Live from the ‘Sanity’ rally: A rabbi spends Shabbat with Jon Stewart [PART ONE]

The walk from David’s house on S and 10th, Northwest, to the National Mall was going to be half an hour or so.  Fine for me, as I was set on walking anyway (Shabbos and all) but I was most pleased when Rachel, Toru and Lea, all people with whom I’d gone to high school at the University of Chicago Lab School, arrived and said that the Metro was packed to the gills– better to walk to than to fight the underground hoards.  While I wasn’t trying to hide my observance from these friends who knew me before Judaism had become a central driving force in my life, I kind of wanted to be a plain old, rationality-and-Jon-Stewart-loving American today just like everyone else, and draw as little attention to my special religious requirements as possible.

It was a glorious Saturday morning.  Sunny, but “with an autumnal chill,” as David’s British roommate, Tom, put it.  As we walked through the unusually crowded streets of DC I couldn’t help but imagine that this is perhaps what it looked like in the days leading up to Sukkot or Pesach in Israel, people flooding from all over the ancient near-East toward the Temple to make sacrifices. Except instead of livestock, people of all races and ages carried funny, and sometimes biting, signs, and rather than an air of solemnity, exhilaration and irreverence filled the city.

We were here!  Other people will watch this on TV (and now I know that would have been the way to go if I’d wanted to actually hear everything). We had arrived for the event itself, in flesh.  One day when our grandchildren ask with wonder, “Where were you for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear?” we’ll be able to say we were there, stretching six long city blocks down the Mall from 3rd Street, where the stage and too-small Jumbotrons were located.

“It’s like a huge tailgate party for a Michigan football game,” said David as we walked. “Except that instead of getting drunk, probably these people just drank coffee this morning.  Pretty much like us.”

And “us” was a great mixed bunch, comprised of Jews spanning the spectrum from the JewBu’s to my left to the Modern Orthodox families in front of me that walked straight from shul with their strollers and blankets upon which they ate shabbos lunch; there were Muslim women in hijab, college girls dressed up as the oil spill and as frat boys as the American flag, people from literally across the nation, old, young.  Peoples’ signs said things like, “Things are pretty OK,” and “Impeccable spellers for nuanced political discourse,” and “God hates (or is at least totally unimpressed by) ideologues,” and the one Jon Stewart coined the day he announced the rally, “I may disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.”  (Some of the more political signs I saw included, “Every time Sarah Palin tweets God kills a kitten,” and “The Invisible Hand is giving us the finger.”)

While a Comedy Central rally could easily become an excuse to get wasted at 11 am on a Saturday, this was an exceptionally polite crowd.  (“Quite civilized,” said Tom later).  We – all three or so hundred thousand of us – were quiet when spoken to from the stage, followed instructions to whisper and to jeer when prompted, put our hands in the air and did the wave when it was our turn.  We showed up ready to participate in whatever Stewart and Colbert had planned for us.

But what did they have planned for us?

Click here for PART TWO of Rabbi at the rally

Rabbi Lizzi Jill Honeyrose Heydemann is the Revson Rabbinic Fellow at IKAR, a spiritual community in the westside of Los Angeles