About 200 people took part in a unique fusion of political rally, multireligious prayer, and Tisha b’Av observance at noon July 20 on the grounds of the US Capitol. Videotape from the event will be available by Thursday morning on The Shalom Center’s YouTube channel at
Activists from the Gulf Restoration Network, MoveOn, the Climate Crisis Coalition, Friends of the Earth, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Greenpeace, joined with members of The Shalom Center, Teva Learning Center, Congregation Am Kolel, Shomrei Adamah of Greater Washington, Kayyam Farm at the Pearlstone Center, Fabrangen, and Temple Rodef Shalom in northern Virginia, the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, and Sojourners, a progressive Christian magazine, to make up a spirited action-oriented throng.
The Capitol dome loomed above as the rally chanted, sang, joined in prayer, meditated on the sounding of notes of warning, grief, and hope from the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn), cheered a series of powerful speeches, and then sent three groups of activists to Senate offices.
The event began with my connecting the 2500-year Jewish history of mourning (on Tisha B’Av) the Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem — with the need today, on this very Tisha B’Av, for us all to mourn the ongoing ruination of what I called “the sacred Temple of all human communities and of all life-forms on our planet — – the sacred Temple of the Earth herself.”
The speeches focused especially on the destructive effects of over-burning fossil fuels on global climate; the corporate arrogance and governmental complicity that led to disaster in the Gulf; and the corrupting effect of Big Oil’s power on the democratic process through its huge financial contributions to the election campaigns of Senators and members of Congress.
The major slogans of the rally were “Get dirty fuels out of our air and water/ Get dirty money out of our politics.” Many participants dipped their hands in oil as signs read, “Congress has oily hands.”
The Shalom Center was responsible for planning and organizing multi-religious presence and content. Aside from prayers by Christian, Buddhist, and Muslim leaders, the Jewish segment of the program began with a blowing of the shofar by Rabbi David Shneyer, former president of Ohalah Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal, and Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, a member of the Shalom Center board and the rabbi of Adat Shalom Congregation. The notes on the shofar were called by Rabbis Gerald Serrota, cofounder of Clergy Beyond Borders, and Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer of Bethesda Jewish Congregation.
Then Tamara Cohen, who is the Barbara Bick Memorial Fellow of The Shalom Center, and I chanted from “Eicha for the Earth” that Cohen had created — an outcry of Lament, Hope, and Action for the healing of Mother Earth. Many in the crowd joined in the chant, which used the wailing melody traditional for chanting the Book of Lamentations on Tisha b’Av. (For the text of “Eicha for the Earth” and other articles on the universal meaning of Tisha B’Av, click here.)
Rabbi Shneyer led the rally in singing Pete Seeger’s song “Rainbow Race.”
Nick Alpers, program coordinator for The Shalom Center, videotaped this extraordinary event. We will be posting the video on YouTube as soon as possible.
From Upper Senate Park, three groups of fifteen people each walked to the offices of several Senators who had taken extremely large donations from BP and other Big Oil companies. Our delegations urged these Senators to pledge to take no more donations from Big Oil, and pay the amounts they had already received to groups carrying out reconstruction and healing in the stricken Gulf.
Media coverage of the event included CNN and ABC, National Public Radio, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and the Associated Press. JTS sent out a story on July 21.
With blessings of active hope and hopeful action for shalom, salaam, shantih — peace!
P.S. — Helping organize this event cost The Shalom Center $2470 to hire a grass-roots Washington-area organizer, help pay rally costs like a sound system, photocopy leaflets and song sheets, and pay for travel of our staff from Philadelphia to Washington. (I’m not counting staff time and other core costs.) Of this, $1540 was reimbursed by Washington-area Jewish groups. If you felt represented but could not come, or if you support our work to make Tisha B’Av relevant to the healing of the Earth, please give a (tax-deductible) donation by clicking on our website at www.theshalomcenter.org. Thanks!
Two of my books on Eco-Judaism — “Down-to-Earth Judaism” and “Torah of the Earth” (2 vols, anthology of eco-Jewish thought from earliest Torah to our own generation) — are available at a discount from “Shouk Shalom,” our on-line bookstore at –