WASHINGTON – The members of Congregation Kol Ami reform synagogue boarded a bus in White Plains, New York, at 3:30 on Saturday morning. They held their Shabbat service on the bus.
Of course, they would have preferred to join the thousand or so who prayed with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in a hotel near the US Capitol Building, but heavy traffic meant they were delayed.
When Congregation Kol Ami’s rabbi, Shira Milgrom, finally made it to the Women’s March on the National Mall, she saw what all that traffic translated into – some half a million protesters.
“Initially, we were a little disappointed that we couldn’t see what was happening on the stage, but then we realized the real show was this sea of people from all over,” Milgrom said.
According to organizers, the march was not in its essence an anti-Trump protest, but rather geared toward women’s rights and other policies such as immigration and climate change.
Taking place after President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday and protests that turned violent in the evening, the march was peaceful as of press time.
The Religious Action Center and the National Council of Jewish Women came together in Washington to organize a space for Jews to march in unison. They had more than 1,200 people, of whom at least 400 were from out of town – from California to Canada.
“We are very thoughtful about what we participate in on Shabbat,” said Barbara Weinstein, associate director of the Religious Action Center and director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. “But because there was such a clear alignment [of issues], we thought this was a natural fit.”
Those involved in the Reform organizations’ organizing process wanted to make sure it was the right thing to do on Shabbat, and they also wanted to make sure that the rally’s ideology was in line with their own.
Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the director of the Religious Action Center and senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said he spoke with the organizers of the Women’s March to ensure that whoever had the literal or proverbial megaphone to lead the march did not bring Israel into the equation.
The day was about women’s rights, after all.
“We wanted to make sure Israel didn’t become a punching bag, which happens too often,” Pesner said.
He told The Jerusalem Post
he has plans for addressing Jewish issues with the new administration, working on a bipartisan basis. He referenced his own life story, citing his grandmother’s reasons for escaping the pogroms in Russia.
“For the sake of our grandmas and for the sake of our daughters, we need to stand together,” Pesner said. “And to amplify thousands of years of Jewish values.”
Those who marched with the Religious Action Center and the National Council of Jewish Women had Jewish issues in mind, but these were tied to women’s rights, immigration and climate change.
Lori Cohen, a member of the board of the National Council of Jewish Women, as well as of the Avodah anti-poverty NGO, came from New York to march not only for her beliefs but also for those of her daughter, Isabel Rothko.
Isabel, 14, an aspiring activist, accompanied her mother at the march, and said she felt “the incredible power people have when they are together.”
Cohen said that the morning after Trump’s election victory she knew she needed to do something.
“The night of the election, [Isabel] went to bed not knowing the outcome,” Cohen said. “When she woke up, she was crying.”
Cohen said it was important to make her voice heard, a sentiment shared by many marchers.
Following a full morning of marching, she reflected on a D’var Torah she had heard the night before, about the Jews wandering in the desert.
“It takes a long time to get to our goal,” Cohen said.
She added how in this week’s Torah portion the new Pharaoh “does not know” Joseph – drawing parallels to the new president.
“We’re going to make sure Joseph’s children are heard,” Cohen said.
The march continued throughout the afternoon as Trump tweeted about how excited he is to be the president and as other marches took place across the country and abroad.
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