Not just Cherie's teachings, but the amazingly honest and resilient presence and words shared by community members in the room, served as amazing grounding for what the next morning would bring. Advertised as "Liberation Morning Shacharit Gathering" on our events, with location "TBA," A group of 60 people that included Kadima members and friends met outside the construction site for a new youth jail in Seattle's Central District. Three people of faith - a Unitarian pastor, a UCC pastor, and a Quaker - had all locked themselves to an I-beam inside the construction site in the hopes of their presence would force the halt of construction as part of the #PeoplesMoratorium, a project of the No New Youth Jail Coalition. I have been building relationships with organizers in the coalition for almost two years. Many of these organizers are Kadima members. Some are on our board of directors.
I have shown up more and more in solidarity with this work of ending mass incarceration and a militarized police department. In fall 2016, I supported Block the Bunker's campaign to remove a city budget increase to build a militarized police "bunker" in North Seattle. In January 2017, I signed on as an individual to the appeal to block the City of Seattle from granting Martin Luther King Jr. County the Master Use Permit to build the jail. This all on the heels of even the Seattle City Council and King County Council Members and Executive Constantine themselves calling for zero youth detention in the City and County respectively.
This past Friday, I had been in on the organizing of various members of King County's clergy to take action against the continued construction. While my three colleagues were locked to the I-beam inside, I was called upon to lead a prayer service - just as the Seattle Police Department had issued a dispersal order to the 60 people who were standing on the sidewalk supporting those inside. I put on my tallit (prayer shawl) and my t'fillin and declared the space one of prayer. I began leading the group, maybe one-third or one-quarter Jewish, in song.
The police began to encircle us using their bicycles as barriers creating an area in which, if we remained, we would be arrested. I continued to sing and intersperse the singing with Jewish teachings about liberation, the omer-period, and the liturgy. I stated toward the beginning of the service "never have I been so glad that Jewish services are so long.” It was clear that the chanting, meditative singing and a stance of prayer and connection with the holiness among and beyond us both transformed the space and confused the officers. The police did, though, begin arresting people who did not move beyond their bicycle barriers. Watching these people - mostly young people - make the conscious choice in the moment to stand their ground was deeply emotional, deeply empowering, and wrought with solidarity, sadness, and pride. At one moment, I walked over to one of my fellow pray-ers as they decided to get arrested and offered to put a hand on their shoulder as I kept singing. The officer nearest me told me that would be seen as getting in the way of the arrest, and so I leaned toward the person getting arrested, and we locked eyes as their hands were brought behind their back. The resolution in this movement is clear: no new youth jail - and as organizer Senait Brown has said: "This fight goes beyond the brick-and-mortar building. This is about fighting structural, systemic racism, and it has been about that from the beginning." This is not something to back down from. This is where the anti-racist theory and rhetoric hits the pavement.
The police came for me last and I had no intention of being arrested. Not that day. I walked as slowly as they would allow me - as they pushed my back - to beyond the barrier and continued to lead the service while the police took down the prayer space we had created. Mobile devices drawn, the scene was being filmed and tweeted. Others, meanwhile, had arrived in tallit. A fellow rabbinic colleague joined us. Pastors participated. We continued singing and drawing upon the well of our shared source of strength. We stood and sang until all our colleagues had been ushered to the police van for transport to jail.
Being there as a Jewish man was powerful. I was relishing the visibility of Jews celebrated by those who had gathered to resist the jail's construction. It was a rare occasion when prayer did not equal Christian, or even "interfaith." It was a Jewish prayer service which named the Duwmaish land we were praying on and explicitly carried with it an invitation that people be themselves, pray from their tradition, and add teachings and wisdom they rely on, all inside a Jewish positive and visible space - despite even the antisemitic comments overheard being said by a police officer.
And, then I was a man. I love being a man as much as I love being a Jew. I was a man taking up a lot of space to hold an intentional container in the face of state coercion - mostly masculine expressing (i.e. they looked like men to me) police officers. I had been asked to do this, and this is an important fact. Before the start of my service, a lead organizer said “We need you to take the space and lead….how long can you hold a mic?” I smiled. How long can a male rabbi hold a mic?! Indeed. I was being asked as a man, a Jew, and a white person, to take up space when mostly femme, queer, and womxn, many of color, lead this work. At Kadima, I hold these identities as well, though without the ask to “hold the mic as long as I can.” Understanding where and when and how to use my male, white privilege has been and still is a learning journey. Let those of us with one or both of these identities also ask: when to speak and when to listen? I had the rest of the day and night to think more about this leading into a mincha service back at Kadima - with no dispersal order - focusing on men and masculinity. With 11 Kadima folks present, we discussed gender identity and expression, and raised a topic we have not focused on much yet in our community. There was a diversity of age and gender in the room, and while most participants named their trust levels as decently high, there was a fair amount of caution in the room as well, particularly from transmasculine people in attendance; could a conversation about men and masculinity include them and not be dominated by cis-gender men? We can do and must do better. We read the section of Torah (Leviticus 19) that serves as the anchor text for tochecha - the Jewishly art of giving feedback when one does something wrong. We read excerpts from bell hooks, Penny Rosenwasser, and Mordecai Kaplan about male domination, masculinity, integrity, and personal and communal redemption. We sang, and we mourned. The cis-male people in the room acknowledged the desire to create space for cis-male people to work through their "stuff" and commit to more learning about sex, gender, and gender oppression.
All in all, this last week exemplified the power in this community. The power to stand up as accomplices. The power to hold space as Jews. The power to further conversations that lead to inclusion. I invite us all one step further in. Come out this May and join with one another as our power increases through the bonds we make in relationship.