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Shabbat Of Protest: Inside The Chicago Women’s March

The Women’s March was set for a Saturday morning. My first impression was that the organizers didn’t care whether Jewish women attended or simply knew nothing about Judaism. Such is the life of a minority. Religious Jews worship in synagogues on Shabbat mornings and don’t travel that day. Wanting to join the Women’s March, the first hurdle was to decide whether to attend in spirit or on my feet.

Ironically, the voices of two heroic Jewish men convinced me to skip synagogue that Shabbat. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched for racial equality next to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Heschel found this to be a spiritual experience. “When I marched in Selma I felt my legs were praying.” But that was Bloody Sunday and this was a Shabbat. So, Elie Wiesel convinced me to go, based on the message of his 1986 Nobel Lecture, when he admonished that “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” The National Council of Jewish Women supported this event and wrestled with the same questions.

Standing at the intersection of Jackson Blvd. and Michigan Avenue, thousands could be seen in all directions supporting fundamental women’s rights and standing against injustice. Despite the outspoken lack of trust in the new Trump era, it was a hopeful atmosphere. The unspoken fervent hope was that the solidarity of our many voices would reach President Donald Trump. We were 3.3-5 million people marching in unity that day across America – the largest, single day, U.S. protest ever.

Based on the flurry of Executive Orders, Trump tweets and nominations, as well Congressional actions, we now know Trump was impervious to this protest. To be sure, his Executive Orders are the fulfillment of some campaign promises. Ordinarily, this might be viewed as a sign of integrity but, ordinarily, presidents are elected by a majority of voters. This president lost the popular vote gaining only 46% of the votes. Nearly 54% did not vote for him and, in the President’s English, this is a REALLY HUGE number of people. Trump lacks a popular mandate. If he didn’t rely on “alternative facts,” the Women’s March should have been very relevant to him.

The 54% majority is comprised of diverse people and interests. At the Women’s March, from my vantage point, many protestors had little in common on the personal level. They had an amazing array of individualized signs with language and images that might not be acceptable to all in terms of couth, yet we agreed on the meaning. Seeing messages on a sign or clothing enabled us to focus on what unifies us, not what divides us. This resulted in a surprisingly peaceful and powerful protest.

Critics of the Women’s March, before and after, endeavored to divide us and diminish the significance of this event. Kay S. Hymowitz opined on NPR that the protest posed a “danger of reinforcing and perhaps even widening” a hostile divide. Should the majority of the country remain silent in order to heal the divide? Nonsense.

Jamilah Lemieux dissed the Women’s March in her ColorLines op-ed. She didn’t want to put her “body on the line…to feign solidarity” with the 53% of white females who allegedly voted for Trump. Those women weren’t there. Evidently, Lemieux also preferred not join her African-American sisters that day, as well as her white sisters walking with “Black Lives Matter” signs.

Linda Sarsour’s role as a primary organizer of the DC Women’s March has also been a target of criticism. She is a Palestinian-American and BDS activist, known to be anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. I am a former president of the America Israel Chamber of Commerce Chicago who just might be found standing in protest against some of Sarsour’s other initiatives. No doubt, at the intersection of the US, Palestinian and Israeli relationships, Sarsour and I would speak across a great divide. But, we weren’t standing at that intersection. We were sharing some essential principles that day for indisputable women’s rights.

Unity is strength, and critics try to divide us. If people have to agree on every issue to join together for something that is right, there would be no collective voice for the good. We are empowered by our ability to share a path even if we diverge later. Surely not all protestors read the Unity Principles of the Women’s March. The overarching principle – the one that motivated us to stand up – was to protect women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights. We expressed to the new administration the principles we will defend.

Yes, not each of the Unity Principles was equally relevant to each marcher. Some protestors had their own agenda that fit well within the whole. This was not defined as a Trump protest, yet many people ensured this POTUS will forever be associated with insulting, assaulting and disrespecting women based on his own vulgar words. Judging by the number of “pussy hats” and signs, that issue alone provoked many to show up and protest. This was a dramatic shaming of the conduct of the new president.

Others defined democracy as the overarching principle. They expressed disdain for the apparent relationship between Trump and Putin, as well outrage for Russia’s interference in the presidential election. Almost everyone shouted with pride “this is what democracy looks like.” These are the women and men who will vigilantly protect our democracy.

Trump ignored the voices of the majority that day, and he still does. This does not mean the Women’s March was for naught. It was a very spiritual Shabbat for me, and a very meaningful Saturday for all. It was a powerful, historic moment for millions of women, men and children who stood at the same intersection and on the same path. If we do not allow the critics to pull us apart, we can and will stand together again, unified, in greater numbers that cannot be ignored.

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