Forward Thinking

Inspirational Yom Kippur at Occupy Wall St.

By David A.M. Wilensky

  • Print
  • Share Share

A large, open plaza across from Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street has made its encampment for three weeks, proved to be the perfect setting for Kol Nidre on Friday night.

Earlier in the week, when Daniel Sieradski, Occupy Wall Street protester and self-styled “new media activist,” wondered on Facebook and Twitter whether he could get a minyan to show up for the service, I began to get excited about the idea. I’m always up for an interesting service, and if nothing else, this was going to be different.

As sundown approached on Friday, a crowd that some estimated at 700 people gathered on the plaza for the prayers that begin Yom Kippur. Similar services were held at Occupy Wall Street camps in Washington, Philadelphia and Boston.

Here, in New York, a cluster of service leaders huddled in the middle of the outdoor plaza, with the crowd sprawling out around them in an enormous circle. The service was mostly in Hebrew, with the familiar melodies. No instruments were played, and there was no amplification. In keeping with the style of the occupation in the park across the street, which does not have a sound system permit, announcements were shouted by a single speaker in short phrases, and each phrase was repeated back through the crowd so everyone could hear it.

The entire service was led this way, including the sermon, written and shouted by my friend, Getzel Davis, a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Boston.

I think all sermons should be delivered this way for all eternity. There’s no better way to capture a crowd’s attention with a Yom Kippur sermon than to hear the message ripple back through the congregation in short bursts. The energy of the crowd was enhanced by the recurring call and response, and by being physically close to one another; once you were in the crowd, it was packed tight and there was no getting out.

While the organizers and many present were regular service-goers, this Kol Nidre also attracted a healthy number of people who probably haven’t been to a synagogue in years. I am a very regular synagogue attendee, but a service has never felt more relevant. The high point came during one part of the sermon, as Getzel’s voice rose louder and louder:

“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 is the fallacy that gold is God!”

Afterward, I felt like I was walking on air, and judging from the spontaneous song session that sprung up later, I suspect I wasn’t the only one.

There are plans to build a sukkah at New York’s Occupy Wall Street and to continue holding Shabbat services until the protest is over. I’ll be there.

This guest post was written by David A.M. Wilensky, editor of New Voices Magazine, the national Jewish student magazine, and director of the Jewish Student Press Service.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: yom kippur, protest, occupy wall street, kol nidre

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.