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Kol Nidre at Occupy Wall Street: "Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive"

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 Friday night, I joined over a thousand Jews for an outdoor Kol Nidre service at Liberty Plaza (New York's Tahrir Square).

Occupy Wall Street is more than a protest movement -- it is a call for the reinstallation of human and humane values in opposition to the US population's seduction into a culture of corporate greed disguised as the "American dream.'

Friday night, these OWS values integrated seamlessly with progressive Jewish values, creating the most moving and relevant Kol Nidre service I have ever attended.

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The Facebook invitation to the event established the connection, quoting Abraham Joshua Heschel:

      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.

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Building on Heschel, the rabbis began the service by reading this passage from Isaiah 58:

   Is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the fetters of
   wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed
   go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to
   the hungry, and that thou bring the poor cast out to thy house?
   When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him?

For those who do not know, OWS is guided by an egalitarian General Assembly in which each speaker's voice is amplified by "human microphones," individuals whose responsibility it is to repeat the words of the speaker so that they are heard far and wide, without electronic amplification. This has the result of sharing ownership of the words among the crowd. In the Kol Nidre service, human microphone and responsive reading blended seamlessly.

In a manner similar to the biblical prophets, the voices of OWS represent an historic incitement for the many to rise against the corruption and greed of the few who use and manipulate the letter of the law for their own enrichment and aggrandizement.

Like the prophets, the voices of 21st century protest, from Tahrir to Wall Street, have broken through the monopoly on approved discourse dictated by the powerful and use alternative power of human amplification of the truth. Where in the corporate universe, as in the religious institutions of old, "information is power," and the revealed word is the word authorized by those in charge, in social media, truth is power, transparency is power, accountability is power, because what is truthful is retweeted through the filter of the population's bullshit-meter. The "human microphone' and reTweeting come from the same source -- the ability of the human soul to identify the truth. This is why we turn to twitter for the news and not to CNN. This is why Al-Jazeera, with its social media news bureau, is light-years ahead of the New York Times. (This is why on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," the audience lifeline is right 95% of the time.)

At Kol Nidre, an Al Chet (the communal confession of sins) for our time was offered, originally written in 2006 by ex-Yippie Stew Albert and his wife Judy:

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          We have sinned .

         By yielding to confusion and falling into passivity
         By indulging in fear
         By tolerating global warming, global disease and global poverty
         By not standing up to fanaticism, terrorism, rape and torture -- no matter who the perpetrators are
         By not loving enough
         By being indifferent to the rich getting richer and the poor staying miserable
         By allowing greed, in others and in ourselves, to go unchecked
         By not opposing laws that promise false security and deprive us of our basic liberties
         By not opposing ballot measures that deprive us of basic rights
         By not searching for the truth wherever it lies
         By not recognizing the divine spark that dwells in the center of our being

         For all our sins, may the force that makes forgiveness possible, forgive us, pardon us and grant us atonement.

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Steven Reisner, Ph.D. is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility and is a founding member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. Dr. Reisner is a psychologist and activist, dedicated to the ethical use of psychological (more...)

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Kol Nidre at Occupy Wall Street: "Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive"