If the Shekhina delights in synchronicity, it is no accident that Occupy Wall Street picked up speed just in time for the High Holidays. Starting with Kol Nidre, what quickly became Occupy Judaism linked a Jewish call for justice to the 99 percent.
Occupy Judaism — the Jewish presence at Occupy Wall Street in at least 10 U.S. cities, plus Toronto and London — has not lacked for female images: a picture of Emma Goldman in the small Chabadissued pop-up sukkah in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park; women joining with men in conducting Kol Nidre services; women dancing with the Torah during Occupy Simchat Torah; women equally involved with men in decision making meetings of Occupy Wall Street; women and men bringing their kids to participate.
Occupy Kol Nidre was initiated by a social media maven, the self-described “post-Orthodox” Daniel J. Sieradski. He was quick to help others shape Occupy Judaism events across the country. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Google groups and Tumblr, things happened fast. Anyone clicking into the action was welcome.
There was nothing cookie cutter about each city’s approach. New York’s Kol Nidre was a traditional egalitarian service geared to those literate in Hebrew. The Sukkot celebration a week later, organized by the predominantly female Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), featured Jewish musician and creator of Jewish Chicks Rock, Naomi Less. According to JFREJ Executive Director Marjorie Dove Kent, four “tough broads” from JFREJ figured out how to stay warm and dry in the rain-drenched Zuccotti Park sukkah after the men abandoned the halakhic hovel.
Dove Kent described the movement’s non-hierarchical organization as “such a relief. … The element of competition is removed. … Men and women take on and express leadership in different ways.” Like Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Judaism “makes room for both.”
In Philadelphia, visual artist Zoë Cohen thinks of “being Jewish in Philly,” including Occupy Judaism, as “being led by women — inclusive, open, creative, participatory,” with locally ordained women Reconstructionist rabbis. She said, “Doing the service outdoors as part of a protest movement made my Kol Nidre — bringing a spiritual element to economic reform, healing the world, healing ourselves.”
Toronto-born songwriter Chana Rothman feels the Occupy Judaism High Holiday services embody “the true energy of the American Jewish experience, people deeply invested in this country.” Not your traditional rebbitzin, Rothman, whose husband is a rabbi in a Reform synagogue in suburban Philadelphia, has been bringing their one-year-old son to Occupy Philly and wrote the song, now streaming online, “Wall Street Main Street.”
In Los Angeles, Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, associate professor of Rabbinic Literature at American Jewish University, described how his 14-year-old daughter, eager to be part of Occupy LA, told him, “Abba, it’s been a long time since I’ve been at a demonstration.”
Among the Jewish artists shaping the Occupation, Andrea Hodos, creator of Moving Torah Workshops and wife of Aryeh Cohen, was invited to bring her educational performance skills from Occupy Judaism to the Occupy LA General Assembly.
Just as Jewish rocker Less tells women and girls, “Don’t wait to be invited,” women felt completely comfortable jumping into Occupy Judaism to shape this new connection between American Judaism and grassroots American political action.