Occupying Judaism at Occupy Boston
For the past few weeks, hundreds of Bostonians have made Dewey Square their temporary residence as they stand in solidarity with the Occupy Boston movement. They are everyone from bright-eyed college students to tired business owners; everyone from musicians to hipsters to curious travelers. Occupy Boston is where high school drop-outs discuss politics with the academic elite, steadfast Christians meditate with diehard atheists, and street musicians rock out with businessmen on their lunch break. Amid a sea of muted red, green, blue, and gray tents, posters that shout “silence is compliance” and “fight the rich, not their wars,” and the constant humming of a megaphone, Occupy Boston is a sit-in, a teach-in, and a critical protest all at once.
The movement has rippled through conversations on the T and shouted from the headlines of our newspapers; it has become a significant part of our collective consciousness as Bostonians and—for me—as a Jew.
I started out as a bystander. I’d pass by Occupy Boston in my work clothes, clutching my purse as I joined the throng of commuters en route to their 9-5 jobs. I poked around the perimeter of the campsite, but couldn’t seem to find my place inside. I was afraid to give in to the idea that Occupy Boston could perhaps affect any sort of change. But I was proven wrong when I decided to attend Shabbat services in Occupy Boston’s Sukkah last Friday night.
During the eight day festival of Sukkot, Jews are commanded to spend time in fragile outdoor huts to commemorate the dwellings of similar fashion that the Israelites built while wandering the desert. So, on Sukkot, we are reminded of the fragility and transient nature of life itself, and are forced to spend time outside in order to discover that protection does not come from the steady foundations of a house, but instead from the community surrounding us.
With that in mind, I trudged out of South Station in the pouring rain on Friday night, my clothes positively drenched and my hair matted unforgivingly across my rain-soaked face. The sun was quickly setting on a bleak landscape—the campsite was dirty, muddy, and in need of some sprucing up. Dewey Square was filled to capacity, and tents were spilling out into the neighboring greenways. Among the mess, though, was an oasis—the Sukkah. Slightly lopsided, with some tears in its fabric walls, it stood—fragile and vulnerable—against the fierce wind and heavy rain. I huddled up against two strangers and shared my umbrella as we lit the Shabbat candles together.
I could have easily walked to my synagogue for Kaballat Shabbat, where I know all of the people and can confidently sing all of the prayers. But there was something very special going on in Dewey Square that night, as sixty or so people came together and huddled under a sea of umbrellas, stomping our feet in the thick mud as we belted out the traditional Shabbat nigguns. As we prayed together, participants were invited to share poems, reflections, and stories—effectively weaving together the guiding principles of Shabbat and Sukkot with the ideals behind Occupy Boston. It was a unique turning point in my experience as a city-dwelling Jew; for once, I felt part of something bigger than myself, bigger than anything my synagogue could offer. I felt part of a Jewish community where everyone—from non-observant Jews to Rabbinical school students, from kids in high school to elderly couples, from those who knew every prayer to those who could just hum along—felt loved, supported, and part of a larger community. This is not your college Hillel, or your Reform synagogue, or your women’s prayer circle; this is a group of people who want to push themselves outside of what they already know. For the time being, this will be my community—my Sukkah.
Judaism was my “in” to the Occupy Boston movement, but there are so many other ways to get involved. It’s easy to be intimidated by the size and scope of Occupy Boston; with a little effort, though, you can find your niche. On a given day, one can practice reiki meditation with a group of students, attend a meeting for an alternative lifestyle group, help prepare a community meal, share political musings while standing on a soap box, or meet with others to discuss arts and culture initiatives—all within the confines of this makeshift campsite in downtown Boston. Don’t see something that fits your interests? Grab a friend and make it happen!
I encourage you to come down to Dewey Square and find your own community at Occupy Boston. I certainly did, and I’ll be back this Friday for Shabbat Services. For more information on the Jewish happenings at Occupy Boston, check out their facebook group.
I hope to see you there, or to hear about your experiences with the movement!
Photo from Occupy Judaism Boston facebook page