Occupy Judaism — Jews and the Occupy DC movement

K Street Sukkah

To learn more about Jewish involvement in Occupy DC / K Street, please see:

…………………………………

Stephen Richer is President and Co-Founder of GTJ.  The opinions expressed in this piece are his own; they do not represent an institutional stance.

Spamalot famously sang that “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway… if you don’t have any Jews.”

The same could be said about political and social movements.  From Communism to the American Civil Rights movement, Jewish participation is seemingly necessary for social upheaval.  As reported by the Washington Jewish Week’s Adam Kredo, “When Jews show up, you know it’s serious.”

Accordingly, it’s no surprise then that Jews are heavily involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement and its national satellites (including Occupy DC / Occupy K Street).  On Yom Kippur, the Jewish demonstrators of Occupy Wall Street held a massive Kol Nidre service, and here in DC a Kol Nidre service attracted approximately 150 attendants.

To keep the “Occupy Judaism” movement alive, local DC Jews built a Sukkah amidst the sleeping tents in McPherson Square and filled it with Jewish protesters, services, and range of classes.  I attended a discussion on Judaism and equality and a Monday evening discussion on Judaism and environmental justice taught by Joelle Novey of Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light.

Like the larger Occupy movement, there is no central organizing power behind the DC branch of Occupy Judaism.  Organizations such as Jews United For Justice and Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light have been supportive, but it’s mostly fallen on the shoulders of individuals:  Zach Teutsch, Virginia Spatz, Rabbi Elizabeth Richman, Max Socol, Rebecca Ennen, and Eli Kasargod-Staub are a few of the key players in the movement.

But not all Jews are on the side of Occupy Judaism.  Dovid Efune objects to what he sees as “OWS’s hijack [of] Jewish teachings as a means to further their political goals.”  And in The American Thinker, Fay Voshell complains that Occupy Judaism is perniciously trying to “further radicalize Judaism.”  Perhaps this is only natural for a religion that is often described by the maxim “Two Jews, three opinions,” but in many past instances, such as the Civil Rights movement, almost all Jews fell on one side of the political coin.

This time is different.  It’s different first because many American Jews still don’t know what the Occupy movement stands for.  Is it about soaking the rich?  Or is it about preventing further bailouts of private entities (banks, auto companies, mortgage owners) with public money?  It’s also different because this time Jews make up a significant part of the established/protested class.  Banks are of course the prime example, but the movement also rails against the federal government, a place where Jews are no longer strangers.

Jewish representation in banks has unfortunately raised the specter of anti-Semitism.  The most potent symbols of anti-Semitism are the New York demonstrators who continue to hold signs suggesting that all banks are owned by Jews and that we are all victims of an elaborate Jewish plot.  Still, others insist that anti-Semitism in the Occupy movement has spread beyond these fringe crazies (see, e.g., Voshell,  Abe Greenwald, and Jennifer Rubin).

I’m sure Voshell, Greenwald, and Rubin are correct in identifying anti-Semitic actors, but I’d be very hesitant to label the movement anti-Semitic or say that it is somehow sympathetic to anti-Semitism.   Just as one swallow does not make a spring, nor one racist Tea Partier make the whole Tea Party racist, so a handful of anti-Semites can’t color the entire Occupy movement.  Additionally, in the time I spent at Occupy DC / K Street, I saw zero evidence of anti-Semitism (although it must be noted that the majority of anti-Semitism accusations have stemmed from the New York protests).

But say what you will about anti-Semitism, it seems that Occupy movement is here to stay for at least a while (until November 2012?), and given past precedent, I would bet that Jews will continue to be hyper involved on both sides of the movement.

To learn more about Jewish involvement in Occupy DC / K Street, please see: