Last night, I joined over a thousand Jews for an outdoor Kol Nidre service at Liberty Plaza (New York’s Tahrir Square).
Occupy Wall Street is more than a protest movement – it is a call for the reinstallation of human and humane values in opposition to the US population’s seduction into a culture of corporate greed disguised as the ‘American dream.’
Last night, these OWS values integrated seamlessly with progressive Jewish values, creating the most moving and relevant Kol Nidre service I have ever attended.
Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to
overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred,
opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a
revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue
to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.
Building on Heschel, the rabbis began the service by reading this passage from Isaiah 58:
Is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the fetters of
wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed
go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the
hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?
When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him?
For those who do not know, OWS is guided by an egalitarian General Assembly in which each speaker’s voice is amplified by “human microphones,” individuals whose responsibility it is to repeat the words of the speaker so that they are heard far and wide, without electronic amplification. This has the result of sharing ownership of the words among the crowd. In the Kol Nidre service, human microphone and responsive reading blended seamlessly.
In a manner similar to the biblical prophets, the voices of OWS represent an historic incitement for the many to rise against the corruption and greed of the few who use and manipulate the letter of the law for their own enrichment and aggrandizement.
Like the prophets, the voices of 21st century protest, from Tahrir to Wall Street, have broken through the monopoly on approved discourse dictated by the powerful and use alternative power of human amplification of the truth. Where in the corporate universe, as in the religious institutions of old, “information is power,” and the revealed word is the word authorized by those in charge, in social media, truth is power, transparency is power, accountability is power, because what is truthful is retweeted through the filter of the population’s bullshit-meter. The ‘human microphone’ and reTweeting come from the same source – the ability of the human soul to identify the truth. This is why we turn to twitter for the news and not to CNN. This is why Al-Jazeera, with its social media news bureau, is light-years ahead of the New York Times. (This is why on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” the audience lifeline is right 95% of the time.)
At Kol Nidre, an Al Chet (the communal confession of sins) for our time was offered, originally written in 2006 by ex-Yippie Stew Albert and his wife Judy:
We have sinned.
By yielding to confusion and falling into passivity
By indulging in fear
By tolerating global warming, global disease and global poverty
By not standing up to fanaticism, terrorism, rape and torture – no matter who the perpetrators are
By not loving enough
By being indifferent to the rich getting richer and the poor staying miserable
By allowing greed, in others and in ourselves, to go unchecked
By not opposing laws that promise false security and deprive us of our basic liberties
By not opposing ballot measures that deprive us of basic rights
By not searching for the truth wherever it lies
By not recognizing the divine spark that dwells in the center of our being
For all our sins, may the force that makes forgiveness possible, forgive us, pardon us and grant us atonement.
One of the rabbis spoke of the original Yom Kippur, as a day offered to the Jews to atone for the sin of worshipping the golden calf. He argued persuasively that the most dangerous form of idol worship is the worship of gold, and that that is what we are atoning for and working to turn away from, on Wall Street and in town squares around the country and around the world.
It brings back the story from The Dybbuk:
Once a rich but stingy Hasid visited the rebbe. Taking him by the hand,
the rebbe led him to the window and asked him to describe what he
saw through the glass. ‘I see people in the street,’ the Hasid said.
Then the rebbe took his hand again and led him to a mirror. ‘Now what
do you see?’ he asked. ‘I see myself,’ the Hasid answered. ‘Do you
understand? Both the window and the mirror are made of glass, but as
soon as you cover the glass with a small amount of silver, you no longer
see others but only yourself.’
After the service, I walked across the street to Zucotti Park and watched the OWS General Assembly use the power of consensus to create new policies to contend with its exponential growth. And yet they sustained their trust in the ability of people to come together for good.