The mass gathering of people of distinctive color and race is not unusual in any big city. Santa Com makes everyone see red at Christmas time, just as all New Yorkers claim to be Irish when NYC turns green for Saint Patricks Day. But the anticipation of these events makes them somehow predictable and unsurprising. Unlike the event that Sean and I encountered last Sunday while taking a sunny ride downtown…
NYC is home to the largest Jewish community outside Israel, and the involvement of Hasidic Jews in the business of the city is part of the everyday. But last weekend, there was something more going on. Streaming past the now unoccupied Occupy Wall Street headquarters, men in black coats, black shoes, black hats and black looks were moving en masse. First a few, then more, many many more. Cars and buses filled with monotone men poured their passengers into the throng marching swiftly and silently across Broadway and beyond. There were no signs, no indications of industry, and scarcely any sound. Just an urgency and an undertaking.
Clearly this was not a belated march for International Women’s Day. There were some women in the crowd, but they were separate and silent. Shades of black but not a curl between them. Meanwhile the men murmured. They stood in front of walls, rocking and praying. Others flowed further to the hub of the hoards, where we could hear a voice theatrically crying and chanting though a loudspeaker. Little boys, fathers and grandfathers, rocked and prayed in a hive of sameness.
According to the lieutenant on duty with his boys in blue, Israel was in the process of passing a law making it compulsory for all Jews to be conscripted into the army. Previously clerics had been exempt, and so the Hasidics were sending a message of protest. This was one big demonstration. The top cop was not phased, he was a Viet Vet and a veteran of New York unorthodoxy. So a few thousand peaceful demonstrators was a cinch. At least in part. ‘Just don’t tell me you’re looking for a man in a black coat and a black hat…’