Let It Shine: A Simple Practice for Hard Times


img-handsWe sometimes think that the way we do things is the only way they have ever been done. We usually start with one Hanukkah candle and increase to eight, kindling 44 candles per menorah (lamp) over the eight-day festival.


But this tradition began as one variant of an ancient consumer upgrade. Another variant was kindling eight candles on the first night, and decreasing to one candle by the eighth night.


Yet kindling ONE Hanukkah candle — per household per night — was originally considered acceptable and sufficient. (...) LEARN MORE


JEWISH-SYMBOL-ISTOCKHanukkah means Dedication or Rededication. As you re/dedicate your end-of-year giving, please include WAYS OF PEACE. Just as every candle counts, we depend upon every donation from our network of individual supporters to help us kindle transformation for individuals, families, and communities.


During this Festival of Lights and Rededication, we hope you will be generous — and we promise to extend your generosity even further.*

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

A Day of the (Forgotten) Dead — for the Living

The recent Jewish season of "who shall live and who shall die" is a traditional time for cemetery visits —  each one an improvised "Day of the Dead." This past September, in addition to visiting the graves of my own family and community members, friends and congregants, I was privileged to visit Hart Island, the largest mass burial ground in the United States. More than one million dead, most of them lost to family and forgotten by history, have been buried on Hart Island in layered trenches by prison inmates since 1869.

Hart Island Dock
Photo Credit: Amy Pearl / WNYC (Hart Island visitors are not ordinarily permitted to take photographs)

Thanks to the long-term efforts of community activists like Melinda Hunt of the Hart Island Project, relatives of those buried on Hart Island are now permitted to visit once a month. I accompanied Elaine Joseph, one of the first family members to gain visitor access, as her guest. Ken Binder, a trustee of Temple Beth-El on adjacent City Island, joined us as well. City Island support is pivotal for opening Hart Island to families and the public, since the two islands are connected by a ferry that spans the approximate half-mile of water between them.

Gathering at the City Island dock before the ferry ride, small groups of visitors stood uncertainly apart from each other. Eventually (particularly with Elaine's encouragement), some hesitant sharing began. Family secrets, mental illness, bureaucratic mishaps, immigration disruptions, military history and lapses of veteran support, the simple lack of sufficient burial funds — a range of quietly wrenching circumstances connected family members of diverse ethnic backgrounds and generations.

Like Hart Island itself, security measures prior to ferry boarding are administered by the NYC Department of Corrections (DOC) under the supervision of Captain Thompson, a soft-spoken gentleman who accompanied us throughout our visit. As the ferry approached a faded but intimidating "PRISON — KEEP OFF" sign near the Hart Island smokestack, one of the family members visiting for the first time doubled over in sobs. I supported her and pointed out the presence of two swans, swimming near an angel statue that offered a silent welcome to the Hart Island dock. As it turned out, the swans echoed the legacy of the ancestor whose grave she was about to visit.

From the Hart Island dock, a DOC bus took each family group to the approximate area of their relative's grave. Each anonymous white marker represents a mass grave of 150 adult bodies or 1000 infant bodies. Ken and I stood with Elaine in a grassy area not far from the shoreline, where her five-day-old daughter Tomika had been buried in 1978 due to a hospital error.  We could see other family members standing at a distance in other areas, with watchful DOC officers in between. Captain Thompson circulated politely with a Polaroid camera to compensate for the security prohibition of personal cell phones and cameras.

Hart Island Marker
Photo Credit: Amy Pearl / WNYC (Each marker represents 150 adult bodies or 1000 infant bodies)

A cemetery for the indigent and unclaimed is known as a potter's field, referring back to the New Testament. Hart Island continues to challenge us with a tangled thicket of ethical dilemmas, from prison conditions through cadaver shortages to land use deliberations. A current NYC Council bill would transfer the jurisdiction of Hart Island from the DOC to the Parks Department. Several now-upscale NYC parks served as potter's fields long before Hart Island was opened for that purpose — and Potters Fields Park in London is quite cheerful about its parallel origins. 

Since ancient times, the imperatives of honoring the dead have served as vital "ways of peace" across lines of diversity. May the coming year bring an expansion of our ways of peace to support all those whose lives are bound up with the forgotten dead. And since "who shall live and who shall die" ultimately includes all of us, may we affirm our common humanity — as we muster the loving courage to plan for the return of our own bodies to the earth we share.

Help Us Celebrate Five Years (and 1800 More) of WAYS OF PEACE!

Crises of violence, hatred, and polarization seem endemic to this season. They echo with conflicts whose roots can be traced back thousands of years.

img-handsYet, time and again, there are those who have responded to these conflicts with "ways of peace." And that is cause for renewed hope and celebration.

WAYS OF PEACE Community Resources was created in August 2012. Over the past half-decade, our social microenterprise has addressed core issues of personal and community transformation through compelling programs, unique publications, and life-changing consultations.

We have been called to faciliate challenging conversations in the aftermath of the 2016 elections. Our caring community impact has spread around the world. Our book sales have reached the triple digits, and hundreds more read our newsletter each month. We continue to guide individuals and families through both joyous and sorrowful changes in their lives.

Through all of this, WAYS OF PEACE has grown without any primary institutional funding support. At this crucial juncture, help us take our work to the next level!

All Hands In* Make a tax-deductible donation

* Bring a program to your community

* Schedule an individual or family consultation

* Order copies of Generous Justice 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

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. Please support our work today!

Vision. Lamentation. HOW?

Consider and call for the lamenting-women, that they may come; and send for the wise-women, that they may come. (Jeremiah 9)

img-handsWe are approaching Shabbat Hazon, the annual Jewish “Sabbath of Vision.”

At first glance, the “vision” of this Sabbath seems to be one of impending doom. The Scriptural readings prepare us for Tisha b'Av, our Jewish day of mourning for tragedies through the ages.

On Tisha b'Av itself, we'll read the book that is called Lamentations in English and Eikha in Hebrew. The readings for Shabbat Hazon also highlight the word Eikha—which literally means “How."

In painful, troubled times like these—when so many are lamenting what seems like the absence of vision—how we understand the word "How" may be our key to redemption. LEARN MORE

"Dream Hoarders" and Social Justice

"We need to raise our consciousness about class. And yes, I am looking at you." — Richard V. Reeves

Money and CreationIt's very difficult to talk about the class divisions within "the 99 percent." In "Stop Pretending You're Not Rich," economist Richard V. Reeves highlights the tension between desires for greater social equality and desires to give our own families a competitive edge. Reeves calls this competitive edge "dream hoarding" when applied to the top 20 percent of Americans: those with incomes above six figures.

In global context, invoking "the 20 percent" is only slightly less arbitrary than invoking "the one percent." And debates about how to address inequality tend to get stuck at the level of theory.

But there's an immediate, practical home remedy for "dream hoarding" that leverages small financial actions to bring about big changes. Just-giving — simple and fair, with modifications as appropriate — becomes possible when we set aside a regular percentage of income as our giving rate. Consider this:

  • The average American giving rate has hovered steadily around 2 percent since 1971. (By comparison, a tithe is a 10 percent giving rate.)
  • Giving rates usually shrink as incomes increase. Let's change that!

Generous Justice CoverWant to bring your social justice values into alignment with your financial goals? Include Generous Justice in your summer reading! As recommended in Tablet Magazine, "It’s a guide to social action and philanthropy, and a tool for spiritual growth—a breath mint and a candy mint."

In the comfort of your own home, or while relaxing on vacation, you can stretch mindfully toward the giving rate that's best for you and your family: your fair share with the rest of the world.

LEARN MORE about bringing a Generous Justice event to your community.

Servant-Class Mothers Matter!

We don't usually refer to nannies, housekeepers, and homecare attendants as "servants" these days. But whatever they are called, most domestic employees are still excluded from basic federal labor law protections.

What if our domestic workers were also our mothers?

Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel are usually invoked as the four matriarchs of the Jewish people. But that excludes Bilhah and Zilpah, the domestic servant-mothers of four of Jacob's sons. Bilhah and Zilpah are routinely dismissed as surrogates and concubines, even though Biblical and rabbinic sources affirm them as mothers and wives. Join us on the Festival of Revelation, as we make these invisible women visible. See below for details!

Leah Zilpah Rachel Bilhah

The Intersectional Challenge of Our Servant-Class Matriarchs

When is a “concubine” not a concubine? Here is a Biblical case study of identity and power at the intersection of gender and social class. This session will highlight the ancient rabbinic tradition of "six corresponding to the six matriarchs,” as we consider the servant-class mothers of one-third of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. We will examine their relationships with the co-wives / possibly half-sisters who remain their primary mistresses. We will explore ways to move beyond our own social biases toward a more inclusive understanding of our ancestors for today’s complicated times. And yes, we will uncover authentic, intersectional options for evolving that Seder counting song forward. LEARN MORE!

What Really Counts, Revisited: Ballad of the Budget Bank

For many of us, money is even more daunting than mortality. At a recent gathering of Jewish burial fellowship leaders and friends, I was invited to talk about Generous Justice and how important it is to reclaim our family money stories. "We never discussed these things in my family," ventured one of my listeners — whereupon another one responded, "Oh, we had a budget box growing up!"

Tudor Budget Bank AdI was excited to learn about this artifact of family frugality from the decades before I was born. More sophisticated than a piggy bank or a pushke (tzedakah box), the budget bank was invented to fund multiple priorities. It was popular from the beginning of the Great Depression through the 1950s, when spending — especially on credit — began to replace saving as the dominant cultural value.

When I told the group that one of the cultural goals of Generous Justice is to promote songs that reflect healthy approaches to money, a third listener began spontaneously singing from childhood memory: "Pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters...all the joy that we can bring / to the lives of other children / with our weekly offering!"

In a world where finances have become computerized abstractions, the old-fashioned budget bank offers tangible inspiration for more mindful saving, spending, and sharing. And, while nobody has yet invented a budget-bank-music-box, that Hebrew School song seems as good a soundtrack as any.

Now, how can we help our "adult" songs — and finances — catch up with the kids?

As We Count the Days of the Omer, Let's Make Tithing Count, Too

Don't wait for those last-minute charitable disbursements in December. This season of daily counting is a perfect time to experience the liberation and revelation of just-giving. By sharing our family money stories, we can move toward more conscious sharing of the money itself — and our day-to-day generosity really does add up. 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. Please support our work today!

Look Out — Here It Comes!

It's coming. Not just the intensive cleaning, shopping and cooking, but that annual money milestone we call Tax Day.

As IRS deadlines loom over our Passover preparations, the words of the prophet Malachi will ring out in Jewish communities throughout the world. On the "Great Sabbath" before the festival, Malachi dares us to stretch beyond occasional donations toward ongoing distributive justice:

"Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse, that there be food in My house, and so test Me in this" — said the Eternal-One of all-forces — "if I will not open the gates of heaven and pour upon you blessing without limit."


TithingWe don't need a belief in God to face this test as a social justice challenge. A tithe is a giving rate — a percentage of income that most of us don't consciously document. But year after year, our tax returns show that giving rates generally shrink as incomes and affluence increase. That uncomfortable truth should concern anyone preparing to say: "Let all who are hungry come and eat."

As our Haggadah also reminds us, "This year we are still slaves." Now more than ever, we need to vote with the power of our own wallets against widening income inequality, which enslaves all of us.


Generous Justice Cover
How will this Passover be different from other Passovers? Try bringing Generous Justice: Jewish Wisdom for Just-Giving to your seder table questions. As recommended in Tablet Magazine, it's "a lively tool for book clubs and investment clubs, synagogues, families, seders with friends."

Order Generous Justice now to insure delivery in time for the holiday! (OK, those in the NYC area have a bit more time. You can purchase Generous Justice directly from Ways of Peace, without sales tax or shipping charges.)

CountingDays_Cover07Plan ahead for revelation! Complete your holiday preparations with Counting Days, a unique guide for each day between Passover and Shavu'ot that integrates Mussar (Jewish ethical development) with contemporary principles of spiritual recovery.

Counting Days is also available by mail order or by direct purchase from Ways of Peace.

Sober Awakening (and Not Just for Drinkers)

Rabbah and Rabbi Zeira made a Purim feast together. They got drunk, and Rabbah rose and cut Rabbi Zeira’s throat. The next day he prayed and revived him. The following year Rabbah said: Come and let us make a Purim feast together! Rabbi Zeira replied: Not on every occasion does a miracle occur. (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Megillah 7b)

Recent decades have seen a renewal of Mussar (spiritual discipline) among Jews of diverse backgrounds — while countless Jewish addicts, family members, and friends across the denominational spectrum have found healing through the Twelve Steps of recovery. Much can be learned from those who live by the Twelve Steps about how to apply the principles of Mussar to the challenges of daily life.

CountingDays_Cover07COUNTING DAYS: From Liberation to Revelation for Jews in Recovery guides readers through the season of spiritual development between Passover and Shavuot with daily reflections on Twelve Step principles, integrated with classical Jewish teachings.

It's a resource for students of Mussar and Jewish mysticism, chaplains, spiritual directors, synagogue leaders, Jewish Family Service staff, and all who care about healing the scourge of addiction within the Jewish community and beyond.

Order COUNTING DAYS now to insure delivery before Passover!*

*Those in the greater NYC area can purchase COUNTING DAYS directly from Ways of Peace, without sales tax or shipping charges.

Contact us about hosting a COUNTING DAYS book program in your community! We can donate a percentage of the proceeds for each book sold to your hosting synagogue or other nonprofit organization.

Sanctuary: Expanded and Balanced


"Let them make for Me a sanctuary,
and I will dwell in their midst." — Exodus 25:8

Clouds through IronworkThe word "sanctuary" carries a range of meanings, from worship hall to wildlife preserve and beyond. In recent weeks, the word has taken on added urgency as American cities and communities organize to renew a sanctuary movement on behalf of refugees and immigrants.

A sanctuary is a place that is both safe and sacred. Safety is a core human need, and the ultimate challenge is how to expand our sanctuaries for the widest possible inclusion of those among us.

Those in the Capital District of New York are invited to join us in March for a weekend of special programs that begin to address this challenge.


March 3-5 at Congregation Ohav Shalom in Albany, New York

We are taught that the world stands on a tripod of study, worship, and caring actions. When our communities run on the two legs of study and worship, the third leg of caring is often shortened. Yet the third leg is the only one that can support us “on one foot.” Come explore a new equilibrium that balances kindness and justice, as we make sanctuaries for these challenging times. LEARN MORE