There are four items in this posting
1) report of Planning Yom Kippur at OWS;
2) snippets and sermon from Yom Kippur at OWS;
3) interview with David Graeber
4) address by Naomi Klein at OWS
Yom Kippur Service Taking Place At Occupy Wall Street
Jaweed Kaleem, Huffington Post
Several hundred people showed up in front of downtown New York’s Brown Brothers Harriman building for a candlelit, social justice-oriented Kol Nidre service Friday night. They included men and women in white prayer shawls, participants in street wear and non-Jewish onlookers. Leaders of the service prayed for the eradication of racism, classism and discrimination against gays and lesbians, among other causes. As with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, no microphones were used and readings and songs were echoed throughout the crowd as dozens of police officers watched. So far, no incidents have been reported. Several attendees said they planned to cross the street to Zuccotti Park to spend the night with Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, as observant Jews do not use cars or the subway on Yom Kippur. Check out a slideshow of the service below.
NEW YORK — It’s rare that Mae Singerman, a self-described secular Jew who grew up in a Reform family, observes Yom Kippur by praying, fasting or attending synagogue.
But at sundown on Friday, the 27-year-old from Brooklyn planned to join hundreds of other Jews at the Occupy Wall Street demonstration for Kol Nidre, the opening service of Yom Kippur that starts the holiest time on the Jewish calendar.
“For me, it’s about bringing my Jewish identity and my politics together,” said Singerman, who has participated in several anti-capitalism protests in recent years and visited the demonstration at Zuccotti Park for the first time last week. “Having a Jewish service or ceremony brings more Jews who wouldn’t necessarily come. I know people coming tonight who are pretty skeptical about Occupy Wall Street but are willing to give it a try because of the Yom.”
Organized mostly via Facebook over the last week, the Kol Nidre service starts at 7 p.m. across from the downtown park where demonstrations have occurred since mid-September. Almost 500 people have RSVP’d on Facebook, although at least a few dozen of them are out-of-towners who are just showing their support.
The service, led by rabbis and students from several Jewish traditions, has been endorsed by Jewish organizations such as Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and the Shalom Center. The Rabbinical Assembly, an association of Conservative Rabbis, has donated 100 prayer books for the service, and organizers say that the Battery Park Synagogue and Chabad of Wall Street have welcomed holy-day observers who spend the night at the protest camp to come pray at Saturday services. Similar Kol Nidre services have also been planned in Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Daniel Sieradski, one of the service’s organizers who has been participating in the Occupy Wall Street demonstration, said he was inspired to arrange for the Yom Kippur service by a part of the haftarah from the Hebrew Bible, which is typically read the first morning of Yom Kippur.
“You can fast for a day, you cover yourself in ashes, you can wear a sack cloth, but who cares if you are not out there feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, breaking the bonds of oppression?” said Sieradski, paraphrasing Isaiah 58:5.
“I am less concerned about halacha, Jewish law, and traditional observance than I am about the prophetic character of recognizing the divine in my fellow human being,” said Sieradski, who also plans to observe the Jewish holiday of Sukkot at the demonstration.
While Sieradski said he does not plan to sleep over at the encampment Friday night, Nom, a 23-year-old Talmud student, said she plans to spend the night there with a group of friends to start her Yom Kippur observance. She will walk two hours to her upper Manhattan home on Saturday morning to attend synagogue.
“Part of Yom Kippur is that you are supposed to review the past year to see what you can improve about yourself and your community. I am seeing right now that I live in a country where homes are being foreclosed, where people are losing jobs and people are suffering,” said Nom, who did not wish to give her last name.
“We’re hoping the people up top can do some sort of teshuva. It literally means ‘return,’ but the whole point is that one specifically in the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will admit their wrongdoings and ask for forgiveness,” she said. “We are putting ourselves out there. and so should Wall Street. They should have the opportunity to review their actions and change.”
When new media activist Daniel Sieradski, a.k.a. the Orthodox Anarchist, a.k.a. @mobius1ski , suggested having an ad hoc Kol Nidre minyan on Wall Street, in solidarity with the Occupied Wall Street movement, he wondered if he would succeed in attracting 20 participants (an egalitarian minyan of 10 men and 10 women).
To his amazement, over 1,000 Jews of all ages and backgrounds, from secular to observant, showed up for an exhilarating experience which, judging from the tweets (hashtag: #OccupyYomKippur), had many people feeling as though they were practically levitating. Several friends told me it was an incredibly moving experience.
@Mefranny: Mom, I think I just had the most meaningful Jewish experience of my life. Wish you were with me.
@newyorkobserver: Best. Atonement. Ever.
@mikrmoore: Prayed kol nidre with hundreds tonite at #occupywallstreet. Incredibly moving experience. Congrats again to@mobius1ski for pulling it off.
@maxblumenthal Hundreds of Jews declare in unison at #occupywallstreet “We will hold ourselves accountable for the occupation of Palestine. Aleinu!”
@aimeeweiss #OccupyYomKippur at #occcupywallstreet #owes was simply awe-inspiring. Kol heaved to @mobius1ski et al. Can’t wait for Sukkot.
@aimeeweiss also tweeted a photo of the supplemental ‘al cheat,’ the traditional confession of sins for which we try to atone by praying and fasting on Yom Kippur. The sins listed on the #occupyyomkippur ‘al kheit’ include, ‘being cynical about repairing the world,’ ‘not defending Israel’ and ‘not defending Palestine.’
@aimeeweiss also uploaded a short video clip of the singing at the Kol Nidre service. Even in these few seconds, one can sense the spiritual and communal warmth of this gathering.
UPDATE: Another video, posted on YouTube, shows spontaneous dancing on the street after the Kol Nidre service ended:
UPDATE 2: George ‘Getzel’ Davis posted the sermon he read at #OccupyYomKippur on his Facebook page. Here is the text:
Friends – we are here tonight to celebrate the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur has been misunderstood to be a sad day. But really, an early rabbinic texts calls Yom Kippur one of the two happiest days of the year. What makes this day happy? It is the day of forgiveness. This is what Yom Kippur means “The Day of Forgiveness.”
According to our myth, Yom Kippur is the day that we are forgiven for worshipping the golden calf. What is the golden calf? It is the essence of idol worship. It the fallacy that gold is God. How do we become forgiven for worshiping gold?
I believe that G!d is infinitely forgiving. The harder question is how we forgive ourselves. How can we forgive ourselves for failing to live up to our own ideals? How can we forgive ourselves for failing to recognize others’ humanity? How can we forgive ourselves for remaining silent for so long in the face of injustice?
Forgiveness is important because once we can mourn our mistakes then we are no longer ruled by them. We are free to create things anew.
This is what Kol Nidreh is about. It is releasing ourselves from the oaths that we mistakenly took.
When people think about oaths, they usually think of verbal promises. In Judaism though, most of our oaths are “Chazakas” – or oaths taken through repeated action. By doing things again and again, we make internal promises about how we want to live. Other names for these might be habits, preferences, or addictions. These chazakas rule our lives, making things simpler by allowing us to live on autopilot .
The problem with this is that while chazakas are easy, they are often not skillful. It is easier to not make waves. It is easier to not make eye contact with those suffering. It is easier to trust others to run society. It is easier to sit on our butts.
Tonight, you are offered all the internal freedom that you can imagine. How do you want to live the next moments of your life? Do you want to love more? Do you want to be more joyous? Do you want to speak your truth? What does your truth say?
Yom Kippur is the happiest day of the year because it gives us the radical option of being here now. We don’t work. We don’t eat. We don’t drink. We don’t have sex. We dress in white robes.
We do these things because Yom Kippur is a ritual death. It is the way that we allow our old selves to die.
Tomorrow, when we break our fasts, we step into newness. We step into being the people we want to be and not just the people we have been.
You know friends, it is hard not to worship gold, or power, or any of the other idols that our society shoves down our throats. I believe that this is why the Torah tells us that there is something else created in the image of G!d.
In the first chapter of Genesis the first human was created in the image of G!d If we need something to serve here on earth, we are given humanity. Service to humankind is sacred and a reflection of service of G!d.
This is the reason why we pray the Aleinu. Aleinu means “On us,” and is our affirmation that it is our job to change the world. Tonight, we will pray the Aleinu in an unconventional way. One at a time, someone will call out a commitment: a new commitment that they want to take on to fix the world. If you also want to take this on, respond by saying “Aleinu.”
Could this be a renaissance of a new movement, composed of Jews who are proudly identified with their community and progressive on all issues – including Palestine, the once-great taboo?
Ezra Klein, Washington Post blog
David Graeber is an anthropologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, and author of ‘Direct Action: An Ethnography.’ He was also one of the initial organizers of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests. And he thinks the people asking for a list of demands are missing the point of the movement quite dramatically. We spoke this morning by phone.
Ezra Klein: So when did your involvement with these protests begin?
David Graeber: July 2nd. That was the first actual meeting. What happened was AdBusters put out this call for these protests. We had heard there was supposed to be a general assembly on July 2nd. So I just showed up. But it was a rally, not an assembly. Some Marxist groups had set up stages and megaphones and was making speeches and were planning a march. So we said we don’t need to do this. We pulled a small group together and decided to have a real assembly.
So we wandered over to another part of the area and began a meeting and people kept migrating over. But we had a problem because we only had six weeks. AdBusters had already advertised the date to 80,000 people. And their date was a Saturday. You can’t really shut down Wall Street on a Saturday. So we were working under some significant constraints. We assembled 80 or 100 people and formed working groups for outreach, process, so forth and so on. And we began meeting every week.
One thing that helped a lot was a smattering of people from Spain and Greece and Tunisia who had been doing this sort of thing more recently. They explained that the model that seemed to work was to take something that seemed to be public space, reclaim it, and build up an organization headquarters around that from which you can begin doing other things.
EK: This movement is organized rather differently than most protest movements. There isn’t really a list of demands, or goals, or even much of an identifiable leadership. But if I understand you correctly, that’s sort of the point.
DG: It’s very similar to the globalization movement. You see the same criticisms in the press. It’s a bunch of kids who don’t know economics and only know what they’re against. But there’s a reason for that. it’s pre-figurative, so to speak. You’re creating a vision of the sort of society you want to have in miniature. And it’s a way of juxtaposing yourself against these powerful, undemocratic forces you’re protesting. If you make demands, you’re saying, in a way, that you’re asking the people in power and the existing institutions to do something different. And one reason people have been hesitant to do that is they see these institutions as the problem.
EK: So if you say, for instance, that you want a tax on Wall Street and then you’ll be happy, you’re implicitly saying that you’re willing to be happy with a slightly modified version of the current system.
DG: Right. The tax on Wall Street will go to people controlled by Wall Street.
EK: By which you mean government.
DG: Yes. So we are keeping it open-ended. In a way, what we want is to create spaces where people can think about questions like that. In New York, according to law, any unpermitted assembly of more than 12 people is illegal in New York. Space itself is not an openly available resource. But the one resource that isn’t scarce is smart people with ideas. So we’re trying to reframe things away from the rhetoric of demands to a questions of visions and solutions. Now how that translates into actual social change is an interesting question. One way this has been done elsewhere is you have local initiatives that come out of the local assemblies.
EK: It also seems that the trade-off here, from an organizational standpoint, is that if you say you want, say, a tax on Wall Street, then the people who aren’t interested in a tax on Wall Street stay home. So remaining vague on demands can make the tent bigger. But it also seems that, at some point, people are going to need to be working towards concrete goals and experiencing discrete successes in order to sustain the energy of a movement like this.
GB: As the thing grows, new organizational forms will develop. At this point, the New York occupation has 30 different working groups for everything from handling sanitation to discussing labor issues and tax policy. So we’re trying to set up ways that people with different interests can plug into the movement. There’s even a newspaper. The ‘Occupied Wall Street Journal.’ Of course, this is nothing compared to what happened in Tahrir Square, where they even had dry cleaners.
EK: We’re also beginning to see “Occupy Wall Street” link up with more traditional activist groups. Some members of the protest were speaking via video feed at today’s big confab of liberal groups in Washington. MoveOn.org and organized labor are planning a march in support of the occupiers for Wednesday. How does that change what is, for now, a very decentralized movement?
DG: It is organically happening but there are definite problems that occur. We found this back in the days of the globalization movement. Unions were very supportive and provided resources but they’re very different organizations. The real difficulty is how to work with people who are top-down and have a funding base, as it means there are things they can say in public and things they can’t, and groups where people can say whatever they want and the whole idea is to be decentralized. One problem I’ve already heard of is that people are coming in and changing the tenor of the general assemblies to speeches, and that’s not really what it’s supposed to be about. So you have to balance the aspect where you’re trying to show what direct democracy could be like and the effort to link up with groups that have a form of organization we’ve rejected.
EK: The name of the group is “Occupy Wall Street,” but from what I can tell by listening to interviews with the protesters and reading messages at ‘We are the 99,’ it’s not just about Wall Street, it’s about the powerful in general, which include politicians and wealthy folks who don’t make their money in finance, and beyond that, it’s really about the less-powerful. The real running theme I’m hearing is hopelessness: that we did everything right and played by the rules and went to school or got a job and now we’re buried in debt and can’t make ends meet, while these folks at the top of the economy seem to just keep prospering and prospering.
DG: Right, and Wall Street is just a beautiful illustration of that. Here we have these guys who were just greedy crooks, who crashed the global economy and did terrible things to the lives of people all over the world. None of them have paid at all. There was a debate about whether their bonuses should be lowered. On the other hand, if people point out to vigorously that this has happened, they do get arrested. And that helps to point out the essential double standard of the system.
I love you.
And I didn’t just say that so that hundreds of you would shout “I love you” back, though that is obviously a bonus feature of the human microphone. Say unto others what you would have them say unto you, only way louder.
Yesterday, one of the speakers at the labor rally said: “We found each other.” That sentiment captures the beauty of what is being created here. A wide-open space (as well as an idea so big it can’t be contained by any space) for all the people who want a better world to find each other. We are so grateful.
If there is one thing I know, it is that the 1 percent loves a crisis. When people are panicked and desperate and no one seems to know what to do, that is the ideal time to push through their wish list of pro-corporate policies: privatizing education and social security, slashing public services, getting rid of the last constraints on corporate power. Amidst the economic crisis, this is happening the world over.
And there is only one thing that can block this tactic, and fortunately, it’s a very big thing: the 99 percent. And that 99 percent is taking to the streets from Madison to Madrid to say “No. We will not pay for your crisis.”
That slogan began in Italy in 2008. It ricocheted to Greece and France and Ireland and finally it has made its way to the square mile where the crisis began.
“Why are they protesting?” ask the baffled pundits on TV. Meanwhile, the rest of the world asks: “What took you so long?” “We’ve been wondering when you were going to show up.” And most of all: “Welcome.”
Many people have drawn parallels between Occupy Wall Street and the so-called anti-globalization protests that came to world attention in Seattle in 1999. That was the last time a global, youth-led, decentralized movement took direct aim at corporate power. And I am proud to have been part of what we called “the movement of movements.”
But there are important differences too. For instance, we chose summits as our targets: the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the G8. Summits are transient by their nature, they only last a week. That made us transient too. We’d appear, grab world headlines, then disappear. And in the frenzy of hyper patriotism and militarism that followed the 9/11 attacks, it was easy to sweep us away completely, at least in North America.
Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, has chosen a fixed target. And you have put no end date on your presence here. This is wise. Only when you stay put can you grow roots. This is crucial. It is a fact of the information age that too many movements spring up like beautiful flowers but quickly die off. It’s because they don’t have roots. And they don’t have long term plans for how they are going to sustain themselves. So when storms come, they get washed away.
Being horizontal and deeply democratic is wonderful. But these principles are compatible with the hard work of building structures and institutions that are sturdy enough to weather the storms ahead. I have great faith that this will happen.
Something else this movement is doing right: You have committed yourselves to non-violence. You have refused to give the media the images of broken windows and street fights it craves so desperately. And that tremendous discipline has meant that, again and again, the story has been the disgraceful and unprovoked police brutality. Which we saw more of just last night. Meanwhile, support for this movement grows and grows. More wisdom.
But the biggest difference a decade makes is that in 1999, we were taking on capitalism at the peak of a frenzied economic boom. Unemployment was low, stock portfolios were bulging. The media was drunk on easy money. Back then it was all about start-ups, not shutdowns.
We pointed out that the deregulation behind the frenzy came at a price. It was damaging to labor standards. It was damaging to environmental standards. Corporations were becoming more powerful than governments and that was damaging to our democracies. But to be honest with you, while the good times rolled, taking on an economic system based on greed was a tough sell, at least in rich countries.
Ten years later, it seems as if there aren’t any more rich countries. Just a whole lot of rich people. People who got rich looting the public wealth and exhausting natural resources around the world.
The point is, today everyone can see that the system is deeply unjust and careening out of control. Unfettered greed has trashed the global economy. And it is trashing the natural world as well. We are over-fishing our oceans, polluting our water with fracking and deepwater drilling, turning to the dirtiest forms of energy on the planet, like the Alberta tar sands. And the atmosphere cannot absorb the amount of carbon we are putting into it, creating dangerous warming. The new normal is serial disasters: economic and ecological.
These are the facts on the ground. They are so blatant, so obvious, that it is a lot easier to connect with the public than it was in 1999, and to build the movement quickly.
We all know, or at least sense, that the world is upside down: we act as if there is no end to what is actually finite—fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions. And we act as if there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually bountiful—the financial resources to build the kind of society we need.
The task of our time is to turn this around: to challenge this false scarcity. To insist that we can afford to build a decent, inclusive society—while at the same time, respect the real limits to what the earth can take.
What climate change means is that we have to do this on a deadline. This time our movement cannot get distracted, divided, burned out or swept away by events. This time we have to succeed. And I’m not talking about regulating the banks and increasing taxes on the rich, though that’s important.
I am talking about changing the underlying values that govern our society. That is hard to fit into a single media-friendly demand, and it’s also hard to figure out how to do it. But it is no less urgent for being difficult.
That is what I see happening in this square. In the way you are feeding each other, keeping each other warm, sharing information freely and proving health care, meditation classes and empowerment training. My favorite sign here says, “I care about you.” In a culture that trains people to avoid each other’s gaze, to say, “Let them die,” that is a deeply radical statement.
A few final thoughts. In this great struggle, here are some things that don’t matter.
§ What we wear.
§ Whether we shake our fists or make peace signs.
§ Whether we can fit our dreams for a better world into a media soundbite.
And here are a few things that do matter.
§ Our courage.
§ Our moral compass.
§ How we treat each other.
We have picked a fight with the most powerful economic and political forces on the planet. That’s frightening. And as this movement grows from strength to strength, it will get more frightening. Always be aware that there will be a temptation to shift to smaller targets—like, say, the person sitting next to you at this meeting. After all, that is a battle that’s easier to win.
Don’t give in to the temptation. I’m not saying don’t call each other on shit. But this time, let’s treat each other as if we plan to work side by side in struggle for many, many years to come. Because the task before will demand nothing less.
Let’s treat this beautiful movement as if it is most important thing in the world. Because it is. It really is.
Editor’s Note: Naomi’s speech also appeared in Saturday’s edition of the Occupied Wall Street Journal.