance of opposing viewpoints.
The Rev. Joseph Doyle,pastor of St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church in Fair Lawn, said forgiveness is necessary for salvation and in society. He referred to the sectarian violence that has long plagued Northern Ireland as an example of humankind's failure to forgive.
"We all think we have the right to punish the wrongdoer. When we do it, we think God is on our side," Doyle said. "We can no longer victimize anyone, because the victim is the face of God."
As children squirmed in their seats and thumb-wrestled one another, the adults listened attentively for more than two hours as each religious leader shared his insights into faith and salvation.
Rabbi Daniel Brenner, director of the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York, said that in Judaism, the path to salvation rests in the present world and by helping the impoverished and those in need.
"The only way to do it is to dedicate ourselves to God," Brenner said. "The only way to dedicate ourselves to God is to dedicate ourselves to the work of fixing the world."
After the presentations, Larry Walpert, a Nichiren Buddhist from Leonia, said he was pleased with the messages he heard from each religion - messages of inclusion, respect and love.
"If this discussion today is any kind of reflection of society on a larger level, we are moving in the right direction, and I am pleased," Walpert said.


photo essay/poetry in progress

I was inspired by the film Born into Brothels. In the film, street kids were given cameras to photograph their everyday wanderings. The next day I grabbed my camera and started to photograph my daily trek. Then I added a few words. Here is what I have so far.


Happy 40th Nostra Aetate!

Last night I had the opportunity to host Sister Mary Boys, Father James Loughran, Dr. Alan Mittleman, and Rabbi Ron Kronish for a discussion of Nostra Aetate - the groundbreaking 1965 Vatican II document that recognized religious traditions outside of the Catholic Church. While Boys and Kronish spoke of the experiences in inter-religious dialogue that Nostra Aetate spawned, Mittleman and Loughran both pointed to ways in which Catholics and Jews are growing farther apart. Loughran hinted that the charge against Jews of deicide that Vatican II hoped to erase has subtley been replaced in certain conservative Catholic circles by a charge of 'abortionist' -- killing baby Jesus rather than thirty-something year old Jesus. He also spoke of emerging anti-zionism in the Catholic Church. Mittleman pointed to the ways in which Catholics continue to push for public ritual in America - creches, ten commandments, etc and Jews attempt to squash these rituals. "The New Deal once united us" Mittleman said "now Jews, Latinos, and Blacks are the only ones hanging onto Roosevelt's vision."

Among the crowd, which was about half seminary students from Princeton, Union, Drew, and JTS, was Luna Kaufman- a concentration camp survivor who was one of the 100 survivors invited by John Paul II to visit the Vatican in 1995. She approached me at the end of the evening - "This was an honest dialogue," she said, "and it is so good to see that the next generation cares."


Der Punjabi Rebbe -- Masjid Bait-ul Wahid Invite

I just recieved a wonderful invitation from the Ahmadiyya Islamic community (aPunjabi branch of Islam) to speak at an inter-faith conference on Salvation. While inter-faith conferences are nothing new - it is still very rare to see a Muslim community in America serve as the cheif organizers. For those who are interested, the event is at the Wellesley Inn, 38 Two Bridges Road Fairfield NJ on Sunday November 20th 2pm-5:30 pm. Vegetarian refreshments will be served!


Kuala Lampur

My piece on Heschel and the Dalai Lama was just picked up by The Buddhist Channel -- a Malaysian web-zine. It runs with a lovely photo of His Holiness.



Delivered by Rabbi Daniel S. Brenner at Union Theological Seminary, Noon Chapel, October 20th, 2005.

The Zohar, the foremost book of Jewish mysticism, explains that the Sukkah generates such an intense concentration of spiritual energy, that the divine presence manifests itself in this fragile earthbound tent. During Sukkot we are told that the souls of the seven ancestral shepherds of Israel leave Gan Eden to partake in the divine light of the earthly festival (Zohar - Emor 103a). These transcendent guests are known as Ushpizin, the Aramaic word meaning "guests." And we welcome
Abraham who represents love and kindness
Isaac who represents restraint and personal strength
Jacob who represents beauty and truth
Moses who represents the power of Torah
Aaron who represents empathy and receptivity to divine splendor
Joseph who represents holiness and the spiritual foundation
David who represents the establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth.
Some Sephardic Jews even have the custom of setting aside an ornately-decorated chair covered with fine cloth and holy books for these men, at a Jewish meal books belong on the table.
I should also note that since the 16th century women have also been invited for Ushpizin; According to the kabbalist Menachem Azariah, known as the Ramah of Fano, the seven female figures to be invited are: Sara, Miriam, Debora, Hanna, Abigail, Hulda and Esther.
For all of us Jews, Christians and Muslims who are spiritual descendents of Sarah, Hagar, and Abraham and those who came after them, Sukkot is a time to welcome in the spirit of these ancestors. And as a Jew, I have been taught to look on these seven shepherds not as simply spiritual forbearers – but as my actual ancestors.
But what do ancestors mean to us today?
I raise this question because I believe that there is a great tension in our progressive world between identity politics with its notion of honoring indigenous peoples – people connected to a place and a land, and on some deep level to the bones of their ancestors that lie under that land – and the ideas born from international socialism that to create peace the world most go beyond borders, nationalities, tribes, and ultimately ancestry.
Does it matter if you had ancestors in a certain place? Does it grant you any claim to that place? Is it blood that links you? Color? Genes? Why does that matter? Does anyone have claim to ancestral land? And conversely - Is the erasing of ancestry simply another way in which the homogenizing dominant powers lay claim to more territorial control?
Seventeen years ago, as an idealistic college student, I was arrested in Tonopah Nevada at a nuclear test site as part of a protest I engaged in with the chief of the Western Shoshone nation. After the arrest, I returned to the campsite where I was told that there would be two drumming circles –one for members of the tribe and one for ‘friends’ of the tribe. Since I come from a rather tribal people, this did not phase me – but my friend who I had traveled with was enraged – On a hike we took the next morning he said “I come all the way out here in the middle of the desert and I get myself arrested for them and now I’m told that I have to go play drums with the White people?” He was seriously pained. That night at dinner, he approached one of the tribal elders with his broken spirit. The elder told of the trail of tears and of the chain of tradition that was passed down to him from his grandfather – and he said that on this weekend he was now passing it down to his son. My friend, and I, understood.
Another experience:
A gay couple in our community is adopting a girl from a Chinese orphanage– it was a very complicated adoption -now they want to include her in the family, to raise her as a Jewish girl and send her to Hebrew School and teach her the aleph bet. During Shabbat services we call them up to the Torah and they weep openly when she is given her Hebrew name. Her blood and ancestry have been put aside to become a daughter of Israel – and we welcome a new family member in the midst.
There is a place in my heart for both stories. Stories in which one is faithful to ancestors and stories in which someone’s ancestry is altered by the love ties of a new family.
In Judaism, much remains tribal – and I felt very much like the Shoshone chief when I circumcised my sons. But the Talmud counters with numerous examples that teach that the relationship between student and teacher is more important than son and father. And later on traditions of conversion broke down the old categories of Jew and Gentile. In the end, love, and the expansion of the family, counters blood ties.
Maybe I’m wrong, but from my outsiders perspective it seems that Christianity has a similar tension. On the one hand, the Christian scriptures go to great length to trace Jesus’ ancestry – to trace him in the line that extends back to David, our last Ushpizin guest. And yet at times Jesus himself taught that ancestry was irrelevant – Jew or Greek – he saw all people as born of Adam and Eve – a deeply humanist teaching.
I am one of those people who is very wary of saying that we live in an unprecedented time – the Torah has it right - there is nothing new under the sun – but we do live in the first era of human existence when the biological child of one couple can be birthed into the world by any woman on the planet capable of childbearing. In the last decade, scientific advancements have trumped the ancestral cycle. And at the same time, science is making clear that genetic history – inheriting our ancestors genes – makes a huge contribution to our levels of depression, susceptibility to addiction and disease, and general abilities. Ancestry matters and does not matter more than it ever did.
So is there room for ushpizin - this ritual of recalling biblical ancestors? Or must it be discarded as too exclusivist and tribal or be universalized beyond the Abraham and Sarahs to include all peoples?
Allow me one excursion into theory – One way out of questions of blood and history is by saying that both collective narratives - tribal and universal - are impossible. There is no one definitive story of Morningside Heights, there are stories of Morningside Heights. There is no white people or black people or even man or woman. Post-Modernity privileges the personal and the biographical and relegates the tribal, universal and gendered to constructs – they are reduced to semiotic metaphors or reflections of the inner psyche.
In ancient times, the exact opposite was true – when we were in need of healing, we called on the merit of an ancestor who bravely faced illness to heal us – when we were powerless, we recalled their triumphs, when we were downtrodden, we remembered their joy. Our lives were simply one generation in a great chain that stretched back to the beginning of the tribe.
As moderns, we begin our adult lives by breaking away from ancestors – critiquing the patriarchy, distancing ourselves from mistakes made by earlier generations – we are to be self-made and self-reliant. And while there is much healing in the freedom that we have been granted with individualization, there is a loss – an empty space where ancestors once spoke to us – and urged us to be righteous, patient, brave.
When I became a parent seven years ago, and I bought life insurance - I began to think that some day, God-willing, I will inevitably be an ancestor. And it crossed my mind that I wanted my sons and daughter to tell the story of my particular family– to say that their ancestors were exiled from the Holy Land, fled to Iraq, to Spain, to Holland, and to Poland, to New York City, and to wherever it is that I’ll rest my bones. And even though I want them to reject the negative traits they inherit, I want them to be able to call on the merit of their great grandmother, and be sustained by her inner strength to overcome poverty and disease. I want them to know her story about getting a college scholarship but not being able to afford the bus fare to school. I want them to feel a sense of obligation to their ancestors.
For me, welcoming Biblical ancestors into the sukkah this week is a way to acknowledge the chain that I have descended from and to draw on the spiritual qualities they possessed. It is a way to say that I am not self-made – but rather a product of many generations who have asked me to carry on their story. Yet like the sukkahs open walls and roof, I am reminded that there is permeability even in connections to ancestry.
And so I end with a story.

Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz loved books – he read everything available and at a young age was considered a great master. After he got married, people began to stop by his tiny shack and interrupt his Torah study with questions – a line formed out his door. He was overwhelmed – how could he turn them away? Yet they were ruining his spiritual life. He turned to his wife who gave him raw onions to eat. But the people did not care – they wanted answers. Then he turned to God –and he said “Please – I do not want people to be attracted to me!” The next day he walked in the streets to the market and everyone averted their eyes. Noone came to his door. He could not have been happier – he studied til late in the night.
Months passed, and soon it was sukkot. Pinchas did not have the tools to build a sukkah. He had to send his wife to borrow some- and she returned and they built a modest hut.
They began their ushpizin and Abraham appeared at the tent’s opening. “Come in!” Rabbi Pinchas motioned to the spirit. Abraham did not come in. “Please, come in!’ he said. Abraham did not budge. “What is it?” Pinchas says. “There are no guests at this table. How can the spirit of loving-kindness enter into such a sukkah?”

Pinchas was distraught. He called out to God to erase his former request and he ran to the market to ask if any of the beggars needed a meal.

The story’s parable is compelling –

There can be no encounter with ancestors unless there is a genuine attitude in this life that welcomes in those who are our neighbors – even those who annoy us. The merit of the ancestors only comes when we enact the principle of hospitality and openness in our lives here and now.

Let this sukkah be a symbol for our hearts this season, open to the sky, and open to the stranger who might walk through the door. May we rush to provide an empty seat for the ushpizin.


Thanks for the Feedback

It is good to know that the scribbles I am making on this laptop are reaching screens far and wide. First off, I got a very nice email from Ambassador Reda Mansour, Bureau For Jewish & Inter-Religious Affairs, Israel Ministry Of Foreign Affairs - who read my Dalai Lama piece. He's doing some incredibly challenging work -- reaching out to Muslim communities in Europe. He also happens to be a poet. Then I got a Google Alert that someone named yoyenta had posted my Yom Kippur poem on her blog. Thanks for the feedback!


Heschel and the Dalai Lama

My latest article appears in today's Jewish Week

The Dalai Lama Traces Heschel’s Footsteps
Daniel S. Brenner
As Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, the rabbi who leads the Kol Haneshama community in Jerusalem, spoke from the lectern, I watched Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, as he clasped his hands in meditation and cracked a quiet smile. Sitting a few pews back in the interfaith service at the Upper West Side’s Riverside Church, I could see how Swami Agnivesh ties his turban, how Geshe Lhundup Sopa counts his prayer beads, and how Ephraim Isaac plays with his tzitzit. I could even see that the young Muslim muezzin who called us all to prayer was wearing blue jeans under his robe. “The first time I came to Riverside Church was to hear Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel,” Rabbi Weiman-Kelman told the worshipers. “It was during the Vietnam War. It was a very trying time. He came because he believed that peace was possible.” Then the deep-voiced rabbi led the crowd of nearly 2,000 worshipers in singing the Shlomo Carlebach version of “Yehi Shalom B’cheylaych” based on Psalm 122. (Or I should say, led a few of the crowd in an earnest but failed attempt to sing the song. I love listening to non-Hebrew speakers pronouncing ‘ech’.) A few minutes later, the Dalai Lama rose from his seat, clasped his hands, turned his meditative focus to the large golden cross that adorns Riverside’s stage and offered a slight bow. Immediately I thought to myself: Am I seeing the world’s most prominent non-theist venerate the cross? The Dalai Lama then walked to the lectern and his translator placed a glass of water before him. He clasped his hands and bowed to the glass of water. The best part of the Dalai Lama’s speech, which began in Tibetan and then spun into an occasionally undecipherable English, was when he spoke about war. He pointed to the sky. “It is not from the sky,” he said. He pointed to the plants that decorated the lectern — “It is not from the plants.” He pointed to his own heart — “It is from us.” The Dalai Lama then spoke of the spiritual awakening that needs to happen — the consciousness that we are all connected, and that our religious traditions all have teachings within them that can facilitate this idea of our interconnectedness and the compassion for all beings that follows. In that same spot back in 1967, Heschel had also spoken about a spiritual awakening. His words during the Vietnam era focused the direction away from the sky and into the heart. “On what basis do we people of different religious commitments meet one another?” Heschel taught. “First and foremost we meet as human beings who have so much in common: a heart, a face, a voice, the presence of a soul, fears, hope, the ability to trust, a capacity for compassion and understanding, the kinship of being human. My first task in every encounter is to comprehend the personhood of the human being I face, to sense the kinship of being human, solidarity of being.” Sitting in that pew, watching an exiled Tibetan monk captivate the crowd, it occurred to me that Heschel’s spiritual successor at Riverside is the Dalai Lama. In other words, among Christians who yearn for a world without Vietnams and Iraqs, the voice of the religious other is now embodied in a new refugee. The Dalai Lama is the new Heschel. While one might be concerned that Buddhists rather than Jews now occupy a place of honor in such circles, I’d argue that we actually have a great deal to gain from the ways in which the historic Jewish-Christian alliance has branched out to include new religious traditions. As Rabbi Heschel wrote, “no religion is an island” — a teaching that is even more essential at a time when nations are reasserting their island identities. As often happens in interreligious gatherings, the most transcendent, spiritually charged moments come unexpectedly. After the Dalai Lama spoke, a Thai Buddhist nun, a frail woman with a quiet voice and earthen-colored robes, told a story of a dream her mother had. “Two armies were at war,” she said, “and my mother imagined that she took these men in her arms and nursed them both. Before my mother died two years ago, she asked me to fulfill her dream. But I cannot do it alone.” We have come a long way from the night when Heschel and King spoke together in Riverside Church. But in many ways, the world’s needs for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity are even greater. Sitting at Riverside, clapping my hands as gospel singer Kim Harris sang “Shalom, Salaam, Peace,” I watched the Dalai Lama gently sway to the music, and felt that perhaps the dreams of these visionaries are still capable of being fulfilled. n Rabbi Daniel S. Brenner directs the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City.
Special To The Jewish Week

A Poem for Yom Kippur


Stains, sins, impurities,
He searches for a liturgy with deep scrubbing action,
All-purpose cleaner,
Not for use on delicates.

But everything is delicate,
A broken zipper over the heart exposes
a balled-up handkerchief soiled with blood, tears, feces, gin spilled from the flask his mother kept in her denim purse after the great unraveling.
Memory plays tricks,
But residue retains the stench of it all.

You’d think that the smell would go away as the years stretch on,
the fir trees grow tall as the house, the old neighborhood is gentrified,
but smell is eternal, of God.

Waters of purification, divine bleach,
Flow for me tonight,
Wash over me,
Cleanse me,
Heal me,

I want to tingle again.
I want a fresh scent.
I want to believe in something other than my own cynicism.
I want to feel the radiating spirit of static cling between me and all sentient beings.


Religious Re-runs

Beliefnet is running one of my Rosh Hashannah reflections -- from 5763 -- on its High Holiday special....check out: http://www.beliefnet.com/features/jewishholidays/index.html Nice to see that these things stay fresh.

5766 Poetry Special

This Unit Has Been Refurbished

Teshuvah does not work.

Beat your heart, confess your sins, reflect on your life for ten days straight if you want - but the statistics are convincing -
people do not make significant changes to their personality after the age of thirty.
Your four-valve sack of nature/nurture hardened long ago.
You got what you got.
Deal, cope, manage.
And the distance between you and everyone else grows two kilometers each year.

Self reflection?
Stare deeply into an empty Pringles can.
Personal transformation?
Change your socks.

Rabbis teach:
Teshuvah means returning to God

But what about those of us who never were with God in the first place? Or only visited for a rare weekend?

The King sits in the field, the midrash says – God meets us halfway like visiting a friend at the airport during a layover.

Close your eyes and try for a second to walk in God’s direction – a step closer to the one who is Dayan HaEmet – the judge of all truth.

It ain’t easy.

(It might be easy if you could close your eyes and imagine Santa Claus or that nice old lady from the library – but, fohgettaboutit, that ain’t God.)

God is the truth – with a big T –
what Is.
that which Is.
which includes the truth about you and who you are
– what you are now and what you could be.

Teshuvah might not work. But to God it is the one time of year that the Gates of Righteousness are left opened, the security alarm turned off. Perfect time for a break-in.

This is the New Liturgy

This is the new liturgy
The one that greets the world with that
new hardcover urgency
next year’s model
fresh-baked-out-the-oven nooks and crannies liturgy.

It speaks not of general woes – but of what is broken at this hour
Not a list of historical injustices – but the wrong being committed at this very moment.
It is What Hurts Now.

The early adapters, hipsters, the fashionable, the urban set – they’re all lining up to hear the new liturgy.
And even though you’ve never heard it before it does sound like something you once read.
Traces of ancient love songs,
Hints of a familiar cry,
Was that symbolism pillaged from a medieval homily?
That silence lifted from the meditation of a lost tribe?

Yes! This is the new liturgy!
Freshly scrambled,
Yesterday’s prayerbooks put through the shredder,
This morning’s headlines mixed in,
Strips recycled together and reglued to appear before you as a
new creature,
new creation,
new revelation.

Please turn now to the handout and sing a new song unto God.

Neilah/Closing Time

Attention K-Mart worshippers!
The Gates of Repentance will be closing in fifteen minutes.
Please bring any items you wish to regret to the check-out line at this time.
The Gates of Repentance will be closing in fifteen minutes.
Thank you.

If God were clever,
There would be automatic sliding glass doors that lead into each house of worship.
And you’d put your feet on that black plastic mat
And stand there waiting
but nothing would happen.

And then you’d realize
That it isn’t busted
That your body’s weight has nothing to do with it
All that is being measured is your merit.
Each good deed four measly ounces.

And you’d go back into the parking lot
You’d drive to a dangerous part of town,
and you’d roam the sidewalks, bent on righteousness.

Imams and Rabbis for Peace in Print

I got word today that the book from the Brussels conference I participated in is now available. I contributed a little piece. I'm sending off for my copy today.



Peace is Possible

I had a wonderful meeting today with Geshele Sopa, the Tibet Monk who has been charged to carry out the Dalai Lama's work in the United States. He was a professor at my Alma Mater the Univ. of Wisconsin. This afternoon I'll be with the Dalai Lama and the other Peace Councilors at Riverside Church.

For more, see:



Alpine E-mail

Few times in my life has an e-mail forced me to stop in my tracks and rejoice over the crazy/beautiful wired world we live in. This one did just that:

Dear Rabbi Daniel S. Brenner

With a double reason I get in contact to you: Firstly, we share almost the same name. Secondly, we share some interest in spirituality and health.

Your work as director of the Multifaith Educational Center is very impressing. I wish you God’s blessings to all your undertakings.

My name is Daniel E. Brenner, MD, MPH (School of Public Health, UC Berkeley) and I am deputy Public Health Officer of the Swiss State of Aargau (with 570’000 inhabitants… of course nothing compared for instance with NYC…). So far, my speciality has layed on health promotion and disease / accident prevention. Since September 1, I am also the head of the Public Health Service including out-patient nursing care which deals frequently with frail and elderly people.

On the spiritual site: I serve as a Priest of the New Apostolic Church, at the congregeation of Thune, Switzerland. *) So, I will buy your very interesting book “Embracing Life and Facing Death.” By the way, because of different reasons I am very interested in Jewish matters. Deeply touched by the Holocaust, I “discovered” in the Jewish Museum in Berline the german translation of Kosher Sex by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. This book I appreciate very much.

I am very happy if you let me know in case you will visit Switzerland some day. I promise you that I will contact you if I travel to NYC some day.

With kind regards,

Daniel E. Brenner


Summer Poetry Special

At Any Given Hour
Inspired by Cesaria Evora

At any given hour men are arguing about the path of a ball.
In, out, goal no goal, each has his opinion.

One says “Let’s get back to work”

At any given hour women are talking about their bodies.
Blood, no blood, sick not sick, each has her own opinion.

One says “It is what it is – it will be what it will be”

And soon it is evening.
They come together over food.
Some talk and some are silent.
A few are laughing.

A man beats his wife because of money.
A man sings a lullaby to a crying baby while his wife sleeps.
Across town a woman slaps a child because of lying.
A woman changes the bandages from her husband’s surgery saying ‘Poor thing.’

A few are laughing to themselves.

Water flows down drains, carrying with it secrets, clues, revelations, remnants.
Something creaks, something crashes, but mostly there is the hum of machines and silence.

The great rush of lovers is felt tonight, the wind roaming the streets to give flight to their hair, the young people are behind bushes in the parks, jeans muddied, locked in every embrace imaginable.

The aide from the hospital lifts the spoon to her lips and she tastes.

Yes. Mint chocolate chip.

Big Love
a new interpretation of Ahavah Rabah

With a huge, whopping, jumbo, king size hunk-a -hunk-a- burning love you have loved us,
Forgiveness a wide-load, florescent orange flags hanging off the sides of a truckload of mercy.

Our Big Daddy, rolling, the Royal Crown, the one who the
great, great, great, thousand times great grandmamma trusted, the teacher of the path, practicing random acts of kindness, a roadmap, guidance.

You gave birth to -
Lord have mercy,
Mercy, Mercy me,
I’m sorry baby,
Please, Please, Don’t Go -

A special delivery to our hearts
To understand and to listen and to learn
To go the extra mile,
To lovingly fulfill the long haul of commitment.

Keep our eyes on the road,
Our hearts stuck on you,
All huddled up together,
Trembling, shivering, safe in your warm embrace.

It says it right here: In God We Trust,
Dancing and laughing
With each passing moment, salvation.

Bring us on home
From the North, South, East and West,
Lead us on home.

And we will say, sing, shout, whisper, in the holiest of tongues, a holy people unto thee: thank you.

Blessed are you, who teaches us to love.
-Daniel S. Brenner


Report from Jerusalem

Here I am, wearing my Solomon Schechter T-shirt, standing at the remnant of an outer wall to an ancient place of animal sacrifice. In this photo I am thinking about the contemporary sites of priestly meals: Joy Grill, Olive, Pasha, kukureeku, Doron Falafel, Shnitzi, Take Me Home. O Jerusalem eatires, if I forget ye may my tonugue cleave to the roof of my mouth.

My summer was an intense one – first I spent three weeks working with the young participants of the Face to Face/ Faith to Faith program (I even did the ropes course and zip line some 70 feet above ground.) Then I was off to the Holy Land for a study leave and presentation at the Inter-religious Coordinating Council of Israel. Emek Refaiim Street, where the Inter-religious Coordinating Council’s offices are located is still recovering from the grizzly suicide bombing that left seven dead and fifty wounded at Café Hillel. Yet while every restaurant and café now has a security fence around it and a guard at the entrance, the street is bustling with life. While I was in Jerusalem I had the great pleasure to spend time with one of my inter-religious colleagues in the U.S. – Rev. Paul Rauschenbusch from Princeton University - who is working on promoting inter-religious councils on college campuses. I also met with Palestinian educators, filmmakers, rabbis, and countless others who are working on multifaith projects.


WOR Radio 710

Legendary radio journalist Bill Bertenshaw just interviewed me for Commmunity Concerns - a show on WOR radio 710. It airs September 4th at 5am, so set them alarms and tune in!


Jerusalem or Bust

ICCI cordially invites you to a library seminar

on Wednesday, July 20th, 2005 – 13 Tamuz 5765
12:30 – 14:00

Rabbi Daniel Brenner
Director, Center for Multifaith Education, Auburn Theological Seminary
who will speak about
“Imagine No Religion meets Redemption Song: What We've Learned About High School Students and Interreligious Dialogue from the Face to Face/Faith to Faith Program”

The ICCI Education Center, 43a Emek Refaim St., Jerusalem

As space is limited, please reserve your place in advance: library@icci.org.il tel: 02-561 1899, fax: 02-563 4148

המועצה הבין-דתית המתאמת בישראל (ICCI)
מתכבדת להזמינכם לסמינר
אשר יתקיים ביום רביעי ה – 20.7.05 (יג' תמוז תשס"ה)
בין השעות 14:00-12:30
ובו נארח את
הרב דניאל ברנר
מהמרכז לחינוך בין-דתי, הסמינריון התיאולוגי אוברן

שישוחח באנגלית על
" תאר לך עולם בלי דתות לעומת שיר הגאולה: מה למדנו על תלמידי התיכון ועל הדיאלוג הבין-דתי
מהתכנית פנים-אל-פנים/ אמונה-מול-אמונה'"

הסמינר יתקיים באנגלית במרכז החינוכי של המועצה הבין דתית, עמק רפאים 43 א' קומה ב'.
מספר המקומות מוגבל! אנא הירשמו מראש: library@icci.org.il טלפון 02-5611899


The Living Pupik

I just got a fresh batch of The Living Pulpit magazines in the mailbox -- I got a piece on Shavuot in the new issue.


sharing some good news

I just found out from my friend Andrew Silow-Carrol at the NJ Jewish News that I recieved a Simon Rockower Award for Excellence in Jewish Journalism. It was for the commentary I did on the Presby-Israel debate. (Boteach took first place - I took second) I am deeply honored to recieve this recognition.

Thank you Andy for publishing my work!


Here's my latest article -- running in tommorow's Jewish Week

Helping The World’s Poorest Billion People
Daniel S. Brenner
The Talmud teaches that if you see someone drowning in a river, and if you can swim, then you are obligated to jump in and save the person in danger. So considering the fact that a billion people are drowning in a river and you have the opportunity to save them — without even getting wet — why aren’t you throwing a life preserver? This is not a hypothetical question. Last week, sitting with a wonderfully diverse group of religious leaders at the United Nations Church Center, I was faced with its real-life implications. The Church Center has little of the marble glitz of the UN Plaza across the street, but it is the perfect place to ask the most direct questions about the world’s needs: Can we in the world’s wealthiest nations do anything to address the systemic problems of the poorest billion people on the planet. Our work together involved the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. What are they? To be completely honest, I didn’t know about the Millennium Development Goals until I began working at Auburn, a historic Presbyterian seminary on the Upper West Side two years ago. Through my participation in a group called the Consultation for Interfaith Education, the topic crossed my radar screen during a discussion with Sister Joan Kirby, a Catholic activist who works with a nonprofit called the Temple of Understanding. Sister Kirby has helped to transform global missions that once were strictly evangelical operations into social justice ventures that meet the basic food and health needs of people in the developing world. Such Christians feel that faith without works is dead. But can the United Nations actually do anything about extreme poverty? I must confess that like many American Jews, I have held little faith in the United Nations as a political body and find it a startling hypocrisy that human rights violators such as Sudan and Zimbabwe sit on UN human rights commissions. But the Millennium Goals are a different story. Ambassador Eveline Herfkens, the Dutch director of the project and the keynote speaker who addressed us at the Church Center, clarified that the goals are not about making “the impossible possible, but making the possible possible.” And the goals for 2015 are relatively straightforward: Cut in half the number of people living in extreme poverty; insure primary education for all children; promote secondary education for girls; reduce child mortality by two-thirds; improve maternal health; halt the spread of malaria and AIDS; promote environmental sustainability; and create a global development fund. All 189 member states of the United Nations have agreed on the goals, and the European Union states have actually put their share of money behind them. So what does this have to do with the Jewish community? For Christians, Hindus and Muslims, the billion poorest on the planet are co-religionists. Since over 99.99 percent of the poorest are not even remotely part of the Jewish tribe, we might ask ourselves if this is really a Jewish issue. But by the show of Jewish leaders at the Church Center — Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Modern Orthodox — as well as representatives from American Jewish World Service, Mazon and CLAL (whose Michael Gottsegen worked tirelessly to make the conference a success), American Jews apparently do see the needs of the globe’s poorest citizens as being a Jewish concern. Standing side by side with the Evangelical leader Rev. Richard Cizik, Rabbi Irving Greenberg passionately argued, “If the image of God is reflected in humanity, then what does it mean theologically when a woman from Uganda is forced to sell her body for 55 cents to feed her family?” Rabbi Greenberg’s passionate ethical plea was reinforced by the practicality of Professor Don Melnick, a biologist at Columbia University who has been the environmental mastermind behind the UN goals. Melnick’s argument is brilliantly simple — conditions of extreme poverty lead to environmental devastation — especially to the rampant deforestation that is throwing off our planet’s climate and causing ecological disasters worldwide. This poverty also leads to people living in cramped quarters with animals and their filth, which leads to a steady rise in Zoonotic diseases — ones that jump species like SARS and the West Nile virus and AIDS. The dangers of such a virus spreading is increasing as we ignore the plight of the poorest billion. In short, Jewish survival is dependent on planetary survival. And the health of the planet is actually dependent on the health of those billion who are the most in need of our assistance. So the Millennium Goals are a Jewish issue. The bad news, unfortunately, is that the United States, which can take the lead in meeting these goals, is dragging its feet. While our president has been given credit for extending $674 million in emergency aid (mostly to Ethiopia and Eritrea), the reality is that we rank a dismal 21st of the 22 wealthiest nations in generosity. To insure that we reach the goals by 2015, the United States must raise our aid from .016 to .07 percent of our gross national income — a small price to pay for the survival and health of the planet. The G8 summit, which will gather the world leaders in Scotland on July 6, is the window of opportunity for success for the goals program. If it is a mitzvah to save the life of one drowning man, woman or child, I would hope that the Jewish community can join the multifaith efforts now under way across the United States to promote the goals, to encourage our elected representatives to fund them, and to throw a life preserver to the billion and beyond.

Rabbi Daniel S. Brenner directs the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary in Manhattan.
Special To The Jewish Week


Festival Cordoba!

There's me --- with Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, Daisy Khan, and Reb Michael Paley - on stage at the Knitting Factory!

Festival Cordoba:
A Celebration of
Muslim and Jewish Music



Amir Vahab is one of New York’s most celebrated and distinguished composer / vocalists of Persian sacred and folk music. Born in Teheran, he sings in the traditional Persian style, which embodies millennia of the theoretical and mystical traditions of the ancient land of Iran. He has spent more than three decades perfecting his skills under the instruction of some of the most renowned and legendary masters of Persian music. His albums include Rumi: Celebration, Rumi: Meditation, Devotional Songs, Nostalgic Journey, and Amir Vahab Live in Concert. In 2003 he was dubbed by the New York Times as the “master of all musical things Iranian.”

Pharoah’s Daughter Basya Schechter formed the band, Pharaoh's Daughter, in 1995, following her travels in Morocco, the Middle East, South America and Africa. Inspired by these cultures and the Hasidic melodies of her childhood, she began playing her guitar so it would sound like a blend of an Arabic oud and a Turkish saz, with harmonic minor melodies and odd rhythms. Last summer, Pharaoh's Daughter debuted their mix of Middle Eastern, Hasidic and klezmer sounds at Central Park’s Summer Stage. The group has toured internationally, recorded four albums Queen’s Dominion, Exile, Out of the Reeds, Daddy’s Pockets, and is currently working on a fifth, Hagar.



Spring Poetry Special

Poetry is not my life

Ferllenghtti sits perched atop the bathroom radiator
And I savor a page every time my body recycles
Thanking God for the openings and the hollow places
And the subtlety of uncapitalized letters

Though a dozen boxes of notebooks with scribbled fragments of verse
will crush you if you attempt to open my closet door
Poetry is not my life
Though there was a time
When I left my cozy air conditioned world
rode a beat up bicycle to the dangerous part of town
Picked through dumpsters to find relics that spoke truth
Searched for poems in the broken glass under the train tracks
Talked to old folks, bodies reeking of ten varieties of decay,
Untreated wounds festering, discolored,
Rotting teeth clicking a different rhythm for each tale,
The young people called me ain’t from the ghetto
And that, too, I made into a poem

Poetry is not my life
What is?
Let me begin by saying that I’ve changed a thousand diapers
A real man changes a thousand diapers
But my beloved changed two thousand
So I best not open my mouth
Poetry is not my life
I pay bills for natural gas
I insulate the attic – it’s itchy
I work in front of a computer screen
I wash out the thermoses from the kid’s lunchboxes
Poetry is not my life
Thank God I have money
I like those English water crackers with a slice of fancy feta cheese
And my children have health care coverage
And I can do my laundry in machines in my basement
When you have too little or too much
Money plays with your mind
Since I have some money
Poetry is not my life
My life is taking the shortcut through the tire store parking lot to catch the train
My life is trying to change the world by making minor adjustments
My life is trying to get my kids to finish their Cheerios
Oil changes
Dental appointments

And though I wish I could end with graceful poetic irony
Poetry is not my life

- Daniel S. Brenner


On Alzheimer's

Rev. Jim Forbes from Riverside Church tells a story about his Father:

When 'Bishop' sat in the nursing home, his mind rattled by demensia, he was called by the nurses "Praise the Lord" -- Why? Because whatever happened he said "Praise the Lord" lunch - PTL, blood drawing time - PTL, light on - PTL, light out -PTL. As the 'dust was shaken off' -- as his memory slipped away and he turned to the 'winter' in his life (with the leaves falling off the tree) his trunk and roots were still soaking in the light of God's presence.

Then Forbes read Psalm 139, emphasisizing the angry screed that comes in the penultimate lines. "That anger," he said, "was for the moment when "praise the Lord" left his mind and he lay confused before dying.

This was one highlight of the Alheimer's Conference today at Auburn.


A Muslim - Christian Delegation Vists the Rabbi

Last week I hosted the following three folks for a lively lunchtime meeting:

Dr. Antoine Messara (Lebanese Christian) is a professor at the Lebanese University Department of Communication, and is the general director of The Foundation of the Lebanese Association for Permanent Civil Peace in Lebanon. Antoine established The Foundation of the Lebanese Association for Permanent Civil Peace in Lebanon during the civil war in Lebanon by bringing Christians and Muslims together. He is active in issues related to democracy, human rights, and Christian Muslim relations. Antoine has many articles addressing the issue of democracy and co-existence.

Samir Morcos (Egyptian Christian) is the former associate general secretary of Middle East Council of Churches. He has consulted for the Coptic Center for Social Studies, Al Fustat Center for Studies and Consultations, and for The Unit for Citizenship and Dialogue in Cairo. Samir has written multiple books in the area of development including: The State of Civil Society in Egypt: Preliminary Observations and Future Possibilities; and, Civil Society in Egypt: From Dormancy to Action-The Struggle over the Civil Associations Law. He is currently writing a joint study entitled Civil Society in Egypt: Challenges and Future Prospects, as well as a critical review of development concepts and practices in Egypt over the past 50 years. Samir was awarded the annual prize in 2004 of the Norwegian Academy for Literature and Freedom of Expression.

Nadia Mahmoud Mustafa (Egyptian Muslim) is a professor in the political science department and on the faculty of economics and political science at Cairo University. She has taught the following subjects: The Evolution of International Political Relations; Political Development; Arab Foreign Policies; Contemporary Global Issues; Islamic Political Thought; Arab World in International Politics; and Theory of International Relations. She has also written multiple books, including: Strategy of Islamic Cultural Activity in the West, and Developing an Islamic Perspective to the Study of International Relations: Dilemmas of the Experience of Teaching and Research.

Highlights included Samir speaking of the Darfur crisis as a battle between China and the U.S. for resources. I ended up spending twenty minutes or so after the public program engaging in a debate with Nadia, who dismissed all "grassroots" efforts between Israelis and Palestinians. "Peace must come from the governments above! How can the occupied speak with the occupier!"


a pre-pesach poem

I read the hagaddah backwards this year
The sea opens, the ancient Israelites slide back to Egypt like Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk
Freedom to slavery
That’s the real story
One minute you’re dancing halleluyah with the prophetess
The next you’re knee deep in brown in the basement of some minor pyramid waiting for the angel of death to refund your two zuzim.

Children of Israel! It is hard to say dayenu when the armies emerge from the sea like a returning scuba expedition and the Pharoah calls out for fresh towels.

The bread has plenty of time to rise.

I read the haggadah backwards this year,
Left a future Jerusalem,
scrubbed off the blood from the doorposts
wandered back to Aram.

Trenton Makes, The World Takes

After a performance Saturday night at Trenton's Passage Theater by the brilliant beat-boxer Yuri Lane Lisa and I had the great pleasure to be a guest at a party of the Goldstein-Ballingers and share a bottle of wine with NJ's original poet laureate Gerald Stern. He was captivating - well into his eighties he is as hip and irreverent as the twenty-somethings who hang out at P.S. 122. Yusuf Komunyaka, the Pulitzer prize winning poet, was there too as was Chris Hedges, the political journalist - and for a moment I thought that the historic Mill Hill district of Trenton would be the site of the next American revolution. Maybe the whale who swam up the Delaware could sense it too.


Iceland cometh and goeth

Meeting with the group from Rekjavik was fascinating. Half of them said that I was the first Jew they had ever spoken to. After my presentation one student wanted to know "How America, which is such a religiously diverse nation, could elect such an 'extreme Christian' to the White House?" That led to a wider discussion about religious tolerance (and intolerance) in America. They were not aware of the campaign by Bush post 9-11 to get across the message that Islam is a 'religion of peace' - they had only heard of Lt. Gen Boykin's demonization of Muslims. Tommorow night they are going to Bnai Jeshurun for Purim. I wish I could go to see their reaction.


Amina Wadud

A nice Jewish boy arranging security for a radical Muslim? Only in New York.

I spent a good part of the day addressing the security concerns for the speaker at Auburn this evening, the Muslim woman activist Amina Wadud. See www.muslimwakeup.com for more on the event. The woman is breaking the barriers like my Women of the Wall sisters did in Jerusalem. Tommorow she will lead the first egalitarian muslim prayer service. Al -Jazeera is all over this.


Iceland Cometh

I just got word that I'll be hosting a delegation from the Univeristy of Iceland on March 23rd at Auburn. The students are coming to NY to study religious diversity and I've been helping them organize their tour. Apparently there aren't many Gurdwaras in Rekjavik. A big plus is that they will get to go to shul on Purim. I've got to alert the Jewish press on this one.


Imams and Rabbis for Peace final report is out


Now contains the final report and some beautiful photos of the Imams and Rabbis for Peace conference. The final joint statement we made is also posted there.


Lord of Hosts

I just hosted two fascinating groups: one from Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta and one from the Church of God Seminary in Cleveland, Tennessee. The best part was taking the Church of God folks to Bnai Jeshurun for Friday night services. It was something else -- being Pentacostals, they "felt the Holy Spirit" at BJ, and one of them even turned to her friend and said "I'm joining - do you think they take credit cards?"


In the Jewish Week

Here's the link for my piece in the Jewish Week


Commentary from a conservative Christian

I just found this on a site entitled "Not Perfection" -- a reaction to the piece I wrote last month on the Presbyterian-Israel story.

December 14, 2004
Lighting a candle against the darkness
Instead of cursing the darkness (which is sometimes the first reaction here at not perfection), Rabbi Daniel Brenner, director of the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary, has written a thoughtful piece about the scapegoating of Israel on the part of the Presbyterian Church USA last summer. He and the Rev Cindy Jarvis of Philadelphia (both pictured here) are working toward reconciliation and reversal of the divestiture decision.
You should read the article. It relieved some of my anger and frustration at my denomination. Praise God. In addition to making a compassionate, understanding case for the frustrations of Palestinians, he makes one cogent and reasoned observation:
"I believe that there is a much deeper cause to this movement. And it is not anti-Semitism. It is frustration — a by-product of the spiritual and emotional antipathy carried by left-leaning Protestants toward another Protestant, George W. Bush... It stings that Condoleezza Rice is a devout Presbyterian..."
I cannot agree with everything he says, but my heart can open a little.


Good news travels er...... fast

The news about the Rabbis and Imams is slowly getting out -- The Jewish Week and the New Jersey Jewish News will be carrying modified versions of my report below (I'll post tommorow) . Also, a nice piece on http://www.catalyzerjournal.com/news/ combined my piece and the Ha'aretz article into a feature.


Rabbis and Imams for Peace

While the world's eyes were affixed to visions of relief planes arriving on the beaches of Indonesia last week, something truly miraculous was taking place in the halls of an elegant palace in the land of waffles. Under heavy security, Orthodox chief rabbis from Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Israel, Morroco, Norway, Romania, and the Czek Republic spent four days in Brussels praying, singing, sharing stories and studying together with Imams and Shieks from Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Kenya, and the Palestinain Territories. While there was little American press coverage, reports from the conference were carried on Eurovision, Al Jazeera, Israeli Television and the BBC World service as over one hundred and fifty religious leaders from forty nations, including the former Chief Rabbi of Israel Bakshi Doron and Shiek Talal Sedir, cheif of religious affairs for the Palestinian Authority, joined together for dialogue under the patronage of the King of Belgium, Albert II and the King of Morroco, Muhammed VI. As one of only a handful of non-Orthodox rabbis who participated in "Rabbis and Imams for Peace", one of the few North Americans present, and one of the youngest at the table, I took my seat with the all-male Congress with a deep sense of respect for my elders. Yet there was one aspect of irony that was apparent to me- while I have had been blessed with many experiences in inter-religious dialogue, many of these men were formally participating in a conference with their religious counterparts for the very first time. The Chief Rabbi of Mod'in from Israel asked me to take a photograph of him while he spoke so that he would be able to show his wife and six children that he sat next to an Imam. "I have never done anything like this," he told me, "I was very skeptical. But now I see that it is good to do this." During the first session of the Congress, Dr. Abdul Abad, a spokesman for Islamic religious councils in the Palestinian Territories articulated the spiritual message of the Congress in near poetic form: "If we see the Holy Land as a wife, we will each say 'she is my wife', and we will continue to fight one another for the right to claim her. My friends, let us see the Holy Land not as a wife to claim, but as our mother - so that we may live in peace as brothers." The Congress resonated with such a suggestion, and the applause for Dr. Abad's statement kicked off what soon became a remarkable display of fraternal cooperation. "We must give these Islamic leaders honor" Rabbi Bakshi Doron demanded of the rabbis in the hall "for they are true to God, they love God, and they help us to uphold morality in a world rampant with secularism." While the Congress was heavy on affirming Abrahamic roots and simplified monotheistic declarations, the Congress was not simply a display of goodwill gestures. There were many moments of honesty when the Jewish leaders spoke of their outrage at anti-Jewish sentiment among Muslims. "Why do you keep silent when Islamic web-sites are fomenting Jew hatred, quoting lines from the Koran that command Muslims to attack Jews?" a French Rabbi inquired of the Imams and Sheiks. "There are no such lines" a Muslim scholar replied, waving an electronic device in his hand, "type the word Yehood into my digital assistant and it will show you that such hatred does not appear in the Koran!" "But why don't you condemn it when your colleagues use it?" the rabbi retorted. Others told stories not of prejudice, but acts of violence, including a compelling story by the former Cheif Rabbi of France Rene Sirat who recalled the day when his brother was walking home from synagogue and was murdered by a Muslim terrorist. Jews were not the only ones who raised concerns over prejudice and violence. An Iranian scholar of Islamic Law, Sheik Jafri said "If we are to achieve anything in our meeting today, we will not only have to send a clear message to Islamic extremists, but to those in the government of Israel who send missiles that kill innocent Palestinian children." A Palestinian, Sheik Hilmi, built on those concerns, saying to the rabbis "If I continue to be restricted by the Israeli government, imprisoned, and can not travel to Jerusalem, then how can I even think of continuing this dialogue!" Yet these tense moments were countered by moments of profound understanding. Imam Sajid of Great Britain remarked - When I first came to England I had never met a rabbi. I saw a man with a kipah on the train and mistaking him for a Muslim I wished him a 'salaam aleykum'. It turned out that he was a rabbi from Leo Baeck College. We talked and we became friends, and in the years since I have realized that we have a shared goal - Anti-semitism and Islamophobia are linked - and if we are to ever live in peace in Europe, we must learn to live in peace with one another." Rabbi Abraham Soddendorp of Holland also shared inspiring words: "When I was born in 1943, my mother, to save me from the Nazis, placed me in the hands of a gentile woman. I was an unknown person, a liability, a danger - and yet I became a loved one. This German Catholic woman risked her life to rescue me. Can we not follow her example, and risk our lives for the sake of the other? For the sake of Palestinian children? For the sake of Israeli children? " Sheik Hassan Chizenga of Tanzania inspired the Congress with perhaps the most bizarre vision of peace: "In Islamic law, Jews are considered to be equal to Muslims, for it is permitted for a Muslim to marry a Jew. Jews are believers, People of the Book, and are to be respected. I have just married my fourth wife. However, if the esteemed members of this Congress feel that it will be worthwhile to promote peace with a public gesture, I will take as my fifth wife a Jewish woman!"The hall erupted in laughter, and after reassuring Sheik Chizenga that he would make a very good brother-in-law, organizer Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein of the Elijah Institute in Jerusalem remarked "but luckily I do not have a sister." Outside the hall of meeting, the atmosphere was electric. At nightly concerts featuring a Morrocoan band, the Algerian born Chief Rabbi Joseph Azron of Reishon L'Tzion took the stage and chanted Hebrew liturgical prayers. Not to be topped, Sheik Hilmi commanded a microphone and began to sing in Arabic. Within a few moments, the men were trading lines of praise to the Creator as the drummers, violinist, and bass player marveled at the musical talents of the holy men. This was an unplanned and joyous scene which brought out every camera in the hall and brought great joy to Alain Michel, the French philanthropist and visionary who initiated the Congress. So what did we come away with other than a renewed sense of commonality and trust between the children of Abraham? Perhaps the most poignant moment came when we thought for a moment about what was happening on the other side of the world. One day, before lunch, we Rabbis and Imams stood in silence for the victims and offered prayers in Arabic and Hebrew that brought tears to many of the men around the table. I wish that the world could have seen that moment - to see the intensity of emotion on the faces I saw around the room - to see that even the most strict and devout Jews and Muslims are also Rabbis and Imams for Peace.