October 30, 2011

The “Occupy” Movement: Bridging Judaism with the American Economic System, for Better or Worse

Posted in Judaism at 6:02 am by chavalah

Screenshot from the “Occupy Judaism” Facebook page

I took some time earlier this month to read through some “Occupy Wall Street [and beyond]” materials circulating the Internet.

I suppose because I’m fresh off of long-term unemployment with little to no benefits, the whole idea intrigues me. I just can’t believe that the economic crisis can be boiled down to “you’re all a bunch of lazy asses” when unemployment/underemployment is this huge, and the differentiation between the income made by the top 1% and everyone else is so staggering. I thought we were a democratic capitalist society, not a medieval feudalist state. Perhaps the only difference is what were once churches and monarchies are now banks and corporations.

Yet most people seem to think “the message” of Occupy Wall Street is unclear. On The Daily Show, Jon suggested that some protestors might want to question America’s Israel policies, which I think is a shame. Not that they shouldn’t be questioned—I agree with that myself—but they should be done so in a structured and mediated environment that speaks to the complex issues at hand, and besides, what does Israel have to do with keeping Americans out of work? (Maybe I can convince myself that Americans actually understand that Israelis are a lot like us, lol.) But really, the movement seems to be largely about domestic jobs and taxes, with a few crazies thrown in on the side.

Other than on-site protests, Tumblr seems to be the major agent of this movement. 😛 Starting with We are the 99 Percent, where the masses can post about their economic troubles. In response, some Conservatives thought up the 53 percent, which is supposed to chronicle those “patriotic” folks who pay more in Federal income taxes than they receive in deductions or credits, except that most of the people posting their “get over it, losers” comments don’t actually fit that profile, prompting the satire blog, Actually, you’re the 47 percent. 😛 Though to be fair, probably the majority of the posters who contribute to We Stand with the 99 Percent aren’t actually members of the uber-wealthy 1 percent, though they all seem to be well off. It’s quite a harrowing contrast, really… between the folks who say “I’m fortunate and I want to help out where I can” versus those who say “F*ck y’all whiners; nobody owes you shit.”

A Jewish faction is also responding to the “Occupy” Movement with their own Tumblr, plus various tie-ins with current holidays…were some Kol Nidre services at some of the protests, and some sukkahs for Sukkot. It makes a whole lot of sense to me that this has taken off, particularly with younger, activist groups who are somewhat disillusioned with synagogues and Federations (though perhaps unjustly in this case, since both groups do engage in philanthropy. Then again, the “Occupy” theme is more hands-on…kind of like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and his congregants marching with MLK Jr. Maybe we are just reborn hippies. :P)

On the opposite side of the pendulum, some (political) Conservative Jews be freakin’. Was only a matter of time before some right-wing columnist threw out the word “antisemitic.” Which frankly I think is a big problem on so many different fronts that I’m completely baffled. Crying “antisemitism” over any and all disagreements is so much more serious a problem for the Jews than any social protest. The right wing Jews are paranoid…about anyone who might be anti-Israel, about anyone who might equate banks or other “rich professions” with Jews, about anyone who isn’t us, basically. I mean, I get it to an extent. Fear of antisemitism might be ingrained in us…it’s a very real danger our ancestors have had to deal with for millennia, even in this country and even to this day. But we can’t be so afraid of the past to keep us from embracing the future. We (most of us) see ourselves as part of the broader American society…we are part of the broader American society, so that means we have the responsibility to look at real problems without calling foul based on old stereotypes. Yeah, so Jews have a “reputation” for becoming rich bankers or whatnot…but the vast majority of us are in the 99 percent. I fully believe that most Americans understand that. As for the xenophobic nutcases who don’t…I’m not into giving them more power. JewSchool.com offers a rebuttal to “the right winger who cried antisemitism” argument, Jewish participation in the “Occupy” movement, plus a Torah argument for people coming together in mutli-purpose social activism. Yasher koach!

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