Live from the Lilith Blog

October 12, 2011 by

Kol Nidre Alongside Occupy Wall Street

Photo by Amy Stone

You’ve got to be attracted to a call to a Yom Kippur service next to the Occupy Wall Street protesters, especially when the Facebook invite starts with a quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua  Heschel:

“Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods.”

The weather and the police cooperated, and at Friday’s Shabbat Kol Nidre, a crowd estimated at 700 gathered next to Zuccotti Park (aka Liberty Plaza), OWS home base a few blocks from Wall Street.

Photo by Amy Stone

The impassioned and knowledgeable leaders (one woman, several men) conducted the egalitarian service using the new Conservative high holiday prayer book, with 100 copies lent by the Rabbinical Assembly (the organization of Conservative rabbis) and numerous photo copies. The service took place on the plaza in front of global financial services firm Brown Brothers Harriman. A large Bank of America presence on one side, smoothie and halal trucks on another, just beside Zuccotti Park. It felt like davening next to the circus with the constant drumming of the OWS musicians.

Same for the Yom Kippur sermon of Getzel Davis, a fourth year rabbinical student at the “transdenominational” Hebrew College outside Boston. Davis opened up with the myth that Yom Kippur is the day we’re forgiven for worshipping the golden calf. Nothing like absorbing the message of a sermon by all assembled repeating every word.

Deeper into the service, the call for “a strong Israel and a strong Palestine” got resounding support from the crowd.

Kol Nidre ended with a call for personalized “Aleinu” – the “it is our duty (to praise God)” traditional closing prayer. Individual responses went from highly specific to  generically idealistic: “I’m going to make lunches for my local soup kitchen until their fire damage is repaired.” “I will not allow myself to be influenced by the apathy that surrounds me.” “I will come back here next Friday and the Friday after that and the Friday after that.” “I will call my mother.” (Cheers of “aleinu” from the predominantly young crowd.)

To protesters’ joy, the service garnered disapproval from fading conservative stronghold Commentary magazine in its online edition, headlined “A Sad Mix of Judaism and Radical Politics at ‘Occupy Wall Street.’”

Personally I find it a joyful mix to combine the mind-numbing repetition of Jewish prayer (even in this prayer book’s fresh and thoughtful translation) with a Kol Nidre service supporting the call for changing the way our country is run.

And with a nod to past revolutions, when I walked into Zuccotti Park after the service, a woman dressed like Marie Antoinette, carrying a platter of cake, asked, “Would you like to eat cake?”

The person following me over to the park from Kol Nidre said, “No, no. She’s fasting.” Gives you a sense of Jewish community.

Live on video — The Jewish Daily Forward online edition video of Occupy Wall Street Kol Nidre service

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  • Bobbi Zahra

    I wish I had been there. I was at another Kol Nidre service in NYC, one which I left halfway through, because the rabbi had committed an act of such gross unkindness that I could not stay any longer and listen to him preach a sermon about living the kind of life for which we might be well-remembered.

    This is beautiful, and what Kol Nidre ought to be, I think.

  • Bob Lamm

    Wonderful, Amy. Thanks for sharing this.

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