(JTA) — The scenes from Kiev are reminiscent of Cairo in 2011— or perhaps the Battle of Stalingrad or revolutionary Paris.
A ring of burning barricades surrounds the stage on which opposition leaders, European Union parliament members and protesters speak. Images in the news are filled with blood and smoke, burning cars, streets denuded of bricks that have been hurled by one side or another as protesters clash violently with police in the Ukrainian streets.
For me, the shocking images carry an additional weight: having lived in Kiev for a year, I watch with disbelief as a square where I bought ice cream and strolled around dissolves into violent chaos.
I spent a year in Kiev to delve more deeply into my Jewish roots; I was there on a Fulbright grant and spent some of my time translating a novella, written in Odessa in early modern Hebrew.
Peering in from the outside, it may be tricky to understand what’s going on in Brazil right now
Unlike Tunisians and Egyptians, Brazilians did not take to the streets in historic demonstrations last week to overthrow an authoritarian government. After enduring a two-decade-long dictatorship, we’ve been living under democratic rule since the mid-1980s, and those who still carry the wounds of the dark days are the first to say: never again.
Nor, like many Europeans, are we reacting to an economic crisis per se, even though most reports in the international press about our economic boom are rather far-fetched, and the cost of living has risen sharply in the past 10 years
The generation behind the mass protests that took place in over a hundred Brazilian cities this month never knew the pains of hyperinflation or the fear of political prisons. What they know very well is the corruption that plagues every level of government; the chronic lack of investment in education; the lavish spending of public funds to build soccer stadiums for the World Cup while hospitals and roads crumble away.
So now this generation is saying: enough is enough.
In an unusual show of unity, various streams of ultra-Orthodox Jews joined together June 9 in a massive rally in downtown Manhattan to protest the Israeli government’s recent efforts to draft yeshiva students into the military.
Even the dueling factions within the Satmar Hasidic movement put aside their differences to organize the protest, and the feuding brothers who claim to lead the Satmar, Aharon Teitelbaum and Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, both participated. Organizers said the rally drew 30,000 people, virtually all men, to Foley Square. Other reports put the number at 20,000. The New York City police did not offer their own estimate.
The organizers tried their best to hide any anti-Zionist sentiments and focus only on the anti-draft message during the two-hour rally. Speakers on the stage repeatedly asked the crowd to put away any signs with messages against the State of Israel, and there were at least three cases in which protesters physically took down anti-Zionist signs held up by other protestors.
Yaakov Shapiro, an appointed speaker for the Satmar community, said in an interview with the Forward that even though he himself is anti-Zionist, the goal of the protest was to prevent the universal draft and, in his words, save Israel’s yeshivas.
“The reason why we survived 2,000 years and more, is because of these yeshivas,” said Shapiro. “Nothing else maintains the continuity of the Jewish people. Nothing else maintains our survival. Without the yeshivas we are extinct as a people, and that’s what they are trying to do.”
But the anti-Zionist undercurrent bothered some of the protestors. An Orthodox man from the Syrian-Jewish community in Brooklyn, who requested that his name not be published, said he came to the rally because he agreed with the general message, but he felt very uncomfortable with the anti-Zionist signs he saw.
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.