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Devotee of Justice and Consciousness Change – Joseph Tieger

When I am reminded of the bravery of those who put their lives in danger for the sake of justice, I am moved to find at least a bit more of that courage in myself and take whatever steps I can to continue that struggle for a more just and peaceful world. I recently had a conversation with my good friend, Joseph Tieger, who was among the early white participants in the civil rights struggle in the South. By activist, I don’t mean someone who attended a few civil rights marches or protests, but someone who devoted himself full-time to local and national efforts and was repeatedly threatened, beaten and imprisoned. I recorded our talk for both a podcast and YouTube and hope you can take the time to tune it in.

Joseph recently published a memoir of his activist time in the civil rights struggle from 1962 – 72, and his later attempts to find an even deeper path towards bringing about change. The book, Lately It Occurs To Me: A Memoir of the Civil Rights Movement & The Open Road (1963—1976) offers a deep and detailed look into the movement in North Carolina and beyond. It givers us a glimpse into the overt hatred and violence as well as the only somewhat more subtle actions of the political and legal establishment to stop the movement towards integration and voting rights. It’s an exciting and mind-opening read.

After his years as a civil rights activist and then attorney, Joseph watched as the movement splintered and broke apart. He went on a journey of self-discovery not unlike many of us in the 60’s ending up in California. (Full disclosure: In many respects Joseph’s journey is very parallel to my own, and when we met in the 1980’s we discovered that we were in each other’s FBI files).

It was in the Bay Area of California that I met Joseph. He was then traveling and presenting a video series with his wife Johanna called “How Then Shall We Live.” It featured Ram Dass and Stephen Levine and eventually became a PBS series offering “essential teachings for personal awakening on social action, impermanence and living life fully present.”

After that, Joseph and Johanna produced a magical ten-part series with Ram Dass and dozens of other visionary teachers and celebrities live in Oakland that involved thousands of participants in social justice and diversity training while cultivating self-awareness and an open heart. This series, “Reaching Out” also became a video series.

Interestingly, on the day I had my recorded zoom conversation with Joseph, I received an article from Tikkun Magazine that included the following passage:

“However, in a sense, the saturating effects of the sixties movements were radically incomplete. They have not reached many people, particularly many White people, in our bones. Although the movements have created, and continue to create, institutional and legal and systemic shifts, the system is quite stubborn because most people’s hearts and minds have not been deeply affected. That’s why what’s needed in the United States, and the world over, is a moral, even a spiritual, change, to rise to the level of the demands for political change. ….. It’s actually quite empowering to know that we’re responsible for what we see on the news. Instead of wringing our hands, we can rewrite the script.”
–from “My American Violence” by Robert Birdwell in Tikkun Magazine

It’s well worth asking, ‘Where did all that passionate courage of the movement in the 60’s go?’ As well as, ’Where did all that hateful resistance go?’ Obviously, there are aspects of it in the current scene all around the world. But, perhaps part of the answer is they are both within us, you and me. It’s just a matter of which part we feed.

Love and blessings,

Alan Levin

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You can get Joseph’s book at Amazon here.

The podcast of our conversation is here.

The YouTube is here.

And please check out and subscribe to the series of interesting interviews with fascinating boundary-crossers at YouTube and Buzzsprout podcast.

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Spirituality, Global Change, and Psychedelics

Link to my new book: Preparation for a Sacred, Psychedelic Journey
Link to my recent talk at the Gay Buddhist Fellowship: “Psychedelics on the Spiritual Path”

“Who am I?” “What am I doing here?” These are the core questions that focus attention on the spiritual path. I would add that the following questions are also worth asking, even though one could say they are essentially included in the above: “What is all this that appears outside of me?” and “What is my relationship with all that?” The latter questions bring the focus to our relatedness and responsibility to the world in which we live.

I think that if anyone sincerely asks and meditates with these questions, they will find themselves moved to take part in shifting the direction of humanity towards creating a more just and peaceful world, one in which we live in harmony with all life on Earth. In other words, there will be a shift in consciousness such that their thoughts, feelings and motivations
to act will involve a wider and more loving embrace of themselves and everyone and everything. They will care more about creating a loving, global community.

The above thoughts come from the fact that every time I experience (or even get close to) the reality of my own true nature, and tune to the essence of all that is around me, I experience compassion and goodwill. I am moved to help bring about a better world. I don’t, and can’t, arrive at that through just thinking about these questions. It is an experience that comes through spiritual practices that take me beyond my thinking mind and that I feel in my heart and body.

For many years I have believed that it is only through the wider dissemination of experientially based spiritual teachings that we will avert human caused catastrophe and create a better world. As the Dalai Lama and others have proposed, we need a spiritual or consciousness revolution. I still believe that, and it seems to me more urgent than ever.

In this light I am heartened to see that one long suppressed, even demonized, approach to spiritual awakening is surfacing in a positive way in mainstream discourse: psychedelics. This is coming about partly through carefully-worded statements from scientific researchers at university hospitals proving the effectiveness of psychedelic therapies for people with treatment resistant depression, addictions, PTSD, and other clinical problems/disorders. But contained in these reports, somewhat hidden in plain sight, is that the most successful outcomes of these treatments come primarily when the participant has what they deem to be a “spiritual or mystical experience.”

While these relatively recent government approved research findings are being reported in mainstream media, the “underground” network of guides, who have been performing psychedelic ceremonies and rituals for groups and individuals for decades, has grown to where they can no longer be ignored. Knowledge of – and participation in – these ceremonies is  bursting into the mainstream and some forms of legalization are imminent. An aspect of this is the willingness of many participants, including very well respected thought leaders, to share their experiences past and present.

Among people I know, including numerous clients I see as a psychotherapist, many are exploring psychedelics with experienced guides with intentions for psychological healing and spiritual growth. I have witnessed very positive results, often breakthroughs that would involve years of therapy or meditation practice. Because of my own fairly extensive participation in similar ceremonial circles over the past 40-plus years, I am able to support their preparation for these experiences and their integration afterwards.

As the lid is lifted off of prohibition, it will be messy. There will likely be a great deal of misuse and abuse of these very powerful substances. People with very limited experience will set themselves up as guides for others. People will take what are potentially life-transforming sacred medicines and use them in recreational settings, and while some will have fun, others will have problems as a result. And there may be damaging consequences for some people for whom psychedelics are not appropriate. Corporations, especially the pharmaceutical industry, are already seeking to capitalize and control the “psychedelic renaissance.” The dominant culture will tend to desacralize, co-opt and make into a fad what could otherwise be a catalyst for a global shift towards a loving community seeking to protect and sustain all life.

Psychedelics have great promise and yet are not a panacea. They can help bring about experiences that speak deeply to the questions posed at the beginning of this writing. Yet, those benefits come only when the internal intentionality and the surrounding environment (the set and setting) are supportive of psychological and spiritual growth. Lasting change tends to come when the altered-state journey is seen as one part of a lifelong path of inner work, not a single event expected to solve one’s problems.

In light of all of the above, I’ve written and self-published a short book, Preparation for a Sacred Psychedelic Journey. In it I offer a series of suggestions for steps and practices that help one to prepare for a safe and fruitful experience. I draw from what I’ve learned over the last 40-plus years of my own explorations. If you or anyone you know is interested in embarking on such a journey, or is already actively working with these substances, I hope this book will be of value. I’ve kept the price as low as possible.

You may also be interested in the podcast recording of a talk I recently gave at the Gay Buddhist Fellowship on this theme: https://gaybuddhist.org/podcast/

Please feel free to pass this invitation on and write a review on Amazon if you like the book.

I offer my blessings for a world that honors the spiritual journey and moves towards harmony amongst humans and all life,


Here’s comments from several folks who’ve read the book:

“In the tradition and lineage of James Fadiman and Ralph Metzner, transpersonal psychotherapist Alan Levin has brought forth an indispensable guidebook for using psychotropic medicines as a vehicle for awakening.”
                     –Joseph Tieger – author of Lately It Occurs To Me: A Memoir of The Civil Rights Movement & The Open Road

The entheogenic journey can help us access elemental aspects of our being and can assist us in growth. It is with proper preparation and guidance that these profound (aspects) are examined. In this book, Alan Levin shares key concepts that are necessary to get ready for the journey. A must read for those who are seeking these essential truths and deep healing.”
                        –JH

I highly recommend Alan Levin’s Preparation for a Sacred Psychedelic Journey book to anyone who is planning on embarking on an altered state journey. Alan’s guidance is invaluable in helping to prepare for a safe and sacred experience. The book is well-organized and covers everything from setting intentions to creating a safe and supportive environment for your journey.

“Alan’s expertise and compassionate approach make this book an essential resource for anyone seeking to explore the potential benefits of psychedelics in a responsible and mindful way. His teachings are rooted in decades of personal experience and research, and he provides practical tools and techniques to help you navigate the journey with confidence and ease.….”
                     
–roseheart

Alan Levin provides a thorough, thoughtful, and clear guide for preparing oneself for embarking on an altered state journey. Levin’s guidance for intention setting, preparatory activities, and practices for navigating consciousness were very helpful and well-articulated.”
–Julia Hume

“This is a small but powerful book? My personal work with Alan Levin has changed my life in a safe and most profound way. I highly recommend it to anyone yearning for deeper love and peace.”
                  –Celeste Simone, Voice Teacher/Performance Coach/Director
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Taoism – Being One and Being With Suffering

Interview with Ken Cohen

Ken Cohen is the author of The Way of Qigong: The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing and also Honoring the Medicine: The Essential Guide to Native American Healing. He is the rare individual who has entered fully into these spiritual traditions, studying and honoring the lineage, language and practices with absolute integrity. It was my honor to have another chance to interview Ken for my podcast and YouTube series having previously spoken with him for my book, Crossing the Boundary: Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths.

In our conversation we cover a lot of ground and I hope you take the time to either listen to the podcast or watch the video. We begin with discussing his identity as a Jewish man as well as his being an adopted member of the Cree people. He recalls his Jewish family history that shaped much of his life’s direction even while choosing to focus his attention on two distinctly different paths: learning the Chinese language, Taoism, Qigong and Tai Chi, and finding himself adopted and trained by Native American elders in their traditional, healing arts.

In response to a wide range of questions, he offers rich teachings from a Taoist perspective as well as his views on learning from nature. In regards to the latter, he emphasizes the importance of cultivating deep knowledge and intuitive relationships with plants for healing body and mind, much of which he learned the elders.

We explore the focus of much of my own work: how the spiritual quest, (Taoist or otherwise) relates to helping relieve suffering and to activism for peace, justice and a sustainable human relationship with the world. I find what he shared to be very powerful teachings for being with our internal process when responding to the painful state of the world. Recognizing his own troubled reactions, he describes going out into nature and praying for guidance. What he received are four guidelines. He emphasizes that this is not a substitute for active work in the world, but for preserving personal, psychological and spiritual well-being in the face of injustice. (I’ve summarized them here, but hope you listen for the full explanation of this very powerful teaching.)

1.Release the injustice you experience up to Creator. Don’t return the fire.
2. Never indulge in negative thinking. That only strengthens what feeds the abuse.
3. Don’t allow even a single shell of bitterness to form around your heart.
4. Do whatever is necessary to keep your heart fully capable of receiving and giving love.

We continue on to discuss the use of psychedelic plant medicines, the use of tea as a spiritual path and the need to focus deeply with a spiritual tradition rather than diluting or mixing them haphazardly, . Ken is quite an amazing individual and I encourage you to listen to our interview and check into his books and websites to find out more about him and his teachings.

The Way of Qigong: https://www.qigonghealing.com/
Honoring the Medicine: https://www.sacredearthcircle.com/

Our conversation can be found at

And https://www.buzzsprout.com/1827447/12089957 and

You can listen to all the Crossing the Boundary interviews here:

https://www.buzzsprout.com/1827447

and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpfneC8HTO0&list=PLBTcFhpF_7838Ckgn-8rf508QrjEqc9GAhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpfneC8HTO0&list=PLBTcFhpF_7838Ckgn-8rf508QrjEqc9GA

With love and blessings,

Alan

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Mother Earth Speaks – Ram Dass – Subtle Activism

“I suggest, therefore, that when Mother Earth “speaks,” She is asking us to “be” more conscious about what we are doing and to use the Archetypal Energy “Harmony” as a guide for corrective actions.”
–Carroy ‘Cuf’ Ferguson

“Social engagement does not only mean taking care of hungry children in remote areas or protesting wars. It means first engaging to transform suffering right where you are, then slowly moving out from there as far as you can.”
Sister Chan Khong, Learning True Love

“Our passage into the new era, if viable at all, is obviously extremely narrow and fraught with danger. It is as though we are undergoing a collective initiatory crisis that, like all initiations, demands that we pass a crucial test to graduate to our next level of development.”
–David Nicol

I’m seeing a growing consensus among an – admittedly still small, but rapidly growing – number of wisdom/spiritual teachers. Put very simply, what they are saying is that spiritual growth, or awakening, is not separate from the awareness of and responsibility towards all living beings. Add to that an awareness that “living beings” includes all that is, not just human and not just what we call organic. Add also, that this responsibility involves not just outward behavior, but our attitude, thoughts, and subtle energies, which are ongoingly, inter-connected with the physical world. We are especially being drawn to recognize and appreciate in all this the life and consciousness of Mother Earth.

I recently had the honor to speak with one wisdom elder who shares this view, Dr. Carroy ‘Cuf’ Ferguson. Cuf is the first African-American to become the president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology and a full Professor and past Dean of the College of Public and Community Service at the University of Massachusetts – Boston. He is the author of many books and articles exploring human consciousness as it relates to our personal and collective experiences especially involving ecology and race relations.

Our conversation is available at my YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/-77pPk8GSeI

Or you can listen to the podcast: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1827447/10257708.

In it, Cuf explains his ideas about “archetypal energies” and how they relate to our personal life experience and the planetary shifts that are moving through all of us. His ideas come from a lifelong study, starting with his experiences of racism in the South, and his experiences of spontaneous expanded consciousness. I found his thoughts very deep, refreshing and inspiring. He is also a most delightful man. My own introduction to his work came from finding an article in which he wrote about engaging in a process of “tuning in” to the voice of the corona virus. My interest was piqued as I’d been posting articles about COVID that I found to be illuminating in my Medium blog, “Covid Inspirations,” ( See: https://medium.com/@covid.inspirations).

I’ve added an article of his below from 2010 which took a deep look at the roots of our challenges with climate and the environment; totally relevant to today. See “Mother Earth ‘Speaks’: Change Yourself, Change The World, Use The Archetypal Energy “Harmony” As A Guide.” You can download the pdf file of this article here and many of his writing are available through an internet search. http://www.crossingtheboundary.org/motherearthspeaks/

(I’m having trouble adding pdf files to this format, so please note you will need to click on the above link and them click on the link to “motherearthspeaks and then come back here. I promise to get better at this.)

———

Most everyone is familiar with the spiritual teacher, Ram Dass. Ram Dass contributed enormously to the shift in direction of millions towards Eastern spirituality and then towards integrating spiritual practice with social action and service. He was a pioneer in so many ways and his work is being carried on by his associates and students at Love Serve Remember which you can find at: https://www.ramdass.org/.

My good friend, Joseph Tieger, went through a huge trove of material from Ram Dass and distilled a beautiful collection of RD’s talks on this subject, “Ram Dass – Engaging in a World on Fire.” Please download the file and read when you have time. http://www.crossingtheboundary.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/ramdass.pdf

——-

As we grow and expand consciousness, individually and collectively, we are transforming our sense of ourselves and the community within which we find ourselves. We see and feel our inter-connectedness with all-that-is and are moved to do what we can to help relieve suffering and find joy and love in all our relations. May we allow the overflow of this consciousness to spread to all parts of the world, to and through the one blessed world we share, Mother Earth and all creation.

Go In Peace, Sat Santokh

When I wrote Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths, I was introduced to fourteen different very wise and very kind teachers who volunteered to take part. One was Sat Santokh Singh Khalsa. Raised in the Bronx in a Jewish family who gave him the name Bertram Kanegson, Sat Santokh became an activist, the manager of the Grateful Dead, a leader of the Sikh community and Northern California Regional Director of Kundalini Yoga. He died on 2/21/2024.

He was a lifelong activist for peace and justice and sought to help people root out the sources of violence and causes of war in themselves.

I am grateful to have had a couple of hours with such a kind, generous, wise and thoughtful being at his home in California. Here are a few quotes of my interview with him from 2014 found on this blog site: http://www.crossingtheboundary.org/people-of-the-book/sat-santokh-singh-khalsa-sikh-leader/ You can learn more about him and his work at https://www.satsantokh.com/.

Copies of my book containing the full interview with Sat Santokh and thirteen other spiritual teachers of diverse spiritual paths (plus my story) can be obtained at my website below.

Blessings to all teachers and transmitters of wisdom, goodness and compassion. It’s impossible to imagine the world without them.

(From Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths).

Do you think that the world would be better off moving towards where people no longer hold to a particular collective identity?

Every religion has a beautiful and noble spiritual side. But most people are entangled with their pain and fear. For me, the different fundamentalists around the planet are all the same. There is no real difference between Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, Islamic and Christian fundamentalists. They are all full of fear and anger, and they don’t understand at all what religion is really about.

I don’t think people need to give up being Jewish, or Hindu or Christian or any religion. But if they understood and really followed their practices, the world would be a better place.

What Am I? – Jeff Kitzes, AKA Zen Master Bon Soeng

What am I? How many of us take time to ask that question in a serious vein and take time, lots of time, to investigate what we experience when we ask that question of ourselves?

Zen practitioners will sit quietly for hours and days and weeks doing just that. According to Zen Master Bon Soeng, they do that to be ALIVE in the fullest sense of what that means, vibrantly awake to the present moment. “What am I?” is not the only question, but it is at the core of many questions that have no rational answer that foster deep shifts in consciousness through meditation.

Born into a Jewish family, Jeff Kitzes, found himself alienated from the culture in which he grew up and was drawn to meditation at an early age. On a journey in search of Don Juan (the hero of the fiction/non-fiction books of Carlos Castaneda), he found himself at a zen monastery in Mendocino, California and then at a retreat with Korean Zen Master, Seung Sahn of the Kwan Um school of Zen. He says that when he first saw Seung Sahn, he saw someone alive in a way he had never experienced; he became his student for life.

After years of practice, Jeff was initiated as a Zen Master and given the name Bon Soeng. He has been the leader and primary teacher of Empty Gate Zen Center. Empty Gate has a home in Berkeley, CA, a center in Boise, ID and offers teachings online. See https://www.emptygatezen.com/. Many of Bon Soeng’s dharma talks (Buddhist teachings) are posted on YouTube and can be found through Empty Gate website.

In my conversation with Bon Soeng, he reveals a very open attitude as to the activities of his students. Aware that many spiritual teachers have abused their power, he is very much committed to individuals having free choice over their own lives,. This includes the use of psychedelics and cannabis which he feels is an individual choice and, in fact, may be of benefit to their lives and Zen practice.

Bon Soeng says that his lineage is committed to the Bodhisattva path, committing ones life to the benefit of all sentient beings. His students find their own way of understanding that and taking actions as they find themselves directed from within through their practice.

I just posted my YouTube and Podcast conversation with Bon Soeng. Please check either out here to hear the inspiring journey to the Zen path of awakening.

YouTube: https://youtu.be/gj1VSpMT39w?si=WQ-_WFFFHkQo_WLa

Podcast: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1827447/14407863

You can watch many of his wide ranging Dharma Talks at https://www.emptygatezen.com

Addendum:

After our zoom conversation, it occurred to me that I hadn’t asked a very important question. Essentially it is “how does meditating, Zen or otherwise, develop a person who behaves ethically?” Do we just assume that “being more alive or awake” would lead people to behave with each other and the Earth in a healthy or “good” way?

I ran the question by Bon Soeng and this was his response. Being that we are friends, this will lead to many more conversations.

“Interesting questions.

Ethics have obviously changed over the Millenia. Zen arose in China between 500-700 AD. Indian meditation was practiced well before the Buddha ever appeared and Taoist meditation predates Buddhism in China. The ethics of those places in those times were very different than ours. One of Trump’s main nuclear arms advisors was a Buddhist chaplain. During WWII the Japanese Zen establishment sided with the government in their war effort. Many monks in Burma rose up to exile the Rohingya from their territory. And, many monks in Burma rose up to join the democracy movement. 

So, I can’t really say that meditation and practice will lead to a particular standard of ethics. Rather, I think culture drives the particular standard of ethics for a society. In modern America it is mostly white left wing types who seem to be drawn to Buddhism and Zen. I suspect the “left-wing” values are more important in the creation of modern American Buddhist convert sanghas than the ethics espoused by Buddha more than 2500 years ago. We have found voice in Buddhism to values we hold dearly. Care for others, compassion, lovingkindness, equanimity, service, and non-materialism are parts of Buddhist teachings. They resonate for us, so we like it. Just like any pick and choose practitioner of religion, most of us ignore the parts of the teachings that we don’t relate to or agree with, like the confucian views of hierarchy and fidelity to family and country (which my teacher espoused).

My Zen tradition is based on the Bodhisattva way. That way is service to all beings. Zen Master Seung Sahn said: “For me, suffering appears. For all beings, no suffering.” To focus on the welfare of others is the practice of uprooting self-centeredness. Self-centeredness is the great mistake. When “I” becomes the most important thing, we all suffer. To live the Bodhisattva way is to practice. It is the playing field of our life. If we truly take up this vow, we dedicate our lives to the healing and growth of the whole in each and every moment of our life. A life lived from this vow can become a life which benefits all sentient and non-sentient things. This is meditation in action in our daily life.

One more point. When we practice a meditation which focuses on What am I? we learn about ourselves and become more aware of our actions and the conditions that lead to those actions. This awareness can grow into wisdom, which allows us to act in less unconscious and hurtful ways. We act out of our psychological blindness less and in that way bring healing to the world. So, our practice directly impacts the wellbeing of others. Whether that extends to systemic issues is less clear to me.

I hope these thoughts help. I am very interested in the questions that have arisen for you and look forward to the challenging conversation we could have in looking in to those questions.”

From Rage to Empathy – From the River to the Sea

I’ve compiled some resources here that I hope will be helpful to you regarding the raging horror taking place in Israel/Palestine. Please save this and explore them when you have time. Feel free to share.

Blessings for peace and justice,

Alan

No problem can be solved from
the same level of consciousness that created it.”

–Albert Einstein

The recent events in Israel/Palestine tear at my heart and I struggle to find words that will not add to the pain. Fortunately, there are a good number of people who, even in the midst of the worst suffering, have found the wisdom and compassion to build bridges of understanding between the two sides. As I searched, I found many groups of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, who are working together for a real peace. Below are just a few. Please take some time to check them out. I hope that they will be helpful to you, as they have been for me, in facing the horror and being able to communicate with friends or family with whom you may disagree.

Following these few links I offer some of my own thoughts.

Combatants for Peace: These are folks who were Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters who’ve laid down their arms and are working for a just peace. Their website: https://afcfp.org/
Also, Here is an 8 minute interview with two of their activist peacemakers: ‘We feel the pain of the other… Our lives are intertwined,’

For a more in-depth view, register for this free event on 12/8 (which will hopefully be recorded): Two of the speakers, Avi and Ahmed, will share how they have been intimately impacted by the violence. Avi is CEO of Rabbis for Human Rights and a survivor of the massacre at Kibbutz Nirim in the Negev. Ahmed is a former Hamas member, second generation refugee, and long-term CfP member. Ahmed has lost over 51 loved ones in Gaza. 

Parents Circle Family Forum: Members of this group have all lost members of their family to violence from the other side. They have chosen to be with each other’s grief and share in developing solutions with goodwill and respect. https://www.theparentscircle.org/en/pcff-home-page-en/

Abrahamic Reunion: Composed of religious and spiritual leaders who are Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze who focus on the the common ground of their faiths seeking peace. Here is a good 5 minute video summarizing their work: https://www.abrahamicreunion.org/

Roots: Jews and Palestinians fostering a grassroots movement of understanding, non-violence, and understanding among Israelis and Palestinians. Roots/Shorashim/Judur has created and operates the only joint Israeli-Palestinian community center in the entire West Bank. This safe, holy space hosts social, religious, and educational activities, bringing together hundreds of Palestinians and Israelis who begin to realize that there are two truths, two stories – not one – in this land, and the only way forward is to cherish both.
7 minute video https://www.friendsofroots.net/

The Wall Between – Here is one of the best dialogues I’ve listened to on the conflict. Raja Khouri and Jeffrey Wilkinson, a Palestinian and a Jew, wrote the book The Wall Between – What Jews and Palestinians Don’t Want to Know About Each Other. Excellent insights and thoughtful sharing in their discussion:

My thoughts/feelings: While I have plenty of opinions about what is going on, the rights and the wrongs and possible solutions, this message is about the subjective aspects of the conflict and how we transform our fear and rage into understanding and empathy and the will to act for peace and justice.

Although I am Jewish, my life has been blessed to not feel very much of the sting of antisemitism. Yet I know it is very real and that it has taken some of the most horrid forms imaginable. I know the pain and fear that our people carry from across the centuries through the Holocaust. I understand the hope that Israel would provide, finally, a safe home for the Jewish people. I have watched as suicide bombers and knife wielding terrorists have killed brothers and sisters. I understand how fear makes building walls and shutting people out seem reasonable. And now, the horrific, brutal assault on October 7th has brought about boiling rage and crystalized the thought, “Jews cannot have peace with the people who want to destroy them and their nation.” It’s hard to resist the feeling of wanting to drive Palestinians further away or have them killed, to kill or be killed.

I have not experienced anything close to the suffering of the Palestinian people. I am merely a pained witness to the taking of their land and the presence of an occupying army on the little land left for them – an army watching and controlling all their movements, attempting to turn neighbors against each other by paying and pressuring them to spy on each other. The restrictions, the checkpoints, the raids and home demolitions seem endless. There are also the countless humiliations from aggressive Israeli settlers who continue to take more land, harass people and uproot olive groves with the support of armed soldiers. Many Palestinians have been killed or wounded in raids on their communities by the Israeli army or settlers. It is hard for me to imagine how all this, how all of these things and more, must tear at the heart and soul. It’s hard to imagine not sinking into despair or feeling a boiling hot rage and wanting to drive Israelis out or have them killed, to kill or be killed.

All of the darkest feelings any human can have are understandable in light of all this. Yet all wisdom and spiritual traditions tell us that we are not compelled to act from our emotional reactions no matter how seemingly natural or understandable. As humans, we have the ability to open to a higher vision, to find understanding and empathy for ourselves and those who have been our “enemies.”

Who am I to say what is possible for anyone else? I sit in the safety and comfort of my home in New York. But I am heartened to see that there are Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, who have felt the deepest wounds possible and are in the midst of it, who have passed through their own rage and hate, and yet now reach out and embrace those they have been taught to hate and fear. They are teachers for all of us in our personal and collective conflicts.

May we all find some peace in knowing they are here and give them our support.

Con Los Pobres de la Tierra….

“With the poor people of the earth …..I cast my fate.”
From the Cuban song, “Guantanemera”*

El bloqueo – “The Cuban Embargo, begun in 1960, prevents US businesses, and businesses organized under US law or majority-owned by US citizens, from conducting trade with Cuban interests. It is the most enduring trade embargo in modern history.[The United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution every year since 1992 demanding the end of the US economic embargo on Cuba, with the US and Israel being the only nations to consistently vote against the resolutions.”
–Wikipedia

Part 1: PLEASE HELP END THE CUBAN EMBARGO. While the U.S. supports, militarily and financially, a host of authoritarian regimes around the world, it continues to justify this destructive, unjust and failed policy aiming to change the Cuban government. Please take a moment and call your congressperson and ask them to support actions to end the embargo. A short Google search brought up just a couple of groups that appear to be acting responsibly with that purpose. Please check out the Cuba Study Group, cubastudygroup.org or the Facebook group: End the Embargo on Cuba which is sponsored by the Latin America Working Group, https://www.lawg.org/about-us/.

Part 2:
I just returned from my second trip to Cuba. The first, in 1968, was when I was 24 years old and an avowed enemy of the Imperialistic adventures of my own government in Vietnam, Cuba, Africa or around the world. While I was in Havana, I telegraphed my draft board that I wouldn’t be appearing for my scheduled induction because I was busy learning more about revolution. You see, those of us who were in the far end of “the naiveté faction” of the anti-war, peace and justice movement tended to believe we would transform the U.S. to be a democratic, socialist nation, allied with the Cuban people and their revolution.

Lots has happened since then. The world has changed. I’ve changed. Yet I just can’t think of Cuba without tears coming to my eyes. Los pobres de la tierra, the poor people of the earth, are still there, as they are throughout Central and South America, Africa, Asia and the good old U.S.A. But Cuba promised something different. The Cuban revolution did bring free health care, universal free education and homes for the homeless. But there’s not enough food and medicine. In some ways worse, there’s little spirit of making a new world or even bettering this one. People I met, mostly just want to get by and leave for Miami when possible. Yes, it’s the embargo. But no, it’s also rigid government control, a lack of free press, and the attempt to impose an idealized version of human life on people not ready for it. But that’s revolution for you. The poor people of the earth just don’t cooperate.

It’s, of course, more complicated. I was there with my wife, Ginny, for just twelve days and talked to a few dozen people at best. So what do I know? We weren’t there as investigators or reporters, we were on vacation with visas that declared we were there “to support the Cuban people.” But you can’t go to Cuba, even on vacation and not think about these things. The ubiquitous billboards and posters, mostly fading, call out the revolutionary slogans with pictures of Che, Fidel and other heroes of the revolution.

“Hasta la victoria siempre!” “Solo la unidad now hace invencibles” (Only unity makes us invincible). At the same time, walking down the streets in Old Havana was walking through a gauntlet of hustlers trying to be your friend and get some pesos from you. Something to help feed their families. Splendorous Spanish architecture was everywhere, but for every one being refurbished, three are literally crumbling to the ground.

It seems the whole thrust of the Cuban policy makers is to build the tourist industry and bring the euros and dollars into the economy. A sizable part of the money from tourism goes to the government which owns the hotels and tourist stores. For that reason, Americans are told we must not shop at government establishments. If the government had more money, presumably they could pay higher salaries (professors and doctors earn as little as $20-30/month) and distribute more free or low-cost food to the people, rebuild infrastructure, etc.

Most people we talked to were bitter about this. They see glitzy hotels and stores with fancy goods that are out of their reach. They blame the government. With COVID and post-COVID realities, tourism is way down so the trickle down from tourism is just not happening. And perhaps more to the point, there is a lack of democratic process to decide on these policies and how to reform them.

People who went through Cuba’s excellent, free educational system to become professional doctors, teachers, lawyers, give up their careers to work and earn magnitudes more money as taxi drivers, tour guides, renting their apartments to tourists, or playing guitar at restaurants. Those who stay in their professions have family who hustle that free-enterprise world or receive money from relatives in Miami.

Cuba is changing, slowly. It’s possible to be hopeful from a distance. But I didn’t see much hope there. So many families are torn apart because the young are now in Miami, New York or somewhere else where there is more opportunity. Of course, most Latin American countries face similar circumstances. Maybe it’s that expectations are or were different for Cuba.

Bottom line, I encourage you to visit. It’s a beautiful country, beautiful people, music everywhere, and it’s inexpensive. It seems most Americans believe you can’t travel there. Not true. Most American airlines have regular flights to Havana. The visa process is very simple. You can go, enjoy, learn, and “support the Cuban people” by bringing some medicines, children’s toys, household goods, etc..

And finally, HELP END THE CUBAN EMBARGO!

Hasta la victoria siempre – Ever onward to victory. Here, there, everywhere.

~Alan Levin

WAIT!!

Not to leave you with a depressing message, check out these videos from Playing for Change:

Chan Chan (heard everwhere in Cuba)

Guantanamera

*The version of the song created by Jose Martí and Orbón was used by Pete Seeger as the basis of his reworked version, which he based on a performance of the song by Héctor Angulo. Seeger combined Martí’s verse with the tune with the intention that it be used by the peace movement at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He urged that people sing the song as a symbol of unity between the American and Cuban peoples, and called for it to be sung in Spanish to “hasten the day [that] the USA … is some sort of bilingual country.” –Wikipedia

Part 3
Consciousness, spirituality and revolution.

It seems clear that whatever else moved them, Che and Fidel were idealists. Like other “isms,” idealism can lead to the sacrifice of our connection to our true nature which is beyond ideas and concepts. It can lead one to acts of violence that betray the sanctity of life and a failure to listen deeply to the divine source that is ultimately compassion and love. (see my post about “isms”  http://www.crossingtheboundary.org/crossing-the-ism-boundary/

A painting on the wall where we stayed in Havana really struck me. It takes the theme of Michelangelo’s “La Pieta” – of Mary holding Jesus – and has a more modern, Goddess figure holding a crumbling Havana. Art can be revolutionary.

May Her spirit lift the splintered ruins of the revolution to higher ground.
(The painting is by Cuban artist, Roniel Andrade)

Keeping the Sacred Fire Burning – Chief Dwaine Perry

I am writing this from what we commonly call the Lower Hudson Valley, north of New York City, which is the land of the Ramapough Lenape Munsee people.

It has become a practice for some folks while in public communications, zoom calls, etc., when asked where they are from, to say, “on the land of …” and then the name of the tribal people who inhabited that land prior to the arrival of Europeans and the forced removal or genocide of that people. It seems like a respectful thing to do.

When I was growing up in the 50’s, we played “cowboys and indians” and watched western movies where the indians were savages and the really evil villain was the medicine man. As time went on we began to see Native Americans portrayed with more nuance and then respect and even a kind of idealization. The medicine man we learned is a shaman with access to great wisdom and healing powers. Movies have changed. Lots of attitudes have changed. But the reality of many Native tribes is still quite dire.

The Ramapough are still here in New York and New Jersey and I live on what was their land. They are struggling to keep their language and customs alive and to preserve the sacredness of what remains of their land, much of which continues to be gobbled up by suburbia and mega-mansions. In recent years the tribe has fought numerous legal battles just to have the freedom to hold public ceremonies on the small patches of Mother Earth they can still call theirs. These ceremonies have been attended by Native people from all over the world and hundreds of non-Native people in the area (myself included).

The tribe was recognized by the State of New Jersey as the Ramapough Indians in 1980. Their effort to achieve federal recognition was thwarted largely by intense lobbying from, yes, Donald Trump. Trump claimed the Ramapough were not legitimate and would bring waves of crime. Of course, he also feared they would establish a casino that would compete with his own just miles away in Atlantic City. The story of this struggle is told in the film American Native (2013).

Over the years they have dealt with the classic definition of environmental racism. Portions of a toxic waste dump of the Ford Motor Company became the site for affordable housing for many of the Ramapough people. The contamination has been linked to nosebleeds, leukemia, and other ailments. They also have been at the forefront of the battle to stop the Pilgrim Pipeline from carrying gasoline, diesel, kerosene, aviation fluid and heating oil through their land. * At the center of these activities is the man who since 2007 has been the elected Chief of the Ramapough Munsee tribe, Dwaine Perry. It was an honor for me to record my recent conversation with Chief Perry for my podcast and YouTube channel, “Crossing the Boundary.”

Chief Perry has a long history of fighting for human rights, today focusing primarily on issues of concern to the Ramapough Munsee nation, decolonization, and the indigenous community at large. He has sat with Elders and indigenous leaders in the Himalayas, the Andes, and throughout North America. His journey to Standing Rock was instrumental in establishing the Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp in northern New Jersey. He is also currently working to establish the first Embassy of Sovereign Indigenous Nations of the Western Hemisphere.**

While Chief Perry often speaks sardonically, he is a serious man who, against all odds, seeks to unify his people and bring together native and non-native peoples to work together for a kinder humanity, honoring the living Earth and all creatures as sacred. As I previously said, it was an honor (and a joy) to speak with him and learn more about the tribe and his life. See: podcast: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1827447/13710848 or YouTube:

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramapough_Mountain_Indians
**https://www.riverkeeper.org/riverkeeper-mission/our-board/chief-dwaine-perry/

Please check out the amazing photos taken by Lisa Levart that have been made into an outdoor installation entitled, “Still Here – Women of the Ramapough Lenape Nation.”

Philosopher – Activist: Dr. Lenny Grob

“A human being becomes whole not in virtue of a relation to himself [only]

but rather in virtue of an authentic relation to another human being.” –Martin Buber

Faith is not a question of the existence or non-existence of God.

It is believing that love without reward is valuable.” – Emmanuel Levinas

The first time I met Lenny, Dr. Leonard Grob, I asked him what he did. He replied, “I’m a philosopher.” That was the first time anyone ever introduced themselves to me that way and I was quite moved. It was the beginning of a deep friendship, long conversations and many collaborations as activists for peace and justice. Many of our efforts have related to Palestine/Israel. While we often find points of difference in our perspectives, we always have maintained mutual admiration, respect and love in our ongoing relationship.

My most recent conversation with Lenny was recorded for my YouTube channel and Podcast series “Crossing the Boundary.” It’s called, “Philosopher – Activist: Dr. Leonard Grob.” I hope you take some time and watch or listen. Lenny is a deep thinker and while in his mid-eighties, continues to be very active in working to help transform our world to a more just and loving place.

Lenny has a long resume of activities and writings. He is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck, New Jersey, where he served for most of his career as Chairperson of Philosophy Studies and Director of the University’s nationally-recognized University Core Program in the Humanities. As an activist, he is vice president of Partners for Progressive Israel and has been active for decades in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

Earlier in his career Dr .Grob published extensively in the areas of the philosophy of dialogue and peace studies, focusing in particular on the philosophy of Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas. He is the co-editor of two anthologies based on Buber’s philosophy.
A journey to Ukraine to uncover the history of the destruction of his father’s family during the Holocaust led him to the study of genocide, a focal point of his research during the second half of his career. The Nazis killed all the members of his fathers immediate family in Poland. He has said, “Speaking about the lessons of the Holocaust and striving to make the world a better place is a way of memorializing the dead, particularly my own grandparents and other members of my fathers family.”

As a Holocaust scholar he has been the principle organizer of international conferences and forums on the subject. He is the author or co-author of numerous books and articles, several of which focus on the lessons we can learn from the Holocaust in relationship to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the issue of torture, ethics, Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue, women’s and mens liberation, genocide, the use of power, and his most recent book with Dr. John Roth, Warnings – The Holocaust, Ukraine, and Endangered American Democracy.

The phrase “Never again” has meant, for many in the Jewish community, “never allow Jews to be persecuted again.” Dr. Grob has shared with me his view that this is a mistake. The phrase should refer to all people. We need to dedicate ourselves to preventing the persecution or genocide of any group. And that would include Palestinians.

While many steeped in Holocaust studies have become staunch, unquestioning defenders of Israel, Lenny has taken a different direction. He is active with Partners for Progressive Israel and is a very active participant in an NGO committed to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In that role, he is currently bringing peace proposals to ambassadors and their deputies at UN missions. The underlying principle is that in any just solution, both Palestinians and Jewish people in the land must be valued equally and have equal rights.

Lenny describes his politics as derived from the teachings of Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas. In my admittedly very limited understanding, these philosophers exhort us to live as though our relations with others define us, and only love will save us. I know from my experience with him, that Lenny applies this not just to politics, but to his relations with family, community and friends. I am happy to be one of them.

Please check out our conversation and explore my conversations with others who have crossed boundaries and are making the world a better place.

Peace and blessings,

Alan Levin

YouTube talk with Lenny Grob: https://youtu.be/D3JKJa1Y8f4?si=CCynMFwl0tMUVrhR

Audio podcast with Lenny: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1827447/13580818

Below are some of the publications Lenny has authored or co-authored.

Warnings: The Holocaust, Ukraine, and Endangered American Democracy by Leonard Grob and John K. Roth | Jul 6, 2023

Encountering the Stranger: A Jewish-Christian-Muslim Trialogue (Stephen S. Weinstein Series in Post-Holocaust Studies) by Leonard Grob and John K. Roth | Jan 3, 2013

Losing Trust in the World: Holocaust Scholars Confront Torture (Stephen S. Weinstein Series in Post-Holocaust Studies) by Leonard Grob and John K. Roth

Teen Voices from the Holy Land: Who Am I to You? by Mahmoud Watad and Leonard Grob | May 1, 2007

Education for Peace: Testimonies from World Religions by Haim Gordon and Leonard Grob | Jan 1, 1987

Anguished Hope: Holocaust Scholars Confront the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict by Leonard Grob and John K. Roth | Aug 20, 2008

Women’s and Men’s Liberation: Testimonies of Spirit (Contributions in Philosophy) by Haim Gordon, Leonard M. Grob, et al.

Crossing the ISM Boundary

“The world is new to us every morning –

this is God’s gift: and EVERY man should believe he is reborn each day.”

–the Baal Shem Tov (primary founder of Hasidism)

“You cannot continue to victimize someone else

just because you yourself were a victim once – there has to be a limit.”

–Edward Said (Palestinian author and activist)

Hasidimism, Israelism, and Antisemitism

Disclaimer: These are quite controversial issues. I am writing from my observations and informed opinions. I am not a professional scholar or researcher in any of these fields. I ask only that you see if any of it resonates with your own thoughts and feelings.

Two of the words in the title are invented, one by me. They obviously have to do with two topics, two very thorny discussion topics: the communities of people known as Hasidic, and the nation-state of Israel. I use the term “thorny” because discussing either of them almost always involves fear of being stung by accusations of antisemitism or possibly contributing to already existing antisemitism in the larger community. My intention in writing this is to help those struggling with the issues, who have strong feelings about them, but are afraid and inhibited about communicating, especially with Jewish people. My hope is to contribute to a freer and more helpful dialogue and positive actions.

First a bit about what I mean by “isms.”

Growing up in a religious or a secular-ideological family is growing up immersed in an ism. That is, there’s a set of ideas or myths that define what is heroic or cowardly, what your relation to God or higher ideals entails, and how to answer the basic questions of life: who your people are, who or what you are, and what you are here to do. These myths or belief systems deeply saturate your consciousness affecting all thoughts, feelings and visceral inclinations on subjects that touch on the ism identity. Folks with strong ism identities tend to see the world in us/them ways, “you’re one of us, or not,” “you get it, or you don’t.” Criticism from within the group has to fall within a certain boundary of acceptability, criticism from outside the group tends to be seen as hostile and threatening. People outside the ism group tend to sense the boundary that encloses the group and individuals in it.

Anti-SemitISM

Unfortunately, this is an ism that has captured most of humanity, especially in that part of humanity that has been influenced by Christianism (a subject for another time). Over the past two millennia, generation after generation, so much hatred has poured forth, so much degrading judgement has been heaped on “the Jews,” that it’s difficult for anyone to have escaped feeling or believing that some of it is true. With so much smoke, there must be fire somewhere. So some of what is actually the dark projection of the shadow of humanity – the ego’s essential greediness and selfishness – must be the actual nature of the Jews. “Smart as they may be, they’re only out for themselves.”

Volumes of books and articles have been written by scholars about antisemitism, its roots and complex manifestations. What I’m referring to here is the subjective mindset that demonizes the essential character of Jewish people, and the actions that stem from that mindset. It has fulfilled the need for a scapegoat in many parts of the world over the centuries. This has resulted in separation, ghettoization and pogroms, culminating in the Holocaust. Until recently, the stereotypes of Jews became almost universally accepted even by the intelligentsia throughout Europe and its extensions. In the U.S., Jews were excluded from many predominantly White associations and public accommodations up until the 1950’s when I was a child. I recall going on trips to Miami and my dad telling me certain hotels didn’t allow Jews (or Colored or dogs).

While expressions of anti-Semitic ideas and discrimination against Jewish people have been largely eliminated from public view in the U.S., they are far from gone.

On a website comment discussion that had complaints about a business (that was owned by Jews), someone wrote, ”Anything Jews get into, money, publishing, movie industry, becomes crooked because they are crooked by nature.” Another said, “Time after time, nation after nation, generation after generation, they are stealers.”

In recent times, especially in the Trump era, openly racist and antisemitic language and violence have escalated, coming out of the closet of the subjective experience of individuals and routinely expressed on social media and through acts of harassment and violence. We’ve all heard the haunting chant of the White Supremacists marching in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

I think it’s important to acknowledge that antisemitic tropes are like destructive memes – thoughts that spread like contagious viruses. They exist on a continuum of intensity in just about everyone, Jewish people included. As with racism, patriarchy, classism, etc., even the victims have been subjected to the conditioning. Being free of it starts with being aware of it. Anti-racist activists and teachers are often wrongly criticized for attempting to tell liberal white people that they still have internalized racism. And for educating people of color as to how their internalized racism works against themselves. Isms become invisible prisons of the mind.

The Russian spiritual teacher, Gurdjieff said, “You are in prison. If you wish to get out of prison, the first thing you must do is realize that you are in prison. If you think you are free, you can’t escape.”

All that said, it’s important to acknowledge that dramatic progress has been made, especially in the U.S. and Europe. Most Jews have fully assimilated and been accepted into all areas of society and have leadership roles throughout. Jews have positions of power and influence seemingly at odds with the fact that they are 2.4% of the adult U.S. population and .2% of the world. (Yes, 2.4 and .2 – hard to believe). What’s troubling is that in the two areas of focus in this writing, the communities of the Hasidim and Israel, there are serious concerns about how that power and influence is being abused.

HasidimISM

I am a firm supporter of the freedom of religion. Hasidism is an essentially mystical, Jewish spiritual transmission with a lineage extending back several centuries. It contains some of the most precious and deepest teachings of the Jewish religion. It was a liberating force in the Jewish world, offering Jews that were not steeped in the scholarly study of Jewish law an opportunity to experience a joyful and mystical form of spirituality with a loving embrace of the natural world.

But as with Evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity, the organized institutions that evolved to represent the teachings of the pioneers of this tradition rigidified the practices and created hierarchies of power, and we have what we have today. There is the Hasidim and several offshoots and parallel ultra-Orthodox groups all of which are part of what are known as Haredi Jews. Most outsiders refer to all Haredi people as Hasidic, so I’m using that more familiar term here. An individual in this tradition is a Hasid, the plural is Hasidim. What I’m calling Hasidimism is the adherence to the hierarchical, group-think, fundamentalist, separative ideology within much of the Haredi community that leads those members to be mistrustful and fearful of outsiders and willing to act with wanton disregard for the rights and needs of those they view as outsiders: the Goyim (non-Jews) and secular Jews. To be sure, not all Hasidim adhere to this way. As with all isms, there is a continuum along which people find themselves.

I moved to Rockland County in 2004. It’s less than an hour north of New York City. When I asked people here what the primary issues were in the area, I was told it was relations with the Hasidim: their relations with non-Jews, with people of color and with non-ultra-Orthodox Jews. The Hasidim mostly live in enclaves in one part of the County and had managed to take control of the public school board of one of the towns even though their kids did not attend those schools. The public schools were primarily Black and Brown, the Hasidic kids went to private yeshivas and it was apparent that the public schools were being slowly milked of resources diverted to the yeshivas. Complaints were routinely dismissed as coming from antisemitism.

The damage to the public schools and many other issues were making people outside the Hasidic community view them with hostility, validating the big fear generated by Hasidimism – that everyone hates them. After years of trying to foster dialogues between the Hasidim and other segments of the community, a group of progressives came together to focus attention of the problems. We first needed to address clearly that criticism of the leaders and group behavior of the Hasidic/Haredi community had nothing to do with antisemitism. A six page document was drafted with links to videos and other sources of information. Because of the intense and consistent accusations that critics of the Hasidic community were anti-Semitic, the document stated:

“We speak along with the many liberal and progressive Jews from all the non-ultra-Orthodox communities: Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and secular. We are also aware that there are many within the ultra-Orthodox religious world who genuinely oppose the direction of their leaders but are intimidated into silence.
……It seems clear that these problems would generally be addressed by the liberal and progressive community through community education, government regulation and intervention were it not for the fear of being falsely accused of antisemitism. We cannot overstate this fact: opposition to the illegal and unethical behavior of any ultra-Orthodox leaders or groups is not antisemitism. Liberal and progressive citizens and political representatives need to stand clearly in opposition to such destructive activities as is consistent with their values.”

The document went on to describe in detail a number of areas of concern. A few of the issues are summarized here:

Schools: “Despite their indifference and even contempt for public education, Ultra-Orthodox run for and are elected to the boards of public school districts. Independent monitors have found that they use their public positions to favor the interests of their own private religious schools (yeshivas). The state of New York found that the East Ramapo school district, under control of a majority ultra-Orthodox board, illegally sent millions of dollars to yeshivas. Two public schools in East Ramapo were closed and sold to yeshivas for less than their value, and an appraiser was convicted of filing false instruments in association with one of the sales.”


Education within the Yeshivas: In Rockland County and many of the Hasidic schools in NYC, little or no secular education is provided all the way through high school. This is contrary to state law and creates numerous problems for their own members and the surrounding community.


Politics: With little education in civics, history (other than the Bible), science, and the English language, the leaders of the community essentially dictate who and what to vote for in elections and the community votes as a block. Politicians most often fall in line and support policies inconsistent with the needs of the larger community.


Housing: Hasidic developers have controlled land use boards in towns and routinely violate comprehensive plans, environmental regulations, safety regulations, and build housing that discriminates against non-Haredi individuals. Public funds are used to build what is essentially segregated housing. Because of the extremely high birth rate encouraged by Hasidimism, they seek to expand to surrounding communities. Whole upstate towns have had their school boards and town councils similarly taken over.


While these issues affect those outside the Haredi community, many issues of concern adversely affect members of the community itself which ultimately creates a burden on everyone. Covering up child and domestic abuse, revoking parental rights of dissidents, promotion of prejudice and discrimination, fraud in public programs, slumlord rental ownership, cult-like submission to some of the rabbis.


It is difficult for me to list these things as I know that these behaviors are characteristic of the stereotypes that antisemites hold against Jews. Further, Hasidimism promotes the belief that they are the only true Jews. It’s for this reason and more that much of the vocal opposition to the Hasidic expansion into other communities comes from Jewish people.


To make this last point more clear, I offer an anecdotal story. I was recently in a large department store talking with a sales lady, an immigrant from Ecuador. She was telling me about how “the Jews” were abusing some of her friends, taking advantage of them because they did not have legal status, and cheating them of their money. I knew, of course, what she meant: the men with the long beards and black hats and coats. She was shocked when I told her that I was Jewish. I shared that there are differences amongst Jews as there are with all peoples. The incident reminded me of stories I’ve heard of the Palestinian children who when they speak of the men in full armor with machine guns taking their fathers and brothers away or destroying their homes, they call those men, “the Jews.” Those are the only Jews they know. Which brings me to IsraelISM.

IsraelISM

The following are facts: In much of the land often referred to as Israel/Palestine, one ethnic group (Jewish-Israelis) occupies and increasingly confiscates the land of another ethnic group (Arab-Palestinians), and through a brutal military occupation controls the movement and lives of that people. Despite these facts, here in the U.S., Jewish youth are taught that what is happening is necessary and justified and that they need to support and defend the nation-state of Israel against all critics. More than that, it is their obligation to “love” Israel and consider moving there and/or joining the military that enforces that Occupation. That is Israelism.

The term was coined by the directors, Eric Axelman and Sam Eilertsen, of the film by that name, “Israelism.” As soon as I saw the title I understood. I had seen this ism consistently in almost all Jewish people I’ve met and had to face it in myself. As a young person, I was taught to have an emotional bond with Israel and went door-to-door raising money for a fund that, as it turns out, was discriminating against Palestinian people. The documentary is calling attention to the lifelong conditioning of American Jewish youth to love and support blindly a nation-state even when that nation consistently oppresses other people. This has brought about a Jewish population (of liberals and conservatives) that, with some exceptions, continues to support Israel’s apartheid policies with sophisticated double-think that is only possible when one is immersed in a strong ism.

“When two young American Jews raised to unconditionally love Israel witness the way Israel treats Palestinians, their lives take sharp left turns. Their stories reveal a deepening generational divide over modern Jewish identity.”
From the website of the film “Israelism”

Those captivated by Hasidimism see those outside their world as threatening, especially when any form of criticism is heard. Hasidimism blinds their eyes to the abuses within their community and the abuses their community perpetrates on others. Just so, American Jews have been steeped in Israelism and blinded to what is plain to see if one only looks. Decade after decade of lies and abuse is supported with billions of dollars from the U.S. government, as well as Jewish and evangelical Christian groups (the latter with a whole different ideological rationale). This is aid, that in other circumstances, would be considered supporting terrorism.

I will not attempt here to argue or document the strong positions I’ve stated above. There are so many books and articles and films and eye-witness accounts that make it clear enough. (I am writing for those who already get this, but may not recognize the extent of the problem or that they can indeed speak out about it.) Yet, I’m heartened by the the fact, as documented in the film, a significant portion of today’s Jewish youth – and adults as well – are seeing through the false narrative, and have come to support the Palestinian cause for justice. The film documents this hopeful trend.

But isms don’t die easily. Most people I know who can see the obvious injustice in Israel/Palestine avoid talking about it, especially with Jewish friends. Most Jews who are liberal and progressive on every issue will balk at criticism of Israel, let alone advocating for an end to military aid to Israel even while those weapons are used to kill civilians, women and children. Jews who supported the boycott of South Africa, the boycotts of grapes or lettuce in support of farm-workers, feel the non-violent boycott of Israel is somehow not fair or evil.

As I write this, Israel is in a crisis over preserving the independence of the judiciary and just how far to the right its government will go. Openly racist individuals have been elected and empowered. Yes, many Israelis are demonstrating in the streets, fighting for “democracy.” But it’s democracy for Jews only. As yet, only very small groups among the protestors call attention to the continuing, in fact escalating, violence and subjugation of the Palestinian population under military rule. “Jewish supremacy” ends up being the final outgrowth of of Israelism.

Some hopeful signs

Many Hasidic/Haredi individuals are finding ways to open their minds beyond Hasidimism and still enjoy the community spirit and religious practices they value. Many have found ways to leave the fold entirely, even though this often means rejection by family, losing contact with children and trying to find their way in a world for which they have not been prepared. Organizations such as Footsteps help people deprogram from the cult aspects of Hasidimism and integrate into the modern world. Groups such as Yaffed have battled to get New York State and NYC to enforce the laws demanding that secular education be taught in the yeshivas. This is important so that members of the Hasidic community can be well informed, and question some of the aspects of Hasidimism they’ve been steeped in. It also provides young adults an opportunity to have the skills and knowledge to choose for themselves whether to stay or go. Further, I have learned that there are groups of Hasidic men and women exploring new therapies, meditation, yoga and even psychedelic ceremonies as ways to free their minds, heal trauma, and perhaps dissolve the separative and fearful conditioning of Hasidimism.

As mentioned, “Israelism,” the film, documents the stories of several young Jews who witnessed the abusive treatment of Palestinians and opened their eyes to how they’d been misled. One had even joined and served in the Israeli military. They have joined the growing movement among young Americans, especially young Jews, questioning and actively fighting against the Israelism they were raised in. Groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, Just Vision, Partners for Progressive Israel, and many others are gaining traction as they consistently question the Israelism narrative.

Talking critically about Israel has been taboo for many years, especially for people in public positions such as business leaders and politicians. Politicians know that they can lose not only business relationships and friendships, but financial support and votes. In fact, massive amounts of money are poured into propaganda campaigns against elected officials who dare to speak against Israel’s actions. That is slowly changing as the understandings and feelings in the general population are changing, (quite rapidly among mainstream Democrats). People under thirty in the U.S. are now reported to be equally supportive of the Palestinians as they are of the Israelis, quite different from the older generations. Perhaps indicative of this trend is the fact that the film, “Israelism,” has won best documentary film in film festivals all over the country, and was the audience selection for best documentary at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Isms live not just in the mind, but in the heart and viscerally in our bodies. They are transmitted inter-generationally. They tend to control where and to what we pay attention, providing a lens through which everything: art, politics, even relationships are seen and judged. To emerge from of an ism is often a slow and painful process, especially when personal relationships are based in it. Accounts of White Supremacists who have been liberated from the hateful mental prison of racism and antisemitism shed light on just what it takes. The work of Daryl Davis, the African American musician who helped turn the minds of a number of KKK members is very inspiring. See more about his work here.

In the name of combating antisemitism, laws have been passed that make even advocating the non-violent boycott of Israel illegal. The accusation of antisemitism has brought condemnation, censoring and cancelling of honest discussion and activism aimed at supporting justice in Israel/Palestine. As well, for towns and cities in New York and other areas of the U.S., where people live in proximity to Hasidic enclaves, honest and direct communication needs to happen without fear that such talk is antisemitic.

From a deep perspective, I believe that both Israelism and Hasidimism have their roots in the collective, inter-generational trauma(s) wrought from antisemitism. While this does not justify them, it helps us to understand, empathize, and have constructive dialogue. My hope is that these thoughts will help to open that dialogue and be liberating in the struggle for justice.

Human Kindness Inside and Outside Prison

“The world changes for the better with every act of kindness,

and for the worse with every act of cruelty.” – Bo Lozoff

I’ve heard a powerful teaching attributed to the mystic/philosopher/spiritual teacher, George Gurdjieff. It goes something like this: “A person cannot get free of a prison if he doesn’t know he’s in one.” Incarcerated men and women are reminded 24/7 that they are in a prison by the bars that limit their movement. Those of us on the outside are mostly blind to the imprisonment defined by our self-limiting beliefs and narrowed vision of reality. Who then is in a better position to do the work aimed at inner freedom?

My dear friends, Bo and Sita Lozoff, created the Prison Ashram Project in 1973 to help prisoners make their time behind bars one of spiritual awakening through yoga, meditation and a wide range of wisdom teachings from the East and West – to make their prison an ashram for their spiritual awakening. They were inspired and supported by Ram Dass and their project has grown into the largest prison ministry in the U.S. reaching tens of thousands of incarcerated men and women. It is now renamed the “Human Kindness Foundation.” In addition to ongoing letter exchanges with prisoners, they have visited and held workshops in prisons all across the country while distributing free copies of books to prisoners. The Village Voice called Bo’s book, We’re All Doing Time, “one to the 10 books everyone in the world should read” and has over half a million copies in print.

Sita Lozoff is a wise and deeply spiritual person with a warm and loving heart. She happily took a supportive role to Bo’s very dynamic leadership and teaching activities until Bo’s death in 2012. She has now stepped into a greater leadership role herself as the spiritual director of HKF and I was very happy to have a recorded conversation with her which you can now see on YouTube or listen to as a podcast (links also below).

Human Kindness Foundation, like most non-profits, depends primarily on small donor contributions and I encourage you to consider making a donation if you want to support their mission. As you know, mass incarceration in the U.S. is enormously destructive and unjust. It is inflicted disproportionately on people of color, with little benefit towards rehabilitation or restoring justice. Nonetheless, while in prison, facing the injustice of the system and the often brutal reality of life there, individuals have transformed their thinking and way of being with the help of HKF. You can see more about their projects and make a donation here: https://humankindness.org/

May all beings be free.

With love and blessings,

Alan

YouTube video of conversation with Sita: https://youtu.be/NUbD05sRsOA

Podcast: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1827447/12658257

Website of Human Kindness Foundation: https://humankindness.org/