Friday October 7th, 7:15 AM: I wake up to a text message. It’s Eli Kasargod-Staub. He wanted to see if we could get together a kol nidrei service like the one being planned in NYC by Mobius et al. We had less than 10 hours before sunset.
8:30am: The facebook invite goes up.
Mid-day: E-mails zip around, people keep inviting folks, RSVPs roll in.
5:30pm: People start rolling in. A torah arrives from the Religious Action Center. A table pops up from the AFL-CIO. Max Socol brings a table.
6:00pm: People are still streaming in as Alys Cohen starts to sing a niggun.
With just a few hours to prepare, like other OccupyJudaism events, we thought we’d be lucky to get a minyan. What ended up happening was truly shocking. Within a few hours 69 people RSVPed and roughly 200 showed up. The ages ranges from a baby (9-months) to many folks in their 70s (perhaps even 80s). We had professional activists, students, people living in the OccupyKst camp, Jewish communal workers, think-tank-types, and even a few corporate lawyers. Some donned kittels, white kippot and/or tallitot, others attended in none of the conventional trappings. Since we were in McPherson Square, a busy plot right, smack, in the middle of downtown DC, there was a lot of bustle around us. We drew in near around the table (thanks AFL-CIO!) on which the Torah (thanks Religious Action Center!) sat. Used to praying Kol Nidre in straight rows of chairs, being so closely packed, shoulder-to-shoulder, with fellow supplicants was a new experience.
The davening was powerful. We used much of the same material as the Kol Nidre service happening at OccupyWallSt (thanks team NYC!). Speaking personally, I think of Yom Kippur as a time to disrupt our lives so we can gain a deeper understanding. This Kol Nidrei did a lot to disrupt people’s understanding of Judaism and what it could mean in their lives. Many came up to me afterward and shared that it had been the most powerful, meaningful, exciting, or surprising YK experience they had everhad . It was certainly all of those things to me.