On Friday night, there will be a lot more cold hungry people out on the streets. Jews walking home after Kol Nidrei services, the night of repentance before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, will join the throngs of protesters occupying Wall Street, Boston, and other major cities out on the streets. It’s a poignant moment: one people upholding an ancient tradition of mutual responsibility for one another to God, and another trying to foster a similar sentiment in a new age towards government and business. So why, would it seem, that they are ignoring each other?
Why aren’t religious groups getting involved with the #OccupyWallSt protests? There are religious people out there, like a great group called the Protest Chaplains (http://protestchaplains.blogspot.com/). The dioceses of some Christian denominations have lent support as well, but we could all do more. Preaching against greed and corruption is the schtick of religious groups, and I say this as a person proudly a part of one, so why aren’t we out there? Fighting the good fight! Offering up services! Anything?! I realize their goals and leadership aren’t as well defined as they could be (or in some cases too defined and highly unrealistic (http://occupywallst.org/forum/proposed-list-of-demands-for-occupy-wall-st-moveme/)). I realize many are nervous, because it seems like only thing that unites the movement is a lot of volatile anger swirling around in concentrated areas, but the protesters are still people who need care. They are hurt, unsure how express their discontent with the system, and desperate to try and make the future better. Regardless of their politics, it sounds like they need spiritual support. So where are the spiritual people?
Pardon me for this, but I would like to focus on my people for a moment: Why aren’t Jewish groups throwing their yarmulkes in with the protestors? I realize it is a busy time, but we still have the Days of Awe to help them out as people. After all, helping the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the homeless have all have been the readings from the past couple of weeks’ Torah portions, leading up to the High Holidays.
Speaking of which, there must be Jewish protestors down there: What are they doing for High Holiday services? Would not a shofar blast meant to pierce the soul out of apathy and into spiritual and communal awareness be appropriate? Rosh Hashanah has passed, but what about Shabbas? What about Yom Kippur? I think we, as a American Jews, can make it so that their identity as protestors and as Jews isn’t mutually exclusive. There are ways we could reach out, so why aren’t we? Will religious groups begin to if the movement becomes mainstream? Will it be too late then because a main source of anxiety for the protestors is that their previous trust in institutions failed them? Can we turn this into a moment of spiritual growth rather then a moment of pessimism?
Now I am no evangelist and no socialist. I love capitalism. I take a free market approach to religion in fact; I think our product is so good that if we put it out there, people will like it and it will do well. I am also a big fan of money; I would like to have some one-day. I just think the people who have it, and those who were given it by the government from taxpayer money, should use it more appropriately.
I apologize for this next section; I was trying to keep it apolitical, but I cannot hold back. If I may focus on my people again, may I suggest which side to take for reasons other then religion? As a group forever plagued by the stereotype of money-grubbing Puppet Masters of the World, should we not take this chance to distance ourselves from people like that? To announce once again we are not all like Bernie Madoff? That we try to disavow the morals and ideas of people like him, as anyone who would rob families and institutions of their money so quickly that they have to sell off holocaust relics to stay afloat, is no Jew (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123361710970041349.html).
That’s why this Saturday I am heading down to #OccupyBoston with as many siddurim, yarmulkes, and tallit as I can carry and running my own Yom Kippur Services. Yes it will be an ad-hoc unofficial service. Yes, I realize (now that a lovely Rabbi pointed it out) that I would be breaking halakhic code by doing it. But Judaism teaches me that for the sake of one person, the entire world was created, so think of how much good you do with two.
What do I know? I am no Rabbi. I am no economist. I am just a guy that loves America, Judaism, and Humanity in general. And while that won’t get me a job nowadays, it will at least keep me sane. And if spiritual groups can go to these protests and help to cultivate a love of any of those things, the sanity that would come out of it might do us all some good.
Many of us see a faint glimmer of the promise land in the world around us, but we do not know how "to cross the Jordan." Perhaps it is the faithful observation that gets one there; perhaps it is treating one's actions not as a trifling thing but as if their whole life depends on them. I do not know. I do know that when you get to that promise land, when you have broken down the wall that separates you from your fellow Man and from God, you indeed shall long endure, because you will not want to stop dwelling in such a land.
I wish you a reflective fast and a good shabbas!