What the Jewish Left Learned from Occupy

Tune in on October 12th to hear JFREJ's Executive Director, Audrey Sasson, on a panel discussion hosted by Haymarket and Jewish Currents about what the Jewish left learned from Occupy Wall Street.

This fall, the tenth anniversary of Occupy Wall Street also marks a decade since what came to be known as “Occupy Judaism,” a loose series of ritual protests that emerged at Zuccotti Park and at other Occupy encampments around the country. The most visible of these took the form of a Kol Nidre, the evening service that marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, which fell on October 7th in 2011, a few weeks into Occupy Wall Street’s short history. As the holiday approached, a group of Jewish participants in the nascent movement, led by organizer Daniel Sieradski, began planning a service to be held in a plaza across the street from Zuccotti Park. The event that is remembered as Occupy Yom Kippur drew hundreds of people and attracted considerable press attention, registering a new current in American Jewish life. Like the Freedom Seder—an interfaith, multiracial Passover meal held in Washington, DC, in 1969 on the first anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, which served as an inspiration for Sieradski—Occupy Yom Kippur repurposed Jewish ritual for public, explicitly political ends.

Occupy Yom Kippur, and the broader activities of Occupy Judaism, turned out to presage a much larger wave of left Jewish movement-building. Though most Jewish organizers at Occupy were not involved in Occupy Judaism, or in Jewish organizing more generally, many of the founders of organizations like IfNotNow first came together in Zuccotti Park; the movement’s energy also revitalized already-existing groups like Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ). Ten years ago, identity-based organizing occurred only on Occupy’s fringes, and anti-racist and anti-imperialist organizing, including around the occupation of Palestine, was pushed outside the movement’s frame altogether. But in the years since, Occupy’s limitations have impelled a generation of organizers to try to rectify its omissions, galvanizing anti-racist organizing in the US and a new wave of Palestine solidarity activism. Following a Jewish Currents oral history on the same topic, this event will explore how the contemporary Jewish left was changed—perhaps, formed—by Occupy Wall Street ten years ago.