Moving…but the New Sabbath Project Remains Universal

Thrilled to be starting (ever slowly) our New Sabbath Project in Hamilton — our home of the last year and a bit. Here’s a bit more about it in the Toronto Star.

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The Recipe: A Psalm, some Kabbala, inspired by Jewish renewal

The Psalm is a foundational piece of spiritual architecture. I’ve played a little hip hop riff on the psalm here, mixing the four worlds of kabbalah with the flow of the psalm narrative. Resonate if you will. Every life is a prayer.

Assiyah-The world of action
Yetzirah the world of heart
Beriyah-The world of the mind
Atzilut-The world of the divine

Assiyah-The silence stretches into yearning

Within it I rest, awaiting you.

Small rip of tension strains against the weight

The wait, The crush of love, The weight.

Yetzirah-You run, we run together

Away from me, from you, from all That I am, That I am.

No arrival can come before you after you without you

First word. Last tear. We are midwives to your never ending birth.

Beriyah-Oh God the crack I hear, I think, I hear

Prove God, Prove love

If X is Y /and why is X /then why, why?

The mystery that rushes towards me brings the

Crushed humility of the bended knee.

Atzilut-My arms are crossed, open crossed.

The truth takes hold, takes flight.

The light-strikes my eyes-my heart

My Heart My Heart

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Sabbatical, Shmita and Climate Change

I wanted to share a recent article I read that combines ancient notions of sabbatical with climate change. While we may not all see the connection between religious or spiritual teachings and the environment, I think particularly in this case, we can take our Green cues from a timeless biblical notion that every seven years we are to renew the land, ourselves and our relationships.

The Article is as Follows:
As the Land of Israel enjoys a shmita year of rest, Simhat Torah allows us to take a critical look at how we might be able to positively affect ever-encroaching climate change.

‘After creating the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: ‘Look at My works! See how beautiful they are, how excellent! For your sake, I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil or destroy My world – for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.’” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Raba 7:13) A month after 400,000 people marched in New York, and around 2,000 other climate demonstrations took place worldwide in advance of the UN Climate Summit, Jews return to our sources and roll back to the beginning of our story.

Our journey begins again with the majesty of creation, the transformation in Eden and to Noah, and God’s near destruction of the world. These universal stories with timeless lessons brought together the large multi-faith contingents who marched together in New York to save the planet yet again from rising waters.

This year is different from all past ones, for it is the last observance of shmita – the sabbatical year for the environment – before extreme climate change becomes irreversible. Price- WaterhouseCoopers has just released its latest Low Carbon Economy Index, with the damning news that the major economies are falling further and further behind meeting their carbon reduction goals.

Israel, which has much to offer the world on climate change, was distracted this summer by Operation Protective Edge and did not prepare sufficiently for the UN Climate Summit. While most countries sent their prime ministers and presidents to represent them, Israel fielded Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz. Most major democracies today also have senior climate advisers to their foreign ministers; Israel does not. Great Britain fields 80 climate officers throughout its embassies worldwide and France is about to do the same. It is time for Israel to name a senior climate adviser and integrate a climate plan into its foreign policy.

Positioning Israel in the international arena as a positive player against climate change is not only in our national interest, it is a global Jewish imperative.

The liturgy we just read for the Days of Awe was haunting: “Who will live; and who will die?” Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, which killed more than 6,300 people 10 months ago and made another two million people homeless, was super-charged by the warming waters of the Indian Ocean and the higher sea levels due to the melting of the ice caps. Who by water? The severity of the droughts across sub-Saharan Africa threatens millions of lives. Who by thirst? And even California is suffering its worst water shortages and wildfires.

Who by fire? The economic devastation alone of climate change – prices for water, food and energy will go up for billions of people – coupled with the unprecedented loss of human life, is like no other physical and moral challenge that humanity has ever faced.

Israel is uniquely suited to provide leadership on this issue. We are converting our coal-fired plants to natural gas, cutting power plant emissions by half.

Start-Up Nation is innovating when it comes to energy storage, a prerequisite for using solar power at night. While we failed with our first attempt at electric vehicles, there are lessons to be learned to help economies make the transition from gasoline in transportation to a cleaner electric future. And we are expert at risk management, which enables us to develop renewable energy projects in Africa and other remote locations.

Our own solar program, however, has been frozen for two years, and most solar energy companies have either left the country or folded since the government has not approved new solar quotas.

Within the Torah is the secret to beating climate change. If for one day each week every world religion and every country would celebrate Shabbat the way the Jewish people do, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1/7th, at least from transportation and industry. A 1/7th reduction in carbon emissions would bring the earth back into balance. During this year of shmita, it would be appropriate to promote a true day of rest each week worldwide when the generators and engines would fall silent.

Last month, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and 50 other mainstream foundations announced they were planning to divest from oil and coal and instead invest in green energy. Jewish federation and foundation endowments, with total assets of roughly $60 billion, should this shmita year divest from all carbon-intensive businesses, like oil, gas, and coal companies. Every Jewish institution and family can calculate their carbon footprint and offset it by planting trees via the Jewish National Fund or other carbon offset programs.

Nigel Savage, of Hazon, challenges us to become the first carbon-neutral people on the planet.

And finally, the Jewish people can offer hope. We are an ancient biblical people who have miraculously returned to our homeland after 2,000 years. We have overcome incredible odds and rejuvenated our people and our land, bringing back to life the language of the Torah.

Recent international conferences meant to fight climate change are speaking more and more about how to only mitigate the negative impact of climate change. With the exception of Sir David King, climate adviser to the British foreign secretary, and a handful of Jewish energy pioneers, few believe we can win the ultimate climate battle and that defeat is inevitable.

Yet those of us who had the good fortune to grow up in the Soviet Jewry movement are very familiar with the area in front of the United Nations. We know what it means to conduct and win an unprecedented global, ethical campaign. We know how miraculous it is that we are still reading each week an ancient scroll that has previously launched ethical revolutions across several religions. The Jewish people is at its best when we represent the value of hope in history.

This is our gift; this is our responsibility.

And when it comes to climate change, time is running out.

Named by CNN as one of the six leading Green Pioneers on the planet, Yosef I.Abramowitz is a co-founder of the solar industry in the State of Israel and serves as CEO of Energiya Global Capital, a Jerusalem- based developer building solar fields in Africa and elsewhere. He can be followed on twitter @kaptainsunshine.

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Sabbath Reboot

We were recently contacted by someone who had read an article by Mardi Tindal in the The United Church Observer — a United Church publication. The article was about our New Sabbath Project — the weekly practice of breaking bread and building community, one meal at a time and also the spinoffs such as this blog, our work with a Kenyan Pastor who approached us after seeing our blog and our radio show on CIUT. We appreciated hearing from this reader because it reminded us that we really must return to this beautiful weekly ritual. In truth, we have had such an overwhelmingly busy year that some of the most important things we do for both our physical, spiritual and mental health, took a back seat to other demands. The Sabbath ritual is one we hope others will adopt and adapt to strengthen their communal and family lives. Maybe the year would have been easier for us if we shared the joy and a little bit of prep and hosting duties with a deeper network of sabbatical fellow travelers. Sharing helps.

We thought we would share Mardi Tindal’s article (link is also above) with you. Enjoy and feel free to respond and share on our site and theirs.

Soul Work
The invitation: Mark Sabbath in your life

By Mardi Tindal

Thomas Merton provocatively described activism and overwork as “a pervasive form of contemporary violence.”

In the book Sabbath, author Wayne Muller quotes the 20th-century monk and then prescribes Sabbath time as a means of healing from this violence. “Sabbath,” he writes, “is more than the absence of work. . . . It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true . . . honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us.”

Whether or not you think of your busy life as a form of violence, we all need to take time for reflection and to honour the perspective it brings.

Jewish friends have taught me much about the spiritual practice of Sabbath. Friday evening’s Shabbat meal (itself the model for the Christian eucharist, or communion) marks a day of rest, remembers God’s creation and looks forward to God’s shalom.

My own family for generations has enjoyed a tradition of Sunday dinners — not a formal liturgy, but gathering, pausing, giving thanks.

Sabbath traditions are more complicated these days. Our families aren’t all within easy reach, and many embrace differing traditions. How then to practise Sabbath?

Ralph Benmergui and Cortney Pasternak, two communication professionals raising their children with respect for his Jewish spirituality and her humanist values, decided to renew the ancient tradition within their busy lives. Their New Sabbath Project involves inviting people to share a Friday-evening meal and a blessing. It’s a practice they describe as “breaking bread and growing community.”

“We have to build spiritual bridges toward each other, between people who love each other and people who don’t know each other,” Benmergui explains in a recent conversation. “Having a meal together is creating a community one meal at a time.”

The practice is an informal reflection of the traditional Shabbat meal. It begins with lighting candles and sharing wine and bread. Then Benmergui and Pasternak invite their guests to offer blessings. “Whatever blessing you want,” says Benmergui. “Just say it. I don’t care if you’re blessing your goldfish.”

Of course, no one takes the invitation lightly. And their reactions testify to how deeply we need these opportunities.

“We saw the relief in them — that they could do something sacred, just that simply,” Benmergui observes. One guest turned to his spouse and said, “I just want to bless my wife, because we’ve been so busy lately, and I just want her to know how much I love and appreciate her.” The wife was almost in tears, and Benmergui realized, “This isn’t rocket science. This isn’t hard to do.”

Following a Sabbath practice allows for “a sacred space to be created, a container in which we can locate the love and the unity that’s actually present every moment anyway,” he says. “It’s sort of like when there’s a blackout. You kind of wish there were more of them (in warm weather, for a few hours every week), because everybody talks to their neighbour and nobody has a machine to look at, and you really feel your presence on the Earth. It’s kind of awkward, but it’s kind of beautiful. So there’s a way of doing that.”

Benmergui and Pasternak have offered a guide to creating your own Sabbath project on their website, They were delighted to hear from a Masai tribesman who’s also a Christian missionary. He came across their guide and has been holding Shabbat dinners in his Kenyan village ever since.

There is no one right way, they emphasize, to experience Sabbath. Which leads to the question: what are your Sabbath practices?

Mardi Tindal is a facilitator and mentor with the Center for Courage & Renewal and a former United Church moderator.

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Can YOU say the “G” word?

I guess you could say I’m Religious.

I was just re-reading a little book that American author and public intellectual Chris Hedges wrote a while back called I Don’t Believe in Atheists. It is a brilliant and passionate refutation of absolutism regardless of it’s ideological underpinnings. Now on the face of it that would seem obvious but when applied to the arrogant musings of folks like British Scientist Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens it provides a healthy inoculation against those that claim that their total rejection of religious faith is somehow superior to the reductivist and cartoonish image that they claim all religious pursuit represents.

Hedges is relentless in his critiques and brings an admirable lack of ‘need for affection’ and careerism to the task that holds so many of us back from articulating a much needed and clear eyed analysis of what a world without non-rational modalities looks like. Many times I have found that saying that I am ‘religious’ has placed me across the divide. If one is religious they must be an extreme anti-intellectual at worst or naïve and misled for those who see themselves as ‘understanding’ of my condition.

Hedges deals with the need for non-rational ways of seeing and the rituals and traditions that can foster the nurturing of those elements of the human condition that lack scientific definition: Love, sorrow, beauty, evil et al. It is through religion that I encounter and am humbled by my imperfection; that I place in myself in an unimaginable and breathtaking universe. It is my weekly nod to my smallness and the rituals in which I partake bring me closer to the wonder and awe that people like Creation Spirituality founder Matthew Fox speak of.

Recently I had a friend over for one of our weekly Shabbat dinners. He is a good and kind man — an atheist and scientist. We sparred good naturedly about our differing beliefs as all around the table friends, new and old, gave blessings for the meal and reveled in each other’s company. The evening, as all of our New Sabbath Project Shabbats seem to be, was warm and meaningful. He argued that all can be explained through science and that we are responsible to each other to be moral and ethical, not to some magical being. Only after he left did it occur to me that science has given us so much but science could not have given us Shabbat. It is through the ritual and practice that religion obligates us to convene to show gratitude and to connect.

I’ll end with an excerpt from Chris Hedges and I Don’t Believe in Atheists: “Religion is our finite, flawed and imperfect expression of the infinite. The experience of transcendence-the struggle to acknowledge the
infinite-needs to be attributed to an external being called God…God
is, as Thomas Aquinas argues, the power that allows us to be ourselves. God is a search, a way to frame the questions. God is a call to reverence… What are we? Why are we here? What, if anything, are we supposed to do? What does it all mean?”

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Devotional Music in a Post Modern World

It has been described in some literature as an Experience of Devotion – a PROCESS of generating an aesthetic feeling as opposed to creating musical “product” per se – as a way of connecting with the divine. A process that involves rhythm, repetition, music and gestures. But when many of us think about devotional songs in our society – we often think of musical songs, chants mantra, hymns, meditations. Church hymns often come to mind. In the west, devotional songs were founded in the Roman Catholic Church, Russan Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Church and others. But we know that devotional songs have a rich and diverse history outside the church as well – though certainly the devotional songs from the church were and are important. In India, devotional songs in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Carnatic, Malayalam and many more languages were composed and sung by different singers. Sufi Devotional songs were also very famous in this part of Asia. In fact, Sufis in other parts of the world – continue this tradition in the face of persecution in some areas. On this week’s show on CIUT radio 89.5 FM we speak to a couple of musical artists who have both more recently begun journeys into devotional music, one of whom has brought his traditions with them from Morocco to help him through the often lonely and difficult journey as newcomers to Canada.

You’ll hear my conversation with Moroccan born Hassan Al Hadi. He has been in Canada for more than 15 years – playing Arab-fusion music as an oud and guitar player based out of Montreal and putting out several albums. But lesser known than music on the albums he’s put out is his devotional music. It’s a spiritual tradition he brought with him from his community and family near Marakkesh Morocco where they regularly engaged in the Sufi tradition of devotional songs and chanting. Al-Hadi finds great comfort in the devotional songs of his family and community from back at home.

You’ll also hear my conversation with the lead singer of the award winning, world music, fusion based band Jaffa Road. Aviva Chernick only more recently delved into devotional Jewish music. We talk to her about her experiences and her journey here in Canada.

Hope you’ll join us and write in to join the conversation at You can also join in under my name at Twitter or Facebook.

Be well and take care of each other.

If you miss the show on CIUT 89.5 Sunday at 2, you can also listen at:
TuneIn Radio App
iTunes Radio (listed under campus radio)
StarChoice Satellite, Channel 826
Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 946
Bell Fibe TV, Channel 970

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Culture and Memory: To Learn from or Repeat Mistakes

When we look back at some of the genocides and other atrocities that scar the history of the world — in the name of one thing or another — we realize that the role of “memory” is incredibly important. We can cope by choosing to forget or we can take the harder path of remembering and taking responsibility. That memory manifests in different ways for victims, survivors, perpetrators — entire societies. Historians and other scholars have written much on memory and culture and the influence of one on the other — and with good reason. If we eradicate memory, we are not able to see the gathering clouds — think of intolerance, racism,antisemitism and so on. It is only with our ability to remember collectively, that we can inoculate ourselves against them — or so we hope.

On the New Sabbath Project this week on CIUT on Sunday at 2PM artists and playwrights, authors and educators share their ideas around culture and memory through artistic and literary expression. Tom Dugan, Actor/Playwright and LA Drama Critics Circle Award-Winner talks about his one man play “Weisenthal-Nazi Hunter” and Opiyo Oloya talks about his book Child to Soldier: Stories from Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

Hope you’ll join us and write in to join the conversation at You can also join in under my name at Twitter or Facebook.

Be well and take care of each other.

If you miss the show Sunday at 2, you can also listen at:
TuneIn Radio App
iTunes Radio (listed under campus radio)
StarChoice Satellite, Channel 826
Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 946
Bell Fibe TV, Channel 970

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Celebrity Worship and Sacrifice: Religion by Another Name

On this week’s New Sabbath Project Radio Show on CIUT, we’re talking Celebrity Worship and Sacrifice. Hope you’ll join us and write in to join the conversation.

Years ago I read a lovely book by Tom Robbins called another Roadside Attraction. In it Jesus comes back to us. Yes it’s true…the second coming happens. Thing is no one seems to take it very seriously. You see if I remember correctly, and this was ages ago for me, the only way that anyone could treat this ‘miracle’ was to turn it in to a shallow pop culture experience, a freak show. Jesus had to be reduced to the flavor of the month and as all flavours go so goes the lord. He is humiliated and disposed of, just like David Lee Roth, Paris Hilton, and countless political middleweights.

In Joseph Epstein’s writings on ‘Celebrity Culture’, he writes that fame is something one earns while celebrity is something one cultivates. In essence Jesus didn’t have a good publicist. He goes on to say that fame is based on achievement, celebrity on broadcasting that achievement.

Why have we evolved in to a state of celebrity worship over time? Are we filling the religious void by turning our eyes away from the transcendent and instead locking them on to the supermarket trashbloids at the check out counter?Tirdad Drakhshani itemizes our obsession with celebrity through the modern day, secular ‘relic’. A lock of Justin Beiber’s hair fetched 40,668 dollars on Ebay Britney Spears chewing gum-14,000. And this is my favourite — William Shatner’s kidney stone-that went for 25,000 dollars.

From relics we move to ritual sacrifice, Richard Pryor the famed comedian literally went up in flames. Heath Ledger died alone in his hotel room at the height of his fame, for that we gave him an Oscar. From sacrifice we have one last station of the cross as it were, redemption. John Travolta is much more interesting post-Saturday Night Fever when he fell put out a few dud’s and then promptly fell off the star-map. He revived his career with Quentin Tarantino’s help in Pulp Fiction. To Hear Tarantino tell it. He ‘remembered’ Travolta and thought he would make a great dancing ‘hit man’ for the film. He called Travolta up and they took a walk in L.A. To his amazement no one recognized the one time star. That just made Tarantino want him in the movie more. The film got made Travolta was back and making twenty million per flick-all was forgiven. I interviewed him around that time.

We were given literally three minutes each on the promotional junket
for a god-awful movie called The General’s Daughter. I decided to ignore the movie and ask him purely personal questions. My last one tickled him, I asked, “What effect has having millions of dollars in that last while had on your ability to form friendships. He leaned forward and said that this had been the hardest thing for him because so many had seemed
genuine and in the end they just stabbed him in the back but the that
the good news was that having been there in back he has always had a
small group of loved ones, disciples as it were, that were there for him
regardless. From rags to riches to rags to riches.

In the end his story is about redemption, and you and I, the little people, get to stand in judgment as we wait to cash out , will he be returned to the pantheon or will we toss him on to the scrap heap of broken dreams. Today we’ll dig around in the rubble of this notion of celebrity worship and why it means so much to us.

Be well and I look forward to hearing from you.

You can also listen at:
TuneIn Radio App
iTunes Radio (listed under campus radio)
StarChoice Satellite, Channel 826
Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 946
Bell Fibe TV, Channel 970

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A Patient Side to Capitalism?

Hope you had a chance to listen in to our latest New Sabbath Project radio show on CIUT 89.5 FM. If not, tune in online.

This week’s show? Patient Capitalism. We start with this:

I have this little theory that in 2008 Capitalism had a heart attack and landed face down on Wall Street. Brokers, financial instrument designers and rating agency double dippers seemed to just pick up their box of office supplies, bolt through the glass doors and step right over the capitalist system as it lay writhing on the the street.

Next, the government folks showed up to shoo the gathering crowd of citizens along, saying “Nothing to see here folks, keep it moving.” Well you know the rest — the captains of industry and finance who had spent years demanding that government get out of their way showed up on the steps of Capitol Hill, hand outstretched, and with a ‘just jokin with ya’ grin on their faces. Apparently that did the trick as they promptly received enormous dollops of our collective revenues to keep them going to the next payday.

The Occupy Movement sprung from the minds of the Adbusters group and even the middle class found themselves egging on that rag tag army of dissenters. There are outbursts of economic discontent around the globe but nothing seems to be sticking. There is no obligation to protest; no overarching moral imperative pushing us out of our living rooms and into the street. The cow is still being fattened just enough it would seem.

Five years later we are all paying down that debt. The so-called
developing world in the meantime can be viewed as collateral, fiscal damage at best and growth in must-grow economies has stalled out. It would appear we’re just a wee bit lost — kinda between economic ‘ism’s’. The unanswered question is what’s Plan B?

Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just capitalism or bust. Well maybe that’s not entirely true. Microcredit has emerged over the last decade. Social innovations like crowdsourcing have emerged. Prosperity without growth is a legitimate economic school of thought and in the last little while, the notion of Patient Capitalism has emerged as a new lens on the entrepreneurial landscape.

I’ll talk to some people in this edition of the New Sabbath Project who can bring this idea of “Capitalism with a Heart” or compassionate capitalism into focus. It’s the 7th day. Time to reflect, re-new and heck why not…re-invest.

Be well and I look forward to hearing from you.

You can also listen at:
TuneIn Radio App
iTunes Radio (listed under campus radio)
StarChoice Satellite, Channel 826
Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 946
Bell Fibe TV, Channel 970

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The New Sabbath Project Hits CIUT Airwaves – Sundays @2

New Sabbath Project on Radio – 89.5 FM Toronto
Listen at:

A little while back Ken Stowar, the man who makes CIUT hum and of whom I’ve always been a fan, got in touch with me and asked me if I’d like to have a little corner of his radio station in which to putter around.

Now, I love radio but my work these days goes in a mighty different direction — as Executive Advisor to the President of Sheridan College. The job in post-secondary education has captured my imagination and really energized me and I wasn’t sure if there was much I wanted to talk about with folks on the radio.

But then I let it rumble around inside me for a while and along with
my partner Cortney Pasternak we decided that there were some things worth airing as it were. You see we do something called The New Sabbath Project. It’s our way of building community — one meal at a time. We do it on Friday nights and we invite all kinds of people to join us. Some are old friends, some we barely know and others we’ve never met — they just contacted us through our site and because of articles they read and asked to join. Dinner is a feast and our guests are expected to bring some food and drink along with them.

We begin our sabbath / shabbat celebration by gathering round the wine and cheese, dip our bread into homemade Hummous and slowly draw the curtain on our workaday lives and enter the architecture in time that is the 7th day. Some who come are secular, some are not. It doesn’t matter. When we sit to eat we light the candles as is the tradition I come from and say the blessing over them. Then we ask everyone to say a blessing over anything they like. I’m always amazed at how heart-felt and moving the simplest of blessings can be. Some mention God, most don’t. I’ve always thought I should do a show called “God or whatever.”

Anyways, after the blessings we raise our glasses, bless the wine, toast each other and break bread, literally. You see the Moroccan tradition that I grew up in meant that you took the Challah — the Sabbath, sweet egg bread and tore pieces off, dipped them lightly in salt to remind us of the bitterness and proximity of all that can enslave us and then the host throws the bread across the table starting from the oldest participant down to the youngest.

I’ve gotten pretty accurate over the years although occasionally it does end up in someone’s glass of water. After that we eat and drink and talk. The amazing thing is after we have done our blessings there is an intimacy
that seems to bring out the best in us; the passion; the sincerity; the big talk and soft hearts. For six days we do and for one day we are allowed to just be — with each other. This is what the 7th day brings, if you let it.

On the inaugural New Sabbath Project radio show, we’ll talk about the Sabbath as a day of reflection, an act of courage and, for those committed to — gasp — unplugging — an act of political and environmental resistance. Next week who knows? You may try tossing some bread around yourselves.

You can also listen at:
TuneIn Radio App
iTunes Radio (listed under campus radio)
StarChoice Satellite, Channel 826
Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 946
Bell Fibe TV, Channel 970

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