After Missing Out on Black Lives Matter, Jewish Women Gear Up for DC March

The National Council of Jewish Women is organizing Jewish involvement in the historic march – taking place in DC and around the world – the day after Trump is inaugurated.

Demonstrators protesting outside the Trump Hotel in Washington, November 19, 2016.
Jose Luis Magana / AP

NEW YORK – When hundreds of thousands of women converge on the capital and elsewhere a day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, Jews will be among the most visibly present. The event: the Women’s March on Washington and hundreds of thousands of “sister marches” around the world.

In the United States, throngs are expected whether in midtown Manhattan or tiny Homer, Alaska. As of late Wednesday morning in New York, 273 sister marches were planned for January 21, with more than half a million participants, according to the March on Washington website.

Many demonstrations are scheduled for abroad, one outside the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. Others are slated for Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Prague, Rome, Seoul, St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and even in Erbil, Iraq.

Sister marches in U.S. cities with significant Jewish communities will have organized Jewish participation. It’s important that the Jewish community be present, said Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, which is organizing Jewish involvement in the national march, especially after it wasn’t involved in drafting the Black Lives Matter platform. That document included a section accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians.

“I felt really aware that we missed the boat around Black Lives Matter because we weren’t around the table,” Kaufman told Haaretz. This time “we wanted to be a Jewish voice with credibility present with the general community.”

In addition to the sister marches, hundreds of buses are expected to leave from New York to the Washington mother march, and trains have long been sold out.

Two buses to D.C. booked by Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, for instance, are sold out with long waiting lists, said Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, the spiritual leader of the gay and lesbian synagogue. As many as another 100 congregants are getting to Washington other ways. That’s just from a single synagogue.

Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women.
National Council of Jewish Women (Courtesy)

No Israel-bashing

The National Council of Jewish Women has been key in organizing a Jewish presence for the national march. Kaufman said she had four main areas of concern: security, logistics, diversity and messaging. “We didn’t want it just to be white women” organizing the march, she said, “and we didn’t want it to become an Israel-bashing fest.”

A few of the dozens of Washington march partner groups have strong anti-Israel views, including Code Pink and the Arab American Association of New York, which is directed by march organizer Linda Sarsour.

But several partner groups are Jewish, including the American Jewish World Service, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, Los Angeles congregation Ikar, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and the National Council of Jewish Women.

“We got assurances that the march is not anti-Trump and not anti-Israel,” Kaufman said. “Obviously Trump will be the under- and overlay” to the march, but “they’re trying to keep it positive.”

Lots of Jewish activity is planned around the march. The preceding night, Friday, D.C. congregation Sixth & I will a host Shabbat dinner themed “a gathering of strength.” It will be co-hosted by T’ruah, Jewish Women International, Lilith Magazine, the Jewish Women’s Archive and others.

The day after the march, the National Council of Jewish Women is partnering with Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights groups to provide advocacy training. Repair the World and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation are organizing service projects for the hundreds of Jewish college students expected to march in the event via their university Hilllels. In fact, college students will be having a giant sleepover party on the floor of Hillel International’s offices in Washington.

Deena Katz, co-chairwoman of the Women’s March in Los Angeles set for January 21, 2017.
Deena Katz (Courtesy)

The overall event is clearly resonating with the Jewish community, Kaufman said. “I am hearing from people who have never gone to a march in their life, like people in my book club,” she said. “People are coming in from all over the country. It’s really quite incredible.”

To live and march in LA

In Los Angeles groups from several synagogues will march together, joining contingents from Hispanic, LGBT, Pacific Asian and Muslim communities, said Deena Katz, the event’s co-chairwoman who’s also co-executive producer of “Dancing With the Stars” and other television shows.

LA March co-chairwoman Emiliana Guereca is a Hispanic Jew, Katz said, adding that several hundred thousand marchers are expected in Los Angeles alone.

In Manhattan, synagogues both uptown and downtown are organizing to join the New York march.

Because it’s Shabbat, area synagogues are organizing earlier-than-usual services, which will end mid-morning. According to Upper West Side organizer Shana Roskies, between 300 and 500 people are expected to then converge at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, where they will listen to rabbis Joanna Samuels and Shai Held before walking down and across town to join the main march.

Congregations from Reform and Reconstructionist to Orthodox are informally supporting the effort, Roskies said. Another 150 or so are expected from downtown Manhattan synagogues, which will have their own mini-march uptown before joining the main march, which is set to end near Trump Tower.

This “started with Shabbat being a problem” for observant Jews who wanted to march but were concerned about carrying keys or pushing strollers outside the West Side eruv,” or ritual boundary, Roskies said.

“But this really is an opportunity. We are marching as Jews, so we’re affirming Jewish values like protecting civil rights and dignity, b’tselem elohim and the repeated biblical injunction to love the stranger,” she said, using the Hebrew for “that we are all made in God’s image.”

“It teaches us that we should have empathy because we were powerless once, we were vulnerable,” said Roskies, a member of Congregation Ansche Chesed.

Fortuitously, she noted, the Torah portion will be Shemot, which is “the start of our descent into slavery and miraculous redemption.” As Roskies put it, participating as Jews in the Women’s March “is a chance for us to affirm these deeply held values.”