Refusing to Choose

On Thursday evening I was summoned to the street in front of the Andaz Hotel in West Hollywood by CLUE, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice.   People were getting arrested again, because the hotel has still not agreed to give its housekeepers fair hours and health benefits.

The Andaz is with Hyatt hotels, which is in a protracted struggle with its lowest paid workers in cities across the country.  Hyatt has cut back on their housekeepers’ hours while requiring the same amount of work out of them, and is trying to get away with cutting their health benefits.   The housekeepers in LA, represented by HERE Local 11, are simply trying to maintain the basics they need to provide for and protect their families.

This year I was there with Christian and Muslim leaders to bless the twenty or so people sitting in a circle in the middle of Sunset Blvd. waiting to get arrested.  One year ago I was one of the people sitting there on that same stretch of pavement, alongside several housekeepers, waiting for the Sheriff’s department to stand us up, handcuff us, and cart us off together.

As I stood there last week among the chanting crowds, I remembered the feeling one year ago when I was sitting in the street and waiting.  I remember that when I closed my eyes I found my heart aching with prayer.  I was grateful: Grateful to the housekeepers for their extraordinary courage.  Grateful to the union organizers, who make ordinary people struggling for decency in the workplace visible.  Grateful to CLUE for giving me an opportunity to sit with people fighting for their human rights.

I prayed that our voices would be heard, that these women would be protected.  I prayed that a new ethos would reign in our country, of fairness over greed; of turning to one another and actually caring — one in which selfishness is no longer considered prudent but short-sighted.

I remember Abraham Joshua Heschel famously saying that he was praying with his feet when he marched with Martin Luther King Jr.   This moment on Sunset Blvd. felt holy.

I went to rabbinical school because I didn’t want to have to choose between social justice and spirituality anymore.  I wanted to have moments like this one, in which my religious convictions lead me to act for justice, and my actions for justice lead me back to my relationship with God.  Now I want to inspire that in my community: listening for the holy in each other’s stories, looking out at what’s wrong in our city and finding the courage to make it right.

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