Denouncing the golden calf

Rabbi David Shneyer performs Sunday at a vigil in Washington during Democracy Awakening. Photo by Josh Marks
Rabbi David Shneyer performs Sunday at a vigil in Washington during Democracy Awakening.
Photo by Josh Marks

By Joshua Marks

Religious leaders paraded around a replica of the biblical golden calf during a Sunday afternoon vigil, denouncing the greed they said is obstructing American democracy.

The event near Union Station was organized by Democracy Awakening, a mobilization of thousands of activists who came to Washington demanding reforms that would remove what they said is the corrupting influence of money in politics.

“The golden calf of our society is individualism and that individualism is expressed in greed and wanting more money,” said Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of the Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. “We have a system that puts the needs of the individual above the needs of the community. … We want a system that makes the common good the highest value, not getting rich the highest value.”

Other speakers included Rev. Dr. Linda Olson Peebles of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington; Rev. William Lamar, senior pastor of Metropolitan A.M.E. Church; and Dennis Coker, principal chief of the Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware, who offered a welcome and acknowledged that the lands where the vigil was taking place are the homelands of the Piscataway Conoy of the Powhatan Confederacy.

Rabbi Gilah Langner, a religious educator in the area, gave the concluding prayer, saying that “a nation can also lose its way, dancing around an idol of gold. But that is a path to destruction, and it is not where our true spirits lie.”

She said that as in the book of Exodus, the remedy for a golden calf was the building of the Tabernacle, that all Americans must contribute to rebuilding democracy “on a foundation of equality, where all people have a say and an equal vote.”

Rabbi David Shneyer, founder and director of Am Kolel and rabbi of Kehila Chadasha, a chavurah, both in Montgomery County, brought his guitar to the event.

“This is a movement that is trying to affirm the vision, the message of the prophets, to create a society devoted to justice and compassion and love, the core teaching of the Torah,” said Shneyer.

The interfaith vigil followed the Rally for Democracy that took place earlier in the day at the Capitol reflecting pool. Democracy Awakening culminated the events with Monday’s Congress of Conscience Day of Action, a day of mass civil disobedience where hundreds were arrested, including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. Democracy Spring demonstrations and arrests have been taking place outside and inside the Capitol since marchers arrived from Philadelphia on April 11.

In the audience for the interfaith vigil was Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder and director of the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center.

“We are threatened now by modern corporate pharaohs that not only oppress human beings but oppress the Earth,” Waskow said. “They bring plagues on the Earth like the story of the pharaoh 3,000 years ago. Those pharaohs have now tried to grab control of democratic elections by pouring money in at the top and keeping people from voting at the bottom. That’s why I’m here.”

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