In 1998, The Shalom Center and the Elat Chayyim spiritual retreat center co-sponsored a “liturgical/spiritual protest” against the poisoning of the Hudson River by the PCBs that the General Electric Corporation had poured into it.
The protest was held at Beacon NY on the banks of the Hudson, and Pete Seeger, who lived in Beacon and was a lover of the river, joined in the protest/celebration. Pete Seeger, beloved folk-singer and political activist, died on January 27, 2014.
Photo: Reb Arthur, his daughter Shoshana, & Pete Seeger at Hudson River, Hoshana Rabbah 1998
The occasion was the seventh day of Sukkot, the harvest festival – the day traditionally celebrated as Hoshana Rabbah, with seven dances of the Torah Scroll; many prayers for healing of the Earth from locusts, drought, famine; and beating willow branches on the ground at the banks of the river.
A new set of Hoshanot “Please save us!” prayers to heal the Earth were written by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. You can read them at —
We added prayers, petitions, and protests to save the Earth and the river from PCBs, and we brought seven great banners to honor the seven dances as the seven days of creation – bright yellow for the sun and moon, blue for the oceans, red for red-blooded mammals, white for Shabbat.
One of those who gathered was an elder of the Iroquois, who had heard about the action and knew he belonged in any effort to heal the river of his people. We invited him to carry the Torah for the first processional dance. A dozen Catholic nuns from convents along the Hudson joined.
Three hundred Jews came – hailing from a long stretch of the River — Kingston to Manhattan, where rabbinical students of the Jewish Theological Seminary were especially drawn to this moment.
And Pete Seeger. He thanked us for blessing the Hudson and confronting its poisoners. He told us about the sloop Clearwater he had created as an activist educational center about the Hudson. He said his voice was almost gone, but he could croak a version of “Hinei Mah Tov u’Mah Nayyim” if we would do the singing for him. We did. He did.
On that day, as we shook the traditional lulavim (palm branches) in the six directions — up, down, left, right, before, behind – Rabbi Shefa Gold taught there was one more direction of the universe than these six. For each time, we first reached out the palm and then drew it back, to touch our hearts. The seventh direction, said Shefa, was inward.
And perhaps this is the reason Shabbat is not the sixth day, or the tenth – but the seventh.
Perhaps we were drawn to encode this seventh direction in space, upon the weave of time as well. Shabbat, the time of Inward.
Seeger also contributed to The Shalom Center’s multi-song CD Sing Shalom the original pressing of his eco-spiritual song “Rainbow Race,” in which he yearns for the human race to heal the wounded Earth — for, he sings, “It’s too soon to die.”
His song joins those of Peter Yarrow, Debbie Freedman, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Shefa Gold, Paul Horn, Margot Stein, and many others on the CD. (To get a copy in memory of Seeger, please click to https://theshalomcenter.org/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=18 )
If ever the memory of a tzaddik — an exemplar of justice, bravery, laughter, and menschlichkeit — will be a blessing, Seeger’s memory will. May the work of his hands on the guitar, the breath of his mouth in the wind, be forever as green and growing as he was. Is.