Welcome to our new Jewish Activism Summer School blog. You are reading this on our newly-launched, redesigned website. We are very excited with our new virtual “face,” designed by webpage designer Jacqueline Lebwohl of New York. We hope you like it. A new look was long overdue. In addition, the new site features this blog, which we plan to open up for writing by JASS faculty, alumni and invited guests. The blog marks yet another way for us to create a relevant, polyphonic conversation and foster an online community.
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The opportunity of this new blog coincides with the terrible, still-spreading Coronavirus pandemic. I have read many insightful, inspiring analyses of the potential positive societal transformations that might arise out of this crisis. Yet I confess having a sense of heaviness and dread, due to the contrary reports of people denying the need for collective action, businesses taking advantage of the moment, and political leaders consolidating their grip on power. Which direction will we choose? As always, we face the same choice that stretches back to the proverbial fruit of the Garden of Eden. In one mystical interpretation, the decision of whether to eat of the forbidden fruit was not some historical episode that happened way back when; it is an existential moment, one that hovers eternally before us. Which direction will we choose?
Sheltered-in-place only physically, my mood prevents me from offering yet another analysis. Instead, I share with you here a text, below, that I found in an ancient scroll, scrawled in glowing but barely decipherable radioactive ink, stuffed into a faded plastic shampoo bottle, nestled with a mess of other debris in the stomach of a small whale carcass, across which I stumbled the other day on a coast I never visited.
Jonathan Schorsch Founding Director, JASS In those days your sins will accumulate, a terrible, stinking pile. You have ignored what you did not wish to see, so I will send the invisible to you to open your eyes. A plague will cover the earth, killing hundreds of thousands. For you will have encroached on the forests, shredded the wooded buffers protecting you. You will grow sick from what ails bats, become ill from pangolins. I ask you, as I have asked a thousand times before: What will you make of yourself? Will you fill my synagogues though you grow fat and callous? Will you praise my son and steal from the poor? Will you worship my prophet and imprison people in ignorance? Will you adore me in all my forms yet ignore the suffering masses? Your leaders prey on their own populations and you love them all the more for it. You exploit those who work for you, forsaking them in the name of profit. You tax the poor more than you tax the wealthy. Your so-called food makes you ill. You have befouled the oceans. How many other species have you driven to extinction? You hate the stranger, the refugee. You abandon the lost and lonely, deny them learning, feed them with distractions and drugs. You tinker with your sophisticated toys instead of attending to the needs of the downtrodden. You feed your vehicles, but cause people to go hungry. You value nothing but money and power.
Did you listen to those who warn you that you turn your air poisonous, that the poor and ordinary folks groan in hopelessness? No, you murder the messengers I sent to protect the trees and the butterflies. You poison the messengers I sent to expose your leaders’ sickening corruption, you abuse and silence the emissaries I sent to fight for the powerless. You scorn and torment the women who accuse those who raped them.
What will awaken you from your gated dreams, your empty satiety and selfish safety? You dream of settling Mars, when you have laid waste your own habitations? Your blindness and obtuseness has caused the world I gave you to turn on you.
You will be trapped in your homes, too frightened to go out. Your cities will become desolate. You will cower behind face masks, afraid to breathe outdoors; glove your hands, petrified of the invisible death on doorknobs and countertops. You will see friends and turn away from them, run from your own family. Your loved ones will die alone. You will make the vulnerable deliver goods to you, too terrified to open the door to them. You will be awash in oil, but unable to use it. Your planes will idle in desert parking lots. You will be surrounded by animals to eat, but unable to process them, you will be forced to suffocate and drown them.
The air will grow clean again, delighting in the lack of industry and jets. Wild animals will explore your cleared-out parks and streets, they will dance and rejoice in your absence from the preserves you have carved out for them. Serene silence will again fill the nights. My world, that I gave you out of love, will again have her rest, her rapture.
And I ask you still: Who are you? What will you become? Have you learned none of my lessons? Wake up, sleepwalkers chasing salvation for yourself alone! For thousands of years I have tried to teach you love and compassion, care and collaboration. Yet all you hear is judgment and segregation, purity and self-satisfaction.
Do not look to me. Look at yourself. Look to one another. It is never too late. Have I not said endlessly, the future has always been entirely up to you?