January 15, 2019

Speaking Up for Our Shared Values

Linda Scherzer JCRC Director
Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ

Next Saturday, January 19, hundreds of thousands of women and men across the country will take to the streets once again for the third annual National Women’s March.

As in previous years, people will march for women’s empowerment and social justice. They will carry signs calling for reproductive rights, responsible gun laws, compassion for immigrants seeking asylum, environmental justice, and social equality for all people regardless of race, gender sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion.

They will harness the power of a national movement to work for social issues that have long reflected the values of our community; ones supported and championed by the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC). That is why many of us will be marching on January 19 and taking our daughters with us.

At the same time, many in the Jewish community have been deeply conflicted by the controversy surrounding the Women’s March, including credible allegations that leaders have aligned themselves with peddlers of anti-Semitism like Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Statements by Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American and one of four national march leaders, challenging our right to be “feminists and Zionists” at the same time, left many of us outraged. While some members of our community will be satisfied with the leaders’ statement of apology, others feel their response was disingenuous and self-serving, crafted to ensure no loss of support.

So where do we stand as representatives of the organized Jewish community in Greater MetroWest?

As a matter of policy, the JCRC cannot endorse or support an event that takes place on Shabbat. For those who are planning to march, however, we encourage you to join the local event in Trenton, organized by Women’s March New Jersey, an independent organization with no affiliation to Women’s March Inc., the group led by Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory.

Last year, this same organization marched in Morristown, which, as some may remember, had its own incident, angering many in the Jewish community. One of the speakers, a woman by the name of Essma Bangabsia, shouted “Free Palestine” from the stage, surprising leaders of the NJ march who had read and vetted her speech beforehand and were not aware of what she was planning. Although New Jersey march leaders assured me that neither Israel nor advocacy on the Palestinian issue are part of the march’s platform, there can be no guarantee these issues won’t appear, whether from the dais or among marchers themselves.

As Jewish women (and men) who stand for the principles of equality and social justice but are equally concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism, the BDS movement, and attempts to delegitimize Israel, we understand why some may feel conflicted about participating again this year. Will this be a march that feels safe and inclusive? Why should we have to choose between our support for justice and equality and our identity as Jews and Israel supporters?

To those people, we encourage you to march with Zioness, a Jewish woman’s organization promoting liberal progressive values that is also proudly Zionistic. Zioness is sponsoring three teach-ins which will stream live on Facebook on January 13 (from Los Angeles), January 15 (from Washington, D.C.), and January 16 (from New York.) The teach-ins will explore how Jewish women, as well as Jewish members of the LGBTQ community and their allies, can and should make their voices heard in truly inclusive spaces.

To register for any of these events, go to www.zioness.org.

If you plan on going to the Trenton march on January 19 and would like to march behind the Zioness banner, please let us know by calling Mara Gellman at (973) 929-3096.

Whatever you decide to do on January 19, please remember that the fight for social change doesn’t end with the Women’s March. It takes grassroots organizing, education, and engagement at the state and federal level to ultimately make an impact on the issues we care about. You can be an active participant in helping to effect change by joining JCRC’s Leadership Mission to Washington on February 26-27, joining other members of our community as we meet with our New Jersey congressional delegation for two days of advocacy and learning.

If you’re concerned about the direction of our country; if you want to make a difference on the issues that affect us as Jews and Americans, please join us in Washington on February 26.