Rabbis and Congregants Take to N.Y. Streets to Protest Trump, Hate Speech

Members of Jewish rights groups and individuals of various denominations invoke fears of Nazism, Islamophobia during Sunday's march in Manhattan.

Members of Jewish organizations and other groups at an anti-Trump demonstration in Manhattan, November 13, 2016.
Jennie Kamin

NEW YORK - A group of demonstrators approaches the corner of Central Park West and 60th St. in New York City, where thousands had taken to the streets in protest of President-elect Donald Trump on Sunday.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs approaches, behind them, pushing a stroller in one hand and holding the hand of her young daughter in the other. Clad in a corduroy jacket and armed with snacks for the kids, Jacobs is joined by dozens of rabbis and families marching toward Trump Tower under the banner of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

The organization’s stated purpose is to mobilize rabbis and laypeople affiliated with all streams of Judaism around the issue of protection of global human rights. Their message is clear, asserts Jacobs, a Conservative rabbi and the organization's executive director: “Hatred against any one group means hatred against all groups."

The group's name derives from the sound of the shofar, which is heard on the Jewish High Holy Days. It is “a call to action and a call to repentance,” explains Lev Meirowitz Nelson, a rabbi who was ordained at multidenominational Hebrew College and T'ruah's education director.

Jacobs pulls out her shofar, puts it to her lips and produces the t’ruah sound – nine quick blasts. The group marches on.

Micah Cowan, 19, is among the masses of college students joining the march on Sunday. “I’ve grown up in a very sheltered background. After this election, I feel like I’ll have to start fearing for my safety as a Jew,” says Cowan, who is joined by Hannah Josovitz, 20.

“As the granddaughter of two Holocaust survivors, I would never vote for Trump,” says Josovitz. Her parents, however, were among the reported 24 percent of the American Jewish electorate who cast ballots for the president-elect. According to a Pew Research Study, that is just 2 percentage points less than the proportion of those who voted for Republican nominee Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.

Gabriel Blau, 36, joins the march with his husband Dylan and their eight year-old son, Elijah, who is one of nine children in the T’ruah entourage. As Blau is from an LGBTQ family and a multiracial family, and is descended from immigrants, he says it was important to join the chorus of voices. “We were brought up say 'never again,'" he says, "but clearly to too many, that means 'never again' to us.”

Rabbi Lev Meirowitz Nelson blows a shofar in front of the Trump Tower in Manhattan, November 13, 2016.
Jennie Kamin

Since the November 8 election, hate crimes are on the rise in America with the Southern Poverty Law Center reporting over 200 incidents of “hateful harassment and intimidation” – a number that some say surpasses that of post-September 11th incidents. This comes two weeks after a 24-year-old Saudi student, Hussain Saeed Alnahdi, was beaten and killed in Wisconsin as part of a suspected hate crime, and just days after the Klu Klux Klan announced that on December 3, it will hold a parade in North Carolina in honor of Trump's victory.

Conservative Rabbi Lee Paskind, 66, is participating in the protest to remind his neighbors that “we do not stand for the comments [Trump] has made about Muslims and immigrants. The message is '[we are] here to stay.'”

As the march meanders down 59th St., Eliana Meirowitz Nelson continues on with 3-month-old son, Tav, in a carrier strapped to her chest. “I am terrified of Donald Trump and I think he’s not far from a Nazi,” says Meirowitz Nelson. She takes up the shofar, sounding the t'ruah call.

Six-year-old Noa sits on the shoulders of her father, Rabbi Joshua Weinberg. “Trump should be nice to all people,” says Noa.

Weinberg is the executive director of the Reform Zionist organization ARZA. Like others in his group, he expresses concern over the fact that many right-wing Israeli ministers lauded Trump's election as the end of the two-state solution and prospects for a Palestinian state.

“We remember all too well when a democratically elected, fascist dictator rose to power,” says Weinberg, adding that his message for young American Jews is that “each person was created in the divine image ... Thirty-six times in the Torah it’s mentioned how we should treat the stranger, the Other.”

Barbara Schmutzler, 50, believes the diversity found in New York City is what makes it such a rich environment to live in. “On the subway, I can see the whole world around me and I love it,” says Schmutzler, who grew up in Germany. Her parents were not Jewish, but lived under the Nazi occupation. Although Schmutzler herself supported Bernie Sanders in the primary, there was no question that she would support Clinton in the general election: “The minute someone threatens to curb the press, not one more word needs to be heard.”

Rabbi Jill Jacobs of the T'ruah rights organization blows a shofar at the anti-Trump protest in Manhattan, November 13, 2016.
Jennie Kamin

Schmutzler, a former bassoonist for the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, mentions yet another message related to the day’s demonstrations: a media broadcast depicting burning flags and tensions erupting across the country. Schmutzler received two messages from friends in Israel warning her to be careful at the protests. “I don’t know how this impression can be created,” she says. “There’s absolutely no wish to get aggressive It’s not the philosophy of the camp."

Due to police barricades in front of Trump Tower, the protest alters course, veering down 57th Ave., blocking a lane of traffic in its wake. As the sun sets behinds them, the T’ruah group chants along with the rest of the masses “say it loud, say it clear, Muslims are welcome here.”

Once again, Jacobs puts the shofar to her lips and sounds the t’ruah. And the group marches on.