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Two sukkah tents were set up at the Occupy Seattle movement in Westlake this week and 10 protesters were arrested trying to protect the first tent.
Dakota Williams, a Jewish homeless veteran, built the first sukkah on Thursday night to celebrate the holiday while also trying to use the sukkah as a means to establish precedent for religious structures in Westlake Park.
“Some nice Jewish boys came by along with some nice Israelis and a couple of African Americans and we all shared a meal and were having a great time,” Williams said, “but we knew at 10 p.m., the police would come and the protesters came and asked if they could protect our sukkah.”
According to Williams, the protesters locked arms in and around the sukkah to protect it and when the police came by to tear down the tent, the five people inside the tent locked arms and chanted, “Happy Sukkot! Let my people go!”
“It was an incredible experience sitting inside there and seeing people willing to go to jail to protect my sukkah and the crowd was getting very loud,” Williams said. “I wasn’t afraid of the police, I was afraid of the crowd.”
Miles Partman was among the people who were at Thursday night’s sukkah trying to protect it from getting taken by the police.
“I knew we had freedom of religion and that the police would tear it down if we didn’t protect it, so I came even if I knew I would get arrested because I had to protect that tent for freedom of religion,” said Partman.
The second sukkah was set up by Emma Epstein, a community organizer inspired by the Occupy Sukkot movement of New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and a few other cities.
“The sukkah was just another structure along with all the others,” Epstein said. “It did have religious meaning but I would like to say that it was in solidarity with all the other structures.”
Epstein said it was important for her to organize this event because it provided a place for both cultural and religious Jews to take part in the celebration of Sukkot and have a more meaningful celebration.
“Our sukkah this year stands for so much more. It is a space to remind us of the fragility of life, but also economic justice, racism, oppression, displacement and exploitation that so many in our country and world face,” said Epstein.
During the event, people also joined for a discussion and Havdalah service.
Robert Beiser, director of the Repair the World social justice project at Hillel at the University of Washington, helped Epstein facilitate the project and said it was important for Seattle Jews to have a presence in the movement.
“I think there are lots of Jews here, whether they are here as Jews or not…so many Jewish teachings bend our attention toward righteousness and equality,” Beiser said. “It’s important that our voices add to this chorus Jewishly.”
Beiser also said that the holiday of Sukkot serves as an important reminder of the fleeting nature of wealth and stability.
“We’re just observing a traditional Jewish practice in the modern context,” Beiser said. “This year, the modern context is a plea for economic justice.”
Rainer Waldman Adkins also came to the Occupy Sukkah event and said the movement is important because of people standing up for humane and just values. He said he believes this is strongly in the Jewish tradition.
“A sukkah represents our vulnerability and I can’t think of a much better symbol of what people are experiencing in terms of their livelihoods, their jobs and basic human rights such as health care,” said Adkins.
Alix Goldstein, a junior at the University of Washington who has been participating in the larger Occupy Seattle movement, said it was nice to find a smaller Jewish community within the bigger community at the protests.
“I think the occupy movement is a movement that incorporates everyone, people of all different races, different religions and different genders,” Goldstein said. “It’s a beautiful thing because it’s supposed to be representative of the 99 percent, so having the Jewish community here is important.”
Goldstein also said that she found it inspirational that by people returning it shows the strength of the Jewish community and the movement overall.
“In the daytime, it’s overwhelmingly positive and there’s so much excitement because … a lot of people from different backgrounds and community come out. But when it turns dark, the community gets smaller and there’s still that same excitement, but things get a little more tense,” Goldstein said.
Jeff Isaacson, who does nonprofit work in the Seattle area, said he was glad to see Jewish voices within the greater social justice movement.
“I think it’s really cool,” he said. “It’s a way to incorporate a holiday that we are already celebrating and tikkun olam is a big part of Judaism, so it’s great that we can combine the two.”
Issacson was also surprised to see the positive reactions from other protesters at the movement.
“I think it’s gotten a lot of compliments and interest from other people in the movement and a good source of creating discussion,” said Issacson. “We see a lot of support and it’s good to see Jews have come out to show that they are Jewish and part of the movement.”
Sister Alana at the Center of Life, a mystical medical center focused on making social change, said that she was drawn to learning more about the sukkah.
“The sign that this is a religious structure really drew me in,” said Alana. “They said it wasn’t about being against something, it was about being for something and I could feel that difference.”
Charlotte Anthony is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.