December 14, 2011
The book of Maccabees, occupied
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If you think I’ve taken this analogy too far (presenting Occupy protesters as priestly cleansers, for instance, could seem somewhat ironic, given their challenge in gaining access to showers as well as toilets), you’re not alone.
“I think the entire comparison is absurd,” Rabbi Isaac Jeret of Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes told me when I called to describe my premise. Taking the Maccabees, who were engaged in a “self-liberation movement,” and comparing their attachment to the temple, “the religious central space of the Jewish people ... with the modern-day Occupy L.A. movement and any location that it would seek to occupy as a symbolic space is to completely minimize and trivialize the historic significance and the timeless spiritual significance of Israel, of Jerusalem and of the Temple Mount to the Jewish people.”
Even rabbis I contacted who are sympathetic to the Occupy movement weren’t totally on board in drawing parallels.
“I don’t want to stretch things out so that they are unrecognizable,” said Aryeh Cohen, an associate professor at American Jewish University and a member of the Occupy L.A. Interfaith Leaders Support Network — although he did say that the way 1,400 LAPD officers in riot gear evicted a few hundred unarmed, non-violent occupiers from the encampment did echo the Chanukah story.
“The Maccabees were opposing the whole empire,” he said, and referred to the paragraph added to daily prayers on Chanukah that praises God for delivering “the many into the hands of the few” and “the wicked into the hands of the just.”
“The few, in this skirmish, were not victorious over the many,” Cohen said, but added that the story of Occupy isn’t over. “In the end, the just will come out victorious.”
The Occupy protesters are still trying to advance their multifaceted agenda, despite having been evicted from their home base.
Many activists, including at least a dozen Occupy L.A. protesters, showed up at City Hall on Dec. 6 to support a City Council resolution calling for a Constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s recent so-called Citizens United decision, which has opened up new avenues for corporations to attempt to influence elections.
“The way I see it, we’re seven-and-one,” said Brian Seligman, a 41-year-old Occupy L.A. protester who was at City Hall when the resolution passed the council in a unanimous vote. Seligman has been keeping what he calls a “score card” of recent legislative and other developments in which he sees the influence of the Occupy movement at work.
He cited another example: “The banks rescinded their monthly debit card fees,” Seligman said. “I don’t think that would have happened if people like us hadn’t been marching outside the banks and making them lock their doors over it.”
Seligman is a United States Marine Corps veteran and has been part of the Occupy movement “since day one” and spent many nights downtown sleeping in a tent. I met him, his wife and their two children last week at their two-bedroom apartment in Simi Valley. The living room was strewn with toys, karate equipment and many papers, including an unopened bill from the gas company.
Since the raid, Seligman said, it is sometimes hard to make the nearly 50-mile drive downtown to attend GA meetings. But he remains very involved in Occupy L.A., in part because the family was, when I visited, hosting a homeless fellow protester, 30-year-old Joshua Taylor.
“My No. 1 fear in life is being homeless,” said Taylor, who is also a veteran of the Marines. “Now, because of Occupy, it’s not so bad, actually. It’s not so bad.”
Taylor was arrested when LAPD raided the Occupy L.A. encampment just after midnight on Nov. 30; he has been sleeping on the Seligmans’ couch since his release on Dec. 2.
Like many protesters who have spoken publicly or published accounts of their imprisonment, Taylor claims the LAPD officers mistreated the protesters in custody. Taylor said LAPD officers left protesters locked on a bus, handcuffed, for eight hours without offering them food, water or the opportunity to use the bathroom.
The rough treatment didn’t stop once they were formally booked into the jail. “They wouldn’t tell us what time it was,” Taylor said. “There was no clock. It was so disorienting, and we didn’t know what was going on. The lights were on constantly.”
According to news reports, 16 official complaints have been filed with the LAPD regarding the raid and subsequent arrests.