The following is the sermon delivered by Daniel Sieradski at Occupy Rosh Hashanah in Liberty Square, earlier this evening.
Today we are here to rejoice and we are here to cry. For as Rebbe Nachman taught, “On Rosh Hashanah you must be joyous… and on Rosh Hashanah you must weep.”
We are here to rejoice in the world and in our bodies… To celebrate our very existence. For today, according to Jewish tradition, is humankind’s birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY HUMANS!!! Today we celebrate our creation as a species and we celebrate our Creator, the infinite Divine which wills itself into the form of human beings and which breathes into each of us the breath of life, imbuing within each of us a holy spark, intrinsic worth, individual purpose, and inalienable rights.
That is why we are so pleased to celebrate tonight with our Jewish and non-Jewish friends alike, because it is not just our birthday as Jewish people, it is all of our birthday together as people, period. Our Rabbis taught that all people are descended from the same source and are all made in the image of the Divine. And thus we are bound together, all of humanity, as one family, responsible to and for one another: And so it is said, “You should love your fellow as yourself.”
And that is why were are also here to cry. We cry because, whether individually or communally, we have failed to live up to our best versions of ourselves and to meet our responsibilities to one another. We have failed to be as righteous and just as we each have the potential to be in our words and deeds. We expect better from ourselves and for each other. And so, while we celebrate, we also repent.
As we look around the world and we see its fullness and brokenness, its poverty and wealth, its hunger and its greed, its laws and its lawlessness, we know: We are failing to merit the blessing of our Creator. We know that even with all we have accomplished, we are capable of so much more as individuals, as communities and as a species. And so we cry. Because as the Talmud teaches, “When others are suffering, no one should say, ‘I will go home, eat, drink, and be at peace with myself.’”
The severity of humanity’s crisis cannot be understated. In Shemot Rabbah we learn, “If all other troubles were placed on one side and poverty on the other, poverty would outweigh them all.” Exodus Rabbah says, “There is nothing in the world more grievous than poverty; it is the most terrible of all sufferings.” And Talmud Nedarim says, “Poverty is a kind of death.”
You have likely heard the famous Talmudic teaching, “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” That makes 46.2 million worlds to save in the U.S. alone.
How did it come to this? How did we find ourselves here?
Through indisputable greed and the hardening of our hearts.
The Seridei Eish says, “Exemption from taxes is acceptable only for those taxes established by the government for its own sake, but not those that strengthen the needy.” Yet our politicians continue to lower taxes for the wealthy while slashing social programs that benefit the poor and the working class.
It says in Talmud Baba Metzia, “Whoever withholds an employee’s wages, it is as though he has taken the person’s life from him.” And yet we import cheap labor, export jobs to overseas sweat shops, resist minimum wage laws, and attack workers’ collective bargaining rights.
The Ben Ish Chai wrote, “It is forbidden to steal or embezzle anything at all–whether of great or little value.” But what of our savings, our pensions, our homes? Will no one be brought to justice for their gain from our losses?
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato wrote that, “Most people are not outright thieves but get a taste of stealing whenever they permit themselves to make an unfair profit at the expense of another.”
Talmud Shabbat says, “When one is brought for their final judgement, the heavenly tribunal says to him first, ‘Were you honest in your business dealings?’” What will they ask of our coreligionists, among the executives of Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns? Will their sins be overlooked for their sizable contributions to charity? No, says Rambam: “A mitzvah that is done by committing a sin is not a mitzvah.”
How many folks here have been told to “get a job and take a shower” when they’ve said they’re an Occupier? Vayikra Rabbah says, “If a rich man says to the poor man, ‘Get a job,’ God says to the rich man, ‘It’s not enough you deprived him, but you mock him too?”
In Deuteronomy, we are given warning: “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God…Otherwise…when you build fine houses and settle down…and your silver and gold increase…then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God…You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you…wealth.”
The Torah reminds us again and again, you did not earn what is yours by your hands alone, you earned it with the blessing of the Creator who also blessed you with the good fortune to be able to share with those in need!
Rambam says those who ignore their responsibility to the poor are called “lawless” in the same way that an idol worshipper is called “lawless.” He says, “God is close to the pleas of the poor. Therefore be careful with their cries!”
“He who closes his ears to the outcry of the poor, he too will call and not be answered!”
But we are not here to call for nor glory in the downfall of our fellow. We do not wish ill upon the wealthy. We are here to rescue them from their fate, which is ours too. Just as our father Abraham sought to rescue Sodom, pleading with the Creator to spare the city its ultimate retribution for its cruelty to the poor, we come to plead for the poor and wealthy alike.
As Rebbe Nachman taught, “The purpose of sounding the Shofar is to arouse people from their sleep.” And so we seek to rouse the wealthy with our collective cry.
“Our repentance, our mitzvah of listening to the shofar blasts,” said Rebbe Nachman, “arouses Hashem’s pity on us.” And so with the cries of our shofars, we beseech the Creator to have pity and plead for mercy on behalf of the poor and the destitute, on behalf of the worker and the migrant, on behalf of the enslaved and the oppressed, and on behalf of the wealthy who exploit, enslave and oppress, that they may come to repent and be redeemed.
Thus we find ourselves here, at Occupy Wall Street. We come here to this seemingly unusual setting on one of the holiest days of the Jewish Year, not only to celebrate, but to “Open thy mouth, judge righteously and plead the cause of the poor and needy.” We come here to dedicate ourselves to the struggle on behalf of our fellow human beings, to ensure their dignity, to uphold their rights, to pursue justice on their behalf, and to resist the cynicism, callousness, greed and evil exhibited by “those who would devour the needy.” We assemble here to rededicate and renew ourselves, reawaken our spirits, refine our consciousness, reassert our values, clarify our purpose, and to reignite our passion. We have come to renew the world, with a sacred vision for humanity.
Rebbe Nachman teaches, “Know that thought is very powerful. If a person concentrates very deeply about something he can bring it about.” And so on Rosh Hashanah, we devote our consciousness to conceptualizing and projecting a vision of the world in which we want to live: A world of justice, kidness, compassion, charity, healing, peace, and loving.
Close your eyes and envision a world without want, a world without suffering, a world without pain, a world without inequality, a world without inequity. Hold that vision in your mind. Imprint that vision upon your consciousness. Keep it in your mind when you wake up and when you go to sleep. When you contemplate your interactions with others. When you contemplate your activism and your work on behalf of those in need. When you’re on the barricades tomorrow, tussling with the NYPD. When you’re talking with your partner and your children. With your fellow students and coworkers. With your parents and their cranky, conservative friends. With the conservatives with whom you argue on Facebook. Keep it in mind for as long as you can, with as much intensity as you can, and in spite of every deterrent. Rise to meet that vision. Allow that vision to transform you, to transform the way you interact in the world. To transform the way you interact with yourself. Recognize the Divine in yourself, recognize the Divine in your fellow, celebrate humanity and the dignity of all humans the way you celebrate those dearest to you. And soon you will find that the world will rise to meet your vision.
May Hashem bless us with a year of prosperity and peace and the heralding of a new paradigm in which justice reigns supreme.
Happy birthday humans! Happy birthday OWS! Happy New Year! Shana tova u’metukah! Chag sameach! Peace, blessings and love to all!
Sunday, September 16, 2012
In or near Zuccotti Park, NYC (TBD)
September 17, the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, is rapidly approaching. The S17 Day of Action, which commemorates this anniversary, by chance or by fate, fortuitously falls on the Jewish high holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish New Year.
Last year, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, a Kol Nidre service was held at Occupy Wall Street, drawing an estimated 1,000 participants, and receiving international media attention. A sukkah for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot was later erected in Zuccotti Park, creating the precedent for the tent city that soon followed. These actions were the efforts of Occupy Judaism, a loose collective of Jewish activists, educators, community organizers, and everyday Janes and Joes, representing a broad spectrum of the Jewish community.
Occupy Judaism is coming together again to celebrate Occupy’s one year anniversary and the Jewish New Year together, with Occupy Rosh Hashanah. On the evening of September 16, in or near Zuccotti Park, hundreds of Jews will gather to pray and cry out for a just world, culminating in the blowing of the shofar, heralding a New Year of renewed action, and the tumbling of Wall Street like the walls of Jericho.
Just as with previous Occupy Judaism services, the Occupy Rosh Hashanah service will be pluralistic, inclusive and nondenominational. Individuals from every stream of Judaism have volunteered to help organize and facilitate services. It will also be held without a permit as an act of civil disobedience, reflecting the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive.”
Following services, there will be a kosher vegetarian potluck dinner, where guests will enjoy traditional holiday foods including pomegranates and apples and honey, as well as festive singing and dancing.
Occupy Rosh Hashanah provides Jewishly observant supporters of Occupy with a means to participate in the September 17 Day of Action without violating Jewish religious law, thereby allowing the Occupy movement to remain as inclusive as possible. This is extremely important considering recent findings that one in six households in New York City is Jewish, and one in four Jews is poor.
This event is cosponsored by Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and Jewish Voice for Peace.
For more information and to RSVP, visit the Facebook event page.
RSVP ON FACEBOOK
Remember Yom Kippur last year? Remember the power of 1,000 voices crying out in unison for social and economic justice in the language of the Hebrew prophets, from the midst of Wall Street? That definitive moment in progressive Jewish action was an expression of desire for a just world that continues to call out from within our hearts and souls. Let’s show the world that, with or without a park to occupy, we have not given up the struggle, and that we will not give up, until we have achieved the redemption of the world.
Celebrate the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street (which falls on Rosh Hashanah, September 17) and the Jewish New Year together with a potluck dinner and nondemoninational holiday service! Eat some apples and honey, learn some Occupy Torah, and ring in the New Year with a bang!
Sunday, September 16, 2012
7:30pm until 11:00pm
Zuccotti Park, NYC
Location tentative. Details TBA.
If you would like to volunteer to organize or lead services, please email email@example.com.
RSVP ON FACEBOOK
Today, Holocaust Memorial Day, the unquestionably anti-Semitic image above was posted to a Facebook Page called “#occupywallstreet,” making headlines in Israel and around the U.S..
While the Page does have 25,000+ followers, it is in fact not an official or quasi-official Occupy Wall Street Facebook Page connected to the Occupy Wall Street media team nor the NYC General Assembly. The Page claims affiliation with Occupy Tampa, but Occupy Tampa’s Facebook team has informed us that this is not the case. In other words, this image was NOT posted by Occupy Wall Street or Occupy Tampa, but by an unidentified administrator of the “#occupywallstreet” Facebook Page, a Page which appears to be operated by members of Anonymous and not by activists with boots on the ground at either Occupy Wall Street or Occupy Tampa.
Nonetheless, Occupy Wall Street has disavowed the Page, posting numerous denunciations to Twitter and Facebook.
Not aware who runs this anti-Semitic page, but it is not associated w any known #OWS activist here: facebook.com/pages/occupywa… cc: @OccupyJudaism— Justin Wedes (@justinwedes) April 19, 2012
@michellemalkin This is not our page, this is the work of a cretin in Florida who is not a part of #ows. Please get your facts straight.— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallSt) April 19, 2012
Indeed, before learning of this egregiously offensive image posted in their name, Occupy Wall Street expressed solidarity with victims and resisters of the Holocaust.
We stand with our brothers & sisters whosuffered in the #holocaust today, & we remember those who fought back: bit.ly/HVSy3s #ows— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallSt) April 19, 2012
While it is obviously distressing to see such hatred spoken in Occupy’s name, and no less distressing to know that there is no shortage of anti-Jewish bigots who have attempted to attach themselves to the Occupy movement, it is important to remember that this individual is certainly not a sanctioned representative of Occupy Wall Street in New York City, nor are his or her actions representative of Occupy Wall Street’s values. Occupy is explicitly against all forms of oppression, including anti-Jewish oppression, and does not sanction nor tolerate hate speech of any kind.
We will continue to monitor the situation and to combat anti-Semites whenever they attempt to co-opt the Occupy movement for their nefarious purposes.[Update] The “#occupywallstreet” Facebook Page has been updated with the following post:
[Update 3:35pm] A representative from Occupy Tampa has confirmed that their General Assembly has no relationship to the “#occupywallstreet” Facebook Page:
This one (here) is the only Occupy Tampa facebook page, manage it for the Occupy Tampa media working group. And our twitter account is the one that repeat all of our post made here.
They’ve also given a statement to the Algemeiner Journal.
OCCUPY FAITH/OCCUPY JUDAISM INTERFAITH FREEDOM SEDER & PALM SUNDAY PROCESSIONAL IN SOLIDARITY WITH OCCUPY WALL STREET
Sunday, April 1, beginning at 11 AM
Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Sq. South
11 AM · Palm Sunday observance and Agape meal
12 PM · Palm processional and pyramid protest
1:30 PM · Freedom Seder
RSVP on Facebook!
On April 1, 2012, members of Occupy Wall Street and New York City’s Jewish and Christian communities, including Occupy Faith NYC, Occupy Judaism, Occupy Catholics, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, The Shalom Center, Congregation Kolot Chayeinu and Judson Memorial Church, will come together for a public Palm Sunday processional and Passover Freedom Seder in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests.
The annual Jewish holiday of Passover marks the liberation of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Jerusalem, which is followed shortly thereafter by his expulsion of the moneychangers from the Holy Temple. These holidays are explicitly connected to the themes of Occupy Wall Street, which challenges the corruption of the financial elite and struggles towards the liberation of the 99% from the bonds of economic slavery.
Following a traditional Palm Sunday observance and agape meal at NYC’s historic Judson Memorial Church (55 Washington Sq. South), protesters waving palms will pilgrimage to five symbolic “pyramids of power” to tell the pharaohs of government and industry to “Let our people go!” A Chase bank will symbolize the corruption of Wall Street and Americans’ enslavement to debt; a McDonald’s will embody the inaccessibility of healthy food to the poor and working class; the Varick St. Detention Center will epitomize the evisceration of American civil liberties in the wars on terrorism and illegal immigration; a BP gas station will represent environmental devastation wrought in the callous pursuit of profit; and the NYU Financial Aid office will signify crushing student debt. At each stop, clergy will recite Biblical texts and demonstrators will reflect on the connection between these oppressions and the unyielding corruption and insatiable greed of the 1%.
Following the palm processional, protesters will return to Judson Memorial Church for an interfaith Freedom Seder, a ritual meal which uses food to symbolically evoke themes of slavery and liberation. Conceived of in 1969 by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a civil rights and environmental activist who participated in the 1961 Freedom Rides, the first Freedom Seder commemorated the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and celebrated the liberatory narrative of the Passover Haggadah by affirming the struggle for Black liberation. 43 years later, Rabbi Waskow has become a participant in and advocate for the Occupy movement – a contemporary struggle for human liberation – and will help to lead this Freedom Seder which will tie the themes of Occupy Wall Street back to the Passover liturgy.
Occupy Faith NYC is a coalition of New York City interfaith leaders supporting Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Judaism is Occupy Wall Street’s Jewish community contingent, which organized high holiday services and erected a sukkah (tabernacle) in Zuccotti Park. Jews For Racial & Economic Justice is a local NGO that addresses issues of racial and economic justice in New York City. The Philadelphia-based Shalom Center, helmed by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, advocates for social, economic and environmental justice with a prophetic Jewish voice. Congregation Kolot Chayeinu is a progressive Jewish congregation in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Judson Memorial Church is a historic New York City Christian congregation known for its leadership in the progressive faith community.