Sisterhood Blog

Why My Yom Kippur Is at Occupy Wall Street

By Jeanette Friedman

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courtesy Jeanette Friedman
Occupy Wall Street protester Jeanette Friedman

On the Friday night immediately after Rosh Hashanna, my son Dan called for Shabbat dinner at Occupy Wall Street. There were about 25-30 of us who made kiddush, ate cholent (which translates these days into vegetarian chili), had tuna fish instead of gefilte fish and drank lots of juice while eating home-made challah.

When a CBS reporter found us under the sculpture on the northwest corner of Cedar and Broadway, he didn’t want to know why we made Shabbat in Zuccotti Park. He didn’t care that there were ethical, principled reasons to have Shabbat at a protest, to sanctify a day by speaking out for justice. This guy wanted us to be hippies having pot luck dinner. Sorry we didn’t fit his stereotype. “I only have 10 seconds, no time for this Shabbat thing,” he said.

I was the senior in the bunch, and David Peel, a real hippie who hung with John and Yoko back in the day (and was singing Tevye’s greatest hits), was one person who asked me why I was there, as did a struggling freelance journalist. They both looked pointedly at my gray hair and my grandmotherly physique.

And I said:

I am here because when things were circling the drain, the banks wouldn’t renegotiate our mortgage. The credit card companies hiked their interest rates. My husband got sick and lost his job. And the co-pays on drugs have become obscene. My Nexium went from $30 for 90 pills to $640+ on a co-pay. Full price for that formerly $30 bottle is $1080. That’s why I am in Zuccotti Park. I marched against Vietnam in 65 (and married a Viet Nam vet). I marched in the Women’s Lib Parade in 1970, because my Orthodox Jewish husband refused to grant me a Jewish divorce for seven long and bitter years. I marched on behalf of Soviet Jewry and for the State of Israel. Now I am marching for me.

In bankruptcy and foreclosure, after paying every bill for 21 years, we lost a state tenant in our investment/retirement home in Arizona and then lost the house. Then clients bailed on us because they had no money, others canceled projects because of investments with Madoff and other shaky stuff. Now our home in New Jersey is underwater.

We write books, we edit books, we print books. We are a necessary niche market business. But the trustee for U.S. Bankruptcy court will not allow us to sell the books we print for our clients, let alone our used books, and is demanding $21,500 for the books I need to do my work, for the mementos of a full and not-boring life, for my beloved Brooklyn Bridge collection, and my Judaica. That’s why I go to Zuccotti Park and exercise my first amendment rights.

If anyone missed what the media says about people like me and my son Dan, they are saying we are young (I wish), smelly, nasty, ignorant know-nothings who do not believe in the system, we are criminals, etc. You really have to see the Jon Stewart take on this to see what they say about people like you and me.

We are not who the media says we are. We know who we are. We are those who struggle just to keep it together, to rescue something from everything we had ever worked for. And those of us who have parents watch them in the last days of their lives as they suffer along with us. And trust me, it is infinitely more difficult when those elderly parents are Holocaust survivors.

On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Isaiah speaks for God, who essentially says, “Who needs you to fast and say all these prayers of repentance and offer me all of these sacrifices if you don’t take care of your widows, your poor and your orphans?”

That’s why it is precisely on Yom Kippur that I am with my son in Zuccotti Park. It is precisely here that I can, with a clear conscience, ask for forgiveness for selfishness, apathy and pride.

I want people to understand that it’s not just about ATM fees and interest rates; it’s about human beings who are just like you and me. It’s about millions of Americans who are teetering on the edge of the abyss, and nobody out there with the means, the power and the vision wants to step forward and give us the help we need to survive as our American dreams turn into nightmares.

A longer version of this post was first published on Friedman’s website, JeanetteFriedman.com.


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