Of Larry, Levi and Lady Liberty — Reflections on Marching on Shabbat Shemot

Yesterday, my life as an American Jewish activist came full circle in one of those moments of sacred synchronicity that literally make my heart sing.  As Bill, Hayato and I were walking down Broadway as part of the Upper West Side Jewish Contingent of the NYC Women’s March, we ran into my dear friends Rabbi Levi and Paula Weiman-Kelman.  I first met Levi on a very hot day in Jerusalem in July of 1995 when our Cleveland Wexner group walked from the hotel that is now called the Inbal along the old train tracks that run through Baka to the newly constructed Kol Haneshama.  I will never forget sitting in the brand new sanctuary; little did I know how my life would change as a result of becoming a part of Levi’s kehilla.

Becoming part of the Kol Haneshama community back in the 1990’s rooted me in southern Jerusalem so much that when an opportunity appeared to buy an apartment in the German Colony, I jumped.  I chuckled (and continue to chuckle) that while I was buying an apartment in our Holy City where my grandfather was born, literally returning to my Jewish roots, the location was in the German Colony, on Bethlehem Rd., across from an active nunnery!  Knowing how complicated my life was to become as a result of becoming a Jerusalem resident, the location of my Jerusalem home became an apt metaphor.  As I think back on the 18 years of being a resident of southern Jerusalem, so many of my most precious memories revolve around Levi, Paula and the many wonderful friends we met through them.  We have shared the joys and challenges of parenting, supported each other through times of sickness and loss, and underlying it all, we share in a vision of an Israel and a Jerusalem that reflects the best of who We are as a People.

On Rosh Hodesh Av, 5770, when Anat Hoffman was arrested before my eyes for carrying a Torah away from the Kotel toward Robinson’s Arch, I turned to Levi and exclaimed, “Wow.  That was so cool, that was civil disobedience.  I was too young for the civil disobedience of the”secular ’60’s” but I am going to sing my way through the “sacred ’70’s.”  Ever since that morning, I have been identified as an activist for the Women of the Wall and I have been proud to work with other Jewish artists in the presentation of our Zionist cantata, “Sacred Rights, Sacred Song.” Those familiar with SRSS know that WOW is just one of the organizations that are changing the facts on the ground in the State of Israel.  Calling this social change the “modern Jewish democracy movement,” we point out the challenges in many areas of Israeli Judaism.  Levi’s reform congregation in southern Jerusalem, has been at the forefront of this movement for over 30 years.  I cut my chops as an Israeli activist being a lay leader for the Friends of Kol Haneshama during the height of the Second Intifada in the early part of the 21st century.

As I walked south and then east on the streets of Manhattan yesterday, my tired body was motivated by the spirit of Abraham Joshua Heschel.  I also drew strength remembering the many times I walked, stood, spoke out for and on behalf of the State of Israel.  As we sang out for peace and justice, mostly in Hebrew, to the beat of Shoshana’s drum, I recalled my activism during these past seven years at the Kotel on behalf of spiritual civil rights for all Jews, regardless of gender or adjective.  I knew that yesterday was a holy moment in time.  The synchronicity of the Women’s March being on Shabbat Shemot, when We Jews begin to read our Exodus story in shul, is frankly, a working definition of a sacred synchronicity.  And then I ran into Levi and the circle of the sacred synchronicity was complete.  And the family circle as well as Bill’s brother Larry and Levi were best friends once upon a time at the Manhattan Day School!  Long before Levi became a Conservative rabbi and then made aliyah and became my rebbe.  And helped shape how I see the world.

So I walked yesterday, feeling the spirit of my mother, that brash lady from the Bronx, to scream to the world that it is NOT OK that Donald J. Trump is the 45th president of my beloved United States of America.  Unfortunately, my exhausted exhilaration quickly turned to emotional and physical distress as the news of the day unfolded.  Kellyanne, I am not being overly dramatic when I say that having a president who lies to me on Day One over immaterial matters is very disconcerting.  Scary in fact. Sorry Kellyanne but ALTERNATE FACTS is a concept I expect from a society that is ruled by a demagogue.  Donald J. Trump needs to be alerted this is not OK.  I have been trying to be open minded but in the end, this is not OK.

The signs carried by the marchers yesterday ranged from erudite to cartoonesque to poignant to vulgar.  There were many shout outs to the Statute of Liberty as replicas of her torch were seen all over.  Clearly, the  silver lining underneath the dark clouds of Donald’s demagoguery is the civic activism that erupted yesterday – Lady Liberty is smiling at the celebration of democracy she witnessed around the United States and around the world.  That Lady Liberty was given a voice by a Jewish woman is no coincidence – Emma Lazarus’s immortal words are etched into the hearts of every one who treasures the core values of the United States of America. “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp besides the golden door.”

During these first days of Donald the Demagogue, I turn to the eloquence of the modern day prophet, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, for yet more inspiration. If my mother had been with me yesterday, she would have described the sea of people as a “mass of humanity.”  The simple facts are that the throughout the land and around the world, crowds of people flooded the streets, virtual rivers of peaceful dissent and heartfelt concern. As Dr. King said in his infamous speech on August 28, 1963, “we are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until justice shall roll down like the waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Right now I don’t feel my president understands either of these concepts.  I also keep hearing in my head one of my favorite songs from the American canon, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord (maybe when I’ve davened Hallel at the Kotel?)……….Glory, glory, hallelujah, His truth is marching on.”

Finally, what is truth, I ask of President Trump, Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway? You could all start by taking a look at the facts on the ground.  Which is a very good introduction to the great gamble the Trump people are about to make in my Jerusalem neighborhood.  Which brings me back to Levi and even more personally, to my daughter Rachel, her husband Raffi and my granddaughters Shira and Molly.  They are my facts on the ground in Jerusalem Kellyanne.  There are no alternate facts.  It is also a fact that Sheldon Adelson had a very close in seat at the Inauguration.  I do hope that as the Trump administration works to advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Mr. Adelson and David Friedman’s voices are not the only voices to be heard.  I urge Jared Kushner to listen to the voices of the wise people of Levi’s kehilla in southern Jerusalem too.  Just as I pray the voices of the sea of people who marched yesterday are heard as well.  Amen.

About the Author
Francine M. Gordon is an artist/activist who maintains homes in New York and Cleveland. From November 2010 through November 2016, through The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project, she produced over 10 Concerts of Concern in the US and Israel. Since establishing her New York residence, Ms. Gordon has become a member of the New York Federation’s Israeli Judaism committee which focuses on exactly the same issues as SRSS. In addition, she has become a proud member of the Zamir Chorale which allows her to express her Zionism through song.
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