Occupy Wall Street and the Jews
On the eve of Yom Kippur, Jews across New York City hurriedly finished their pre-fast meals before dashing to synagogue for Kol Nidre services. But on that night in October, several hundred Jews foreswore synagogue and headed to an obscure park in the Wall Street district where a protest claiming to represent the exploited 99 percent of society against the exploitative 1 percent was in its third week. A protest that, along with its sister protests across the nation, would become marred with incidents of murder and suicide, sexual assault and rape, violence, drug use, theft, bullying, public defecation, indecent exposure, defacement of American flags, littering, and disease—even tuberculosis.
A Kol Nidre service was being held there.
By that point in the brief lifespan of the Occupy Wall Street protest, disturbing comments and placards directed against Jews and Israel had been on display on a daily basis and had, understandably, become a matter of interest to Jewish commentators and a cause of concern for Jewish communities and others in the city and across the nation.
What did Jews and Israel have to do with protests ostensibly intended to focus the nation’s attention on domestic economic issues? And why, despite the apparent hostility toward them and the Jewish state, were Jews so involved?
The Yom Kippur service, the Sukkoth that followed several days later, a Simchat Torah celebration that followed the Sukkoth, Shabbat dinners, a prayer meeting to mark the onset of the new Jewish month—all were held not only to help those Jews who had chosen to take up residence at Zuccotti Park practice their faith, but also to lend the Occupy Wall Street protest a religiously Jewish coloration.
Even now, following the removal of the Occupiers from the park and from similar makeshift protest locations across the country, three salient issues demand consideration by anyone, Jewish or non-Jewish, concerned with contemporary anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism—and all the more so in light of rumors that the protests may return with force after a winter hibernation. First is the extent of the anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism at the protests. Second is the role Jews played in the protests. And third is the question of the connection between the protests and Judaism itself.