Occupy Rosh Hashanah Kicks Off Jewish New Year in Zuccotti Park
Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish calendar and one of the two High Holidays (along with Yom Kippur) this year fell on the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. And since the faith community has been a big part of Occupy and last year's Yom Kippur ceremony in Zuccotti was such a memorable experience (described to me by two different people this week as the most meaningful Jewish experience they'd had), Occupy Judaism took this opportunity to once again celebrate in the park.
The barricades were up and had been for days as NYPD drilled in expectation of Occupy's actions for September 17. But they let people in from two sides, and they trickled in slowly, then streamed in chanting as 7:30 got closer. As has become customary with Occupy reunions of a sort, people milled around hugging and recounting what they've been up to since the last time we were all in a public space together.
But this time instead of the noise being silenced by a mic check, it was quieted by a shofar.
Well, a shofar and a mic check. This was an Occupy service, after all.
Conducted by multiple celebrants invoking multiple traditions, men and women, the service held special resonance because it was held right under the watchful eyes of NYPD--physical and virtual, as a spy tower rose above the corner of the park where a few hundred people gathered, sitting and standing at the traditional points in the service, some huddled over prayerbooks, others huddled over smartphones.
The mood was joyous and prayerful but certainly less solemn than an actual synagogue (and the NYPD hustling to harass and arrest folks just outside the barricades provided a sharp reminder that we were occupying contested space with this spiritual ceremony). As some of the celebrants put less-familiar spins on segments of the service, the call-and-response faded away and little side conversations sprang up, but when Daniel Sieradski, who helped organize last year's Yom Kippur service, launched into a barnburner of a sermon, evoking the Torah and the teachings of hundreds of years of Jewish theologians on the issues of poverty and wealth, taxes and wages, he drew everyone's attention back.
Ahead of me, one participant, who'd been reading a prayerbook with a headlamp, sliced apples with a pocketknife and handed out pieces to friends, along with a plastic cup of honey for dipping. On the other side, Occupiers handed around a bottle of red wine for the blessing.
The crowd was dotted with the bright green hats of the National Lawyers Guild legal observers, but the police didn't encroach into the park--even allowing the Occupy medics to handle a young man who appeared to be sick. Right outside the barricades was another story, as at least one arrest was reported and riot police brandishing batons strolled down the sidewalk.
But as the crowd slowly dispersed, the tension in the air was mostly for the morning. What will happen before the bell rings on Wall Street on Occupy's official anniversary?