Two Jews three opinions, but only one about Racial Justice
In an unusual band of unity, Jews of all denominations and with various stances on Middle East politics marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to answer calls for racial justice on Sunday
The day after Yom Kippur, Zionist progressives and other Jewish activists put action to sermons heard in their synagogues during Kol Nidre; One of them was Rebbetzin Mirah Curzer of the Reform East End Temple in Downtown Manhattan.
“I’m not here as an individual progressive, I’m here as a Jew,” said the criminal defense lawyer, who wore a rainbow Tallit she received at her Bat-Mitzvah.
The Racial Justice March, which gathered at noon on Jay Street in Brooklyn, was “open to all who are ready to work towards dismantling the oppressive structures that dehumanize people of color.”
Unable to attend the D.C. march on Saturday because of the holiday, Zioness, Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews of Color Caucus, donned “Black Lives Matter” gear and Jewish stars that re-energized racial justice activism with a breath of Jewish spirited enthusiasm.
“We raise our children with social justice values,” said Rabbi Alissa Wise who made the trip from Philadelphia for the march. Rabbi Wise works at JVP, one of the grassroots organizations that advocates for social justice causes around the globe. “Non-denominational Jews have never felt involved and we provide a community by demand,” the reconstructionist rabbi said about JVP.
Michael Fessler reflected on his youth growing up in Wisconsin when he faced ostracism since he was one of the only Jewish families in his community.
Others, like Laura Tabias, sympathized with the cause because of current oppression from her home in Catalonia. She came to the U.S. to visit her granddaughter, Serena Dominguez, an aspiring Jazz singer who studies music at the New School in NYC. Tabias left to a chaotic uncertainty in Catalonia shortly after the march.
Orthodox progressives were represented by a newly founded group that started on Facebook after the election called Torah Trump’s Hate. At one point Torah Trumps Hate held signs while saying Mincha, a daily Jewish afternoon prayer. “Today is the first time we’re meeting,” said one of the first members to arrive at the Jay Street Plaza, Eli Sitt.
Since its founding, the small private support group has ballooned to nearly 1,800 religious Jews who are passionate about social justice. “As Orthodox Jews this group in particular feels it important to fight for ourselves and others in need,” said Pop Hassid blogger and Hevria editor, Elad Nehorai, in a phone interview. “A big part of our mission is understanding that we have the power to help those with less of a voice and less power.”
In addition to solidarity amongst religious denominations, Progressive activists with different approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict marched with signs that seemed to clash with one another. A JVP sign read: “From Palestine to Mexico all these walls have got to go,” while Zioness held “zionists 4 racial justice today.”
A hip-hop dancer from Connecticut held up a sign that read “make Black-Jewish relationships great again;” As she marched to the Brooklyn Bridge a man accused her of being a “disruptor,” as it was first reported in Haaretz. Sarah Friedson continued walking forward and explained that causes were not mutually exclusive. “We want to show support for other minorities who experience oppression and we want to spread awareness of anti-semitism as well,” Friedson responded on Messenger.
Others felt that Linda Sarsour’s speech was divisive. Zach Schaffer who marched with Zioness asked, “Why should I feel embarrassed to stand up for my black friends?”
In another incident captured live on Facebook, JVP activists chanted: “from Palestine to Mexico all these walls have got to go” while following behind the Zionesses. Jared Sapolsky of Our Soldiers Speak is heard to say, “here I am at the March for Racial Equality and I have my own Anti-Israel escort.”
The question zionist activists have asked themselves was whether they should attend a social justice march when they can expect unfriendly rhetoric towards Zionists or to the Jewish state. “Jews have stopped telling our story which creates a vacuum so other people will tell it for us,” said Schaffer, a self-described progressive and zionist. Sapolsky affronts, “we were there to support the message that was being put out there. We were there as Jews primarily and not as zionists.”
However, those of the orthodox faction found Zioness’ presence at the rally to be unfitting for the rally: “I sympathize with [Zioness’] goals but I felt like they came in a confrontational way,” one of the Torah Trumps Hate members said.
Mr Sitt, who comes from a family-oriented Syrian community in Brooklyn, remarked that he was not concerned about heated arguments at a polarized thanksgiving table. “When you see your family fifty-two times a year you already know Aunt Sue is a racist Uncle Bob is a communist and you’ve figured out how to get along.”
If Aunt Sue and Uncle Bob find mutual ground over gratefulness, then perhaps a seemingly fractious Jewish family comprised of JVP, Zionesses, Orthodox, reconstructionist, and reform, found unity over racial justice and can sit down for dialogue instead of debate.