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(Amma - hugging guru) Popular Los Angeles Rabbi Raps Amma Over Labor Dispute


I’m a big fan of Amma, the Indian hugging guru and her message of love is in some respects similar to that of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and my message in The Left Hand of God.  But what she lacks, in order to gain universal approval, is any commitment to social justice that might force her to take a stand on behalf of the most oppressed.  And that is the opposite of the kind of spirituality that we support.  So when people arranging for her to speak in California recently asked me to speak at a public event and receive a public honor, I sent her the following letter:

Dear  Amma,

Thank you for asking that I accept an award in recognition of my efforts to support a more spiritually conscious, loving, and compassionate world.

I am writing to inform you with regret that I cannot accept the award because of your decision to hold your Los Angeles events at the LAX Hilton hotel, which is the subject of a labor boycott initiated and supported by the work force at that hotel.  I have it on good opinion based on my research into this matter that the workers at the LAX Hilton have been subject to poverty wages, unaffordable health insurance, and dangerous working conditions that have caused great suffering and pain to the workers and their families.  In addition, their efforts to form a union have been met with fierce resistance by the hotel management, including alleged violations of federal law.  Federal government charges pending against the hotel include alleged interrogations, threats of violence, coercing employees by physical touching and pushing, and suspending 77 workers for legally protected union activity.

Amma, there is no possibility of creating a more loving and caring world that I know you are so committed to so long as spiritual leaders like yourself fail to link spiritual ideals to concrete social justice for poor and working people.  My understanding is that at least one worker at the LAX Hilton, housekeeper Isabel Brentner, has previously received a hug from you and has implored you to reconsider your decision to stay at the hotel and support the workers who themselves aspire to the ideals of compassion and love that you advocate so eloquently.

If you will reconsider as Ms. Brentner requests and relocate to another venue, I will gratefully accept the recognition you have chosen to bestow upon me.  However, if you continue with your plans to patronize the Hilton, I will feel compelled out of solidarity with the workers to publicize my opposition to your plans and to discourage others from attending as well.

With great sincerity,

Rabbi Michael Lerner