My name is Jason Herman and I am the rabbi at the West Side Jewish Center in Manhattan. I want to share with you all my experience of being arrested with 21 colleagues in an act of civil disobedience outside the United Nations on April 17th.
First, let me explain why it was I decided to participate in the mass Rabbinic Arrest. While I have attended many rallies and demonstrations over the last 20 years beginning with the march on Washington for Soviet Jewry in 1987, I had never been part of anything unlawful and have certainly never been arrested before.
I had friends who were arrested in college as part of the Free Tibet movement, and having learned with Rabbi Avi Weiss for four years, I was aware of his past arrests. I looked at those arrests as a means of an expression of strong anger when it is hard to be heard otherwise.
Some issues are very serious, but until the seriousness is recognized by the masses, something a little more dramatic needs to be done. I felt the issue of Iran was one such issue, and for that reason, I felt getting arrested was warranted. I believed that taking that serious step would demonstrate to other Americans and American Jews in particular that we are prepared to loudly voice our outrage as the world’s ignoring the threat of Iran, and that the world’s business cannot go on as usual while the threat remains.
The rally began like many other rallies I’ve been to–a few speeches, some chants by the crowd, and the occasional cheers and words of support from motorists and passersby. Then we began the march from the Isaiah wall, singing Am Yisroel Chai.
The march itself was moving because with it came the anticipation of what would happen next. I was about to take a very serious step, and one that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to take. I was admittedly uneasy. Would I feel humiliated looking like a criminal? How would the police treat me? What would everyone think of me?
When the moment came, we sat down on the steps–our official act of disorderly conduct. We were instructed that would be arrested individually and told to comply with the arresting officers. The whole time, while singing, “Ani Maamin” I was hoping two things: First, that I not be arrested first –having never done this, I wanted to follow the model and leadership set by others. The second was that after being arrested, we be kept together. I did not want to go through this experience alone.