Jewish Holiday Celebrated By Occupying Wall Street

The Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot has begun, and some are melding the observance with the various Occupy Wall Street protests throughout the country.

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Huge crowds marched yesterday against a number of social concerns gripping the country: health care, corporate greed, unemployment. Solidarity demonstrations linked to the Occupy Wall Street movement took to the streets from New York to San Francisco. In Boston, protesters were supported by a different kind of observance. Reporter Ari Daniel Shapiro was there Friday night and has this report.

ARI DANIEL SHAPIRO, BYLINE: So, we're downtown Boston. It's raining. And Dewey Square - this is the site of Occupy Boston.

LEAH MADSEN: That's right. Right across the street here is the encampment.

SHAPIRO: Leah Madsen is bundled into a red raincoat. She leads me past rows of evenly spaced tents. We reach the corner and Madsen points to the reason she's brought me here. A nine-foot-tall rectangular hut with colorful fabric walls and a roof made of branches stands on the grassy corner.

MADSEN: It might be a little muddy over here.

SHAPIRO: This is a sukkah, a structure built for the Jewish harvest holiday of Sukkot.

MADSEN: Back in biblical times, Israelites would celebrate the end of the harvest out in the fields in these temporary huts. And today we still build a sukkah. You're supposed to eat in it, you're supposed to sleep in it, you're really supposed to dwell in the sukkah.

SHAPIRO: Madsen is an organizer with the Workmen's Circle, a center for Jewish culture, and one of numerous groups that helped coordinate the festivities here. Sukkot celebrates abundance and harvest, but it's also about the vulnerability of being inside a hut open to the elements. Madsen sees these themes echoed in the Occupy movement; an abundance of creativity and passion and the vulnerability of those with fewer resources.

JOCELYN BERGER: Hi, everybody.

SHAPIRO: It's the start of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. Jocelyn Berger stands in the sukkah, leading services for the 20 people who've gathered nearby.

BERGER: Ok, (foreign language spoken). This invites us to sing to God. I would like to add, let's sing to Occupy Boston. (singing in foreign language)

SHAPIRO: Over the next half hour, the crowd grows to about 50, and the rain lets up. At the edge of the group, I find a couple onlookers.

VLADIMIR ALBON, JR.: I'm Vladimir Albon, Jr. One of the songs that they were singing, they were talking about, like, how they're all friends and they are happy to be here. And I was just, like, oh, wow, this is pretty cool.

SHAPIRO: Boston's one of several cities across the country with sukkahs at the Occupy protests. Annie Fox is with the Jewish Alliance for Law & Social Action. For her, both the Occupy Movement and the holiday of Sukkot are reminders of our fragility.

ANNIE FOX: We remind ourselves of the people who are homeless, of the people who are struggling, of the people who are facing unemployment. We remind ourselves of the struggle of the past and the struggle of the present.

SHAPIRO: Near the end of the service, the group sings the shehechyanu, a blessing that celebrates doing something for the first time. It's this group's first time gathering at this sukkah to celebrate Shabbat. The rain starts up again. The colorful umbrellas pop open. And everyone keeps on singing. For NPR News, I'm Ari Daniel Shapiro.

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