Friday, December 10, 2021

Rabbi Ahuvah (Amy) Loewenthal: Reflecting on the Strength of Our Zoom Shabbat Experience


Thanks, Rabbi Ahuvah (Amy) Loewenthal, for this thoughtful reflection!

As an RRC student living in Mt. Airy, I was an active member of Dorshei Derekh. I enjoyed the warm community, the spirited tradition-based davening, and the engaging varied divrei Torah. When I moved away from Philly, I retained my Dorshei Derekh membership to stay linked and to demonstrate my ongoing support.

My wife and I currently belong to four shuls. During the pandemic, many shuls began offering Shabbat services on Zoom. Some were earlier adopters. Some wrestled with halachic considerations. A remarkable aspect of Dorshei Derekh services on Zoom is the sense of actually gathering together as a community. Participants feel witnessed and included, not passive consumers.

Participation is encouraged in various ways. On these Zoom services, the chat function is enabled. People can express their appreciation during the service through a hearty “Yisher Kokhaikh!” dropped into the chat, as would occur in an in-person service. One can also privately message a friend to inquire after their well-being, as would occur sotto voce in an in-person service.

Some shlikhei tzibbur (service leaders) will pose a thematic question in conjunction with a prayer. For example, during a prayer on Creation, the kahal might be asked to recount a beautiful moment in nature. People will unmute and briefly share their experiences.

Typically, a darshan (Torah sermonizer) will present a framework for viewing the weekly parasha, followed by discussion prompts. Participants are then sent to breakout rooms to talk in small groups, before reassembling for the darshan’s concluding remarks. It is fascinating to hear such a variety of comments, and a great way to get to learn about one another. A breakout room of four to six people seems perfect, more fruitful than a whole group discussion or a paired conversation, as might be proposed in-person.

There are pastoral moments which work well on Zoom. There are opportunities surrounding the Torah service to share one’s news of a happy or difficult life cycle event; to offer the names of friends and relatives in need of healing; and to encourage those within the community who are facing a health challenge.

Mourners share the names of those they are remembering before Kaddish Yatom is recited, and everyone unmutes to be able to respond “Amen, Brikh Hu, Yehai Shmei Rabbah…”.

At the end of the service, visitors and newer members are encouraged to introduce themselves. They receive a warm welcome. After Kiddush, there’s often an opportunity to schmooze in breakout rooms before folks push back from the computer and move on to lunch in their own homes.

When I’ve been free on Shabbat morning to attend Dorshei Derekh services on Zoom, I’ve marveled at how these many measures generate a feeling of being included and cared about. This community clearly prioritizes connectedness. Dorshei Derekh’s effectiveness at gathering people this way is outstanding among the many shul communities I’m involved with.

I have loved attending services from afar and have enjoyed serving as a shlikhat tzibbur several times.

It’s wonderful to be able to stay in touch with fellow members even though I’m geographically distant. And it has been interesting to meet and get to know people who arrived in the community after I left. In some ways, Zoom Shabbat services may seem to be a less than ideal but necessary mode during the pandemic. However, there are benefits to being able to meet via Zoom. One’s geographical distance or other obstacles to attending in person no longer preclude participation.

An amusing unexpected consequence is that the group is showing up much more promptly to Zoom Shabbat morning services. At a typical in-person Shabbat service, attendance is lighter for Pesukei d’Zimrah but builds during Shakharit, up to maximum attendance for the Torah service. On Zoom, it turns out that people are happy to join earlier, while sipping coffee in the comfort of their own homes.

The future course of the pandemic is hard to predict. Perhaps the option of remote access will end once the pandemic ends. Perhaps multi-access will become a shul norm. In any case, Jewish community members will have a rich opportunity to reflect on what we’ve learned in adapting to these unusual times.

~Rabbi Ahuvah (Amy) Loewenthal, 2021

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Dorshei Derekh Core Values

Our minyan has been continuing evolving over these past 35 years.
Shkoy'ach - kudos - to Rabbi Tamara Cohen for composing a contemporary statement of what matters to us and who we are now:

Ñ Core Dorshei Derekh ValuesÐ

·         Lay leadership

·         Vibrant participatory services

·         Critical and creative engagement with Torah and liturgy

·         Theological diversity

·         Mutual aid/caring for one another

·         Feminist innovation

·         LGBTQ inclusion

·         Anti-racist learning and practice

·         Intergenerational community

·         Inclusion of those who have been historically marginalized in Jewish communities.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Rosh Hashanah 5782/ COVID 2


This beautiful art is the work of Dominique Butler, an African American artist in Baltimore. She is an active member of Hinenu: The Baltimore Jewish Justice Shtiebel. We were pleased to compensate Butler for our specific reuse of her beautiful image.We were introduced to her work through The Radical Jewish Calendar, which featured Butler's work last year.

"Dominique Butler is a painter who primarily works in gouache and oil. She grew up in a small farm town in northern Vermont and currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland. She received her Bachelor’s of Art in Drawing, Painting, and Art History from Drew University in 2017. 

Her recent work revolves around viewing nature through the eyes of a person of color. Her paintings are captured images of the environment that are often overlooked. These pieces touch upon the distinct disconnection between black bodies and the great outdoors; prompting the viewer to question why nature, outdoor recreation, and environmentalism are white dominated."

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Dorshei Derekh Pandemic Purim 2121

What a year - with Zoom replacing regular meeting, bringing many new "virtual" people to our community.
The Presser Committee usually plans one social justice event a year, but this year we are on a roll.  We've planned many Purim events to help us stay connected.

Thanks to all who have helped pull this off!

Chag Sameach from the Presser Gang:

    Malkah Binah Klein, chair

    Donald Joseph, Chair Emeritus

    Michael Blackman

    Debrah Cohen

    Mark Pinsky

    Atenea Rosado

    Betsy Teutsch

Here is how we've organized the four mitzvot of Purim

1. Mishloach Manot (Gifts of food to our friends)

Bags of love, in the form of goodies, are being picked up today by those who sent back the form.

Coordinator: Betsy Teutsch

Co-Assembling: Margaret Shapiro


Levanah Cohen

Fredi Cooper (thanks for the recipe!)

Dayle Friedman

Penina Kelberg, and Ellie and Kayla Kelberg-Gross

Pesha Leichter

Bob Tabak and Ruth Loew

Jennifer Paget

Allison Pokras

Genie Ravital

Heather Shafner

Howard Spodek (see his note on the baklava!)

Elyse Wechterman and Sharon Nerenberg

        Delivery Elves: Michael Blackman, Mark Pinsky, Donald Joseph, Betsy Teutsch

        Artwork: Micaiah Kimmelman-DeVries

2. Matanot L’evyonim (Gifts to the poor)

Dorshei Derekh has donated $500 to each of the following three local organizations.  We encourage you to learn about these organizations and lend your support: 

Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network (

Germantown Fridge (

Philadelphia Bail Fund (

Additionally Debrah Cohen is delivering 15 bags of goodies (our bakers really outdid themselves!) to her clients and to the Germantown Fridge, with a note explaning Purim gifts.

3. Reading the Megillah

We encourage you to join GJC for Megillah reading on Purim night, February 25, and on Purim morning, February 26.  See GJC emails for timing and details.  In addition, Dorshei will be hosting a Melaveh Malkah (a special gathering for escorting Queen Shabbat on Saturday night) on February 20 to prepare for reading the Megillah.


Saturday evening, February 20, 2021, 7PM, begins with havdalah

Listening for the Voice of Queen Esther

Join Rabbi Malkah Binah Klein for an intimate evening of creative encounters with Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim story known for her courage, beauty, connection with spirit, and friendship.   Bring pen and paper, as there will be opportunities for writing, and if you are so moved, wear some jewels or a crown.  

4. Purim Day Seudah/Feast

We won’t literally be feasting together this year; however, we will be coming together as a community for a feast of joy, on Purim Day, just before Shabbat.  Join us, even if you have traditionally thought that Purim isn’t your thing.

Friday afternoon, February 26, 4PM

Dorshei Zoom Purim Party Extravaganza

Come sing, play, and laugh, and most of all, let loose your inner, zany child with special guests Rebekka and Gedalia.  Silly hats/costumes are welcome. The Zoom link has been shared.


Saturday, February 13, 2021

Atenea Rosado on Vayeshev, Presser Shabbat 2020

Atenea Rosado, one of our
newer members!
Hello, Shabbat Shalom! Thank you so much for allowing me to share some Torah today for the Presser Shabbat. 

This parasha is a beautiful but difficult set of stories, and I'm hoping that we have a meaningful discussion of them. This parasha, Vayeshev, begins the story of Joseph and his famous many colored coat, and his even more famous betrayal by his brothers. It then digresses into the story of Judah and Tamar, which I´d like to discuss. 

If you are new to the story, as I was, Judah (Joseph´s older brother), splits off from the rest of his brothers, and marries a Canaanite woman called Bat-Shua. They have three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er comes of age and is married to a woman named Tamar. Er dies, punished by God for an unspecified sin. Tamar is then married to Onan, in a traditional Levirat marriage, that is, a marriage that will produce children for the deceased Er´s name. Onan refuses to honor his brother´s memory and produce children, so he too is killed by God. Shelah is not of age, so Judah sends Tamar back to her father´s house, claiming that Shelah will marry her when he is old enough, but privately he is afraid of her bad luck with husbands. Some time later, Tamar gets news that her father-in-law Judah is coming to her part of Canaan. She disguises herself, and waits for him. Judah, believing her to be a sex worker, asks to sleep with her. Tamar agrees without revealing her identity. When Judah offers to pay on credit, Tamar successfully solicits his staff and personal seal, but returns to her true identity without ever collecting the real payment. When Judah is told, as patriarch, that his daughter-in-law is illicitly pregnant, he demands to know who the father is. Tamar produces the staff and seal and Judah accepts the paternity of the twins who will be born to her, Peretz and Zerah. Peretz will go on to be a direct ancestor of King David, and therefore, of the Messiah.

What is the meaning of this strange, and brutal story? For me, Tamar´s journey is one towards agency. I´m not alone in that. Rashi thinks that Tamar sleeps with Judah because she is actively demanding a place in the family that has such a great destiny. We could view Tamar as a victim of a patriarchal society, who, afraid of her patriarch, Judah, must prove her own innocence, or at least, as the case was, Judah´s complicity. Many traditional (male) commentators remark approvingly of Tamar´s discretion when confronting Judah. She does not say publicly that Judah is the father of the twins, rather, she sends him the staff and seal. But many feminist commentators, like Francesca Littman, have remarked on Tamar´s fear that she will not be believed, as so many women and victims of systemic cruelties are asked to prove their own experiences. Toni Morrison, while discussing Racism, points out that the very nature and intention of this questioning of women and other oppressed peoples' lived experience, is itself an act of violence and theft of time. She says,

“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

Why does Judah attack Tamar, demanding she account for her time and her so-called sexual impropriety, why does he accuse her of faithlessness? If Judah had not demanded from Tamar that she prove her innocence, if Judah and the patriarchy he represents had not threatened Tamar with death, then what might have Tamar accomplished? In our current society, many women and many communities of color, in particular in this country the Black community, have to constantly defend and justify their worth, interests, knowledge, existence and very lives. What might they be, if they could just be? Like Tamar, there is great promise and even possibly salvation in the people who have been systemically oppressed. 

The questions I have are:

Was there a time when you felt, like I imagine Tamar felt, like I often feel, that you are being asked to prove something about your life or self that is self evident to you, and the demand is a distraction from work or life you´d rather be doing?

Was there a time when you may have, like Judah, demanded someone verify or prove something about themselves that may have distracted them from crucial matters? How do you think that doing that, demanding them to prove themselves, contributed to their oppression?

If Tamar deserves to be in the line of Messiah for her insistence on herself and her truth, then what relationship does hope have with self-assertion?



I´ll be thinking about your contributions all week, and please, reach out if you want to continue this conversation. I thought I would end by building more on the idea of agency, and how one can move from a victim to an active decision maker. When thinking of Tamar´s agency, we could view Judah´s accusation as not a distraction, but rather, Judah playing into Tamar´s hands. Tamar, from the moment she disguised herself, was hoping for exactly this, a chance to solidify her place in the people of Israel and produce children in Judah´s line. When he demands evidence of who she has been sleeping with, she delivers the evidence and in doing so, closes her trap. In this scenario, my question, and I´ll leave you with this for the week, especially as we approach the ending of the Joseph story, is, what is a trap? and when are they acceptable?

Atenea and her husband Mo joined our community a few years ago and recently bought a house in Mt. Airy. Atenea is a PhD student at Penn, pursuing a joint PhD in Education, Culture and Society, and Anthropology.

Atenea is Spanish for Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom. She is aptly named!

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Mark Pinsky on Parshat Vayechi: Hope & Faith After There is an After

Parashah Vayechi: Hope & Faith After There is an After

    Offered by Mark Pinsky, Minyan Dorshei Derekh - January 2, 2021

My thoughts today on parashah Vayechi go to the hopes of the Israelites at the end of the parashah, after Joseph died, and what they might teach us about our own hopes and faith as we start the new year.

In 2020, “Hope” became a focus at Dorshei Derekh, inspired by Bobbi Breitman’s powerful call to action. Hope helped us see a different and better time and believe we could get there.

In fact, hope is on the rise in America. According to a new Axios public opinion poll out this week, “63% of poll respondents said they’re more hopeful than fearful about what 2021 holds in store for the world, while 36% said they’re more fearful.” This is a significant improvement over the prior Axios poll, when 51% were hopeful and 48% were fearful.

It is tempting to explain the rise in Hope by the election of Joe Biden, but the data don’t back that up. Remarkably, what is lifting our hopes is COVID--apparently, our can-do attitude that we will prevail over COVID.

To keep it in context, however. Axios headlined the story, “America Hopes 2021 Will be Less Terrible.”

And while nothing in our lives during COVID gives us easy beginnings or decisive ends, we binge-watch mini-series, re-watch movies with their prequels and sequels, and take comfort in the orderly resolves of Hollywood endings.

Vayechi delivers a great Hollywood ending to a great melodrama, the story of Joseph. The parashah, which begins with Jacob’s final moments, ends neatly with Joseph’s death, the final scene in the book of B’reishit and, profoundly, the final curtain on the story of our Patriarchs.

Before Jacob dies, he blesses his grandsons Menashe and Ephraim and then blesses his 12 sons--if you can call his critical assessments “blessings”--to make the 12 tribes of Israel. He makes Joseph swear to return his body to the Promised Land so he can rejoin Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Leah. Of course, Joseph does so with help from his brothers and Pharaoh.

 Returning to Egypt, Joseph reassures his brothers he has only good intentions and explains that God is with them, through him.

“Do not be afraid,” he comforts them. “For I am in the place of God. Even if you meant to do evil, God meant it for good, in order to bring about what is at present, in order to keep a numerous nation alive. And now, do not be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.”

Later, as Jospeh lays ill, he sketches in light strokes that the “numerous nation’s” destiny is in the Promised Land:

“I am dying,” he says. “And God will surely remember you again one day and bring you up out of this land to the land which God swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Finally, echoing their father, his confidence waning with his breath, Joseph asks his brothers to return his body, too, to the Promised Land. “If God will remember you again one day, then you shall bring my bones up from this place.”

Fade. Cut. Print. That’s a wrap!

I have to tell you now that I struggle with Hollywood endings. Inevitably there is something facile in their solutions, some point at which the story conveniently overtakes the true meaning. If that sort of ending gives us hope, too often it’s false hope.

Studying Vayechi, I found myself focusing on the questions that are not answered, the tensions that are left unresolved, and the parts of the story around Vayechi that we cannot see or know. There is a big gap--maybe even a 430-year gap--between the end of Genesis and the first major action in Exodus. I am interested in what happened during that time between Genesis and Exodus because I want to know what the surviving Israelites experienced, felt, and thought.

What gave them hope? They kept their faith without living patriarchs or Torah. How?

Adina Abramowitz has taught us to recognize the time, in the words of Rabbi Arthur Waskow and his children David and Shoshana, “before there was a before.”

Vayechi raises for me questions about what goes on with and to and among the Israelites in the time “after there is an after” … after the Israelites mourn the loss of Joseph …  and before there is the next “before” … leading to the birth of Moses.

We don’t know whether the surviving Israelites understood what it meant that the Patriarchy had ended. Did that scare them? Did it cause a power struggle? As Sheila said eloquently last week, the Patriarchy produced a historically dysfunctional family.

What did they make of Jacob’s blessing of Menashe and Ephraim? Were Joseph’s brothers resentful? Distrusting? What did it mean to them that Jacob favored the younger, Ephraim, over his elder brother? We know they regretted what they had done to Joseph. I imagine they remembered that Jacob had outmaneuvered Esau since we know there are no family secrets in this story. What had they learned?

What did they make of Joseph’s promise that "G‑d will surely remember you, and bring you up out of this land to the land which he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob”? Did they hear self-doubt in Joseph’s words?

How did they fear what the loss of Joseph (who was providing for them) would mean for them, their families, their tribes, and the Israelites? Without Joseph, Egypt ran differently.

Did they foresee the troubles ahead in Egypt? Did it occur to them that Joseph could not say WHEN they would return to Canaan or HOW? Surely that was on the Israelites’ minds--when to pack up to return to Canaan … to emigrate?

And how did they recall the conditional nature of Joseph’s request--“If God will remember you again one day, then you shall bring my bones up from this place,” he said. “If.”

I don’t know about you, but I would be feeling pretty nervous. I imagine the Israelites felt their faith and hope tested... Perhaps as WE do NOW. We live suspended in an uncertain and indeterminate present.

We are living in a time that is “after many afters” and “before many befores.”

With each moment we experience the amorphous time after COVID-19 took control of the world as we knew it and before the time we will conquer it.

Each of us in our own ways has sensed the fact that COVID-19 is a species-changing event, as I heard Ameet Ravital say a few months ago, and yet we must make decisions and choices about our futures before we know how different life will be after the pandemic.

We watch in unsettled anxiety after the 2020 Presidential elections and before we know...

-       Which party will control the Senate;

-       Whether Donald Trump will assault the Constitution one final time by refusing to leave office; and,

-       Whether democracy as we knew it will recover?

We wake up each day knowing that Climate Change has us descending quickly toward an unsustainable future, hoping that we can help produce systemic changes in how the world runs, fearing what will happen if we do not.

And we go about our lives after we have recognized that racial and other structural and systemic injustices define our world … and before we know how to be part of the healing or what life could be like when we are.

So what helped the Israelites find the hope and keep the faith to carry them across the narrow bridge that links the time after the last “after” in Genesis to the time before there is a new before in Exodus?

Of course, they remembered the Patriarchs, Joseph and his brothers delivered Jacob’s body to the Cave of Machpelah, and the Israelites delivered Joseph’s body--eventually--to the Promised Land.

The complex and perplexing sequence of Jacob blessing his grandsons before he blesses his sons seemed to give them faith and hope, too--as it gives us hope and faith still.

First Jacob claimed the boys as his own, telling Joseph, “Now, your two sons who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, shall be mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine no less than Reuben and Simon.”

Jacob claims them as his lineage apparently to cast the Patriarchal lineage and the covenants the Patriarchs made with Adonai beyond, or after, Joseph. “In them may my name be recalled,” Jacob explains, “And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac.”

And then Jacob blesses his sons.

In a sense, Jacob passed on hope through his sons that the nations of Israel would continue what God had promised the Patriarchs. And he passed on faith through his blessing of Ephraim and Menashe and the Matriarchs, a weekly reminder that God was with the Israelites just as the Shechinah is with us as we enter 2021.

In the final cut, as good as Joseph’s story is, you can look at Joseph ultimately as a transitional character in it--as we all are in our own stories. If Adonai caused Joseph’s brothers to do wrong so that they would all get to Egypt, you might wonder if Adonai needed Joseph so that Jacob’s blessing of Ephriam and Menashe would sustain our faith after ever after. 


-       What gives you hope and what sustains your faith as you prepare for the time “after there is an after” in our pandemic world? In our government and our nation? In our environment? In our society?

-       Did your parents or your grandparents give you something to carry across your lifespan so that the descendants of yours that you will never know will keep their faith?


My grandfather--my father’s father--always told his 12 grandchildren, “It’s deyn America”--”It’s YOUR America.” The older grandkids heard it as a judgement on their lifestyles and choices. The youngest of us, however, took it as a call to social action and civic responsibility. Shroyal, as everyone called him, still is a source of hope and faith for me, though he’s been gone almost 48 years.

 In his memory, I want to report that peaceful transitions of power DO still happen.

 Congratulations to Beth, who has cycled into the role of Outgoing Coordinator. Beth’s trust, confidence, and skills led us through tests in 2020 we never could have imagined.

I am sure we will all rally to support Ruth Loew, as she becomes Coordinator, and Mike Gross, as he joins the Mazkirut. Dorshei could not be in better hearts and hands.

Last, I want to thank everyone in our community for the kindness, support, and love you have shown me in my three years on the Mazkirut. I am grateful beyond words to you all.





Monday, December 28, 2020

Hope as an Ethical Imperative 2020 - Barbara Breitman

Hope as an Ethical Imperative
An Offering in Honor of Stefan Presser

Minyan Dorshei Derekh, December 12, 2020, 3rd Night of Hanukkah

Barbara E. Breitman

Before the election, like many of you, I was engaged in a variety of GOTV activities as well as getting trained to be present at a polling place on Nov 5 to support people whose right to vote might be challenged. Though my experience at the polling place was, fortunately, uneventful, my sense of how critical it was that I be out fighting to protect our democracy and voting rights was and is very strong. My hope that our democratic process would withstand the threats against us, that every legal vote would be cast and counted, was the only outcome I allowed myself to imagine. My hope for that outcome was not a feeling, but an existential position, an ethical imperative. It is sobering, if not shocking, that even after the election, our democracy is still at risk. 

As we face with urgency not only the divisiveness and suffering in this country caused by centuries of economic and racial injustice, and as we are living through climate change and a pandemic rooted in climate change, I would like to share a Midrash from Genesis Rabbah, that I first heard from Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari, that speaks powerfully to this moment.

The Midrash asks: 

How did Noah manage to survive the flood and live to see his children exit the ark, thus begetting a new generation of humanity?
How did Moses go from fleeing from Pharaoh to plunging him into the sea?
How did Joseph go from being shackled in prison to a governor in Pharaoh's court?
How did Mordechai go from being ready for the gallows to executing his executioners?

In other words, what made it possible for Noah and Moses, Joseph and Mordechai to transform the life-threatening situations in which they were living into a radically transformed reality?

​Fortunately, the midrash doesn't just ask the question.
It offers an answer. It says that for each of these biblical characters, the answer is the same.
אֶלָּא רָאָה עוֹלָם חָדָשׁ
It was because they could see a new world. An Olam Hadash. 

(Genesis Rabbah 30:8)
Each of these biblical characters was able to imagine new ways of being and living. Their vision strengthened them, gave them direction and enabled them to meet the challenges of their historic moment and to prevail by creating a radically new and different reality. 

The midrash teaches that it is our moral imagination, our ability to envision the world we hope to live into, that makes it possible to transform our current situation and bring a new world into being. The contemporary Indian author and human rights activist Arundhati Roy echoes this ancient Midrash as she speaks directly out of and into our current situation:

Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this ... despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. ......Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can ....(be) ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

Hope as an ethical imperative means having faith in the power of an ethical/spiritual vision to guide our action and activism toward revitalization, justice and compassion. Hope is an ethical imperative because when we face extraordinary challenges, despair drains us of energy and commitment. Taking a stand for our hoped-for outcome, empowers our work toward it.

In a 2011 commencement speech at the University of California, Berkeley, Amory Lovins, a physicist and international visionary for a Green transition, said: “We work to make the world better, not from some airy theoretical hope, but in the pragmatic and grounded conviction that starting with hope and acting out of hope can cultivate a different kind of world worth being hopeful about.....Fear of specific and avoidable danger has evolutionary value....But pervasive dread, lately promoted by some who want to keep us pickled in fear, is numbing and demotivating. When I give a talk, sometimes a questioner details the many bad things happening in the world, all the suffering and asks how dare I propose solutions: isn’t resistance futile? The only response I’ve found is to ask, as gently as I can: “I can see why you feel that way. Does it make you more effective?” 

Joanna Macy, much beloved Buddhist teacher and long-time environmental activist says: “Active hope doesn’t require our optimism. We can apply it even....where we feel hopeless. The guiding impetus is intention, we choose what we aim to bring about, act for, or express. Rather than weighing our chances and proceeding only when we feel hopeful, we ....let our intention be our guide.” “Active hope is a practice. is something we do rather than have. .... First, we take a clear view of reality; second, we identify ... the direction we’d like things to move in or the values we’d like to see expressed; and third, we take steps to move ourselves in that direction.”

I’ve heard Macy put forth a version of the following question when she speaks about the dire situation of the Earth: if a dearly beloved family member or friend is dangerously ill and you know death is a real possibility, would you walk away, give up and do nothing for them because you don’t feel hopeful about their survival? How can we do that in relationship to our beloved Mother Earth?

In 2012, in her book Active Hope, Macy put forth a vision that is ever more critically meaningful today. She describes three world shaping stories that co-exist uncomfortably at this moment in our nation: 

1. The first Is “Business as Usual’...the view that economic growth must continue and that for a market economy to grow, we need to consume more and more than we already do. In this perspective, climate change is irrelevant to the dramas or choices of our personal lives. 

2. The Second story is the “Great Unraveling”. According to this story, the world we’ve been accustomed to living in, is in the midst of unraveling. The world our children and grandchildren will inherit will be radically different than the world we grew up in. The conditions of the next generation will be much worse than for people living today because of economic decline, natural resource depletion, climate change, mass extinction of species, world-wide pandemics, social division, increasing numbers of climate refugees and war. This is the story that punctures the illusion we can continue with business as usual; it is the story penetrating our consciousness and breaking through denial ever more fiercely these days. The pandemic has brought climate change up close and personal to privileged folk in the first world.

The stories of Business as Usual and the Great unraveling are contrasting accounts of the state of our world. The story of Business as Usual is increasingly being disrupted by the reality of the mess we are in. The pandemic is part of that mess and it is crucial that we understand how the pandemic is rooted in climate change and the economic growth story. This will be true, whether or not a vaccine helps us out of our current crisis in the coming months.

3. The third story is the ‘Great Turning’, a story that has begun to catch on more and more: the commitment to act for the sake of life on Earth as well as the vision, courage and solidarity to do so. This involves a rethinking of the way we do things, and the creative redesigning of the structures and systems that make up our society. This is the enormous challenge of our moment. The ethical imperative is to give ourselves to that story so it can act through us, breathing new life into what we do and what we demand and expect of ourselves, our government and our leaders. 

Such a profound transformation requires that we keep reading, learning, talking with each other, sharing ideas and practices, working together and supporting each other to make changes in our lives and insist that our government turn the gigantic ship of state toward policies and action that are in alignment with the truths about the mess we are in. Hope as an ethical imperative is not a solo practice. It must be a communal practice, a societal practice, a global practice. I know there are people in this community with far more knowledge than I have about the ecological transformation necessary for our survival and have been engaged in activism on this issue for years. We need each other for learning, for motivation and for inspiration. We need to be able to see with new eyes together to find and do our part to create an Olam Chadash. 

Our nation is also at a crucial point of inflection about race, brought about not only by the persistence and greater visibility of systemic police violence but also because we can see that economically vulnerable populations, mostly black and brown people, have been more devastated by the pandemic. One of the gateways between this world and the next that has been opened by the pandemic has to do with race. I have been oriented and guided by far-seeing social justice activists who are articulating ethical and spiritual visions for American futures we must fight for.

Here is the vision of Valerie Kaur, a daughter of Sikh immigrants who is now a civil rights activist connected to Rev William Barber and the Poor Peoples’ campaign. She shared these words on November 4, 2020, on the eve of the November election. 

Our nation is in transition. These last convulsive years are part of a larger transition in our country. In the next 25 years, the number of people of color in this country will exceed the number of white people for the first time since colonization. And we are at a crossroads. Will we birth a nation that has never been? A nation that has never been in the history of the world, a nation made up of other nations. A nation that is truly multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-cultural, where power is shared and we strive to protect the dignity, the wellness, the safety of all. Or will we continue to descend into a kind of civil war? Into a power struggle with those who want to return America to a past where only a certain class of people hold dominion.

This power struggle has been going on for a very long time in this country. The founders of our nation crafted the US constitution to consolidate power for white Christian men of an elite class. The rest of us were simply not counted in “We the people...” .....
And yet the founders had invoked words that even they could not constrain: justice, freedom, equality, the guarantee of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. These were magical words that ...seized the imagination of people for whom they were never meant. In every generation, black and brown people, and white accomplices have risen up in movements to unleash the magic of these words, to bleed for these words, to expand these words so “We the people” would include more and more and more of us.

This brings me to you. These last four years, you have wept, and prayed, and grieved, and marched and raged, and fought and now you have voted and gotten out the vote. Now I ask you to stay in the labor. Stay in the labor with love. Because America, our America is a nation that is still waiting to be born, and the only way that we will birth that nation is if we do so with love.

Love calls us to look on the face of anyone and say you are a part of me I do not yet know. Love calls us to be brave with our grief and take in those wounded and neglected and abused, as our own flesh and blood. To harness our rage in the face of injustice because the purpose of divine rage is not vengeance, but to reorder the world. Love refuses to leave anyone outside our circle of care. For we are one family, even those who vote against us. For the only way we will birth an America for all is if we leave no one behind. So let us vow to be brave with our love, love for others and love for ourselves. For you matter. Your life matters and the only way we will last is if we let joy into our bodies and breath. Sing, dance, breathe, rejoice, let joy in. Joy will give us the energy for that long labor ahead. Laboring with love and with joy is the meaning of life.

The vision of America as a nation still waiting to be born has animated the creative work of black activists and artists for many decades, like Langston Hughes, Dr. Vincent Harding, Maya Angelou and many others. In his book Is America Possible?, Harding wrote: 

It is precisely in a period of great spiritual and societal hunger like our own that we most need to open minds, hearts, and memories to those times when women and men actually dreamed of new possibilities for our nation, for our world, and for their own lives. It is now that we may be able to convey the stunning idea that dreams, imagination, vision, and hope are actually powerful mechanisms in the creation of new realities—especially when the dreams go beyond speeches and songs to become embodied; to take on flesh, in real, hard places.

Still, oppressive structures, ideologies and beliefs that have existed for centuries can become so embedded within us, that they take on an aura of inevitability.  When this happens, our moral imagination is sapped or disabled in ways we are not even aware of.  I recommend that people who have not already, read the book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.  Wilkerson resurrects the concept of ‘caste hierarchy’ to describe how the dominant white caste, living under the illusion of innate superiority, have used power and terror to keep African Americans in the bottom tier, deemed innately inferior: exploited physically, economically, legally and socially. She shares many stories that describe vividly the ways in which this hierarchy gets internalized psychologically and enacted in social relationships of all kinds.  She explores parallels, overlaps, similarities and shared origins of how an American caste system was constructed and continues to shape our common life in America, differently, but not differently enough, from India and Nazi Germany.  

After the election, I read the words of Ruby Sales, the well-known black activist, who at the age of 6, was the first child to integrate into an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. Ruby is now a 72 yo woman, still an activist, who has dedicated her life to working for social and racial justice. And yet even a courageous activist like Ruby had her vision temporarily occluded because of how caste can get embedded in our souls, how powerful despair can be and how easily we can slide toward it. Listen for the shift in her perspective as she ponders the results of our recent election. Her words were enormously helpful to me, and might well be for you, because, after the election, my vision was distorted in much the same way as hers...until I read her words. 

It is another end of a long and emotional day. Yet this day was different from all other ones in the last four years. Hope is everywhere because we have come through four years of unimaginable despair and grief..... However we are headed towards a new tomorrow where a new horizon dawns.
Yesterday I could not see the clearing, and I slumped for a moment as I focused my eyes on the fact that 55% of White women .... and 58% of White men voted ...[for things to continue as they have for these four years.] These stats captured my mind and spirit. [This is a slight adaptation of her words, altered to leave out he who shall not be named] 
My sight was narrowed by despair because I looked at these stats through the White gaze. It was one that extols and reinforces the power of Whiteness and raises it up to the normative majority even when it is the weakened minority.
In doing so, I diminished our collective power while making us invisible. Instead, I centered White lives rather than our diverse lives. Consequently, I overlooked the important point that the 55% and 58% of White women and men did not represent the total universe of men and women (in America). Rather these statistics only represent a high percentage within White America instead of the broadness of a diverse multi-ethnic and intergenerational America.
Because I fell into this trap of making this group my reference and starting point, I missed the significant and most hopeful meaning of the moment which was right before my eyes in clear sight. It is the new 21st century multiethnic coalition which is larger and ... (more) democratized .....


40% of White men voted for change
43% of White women voted for change
80% of Black men voted for change
91% of Black women voted for change
61% of Latinx men voted for change
70% of Latinx women Voted for change
60% additional races of color voted for change

.... This coalition of men, women, multi-ethnic and intergenerational formation is the evidence of a new 21 century community coalition that destabilizes White supremacy. This new community .... sets in motion the concrete manifestation of a dream that flows toward a multi-ethnic democracy. It is in this new story and vision that we find hope. ...This is the hope to which we must hitch our work. It is this hope that has galvanized generations of Americans who kept on working towards it even in the nation’s worst moments.”

As we gather tonight, on the 3rd night of Hanukkah, it is important to connect with the energy of this holy season and remind ourselves, as Rabbi Arthur Waskow reminds us, that: “Hanukkah was created in a time of resisting tyranny and honoring the resistance with a teaching and a practice: “Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Breath of Life.” And the proof of the efficacy of that practice is that One day’s energy, one day’s olive oil, met eight days’ needs! If we resist tyranny and refuse to worship idols, we could learn how to make sure that it could take only a minimum of nature’s energy to serve us... we (can) and need to create social systems that not only sustain us but allow for us and the Earth we’re harvesting to mutually sustain one another. Forever.”

As we continue to light Hanukkah candles this week and celebrate the power of faith and even the possibility of miracles, may we remember that ‘hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a practice that becomes spiritual muscle memory.” (Krista Tippet) 

May the light of these holy days help us see with new eyes, as we find the strength and courage to bring forth the world we hope to live into and pass on to our children and grandchildren, an Olam Chadash. May it be so.

Questions for small group discussion: 

Think of a situation, personal, communal or societal, which is calling for change:

What is the direction in which you would like things to move or what values would you like to express?

If you assume the stance of hope as an ethical imperative, what steps or action could you take that would be in alignment with your hoped-for outcome?

If you are already engaged in working toward an Olam Chadash, please share your experience: how is it changing you? What learning and new perspectives are you developing? Where do you imagine moving next? What experiences have you had through which you felt yourself being part of a force for greater than yourself for good, for justice, for compassion?

Closing song: 

We Shall be Known by Karisha Longaker of MaMuse

We shall be known by the company we keep
By the ones who circle round to tend these fires
We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap
The seeds of change, alive from deep within the earth

It is time now, it is time now that we thrive
It is time we lead ourselves into the well
It is time now, and what a time to be alive
In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love
In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love