Thursday, October 27, 2011

Recently, we are in the midst of the festival of Sukkot, a holiday that celebrates the harvest and often affords us an opportunity to shift the focus of our personal energies from personal introspection outwards into the world. Nothing exemplifies this shift more, than the sukkah, a simple tent, erected at Occupy Boston. Many Moishe Kavodniks have had an opportunity this past month to break bread in this sukkah and to take a look at the the goings-on in Dewey Square and it has struck many of us what an appropriate statement that particular sukkah really is in light of the orientation shift that Sukkot often embodies. Obviously we could look at the symbolic act of moving the festival celebration to the site of a mass protest as way of taking the personal commitments made during Yom Kippur in the process of T’shuvah or repentance and turning them into action in the world. Without endorsing the goals or tactics of the Occupation Movement, it is hard to deny that a public expression of righteous indignation at the current state of affairs is most certainly a conduit for living one’s values, the usually desired end result of t’shuvah.
This is certainly true, but there is another less obvious aspect of the Occupy Boston Sukkah that spoke to me. While meandering through the tent city that currently covers Dewey Square, I saw not one concerted action but dozens, heard not one voice but hundreds. The protesters and occupiers speak to a multitude of issues. Banners and signs decrying the evils of war, economic disparity, the denigration of teachers, the hijacking of the democratic process by business interests, and environmental degradation line Atlantic Avenue. It is a great fruit salad of causes. The sukkah itself also speaks to this level of pluralism for it was erected not by one Jewish organization but by more than eight. One would think that with so many priorities, organization would be next to impossible in this confusion of differing voices, yet chaos is far from the state of affairs there. The tent city sports free hot food distribution, recycling pick-up, and a free library with internet, and has the feeling in its calmer moments of a tidy New England town. It is for this reason that the Occupy Boston Sukkah has given me pause to think. Maybe it is not only that we need to come out of our reveries of introspection this Sukkot but out of our professional and political silos as well. Perhaps this Sukkot then can serve to remind us that turning outward does not just mean looking from ourselves out into the world, but also being able to embrace a diversity of priorities and opinions, that change comes not when we are walled off from one another and working diligently on our own personal projects, but when we find common ground with others. That being in the world and taking effective action often takes not single minded focus but the ability to listen to many voices and from that chorus, finally speak with one accord.

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