Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A "Seven Levels of Life" universal Arrow of Light Ceremony

Below is an Arrow of Light Ceremony I wrote for our Cub Scout pack this year.  A lot of the usual ceremonies are based on Indian lore, but we live in an actual Indian area (Minnesota) where it is controversial for non-Natives to dress up as Natives.  One of our families is Ojibwa and they find it offensive.   (I can understand that, since, as a religious Jew, I have mixed feelings about Christians wearing Jewish symbols.)

So I researched alternatives.  I looked at a lot of other Arrow ceremonies that were posted online to get ideas, and then created my own.  I liked the "Seven Virtues" that many packs use, but the order of the Virtues as they did it seemed rather odd to me in my own tradition (Judaism.)   Putting "love" at the top is probably based on Christianity, where love is considered supreme.  But in Jewish thought, the Mind is above the Emotions.  Although this is not a "Jewish" ceremony per se, I wanted it to make sense in my system of thought while still being universal enough for others to relate to.

 So I used a Jacob's Ladder motif, where the seven rungs of the ladder correspond with Seven Aspects of Life (and the chakras, if you know yoga.)  The ladder rests on the Earth and goes to God Above.  Symbolically, we are climbing it together. 

To do this ceremony, the main prop is a candle holder for seven candles.  It need not be curved like the symbol.  We used a small birch log (about 5 inches in diameter) with seven holes drilled in.  You also need an eighth candle for the "Spirit of Scouting" that is used to light the others.  This is separate from the log -- A regular candle holder worked fine.  Set it in front or to the side of the main holder.  We used all blue candles, but you could also use rainbow colors, or alternating blue and gold, or whatever -- there are a lot of possible variations.  Here is a pic of how ours turned out:



You need a table, perhaps with a blue-and-gold cloth, for setting the candles on.   And matches!  (Yes, I've actually goofed on that one in the past.  A checklist of props helps!)  I though of making a large poster of a ladder with the themes to put on the wall, but time got tight and I never got around to it.  (There's always next year.  From bottom to top the order of themes is:  Action, Feelings, Self Control, Heart, Speech, Wisdom, Faith.)  And be sure to print out scripts so participants can read it in case of stage fright.  Feel free to use this ceremony and/or adapt it to your own needs.






Arrow of Light Ceremony for Pack 185 
Audubon Center of the North Woods 
Pine County, Minnesota 

 Cubmaster: This candle represents the spirit of Scouting, the light we carry along the trail. (Lights the extra candle). The Arrow of Light is the highest award a Cub Scout can earn. It is the only Cub Scout award that he can wear on his Boy Scout uniform after he crosses over. An arrow that is straight and true will hit the target. This is why we all want to be straight arrows. We will always aim to do our best.

 Webelos Leader: Stop and think about the inner meaning of the word Webelos. It means “We'll be loyal Scouts” – loyal to our country, loyal to our home and family, and loyal to God. Now, as we look back down our Cub Scout trail, we see how bright the path we followed really is. It is bright because you Webelos have helped to make it so. You light the trail through Cub Scouting by doing your best and giving goodwill to everyone you meet on the path.

 Third Leader: The Bible tells the story of how Jacob was crossing the desert and went to sleep on a hilltop. He dreamed about a ladder that reached from earth to heaven, with angels going up and coming down it. Jewish tradition says that this ladder has seven rungs or steps. Each rung has a special lesson attached to it. Seven is a sacred number in many traditions. There are seven days of Creation, seven days of the week, and seven candles on the Arrow of Light symbol. The rays of the Arrow of Light stand for wisdom, courage, self-control, justice, faith, hope, and love. We have combined these with the seven rungs of Jacobs’ Ladder, to create a ceremony that is unique to our Pack. Together we will now climb Jacob’s Ladder.

 (Leader hands Spirit of Scouting Candle to the First Reader.  After each person reads and lights his Arrow candle, he passes the Spirit Candle to the next person)

 First reader: The first rung represents the earth, where the bottom of the ladder stands firm. As Scouts, we take good care of the earth. We leave no trace at our campsites. We are helpful and clean up litter that others leave in order to make the world a better place for everyone to live in. (lights candle)

 Second Reader: The second rung represents our good feelings and love for each other. A Scout is cheerful, friendly and kind. He welcomes new boys into the Pack. He greets everyone with a smiling face. He is kind to animals and happy to help others who are less fortunate than he is. (lights candle) 

Third Reader: The third rung is for self-control. Control means knowing when to stop. We follow instructions. We learn to be quiet and listen when others are speaking. We are willing to listen to ideas we do not agree with. Learning to control ourselves makes it easier to work together as a team. (lights candle)

 Fourth Reader: The fourth rung stands for a brave heart. Being brave does not mean you are never afraid. It means you face your fear and do what must be done. A Scout is strong-hearted, kind and loyal. He stands up for his friends, family, and country. He treats everyone fairly. (Lights candle) 

Fifth Reader: The fifth rung is for good words and good speech. A Scout is trustworthy. When he makes a promise, he keeps it. When he says “Scout’s Honor” he always tells the truth, no matter what. He does not gossip about others or say bad things about people. He does not use curse words. He is clean in thought, word, and deed. (Lights candle)

 Sixth Reader: The sixth rung stands for wisdom. In Scouting we learn many new things. We teach each other and share our knowledge about the world and about ourselves. But wisdom is much more than just learning facts. Wisdom means using our knowledge in the right way. (Lights candle) 

Seventh Reader: The seventh rung stands for hope and faith in serving God. Faith is when you believe in something, even if you cannot see it or prove it is true. A Scout is reverent. This means he does not make fun or laugh at religious beliefs. He serves God on his own religious Path and respects the ways that others worship, too. He understands that Scouts around the world serve God in many different ways, but all are praying to the same Creator of the Universe. (Lights candle)

Cubmaster: When these seven rungs are true and straight like an arrow, they make a path of light that stretches from earth to heaven, just like Jacob’s Ladder. When we remember the lessons of each rung, we can become like the angels who climb from earth to heaven. We become Good Scouts, trustworthy, strong, and true.

Pack 185 Webelos receiving their Arrow of Light
March 8, 2015  in Hinckley, MN

Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Selma": Was omission of Heschel on purpose -- or a Hollywood blooper?

As I discussed in my previous article, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was front and center in the iconic photo of the Selma march, but was apparently replaced by a generic rabbi extra in the movie.   I have puzzled over this for several days, read lots of discussion about it, and come up with a few theories about why it might have happened.

The original photo:  John Lewis of SNCC, an unidentified nun, 
Rev. Ralph Abernathy; Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., 
Ralph Bunche (former U.S. Ambassador to the UN), 
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Rev. Fred Shuttleswort


Please note that these are only my personal theories, because Ava DuVernay has not, as far as I know, given any explanation other than "this is art not a documentary" and she did not want to make a "white hero movie."   But that does not explain why there is no actor made up to look like Heschel in this scene.  Especially since there are other white people in the lineup with King in her version.  So why no Heschel?  That's all it would have taken to avoid all this controversy.  Just show it like it was.

I would sure love to have DuVernay come here and tell us why she made this bad decision.  But since neither she nor Oprah answered my tweets on the subject, I suppose I'll just have to guess on my own.  Yes, I've read all the antisemitism and conspiracy theories, but I find myself wondering if it isn't something much simpler:  a major Hollywood blooper.  It would not be the first time.  But if so, it's a whole lot bigger blooper than a water bottle on Downton Abbey.  So here goes:


A still from the movie.  That guy on the right is no Heschel.
 And what's with that suitcase he is carrying?
Theory #1:  Maybe DuVernay didn't know who Heschel was, and thought she could just plug in some generic rabbi to fill the slot.  I'm pretty sure she had no idea how iconic his image is to Jews, or she would not have made this blooper.  I mean, would she have substituted some generic priest for the Pope in a famous scene?   Heschel was, in his own way, equally important, as one of the foremost theologians of the 20th century.  But what if DuVernay did not know that?

Theory #2:  Maybe Heschel did not look "rabbinical" enough for her take on the scene.  If you compare her version with the original, you'll see that Heschel is not the only change in the lineup.  The original doesn't have an Eastern Orthodox priest in clerical garb or a minister (priest?) in a visible clerical collar.  On the other hand the movie version does not have the "unidentified nun" dressed in a habit like the original.  So it appears that DuVernay was doing a sort of visual smorgasbord, plugging in what she thought would be easily recognizable to her viewers as an interfaith scene.  ("A rabbi, a minister, and a priest marched at Selma...")

Theory #3:  If she didn't know who Heschel was, then maybe DuVernay did not recognize the Heschel figure as a rabbi, and thought he was just some old hippie.  So she did a switcheroo to fit her visual imagery.  After all, Heschel usually wore a beret, not a yarmulke, which is what most gentiles think of as Jewish clergy garb.  But if this is the case, then her research crew really blew it.

Theory #4: Maybe DuVernay thought Heschel was too disheveled and hippie-like for her 21st-century take on the scene.  Again comparing the original to the still, there has been quite a bit of sprucing up.  The original characters all look a bit wrinkled, as indeed they would be, after hours of getting ready for the march.  Heschel himself flew out immediately after the Sabbath ended on Saturday in order to be there on Sunday -- no time for a trip to the barber.  But Duvernay's actors are as natty as can be, not a wrinkle or speck of dirt in sight, not a hair out of place.  And the substitute rabbi is perfectly neat and clean-shaven.  Maybe that is the "art" part of it that DuVernay refers to.  Creating a tableau instead of a recreation of history.

But if personal appearance was why Heschel was removed, then I wonder what she would have done with a movie about Einstein?  Given him a shave and a haircut?  But then, she would have known who Einstein was, would have realized how instantly recognizeable his "disheveled" appearance is.

Heschel and King
Which brings us back to my original question:  Did DuVernay even know who Heschel was?  Of course, I have no way of knowing what was in her head.  I just have a hard time believing she would purposely edit out Heschel if she knew how close he was to King, who called him "my rabbi" and compared him to the biblical prophets.   I really do think she had no idea how important Heschel was in the Jewish community, or how well-known the original photo is.  This does not excuse ignorance or bad research, but maybe it does explain why she made such a terrible blooper on this famous historical scene.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

No Rabbi Heschel in "Selma" movie? Inexcusable!

I was looking forward to seeing the new movie, Selma.  Emblazoned in my heart is the iconic photo of Dr. Martin Luther King marching with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in the front row.  A photo that for my generation has come to symbolize the unity between Jews and African Americans during the 1960s.  For years I have told friends, family, and students to "watch for the man with the bushy white hair and beard" in the original Selma footage.  Unfortunately, in the new movie Rabbi Heschel does not appear in this scene or anywhere else!  The omission has me -- along with a lot of the Jewish community -- wondering why not.

Upfront disclosure:  I have not yet seen the film.  It has not yet come to my small Minnesota town and is not out on DVD, so all I've seen are clips and trailers.   And lots of reviews.  But those are enough to set me wondering whether I want to go see it.

Marching from Selma to Montgomery: 
John Lewis of SNCC, an unidentified nun, 
Rev. Ralph Abernathy; Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., 
Ralph Bunche (former U.S. Ambassador to the UN), 
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Rev. Fred Shuttleswort


I can understand film directory Ava DuVernay's desire to make a film that focuses strongly on black leadership.  There have been too many civil rights films already with white sympathizers as the main characters.  (I have the same complaint about Holocaust films that focus on non-Jewish supporters -- of which there are also too many.)

And this is not the only revisionism in the film.  The King estate did not allow the filmmakers to use King's real speeches, so his words are paraphrases. That's not so bad, viewers say.  But to omit showing Rabbi Heschel -- or any rabbis for that matter -- is puzzling.  I find it hard to believe that DuVernay could not have known who Heschel was, given how close he was to Dr. King in those years.  Surely she did her research?  Or did she think the guy with the bushy beard was just some sort of hippie?  (Read more on that theory...)

The appearance of Heschel (second from the right) in that famous photo was not tokenism.  Rabbis and lay Jews alike were involved in the lunch-counter sit-ins, the Freedom Rides. the early protests.  Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner -- both martyred on the same night as James Cheyney -- were both Jewish.  And while it is true that Southern rabbis tended to lay low publicly, for fear of antisemitism and violence against their congregations (some synagogues were actually fire bombed) many helped behind the scenes.

Rabbis from other parts of the country were more vocal.  Peter Dryer, in his January 17, 2015 article in the Huffington Post, Selma's Missing Rabbi,  lists the following rabbis who came to Selma (Plus Rabbi Leon Jick, who is not on Dryer's list but was at Selma, according to this article):

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (grey beard on the left),
Dr. King (center) and Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath
(holding the Torah) in front of the State Capitol in
Montgomery, Alabama
Israel Dreisner (Temple Sha'arei Shalom, Springfield, NJ)
Maurice Eisendrath (president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations)
Albert Friedlander (rabbi for Jewish students at Columbia University)
Herbert Teitelbaum (who led a congregation in Redwood City, California)
Gerald Raiskin (Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, California)
Joseph Gumbiner (director of UC-Berkeley's Hillel)
Joseph Weinberg (Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco)
Saul Berman (Berkeley's Congregation Beth Israel)
Mathew Simon (spiritual leader of a Los Angeles congregation)
Steven Riskin (New York City's Lincoln Square Synagogue)
William Braude (Temple Beth-El, Providence, R.I.)
Saul Leeman (Cranston Jewish Center in Rhode Island)
Nathan Rosen (director of Brown University's Hillel center)
Maurice Davis (Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation)
Arthur Lelyveld (Cleveland's Fairmount Temple)
William Frankel (Beth Hillel Congregation, Wilmette, Illinois)
Sidney Shanken (Temple Beth-El, Cranford, N.J.)
Allan Levine ( Temple Emanuel of Rochester, N.Y.)
Andre Ungar (Temple Emanuel of Pascack Valley, N.J.)
Perry Nussbaum (whose synagogue, Temple Beth Israel in Jackson, MS, was bombed in 1967)
Leon Jick,  Professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University

And that doesn't count unknown Jewish laypersons.  But most visible of all was Rabbi Heschel, right up there in the front row, only one person away from Dr. King.  Messing with this image is, to me, a sort of historical sacrilege, like changing the profile of the flag raising on Iwo Jima or the 13 stars on Betsy Ross's flag.  Some things are not meant to be changed.  I'm not asking that Jews be given equal time.  All it would have taken was to have an actor made up like Heschel for this scene.  Would that have been so hard?

King and Heschel had met at a conference on "Religion and Race" at the National Conference of Christians and Jews in 1963, where Heschel gave the opening speech and King gave the keynote address.   After the first Selma March, known as "Bloody Sunday" (March 7, 1965), Heschel led a delegation of 800 people to FBI headquarters in New York City, protesting the lack of protection for the marchers.   King invited him to come to Selma for the next march and he did.

Afterward, Heschel made that moving statement that has become a watchword among Jews and gentiles alike:

"For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer.  Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying."

Heschel and King remained close friends and continued to work together.  When King won the Jewish Peace Award, it was Heschel who presented it.  In fact, King was looking forward to attending a Passover Seder at Heschel's home, but was assassinated before that could happen.  Rabbi Heschel was the only rabbi to speak at King's funeral.


A still from the movie.  That guy on the far right sure doesn't
look like Heschel, even though he is in the same place.
So, with all these iconic images and events, why don't we see Rabbi Heschel -- or any other rabbi -- in the movie, when we do see King embrace a Greek Orthodox priest, and can recognize a Roman Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, and other clergy in the front row?  One reviewer does make mention of "an elderly Jew in a yarmulke" -- and there is such a gentleman standing in the place occupied by Heschel in the original photo.  But Heschel usually wore a beret -- not a yarmulke.  And this stand-in, if indeed he is supposed to be Heschel, lacks the bushy hair and beard of the real Heschel.  So much so, that Jewish reviewers do not see him as such.  Neither do I.

Which brings us to another production detail that was pointed out by Ulrich Rosenhagen in The People's Legs Are Not Praying: Why "Selma" was not the Interfaith Movie I was Hoping For.  In the original film footage, King and others are wearing flower leis. given to them by a Hawaiian delegate.  In Hawaiian culture, the leis are a symbol of peace between rival or warring clans.  By extension, a symbol of racial and religious unity.  But as Rosenhagen writes:

"In the movie the protesters aren't wearing flower leis. I don't point this out to quibble with the director's costume choice but rather to draw attention to the curious absence of the spiritual sentiment that held these marchers together. They firmly believed that only a religious faith capable of transcending clannish religious divisions could challenge the deep injustices of American society. This confidence in a divine love that made the overcoming of such religious parochialism possible swelled in the hearts of the marchers and anchored the close friendship between King and Heschel. The activists truly felt that the many faces of God had their eyes on Selma."

Maybe the leis are gone for costuming reasons, out of concern that modern viewers might find them strange or puzzling.  Then again, that could have been solved by showing the Hawaiian representative giving them and explaining the significance.   Or maybe -- sadly -- the spiritual-political unity my generation felt back in the 1960s is gone.  Maybe the film unconsciously (?) ended up reflecting that.  In recent years there has been a lot of tension between the black and Jewish communities, something that makes me very sad.  I had hoped this movie might bring back the story of how Jews and African Americans had once worked together for freedom.  But with Jews omitted from the script, that message is lost.  Whatever the reason for omitting Heschel and the Hawaiian peace symbols, their absence has made me decide not to rush out to the theater to see this movie.  And that, too, makes me sad.

* * * SEE ALSO * * *


Timeline of the "Selma" controversy on Hitfix -- covering not only the Jewish issues but everything else people are debating about this film.  Excellent chronological roundup summaries with links to major articles.



What Selma Meant to my Dad, Abraham Joshua Heschel -- Suzannah Heschel in The Forward, also reprinted in several other Jewish pubs

Following in My Father's Footsteps - Suzannah Heschel.  Interesting personal memories.

Why My Grandfather -- and my Dad - Marched in Selma -- Zoe Hick in Haaretz

Another Failure of the Selma movie: Why Did It Leave Out Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel? -- Jeff Dunetz in The Lid.  Has nice photos, including  a telegram Heschel sent to King in the Birmingham jail.

Negro Marchers from Selma wear Yarmulkes in Deference to Rabbis -- reprint of a March 22, 1965 article about a little-known show of solidarity

Jewish Voices from the Selma Montgomery March  -- some interesting firsthand stories -- including a Sabbath service -- about Jewish participation at Selma, from the Duke University Library, which houses the collection of Heschel's papers.

When we marched together in Selma - S.L. Wisenberg in The Forward.  Some Selma history plus a look toward hope for the future.

Praying with my Legs  -- a two-hour upcoming documentary on the life and teachings of Rabbi Heschel.  A worthwhile project -- and definitely needed, as all of this controversy over Selma will attest.  Visit the site and consider donating to the project.

On Anniversary of Selma, Remembering the Civil Rights Activism of Rabbi Heschel (VIDEO)