Shalom Center post



Giving Hanukkah New Meaning:

The Festival of Conserving Oil & Energy

Dear friends,

In this special message there are two parts: one of grief, one of hope. Please be sure to read them both.

A word about the second part:

This special report will explain The Shalom Center’s plans to make Hanukkah the festival of conserving oil and energy in our own generation.

These plans for Hope and Hanukkah begin about one-third of the way down this report.

But first, we must face the darkness. Our time of sorrow, near despair.


As Israeli troops first entered Lebanon, we received a letter from a member of one of our Philadelphia congregations, who now lives in northern Israel. Her son was being sent across the border, she said, and she asked – for him and for his comrades in the army, “Pray FIRST.”I was moved by this poignant outcry. She did not ask that we pray ONLY for Israeli lives – but “first” for them. Just as when we say the Mourners’ Kaddish, we focus first on those whom we have known and loved directly, and only then for others.

So we pray first in grief for Pam Waechter, the Seattle Jew who was murdered by an American Muslim who said he was consumed with rage at what Israel has done to Lebanon. And we pray for a speedy refuah shleymah – a full recovery to vibrant health – to the others wounded in his attack on the Jewish Federation in Seattle. My right arm is aching as I type this – “If I forget you, Godwrestling folk, may my right arm forget its strength.“

I welcome the condemnation of the attack issued by CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and I am sure by other Muslim organizations. We have already suggested to our Seattle supporters of the Peace of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah, that Jews and Muslims gather publicly there to mourn the dead, pray for the wounded, and condemn the attack.

And I turn as well to the 50 or more civilians killed and many wounded in Kana in Lebanon, half of them children, suffering from an Israeli air strike against the village.

The Israeli Air Force said it had information that rockets were fired against Israel from nearby; but the question arises again and again, to ALL sides in this many-sided war, whether they could have used alternatives at every stage. Alternatives that would have made murders and massacres less likely, peace more possible.

If there had been a cease-fire imposed by the world a week ago, Kana’s dead would be alive today. Perhaps the Seattle killer would have been consumed by more grief than rage, and other lives would not have been lost.

Blood feuds are easy to start, easy to expand, hard to stop. No one should stand in the way of stopping them.

Often, when I or anyone mentions such deaths in the same breath – one might better say, the same un-breath – we are accused of the fallacy of “moral equivalence.” When I hear such an outcry, one feeling and one thought rise up in me:

To the dead and the suffering, moral “equivalence” and moral “un-equivalence” are empty of meaning. The dead are dead; the maimed are maimed. Wailing sweeps away all philosophic weighing.

And as I have said before, the individual person who deliberately intends to kill a civilian may be morally different from one who does so without intending to. But when every shred of experience is that a policy will kill the innocent, there is an institutional responsibility to pursue a different policy. The children who die by “accident” in a drive-by killing aimed at a drug lord from another gang are not “collateral damage.”

The killing must stop – in Iraq, in Palestine, in Israel, in Lebanon, in America.


Let us turn to hope and Hanukkah.

Two years ago, we decided that behind even the issue of global scorching stood the power of Big Oil — often used to deny the very existence of global scorching. So with the generous support of ALEPH, the National Religious Partnership on the Environment, several donors through The Shefa Fund, the Arnow Family Foundations, and Hazon, The Shalom Center began our BEYOND OIL Campaign, and began planning to make Hanukkah – the festival of the “miracle” of conserving oil, when one day’s supply of oil kept the Great Menorah lit for eight days – the central point for the BEYOND OIL campaign.

1) Our Goal: By 2020, cut US oil consumption by seven-eighths and replace that amount of oil as an energy source by conservation and by use of non-fossil, non-CO2-producing, non-nuclear sources of renewable, sustainable energy.

Why specifically seven-eighths? Because it would make an enormous difference; because it is do-able if we take the steps we sketch below;

and because it fits the symbolism of Hanukkah.

2) Hanukkah: One Day’s Oil for Eight Days’ Work.

When the Maccabees rededicated the Temple, one day’s worth of oil kept the Great Menorah lit for eight full days. Through their boldness, they conserved the source of sacred energy.

Let us make every Hanukkah the festival of ending America’s addiction to oil, by conserving energy and shifting to renewable energy sources.

Experts we have consulted say that the seven-eighths reduction by 2020 is possible, though not easy to achieve. It requires major but quite possible changes in the US transportation system: use of cellulosic ethanol (NOT corn), plug-in hybrids, public transit, use of wind power and other renewable, non-nuclear, non-CO2-producing sources of electricity).

3. This Hanukkah, The Shalom Center will invite synagogues everywhere to join in the GREEN MENORAH PLEDGE and will present the first GREEN MENORAH AWARD to a synagogue that has done extraordinary work to green itself and America.

If there are more than one, all the better: we see this as cooperative, not competitive.

The Shalom Center will also organize a Hanukkah candle-lighting vigil at a key center of Oiloholic addiction, to focus attention on the need for change.

Our goal is that EVERY synagogue –

  • Reduces its own use of energy by conservation and by using sustainable sources.
    • Organizes “Oiloholics Anonymous” groups of congregants to help each other to “kick the Oil habit” in their own households.
    • Urges all congregants to adopt a commitment to Kosher Kars — using their present cars in such a way as to reduce gas use (e.g. by carpooling) and making their next car purchase a hybrid or other high-mileage car.
    • Takes action to change public policy by campaigning for a Carbon Tax on various energy sources according to their effective production of CO2.

    This is a crucial idea whose time will only come if we fight for it. No other public-policy step will make enough change to free the US from its oil addiction; yet politicians will be afraid to support the Carbon Tax until we build a base for it.

    We invite your help to make this BEYOND OIL campaign strong and creative. You can write Russ Agdern, national organizer of the BEYOND OIL campaign, at; or me, at; or of course The Shalom Center at our offices.

    COEJL, the Coalition for the Environment and Jewish Life, is also beginning a Hanukkah campaign. Theirs is focused on persuading synagogues and congregants to conserve energy by installing condensed fluorescent light bulbs. We look forward to cooperating with COEJL in our distinctive yet complementary work on Hanukkah in particular and global scorching in general.

    Shalom u’vracha,
    Rabbi Arthur Waskow


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    6711 Lincoln Drive
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19119
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