Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 10 October 2011

Are They Taking This One Too?

First it was Channukah.  Officially a holiday reminding us of the triump of our observant ancestors over the Seleucid/Greek occupiers of Israel and their assimilated Jewish allies, the festival has become a celebration of "religious freedom" and gift giving to millions of non-religious Jews whose connection to Torah and Judaism is limited at best. 
Then it was Tikun Olam.  Officially a legal term referring to those measures and bylaws needed to ensure society works well, it has become in the hands of the non-religious a catch-all phrase to represent those virtues secular liberal society holds dear like feminism and ecocrusading.
Now it seems Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur are starting to undergo the process of being co-opted by those who desire a connection to Jewish nationhood and history but not through the proper channels of Torah learning and mitzvah observance.
This story, for example, shows how the "trendy" crowd is starting to latch onto Kol Nidrei and turn it into another day of "social awareness":
It's rare that Mae Singerman, a self-described secular Jew who grew up in a Reform family, observes Yom Kippur by praying, fasting or attending synagogue.

But at sundown on Friday, the 27-year-old from Brooklyn planned to join hundreds of other Jews at the Occupy Wall Street demonstration for Kol Nidre, the opening service of Yom Kippur that starts the holiest time on the Jewish calendar.
"For me, it's about bringing my Jewish identity and my politics together," said Singerman, who has participated in several anti-capitalism protests in recent years and visited the demonstration at Zuccotti Park for the first time last week. "Having a Jewish service or ceremony brings more Jews who wouldn't necessarily come. I know people coming tonight who are pretty skeptical about Occupy Wall Street but are willing to give it a try because of the Yom Kippur service."
Organized mostly via Facebook over the last week, the Kol Nidre service starts at 7 p.m. across from the downtown park where demonstrations have occurred since mid-September. Almost 500 people have RSVP'd on Facebook, although at least a few dozen of them are out-of-towners who are just showing their support.
The service, led by rabbis and students from several Jewish traditions, has been endorsed by Jewish organizations such as Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and the Shalom Center. The Rabbinical Assembly, an association of Conservative Rabbis, has donated 100 prayer books for the service, and organizers say that the Battery Park Synagogue and Chabad of Wall Street have welcomed holy-day observers who spend the night at the protest camp to come pray at Saturday services. Similar Kol Nidre services have also been planned in Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Daniel Sieradski, one of the service's organizers who has been participating in the Occupy Wall Street demonstration, said he was inspired to arrange for the Yom Kippur service by a part of the haftarah from the Hebrew Bible, which is typically read the first morning of Yom Kippur.
"You can fast for a day, you cover yourself in ashes, you can wear a sack cloth, but who cares if you are not out there feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, breaking the bonds of oppression?" said Sieradski, paraphrasing Isaiah 58:5.
"I am less concerned about halacha, Jewish law, and traditional observance than I am about the prophetic character of recognizing the divine in my fellow human being," said Sieradski, who also plans to observe the Jewish holiday of Sukkot at the demonstration.
While Sieradski said he does not plan to sleep over at the encampment Friday night, Nom, a 23-year-old Talmud student, said she plans to spend the night there with a group of friends to start her Yom Kippur observance. She will walk two hours to her upper Manhattan home on Saturday morning to attend synagogue.
"Part of Yom Kippur is that you are supposed to review the past year to see what you can improve about yourself and your community. I am seeing right now that I live in a country where homes are being foreclosed, where people are losing jobs and people are suffering," said Nom, who did not wish to give her last name.
"We're hoping the people up top can do some sort of teshuva. It literally means 'return,' but the whole point is that one specifically in the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will admit their wrongdoings and ask for forgiveness," she said. "We are putting ourselves out there. and so should Wall Street. They should have the opportunity to review their actions and change."
While others have pointed out the idiocy of these protestors far more eloquently than I can, there are a few points that could easily be made from the Jewish perspective.
The first is the absolute hypocrisy of these protestors.  Using Facebook to organize?  Isn't that a large multi-million dollar corporation, the kind they're angry with?  I'm willing to bet that they checked for updates using Iphones, Blackberries and other smartphones running on the Android operating system, again all produced by giant corporations that are supposedly evil.  Like the rioters in England a few months back, claims about concern for the way corporations are running roughshod over society tend to get undermined when the prostestors openly rely on many of those corporations to coordinate their activities.
Then there's the open misuse of the word "Judaism" to describe activities that are not in the least Jewish.  Consider Mae Silverman's statements at the start of the article.  This is, according to the story, a woman who has never observed Yom Kippur properly but is now prepared to start but not in order to do any kind of chesbon hanefesh, but rather to blame someone else, anyone else like corporate America, for all of society's problems.  I'm willing to bet Mae Silverman has benefitted quite a bit from capitalism throughout her life although she doesn't seem to have enough insight to realize that her "anti-capitalism" protests are merely biting the hand that feeds.
Then there's Daniel Sieradski who is quoted as saying that he's not interested in any of the obligations that Judaism demands of its followers, just in regurgitating selective verses from the prophet of his choice that fits his agenda.  It's interesting that he picked Isaiah consider that this particular prophet had a great deal to say about the importance of Jewish law and tradition.  Does Sieradski also consider those verses important? 
Finally there's the statement: Part of Yom Kippur is that you are supposed to review the past year to see what you can improve about yourself and your community - that shows these protestors have no clue what Yom Kippur. 
Like a spouse in a dysfunctional marriage, it's all about "them", not "me".  How do I improve myself and my community?  By blaming Wall Street, corporate America, and capitalism for all my problems.  Do I work to improve them myself?  But I'm not at at fault!  Do I go out and become part of the system so I can constructively change it?  Nah!  They might expect me to actually show up on time for work and put in a hard day of it.  It's far easier to deride, insult and protest from a distance, all the while living quite well from the benefits of the system that I hate so much.
To all these people, please find something else to call your new religion and holiday.  The words "Judaism" and "Kol Nidre" are taken.


SJ said...

There's probably some people from Wall Street who should be in jail but there is corruption in all levels of government also. Local state and federal. The federal government especially does not magically become squeaky clean because B. Hussein Obama from Chicago is there. Singling out wall street solves nothing.

Bob Miller said...

The point of these rallies is to create a socialist state, irrespective of that model's abject failure worldwide.

Shades of Grey said...

I totally agree with the misuse and frank abuse of Jewish texts and ideologies for causes that have no basis in our tradition and/or are clearly harmful for humanity as a whole. The personal modification of "Judaism" to suit their individual beliefs and philosophies is utterly insulting to the sources they claim to be inspired by.

As a rebbe of mine once said while I was in Israel, by way of a mashul: if you ask me to play basketball with you, but stipulate that you get to simply run with the ball and not dribble because of achy elbows and wrists, along with merely reaching the other end of the court instead of shooting baskets because of weak upper arm strength and bad eyesight - I'm still happy to play the game with you, but please don't call it basketball.

Reform and Conservatism are just that and that lone. Adding "Judaism" to their official titles simply confuses and distorts things for everyone (especially those who legitimatley care about halacha and mesora).

Horrid Penguin said...

Like many, they cherry pick among the elements of Judaism to suit themselves.
If Hillel, then ALL of Hillel. If Shammai, then ALL of Shammai.

I do the same - but I do not assert that it is Judaism, or Judaic. But then, I do not claim to be Jewish either.

I rather wish they would find something else to call their religion - the Dutch word 'Hutspot' comes to mind - but a good hutspot is soundly constructed, not jury-rigged out of whatever seemed shiny at the moment.

JRKmommy said...

The Isaiah quote is appropriate. Yom Kippur is about more than fasting - it's about true introspection and changing out ways.

However, you are correct that the real problem of the protests is that it doesn't involve genuine change and introspection. If bank CEOs came back from shul crying and saying "I was wrong for leading us into the subprime loan business and bundling bad mortgages", that would be more in line with the teaching of Isaiah. For the crowds, the issues should be "what regulations do we want in place, and to what extent are we willing to accept fiscal reality and give up the illusion of a lifestyle built upon excess debt?"