With signs in their hands and with their feet, thousands of Jewish women joined women’s marches across the country last week for a variety of reasons, ranging from traditional Jewish concern for the plight of the disadvantaged and refugees, to giving voice to progressive social issues. The march was planned to coincide for the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
Many local residents boarded buses before dawn to travel to Washington; others took public transportation to New York; some drove to Trenton to participate in the Women’s March on New Jersey. Women — and men — pushed strollers and walked with small children.
An organizer told NJJN that State Police put attendance in the range of 8,000 to 10,000. Many wore pink and purple pussycat hats — the organizers of the New Jersey march asked those attending to wear purple to signify the blending of blue and red.
Rabbi Paula Feldstein of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, wearing a purple and pink tallit, told the crowd she chose to spend the Sabbath there because she felt as if she were “praying with my feet,” and Babs Siperstein of Edison, the first transgender member of the Democratic National Committee — she is now on its executive board — said she was there as a transgender woman, a parent, grandparent, and military veteran who considers herself a patriot. Later she told NJJN that she also spoke as someone “with traditional Jewish values, especially when we talk about tzedakah.”
The historical persecution of Jews motivated Jodi Wexler Marcou of Kendall Park, a member of the South Brunswick Interrelations Commission who participated in the Trenton rally, to want to help others being victimized, such as a Muslim friend who had recently been targeted in “two pretty serious” acts of discrimination.
“We need to respect all races, religions, creeds and sexual preferences,” said Marcou. “We are all immigrants to this country and we need to stand up and stand beside our fellow Americans from all nationalities.”
Some observant Jews chose to stay close by in New York in order to participate in the Saturday march. In Washington, the National Council of Jewish Women supported the march and made arrangements for Shabbat activities.
In Highland Park, Rabbi Stephanie Dickstein, a member of Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth and spiritual care coordinator of the Shira Ruskay Center of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, coordinated a shomer Shabbat walk to 13 different locations that attracted 35 to 40 people. Dickstein said she wanted to create something nonpartisan supporting the marchers using universal Jewish values. She prepared a handout, including original prayers and passages from the Torah and Talmud that related to each stop.
Florence Weisz, a South Orange artist who designed the sign she and others from her community took to New York and Washington, went to the nation’s capital out of concern for Israel, among other reasons, and was particularly anxious about Trump’s appointment of David Friedman as ambassador to the Jewish state. She said Friedman and his support of the settler movement would be “terrible” for Israel.
“I’m a Zionist who lived [in Israel] for seven years,” she said. “Trump says he also loves the country, which should be a good thing except for his designation of David Friedman as ambassador, which gives me great cause for concern.”
Linda Dorf of South Orange, a speech/language pathologist in Newark schools, went to Washington with her daughter Eliana, a senior at Rutgers University, because “I’m scared for my students and state of public education in this country.”
“I think the Jewish values we grow up with are the values that make it necessary to stand up and protest the things Donald Trump stands for,” she said.
Sheryl Olitzky of North Brunswick, the founder and executive director of the Sisterhood of Salaam/Shalom, bringing together Muslim and Jewish women, said although marching in New York made her feel hopeful and empowered, “every time I looked at a little girl or baby I felt so sad.”
“I never thought there would be a time when we would have to fight for women’s rights,” she said. “I never thought we’d have to fight for the rights of immigrants. I never thought in 2017 I’d have to lend my voice in support of public education, the environment.” Still, she said she was moved that so many Muslim women thanked her for carrying a sign supporting them.
Lawrenceville native Jessica Loesberg and Belinda Schwartz of Cranford, both 23, attended the Washington rally.
“I consider myself sort of an activist and I think my Judaism helped encourage me in that,” said Schwartz, a graduate of Golda Och Academy in West Orange.
She said they saw Jewish organizations from NCJW to HIAS represented, with signs in Yiddish and Hebrew.
“I wanted to be part of the fight for women,” said Schwartz. “It was inspiring, amazing to see so many people from so many backgrounds come together for the same purpose.”
Schwartz came to stay with Loesberg, a master’s student at American University, who lives within walking distance of the rally.
“I wanted to be part of history and part of the movement of women standing up for their rights, just like my predecessors stood up for me,” said Loesberg. “I’m not anti-Trump, I’m pro-feminist standing up against the government for my rights.”
Amanda Rubin, 17, of Cranbury went to New York with Madison Richmond of Princeton. Both are juniors at Princeton High School. A grade representative for the youth group at Congregation Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction and an active member of National Federation of Temple Youth, Amanda said she wants Trump to promote education for girls, particularly those who are underprivileged.
Highland Park Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler, a former president of Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth, said she was driven by a sense of tikkun olam and fear the country was “backsliding,” and though she stressed that she was not anti-Trump, she thinks that some of the issues that came out during the campaign would “take us back as women 100 years.”
“We can’t let that happen.”