I was politicized in my teens, first in the reproductive rights and environmental movements. Back then I hardly understood how my Jewishness informed my activism. It would take years of reflection for me to really get it: my leftist principles were wholly shaped by who I have always been: a Jewish woman in a world where the marginalized can never stop fighting for their rights.
At the rally for last week’s International Women’s Day Strike in Washington Square Park, it was clearer than ever that I must march, agitate and ally with my Black, trans, Latinx, and Muslim brothers and sisters precisely as a Jewish feminist. My identity strengthens as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia spread like a venomous twin virus through American society.
I was visiting my parents in Florida on inauguration weekend, and we marched in Palm Beach, a few blocks from Mar-a-Lago. A sea of pink pussy hats and “The Future is Female” signs showed me, live and in-person, that the resistance is massive and here to stay. But the deepening of that vision I witnessed on International Women’s Day – “A Day Without Women” – truly moved me. Our sartorial statements went from pink to red and our demands from respectable to radical – as they must.
A few days before Purim (my favorite holiday because of its radical bent) standing alongside sisters in hijabs carrying signs about Palestinian rights resonated with me deeply, as I am with the Israeli left on the occupation and the settlements: until they are gone, none of us are truly free. I still believe in a two-state solution, and we may differ on some of the details, but that does not mean we cannot fight for justice together.
Marching with labor activists and their union banners, chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Trans Lives Matter” and my favorite: “Build a Fence Around Mike Pence” (don’t tell me that activists aren’t funny) I felt truly at home in my Jewish, feminist skin.
I did not march under a banner, but I spoke to Dania Rajendra, board member of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, one of the first organizations I joined as my values began to shape my politics more than a decade ago. I asked her why she believes it’s important for Jewish organizations to participate in the resistance movement, and in particular, the strike:
“In this moment, when Jews find ourselves under threat in ways that most of us have not faced before, it’s imperative we step up in solidarity to the front lines and lock arms with the people who have been, and remain, more vulnerable than we are,” she told me.
The diversity of the crowd, the signs, the chants – all suggest that this movement is deeply intersectional and that we know that fighting together is the only way we’ll win. Dania also perfectly articulated what I believe about the centrality of women, and feminism, to the fight ahead:
“Trump and Trumpism is part of a worldwide phenomenon — it’s not just us here in the US. Contemporary economic relations are leaving a lot of people in real trouble — in substandard housing, without enough food, and not clear about how to make ends meet… We women, as workers, as consumers, and as organizers and weavers of our social fabric, we have enormous power.”
After the rally, assembled strikers left Washington Square Park and marched past the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Memorial, Stonewall, the ICE detention center, Trump Soho, the African burial grounds and finally – to Zucotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street was born, and crushed, less than six years ago.
In the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel as he marched with MLK, my feet were praying last week – and I know they’ve got many miles to walk before we’re free from fascism. Every step I take will be as a proud Jewish feminist.
Stefanie Iris Weiss is a New York City-based freelance writer who writes about sexuality, politics and subcultures. Her most recent book is “Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable” (Random House/Crown Publishing).