Culture, Politics, Religion

Occupy Kol Nidrei NY: "The fallacy that gold is God!"

(Photo by David A.M. Wilensky (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0))
My friend Getzel Davis, a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Boston, delivered a tremendous sermon at the Occupy Wall Street Kol Nidrei here in New York.
All English during the service had to be shouted in short phrases, then shouted back by the crowd. (This is in keeping with the protesters who also use this method because they have no sound permit.) I vote that all sermons should be delivered in this fashion from here on out. I’ve never been among a congregation paying such rapt attention to a sermon.
Anyway, presented here in its entirety is Getzel’s sermon. Just imagine what it sounded like broken into short bits, shouted out in a call and shouted back in a response.
Getzel Davis about an hour before Occupy Kol Nidrei (Photo by David A.M. Wilensky (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0))

Friends – we are here tonight to celebrate the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur has been misunderstood to be a sad day. But really, an early rabbinic texts calls Yom Kippur one of the two happiest days of the year. What makes this day happy? It is the day of forgiveness. This is what Yom Kippor means “The Day of Forgiveness.”

According to our myth, Yom Kippur is the day that we are forgiven for worshipping the golden calf. What is the golden calf? It is the essence of idol worship. It the fallacy that gold is God. How do we become forgiven for worshiping gold?

I believe that G!d is infinitely forgiving. The harder question is how we forgive ourselves. How can we forgive ourselves for failing to live up to our own ideals? How can we forgive ourselves for failing to recognize others’ humanity? How can we forgive ourselves for remaining silent for so long in the face of injustice?

Forgiveness is important because once we can mourn our mistakes then we are no longer ruled by them. We are free to create things anew.

This is what Kol Nidreh is about. It is releasing ourselves from the oaths that we mistakenly took.

When people think about oaths, they usually think of verbal promises. In Judaism though, most of our oaths are “Chazakas” – or oaths taken through repeated action. By doing things again and again, we make internal promises about how we want to live. Other names for these might be habits, preferences, or addictions. These chazakas rule our lives, making things simpler by allowing us to live on autopilot .

The problem with this is that while chazakas are easy, they are often not skillful. It is easier to not make waves. It is easier to not make eye contact with those suffering. It is easier to trust others to run society. It is easier to sit on our butts.

Tonight, you are offered all the internal freedom that you can imagine. How do you want to live the next moments of
your life? Do you want to love more? Do you want to be more joyous? Do you want to speak your truth? What does
your truth say?

Yom Kippur is the happiest day of the year because it gives us the radical option of being here now. We don’t work. We don’t eat. We don’t drink. We don’t have sex. We dress in white robes.

We do these things because Yom Kippur is a ritual death. It is the way that we allow our old selves to die.

Tomorrow, when we break our fasts, we step into newness. We step into being the people we want to be and not just the people we have been.

You know friends, it is hard not to worship gold, or power, or any of the other idols that our society shoves down our throats. I believe that this is why the Torah tells us that there is something else created in the image of G!d.


In the first chapter of Genesis the first human was created in the image of G!d If we need something to serve here on earth, we are given humanity. Service to humankind is sacred and a reflection of service of G!d.

16 thoughts on “Occupy Kol Nidrei NY: "The fallacy that gold is God!"

  1. Actually, our deity is a god with a lower-case g. Thought our deity is the God with a capital G.
    But yeah, I’m not a fan of that G!d, G-d etc. stuff. I just copied that from Getzel’s Facebook note about his sermon.

  2. Am I the only one who thought the live music, singing and dancing at the end were contrary to the spirit of YK? I mean…. I’m a liberal Jew and all, but any activity that causes folks to laugh and giggle can’t be all that kosher.

  3. @jew guevara –
    as getzel said, yom kippur is the happiest day of the year. the rabbis say is it yom ki-purim, a day like purim.
    the highest and holiest dancing and singing and deepest soulfulest laughing of my life were on yom kippur.

  4. JG- some of the happiest singing and dancing I’ve done is at Hadar’s YK services, and I certainly can’t accuse them of being hippies. I mean, I could, but I’d be wrong.

  5. According to the Kabbalah, the Creator gave us the evil inclinations as well as the torah for humankind to use for reforming them. These evil weed seeds, were purposely implanted within our desire to make us crave gold. This spiritual light that reforms, that cleanses our heart and gardens our spirit, is one that takes us back to the source of everything good.
    As chairman of the Weed Out Hate Initiative, I have been advocating that the President and First Lady stage a weed out hate event on the White House grounds and from that venue call on every child in the world to pull out a symbolic weed. With all of the energy in OccupyWallstreet, I would like to start a dialog with Getzel Davis. Just think of the symbolism asking everyone in the crowds there as well as the insiders of Wall Street to collectively weed out hate. Potentially, we could all channel the protest energy into a kind of spiritual evolution, in which all of us would begin to occupy the inner ecology of the spirit. This would be a striking and symbolic method for springing our Yom Kippur intention to life.

  6. @—invisible_hand: “me kamocha B’ELIM adonai”
    @Ruby K: I’m horrified at public expressions of joy on YK. That’s what the 29th of November is for!

    1. Jew Guevara writes:
      @Ruby K: I’m horrified at public expressions of joy on YK. That’s what the 29th of November is for!
      That’s my birthday, so I can’t argue with that!

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