Does The Spirit Matter?

— Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Last week, The Shalom Center suggested and encouraged Jewish communities to carry the celebration  of Yom Kippur into public space — in the “Occupy Wall Street”  protests.

In New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Washington, and other cities, people worked out ways of celebrating the most sacred Jewish festival while affirming that it  speaks powerfully to issues of justice, equality, the “99%” of Americans who have had more and more of our power to govern ourselves yanked away by the 1% most rich and powerful.

We have received dozens of letters from people who connected prayer with action in this way and who wanted to thank The Shalom Center for its support. Here is one:

My girlfriend (who is Jewish) and I (who am a Christian) attended the Kol Nedrie service across the street from Occupy Wall Street, on Friday evening. It was by far the most moving religious service I’ve ever attended. Such an example of a community consciously engaging with G_d to dream of change and a better world. I understand that you were one of the sparks that brought this event to fruition. Thank you so much.

More after the jump.
Indeed, we DID strike a spark with Dan Sieradski in NYC, and then with other creative people;  from those sparks, these sacred burnt-offerings arose.  

You can see and read a powerful video and article about the New York Kol Nidre, put together by the Forward newspaper, by clicking here.

One participant wrote:

The high point came during one part of the sermon, as Getzel’s voice rose louder and louder:
“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 is the fallacy that gold is God!”
Afterward, I felt like I was walking on air, and judging from the spontaneous song session that sprung up later, I suspect I wasn’t the only one.

One passage from the ancient prophet Isaiah and one from the modern prophetic teacher  Abraham Joshua Heschel were used again and again in these services across the country:

“This is the fast I have chosen:
to unlock the shackles of injustice,
to loosen the ropes of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free!”

“Prayer  is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow  and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism,  falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary  movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the  promise, the hope, the vision.”

The Yom Kippur prayers ask, “Who shall live and who shall die? Who by fire, who by flood?”

In our generation,  it is the whole planet, in the sacred Name of YHWH, the Interbreathing of all life, that asks this question. For we face the  danger of planetary Death, rooted in greed and domination —  and the joyful possibility of a Living Future rooted in love, in justice, and in compassion.  

What are we choosing? Can we make Spirit matter by infusing our pocketbooks with prayer, our compassion with commitment? With your help,  The Shalom Center will keep striking sparks of  sacred transformation.



  1. MarkAlexander says

    The final service of Yom Kippur is unique to the day. Called Neilah (“closing”), it refers to the symbolic closing of the gates of heaven and the book of life, in which God inscribes the fate of each person for the coming year. There is a sense of spiritual urgency that characterizes this service, as the sun is beginning to set and most people are light-headed and exhausted from the fast and prolonged prayers. For a lengthy portion of Neilah, the doors of the Ark are opened, revealing the Torahs inside. It is customary to stand whenever these doors are opened.Laundry Room Cabinets

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