Plans are under way in New York City for an action to "Occupy Holy Week, Occupy Passover." People of faith could undertake actions like it all across the country.
In New York, the initiating groups are The Shalom Center, Judson Memorial Church, Occupy Judaism, and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. We do not see this action as a one-time event, rather as one that can weave continuing connections among people across the old boundaries and weave new ways of thinking about the future of our traditions and communities.
First, our plans for the action itself. Then, some thoughts on the history and theology beneath it.
This coming spring, Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday on April 1. The death-anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is on April 4 (and that date is also the anniversary of his profound speech at Riverside Church in NYC, 1967). Passover begins with the first Seder on the evening of Friday, April 6.
The week evokes memories and teachings about resistance to tyranny, racism, economic inequality, ecological disaster and militarism. Remembering this past, we should renew our work to resist these evils in the present.
So we are sharing a sketch of plans to observe Palm Sunday and a pre-Passover Freedom Seder with the intention of both naming the 1% -- the Pharaohs & Caesars of today: illegitimate and unaccountable power-holders -- and empowering the 99% to face them and begin the healing of our society by transformative, spiritually rooted action.
For this particular effort in NYC, there will be a special emphasis on oppressive
debt: foreclosed homes, under-water homes, families mired in mortgages they cannot afford because of lost jobs, etc; student debt piled up to pay for tuition but stuck on people who now cannot get jobs to pay back the loans; debt we owe the plundered and polluted Earth.
Other communities around the country could work on this effort in analogous but not identical ways. Each community could choose its own focus: for example, disemployment; worsening inequality of income and wealth; uncontrolled and growing corporate power; oppression of immigrants or of organized labor; wounding of the Earth (the Plagues); militarism; etc.
Doing this before Passover and at the very beginning of Holy Week might (especially if there is strong media coverage) encourage families and communities to address these questions in their regular congregational services during and after Holy Week and in their Passover Seders.
Beginning at 11 a.m. on April 1, traditional Palm Sunday service inside a church that has agreed to host this event, for about one hour. Then coffee and snacks, maybe outside.
Beginning about noon, the palm-bearing procession will go outdoors to visit what might be called "Pyramids of Power: The 1%." In NYC, this wil focus on polaces representing various forms of onerous debt. But each community could choose its own focus and the places appropriate to that focus. There could be drumming and chanting on the walk and an appropriate song at each place.
Return to church (or if there is a cluster of supportive congregations nearby, go to a supportive other church or synagogue). Welcome Table to register people, collect donations/fees, give name tags. People sit at tables of about eight, encouraged to meet each other and share conversation. Simple lunch based on foods of the poor: matza, pita, rice, tortillas, raw veggies (carrots, celery, spring onion, tomatoes, water).
Passover Freedom Seder
Build it around foods symbolic of the Seder but not in the classic order. First question: "Mah nishtanah? Why is this Seder different from all other Seders?" Invite answers from participants. "Because this Seder is about our lives today, not 3,000 years ago; because this Seder speaks from and for The 99% -- of all religions, ethnic groups, colors..." Questions and answers for this portion of the Seder could be done in Occupy "mic-check" style, with the community as a whole.
Then, shift into table-conversation mode. Invite various people at each table to do one each of the blessings for these diverse foods, each in the form and language the blessing-person feels appropriate. The seven foods are ordered so as to move from despair in slavery, step by step to joy and fulfillment in the Beloved Community:
Scatter appropriate songs and some brief appropriate texts from the Passover Seder, the Hebrew Bible, the Gospels, the Quran, Native American teachings, MLK, A.J. Heschel, Dorothy Day, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), etc., during the eating of some of these foods:
Close with songs in English, Spanish, Hebrew, Yiddish, Arabic.
Empower The 99%, Transform the 1%
Are there churches and synagogues around the country that will become the centers of such an event on April 1? Or perhaps on April 3 or 4, focusing more on Dr. King?
We hope that the immediate impact of this specific action will be to empower and strengthen the disempowered 99% of our society, and to help dissolve the overweening power of the 1% and their giant corporations -- the Pharaohs and Caesars of our day -- over the rest of us.
We hope to do this by evoking the soul-force (satyagraha, often mislabeled "nonviolence") that is implicit in our religious traditions, and bringing them into active public reality again.
At the immediate level, this means birthing networks for further action that bring together people of different religious communities to highlight specific injustices and empower certain transformations, using some transmuted forms and teachings out of our ancient traditions.
More deeply, beneath the specific event and specific hopes, is the question: Can our ancient wisdoms in fact speak powerfully to the future? Can our synagogues, churches, mosques draw on what we have learned across millennia not as a dusty archive but as a treasury of tools?
To do that, we will need to set aside some aspects of the past in order to address a world quite different from the one in which our sacred texts came forth. Yet the sacred texts have much to teach us. By going back, we can choose to go forward. The sacred spiral.
All humankind and all the other life-forms of our planet are now experiencing a multidimensional earthquake (economic, ecological, military, technological, familial, sexual, educational) -- all!
There are three possible responses:
Rabbi Waskow is director of The Shalom Center and the author of the original Freedom Seder (1969), the 40th-anniversary Interfaith Freedom Seder for the Earth, and 20-some books on public policy, Jewish thought and practice, and relations among the Abrahamic communities. His most recent book, co-authored with Rabbi Phyllis Berman, is 'Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness across Millennia' (Jewish Lights, 2011).
Follow Rabbi Arthur Waskow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/#RabbiArthur