With apologies to the late Jewish mystery writer, Harry Kemelman, (author of the Rabbi Stayed Home series) on Thursday in Manhattan, several rabbis were arrested for blocking traffic as they protested recent Grand Jury decisions. They will probably need a chicago criminal lawyer to help them in their legal battle.

A protest of about 200 people began at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun at the end of the the Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker Awards ceremony for JFREJ: Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum – one of three award recipients, and the leader of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST) – and several other rabbis led a protest from West 88th Street to West 96th Street and Broadway. They were opposing a Staten Island, NY grand jury’s decision not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner. Garner’s death had been ruled a homicide after he died while being arrested.

Kleinbaum, wearing a colorful feather boa that was shedding, along with Rabbis Jill Jacobs (T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights), Shai Held (Mechon Hadar), and David Rosenn (New Israel Fund) were among those arrested and held for six hours, until they were released at 5:15 AM. Also arrested were Marjorie Dove Kent, the executive director of JFREJ; and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers union who is also Kleinbaum’s life partner.

Protesters sang several Hebrew prayers, including Oseh Shalom and recited a Mourners’ Kaddish. They also read the names of more than 20 African Americans who the protesters said had been killed by police offers in New York City. After each name, those congregated were asked to reply, “I am responsible.” Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon (B’nai Jeshurun) said that the kaddish is “a prayer of hope” and that although it expressed the community’s outrage, it was a prayer for a brighter future.

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  • I went to the protest that night as well, and had no idea who was going to be there — but I decided to carry a sign of my own, and felt that an appropriate quote from the Torah would keep away pretty much anyone who might want to engage me in conversation. (I know that sounds weird, but I go to these protests to make my voice heard, not to socialize or be preached at by anyone. I figured I’d carry a message with a Biblical reference because no one wants to talk to a nutty Bible-thumper heh.) Interestingly, I chose the same “Justice shall you pursue” verse, it just seemed relevant. Glad to know others felt the same way.
    (And while a few people did say positive things about the sign, I was right — no one engaged me in conversation.)