MASS RABBINIC ARREST
or: וכיתתו חרבותם לאיתים
or: Dude, Where's My Press Pass?
or: Someone Had to Hold the Umbrella
Welcome to the Hall of the Goblin King and its "MASS RABBINIC ARREST" post. Please be aware of two things:
Welcome Right-Wing Political Bloggers!
1. This is not a political blog.
2. I am not right-wing.
This post is not about Ahmadinejad being a psycho, or about what the rest of the world should do about it. This post is about spiritual activism, civil disobedience, demonstration-as-holy-ritual-act and people I know getting handcuffed and carted off to Central Booking.
If you would like to dicuss those subjects, by all means comment here!
If, on the other hand, you would like to engage in the kind of self-congratulatory and other-demonizing rhetoric that both Right Wing and Left Wing political blogs are known for, please keep that on your own websites. :–)
Why is this directed to Right Wing Political bloggers
and not to the Left Wing Political bloggers?
Because LGF has linked here,
and whoever their leftist equivalent is has not.
Which is okay, 'cause so far you rightist people
are sympathetic to the protesters and their cause.
Yesterday, Rav Avi Weiss and the Jewish activist organization he founded, AMCHA: the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, coordinated a civil disobedience protest at the United Nations.
Around 50 rabbis and rabbinical students, as well as a lay communal leader or few, participated in the protest. They prepared themselves in a staging area near the Iranian Mission to the UN — putting on talleisim and distributing signs — and after a few short speeches and rounds of slogan-shouting, they marched, singing ‘Am Yisra’eil Hhai, to the steps that go down past the Isaiah Wall across the street from the UN buildings.
At the bottom of the steps, they sat down, blocking the public thoroughfare. This is what is called civil disobedience — a purposeful and non-violent violation of a law in order to make a point. Classically, the civil disobedience of leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. was for the purpose of demonstrating the injustice of a law; for instance, people of African descent were unjustly required to sit in the back of the bus and give up their seats to people of European descent, so Rosa Parks sat near the front and refused to move. She broke the law in order to promote a vision of society in which that law didn't exist.
In this case, though, R' Weiss and other speakers stressed multiple times that they have no quarrel with the City of New York or its laws. They were there to step beyond the line as they put it, in order to make their point:
"It's a serious matter to step beyond the line, to violate the law. But we must do so as a moral outcry to the world that it can't be business as usual. The time has come to expel Iran from the United Nations."A member-nation of the UN which threatens to erase from the pages of history another member-nation does not deserve to be part of that international organization. And in a world with the "fire" of nuclear destruction threatening to burn not just Israel, but Europe and the United States as well, no one can go on with life as usual — even something as simple as walking down the street, or down public stairs.
That was their message. Iran — specifically, their president, Maḥmūd Aḥmadinejad — is dangerous, and must be expelled from the community of nations. And they were willing to "step beyond the line" of the law in order to get their message across. So they made their speeches on the stairs, and they sang לא ישא גוי אל גוי חרב ולא ילמדו עוד מלחמה a few times under the wall with Yesha‘yahu's words engraved on them. And then they sounded their shofars and sat down. They were obstructing pedestrian traffic (much safer than trying to do the same thing with vehicular traffic in the street).
Soon after they sat down on the steps and went back to singing עם ישראל חי and שומר ישראל, a woman tried to come down the steps, but had a hard time because of all the people sitting in her way. After her, two men tried to walk up the steps, but had the same problem.
That meant it was time for the formal confrontation. A representative from the police department addressed the protestors, explaining to them that they need to cease obstructing pedestrian traffic, or they will be arrested and charged with disorderly conduct (as well as more severe offenses if they actively resist). So about half of the protestors stepped back and dispersed along the upper reaches of the staircase, obeying the police orders, while the other half remained sitting and blocking the steps, expressing their willingness to go all the way and be arrested in order to make their message heard more dramatically.
And so, one by one or two by two, the waiting police officers with their belts full of plasticuffs handcuffed the civilly-disobedient protestors and deposited them in the back of two police vans.
So now you know what they were doing there.
But what the heck was I doing there?
I was being a sympathetic observer...
...and impersonating a press photographer.
Let's start from the beginning. The only reason I had heard about the protest before it took place was because one of the rabbis who participated is my consultant-and-poseiq on aveilut matters. While I was a proud participant in an April Fool's Day Anti-Winter Protest in college, I had never really been up close and personal with a serious demonstration — much less one involving civil disobedience and arrest! And so I felt that I couldn't miss this opportunity to witness a real live action of Jewish Spiritual Activism, especially since it would involve a friend-and-authority-figure I respect getting handcuffed and tossed into a police van! I mean, how many times in your life do you get to see something like that (assuming that you associate primarily with law-abiding folks)?! Especially when it's for a good cause, as opposed to for an actual crime (which would be bad)! As it turns out, a number of other people I know showed up to participate in the protest — and whether they 'wimped out' and stepped back at the end, or went all the way to jail, every one of them displayed impressive dedication to the cause.
So... people I know are getting arrested... what to do, what to do... take pictures, of course! All the pictures in this blog post — and many more — were taken by me, running around (and sometimes between) the protesters and dodging all the other professional and amateur photographers, reporters and videocamera operators, with the obvious exception of the lower-right picture below, which was taken by a participant (Yonah Berman).
TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED
AFTER THE CAMERAS WERE TURNED OFF
AND THE ARRESTEES WERE DRIVEN AWAY
READ RABBI JASON HERMAN'S
"MIXED MULTITUDES" BLOG:
My Time In Jail
My impersonation of a news photographer/reporter ends here. For more info of a news type, see the following websites:
The Bergen County Record —
Rabbis' plan: Get arrested at U.N. to protest Iran
Rabbis arrested in protest
‘Arutz Sheva‘ —
22 Jewish Leaders Arrested Calling for Removal of Iran at UN
(only article i could find within a few days)
Stop Iran Now!
(video of the official confrontation and the arrests)
Rabbi Mark Ankcorn —
Protest at the UN
(cellphone video from inside the police van)
YouTube, Yonah Berman's Video —
Stop Iran Now! 2
(video taken by one of the non-arrestee participants,
rabbinical student Yonah Berman)
The Jewish Week —
Tuesday The Rabbi Got Arrested
(best article title ever)
one two three four five six
seven eight nine ten eleven
AM New York —
Pictures for the Week of April 15th
New Jersey Jewish Standard —
Rabbis protest Iran, mourn Virginia victims
The Herald-Argus of LaPorte, Indiana —
Rabbis arrested in protest against Iran
(laporte, indiana? with an article focussing on teaneck, nj?)
Spiritual disobedience: Orlando rabbis arrested protesting Iran
(very good article focusing on the participants from florida)
JTA.org (Esther D. Kustanowitz) —
Arrested development: is all activism equal?
‘Arutz Sheva‘'s Tovia Singer —
INTERVIEW WITH R' AVI WEISS [4/26/2007]
(radio interview with the organizer of the protest)
One of the major goals of this kind of protest is the publicity it generates. Rabbis getting arrested should be fairly big news, at least locally around New York — or at least an interesting enough event to get a short video blurb on the evening news. Unfortunately for the organizers, the Spring Nor'easter of 2007 hit a few days before, and the day before the protest, Cho Seung-hui perpetrated the Virginia Tech massacre, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. So there were wasn't much room in the news for an article or segment about a bunch of rabbis being arrested in a civil disobedience protest outside the UN.
Now, for the personal reflection part of this post.
I went to the protest expecting it to be corny. I also went there not understanding the point of getting arrested. Why not just stage a protest, declare your principles and your message to the public, and then disperse? What does getting hauled away in handcuffs and getting a criminal record add?
Now I think I understand, at least a little bit. The protest wasn't corny at all — on the contrary, it was dramatic. It worked. It got under my skin. I was trying to be a relatively objective photographer, recording the event (as well as meta-recording the press/media experience), but I had to constantly fight my instincts and stop myself from cheering the protestors on, singing along with them, and clapping them on the shoulder with a "yishar koahh" as they were led away (although i'm sure if i tried the last one, the cops would've intervened).
What surprised me the most about the experience of watching and recording it as it happened was the ritualistic feeling of it all. It literally felt like a holy symbolic act. Maybe even a form of sacrifice. The protest and its aftermath were all pre-arranged, pre-orchestrated, and pre-coordinated with the police. Watching it happen was like watching people going through the motions or acting in a play; everyone knew what was supposed to happen, and what each person's role was. And they fulfilled their roles happily, conscientiously, and seriously, because they weren't going through the motions mindlessly, without kavana — they were performing this ritual of civil disobedience with solemnity and respect, taking each step as it came, all according to plan. It was like watching someone make havdala, or shake a lulav, or pray — knowing that they really mean it.
The ritualistic atmosphere I felt was also generated by what the protesters were doing, and not just how they did it. This was for them a religious act. If I remember correctly, I read somewhere that Rav Avi Weiss came up with the idea of wearing a tallis while performing acts of activism in order to demonstrate that the acts are motivated by a specifically Jewish religious moral ethic. And so, many of the participants (who, remember, are mostly rabbis and rabbinical students) were wearing talleisim, some tied so that they wouldn't fall off during the arrest process. They were singing religious songs — ‘Am Yisra’eil Hhai as they marched down the sidewalks, Shomeir Yisra’eil as they sat waiting for the consequences of their violation of the law, and Lo’ Yisa’ Goy El Goy Hherev, invoking the Prophet Yesha‘yahu's words as they stood under those same words engraved on the wall.
It was an act of ritual, performed with kavana. It was serious. It was dramatic. And at least for this amateur photographer, it definitely left an impression.
note of warning —
i have seen the disgusting outpourings of vitriol directed against the protesters (even before it happened!) in the comment threads of yeshiva world news and vos iz neias. i do not want to see anything of that kind here. i will delete all comments that attack individuals or groups. this is not vosizneias, and this is also not the yct~yu wars at hirhurim. this is my domain.
you can debate the efficacy or propriety of civil disobedience. you can critique this or other acts of protest organized by amcha. i want healthy discussion and debate — the operative word being 'healthy'.
remember: you are a human being; you are almost certainly a member of a civilization; and the vast majority of those reading these words are ba‘aley berit, contract-mates with each other and with God. any one of those is sufficient reason to express disagreement in an exclusively polite manner.