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!
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • 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.