Hundreds of women and a handful of men rallied in West Orange March 11 in an effort to raise awareness of violence and injustice perpetrated against women and girls around the world.
Hosted by the National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County Section, the Billion Rising for Justice rally was part of an international network of events hosted by an array of organizations devoted to women’s rights.
Most of those events, from Swaziland to Egypt, Kazakhstan to Thailand, were held Feb. 14; the local version was snowed out and rescheduled for what turned out to be a day that hinted at the spring to come.
At least 300 women poured into the gymnasium of the West Orange armory, clad in black NCJW T-shirts emblazoned with “1 Billion Rising for Justice.” Organizers said the slogan refers to an estimate that one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime. Inspired by feminist activist and playwright Eve Ensler, the movement aims to obtain justice for women in their countries’ courts, legislatures, military, work places, homes, and houses of worship.
“In New Jersey, the rate of violence is down, but the need to do things like this is still crucial,” said Montclair State University professor Dr. Esmilda Abreu-Hornbostel. She said that one in five girls going to college are sexually abused in their first year; one in eight boys are.
Broadway star and Montclair resident Norbert Leo Butz described how his sister and her life partner were raped and stabbed in Seattle in 2009. His sister died of her wounds.
“My mother’s greatest pain was that she wasn’t able to hold her daughter as she was dying,” he said, struggling to speak. But he spoke too of the women’s “unfathomable courage,” and his own campaign since then, for his own three daughters and all other women, to rise up against the violence against women so casually expressed in movies, video games, and television shows.
“How often does the camera linger on the dead body of a man?” he asked.
“It felt so good — to be together and to feel so inspired, the way we used to be when we were younger,” declared Gail Sample, who is the office manager of the NCJW office in Livingston. “But this has to be a beginning, not an end in itself.”
Beth Levithan, who cochaired the rally with Myrna Wertheimer, beamed with satisfaction and relief as the one-hour West Orange event wound down.
“We lost a few but we gained a few,” she said of the rescheduling. “It was just wonderful.”
The rally was also sponsored by the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, Rachel Coalition, Saint Barnabas Medical Center, NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking, The Healthcare Foundation of NJ, JCC MetroWest, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest NJ, Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled, Jewish Women’s Foundation of NJ, Jewish Women International, Daughters of Israel, NCJW-West Morris Section, Hadassah, Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, Family Connections, Partners for Women and Justice, Essex County Family Justice Center, Temple B’nai Abraham and its Sisterhood, and the Dance Theater of Harlem.