New Menorah - Fall 5764/2003

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My Name is Uncle Sam, & I'm an Oiloholic:
Drug Dealers, Oiloholics, and the Burning World
By Rabbi Arthur Waskow *

[At the end of this note is a suggestion for action we could take during the high Holy days themselves, to begin freeing ourselves of addictive "oiloholism," enter recovery, and begin cooling off the "burning world."]

For months, I have been walking around with a giant poster in my mind's eye. It reads:

They cook the books.
They sweat the workers.
They torch great forests.
They scorch the earth and befoul the oceans.
They paid to explode the Twin Towers.
And they made up lies to burn Iraqi cities.

Who are they?

But together we can stop them.
We can grow a world of justice and compassion.

And behind the stark sentences is a full-color graphic:
burning oil rising from a refinery smokestack.

What is the point?

Through symbols and words of intense heat, this  medium carries a message of connection.  It melts what start as separate agonies in order to meld them into one focus for change. 

Questions that many of us treat as separate are actually connected:

Some of us are outraged by the Enron robbery.

Some are outraged by an oil company (Unocal) that rents the Burmese army to smash labor organizers.

Some are outraged that burning the Amazon forest for a few years of cheap hamburger is frying a lot more than hamburgers -- sending the entire planet into a disastrous heating-up. (I refuse to call it "global warming," since "warming" is such an emotionally warming word.  Global scorching.  Or frying. )

Some are outraged at buying Congressional votes to keep SUV's outside the rules for reducing gasoline use.  And some by those luscious ads that show a luscious automobile in the midst of a luscious forest see how you need to buy a car to feel good! and fail to mention that the luscious car is actually murdering the luscious forest.

And some are outraged that one eddy-stream of the river of Big Oil went through Saudi pipelines to pay for mass murder by Al Qaeda.

And some by the far greater flow of Oil money that went to pay for Halliburton, Exxon, and all those other corporations to take over the US government.  When the corporations then burn cities to expand their control of Oil, the business deal is not  murder at retail, which is advertised as "terrorism."  It is murder at Bigger Than Wholesale, and the ads to sell it call it "preemptive war."

But notice that for both sets of killers, the money comes from Oil.  These siblings may seem to hate each other, but they nurse from the same addictive teat.

What sociologist of Big Oil's depredations would have dared imagine that most of the deaths on 9/11 would come from flaming oil, the jet fuel that melted the Towers into falling?  Only  God-crazed Jeremiah could have prophesied such blood-soaked irony.

If the shareholders who lost their life savings to piratical energy executives, and the union members who lost their jobs to Asian sweatshops, and the mothers whose babies are stricken by asthma, and the people who flinch when an airliner flies too near their office buildings because they can see themselves in a burning dive from fifty stories up, and the soldiers who were poisoned by something that happened in the last Gulf War, and the families of soldiers who are dying every day in the new Gulf War - if we all got together, we could create a society that would not be addicted to Oil.

What is addiction? Turning a substance or behavior that is useful on occasion, in small doses, into a constant ravenous need. Even when its pleasures lead to death.  The most dangerous addictive substance on the planet is not heroin, or nicotine, or alcohol, but oil and gasoline.

We need a 12-step program for the whole society.  The first step is knowing we are addicted. Second: Looking  toward a Higher Power -- the power of the universe that
welcomes change,  the power with which we can attune ourselves, sharing it to make change happen.  Third: knowing also who the Bigger Power is, who the drug dealers are, so as to free ourselves from their control.

Step 4 is beginning to imagine the day-by-day details of a world not addicted to Oil.

Step 5, the day-by-day work of shaping a piece of that world here, a piece there.

For example: If we declare SUV's not eco-kosher,  how do we make sure the auto-workers of Detroit can find a job?

How do we plan with care the transition to hybrid cars, to mass transit, to bikes?

Where do we transfer the hundred billion dollars now locked into a military poised to control the oil fields from Iraq to Colombia? 

Could we declare those auto-workers and many others fed by oil the "veterans" of the Oil Age that has spanned the last half century, and send them to college through an "Oil Age veterans GI Bill"?  Or --- ?

Oil is not the only out-of-control centralized power system where we will need to restore democratic accountability.  But it is the most immediately dangerous.  And the very
fact of its many grasping tentacles offers many accessible opportunities for transformation.

The point of 12-step programs is that community support makes it more possible for alcoholics or other sorts of addicts to kick their individual habits, to enter and stay in
"recovery."  For an individual addiction that is also a social addiction, like Oiloholism, social action and public organizing also have to be part of the process. 

One proposal for where to begin:

Some activists have been "ticketing" parked SUV's with an environmental  message.  The media have covered their work well.   You can see one version of their approach, including downloadable versions of their "tickets,"  at <>

And for two news descriptions of a considerably gentler version of  such  a "street action" and how it worked without rancor in the Washington DC area,  how Jewish and Christian
congregations worked with environmental groups and others to do this work, and for comments by Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, see
<> and

I would suggest for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur something even a little gentler, aimed not only at SUV owners but at all conventional cars as well.  --

Leafleting cars in sysnagogue parking lots with a message like this:

Maybe call the whole leaflet in big letters  --


In the leaflet, acknowledge that the car owners are seeking transportation that is convenient, cheap, safe, attractive, and ethical. 

Gently explain that SUV's in particular and conventional autos in general are poisoning the earth and endangering the future of our children, through global scorching. 

Point out that "hybrid cars" are now available that are safe, far less expensive to operate because they use much less gasoline, and as reported by Consumer Reports, solidly practical and worthy transportation. 

Ask the car owners to make a firm decision that the NEXT car they buy will be a hybrid. (Note that the leafleting group has no commercial interest in the hybrid car companies, but does have a strong interest in protecting  and healing the earth.)

Invite them to sign a tear-off card with their decision on it, maybe offering two choices like this:

"I am xxxxx xxxx, and I am a recovering oiloholic.  I intend for my next car to be a gas-saving, money-saving, earth-saving hybrid. Please let me know how else I can help." 


"I am xxxxx xxxx, and I want more information.  Please let me know how I can help." 

Then -- a space for contact information and a self-addressed envelope for mailing the card to the sponsoring organization.

Synagogue members might start out by doing this in their own congregational parking lots.

They might ask the congregational rabbi to take the same weekend to speak on "eco-kosher"  life-practice.  But even if s/he won't, the leafleting could be done.

And then invite the congregants into a new kind of 12-step meeting, to share how to help each other and our country kick the habit.

Day by day, day by day. Recovering oiloholics.
* Rabbi Waskow is Director of The Shalom Center <>, a
division of ALEPH;  author of Godwrestling -- Round 2 and Seasons of Our Joy;  and
co-author of A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven.

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is held by the author. Copyright (c) 2003 by Rabbi Arthur Waskow.
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