Culture, Politics, Religion

Rabbis Looking to Speak about Occupy Wall Street

Urgent question:  Anyone out there have a concise statement about Occupy Wall Street that would be a show of solidarity with the protesters.  I need one suitable for a rabbi to read to his/her congregants on Kol Nidre this coming Friday night.  The Collective Statement of the Protesters is a powerful manifesto, but the strong tone of confrontation on a night that stresses self reflection does not feel in the spirit of vidui (confessing sins) and forgiveness.  If a well crafted statement that acknowledges the galvanized efforts of people around the country around the issues of economic justice and corporate responsibility exists, it should find its way to many pulpits this Yom Kippur.

10 thoughts on “Rabbis Looking to Speak about Occupy Wall Street

  1. To be read alongside the introduction to the vidui (the communal confession of sin):
    We confess our sins together on this holy night as a world-wide Jewish community. Our list of transgressions must include our acknowledgement of pervasive economic inequity. We have witnessed unchecked corporate greed that demeans our most central Jewish value: the dedication to the needs of society’s most vulnerable.
    We have heard much in recent days of “Occupy Wall Street,” a peaceful assembly of citizens demanding a return to economic justice. At this, our tradition’s season of self-assessment and personal change, we join them in committing ourselves to living the words of our prophet Isaiah. We will work toward a society that values people over short-term financial gain. A system driven by justice rather than self-interest. A world that rejects oppression as it strives for equality.

  2. It seems to me that as Jews speaking to Jews we owe it to ourselves to honestly and openly struggle with out complicity in economic injustice. So many of the Wall Street leaders who benefited from the increasing inequality, the fed leaders who made it easier for financiers to agglomerate wealth previously headed for working people, and so many of the policy makers who eased restrictions, cute services, and cut the taxes that helped balance the playing field were Jews. As a community we have been slow to confront ourselves and quick to build more beautiful buildings. We have been quick to welcome donations and slow to hold each other accountable. Moral clarity doesn’t pay the bills but moral bankruptcy certainly is a greater threat than foreclosure. As a community we ought to take this chance to revaluate what is really important. That is what YK is about. We should admit our personal and collective failures. We live in a rich country where people starve. Many in this room are in the 1% nearly all in the wealthiest 3%. We aren’t observers, we are beneficiaries of the abuses our brothers and sisters in the Occupy Wall St movement are bringing to light. Let us be in solidarity with them. To do so, we must acknowledge that wealth will not make us happy, that no one wishes they worked more when they reflect on their lives, and that we need to put people above profits in our lives every day. We need structural change, but we also need personal change.

    1. zt writes:
      that no one wishes they worked more when they reflect on their lives
      I don’t think this part fits the rest of it. Part of the problem with the massive inequality is that the people at the top of the income distribution aren’t necessarily working more than the (employed) people at the bottom of it.

  3. ZT and Laura – THank you – this is exactly what I was looking for. I will use parts if not all of this.

  4. ZT I think that what you wrote crosses the line from Collective Vidui Poetic Style into inappropriately blaming We The Jews for the economic crisis and structural inequality. Aren’t there enough folks out there already extrapolating from the over-representation of Jews in the finance industry? And is it possibly within 500 miles of accurate to state “many in this room are in the 1%” in any generic shul in the country? I’d rather beat my chest for actual communal sins, including some you mentioned — accepting donations from foul sources, not acting more on behalf of people who need more, not paying enough attention to what’s happening in society the way the prophets wanted us to, etc.

  5. @Chillul Who:
    46% of Jewish households in the U.S. make$100,000 or more:
    This is the most of any religious group in the US (though quite comparable to Hindus). 100k+ is the highest breakout category. If we assume that Jews have the same breakdown among 100k earners as the population at large (which is probably not true, but I don’t have the data to make a more precise claim) then about 10% of Jews are in the top 1%. About 35% of Jews would clock in at 94th percentile or higher. Of course, this would vary a lot synagogue to synagogue. Shul in NYC for instance, probably have many more 1%ers than shuls in Indianapolis.
    As Jews, once we recognize that we have played a disproportionate role, it is important to ask whether Judaism had anything to do with it. I am not staking a position that it did (or didn’t) since I don’t have the data to, but I think it is a fair question.

  6. Assuming the accuracy of your statistical extrapolations (which aren’t the whole story bc of the extremely low family size average among Jews in the US, etc), you’re identifying the entire Jewish community with these 10%, and the sins of the 1% as applying to the Jewish community. I think it’s more accurate to identify the Jewish community with its 90% (including in NYC, which has one of the highest rates of Jewish poverty in the country) and talk to a shul about their own real lives and space for teshuvah, instead of the lives of their abnormally wealthy coreligionists. Don’t the small minority of extremely rich Jews get enough oversized attention in the Jewish community as it is, with Jews of normal means (and kal-ve-chomer economically-struggling Jews) ignored and unacknowledged?

  7. The rate of 1%ers is much much higher in NYC then elsewhere in the US–I presume this is also true of Jews in NYC. That isn’t to say that there isn’t also poverty, just to say that positioning Jews as merely spectators isn’t quite right either. I tend to prefer taking responsibility.

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