Here's Why I Was Arrested as a Rabbi-in-Training in Solidarity with Standing Rock
[icon-box icon=location]Read more about Jewish activism for Standing Rock.[/icon-box]This past Wednesday, members of the Philadelphia Jewish community gathered in prayer and protest to answer a call for solidarity from Native leaders currently resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) near Standing Rock reservation, North Dakota. I was among the nine rabbis, rabbinical students and Jewish community members arrested in an act of civil disobedience at TD Bank, which is financing part of the pipeline’s construction.
I took action because the stakes at this moment are high. DAPL construction has destroyed sacred Native sites and inches closer and closer to the Missouri river, a key source of freshwater for the Standing Rock Tribe and 8 million others. Militarized police have protected the destruction of Native land, using tear gas, rubber bullets and tanks on peaceful, prayerful Water Protectors. Our message to TD and Wells Fargo, another DAPL funder, is simple: As long as the repression of Native peoples fighting to protect their water and land continues, there will be no business as usual.
As 200 community members gathered on Wednesday, we took part in Jewish rituals to welcome in the month of Cheshvan, the time of year where we pray for water. We wore blue as we sang Tefilat HaGeshem, the prayer for rain, and named the vital necessity of water for our bodies and for our planet. Our ritual became action as we added those protecting water to our prayers. We brought in the words of indigenous activist Winona LaDuke who said of DAPL: “They call this energy independence…shoving a pipeline down people’s throats, so that Canadian oil companies can benefit and…the world can worsen. That is not energy independence…energy independence is when you have some control over your future. That’s what these people want.”
In last week’s Torah portion we connect with similar wisdom through the Tower of Babel story. Tradition tells us God destroyed the tower humanity had built once people began to care more about its construction than about human life: “If a person fell and died they paid no attention, but if a brick fell they sat and wept” (Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 24:7). Through this story, Judaism reminds us that human life, and the water that makes life possible, is never to be sacrificed for the construction of a thing. Allowing those funding the pipeline to go about their daily business means the continuation of our country’s deep history of sacrificing land, health and lives in the name of extracting resources from the ground.
When the Tower of Babel was destroyed, the nations scattered throughout the earth and one language became many. I act in solidarity alongside my Jewish community in order to stay rooted in my own language. Grounded in my stories, I can better see both that this story of sacred resistance belongs to the Native people on the front lines, and that I have a real stake in it. Whether we say Wni Miconi in Lakota or Va’u Mayim ahd Nefesh in Hebrew, we follow the Water Protectors because we know the truth all who have survived have known: Water is Life.
Here’s how you can stand with the Water Protectors during this crucial time:
1) Donate to leaders on the ground. Donations for bail funds and legal support are the priority right now. Please give and encourage people to give, for example to:
- Oceti Sakowin Camp
- Red Warrior Camp Legal Fund
- Red Owl Legal Collective
- Winterize Water Protectors Camp by Waste Win Young
2) Participate in the Day of Jewish Public Fasting, Learning and Action for Standing Rock on November 10th.
3) Plan a Jewish Solidarity with Standing Rock Action in your city (Ritual Guide created by the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinic Council).