Saturday, December 1, 2007

Art Rosenblum

Art Rosenblum was killed in a car accident on June 5th, 2002 at age 74. He was a peace activist since the 60's, a writer, printer, pilot, mechanic, and inventor. Art lived in the future. He called himself a futurist. He had a clear vision of the planet ruled by love. When he was 20, he went to Paraguay to join the pacifist Christian community called the Society of Brothers, where they followed the teachings of Jesus and held all things in common. He lived with them until he was 38, when he struck out on his own. For two years, he traveled all over the country setting up print shops for any group that opposed the Vietnam War, asking only room and board in communes along the way.

In 1969, he came to Germantown in Philadelphia to start a commune devoted to finding ways to bring about a whole new age of peace and love to the world. He created a small nonprofit organization called Aquarian Research Foundation. He wrote a newsletter for over thirty years about alternative lifestyles, safe energy, psychic research, and sustainable living. The first five years of the newsletter are published in his book, Unpopular Science.

Art had an offset press in his dining room, which he used to print newsletters and also a booklet on natural methods of birth control, which grew into a book that sold over 90,000 copies. When we married in 1976 after a 28-day courtship, I helped him edit the fifth edition. The next year, Art became a pilot at age 49 and started flying people all over to visit intentional communities. He took in printing apprentices to work for peace groups that needed printing done at cost. He printed and distributed 300,000 Big Party invitations in 1984 to visualize and celebrate, in advance, the disarmament of the world.

In 1988, he flew a Soviet social scientist to visit intentional communities in the U.S., and we wrote and produced the first video on such communities, called Where's Utopia? He influenced Ted Turner to create the Turner Tomorrow Award, which resulted in the prize-winning book, Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, who befriended Art.

He raised our two kids to be loving, free, creative, and caring about the needs of the world. He picked up every hitchhiker on the road that could fit in the car. He took in homeless people to live with us. He championed homebirth, home schooling, polyamory, communal living, natural foods, alternative medicine, and every cause that came down the road. He flew his small plane to Cuba a few times at age 70. He took in Freedom Summer kids to sleep on our floors every summer. He got himself arrested for civil disobedience trying to free Mumia. He promoted the Disclosure Project's efforts to get UFO information out in the open.

At 74, "seaweed man" still bounded down the stairs two at a time and built a loft with our daughter. He spent his last years writing articles to his listserv and teaching our son about electronics and politics. He started a free radio station, which the FCC shut down. He threw out our old printing press and got two old copy machines and made handouts about Dennis Kucinich and Israeli refuseniks. On his last drive out, he was transporting a computer that was to be the first in a project to give computers and mentoring to disadvantaged kids in the neighborhood.

Art wanted a world without money where everyone's needs would be met. He deeply believed that if he worked for the universe, the universe would work for him. And it did, many, many times. We even managed to keep an airplane somehow, on a poverty level income, because he did his own maintenance.

He never gave up trying. He said, “The difficult things we do right away; the impossible takes a bit longer." He didn't believe in death. He said that death is just a change of lifestyle. He thought he could be more effective from the other side.

Most of the back issues of his newsletter are still available from the Aquarian Research Foundation, along with copies of The Natural Birth Control Book, some of his audio tapes, as well as the videos we produced, Where’s Utopia, and Grow With Sound And Spray, which are available by donation.

You can read our daughter (April)’s speech, which she read at Art’s memorial, here.

You can also visit April Rosenblum's website, for information on the work that she is doing to find a solution to the problems of anti-semitism on the Left. Any donations for this project are, as always, greatly appreciated (and tax-deductible). See the web site for more details.


On Saying Kaddish

In the jewish tradition, when a parent dies, a prayer is recited for eleven months called the mourner’s kaddish. As far as I can tell from my readings, the purpose is not to lament the death of the loved one but for the mourners to remind themselves, again and again, of the continued strength of god and the holiness of the world that they live in. According to one source, “the Kaddish was considered so vital to the religious life of the Jew that it was recited in Aramaic, the spoken language of the Jewish masses in ancient times, so that every individual would understand it. In testimony to its continuing power, it is recited in that language to this very day.” With one revision, it can be translated as follows:

Magnified and sanctified be God’s great name in the world that was created as God willed. May God’s kingdom be established in your own lifetime, in your days, and in the days of all the house of Israel, quickly and soon. And say: Amen.

Congregation: May God’s great name be blessed, forever and as long as worlds endure.

May it be blessed, and praised, and glorified, and held in honor, and viewed with awe, embellished, and revered; and may the blessed name of holiness be hailed, though it be higher than all the blessings, songs, praises, and consolations that we utter in this world. And say: Amen.

May Heaven grant a universal peace, and life for us, and for all Israel. And say: amen.

May the one who creates harmony above, make peace for us and for all Israel, and for all who dwell upon the earth. And say: Amen.

Never mind the fact that in orthodox tradition, I am not supposed to say kaddish because I am a woman. According to religious law, I am not even permitted to observe my father’s death as the death of a jew, because he was cremated, as was his wish, instead of being buried. His remains are not allowed in a jewish cemetery and no mourners are to say kaddish for him. Orthodox tradition holds that, because he has embraced the ancient pagan practice of burning the dead, he has broken god’s law and is no longer a jew.

My father is no stranger to law-breaking, of course. Beside that, he spent a good deal of his life as an atheist and even longer as some version of Christian. But I interpret the story of my father’s life as the story of one who engaged himself in the passage of history, and it is as a jew that his story began:

My grandparents were children when their families emigrated from Russia to escape the pogroms, organized attacks being carried out against jews. They met and married in new york and had three children. My grandmother said that when she was pregnant with my father, in 1927, she prayed that god would give her a spiritual child. When he was born, she named him Arthur Baer, after an uncle in Russia who had disappeared around the time of the revolution of 1905, for trying to assassinate the czar.

My father grew up in the wake of the depression, but what he remembered most about those years was that he hated school. He was picked on really bad by kids in his grade, and he would come home and tell his mother the names that he got called and she explained to him, “Arthur, the jews are a persecuted people.” So by age 6 he understood that some people in the world had been set up as targets and other people were getting away with it. By age 12 he saw changing this as his personal obligation.

One of my middle names is Jenny, which I never understood, and one day I asked my dad why they named me that and he told me this story: When my father was twelve years old, in 1939, stories began to spread among American jews about what was happening to their relatives in Europe under the Nazi occupation. But many people dismissed the rumors as alarmist. They could not believe that things could be that bad. Finally my father’s synagogue sent a respected member of the congregation to Europe to see for himself and come back with a report. This man returned to new york and said to his congregation, “it is everything we have heard and worse. The only thing that can alter the situation is if America goes to war against Germany.” Now, my father had already decided he was a pacifist because he had read the novel of World War I, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” and he couldn’t believe that the only way to stop the massacre that was happening was to initiate more massacres. He felt that it was up to him to change the course of events. He decided that he would stow away on a boat to Germany, with the intention of going personally to speak with Hitler to convince him to put an end to things. He figured that if he managed to get to germany he might have a chance, and that if he was caught instead, his story would be reported in the papers and either another kid would try to do the same thing, or the adults would finally come to their senses and figure out how to solve the problem by talking things out instead of going to war. Every day, he would plan to go to the docks and stow away, but every day he lost his nerve and chickened out – and then, when he was 14, America entered the war. My father was horrified. He was convinced that both Hitler’s continuing massacres and the onset of war were his fault because he hadn’t taken the action to stop it. This depressed him so deeply that he resolved to commit suicide. He planned it out, and every day he thought about killing himself, and every day, he lost his nerve. He felt awful about it, until he became friends with a sixteen-year-old boy he knew. This boy had a girlfriend, and they were both so nice to my dad, and so visibly happy to be in love, that my father realized, if I don’t kill myself, I might someday fall in love, and that was a reason to live. The girl’s name was Jenny.

When my father got older, he was drawn to living communally by visions he had had as a child. He thought that he could go to Palestine and live on a kibbutz, a Jewish collective farm. But when he researched it, he couldn’t find any kibbutzim that were pacifist. Because of that, he eventually found was bruderhof community. This was a group which had been kicked out of nazi germany for opposing Hitler, with only one night to gather their belongings and make their way out of the country. They settled in Paraguay, South America, which was also under the grip of a dictatorship. They had come with so little that they ended up living in the jungle and making their own tools – which was how my dad became a mechanic, a steam-engine operator, and a Christian. Imagine my dad’s surprise when he arrived in Paraguay, a 20-year-old jewish atheist of the firmest convictions, only to find that the community he had come to join was Christian. But here he was, he had spit in the face of his parents by dropping out of college against their best advice in order to follow his own dream, and he couldn’t very well just give up and go back to them defeated, so he figured he would give it a shot. He ended up living with them for 17 years.

When my father joined the bruderhof, he made a lifetime commitment to live among them. But when he was 37 years old, something changed. He felt a calling from god to leave, and he ended up back in the USA at the very moment that the civil rights movement was exploding into public consciousness. He sought out communities based on his ideals of spirituality and social justice, and ended up living and working with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee in Atlanta. As the Vietnam War heated up, he became a member of Students for a Democratic Society, and started their first printshop, working as their printer for a year. When he left SDS he traveled around the country for five years, setting up printing presses for any group that opposed the Vietnam War and asking only room and board until he moved on to the next town. At the end of that time, in 1969, he moved to Philly, where he married my mom in 1976.

The Christianity he had adopted on the Bruderhof had by then mixed in with the all the spiritual schools of thought that he had come into contact with as he traveled the country. He believed, as I do, that the most powerful spiritual force is love, that God is just another word for love, and that we all can tap into that power and use it to change our surroundings. Most of all he believed in the arrival of the kingdom of Heaven, but he called it the Rulership of Love, and he said that the more we work to actively transform the societies we live in, the faster we could bring about the rulership of love – an age of true justice and harmony on earth. He would like the kaddish for this reason – it affirms our intent to see this rulership of love be established more quickly on earth. As for myself, every bone in my body rebels against parts of the Kaddish – especially the perception of God as a separate, higher being, who controls humanity. But my dad took these things so casually, he just reinterpreted them to suit his needs.

I first met Art Rosenblum in 1979, when I was born. As soon as the labor was over he played a recording of Pachelbel’s Canon in D to mark my entrance into the world and tried to get me to talk, but I was already somewhat hostile to authority figures and it didn’t work. As many of you here today know, I have gone through many different phases in relation to my dad. But there has always been one common factor, and that is that he embarrassed me. When I was little it embarrassed me that he was older than other kids’ dads, and that he wore second-hand clothes, and that he looked funny. When I got older it embarrassed me that he was Christian, and intervened in my problems with teachers, and talked about sex. In the years since I have become a political activist, it has embarrassed me that he has hard-nosed radical analysis of the American power structure but it’s all mixed in inextricably with his new age, supernatural interests. Since we both agree on what the problems are, he shows up to the same events I do, but then he manages to stand up in the Question & Answer segment and make a comment that links, say, the corruption of the prison industry to the need for government disclosure about UFO’s.

The irony is that, as much as I have sometimes been embarrassed to be associated with him, I realize more with every year I live that the qualities that most define me come from him. This is easiest to see in his commitment to fighting for social justice. He was completely driven. He did not see activism as an interest or a good thing to work on in the time that he could spare for it. It was such an unquestionable duty to him that I don’t remember him ever saying to me, in so many words, people should live in this way. To him, changing the world was primary and everything else was integrated into that context. He didn’t have the ability to detach himself and seek out personal happiness while other people didn’t have all that they needed. There was nothing heroic or martyr-like about him – it was all just matter-of-fact. When I first became active politically I felt very alienated from people around me, because I didn’t feel I had a kindred spirit around me who was compelled by the same drive. I actually did because I had my dad.

I have inherited his mannerisms as well. When my dad was recounting a story of something that had happened to him, something he had witnessed or heard about, he would come to some part in the story, some very very small thing that for some reason stood out to him as symbolic of everything else, and his voice would break. He would kind of tear up as he was talking and his voice would get a little softer and sometimes it could be confused for him being incapacitated by laughter, but actually he was imperceptibly crying, not from something being sad, necessarily, but from how quickly he was overcome by the fullness of emotion in what he was describing.

I was embarrassed when I was little if he got like this, and sometimes I showed it by getting angry or trying to ignore him and rush along to the point of the story. I didn’t know how to see my father seem so open to everything around him. I perceived it on some level as weakness and it made me uncomfortable. What is funny is that anyone here who is my friend knows that this quality of his has been replicated in me completely, the inability to hold back anything I really feel, the openness to a fault. It is the same with lying. He abhorred dishonesty. He was honest at all the right times and at all the times when we all wished he could hold his tongue. Sometimes we felt he was being purposely disruptive in the name of being honest. I think we were right a good deal of the time. But I think it was more of an uncontrollable instinct for him than we could comprehend, because I have noticed in myself something similar over time. I am proud of myself for being relatively upfront with people when it could be scary to be vulnerable or to create confrontation. But that’s the easy part. The hard part is that when I am in a situation where I have to lie, about the most trivial thing, my whole body is wracked with tension and anxiety. Or that things come out of my mouth at incredibly inopportune times because if something doesn’t feel completely honest to me my body reacts before my mind has time to reason.

My father also taught me to believe in magic – that is, the power of every human being to choose the future they want and manifest it in reality by first visualizing it and then working toward it. Because of him and my mother, I see that activism is just magic by another name. My father was extremely proud that I am an activist. He wholeheartedly supported my anarchist ideals and my particular commitment to Mumia Abu-Jamal and other U.S. political prisoners. And he supported me in the recent months of the second Palestinian intifada, when I found myself having to explain to my fellow Jewish students why I oppose the actions that the state of Israel is taking against the Palestinian people. When I told him about my experiences of people calling me a self-hating Jew and a traitor, he told me this story: My grandfather, who became a lawyer to defend workers’ rights, tried desperately to bring Jewish refugees to New York to save them from the death camps and from homelessness in Europe at the war’s end. But the U.S. government, like most European governments at the time, refused to change the immigration quotas to allow thousands of Jews into their borders, and my grandfather was allowed to help only one young survivor. When these stateless Jews were denied immigration to Western countries, thousands of them turned to illegal immigration to Palestine, and people like my grandfather became staunch advocates of the Zionist cause. Whenever bills came up in congress that affected the new state of Israel, my grandfather would call his representatives to lobby for the Zionist position. But as the situation evolved, my father felt that his conscience could not abide by what was now happening to the Palestinian people. In the late sixties, when my grandfather would make his calls, so would my father, lobbying his congresspeople to take the opposite stance and bearing the brunt of my grandfather’s anger and frustration. The Kaddish would concern him, because it focuses specifically on the wellbeing of the Jews. To him, and me, the Jews are only as chosen as every other people, and peace and harmony reserved only for the House of Israel, for the Jewish people, is meaningless. For this reason, we use today the reconstructionist version of the Kaddish, which adds the line, “and peace for all who dwell upon the earth.” My father’s life had given him righteous reasons to fear for the lives of the Jewish people, but his Jewish consciousness had given birth to a universal consciousness of human suffering and human dignity that won out over those fears. For qualities like this, I am extremely proud of my father.

In the tradition, then, of some of my favorite political ancestors, the generations of jews who rejected an image of god they could not uphold, but held fast to their reverence for the sanctity of love and the power of the human spirit, I declare my father a radical and a jew. In the tradition of lawbreaking, I ask for the kaddish to be said now, and for anyone who is willing and able to take part. May we be reminded of how sacred our world and our lives are. May we be inspired by the people who have lived and died among us, and who made the world more sacred by their efforts. May we strengthen each other to bring about justice for all who dwell upon the earth, quickly and soon.

- April Serendipity Rosenblum

August 11, 2002


Your dad only dies once.

Once I started writing this I couldn’t stop, so I’d like to ask you guys to give me your promise that even though it’s incredibly long, you will smile and act like you’re interested so I can get through without feeling too worried about how long I’m going on.

I don’t believe in the boss-in-the-sky, smiting jealous god of the old testament, but if he exists I certainly don’t want to throw him any support by accident. For that reason, I ask that as we say the kaddish you focus all your attention on what my father saw as god and what my father saw as the rulership of heaven…. Everyone here is welcome to join in this, but if you will not be saying the kaddish because you aren’t familiar with it, I encourage you to join us by saying the English version when we come to the revised last line.

His experience in the bruderhof made him much more amenable to biblical phraseology than the rest of us.

I can only skim the surface of the different lives he lived. There is just so much to say, and I have the advantage that he was a good and bountiful storyteller, who saw my every new guest in the house as a new audience, and who entertained me on demand every time he drove me from West Philly to Germantown by telling me everything he remembered about whatever historical period I asked him to recount to me, as well as how mechanics and electronics worked. I am cutting myself short from many of the stories about my dad’s life that I think are fascinating. I will tell you, though, that you have to hear those stories in order to understand why he felt so personally responsible – not only for allowing the holocaust to happen, but for the splintering of a key organization in the anti-war movement, and, happily, for ending the cold war in the 1980’s.

So why do I want to say kaddish? As an affirmation of my father’s vision of a just world, brought about quickly and soon. As a rebellion from the idea that anyone else decides whether or not we are jews. And as an acknowledgement of the profound contradictions of our lives in this world. He didn’t observe these traditions, but these traditions shaped him from the very beginning.

So my father was a jew, and a pacifist, and an atheist, and a Christian, and by the time he met my mother he had been an anti-war activist, had begun to study breakthroughs being hailed in alternative health and scientific fields, and had mixed in a good dose of new age philosophy.

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