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REFLECTIONS on Jewish protest from the XR October Rebellion

Updated: Nov 10, 2019

by Kate Lebow, Tzedek (Justice) Team

Rabbi Daniel leads XR Jews in a Sukkot teaching in Trafalgar Square

Oh my G-d, we Jews are weird! Here we are in the City, marching in circles around a police van instead of a bima, celebrating shacharit in the streets on Sukkot. We wear tallitot or kippot, carry lulavs and etrogs, chant from machzorim. People on their way to the office look at us curiously.


’77-year old rabbi arrested!’ someone cries at passersby, like a sideshow hawker.


Police in the van holding Rabbi Jeffrey Newman joke, 'We’re being kettled!' as we go round and round the van. One hops out, whistling an XR protest song.


Behind us, the mood is tense. The streets in front of Mansion House are the scene of an angry standoff between protesters and police. There’s been an intensification of police aggression: rain-sodden, bedraggled Trafalgar Square, where we’ve come from, is about to be cleared, and Section 14 will be declared by the end of the day. But the moment and the place also provoke thought as we chant the words of Hallel: ‘Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands’.


At Bloomberg headquarters across the street, some workers on the second floor flash

signs of support.


Being weird together in public, as Jews, feels great. We’re used to being ‘a man in the streets and a Jew at home’, in the words of nineteenth-century poet Yehuda Leib Gordon. This was always the quid pro quo of modernity: we’ll melt into the crowd, keep a low profile, be loyal – grateful, even – in exchange for toleration and citizenship. (In societies like our own, we’ve even been granted honorary whiteness. Daiyenu!) This is why we tend to raise up our heads collectively as Jews only when the ‘deal’ appears to be threatened or broken.


Hinei ma tov, how good and pleasant it is, at XR, to be out and proud as a Jew in a context not defined by antisemitism! It seems, in fact, that the weirdness of Judaism – our bizarre, ancient customs, our prayers in dead languages, our melancholy tunes, our uncomfortable stories, our tenacity and difference – is our secret weapon.


When we stepped out of the Tube at Cannon Street, tension was running high. We pushed into the crowd singing ‘Hinei ma tov’ and ‘Kol ha’olam kulo’, joined by our allies from XR Muslims and other Faith Bridge groups. Our voices sounded strangely intense; somehow, we managed to be heard above the chaos. One activist who was there when we

showed up said our presence subtly transformed the energy on the street, potentially de-

escalating a moment of rising tension.


Everyone I’ve spoken to who was at Rabbi Jeffrey’s arrest found it extraordinarily beautiful,

moving, and disturbing; Rabbi Daniel said he’d remember it the rest of his life. Rabbi Jeffrey had led us in a responsive reading of the XR ‘Solemn Declaration’ before kneeling down on the pavement (previously declared off-limits by police), surrounded by scores of officers in high-viz vests. He pulled his tallis over his head, holding his lulav and etrog (‘How nice that he brought gladioli with him’ commented someone on social media), and put his forehead to the pavement. A moment earlier, reading the last line of the declaration, he had broken down weeping, and his shoulders were still shaking as he knelt on the ground. Seeing him there, so vulnerable and so strong, I cried, too.


And we all kept on singing.


I'm Kate, and I'm part of the Social/Climate Justice team at Makor Hayim. If you would like to join a conversation about our climate justice campaigning, then please get in touch at

kate.lebow@gmail.com.

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