Today is the day after Tu b’Shevat, our Jewish arbor day which carries with it the hope of spring, and it is also President Abraham Lincoln’s 208th birthday. Given the role President Lincoln played in protecting the human dignity of all people, it is fitting that today has been declared the National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees (or at least the February, 2017 version). So it was that on this frigid sleet-filled day (with no hint of spring in the air at all), I joined the crowd of demonstrators in Battery Park, as under the big umbrella of HIAS (pun intended), the Jewish community of New York joined communities across the country to voice our concerns to the Trump Administration about the refugee ban.
Despite shivering from the dampness that had penetrated my down coat, I was again profoundly moved to be in a crowd of active citizens exercising our First Amendment rights. Three weeks ago, on a gloriously sunny January afternoon, I joined the Upper West Side Jewish contingent of the NYC Women’s March. Two weeks ago on the Saturday night the Muslim ban was announced, Bill, Hayato and I made signs and rather than go to JFK Airport, opted to take the subway to Trump Tower. I smile remembering the “Protest of Three” we experienced, as the only other people around Trump Tower were the six NYPD officers guarding the place. The next day, seeing the crowd in the subway with their signs, I learned of the demonstration happening at Battery Park. So it was that I went to Battery Park two weeks ago to protest the refugee ban, like today. On Honest Abe’s 208th birthday, once again in the shadow of Lady Liberty, there is a bud of hope, as our judicial system works to protect the rights of the vulnerable. Unlike two weeks ago, today I was right up front, adding my voice to the call and response which is the voice of the Resistance. “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here.” Because I was up front, despite the sleet and the fog, I could see Lady Liberty in the harbor, cheering us on through the chill, reminding us that refugees don’t have a warm place to return to at the end of the rally.
I learned how to be an activist on the streets of Jerusalem in the early part of the 5770’s. Never did I think I would use the courage and strength I gained from those mornings at the Kotel on the streets of New York City, Washington, D.C., Cleveland or any other city I may find myself in during these Days of the Demagogue. I am compelled by my Jewish soul to protest in the loudest voice possible the degradation of democracy and decency that is the hallmark of the Trump Administration. Those of us in the American Jewish community who were trained to be leaders, whether by our Federations or by the Wexner Heritage Foundation or by other forward thinking philanthropists, must raise our voice. This is exactly the NEVER AGAIN moment we were trained to look out for and to react against.
To those Israeli activists who are blinded by one issue advocacy, I say that a thoughtful approach to Israel-Arab policy by the Trump Administration does not excuse the “creeping authoritarianism” of Trump and his circle. The Hitlerian nature of their distortion of truth and fact is shocking in and of itself; the contortions done by those who have to spin Trump’s Tweets is a disgrace to our democracy and the treatment of journalists has been a literal display of a “chilling effect”. Those who know the First Amendment know that is a concept that triggers Constitutional protections. Those following the travesty of this Trump Administration know this is just one area where the new President is bumping up against the U.S. Constitution. Thank G-d for the Founding Fathers and their wisdom. They knew about the abusive power of a king. So to my fellow passionate Zionists I beg, beware of Donald the Demagogue, even if Jared Kushner brings the best of intentions and a pure heart to our issues.
On Rosh Hodesh Av, 5770, I engaged in my first act of spiritual civil disobedience on behalf of the Modern Jewish Democracy Movement, as I joined the Women of the Wall at the Kotel. On January 21, 2017, I took my first steps in the “Save the American Democracy Movement,” as I joined the millions of women, men and children who marched against the values of the Trump Administration. On Rosh Hodesh Av, as we marched we sang, “Ozi, v’zimrat Yah, vayehi li lishua, to Shefa Gold’s haunting chant, words which we just read this past Shabbat from Moshe’s sacred Song of the Sea.
Today, as we waited for the fine people of HIAS to get organized in the freezing rain and sleet, we began singing that same Ozi v’zimrat Yah, declaring yet again, in Shefa Gold’s translation, “My Strength (balanced) with the Song of G-d will be my salvation.” May our balanced strength, supported by our faith and belief that each individual is created in the Divine Image, support all of us as we continue to sing out for the core values of the United States of America. We are literally singing to save our democracy from a leader who could not be more different than Abraham Lincoln. On his 208th birthday, on behalf of those refugees and immigrants who cannot speak up for themselves, I make this promise. I will continue to sing out, loud and clear, for as long as we need to Rise Up and Resist. And then maybe, to get out of the freezing rain, I’ll shop at Nordstrom’s.