What the Jewish Left Learned From Occupy
In the fall of 2021, the tenth anniversary of Occupy Wall Street also marked a decade since what came to be known as “Occupy Judaism,” a loose series of ritual protests that emerged at Zuccotti Park and at other Occupy encampments around the country. The most visible of these took the form of a Kol Nidre, the evening service that marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, which fell on October 7th in 2011, a few weeks into Occupy Wall Street’s short history. As the holiday approached, a group of Jewish participants in the nascent movement, led by organizer Daniel Sieradski, began planning a service to be held in a plaza across the street from Zuccotti Park. The event that is remembered as Occupy Yom Kippur drew hundreds of people and attracted considerable press attention, registering a new current in American Jewish life. Like the Freedom Seder—an interfaith, multiracial Passover meal held in Washington, DC, in 1969 on the first anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, which served as an inspiration for Sieradski—Occupy Yom Kippur repurposed Jewish ritual for public, explicitly political ends.
Occupy Yom Kippur, and the broader activities of Occupy Judaism, turned out to presage a much larger wave of left Jewish movement-building. Though most Jewish organizers at Occupy were not involved in Occupy Judaism, or in Jewish organizing more generally, many of the founders of organizations like IfNotNow first came together in Zuccotti Park; the movement’s energy also revitalized already-existing groups like Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ). Ten years ago, identity-based organizing occurred only on Occupy’s fringes, and anti-racist and anti-imperialist organizing, including around the occupation of Palestine, was pushed outside the movement’s frame altogether. But in the years since, Occupy’s limitations have impelled a generation of organizers to try to rectify its omissions, galvanizing anti-racist organizing in the US and a new wave of Palestine solidarity activism. Following a Jewish Currents oral history on the same topic, this event explored how the contemporary Jewish left was changed—perhaps, formed—by Occupy Wall Street ten years before.
This event was sponsored by Haymarket Books.
Daniel Sieradksi is a web developer and digital strategist as well as an advocacy journalist, digital organizer, and movement-builder with more than ten years of experience in the nonprofit and digital news fields. He has worked with a variety of organizations, including Repair the World, JTA News, JDub Records, the JCC in Manhattan, the Educational Alliance, Jewish Funds for Justice, and the New Israel Fund. He founded The Self Agency LLC, a boutique digital agency specializing in web design and digital strategy consulting for socially responsible businesses and nonprofits. Sieradski is the former publisher of the pioneering weblog Jewschool.com and the founder of Occupy Judaism.
Tamara (Tammy) Shapiro is the Program Director for the NYC Network of Worker Cooperatives. Previously she was one of the lead coordinators of Occupy Sandy, a citizen-led relief effort, as well as Rockaway Wildfire and Worker Owned Rockaway Cooperatives, a worker-owned coop incubation project with residents hit by the hurricane. She also served as a lead strategist and facilitator of the InterOccupy network, created and implemented a networked hub structure for The People’s Climate March, and worked at The Murphy Institute for Labor Studies. Prior to these roles, she was the first Director of J Street U, and one of the founders of IfNotNow.
Audrey Sasson is the Executive Director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, and the organization’s first Mizrahi leader to serve in the position. She has 25 years of broad movement experience as a social worker, organizer, coalition-builder, and campaign director, on issues ranging from immigrant worker struggles and tenant rights to sustainable economies and racial justice. She has worked professionally both within the growing Jewish social justice community—on staff at American Jewish World Service for seven years—as well as with organized labor as the Director of Walmart-Free NYC. She was actively and enthusiastically involved in Occupy Wall Street, in the Immigrant Justice Working Group, the Anti-Racism Allies Working Group, and 99 Pickets.
Arielle Angel is the editor-in-chief of Jewish Currents.
Haymarket Books is a radical, independent, nonprofit book publisher based in Chicago. Our mission is to publish books that contribute to struggles for social and economic justice. We strive to make our books a vibrant and organic part of social movements and the education and development of a critical, engaged, international left.