Early this week, I took part in the "Consultation on Conscience," a gathering the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism calls together in Washington each year for American Jews to address issues of social justice.
I was there partly because the RAC's director, Rabbi David Saperstein, asked me to speak to "What next?" after the Reform Jewish movement adopted a antiwar resolution calling on Congress to set a time table to end the Iraq War.
So let me urge "what next" action you can take RIGHT NOW, or can take after reading the rest of this report. To urge Congress to pass the new Feingold-Reid bill to redirect all Iraq-military funds to bring the troops home no later than next March 31, you can snip and paste your way to ---
In the past, these Consultations have included both being talked to, or at, by famous Senators and other high officials -- and getting to talk back by lobbying them.
This year, no lobbying. Especially unfortunate because a month ago, the Reform movement adopted a call for Congress to set time tables to end the Iraq war. It could have been a good time to lobby for that.
I admire the RAC's willingness to invite me. The Shalom Center and I have for years been "friendly mosquitoes" at the Reform movement's ongoing giant garden party. Trying to infect the Reform movement not with malaria -- "bad air" -- but with more "good air," the winds of change -- specifically, a swifter, more spirited commitment to act against the Iraq War. It is not every party host who welcomes even a friendly mosquito to the party.
And -- changing metaphors -- I do understand it takes more time for a great ocean liner like the Reform movement to change direction than for a small motor boat like The Shalom Center. We try to make up in speed, clarity, and close attention to looming icebergs what we lack in size; when the Reform movement does decide to weigh in, it weighs a lot.
What I said at the RAC applies not only to Reform synagogues - but to all congregations and gatherings of different and no religious faith.
In the session on "Iraq -- What next?" I urged the Reform movement to mobilize around a new bill to end the war -- Senate Bill 1077, introduced by Senator Russ Feingold along with Senate Majority Leader Reid and a host of other Senators.
It requires that funds appropriated for troops in Iraq be used SOLELY to bring them safely home, beginning no later than 120 days after the bill is enacted and being completed no later than March 31, 2008.
I urged that not only the RAC and other lobbyists in Washington but people in local congregations as well begin pressing for this bill, and insisting it be repassed with every comma intact if the President vetoes it.
I urged -- to avoid civil wars inside congregations that might be enflamed by even small minorities that support the war -- that in many cases rabbis, other clergy, and religious leaders go with "coalitions of the willing" among their congregants to visit Senators and Members of the House in their home district offices.
I suggested that in some cases, if visit after visit proved fruitless, the visits might become gentle and nonviolent acts of civil disobedience -- as the visitors refused to leave without a commitment of support for SB 1077.
For the text of SB 1077 and Senator Feingold's explanation of it, please click here.
TO WRITE YOUR SENATOR AND MEMBER OF CONGRESS TO URGE SUPPORT FOR SENATE BILL 1077, PLEASE SNIP HERE & PASTE THIS.
When you get there, you will find a possible text for your letter -- as follows, AND we urge you to add your own words about what has moved you.
"Every day it seems clearer that the only way to end this self-destructive war is for Congress to shift the money that is sending out soldiers into battle and death, so that the money is used to bring them safely home.
"So I strongly urge you to co-sponsor and work hard to pass Senate Bill 1077, introduced by Senators Feingold, Reid, and Boxer, among others, and to support its repassage without a comma changed if the president vetoes it. It will bring our troops safely home by March 31.
" I also urge you to insist on full medical care for all our veterans wounded in body or soul."
I also urged that the Reform community also take on two longer-range questions that are embedded deep in the Iraq war: --
Helping create decent face-to-face relationships and shared social action among American Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and
Helping wean America from its addiction to oil.
(See our Websection on "taking action": Sacred Seasons / "Peace of Abraham, Hagar, & Sarah" program for this fall when Ramadan, the High Holy Days, Worldwide Communion Sunday, and the Feast Day of Francis of Assisi cluster) and our Green Menorah Covenant program here.
The main concern that was expressed among those gathered on this question was to avoid either the reality or the appearance of not supporting the troops.
That cutting off funds for the war will damage the troops is simply another of this Administration's lies in support of the war. Senate Bill 1077 will pay soldiers' salaries, supply soldiers' needs, etc. It will simply move them to safety - at home.
But we must do more. As several people at the RAC meeting urged, we can start inviting soldiers who are briefly home from their repeated tours of duty in Iraq to meet with our congregations and talk about their experiences.
And the veterans of this war need medical and emotional support. Aside from terrible physical wounds are woundings of heart and mind and soul. Already post-traumatic stress syndrome is running at higher rates, far sooner, than was true for Vietnam vets.
Local congregations all over America can not only lobby for decent veterans' services but provide volunteers in VA hospitals.
Crucial reading for ALL religiously and spiritually rooted people should be Penny Coleman's Flashback: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War. Coleman, the widow of a post-traumatic veteran who killed himself, has intertwined her own story with serious research into the disease.
What else can congregations do?
One Reform rabbi has instituted the custom of saying Kaddish, the Mourners Prayer, for American soldiers killed in Iraq.
This might start out by using the names of local neighbors, and Iraqi names might be added. Many names of the fallen are available at -
Congregations -- not only Jews -- might use the "Mourners Kaddish in Time of War" that has been written by The Shalom Center. - For its text, click to --
Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and other congregations might use the English of this Kaddish.
At the RAC on Monday, the other major concern that was put forward about leaving Iraq was how to deal with the shattered mess the US has made. I suggested thinking about the US providing a fifty-billion-dollar reconstruction grant (one-tenth the half-trillion spent already on destroying Iraq) to a consortium of, perhaps, groups like American Friends Service Committee, Oxfam, American Jewish World Service, Muslim and Arab foundations -- -- NOT under US governmental control.
The Feingold-Reid bill should be passed now; there is time for working out a reconstruction process.
Summarizing: We can urge Congress to end the war by writing NOW. Click here.
We can invite Iraq veterans, soldiers who are briefly at home, and families of the fallen to visit us; we can ourselves visit and volunteer for VA hospitals; we can say Kaddish for the dead; we can organize visits of congregants to our local Congressmembers' offices.
Shalom, salaam, peace -- Arthur