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What Cindy Sheehan Said on Yom Kippur

What Cindy Sheehan Said on Yom Kippur at Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in S.F.
By Rabbi Michael Lerner

Beyt Tikkun synagogue traditionally has a break between the Musaf service
and the Mincha service and we invite speakers/teachers to talk about
various social issues for which we in our country need to make atonement.
This year we had Cindy Sheehan talk about the Iraq War and Kevin Danaher
of Global Exchange talk about environmental issues.

Cindy Sheehan's presence caused a bit of a stir in the Jewish community
and I had demands from the local Jewish newspaper to be able to cover the
event and take notes and photographs. I refused. Our synagogue is on the
traditional/hallakhic end of the Jewish Renewal spectrum, and we do not
allow people to write or in other ways violate Jewish law with regard to
the observance of the holiday. The Jewish newspaper reporter seemed
outraged, apparently unfamiliar with Jewish religious practice.

The reason for the stir is that Cindy was accused of having said in an
email (the authorship of which she denies) that her son had died for
Israel. The implication was that because some Jewish neo-cons in the
Defense Department had been big advocates for this war, along with Ariel
Sharon and his supporters in AIPAC in this country, that this was somehow
a Jewish war.

The very first thing Cindy said was that she had heard about these
accusations and that they were false. She does not blame the Jewish
and she does not blame Israel for the war in Iraq. Instead, she said, it
would be ludicrous to do that, just as it would be ludicrous, she said,
blame the English people for the war just because their leader Tony Blair
had been a big advocate for it. Cindy told me privately that she was
aware that 78% of Jews had voted for Gore in 2000 and for Kerry in 2004,
and that if the rest of the country had voted the way the Jews vote that
there never would have been a war in Iraq. She said it was very clear who
deserved blame for the war in Iraq: Bush, Cheney, the Republicans and the
the many Congressional Democrats who had voted to authorize the war or
who, once authorized, provided it with ongoing support by voting for
whatever funding was asked for by PResidnet Bush, plus Haliburton
Corporation and other war profiteers. It was these, not the Jews, and not
Israel, who deserve criticism.

Cindy went on to discuss the war, why it was immoral, why it hurt our
country and the Iraqi people, and why we should be advocating to get the
U.S. out immediately. She pointed to the emptiness of the argument that
"our people in the armed services should not have died in vain" by
insisting that she and many other mothers did not want to see more people
killed in the name of justifying the deaths of their own already dead
children. No mother, she said, should have to bury their own child as she
Then she cried about her son. It was a sad and solemn moment for all of

During the question and answer period that followed her talk she was
if she would unequivocally denounce David Duke, the Nazi who had
apparently invoked her name and supported her on his website. Cindy
responded simply and unequivocally that she had never authorized her name
to be used in conjunction with Duke, that he was in fact a racist and
anti-Semite and that she wanted to have nothing to do with such people,
and that she completely rejected him and his message.

She was asked if she would consider running against Diane Feinstein, the
California U.S. Senator who had cheered the day that Bush landed troops
Iraq, has been part of the faction of Democrats who talk about increasing
troops as a solution to the problems the US faces there now, and who
consistently votes for every new appropriation for the war. Cindy
acknowledged that it would be important for the anti-war movement to run
candidate against Feinstein. But she said she would not do it because, as
she put it, "I don't know enough about a lot of issues, like social
security or tax codes-what I know about is the war in Iraq, and I know
that that is wrong and that Democrats who support it by voting for
appropriations are doing something wrong. But I don't know enough about
other things to be a good U.S. Senator." I do not remember ever hearing
any political person acknowledge their own limitations so clearly and
forthrightly. Her humility was stunning and moving.

We ended up feeling very proud that we had given Cindy Sheehan a venue on
Yom Kippur, but also deeply saddened that our government is playing such
destructive and even self-destructive role in the world today, so we had
yet more issues to focus on as we concluded the services that day.

This Monday night, October 17th, starts the Jewish holiday of Succot in
which Jews are commanded to dwell in a temporary shelter (the sukkkah, a
flimsy shack-like agricultural hut) for 7 days. The focus is on
dis-connecting to the world of material things, acknowledging that our
lives are fleeting and that nothing is permanent, and living and
celebrating nevertheless in the face of radical impermanence. Yet nothing
drove that impermanence more forcefully into consciousness than listening
to the sad story of how Cindy Sheehan's son had allowed himself to be
talked into enlisting by an armed services recruiter who told him all
kinds of fanciful stories about the rights he would have in the army. Our
psalms say: "Do not trust in princes, in the son of man who has no
salvation." We've learned instead to trust in the God of the universe and
in the goodness of ordinary human beings. Cindy Sheehan massively
reinforced our belief in that goodness lurking near the surface of most
people on the planet.

For more information about Tikkun and the interfaith Network of Spiritual
Progressives, go to For more information about Beyt
synagogue, including a listing of our holiday events and weekly Torah
study, plus our weekend re-introduciton to Judaism course (for non-Jews
well as for Jews who have never heard the systematic presentation of a
progressive spiritual vision), go to


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Hello Mr. Swanson,

I trust that you had a good yom tov and an easy fast. I wish you a sweet new year and a fun simchat torah.

I am very glad that you shared with us Cindy's talk to your congregation. I attended the Peace Rally in DC last month and was a tad scared of a possible over identification of the Anti-War movement with Anti-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian sentiment. I did see a great many PLO flags. Not to worry, I have quite a few Arab friends. Therefore, reading Cindy's denouncement of David Duke and not associating the Gulf War II as an Israeli partnership is heartening.

You mentioned Tony Blair, I wondered if you noticed that Lady Margaret Thatcher in the Independent appears to completely agree with After Downing Street's reasoning that, "The fact was that there were no facts, there was no evidence, and there was no proof. As a politician the most serious decision you can take is to commit your armed services to war from which they may not return.". This was actually reported by Tina Brown in the Washinton Post towards the bottom.

i didn't write it

i also posted an article about thatcher's comments



Thank you for explaining that, the article was not specific to who wrote it.

I was blown away by the panel confronting these issues in front of John Conyers and other Democratic Congresspeople. John Bonifaz had some very compelling evidence to make a case for impeachment.

Thanks, again.



Thank you and I am sorry for missing it was written ny Rabbi Lerner.

I was blown away by the panel confronting these issues in front of John Conyers and other Democratic Congresspeople. John Bonifaz had some very compelling evidence to make a case for impeachment.

Thanks, again.


Hi Julien,

It concerns me--although it is understandable--that you, as a religious Jew, do not support the Palestinian struggle to retain land that was ripped away.

Palestine is occupied territory, and Zionism, the movement that led to the invasion and occupation of Palestine and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and land, was clearly a racist reaction to the racism of anti-Semitism that existed in Russia and Europe--not Palestine. This reaction is akin to the cycle of abuse that child abuse often takes on, wherein the victim becomes the victimizer--violence begets violence and, in this case, gets misdirected.

Also, please know that to see Zionism as racism and to be opposed to the state of Israel is not anti-Jewish sentiment. The fact is that the majority of Jews of early 20th Century Europe and Russia opposed Zionism as the solution to the anti-Semitism they experienced in these regions. Instead, they maintained a progressive, integrationist view. Who were among those who supported Zionism/Israel? Western imperialists, of course. The colonization of Palestine by Zionists and Western imperialists, British and then U.S., is, itself, an act of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism continues in the form of Israel--the colonial occupation of Palestine.

As for the anti-war movment, colonial occupations in Palestine and Iraq, and elsewhere, are inextricably related. Dominating the Middle East--Southwest Asia--and its oil is central to U.S. domination of the world and the war drive that is an integral part of it. Israel's brutal colonial occupation of Palestine is central to the U.S. goal to subdue the people of Southwest Asia and the whole world. Standing with Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians while they are under racist attack in this country and around the world means realizing the central leadership role that Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians have in the global and national anti-war movement.

For more about Zionism, please read the following article written by Saul Kanowitz:

Socialism and Liberation, Nov 2004 featured article:

Here is an excerpt from it:

By speaking in the name of Jewish people, Israel does an injustice to the progressive and radical history of Jewish people. Israel claims all actions taken against the Zionist state, whether they are political, economic or military, are anti-Semitic. For the Jewish people inside and outside of Israel who want to live peacefully, free of anti-Semitism, the actions of Israel will only lead to further hatred and acts of resistance.

Before Zionism established itself in Palestine, the different cultures, religions and peoples of the region lived together in harmony. It was only the intervention of colonial powers, from the Ottoman Empire to the European colonialists to U.S. imperialism, that brought about division and rivalry.

The Zionist conception of a Jewish-only state created on the backs of another oppressed people is a false solution to anti-Semitism. A real solution to anti-Semitism must be based on international solidarity. For all progressive people, Jew­ish and non-Jewish, who want to honestly fight anti-Semitism and all forms of racism, it will take the struggle against all colonial occupation and domination—including Zionism. The formation of a democratic and secular Palestine respecting the rights of all people regardless of religion, ethnicity or race would be a first step in that direction.

And please read this book review by Olivia Snaije:

The Daily Star - Arts & Culture - 'Married To Another Man' - a writer's search

And here is an excerpt from it:

Karmi is finishing a book, which expands on an idea she has written and talked about for years. She believes the only solution to ending the conflict is a one-state, secular democracy.

"It's not because I think Palestinians and Israelis love each other, but because it's the only practical solution," she says briskly.

The title of the book, which will be published in 2006, is "Married To Another Man." It refers to a famous cable received by Theodor Herzl, founder of the modern political Zionist movement. In 1897, Herzl had sent two Austrian rabbis to Palestine to explore the possibility of founding a Jewish state there.

"The bride is beautiful," the rabbis cabled Herzl, "but she is married to another man." The other man was of course, the Palestinian people.

Karmi's book "is not a blueprint. I've tried to take the reader along and prove that nothing has worked nor can it work under the present conditions. We arrive at the solution together. In the modern world we must aspire to get away from the idea that one type of person must live in one place. The land must not be partitioned and Israelis and Palestinians should live together."

Arriving at Karmi's solution means dismantling Zionism, which to many, seems like an unrealistic approach. Karmi is perfectly aware of the monumental difficulties facing her solution. Citing the names of new Israeli historians such as Illan Pappe and Avi Schlaim who stress the importance of re-writing Israeli history, she says:

"Look. There's the Zionist parallel. It was once a wild dream. There were the Zionists sitting there talking about a Jewish state on someone else's land. My idea seems less crazy."

... "Peace will be the fruit of justice" (Isaiah 32:17)



Hello Sara,

Yes, I am a Yeshiva educated jew from westchester NY, but not observent anymore. I do wish for Peace in the world. I do not believe in solving problems in the world by lifting up arms and killing each other. I would not have gone to a Peace Rally if that were not the case. Please note that the marching portion of the rally was held on Shabbos.

I have a family relatives in Eretz Yisrael. I wish for Yitzchak Rabin days again. May he rest in peace, a tough man, a great tactical strategist when the state of Israel needed him to fight, and then he, along with Clinton ushered in an era of Peace that gave hope to everyone. I long for those days, again.

Kindest regards and enjoying your discussion.


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