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Rabbi Michael Lerner Become a fan

Editor, Tikkun Magazine

Making Thanksgiving Real: Rejoice in Our Ability to Challenge the Pervasive
Injustice in American Society
Posted: 11/26/2014 8:47 am EST Updated: 4 hours ago

"You may be 38 years old as I happen to be, and one day some great opportunity
stands before you and calls upon you to stand up for some great principle, some great
issue, some great cause--and you refuse to do it because you are afraid; you refuse
to do it because you want to live longer; you're afraid that you will lose your job, or
you're afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity or you're
afraid that somebody will stab you or shoot at you or bomb your house, and so you
refuse to take the stand. Well you may go on and live until you are 90, but you're just
as dead at 38 as you would be at 90! And the cessation of breathing in your life is but
the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. You died when you
refused to stand up for right, you died when you refused to stand up for truth, you
died when you refused to stand up for justice." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr., November

This Thanksgiving most of us who read Huffington Post can rejoice in our ability to
stand up against the craziness in our society and the global injustice that surround us.
As we sit around our holiday table, we can celebrate the manifold opportunities to
take Martin Luther King Jr.'s challenge seriously, and teach our parents, children,
grandchildren and guests that it would be a terrible waste of life if all we focused on
was our own personal blessings without simultaneously raising to consciousness all
that needs 'tikkun' (the healing and transformation of our world).
Taking time to give thanks for all that we have--our lives, our health, the incredibly
awesome universe in which we live, the love that we have in our lives--all this deserves
genuine thanks. Yet celebrating our many blessings should not preclude us from
addressing the pressing need for healing and transforming the world. So, if people
tell you that it's a bummer or bringing them down from their joy if you talk about the
injustices that surround us, tell them that our very ability to do so is another one of
our blessings.
It's hard to know where to start, because once we wake up from whatever trance we
use to drown out the cries of the oppressed and the suffering that pervades the
planet, the pain can be overwhelming. Shall we talk about the horrible verdict in
Ferguson, Missouri where America's system of racist injustice once again confirmed
what most young African Americans already have learned hundreds of times in their
lives: that their lives are not valued, that any policeman can create whatever stories
they want to justify shooting young blacks. In spite of the fact that it happens so
frequently, we can rejoice that so many African Americans are standing up in protest
and anger. They did so the past two nights in a collective cry of anguish and outrage.
Would that our week-kneed president Obama had been able to give voice to that pain
instead of focusing attention on why he is opposed to violence (so are we, but the

violent are a tiny group, while the outrage and fear extends to tens of millions of
minorities and the poor who are frequently facing police violence or wildly unfair
treatment in the "criminal justice" system. But so much of what Obama faces in the
way of irrational criticism is itself a barely covered manifestation of the racism with
which he has been greeted through much of his presidency that it's sometimes hard
to tell the difference between the legitimate upset with the way he has capitulated
to the status quo and the interests of the 1% and the upset directed at him no
matter what he does simply because he is African American. I only wish that
Democratic Party politicians would call out this racism explicitly, but they too tend to
capitulate rather than articulate when it comes to the racism that has shaped this
country for the past hundreds of years. Yet on Thanksgiving, we should be able to
raise this with our families and friends even if doing so makes some people
uncomfortable, even as we simultaneously affirm the very good things in our life.
This was a year when 400,000 Americans marched in NYC to protest the inaction of
elected leaders to seriously deal with climate change and the environmental crisis
that is deepening every day. Now a Republican Congress will seek to defund the
Environmental Protection Agency so that it cannot move against carbon whose
excessive release by corporate America and other industrial states has been a
primary factor in the accelerating rise in temperature on planet earth. Most of the
American public declined to vote, many out of disgust that the Democrats were
unable to articulate any coherent alternative to the Right. But in the coming two
years many of us will be able to exercise our American right to protest, and to use
our electoral system to do that. Nothing could be more effective than to get your
local city council and state legislature to endorse the ESRA--Environmental and Social
Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Read it at
We have much to do to protest climate injustice. If we don't, many of us may find our
lives totally transformed by the coming environmental disaster. Even now, though, the
worst impact of climate destructiveness is felt by the weakest, poorest, and least
able to defend themselves parts of our world's population. Environmental justice
must demand that we share equally in the damage our advanced industrial society has
brought to the whole world. If even China can "get it," and agree to dramatic
reductions in climate pollution in the coming years, why shouldn't we be taking our
outrage at the climate deniers directly to their constituencies. And give thanks that
we are free to do that -- if we choose to use the actual power that ordinary citizens
The greatest injustice to recall on Thanksgiving is the genocide perpetrated by
European settlers against the Native Americans, successfully wiping out most of them
over the course of some 200 years of ruthless expropriation of their lands, their
means of livelihood and food, and their self-respect. At the Thanksgiving dinner it is
particularly appropriate to invoke the memory of those natives, and recommit
ourselves to doing all we can to ensure that no other people gets similarly treated.
Sadly, the Palestinian people may be facing a similar expropriation as Israeli settler
daily expand their settlements on Arab lands. Those of us who have championed a two

state solution for Israel/Palestine now find ourselves increasingly doubting if there
will ever be a stop to Israeli expansionism before so much land has been taken away
from Palestinians that the notion of two states living in peace will seem so implausible
and the land available not adequate to create an economically and political viable state
for Palestinians. The injustice of Occupation cannot wipe out from our memory the
tragic murders of 3 Israeli teens last summer and 5 Israelis in a synagogue just days
ago, nor can those tragic events wipe from our memory the burning alive by Israeli
settlers of a Palestinian teenager or the killing of over 2,100 Palestinians by the
Israeli army this past summer. And yet, voices of sanity are still around, protesting
even today the decision by the inner cabinet of the Israeli government to pass
legislation that will establish Israel as "a Jewish state" rather than a state of all its
citizens equally. These are protests that are getting more and more dangerous for
peaceniks, particularly after gangs roamed the streets of Israeli cities this past
summer beating up random young men suspected of being Palestinian (perhaps
thereby expressing their own outrage at having to duck into air raid shelters several
times a day to escape the possibility that one of Hamas' attempts to bomb Israeli
civilians would work). The voices of protest have dimmed but they still exist, not least
in the pages of Tikkun magazine
When our Network of Spiritual Progressives was seeking to educate Congress on the
importance of putting pressure on Israel to end the Occupation of the West Bank,
many of them told us that it was only the "support-Israel-regardless-of-whetheryou-agree-with-its treatment-of-Palestinians" crowd that pushed them hard. I asked
"what is pushing hard mean" and over and over again I was told "if we get twenty to
thirty phone calls on an issue that isn't about self-interest that feels huge, because
most people don't call and don't write letters to us--only standardized emails or
faxes and hidden in ways that we can't tell if these are really our constituents or not.
Any cause that gets thirty people calling--we think they really represent something
real!!!" So don't underestimate what you could do in that arena. And there are other
things outside Congress that may be even more important, like getting your city
council and state legislature to endorse a constitutional convention to put the Global
Marshall Plan and the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment into the
revised constitution. And it would be great if readers of this statement were to call
the White House and your Congressperson and 2 Senators to demand a federal
intervention to make it a federal crime for a police officer to shoot an unarmed
civilian. Just saying ... be creative!
Ok, this is the place for your creativity in your own Thanksgiving celebration. Ask
friends and others to contribute to the calling out of all the aspects of our society
and our world where justice is whimpering but about which we can tell the stories of
those who managed to stand up against injustice, even at great personal risk. Tell
stories from your own lives or from the lives of others whom you've known about all
these years--stories of how you stood up for justice and lived to tell the tale!! You'll
find it a useful spiritual practice this Thanksgiving, not as replacement for more

personal things you are grateful for, but as a supplement to that way of thanking the
universe for all the good in our lives.
And when you are finished doing so, write up your stories and send them to me: for possible use on the Tikkun website at

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of the Jewish and Interfaith magazine Tikkun and cochair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. He is the author of eleven books,
including The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country From the Religious Right
and with Cornel West Jews and Blacks: Let the Healing Begin. He welcomes hearing
from you directly at if you have joined
the interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives.
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