Last Friday night, the sounds of protest in the financial district mingled with those of Shabbat prayers when 25 demonstrators gathered to put a Jewish stamp on their solidarity with the month-old “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration against corporate greed and bank bailouts.
Occupy Wall Street is increasingly drawing a Jewish presence, from white-collar professionals to a latter-day Emma Goldman to the old-line labor organizations. Their diversity reflects the eclectic nature of the protest itself, which has brought veteran demonstrators, neo-hippies and jobless young people together in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park.
“I’m with them in other ways too, but this was one act of solidarity by the Jewish community,” said Daniel Sieradski, 32, who organized a Shabbat potluck complete with vegetarian chili, challah and grape juice, on the corner of Broadway and Cedar, near where the protesters were holding their twice-daily “General Assembly” meeting to review their progress and talk about tactics. His next act: a Kol Nidre service this Friday night.
The hundreds gathered in the park to march, orate, sleep, draw, strategize, dance and smoke have refused to appoint a leader or spokesperson and have created a functioning commune with the feel of a carnival. Hygiene is of necessity minimal, and piercings prevail, but at the edges of pallets and air mattresses sit knots of serious young people using Robert’s Rules of Order to thrash out principles and plot strategy. How to formulate a catchphrase? How to spread it? Armbands?
“If Emma Goldman were alive today she’d be down here, and she’d be at the front of the line,” said Miriam Rosenberg Rocek, 25, who has been working as a medic at the demonstration since the second day and has already been arrested twice, once mere blocks away from where her heroine, Goldman herself, was arrested in Union Square in 1893.
As an enthusiast of the “steampunk” subculture, which celebrates Victorian aesthetics and technology, Rocek frequently dresses up as the Jewish atheist and political radical and makes speeches in character. She plans to do so on Thursday in Zuccotti Park.
“I don’t want to be lecturing people about politics,” she explains. “I want to be engaging people about politics in a fun way.”
In addition to medical care offered by volunteers like Rocek, Occupy Wall Street provides its participants with hot meals, legal advice and a lending library of hundreds of books — marked “OWS Library” across the covers, yet. On Tuesday at noon, kitchen workers called for volunteers to serve lunch, while other protesters hunched industriously amid towers of Amazon.com cartons. Addressed to Occupy Wall Street, the packages (donated by individuals, not the online superstore) carried donated supplies like granola bars and blankets to a post office box at the UPS store across the street. Supporters across the country know what to send by following the demonstration’s Twitter feed, said one worker as he logged the boxes’ contents on a clipboard.
“We’ve seen that this is a movement that has legs,” said Martin Schwartz, executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee, which along with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice will join an official Occupy Wall Street march starting at City Hall on Wednesday at about 5 pm. “The issues they’re talking about are things that we’ve been talking about for many years.”
Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the West Village LGBT synagogue, is also joining the march after a sign-making session at the shul. The Jewish Labor Committee is reaching out to its allies in synagogues to urge them to participate as well, and is encouraging its members and supporters to participate in the related rallies that are sprouting in cities like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
Sieradski, a self-described “cause media entrepreneur,” told The Jewish Week he has seen some placards at Occupy Wall Street that are critical of Israel, and was attacked online when he said the protest should focus on domestic issues. But on Tuesday afternoon, the only placard with any Jewish content was a magic marker rendering of the prophet’s call to pursue justice, scrawled on the top of a pizza box. Most of the signs scattered about the park emphasized economic themes, urging passerby to cancel their accounts with Bank of America, to stop smoking and free their bodies and to “Let us realize a society based on HUMAN NEEDS and not HEDGE FUND PROFITS.”
Jewish Week Intern Gabriela Geselowitz contributed to this article.