Live from the Lilith Blog 1 of 2

October 18, 2011 by

Occupy Sukkot/Occupy Judaism – Would you go to jail for this?

Down at Zuccotti Park (aka Liberty Plaza) we had the choice of the sukkah we go to and the sukkah we don’t go to.  It was the day after the Occupy Wall Street protesters refused to move out of the park for a sanitation department cleanup. The occupiers cleaned up the park and the establishment backed down, at least for the moment. What better place to celebrate Shabbat-Sukkot.

Photo by Amy Stone

Before the cleanup showdown, Daniel J. Sieradski, the “post-Orthodox” organizer behind the Kol Nidre service next to the park, had assembled a Chabbad popup sukkah in Zuccotti Park. The halachic hovel was unfit for man or beast – especially in high winds and rain. Friday evening Sieradski was vacating, while a few yards away, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) were getting ready to celebrate Shabbat and Sukkot under a sturdy non-halachic shelter. “Shake, shake, sniffy, sniffy” Participants were instructed to shake the lulav and sniff the etrog.

Then the cops moved in. No tents allowed. What is this, anti-Semitism? (Just joking – haha.) What about that tent over there? Policewoman explains that the huge tarp attached to a few trees is  “not a tent. It’s an umbrella.” The guidelines are obviously in flux. The head of JFREJ, Marjorie Dove Kent, takes a hands up/hands down vote (fingers wiggling OWS vote style) on whether we want to risk arrest.

We barely have our Judaism or our politics together but the majority definitely does not want to risk arrest on this issue at this time.

Photo by Amy Stone

Sans sukkah, Sukkot celebration picked up – shaking the lulav and holding the etrog to the chant of “Shake, shake. Sniffy, sniffy.”  Strictly speaking, under Jewish law (halacha), it’s forbidden to shake the lulav on Shabbat, and “sniffy, sniffy” could be snatched from the havdalah ritual of smelling spices at the end of Shabbat, but to add a sensory element to Sukkot celebration is all to the good. And the post-Orthodox Sieradski seemed glad to see Jews doing Jewish things.

After Shabbat, a small hut-like sukkah was erected, and the faithful are taking shifts guarding it. Meanwhile, plans are under way for an OWS Simchat Torah celebration Thursday at 8:00 P.M. It will be a return to the OWS Kol Nidre site adjoining Zuccotti Park on the plaza in front of Brown Brothers Harriman.

Occupy Judaism has a ring to it – straight out of the glory days of Jewish protests starting with the 1969 invasion of the Council of Jewish Federation’s General Assembly in Boston by Concerned Jewish Youth. Coalitions of young leftists, Orthodox, and havura members took over Jewish Federation offices in New York and San Francisco. The radical movement demands were clear – a major one being that the Jewish establishment put more money into Jewish education. Yes, 40 years ago that was radical. (Check out Aviva Cantor’s volume Jewish Women Jewish Men for a spirited analysis of the politics of the movement start to finish.) And who knows where Occupy Judaism will go. At this point it seems to be one media-savvy good guy with a Facebook page but without a lot of Jewish discontent to tap into.

My own take on what speaks to us, as Kol Nidre and Sukkot activities sprang up in various cities, is that these are great ways for Jews to show our support of Occupy Wall Street.

Since House Leader Eric Cantor had described the Occupy Wall Street protesters as a “mob,” I invited him to join us in the Zuccotti Park sukkah to get a first-hand look at the people of OWS. It was short notice, but I got a very nice reply from one of his staff: “Unfortunately he will be unable to make it to New York this evening but I hope everything with the event goes well.”

I think it went well. Jews gathered on Sukkot in support of Occupy Wall Street under the aegis of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. Sukkot – a harvest festival with temporary shelters that reflect the fragility of life. We celebrate the earth’s bounty, mindful of our fragility. What better framework to connect with Occupy Wall Street.

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  • Bob Lamm

    Wonderful, Amy, from the brilliant first line to your invitation to Eric Cantor!