Groups ready for march on Washington

Crowds fill the Mall for President Obama's 2009 inauguration. Photo from Wikipedia
Crowds fill the Mall for President Obama’s 2009 inauguration.
Photo from Wikipedia

Progressive Jewish groups are gearing up to participate in the potentially massive Women’s March on Washington, a protest against President-elect Donald Trump that will take place the day after his inauguration.

Organizers expect around 200,000 people at the Jan. 21 demonstration, which coincides with Shabbat. While Jewish organizers acknowledge that Shabbat could prevent some Jews from participating, many groups plan to incorporate Shabbat prayer services into the day of protest.

“We understand that the fact that this is on Shabbat is a challenge for some Jews and organizations,” said Stosh Cotler, the CEO of the progressive New York City-based Jewish advocacy group Bend the Arc, which is an official partner organization of the march. “While our policy is not to initiate or lead actions on Shabbat, we see participating as a way to convey [Rabbi Abraham Joshua] Heschel’s idea of praying with your feet,” she said, referring to the 20th century theologian and social activist. “We see this as an expression of Shabbat observance.”

Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in Washington will join with Jews United for Justice, the human rights group T’ruah and others to host members of the local community and what Rabbi Shira Stutman said would be “busloads” of people from out of town.

The program at the synagogue will include services on Friday night and Saturday morning before participants head to the rally, which will begin at 10 a.m. near the U.S. Capitol.

“Shabbat can be a time of calm in any sort of whirlwind,” said Stutman. “Of course, many Washingtonians are disappointed with the election results, but no matter who you are, the idea of pausing on Shabbat can be incredibly meaningful.”

After the rally, Sixth and I will host a lunch and an afternoon of meditation, music, reflection and workshops on social justice activism.

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism will also hold a morning Shabbat prayer service at a hotel in Washington, led by Rabbis Amy Schwartman of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church and Susan Shankman of Washington Hebrew Congregation.

Barbara Weinstein, associate director of the Religious Action Center, said that her organization expects about 600 people at the morning service, including local congregants.

“We know that there is deep interest in the march among our congregations and congregants because the issues of reproductive rights and women’s equality are issues we care deeply about,” she said.

The National Council of Jewish Women is also organizing some of its members to participate in the march. Jody Rabhan, the NCJW’s director of Washington operations, said that the fact that the march is on Shabbat was a “big consideration” for her organization and that her team spent the last two months deliberating how to participate.

“Ultimately, we decided that the effort and meaning of the march was too important for us to not be involved,” she said.

In part because the march will take place on Shabbat, NCJW also will participate in advocacy and training workshops the day after the march with Planned Parenthood and the United State of Women.

The New York City advocacy organization Jews for Racial & Economic Justice is another partner organization to the march and many of its members will travel to Washington for the march, according to Executive Director Audrey Sasson. She said that it is important that participants stand with the groups she believes will be most vulnerable under a Trump administration.

Demonstration organizers initially drew criticism from people who claimed this year’s march appropriated its name and message from the 1997 Million Women March, which protested mainstream feminism for ignoring people of color.

Sasson acknowledged that march organizers “might have fumbled a bit” in the beginning, but she said they are on track now.

“What for us is most important now is to stand beside the people who will be most impacted by what’s to come,” she said.

“This is really a moment for us to come together and build our power.”

The Schusterman Family Foundation, Repair the World, Moishe House, Hillel and the Jim Joseph Foundation are planning events for people who are visiting Washington over inauguration weekend.

They’re holding a Friday night Shabbat dinner, including table-based guided conversations about how to encourage civic participation and how to speak to people who have differing viewpoints, according to Roben Smolar, director of communications at the Schusterman Family Foundation. She said the organizations also will offer volunteer opportunities in the local community during the weekend.

Finally, the Edlavitch DCJCC, synagogue Bet Mishpachah of Washington and the national LGBTQ advocacy organization Keshet will hold an LGBTQ Shabbat program for residents and visitors in town for the inauguration weekend. The event the night of Jan. 20 at the DCJCC will include a panel moderated by LGBTQ Jewish journalist James Kirchick, a Shabbat service and a social reception.

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