How One of America’s Most Important Jewish Theologians Became a Poster Boy for Lousy Health Insurance

Arthur Waskow
Arthur Waskow

My Ph.D. is actually in modern Jewish philosophy from Brandeis University. Everyone knows that there has been a fundamental weakness to Jewish philosophy and theology since the loss of European Jewry in the Holocaust. But I have studied and been friends with Arthur Waskow for decades, and I can say that he has emerged as one of the most creative thinkers of contemporary Jewish spiritual life. His books are playful, down to earth, but incredibly creative on a spiritual and textual level.

More importantly Arthur  is by far the most courageous in standing up to the Jewish establishment which silences all thought that questions the militancy of their supposedly pro-Israel politics, which is not very pro-Israel. Arthur has managed in his senior years, to create a bridge to the mainstream Jewish community through his championing of not only peace and justice but also environmental transformation. The latter has resonated with thousands of Jews and hundreds of congregations, that are otherwise muzzled when it comes to peace and justice issues in Israel and the Middle East. He has created bridges that stem all the way from the radical Left of the United States to mainstream congregations to Saudi Arabia. I have not always agreed with his positions or interpretations but I have always loved him and admired him.

Now he sits and lies in pain from a car accident. But he takes the time, in bed, to tell his story of the travesty and tyranny of insurance companies that have hurt Americans far more than the the amazing helping hand of social security, medicare, and so many other New Deal-style  programs that saved this nation from a strange tendency to libertarian extremism.

I am all for questioning government programs, i have severe critiques of overseas aid, but ideological extremism always injures, always makes us stupid as a nation, and we cannot afford this as a people who symbolize the success or failure of democracy.

Listen to Arthur’s case below, support his wonderful Shalom Center in all of its courageous work, study his writing  and speeches. And please write to Arthur in his hour of great pain with words of support,, This man has stood up at great personal sacrifice for love and justice for both Palestinians and Jews for over 50 years, and it is time for us to stand up for him. He has taught me how to fight for good causes without violence, how to struggle for justice without war, and how to engage in conflict and also love everyone. I struggle and often do not succeed with this difficult combination of love and justice seeking, and we have Arthur to thank for a powerful model of patience, perseverance, compassion for everyone, and a lifetime of service.

How I Became a Poster Boy for Lousy Health Insurance

Dear friends, co-workers, readers, co-learners —

For 25 years I have been a member of a private health insurance plan that seemed to be meeting my needs. My problems were routine, and so were their responses.

No longer.

Last Friday, I was involved in a moderate auto accident, driving on I-95 south of Philadelphia. My first resting place after the accident was a hospital bed in Chester PA where I was diagnosed with a fracture of the “Tibia plateau” in my left leg where my leg hit the lower part of the dashboard, and four broken ribs and a broken breastbone where my chest hit the seat belt.

My leg was put in an “immobilizer,” with the expectation it would take about 8 weeks to heal. The broken ribs make it very hard to use crutches or a walker (because putting weight on my chest HURTS). So my own primary doc and the hospital docs agreed I should go to a rehabilitation center that would focus on physical and occupational therapy to get me quickly strengthened and trained to function well. The rehab people came, looked, and agreed I was the Perfect candidate.

But not the health insurance company.

Rehab is too good. Services higher-level that I needed. Costs them more than “skilled nursing,” which does PT only one hour a day — rehab does three. Rehab costs more, reduces insurance-company profits. If I had broken both legs, yes. “BUT,” we said, appealing the decision, “remember the ribs? This is hard and painful work. The more intensive time and energy I can put in, the quicker it will be over!”


Now this kind of decision, remember, was what the companies charged would result from a “government-sponsored public option.” The government would interfere between me and my doctors. But in tens of thousands of cases, the companies do exactly what they say the government would do. They are insuring not good medicine but high profits. The Public option would be able to say, “It’s good medicine, and we don’t seek a profit. Rehab, quick.” They would compete with the private insurers, and keep them honest.

When I told the hospital doc what had happened, he muttered, “What is wrong with us?” Then he said, “Universal health care is what we need.” Then he was quiet for a while and muttered again, “There’s too much power in too few hands.”

“See,” I said. “You knew all along what was wrong with us.”


Ted Kennedy, the one Senator who had so many sick siblings and sick kids that he really understood, died yesterday. The old saying, “Don’t mourn; organize,” is wrong. DO mourn – and 0rganize. Make every moment of your mourning for him a time of organizing, and every moment you spend organizing a time to mourn. Your Senators are home this week. Call. Ask them whether, like Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, they are willing to give up their own fancy public health-insurance until a public option exists for everybody in our country.

I’m awake at 3 a. m. because my ribs are hurting. I would be grateful if you would pray for my healing. I would be many times more grateful if you would set aside seven sacred minutes to call your senators to urge them to put a “Public Option” in the health-care bill. If you can’t find their home offices, call the US Capitol at 202/224-3121 in Washington, and ask for the Senators from your state.

That’s the healing we ALL need.

Shalom, salaam, shantih — Peace!

© Marc Gopin