Huffpost Religion
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Rabbi Arthur Waskow Headshot

Big Coal, 'Avatar' and Tu B'Shvat

Posted: Updated:

If you have been feeling deeply disappointed in the Obama Administration as we approach the second anniversary of its inauguration, Don't just mourn -- organize!

The Shalom Center has a plan to move forward with new vigor -- and we need your help! (See our website to donate. Read this & respond, to act!)

Here's the plan:

This winter and spring, we intend to focus attention on the dangers of Big Coal to its own miners, to the Appalachian region where it is destroying mountains, and to the whole planet by pouring carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, scorching our earth through the climate crisis and worse; buying Senatorial efforts to cripple the EPA's obligation to protect clean air.

Old King Coal is a lethal old soul,
A lethal old soul is he:
He called for his pipe (to pour smoke and CO2 into asthmatic lungs and the global atmosphere);
He called for his bowl (to pour mercury into child brains and money into Senatorial campaigns);
He called for his fiddlers three (to fiddle while his miners die and the planet burns).
 

Our campaign begins by focusing on the months from the Jewish Re-Birth-Day of the Trees (Jan. 19-20) to the multireligious onset of Palm Sunday, Passover, Holy Week, and Earth Day (April 17-26).

It moves during those three months from seeking inward wisdom through loving self-education  and community to seeding wisdom outward through firm and loving action, probably including nonviolent civil disobedience. We will share ideas about ending the Kingship of Coal and the crucial affirmative, positive steps of providing sustainable energy, wind and solar.

Our campaign faces the challenge: "Who are Pharaoh, Caesar, and Abu-Jahl in Our Day?" and seeks to begin growing new forms of community to face and replace new forms of corruption and tyranny.

It begins January 19/20 -- the second anniversary of President Obama's inauguration. On that day this year comes the Jewish festival of Tu B'Shvat, to celebrate the Rebirthing of Trees --  and according to the mystics, the Rebirth of the ultimate Tree of Life, God's own Self.  If out of those two years you have been feeling a Winter of our Disappointment/Discontent, then remember: act to nourish rebirth.

For more information, Shalom Center members and readers can buy from the Jewish Publication Society the unique anthology Trees, Earth, and Torah(promo code "shalom" for a 20 percent discount). It gathers Biblical, Rabbinic, Kabbalistic, Zionist, and Eco-Jewish lore about trees and Tu B"Shvat. It includes several model versions of a Tu B'Shvat ceremonial meal.  I co-edited the anthology with Ari Elon and Naomi Mara Hyman.

Our website also hosts more than a dozen essays and rituals for Tu B'Shvat.

Tu B'Shvat comes on the mid-winter full moon, this year just a few days after the official Birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King.

It reminds us that even, or especially, in the coldest of times, the life-juice rises again. This teaching is not for Jews alone. Indeed, the only point of remembering and celebrating Dr. King -- the fallen Prophet of our epoch -- is to reassert warmth, love and action in the midst of despairing dark and cold.

Those of all ethical, spiritual and religious communities might join in the celebratory meal that marks Tu B'Shvat on the evening of January 19 (or if it's easier, on the following Sunday). It is a meal of fruits and nuts, a meal that requires the death of no living being. For a moment, a taste of the Garden of Eden. (Even eating a radish or a carrot requires us to pluck the root from the soil and kill the plant. Eating fruits and seeds does not.)

To help you plan such a gathering, Trees, Earth, and Torah will help --  especially  the several model versions of a Tu B'Shvat Seder.

This day should become for us a moment to reaffirm our covenant with Mother Earth. In the film "Avatar," the blue-skinned  Na'vi know their lives and freedom are intertwined with the life of their sacred forest. Together they join to resist the Crushers of corporate-military power that seek to despoil their world.

In the shadows just behind the Na'vi, especially visible in the DVD director's cut of "Avatar,"  is the memory of a blasted, ruined Earth -- its life shattered by greedy Crushers run-amok and now intent on shattering Pandora as they had shattered Earth.

But the forests and animals and people of Pandora rise up as did the "Plagues" in the Bible's Exodus story, Earth rising-up against Pharaoh. 

We suggest some ways of celebrating Tu B'Shvat that will open up a path to Passover, Holy Week, and Earth Day:

1.    During the days from Sunday January 16 through  January 23, before and after Tu B'Shvat, gather a group of friends and congregants to  watch the DVD of "Avatar." Discuss it -- its shortcomings as well as its wisdom. (We will mail out some questions to explore.)  The film is too long to watch at the Tu B'Shvat Seder itself, but lends itself to rich discussion there. Keep in mind that the Crushers are trying to conquer Pandora for the sake of grabbing "unobtainium," an energy source they are ravenous for because they have ruined Earth in gobbling up its coal and oil.

2.    On a different evening during the week, if possible with the same people, celebrate a Tu B'Shvat Seder.  Explore its meaning. 

3.    For shorter and more kid-friendly films focusing on deforestation,  check on The Lorax (1972), based on the picture book by Dr. Seuss; and Fern Gully (1992), in which a host of fairies, a bat (voiced by Robin Williams), and a young human lumberjack fight to save the rainforest. These might be watched at the Tu B'Shvat Seder itself.

4.     When Tu B'Shvat comes, the next Congress will have just recently convened (Jan. 3) . Several Senators at the behest of Old King Coal have already boasted they will be trying to  cripple the EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon dioxide emissions for the sake of our endangered planet.  Set aside 15 minutes during the Tu B'Shvat Seder to ask all the participants to write in their own words a letter to their Senators asking them to protect the EPA, for the sake of our health and our planet. Collect the letters to copy them for the writers and send them to the Senators.

Let us stand together to rescue and heal our Earth from the Crushers in our own society.

Blessings of shalom, salaam, shantih -- peace

Arthur 

Around the Web

Tu Bishvat - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Judaism 101: Tu B'Shevat

AVATAR EXTENDED COLLECTOR'S EDITION - on Blu-ray & DVD November 16

Does 'Avatar' Have A Radical Environmental Message?

Avatar: Big Movie with Big Environmental Themes : TreeHugger