After the Shattering: Bearing Witness

We have now moved through the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the shattering that became the broader devastation of the Holocaust — and we continue to face the relentless shatterings of hatred and violence over recent weeks in our nation and our world. How do we face our own brokenness? 


In Buddhist tradition, an ancient compassion-activist who vowed to liberate all beings from suffering became so overwhelmed with the enormity of that suffering that s/he shattered into thousands of pieces. The broken pieces were restored as thousands of eyes and arms — perhaps a reminder of how those who seek the world's healing must move through heartbreak into ever-expanding circles of connection and community.


In November 2005 I joined an international, multifaith Bearing Witness retreat on the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Memories of that experience are emerging powerfully now — and they shine light through the clouds of today's pain, fear, and anger. LEARN MORE

Thirteen years later, I have again become a bat mitzvah — a "daughter of imperative" — as my experiences and memories come of age on another level. I find it imperative to lift my candle, to listen for guidance, to reclaim the vigil, to walk the walk — and "First, do no harm." 


Most of all, I find it imperative to sustain the poor, visit the sick, bury the dead, and console the bereaved — for these are ways of peace across the lines that continue to divide us. These loving actions send healing through space and time to all the shattered bodies and souls — past, present, and future. LEARN MORE

All Through the Night: Reclaiming the Vigil in Times of Trauma


We bury the dead of non-Jews along with the dead of Jews, for these are ways of peace. We console the mourners of non-Jews along with the mourners of Jews, for these are ways of peace. — Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Gittin (~400 CE)


Thirteen Black and Jewish victims of hate-filled gun rampages in Jeffersontown, KY and Pittsburgh, PA were laid to rest over five days last week. The wounded are struggling to recover. Survivors are stunned. Our nation is overwhelmed. 


Media concern for Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones — of blessed memory— remains inadequate. Please remember "ways of peace" in opening your hearts to mourn and stand with the survivors in Jeffersontown and beyond.


In Pittsburgh, two hevra kadisha / sacred burial fellowship colleagues are among the dead and wounded. Jerry Rabinowitz — of blessed memory — was one of the first Pittsburgh victims buried this past week. I am thankful that the condition of Daniel Leger has been recently upgraded from critical to stable My heart goes out to their families and fellow volunteers of the New Community Chevra Kadisha.


I have long asserted that, when "nothing" can be done, the hevra kadisha goes to work. But when a sacred burial fellowship itself is wounded, the broader community must step forward into the breach — as is happening now in Pittsburgh. especially through vigil-keeping.


And when the cloud lengthened many days over the Tabernacle, the children of Israel kept the vigil of the ETERNAL and did not move on. — Numbers 9:19


The ancient Israelites, camping beneath a great cloud in the wilderness, never knew when the cloud would rise and move them forward — and they never knew when the cloud would again descend and bring them to a sudden halt. While less perceptible, today's clouds of grief and trauma continue to rise and descend beyond our human regulation. As in the biblical wilderness, vigil-keeping can help to restore our broken rhythms of community life. 


Beyond familiar vigils of public solidarity, the tragedies of the past week have highlighted the simple yet powerful practices of sh'mirah / vigil-keeping around the clock over the bodies of the dead. The last time that sh'mirah garnered any significant media attention was after the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, when a pluralistic, 24-hour mobilization of more than 200 Jewish vigil-keepers at the NYC Medical Examiner’s office was sustained until the Ground Zero recovery efforts were suspended in May 2002. 


"This is something I can do," asserted Judith Kaplan, one of the 9/11 vigil-keepers whose stories went out around the world. Jessica Russak — who organized Kaplan and other classmates at nearby Stern College to insure that the vigil would be covered each Shabbat — later discovered that her great-grandmother had been a burial fellowship leader. "I think that’s the best thing I’ve heard since it all began," commented Russak, as she reflected on the first anniversary of the attacks. "I learned that there are more mitzvahs out there than I was aware of."


"This was something they knew how to do," reported The Atlantic on the dozens of volunteers who mobilized for sh'mirah in Pittsburgh over the past week, highlighting a range of personal practices. The only requirement for participation is the ability to be respectful and cooperative in the presence of the dead. Most vigil-keepers do not realize this until they volunteer. 


Butterfly HandsMay this commitment be shared and sustained toward future healing. I want to express the gratitude that I have felt for fellow vigil-keepers since my own first vigil over the dead more than two decades ago:


Thank you for volunteering to fulfill this mitzvah of ultimate kindness. Your presence means more than anyone can ever say. 



Ar Hyd y Nos / All Through the Night


Melody first published 1784

Original Welsh poem by John Ceiriog Hughes (1832-1887)

New singable English rendering lovingly dedicated

to all the dead, survivors, and vigil-keepers everywhere


All the eyelids of the stars say—


“Vale of glory beckons this way”


Suffering at these times is winter

Yet to beautify life further

We’ll put our weak light together


Life and Death: "The Pass" in Texas and Beyond


El Paso, Circa 1880 (F. Parker)


In 1887, a death in the small Jewish community of El Paso ("The Pass") galvanized the formation of the Mount Sinai Association to bury the dead, sustain the poor, and visit the sick. Join WAYS OF PEACE in El Paso at today's Temple Mount Sinai, as we renew the spiral of life!


From Caring Community to Sacred Fellowship

October 26th-28th, 2018 at Temple Mount Sinai, El Paso, Texas


How can we show up and accompany each other through the full range of life transitions — while keeping our own balance? Join Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips of WAYS OF PEACE as we discover a renewed equilibrium that integrates kindness and justice for these challenging times. LEARN MORE

Zombies...and Things That Come Back To Life

Tablet Magazine

"What is your position on zombies?" It's not something I'm usually asked as a rabbi, especially in the middle of a meal. (...) 

‘Tis the season for discussions of how kosher it is for Jews to celebrate Halloween. But the fascination with “the undead” provides ongoing opportunities for dialogue between generations on issues that go beyond costumes and candy. LEARN MORE



Donate ButtonWAYS OF PEACE donates at least 10 percent of net staff compensation to other organizations that uphold our core mandates of promoting justice and kindness across lines of diversity.

Listening for Guidance


"...and after the hurricane, an earthquake...and after the earthquake, a fire...and after the fire — a still, small voice." (First Kings 19:11-12)

Professor Allan Lichtman, who has correctly predicted the popular vote of every presidential election since 1984, has done so on the basis of principles derived from the study of natural disasters — especially earthquakes: "Everything we know about elections, we've already stolen from geophysics....Tremors of political change, seismic movements of the voters, volcanic elections, political earthquakes. It's all geophysics anyway."

As so many of us continue to reel from the fallout of current events and their media coverage, this could actually be good news. Lichtman's perspective suggests that we turn our attention away from momentary headlines toward deeper forces, long-term transformation — and our own personal daily choices.


Today is the 92nd birthday of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen master and peace worker known to tens of thousands of followers worldwide simply as Thay (Teacher). He has weathered more than a half-century of exile, the devastation of his homeland, the murders of close friends, and countless setbacks in his continual efforts to alleviate suffering.

Thay 92nd BirthdayThroughout his life, Thich Nhat Hanh has offered a still, small voice of sanity beyond the terrors of our world. Even in his silence following a severe stroke, Thay continues to offer spiritual guidance through the ways he lives each day fully and mindfully.


What might our communities and our world look like if we spent more time listening for all the still, small voices that can guide us toward the best each of us can be? What if — beyond despair, rage, and holding our breaths for the next elections — we truly believed that Election Day is every day of our lives? LEARN MORE


In this season of change and uncertainty, may we remain mindful of all our miraculous, daily opportunities to make a world of difference.

In our commitment to just-giving, WAYS OF PEACE donates at least 10 percent of net staff compensation to other organizations that uphold our core mandates of promoting justice and kindness across lines of diversity.

Who Knows Six?


We have just entered the introspective season of Elul — our SIXTH Jewish month of the year. (We traditionally count Jewish months from Passover, not from Rosh haShanah.) And WAYS OF PEACE Community Resources just celebrated our SIXTH anniversary!

Leah Zilpah Rachel BilhahThis sixth anniversary is especially meaningful as we move toward publication of Who Knows Four? I Know Six! — Our Servant-Class Matriarchs and Social Justice Today. We are lifting up ancient, hidden legacies to inspire progress beyond protest — and to foster a deeper listening to the silences we often take for granted. LEARN MORE


Do You Know Six?


Since August 2012, our social microenterprise has facilitated personal and community transformation through compelling programs, unique publications, and life-changing consultations — all without any primary institutional funding support. On our sixth anniversary, help us take our work to the next level!

* Make a tax-deductible donation to support ...I Know Six!MA'AVAR, or any of our other innovative programs and services


* Bring a program to your community. Special late October / early November opportunities in the southwest!


All Hands In* Schedule an individual or family consultation


* Order your copy of Generous Justice and/or Counting Days


* Refer us to visionary foundations and other like-minded individuals who may be willing to support our efforts


* Contact us with words of encouragement!


"Just a brief note to express my deep gratitude for your bringing endless wellsprings of inspiration and caring to my attention. These are very dark days in the States and in Israel and your voice of hope, decency and dignity offers reminders of the better times we need struggle to create."

—Levi D. Lauer, Founding Executive Director, ATZUM-Justice Works

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Please support our work today!

Walking the Walk


"They may deport her," reported a disheartened accompaniment volunteer who had emerged from the building. She described how an enforcement officer had spoken harshly to an immigrant petitioner in the presence of the family's frightened and confused children. As those who had gathered outside the building surrounded the veteran volunteer in a wordless hug, she was able to find some release in tears.

And then we began to walk.


Every Thursday for more than an hour, immigrant advocates and supporters participate in a Jericho Walk: seven silent circuits around the main ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) field office and court building in lower Manhattan. After each circuit, open hands are raised toward the building and a silent prayer is offered. At the end of the seventh circuit, the prayer is recited aloud in English and Spanish. Then we raise our voices for a collective shout and scream. "For me, it's a cry of pain," shared the accompaniment volunteer after that week's culminating outcry. 


Some weeks there are a few people; other weeks there are many more. Ravi Ragbir, the director of the New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC) of New York — who has walked alone as well as with hundreds who have supported his personal struggle against deportation — believes that the weekly walks are an essential component of the renewed sanctuary effort. The walks are usually led by Father Fabian Arias, an Argentinian-born priest who also "walks the walk" far beyond these weekly circuits by providing legal guardianship to dozens of young Latinx immigrants in danger of deportation. 


In times of growing polarization, hatred and violence, it is tempting to view retaliation as a form of righteousness. The Jericho Walk offers a way to transform pain, despair, and rage into a recommitment to bearing witness in love and hope. Even the name "Jericho Walk" involves the transformation of an originally violent narrative into a contemporary nonviolent action — a reminder that our first step is to "Do no harm." As reflected in a parallel Buddhist commitment in Oregon, this holds interfaith implications beyond the biblical metaphor.

Park Paths DivergeWe also have daily opportunities to "walk the walk" through our financial choices — and game-changing opportunities have recently emerged around the world in this regard . RAICES, a front-line immigrant rights network on the U.S./Mexico border, politely declined a six-figure grant from Salesforce, a corporation that indirectly profits from the separation of immigrant families.


"We will not be a beneficiary of your effort to buy your way out of ethical responsibility. We ask you to commit to ending your contract with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and we hope that we will be able to accept your donation under these terms," wrote RAICES in a private letter that was publicized after the corporation demurred. RAICES was able to do this, in part, because of the democratic just-giving of more than a half-million people who have nearly tripled RAICES' original operating budget in less than six weeks.


As  financial journalist Felix Salmon explains, "When you give to a bail fund, your money doesn’t just get used to bail someone out once. It gets recycled with repayment, and used over and over again to help out the most neglected people in the justice system....A permanent bond fund, which has the resources to bail out every detained parent, and ideally every wrongfully detained immigrant, is a fantastic public good, and once it’s seeded with enough money, it can operate almost indefinitely."

Across the ocean, as conditions remain untenable for tens of thousands of African asylum seekers in Israel, a coalition of immigrant advocates and supporters has launched the Kibbutz Resettlement initiative. Under the fiscal sponsorship of ATZUM-Justice Works, a veteran social justice organization, international support is sought to move vulnerable asylum-seeking families out of urban poverty into welcoming kibbutz communities.


Violence — whether verbal or physical — often springs from a sense of helplessness, and it is extremely contagious. The good news is that nonviolent action is also contagious, opening our eyes and hearts to the range of daily possibilities for hopeful, effective action in these painful times.


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Accompanying Each Other


"Who here has ever accompanied anyone in any way?" Accompaniment training facilitator Sara Gozalo posed this question last week to a capacity crowd of volunteers, eliciting examples of accompaniment to schools, doctors' offices, hospitals, courts, and beyond. These experiences were connected to ground rules for how to accompany those facing possible deportation — simply, respectfully, nonprofessionally. We were called to bear witness, with a paramount commitment to "Do no harm."


Our trainer also shared a cautionary tale within the framework of "Do no harm": certain polarizing actions and words may inadvertently increase the suffering of those we seek to protect. Immigrant accompaniment involves advocacy without confrontation — mainly through the emotional support of our presence. "Just being there lets ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], security, immigration clerks and judges know that your friend is part of a community, and that community is watching. There is nothing more you need to do."


img-handsThe Hebrew word levayah is usually associated with accompanying the dead — but levayah actually includes the full range of ways we are called to show up and accompany each other throughout life's transitions. Jewish laws of levayah emphasize the importance of escorting the living on their journeys: "Whoever does not accompany [wayfarers], it is as if one sheds blood." This same power of witness and protective presence undergirds vigil-keeping and our related practices of ultimate kindness at the end of life.


We have just entered a collective mourning period in the traditional rhythms of the Jewish calendar: three weeks that commemorate the breaching of protective walls and the destruction of our biblical House of Sanctuary. Echoing through this annual commemoration are the current devastations of extremism, political divisiveness, and painful impasse.


"Let them make for Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst" (Exodus 25:8). A sanctuary does not actually "contain" God; it expands the sacredness of the spaces we share. Today's immigrant accompanists agree: "Sanctuary is not a physical entity but the spaces wherein all of us can breath freely and in dignity." The ultimate challenge is how to expand our sanctuaries for the widest possible inclusion of those among us.

While crises of violence and polarization may be endemic to this season, it is always possible to respond with ways of peace. No matter how heartbreaking the situation, there are always real, practical options for bringing people together across differences to affirm our shared humanity.


Now as in times past, accompanying each other and bearing witness may be among the most healing and effective recourses available to us. WAYS OF PEACE will continue to highlight and model such recourses in the challenging weeks to come.


WAYS OF PEACE donates at least 10 percent of net staff compensation to other organizations that uphold our core mandates of promoting justice and kindness across lines of diversity. PLEASE SUPPORT OUR WORK TODAY!

DIY Tax Justice: An Idea Whose Time Keeps Coming!


As inscribed on the iconic bell in Philadelphia, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land” is a biblical declaration (Leviticus 25:10) that heralds the time of jubilee: freed slaves, cancelled debts, redistributed land ownership. Far less proclaimed are the connections between this jubilee and the financial activities of daily life. 


Credit - National Park Service


Most of us have just filed our last tax returns under previous IRS rules. What are we really declaring when we declare our income? Our silent status quo is like the crack in the Liberty Bell that prevents it from letting freedom truly ring. If we stretch beyond our usual ideological assumptions and divisions, we can share in the power of DIY (Do It Yourself) tax justice. LEARN MORE


What Really Counts, Revisited


Family Travelog


My father "numbered our days” to keep our family solvent and thriving. He and I discovered a common financial language toward the end of his life, and now I seek out the money dialogue within and between generations — just as so many of us share stories of freedom around the Seder table.


This post-Passover season of daily counting is a perfect time to experience the liberation and revelation of just-giving. Powered by personal stories, our day-to-day generosity really does add up! LEARN MORE


All Hands InWAYS OF PEACE donates at least 10 percent of net staff compensation to other organizations that uphold our core mandates of promoting justice and kindness across lines of diversity. PLEASE SUPPORT OUR WORK TODAY!

Honoring Our Dead: Mourning AND Organizing


Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says: Do not seek to placate those in the hour of their anger; do not seek to console those whose dead lie before them. (Avot 4:18)


Ancient wisdom speaks to the vital importance of timing when responding to either anger or grief. But anger and grief are often mixed together — as we’ve seen in the aftermath of the most recent mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.


What can we do when two core imperatives of timing seem to conflict with each other? And how can we honor our own feelings while remaining attentive to the needs of mourners who may or may not experience a situation the way we do?

Letting It ShineWe can learn volumes from the student survivors of the Parkland shooting who are catalyzing a national movement toward March 24th and beyond. They are angry, grieving, and articulate — but they are not falling into typical partisan either/or traps. They can listen as well as talk. And they are challenging adults to be as emotionally literate and strategic as they are.


“We’ve been hearing a lot that this is not the time to talk about gun control,” observed Parkland High School junior Cameron Kasky soon after the shooting. “And we can respect that. We’ve lost people; it’s important to mourn. Here’s a time to talk about gun control: March 24th….We are losing our lives while the adults are playing around."


"Every single person up here today, all these people should be home grieving," declared senior Emma González at a Fort Lauderdale rally. "But instead, we are up here standing together because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it's time for victims to be the change that we need to see." Yet Gonzalez understands that change must include direct talks with the senders of thoughts and prayers: “We want to give [politicians at the federal and state levels] the opportunity to be on the right side of this.”


All Hands In“I don’t care if you’re a Democrat. I don’t care if you’re a Republican. If you have a good idea, let’s work together as Americans and come to a compromise,” asserted senior David Hogg. His 14-year-old sister, freshman Lauren Hogg, agreed: “Democrats and Republicans both have children….They need to jump over whatever divide they have and work together.”


“Deep calls to deep in the voice of Your channels” (Psalm 42:8). In times of great collective devastation, our time-tested principles of discernment and verbal restraint can help us attend to those most immediately affected, listen deeply — and hear the wisdom of call and response as it is channeled through the words of survivors. Instead of remaining trapped in either/or, we can mourn AND organize — with each imperative strengthening the effectiveness of the other.


May the memories of those we mourn bless us with courageous, compassionate, committed action toward justice and peace. Ken y'hi ratzon: May this be God's will — and ours.

Trees and Tax Justice


In recent decades, Tu biSh'vat (the New Year of Trees) has become a focal point for Jewish ecological awareness. The holiday began as a date to calculate the age of trees and the tithes to be offered of their fruit.


Park Paths DivergeIn fact, the calculation of tithes is the primary reason for the multiple New Years in the traditional Jewish agricultural calendar. Two other New Years marked the tithing of vegetables and of livestock, respectively. A fourth New Year began the cycle of pilgrimage festivals, to which certain tithes were dedicated.


It can all seem very complicated — just like taxes in these changing times. But if we are tempted to avoid these issues, we need to remember that there are those who will be endangered by our avoidance. 


Many financial pundits are predicting a significant drop in charitable giving in the wake of the new federal tax law. Since the standard deduction for taxpayers has nearly doubled, so their argument goes, it will no longer be worthwhile for millions of people to itemize their deductions — and donations will decline accordingly.  


Money_and_Creation_mediumthumbYet the most recent report on "How America Gives" by The Chronicle of Philanthropy acknowledges that itemized charitable deductions were already in decline before the passage of the new law. And the amounts conventionally itemized fall very short of traditional Jewish standards for tzedakah.


As it happens, this year of changing U.S. tax laws is also the third year of the sh'mita (sabbatical / release) cycle — a year known biblically as the "Year of the Tithe." It offers a compelling alternative approach to income inequality — one that can restore sustainability and social justice to the forefront of our financial priorities.


And it's powered by vital personal decisions that no politics can legislate out of our control. 


Our Generous Justice program features interactive guidance for meeting all of these challenges. In the months to come, we'll be highlighting the practical implications of the "Year of the Tithe" for these times. We encourage you to join us!


All Hands In


WAYS OF PEACE donates at least 10 percent of net staff compensation to other organizations that uphold our core mandates of promoting justice and kindness across lines of diversity.