I am a Jewish activist mom, so I can mark my child’s two-plus years on earth with different firsts. At six weeks, he joined Women of the Wall’s prayers at the Kotel for the first time. At four months, he attended his first Pride Parade, in Jerusalem, and my pure joy turned to terror when Shira Banki was murdered.
Last week, at two years and three months, we brought him to his first protest in NYC, “No War! No Hate!” organized by a group called Rise and Resist. The protests followed a week during which President Donald Trump nearly taunted North Korea into war and White Supremacist Nazis marched with torches and arms raised in Charlottesville, VA, killing one woman, Heather Heyer.
My husband took him on the train for the first time (“Thomas!” he shouted) and he visited mommy’s office. We walked to the meeting point at the NYPL and he fell asleep in his stroller (Mom win). The activists slowly gathered, with their signs and some with costumes. Mine said, “Jewish Mom Against Racism and Trump” in silver sparkle letters with rhinestones on black construction paper, and it was glorious. A group of protesting drag queens arrived, and we began: AJ woke as we started to march and cheer.
A typical toddler, he wasn’t very into any of the things around him—the shouting chants, the crowds. But he was definitely intrigued. His Dad handed him a bagel to snack on and on we went through the streets toward Trump Tower shouting “Not My President” and “Real People, Fake President.” It was such a relief just to be doing something. I needed to shake off the feeling of fear and dread. About halfway to our destination, little AJ started to kvetch. When the kvetch turned to a cry, we veered off the route, into a diner.
I’m not sure about the real impact of protesting, but it was empowering. It sure as hell beat staying home to worry.
Nearly every day since what feels like forever, there is at least one story that reaches my feeds and lands like a punch in the gut. Whether the story of a young black man brutalized, wrongfully incarcerated or killed, a Nazi rally, a shooting or abusive behavior of a state official, each drop in this huge bucket of hate devastates me.
I have always attributed my sensitivity in part to my Jewish identity—knowing from a young age that my grandparents survived the Holocaust so that I could be here. The world stood by while my people and the rest of my family were systematically shamed, corralled, brutalized and burned. So I have always felt we must speak up and act in not be silent in the face of injustice and violence. This message was ingrained in me.
I remember attending protests as a child, for soviet Jewry and in support of Israel. In my family Never Again was not about looking back, it was about ensuring it never happens again. This is how I am raising my child. We march with him at LGBT Pride to ensure that everyone has the same right to love and safety. I am teaching my son that our values of kindness and justice are from the Torah and Jewish tradition.
Last Sunday night, I went with my mom to a vigil at the Reformed Church of Highland Park, NJ in my town, an amazing place for spiritual activism. People that crowded the room, stretched all the way out to the grass and filled the balcony— allfrom different ages religions, races and backgrounds. I was glad to be there, and glad to see a diverse handful of clergy there too.
Standing there in church my mom lamented: “Why aren’t synagogues also organizing?” She isn’t wrong. Jewish communities have a long tradition of “repairing the world” with donations, volunteering, running NGOs and teaching lessons of morality to our kids. Granted, it is scary to bring a child to a protest with all of the violence in the streets. We want to turn off the news when we see the Nazi images streaming live in 2017, but it is time to wake up.
I am glad to see many of our prominent organizations release statements, but where are the Jewish masses? What is our grassroots response to anti-Semitism in America? There are some shining stars, rabbis who speak up publicly and act to welcome refugees, denounce violence but I do not want those inspirational leaders to be exceptions. I want Jews taking a stand for justice to be the rule.
So: moms, dads, grandparents, clergy and leaders: Please let go of fears of splitting your family or community by party line. Just speak out on right and wrong.
The Torah is clear on this and Jewish history leaves no doubt as to what happens when hate and bigotry take over. No need to take a stand on a specific election, but we do need to take a stand against exclusion, incarceration and disenfranchisement of people based on color, ethnicity, gender and religion.
Organize a vigil rejecting the KKK and Nazi resurgence, whatever the size. Share a moment of silence with a local church, mosque or other community. Remember together the lives of those lost on the battlegrounds of racism and anti-Semitism.
Talk to our young people, let them discuss their feelings as Jews during this time. Be a mensch, and lead your community toward the light. Be the light by calling out hate and violence for what it is, and showing a different way.
Teach your children that Jews don’t stick their heads in the sand—they march and they act out against anti-Semitism and against systemic racism.