I taught high school and middle school social studies and a few other subject areas, for 20 years. My favorite class to teach was Participation in Government, the high school civics class that is typically given to seniors in New York City (although in some schools it's given in Junior or even Sophomore year). I enjoyed teaching it so much because it is a course that is essentially a mix of history, political science, citizenship and related topics.

One of my particularly favorite sections was teaching lessons on certain Constitutional Amendments and watching students grapple with the rights as well as limits and responsibilities of these, especially the First Amendment. This Amendment, which grants rights in the areas of religion, speech, press, assembly and protest, appears to be simple and straight-forward on first reading, but is actually very complex and involves a lot of thought. It can challenge your thinking and your opinions. Students and all Americans really should ponder and even grapple with the issues and nuances of Amendment One. I know I do.

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I thought about the First Amendment quite a bit this past Saturday. The vast majority of Saturdays during the year, you will find me spending my mornings at shul. In general the only reasons I do not attend shul are if I am on vacation and have no shul near me, or if I am ill. But this particular Shabbat morning I davened at home and then attended the New York City edition of the Women's March, along with my close friend S and her daughter R. We joined over 400,000 other people in New York City, over 500,000 people in Washington, DC which was the best known of the marches, and so many others throughout the United States and even in other nations.


Participants had their many reasons for attending these marches, and they boil down to this: we are people who are unhappy with the unprofessional and divisive tactics of Donald Trump, we are angry about and fearful of his potential impact upon certain social, political and economic issues, and we want to make our voices heard in response. Among these issues are women's reproductive rights, environmental protections, violence against women, the treatment and fate of immigrants both legal and illegal, the fate of public education, LGBQT rights, consumer protection and more.

The march was so densely packed with people; I had never seen so many people in one area before. Yet somehow I managed to run into a former teacher colleague of mine whom I'd not seen in 17 years! It was a treat to meet and catch up with D for a while. People held up posters with messages both painfully serious and uproariously humorous and cheeky. There were people young and old and in between; women and men; people of all races and ethnicities (I heard several languages spoken...and even saw people doing sign language) and physical abilities. People were almost completely polite to each other, although you did hear people griping about their aching feet and backs.

And there was a known Jewish presence here as well. I did see men wearing kipot. I saw people holding paper signs that had been distributed by the National Council of Jewish Women. There were some people wearing Jewish star necklaces. A few had handmade signs that had Jewish references. Personally I would have preferred if the march had been held on Sunday, but I assume it was held Saturday, because it was the day after the Presidential Inauguration. And I personally knew many Jewish people who had attended this NYC March, the Washington March, the ones in Seattle, Philadelphia, Tucson, Chicago, cities in Florida and elsewhere.

And the March(es) brought together various aspects of the First Amendment. Obviously, there was the right to assembly peacefully. There were the rights to speech and press (verbal, messages on signs and clothing, etc.) People chanted various messages such as "This is what democracy looks like!"

At one point, when we were half a block away from 2nd Avenue and inching closer, I did ponder the following: How does the First Amendment relate to Judaism? Do they square with each other, beyond the obvious "We Jews have the right to practice our religious beliefs, as do adherents of other religions." This is something to discuss further in another essay or two or book or two, to be honest.

But I also thought of Jewish participation in other marches and rallies, such as garment worker rallies in Manhattan that had many Jewish women workers. And rallies in support of Jews in the Soviet Union who wanted to leave the USSR (I attended at least one of those as an adolescent). The fact that Jews did attend a rally on Shabbat...I realize this will make some Jews uncomfortable or even angry. But this was a particular rally and a special event, and I felt I should be there and make my voice heard.

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