Together with thousands of New York Jews who gathered near Zuccotti park on Erev Yom Kippur, Libby Lenkinski took part in a unique, spiritual occasion
By Libby Lenkinski
It is Yom Kippur 2011, and I get to say “I was there.” Visiting New York, I decided to forego the typical New York synagogue service and instead participated in a Kol Nidre service (the opening prayers for Yom Kippur) at the Occupy Wall Street site that a friend of mine organized. And it was a momentous occasion.
Thousands of New York Jews stood together in a circle around the red cube near Zuccatti park – in the center was a group of cantors who led the Kol Nidre service. They combined combined classic Ashkenazi prayer tunes with revival-style call and response sections. People of all ages, persuasions, races and genders attended, and I was awed. Because I live in Israel, I have become accustomed to making the choice between religious and progressive, where progressive means secular. There is no option for a progressive expression of spiritual or religious Judaism for me. Certainly not one that also takes place within the context of a community. And certainly not a diverse community of Jewish activists. Tonight I was there.
For those who weren’t in New York, here are some of the outstanding moments of the service, which I’d like to share:
This prayer – about blessing the moment – was done in traditional Ashkenazi tone. More than anything else, while chanting this prayer, I looked toward the organizers, who looked to this crowd that they managed to amass and noticed the ricochet of appreciation bouncing back and forth marking this moment – when people challenged their routines and assumptions and did something different.
The cantors led this prayer, one that appears toward the end of Jewish services, in an unusual way. Participants were invited to shout out something that they were committing to for this year to make the world better, then all those in the crowd who commit to the same thing called back in unison “aleinu.” Some commitments that I remember:
I will stand up against those in power even when it is intimidating. Especially when it is intimidating.
I will work for health care for all.
We will hold ourselves accountable for the occupation of Palestine
I will challenge each and every assumption that enters my mind
I will call my mother
- Yom Kippur is the happiest day of the year.
In a reading about why Yom Kippur is the happiest day of the year, I noticed the following: Because it is the day of forgiveness.
Because it forces you to be here, now.
At one point, the cantors offered five minutes for “other practices that you might like” before coming back together. People hugged. People chanted. People did a bit of yoga, tai-chi, meditation.
After the service, while chatting with friends, one woman said “but how do we harness this and do something with it?” My feeling, based on the Israeli summer is that the energy takes care of itself – and that movements grow and build themselves out of this energy without being “harnessed.” My hope on this Yom Kippur is that tonight’s Kol Nidrei was just the beginning, for Jews and for all people in this movement.
Libby Lenkinski is a Tel Aviv based human rights activist and works as the Director of International Relations at the Association for Civil rights in Israel (ACRI)