The city will dismantle Occupy LA Monday at 12AM, by force if necessary.

The encampment, now deemed illegal by city authorities but a legitimate exercise of rights protected under the first amendment by the protesters, is the last major tent protest in the country. Soon Occupy LA will face the same fate of other tent protests across our land from New York’s Wall Street to the city parks of Oakland. The city is offering the inhabitants 10,000 sq. feet of office space, some urban farmland, and other incentives in exchange for removing their tent city.

Occupy LA is impressive. Five hundred tents form a self-governed community, guided by systems of mutual responsibility and respect, environmental awareness and commitment to non-violence. Solar power provides an alternative source of electricity to the media tent. Clean-up crews constantly patrol looking for refuse to put in the city provided dumpsters. Makeshift showers and city port-o-johns keep things sanitary. Security patrols ensure peaceful relations and protection from outside agitators.

But all this may come to an end by Friday of this week.

The city’s confrontation with Occupy LA’s tent encampment brings to mind the biblical saga of Abraham and Sarah pitching their tent in the fields in order to spread their teachings of loving-kindness.

Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality was their own “protest” against the pervasive selfishness of the privileged of their time. As the Biblical story describes, wealthy city dwellers would take advantage of strangers through theft and trickery, shunning the needy and abusing them. As a result of this bitter selfishness their cities were destroyed as a divine comment on their twisted values of avarice and greed.

By contrast Abraham and Sarah, who likewise had wealth and resources, did not fear the stranger and the poor. They did not hold resources in a tight fist, instead they opened their hands to those in need, and were blessed.

Abraham and Sarah represent God-serving universal benevolence, wrote the 19th century thinker Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch. Their tent represented a community of universal charity, where open hearts, open homes, open hands and a readiness for sacrifice of time and energy and money for the general good is required.

It is fitting that the Occupy movement has at its center the tent as a symbol and a reality. The tents remind us of the wisdom and spiritual revolution of our ancestors. Abraham and Sarah’s tent was open on all sides, welcoming strangers with food, kind words grounded in spirituality, and ultimately the basis for a community of shared values and ethics. What is required of us now is that the spark of these teachings catch fire.

The economic realities of our time require a level of loving-kindness beyond anything that we have achieved before. Occupy LA’s tents are a call to that human spirit, which stands so much in contrast to the cut-throat world around us. It will be a shame on the city and the Mayor’s office to silence that call.

The message of Abraham and Sarah to the world over 3000 years ago provided a radical shift in focus. It moved humanity towards a spirituality where seeing and meeting another person’s physical needs became a spiritual injunction, a spiritual necessity.

If the protest is moved to an office building, the tents will not be in front of city leaders on a daily basis reminding them and us of our shared humanity: the teaching of Abraham and Sarah that blessing comes when we share resources, and care for each other and for the stranger.

We have nothing to fear from people in tents, we have much to learn from them.

About the author

Rabbi Yonah

17 Comments

  • Rav Yonah, could you tell me what the point is of this movement? Israel had it’s summer festival, and you’re fawning of the ‘American Fall’ (at least in LA). Your description, and perhaps a few others I’ve read about in other cities, sounds pleasant, but where was it heading? If these people did manage to put together this utopic-like peace, were they talking about taking that attitude back home and chaning America, or were the tents really just to whine to the media, rant at the government, and blame the 1% for life’s problems?

  • Tents are most certainly not a whine. That is the way they have described in the right wing media especially. They are about changing the conversation in American politics and foxing in income inequality, the death of the American dream, and the death of the middle class. Woven within this discontent is also discontent on other issues, such as health care, fair jobs, environmental and banking regulation etc.

  • Rabbi, what was the real reaction to Patricia McAllister’s comments? From what I saw how the news media treated it, it seemed that the Occupy “leadership”, whomever it is, didn’t really care, almost excusing it because she lost her job (which, ironically, is HOW she lost her job. Note to protestors: if you have something controversial/hateful to say, never mention your place of employment). And if they didn’t care about some vicious antisemitic remarks, why should I care about their movement?

  • How exactly was camping out and being the hippies of the 2010s going to change the conversation of American politics? Why should any politician take notice? The way democracy works is to take part in it. The people can complain all they want, but if they do not send representatives to the ‘senate’, then it is just empty whining and then more whining about how politicians are out of touch.

    In Israel, Pnina Rosenblum didn’t just complain about growing up in the slums. She worked hard, opened a business and became an empire, later to run for Knesset.

    Is all this tent activity getting translated into real social action and education? I would eat my hat if I heard that a new national ‘Rotary club’ was opening up, but I have yet to hear anything of the like.

    Income inequality is changed by education, not chas v’shalom b income redistribution (aka socialism). The world looks to the US as having the lowest amount of regulation but it seems people don’t really want to work hard and want even less.

    I read an article on MSNBC about how some states are kicking out illegal alien farm workers and encouraging Americans to take their place, but no one did. Americans are becoming lazy slobs wanting instant this and that. Was anyone complaining about that?

  • Joshua,
    I spoke personally with all the leadership at OccupyLA and they were interviewed multiple times of TV condemning the comments of the racist school employee.

    Josh,
    They are not “hippies”. I agree that they need to send representatives to congress and seek political solutions. But lets not forget – it take a million dollars to run for office in the USA. How are the those without jobs, young students with huge loans and no job prospects, and educators that earn paltry incomes going to mount a campaign for office?

  • “How are the those without jobs, young students with huge loans and no job prospects, and educators that earn paltry incomes going to mount a campaign for office?” – Rabbi Yonah

    Step 1. Become a “Community Organizer”.
    Step 2. Find a former domestic terrorist in Academia and have him write your memoirs and start your political career.
    Step 3. Partner with shady extremist figures and get into local politics, even if you have to take down one of your own.
    Step 4. Run for national office on a populist platform, ripe with class warfare, and appeal to the lowest common denominator (popular culture) and appeal to celebrities to tow your line.
    Step 5. Get elected President.

    Seems to be a pretty solid plan for them to follow. 🙂

  • No. It’s way better to be the wife of a former president. 🙂 Isn’t Hillary your preferred candidate? Or it’s better to be a downtrodden Kennedy who had to make it on his/her own. Really Middle? Don’t make it so easy. Even if I did have any reason to defend Bush, I’d still know that two wrongs don’t make a right.

    Also, I forgot a step above:

    Step 5B: Get assistance from the majority of the media to run interference or fail to vet your history, past connections and documentation (ie. school records).

  • Hilary could have run for President even if Bill had never run or won. That his presidency laid the groundwork for her campaign is true but it was also a liability for her in many respects.

    Anyway, who cares? Seriously. If you don’t want Obama to be Prez a second round, you should really expend your efforts at getting the Repubs to put forth at least one serious candidate with a serious platform. That’s kinda hard considering all the BS the right wingers of this right wing party are foisting on their candidates. Romney isn’t very charismatic and he seems to be the only player in the pool who has enough support to be able to run a sort-of center-right campaign where he doesn’t quite commit to too much of the lunacy of the Repubs’ base. It looks like he’s going to be the winner and I don’t think he has what it takes to beat Obama, an incumbent who can point at Republicans who are blocking every attempt to even make an attempt at fixing the economy. Your party is giving away what should have been a cinch to win in 2012 considering the economy and all the mistakes Obama’s administration has made in fiscal and in foreign policy.

    • Yeah man. The last 3 years has been going just great with your shovel ready jobs and all. Guy, I’m not the one in denial right now. You are so entrenched your political jibes aren’t even funny anymore. That’s how you know.

  • Um, Karl Rove was quoted today as saying the Republican nominee should expect a brutal battle with Obama and he’s suggesting pretty much what I suggested about what Obama’s approach is going to be. You want to argue with Karl Rove about political strategy, go right ahead.

  • Rav Yonah, I don’t need to tell you that there are no instant solutions in life and good things involve hard work. It is very rare that an ‘ilui’ / prodigy Torah student is allowed to become rav at a very early stage. The Israeli rabanut even restricts taking exams to 25yrs old and up, if I’m not mistaken. There is one case right now about a high school student, who is deemed exceptionally brilliant in Torah that went to Israeli court in order to be allowed to take the smicha exams.

    I don’t want Dafne Leef or any Occupy organizer jumping from college student to congressman or Knesset member without some form of preparation and rolling up the sleeves to earn it. We’ve already learnt what happens when people push some young orator (who reads only from teleprompters) into office. Obama is the proof that there is no instant solution and ‘young and fresh’ is not always good.

    I do accept that there are exceptions to the rule, but to change the rules and suddenly claim that these occupiers deserve automatic representation is a dangerous precedent. AlexK suggests a process to achieve office.

    You must know many people who you ask for help in some endeavour but don’t have time. I’m sure you know many people who have a job, yet manage to help out in many volunteer efforts and seem to never object to another request for help.

    Where is the sense of volunteerism? Is Occupy trying to change that? Are all these students helping out ‘inner city’ kids in their free time, at least for an hour a week?

    The Occupiers are getting a big lesson in public activism. It’s a good start. If and when they rise to power, they will have to learn to deal with similar incidents against them. Democracy, right?

    The beginning was good, they showed how they can cooperate with each other in a heterogeneous environment (people of different colours, backgrounds, education, etc…) Now it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get to work to make the world a better place and correct generations of apathy to government.

  • Totally confused as to why this movement threatens authorities so much.

    And yes, I agree….if the movement showed more interest in public service instead of simply waving signs and promoting specific sound bites, there would be more support from the rest of the 99%.

    Here in Israel the social protests of the summer organized actions that reduced prices and used consumer power to force the Powers that Be to take note. They also demanded changes that would affect the lower and middle class, such as assistance with day care costs.

    Maybe Occupy should pick a cause that everyone can agree on (removing money from some of the institutions whose behavior caused the recession) and focus on action — another Jewish value.

  • Hi there, Rabbi!

    Thank you for writing such a beautiful article. Btw that’s my head and sign in the picture. I’m happy it’s in your article. It helped me learn something valuable about the true meaning of tents and a little about Judaism as well. Shalom to you, and may you write many more articles like this one.

    -Vlad

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