As we observe Rosh Hashanah this Shabbat, we also mark one year since Mahsa Amini was murdered in Iran. This convergence during our time of spiritual reflection seems fitting, especially as we hear the sound of the shofar, meant to wake us from our emotional slumber and urge action.
The call of the shofar is a demand not to accept a broken world and a warning not to look the other way when people need us.
Similarly, today, I am calling out with a heartbreaking warning of injustice. Forty-four years ago, fundamentalists stripped Iranian women of rights they haven’t seen since, and women are still being killed.
Persian Jews are a beloved part of our communities in the US and Israel, yet we rarely hear Jewish organizations speak about the situation in Iran. Girls are killed for showing their hair, children jailed for protesting, and women assaulted, jailed, and murdered in their fight for basic dignity. 20,000+ protestors have been arrested and at least 537 have been killed.
Jewish organizations that care about women, oppressed Jews in the world, Jews of color, or human dignity and fundamental rights — which should be all of us — must wake from slumber and pay attention to the thousands of people, led by young women, who have taken to the streets of Iran. These women are risking their lives to fight for freedom and safety.
We must not stay silent or look the other way. We must not allow women to be murdered for noncompliance with extreme laws. We must not normalize this. Not now. Not ever. Normalization justifies and even furthers oppression.
This week, I spoke at the United Nations at a commemoration of the Women, Life, Freedom movement organized by Stop Femicide Iran’s Marjan Keypour Greenblatt, an Iranian Jewish human rights activist. National Council of Jewish Women does not typically engage on issues outside of the United States and Israel, but the women in Iran are asking us to see their fight for justice and join in solidarity.
Jews know all too well from our own history that silence is complicity. The Torah forbids us from standing idly by as our neighbors’ blood is shed. The blood of our Iranian sisters calls from the ground. They wonder if we hear them. We must answer: We see your fight. We see your sacrifice. We stand with you.
This Rosh Hashanah, let’s honor the memory of Mahsa Amini, and the hundreds of other Iranians killed protesting for their basic human rights. Let’s mourn with their families, and stand in solidarity with everyone able to continue this fight.
In the Jewish community, when someone dies, we traditionally say, “Zichrono livracha,” may their memory be for a blessing. But in 2019, during an epidemic of domestic violence in Israel, Israeli feminists began to say something else: Zichrona l’ma’hapacha – may her memory be for a revolution.
Mahsa Amini’s gut-wrenching final moments were caught on film, displaying the brazen brutality of her oppressors, the so-called “morality police”. The cruelty from the lack of agency over her own body catalyzed a powerful, important revolution for women, and all people, in Iran. Its echoes are heard around the globe.
The protest movement Mahsa inspired is like the sound of the shofar. The sound of liberation. Signaling a new era of freedom for Iranian women. For all of Iran.
Breaking the system
The Iranian women protestors give me a great deal of hope as they unite to break the systems of oppression harming them and others. They are, with every action, literally putting their lives on the line for freedom. It is not lost on me that they are fighting for a freedom they may not even live to experience.
Jews around the world must join this movement, in solidarity and in one raised voice. We must all speak the simple, yet still radical, truth: Women’s rights are human rights, and every single human life is sacred.
The blasts of the shofar are a clarion call — a wake-up, an alarm — when danger is near, and an invitation to an era of liberation and justice.
It is the sound that echoes the words, “May her memory be a revolution.”
May Mahsa Amini’s memory — and the memories of each precious soul taken in this fight for freedom in Iran — be for a revolution. And may we, as a Jewish community reflecting on our year, recommit to standing up for those who call out to us.
Sheila Katz is the CEO of National Council of Jewish Women, a 130 year old Jewish feminist civil rights organization working to advance the rights of women, children, and families in the United States and Israel. Sheila was previously named one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by The Jerusalem Post.