A Rallying Cry

Years ago a friend of mine sent me a picture of a sign that made him giggle. It was from a march of some kind — I can’t recall the cause — and there was a small group holding up a banner emblazoned with the words, “Jewish Lesbian Vegetarians.” Together we laughed about how unbelievably specific the sign was, and wondered aloud whether this group would deign to associate with meat eaters. Or vegans.

It feels quaint now, our surprise. Today, we are slicing ourselves into smaller and smaller pieces of the pie. This isn’t all bad. How amazing to discover that scattered around the world there are at least 117 people who share your passion for Indonesian airmail stamps from 1971-77?

But the Jewish community has prided itself over being able to come together at times of crisis, and this moment in America feels like it qualifies. Yes, if you live on the right wing of the religious community, the election can seem to have been more of a 50/50 proposition. But with 71% of American Jews voting for Clinton, much, much higher among liberal denominations, it felt like we were nearing some consensus when it came to our new president. He of the retweeting white supremacists and loving Steve Bannon. Being against the things Trump stands for felt like the ever more elusive common denominator.

After returning from a Shabbat spent in walking distance to the Boston Women’s March, I was surprised how many people in shul the following week wanted me to tell them about the experience, how many expressed regret that they, too, hadn’t made the extra effort. “Don’t worry,” I reassured them, “there will be lots more chances to protest.”

So when I turned on the news after sundown, and watched the images of protesters in airports, many visible kippot among them, it seemed the obvious choice. Within minutes I found that there was a rally planned for the next day in Boston, to protest the turning away of refugees. It seemed apt on a week when we were reading about Moses demanding that Pharaoh let his people go. A week when we were literally remembering that we were slaves in Egypt. Which, the tradition teaches, is supposed to be instructive for how we should treat the stranger, right?

Then, I started hearing a little doubt among my liberal friends. the ones who have been commiserating with me since November and even before. “Are you sure you want to go?” they asked. “Do you know who’s sponsoring the rally?”

Yes, I knew who was sponsoring the rally. And I knew that CAIR sometimes took positions that I disagreed with. Sometimes endorsed organizations that I loathe. But in this moment, I felt like we were together, We could all agree on this one thing, and fight to make our voices heard. Just like there are Jews with whom I vehemently disagree, about egalitarianism, or homosexuality, but sometimes, we put our differences aside when we come together to support one another.

Yet here I was being asked, how could I partner with them? What would I do if the rally devolved into a bunch of anti-Israel signs and slogans? Was I prepared to run if it all went sour? Maybe, as someone suggested to a friend, we should consider draping ourselves in Israeli flags to make it clear we were ready to fight?

Even though recent events have left me cynical and deflated, I decided to ignore the warnings. I decided that though I may not agree with everything the organization stands for, we have common cause. I brought three of my children with me, and friends as well. There, the result of a few well-placed Facebook postings, filling Copley Square, 20,000 people came to stand up for things we all believe. A common denominator of decency.

Hundreds of Jews held signs with quotes from the Torah and the atmosphere was genuine and generous. I heard no mention of Palestine, but if I had, it wouldn’t have mitigated the reason I was there. If my love for Israel is so tenuous that it can be broken by a couple mentions of Palestine in my presence, then the fault lies with me.

I am certain there were people in that crowd of thousands who held beliefs different from my own. Maybe some were anti-vaccine, or for lowering the estate tax, or for keeping women from praying publicly at the Kotel. On another day, sometime in the future, we may find ourselves on opposite sides. But on this day, all those people put those other differences in their pockets, contained but not forgotten.

I left the rally feeling 2% better about the state of our country than I had felt the previous evening. In this fight I will need to partner with allies at every turn, because my own community is small, and we can’t do it alone. In the venn diagram of our commitments, we will march together where we overlap. Who knows, maybe, having seen each other’s humanity when we are marching hand in hand, maybe we will be able to move just a little closer together on the things that divide us.

About the Author
Leah Bieler has an MA in Talmud and Rabbinics. She teaches Talmud to students of all ages and backgrounds. Leah spends the school year in Massachusetts and summers in Jerusalem with her husband and four children. Sometimes she writes to get a break from them. The children, that is.