The Sacred Joy of Solidarity: A Meditation on an Act of Civil Disobedience

When one thinks of the Temple in Jerusalem one thinks of solemnity and gravity—the sacrificing of animals and incense; the Levites’ music: the push of the crowds; hopefully the presence of God. (Admittedly, most people do not think of the Temple in Jerusalem all that often, and many who do, think of Jesus and the money changers—but as a Talmud scholar and a rabbi I do think of the Temple not infrequently.) It is a bit of a shock then to find out that the Mishnah (the third century cornerstone text of rabbinic Judaism) mandated and recounted a wild, all night, annual party at the Temple. “He who never saw the Rejoicing at the Place of Water-Drawing never saw true rejoicing in their life.” This annual rave was to celebrate the seemingly technical ritual task of bringing a certain amount of water from a spring to the south of the Temple for libation on the altar. The mixture of wild partying (“Pious men and men of deeds would dance before the people with blazing torches in their hands…”) and the simple water libation must have been heady, perhaps confusing, but a party is a party and it seems that the Jerusalemites knew how to throw a party.

This all came to mind yesterday as I was milling about on Century Boulevard—at the entrance to LAX and in front of several hotels—last week, in the middle of the street, with several hundred other people, at what felt like a block party but was actually a rally, a demonstration and ultimately an act of civil disobedience. 

Several weeks ago, fifteen thousand members participated in a strike authorization vote, that is a vote to determine whether the leadership of Unite-Here Local 11—the hospitality workers’ union—had the authority to call a strike when their contracts were up. Ninety six percent of the votes were in favor of the strike authorization. The contracts are up on June 30, and management is not, according to the union, responding to their offers reasonably. The workers point to the fact that hotel profits have risen to pre-pandemic levels while salaries have stayed the same and many workers who were laid have not been rehired leading to understaffing. Understaffing leads to overworking current employees which is actually dangerous. In 2018, the California Department of Labor categorized hotel housekeepers as a “High Hazard Occupation,” as a result of the numerous lower back, calf muscle and knee joint injuries suffered by these workers. This brought in its wake some reforms and new injury prevention standard. However a 2023 study showed that these new standards brought about minimal improvement for housekeepers.

Workers also raise the fact that they cannot afford to live in Los Angeles near their place of business and therefore spend two or three hours a day traveling to and from work. Workers not able to get enough hours are not able to get health insurance which leads to complications and serious illness. All this at a time of growing profits in the industry and on the threshold of the 2028 Olympics and the FIFA World Cup games in 2026 which will bring a massive influx of tourists. 

The union called for a day of solidarity and support for the union, a shot across the bow to show how serious the workers and the community are taking this, and hundreds showed up. Almost two hundred clergy and community leaders and supporters—including two City Councilpeople—sat down in the middle of the street and refused to disperse when ordered to do so by the police, and were arrested. The street was shut down for approximately five hours. 

The atmosphere, however, was celebratory. There was a reunion feel as many of the people in the street were veterans of the numerous campaigns for labor justice and economic justice, and we greeted each other with hugs and caught up on our lives. There is also a certain type of joy that comes with a gathering of activists who are fighting for a better world. For a period of time that better world existed in the hopes and prayers and songs and chants and the bodies on the street. We had transformed a block of Century Blvd. into a sacred space for a minute. Solidarity is sacred, as the slogan on the CLUE t-shirts said. The tie of mutual responsibility; the understanding that your wellbeing is my obligation and my wellbeing is your obligation, is sacred. In the Jewish tradition we call that areivut/mutual obligation and accountability. It is sacred, but it is also joyous. 

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