Inquiry into the Nature of Jewish Faith

Rabbi Irwin Keller, at his family grave in Germany

Dear New School Friends:

Many of you know that just over six months ago I had a life-saving surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center. The six-month recovery was often arduous. The whole experience catapulted me into a new stage of life. I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful for the new stage of life. I am grateful for it all.

I recently did a spiritual biography conversation with New School Host and Rabbi Irwin Keller, just after he was ordained as a full-fledged rabbi. I have always considered myself half Christian on my mother’s side and half Jewish on my father’s side. I sometimes describe myself as a Jewish Christian Buddhist Yogic Sufi with Taoist influences. The spiritual biography with Irwin helped me change something deep in my spiritual identity. I came to understand myself as fully Jewish and fully Christ centered. Both sides of my heritage are now complete rather than being half and half. Continue reading

Indra’s Web of Friends

Dear New School Friends:

I hope the new year finds you as well as you can be. As many of you know, I had a lifesaving five-hour surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm at University of California San Francisco Medical Center at the end of August.

The surgery and the recovery literally catapulted me into a new stage of life. I have worked with people with cancer and other life-threatening conditions for more than 35 years. It is quite another thing to experience a life-threatening condition and a major surgery oneself.


I am beyond grateful for this new lease on life and for this new stage of life. I have turned over the active management of Commonweal to Oren Slozberg and our gifted leadership team. I meet with them weekly to provide my counsel. And I continue to focus on the projects I am most involved with—the Commonweal Cancer Help Program, our new online Cancer Help Program named Sanctuary, Healing Circles Global our recent website Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies, The Resilience Project and its philanthropic partner the Omega Resilience Funders Network, and, of course, The New School at Commonweal.


If the last six months has catapulted me into a new stage of life, the past four years has certainly catapulted our country into a new stage in our evolution. So much has been written about this that I hesitate to add much of substance. But we know that we cannot go back. And we know that the path ahead is fraught with both dangers and opportunities. We have often taken democracy for granted over the course of my lifetime. We clearly do not have that luxury anymore. Continue reading

Fall Letter

November 2020

Dear Commonweal Friends:

I hope this personal letter finds you well. Writing weeks before you receive this letter is an almost impossible task. The Republic is at risk. Our world is changing in ways we can scarcely imagine. But Commonweal rises to meet the challenges. We have done that for 44 years, with courage, creativity, and compassion.

In this bi-annual letter, I will step back back and look at Commonweal as a whole. I will describe our most active programs in health and healing, education and the arts, and environment and justice.

Right at the start, I do want to ask you to continue to support our work. In this unprecedented time in which we are living, Commonweal matters more than ever. Continue reading

Summer Letter from Michael

Dear Commonweal Friends:

I hope this letter finds you well. This time has been unlike anything we have ever seen. This brave new world has all of us hard at work bringing our programs online, building our resilience infrastructure, and adapting our work to the fierce urgency of now. I’m writing to you with my biannual update about our organization and programs, as well as to ask for your support. I’ll come back to that at the end of this letter.

The United States has failed to COVID-19 test. Other countries have done far better. We have also failed to marshall a skillful response to the financial and economic crisis. And we have failed to protect not only the most vulnerable but also much of the American public. Continue reading

What Matters Now?

Dear Friends,

When older people greet each other from six feet away, I’ve heard them say: “I’d like a younger person to get the ventilator.”

But ventilators are no panacea for COVID-19, reports National Public Radio:

Most coronavirus patients who end up on ventilators go on to die, according to several small studies from the U.S., China and Europe. And many of the patients who continue to live can’t be taken off the mechanical breathing machines.

“It’s very concerning to see how many patients who require ventilation do not make it out of the hospital,” says Dr. Tiffany Osborn, a critical care specialist at Washington University in St. Louis who has been caring for coronavirus patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Continue reading

Love in the Pandemic of Loneliness

Loneliness, Mother Teresa said, is the poverty of the West.

Never has that been more true. We are urged to “shelter in place,” away from our work, schools, friends, family, lovers, and all the places we love.

Not everyone listens. The young are in the streets enjoying themselves. Many in midlife and beyond as well.

Many can’t shelter in place. They have to work in health care, food markets, and other essential services. Continue reading

Resilience: Living Beyond Fear with the Coronavirus

Dear Friends,

The first thing to overcome with the coronavirus is fear. The virus is certainly dangerous. The likelihood is we will need to learn to live with it. A “new normal” will emerge with its own protocols for traveling, meeting, caring for each other, grieving those we lose, and living our lives. Perhaps there will be a vaccine. Certainly we should do everything we can to protect ourselves. But that is different from living in fear. Hafiz said it well:

Fear is the cheapest room in the house.
I’d like to see you in better living conditions.

The coronavirus is a poster child for the world we are living in now. Many think that climate change is the only existential threat. In fact the greatest threat of all is the Global Challenge—the completely unpredictable interaction of several dozen global stressors—environmental, social, and technological.

The coronavirus illustrates how perfectly predictable threats (viral pandemics) disrupt  profoundly interconnected and fragile global systems. Financial markets, supply chains, consumer behavior, tourism, healthcare, and both national and global events are all affected by the virus. Continue reading

How Walter Murch Counts Sheep

Dear New School Friends:

Walter Murch is a film editor and sound designer. His work includes Apocalypse Now, the Godfather series, The Conversation, and The English Patient. He has won three Academy Awards from nine nominations. Roger Ebert called him “the most respected film editor and sound designer in the modern cinema.” For me, the most interesting thing about Walter is the quality of his mind.

We have had Walter to the New School for five conversations, including one of my favorites, Waves Passing in the Night: Walter Murch in the Land of the Astrophysicists,
the title of a book about Walter by his friend Lawrence Weschler.

So it was with considerable joy that I received this email from Walter, which I pass on to you with his permission. Continue reading

January Newsletter

Leonardo Da Vinci, The Annnuciation

Dear New School Friends:

I am reading poetry.  A friend sent me this poem by Denise Levertov:

Denise Levertov

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.

       Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions

       The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.

       God waited. Continue reading

Fall Letter from Commonweal

December 15, 2019

Dear Commonweal Friends:

I hope my personal Winter Letter finds you well. You have already received the winter edition of our Commonweal News . Commonweal has never been stronger. Our 20 + programs in health and healing, education and the arts, and environment and justice are thriving.

Oren Slozberg, our Executive Director, Arlene Allsman, our Managing Director, and Vanessa Marcotte, our Chief Financial Officer, join me in guiding our work. Our program directors and our program and administrative staff work with uncommon effectiveness and kindness.

Oren and I work closely in what he calls “intergenerational leadership.” He has a deep passion for our work. With this leadership team, I know Commonweal will be in good hands for the decades ahead.

The five projects I work on—the Cancer Help Program, Healing Circles, Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies, The New School at Commonweal, and The Resilience Project—are thriving. Continue reading