By Cherie Brown
[The Shalom Report during the next days will have several reports from and about Jewish women who took part in the Women’s March in Washington last Shabbat -- some Jewish Women of Color and some white Jewish women. Our first such report is from Cherie Brown, the executive director of the National Coalition-Building Institute, which for years has led workshops on racism, anti-Semitism, and the entanglements of both with each other. She is a member of the board of The Shalom Center. She wrote this memo the day after the Women’s March. Beneath her memo is a link to a video of the Shabbat service she describes, and a brief comment of mine. -- -- AW, editor]
Here is a picture from Jewish Women of Color on the stage at the march. The two Black African-Heritage Jewish women speaking at the mike are April Baskin and Yavilah McCoy. Here is also something brief I wrote about yesterday.
I just returned from attending the National Women's March in DC. It was a powerful, moving gathering, with a strong commitment to unity. And Jewish Women of Color were at the front of the march and led a delegation of several hundred of us--Jewish women of Color and Allies.
First-- a few things about the weeks leading up to the March. I and many of us put in dozens of hours listening and working with a lot of upset people. The issues of anti-Semitism were very real and needed to be addressed--and a lot of Jews were hurting. Some Jews felt that the March leadership wasn't dealing sufficiently with anti-Semitism. Others, particularly Jewish Women of Color, felt that to not stay in the Women's March was also colluding with racism and sexism.
I worked a lot with several Jewish leaders who were struggling about whether to stay with the March in light of the issues of anti Semitism. I continued to hold out to everyone I talked to that we Jews need to gain the muscle to stay in Coalition ( especially when we agree with most of the unity principles) and learn how to stay AND take on the anti Semitism.
Hard and painful and honest conversations were had between a number of Jewish women and the March leadership about anti-Semitism.
I believe we are further ahead for having had to handle this controversy. The first National Women's March two years ago did not mention anti- Semitism. In today's march-- the issue of anti Semitism was included as a part of the unity principles. Two years ago-- no visible Jews spoke from the podium. Today-- there were three Jewish women added to the steering committee of the National March who also spike in the stage. ( Rabbi Abby Stein, Yavilah McCoy, April Baskin).
This past week I was asked to lead a webinar for the National Council of Jewish Women on Dealing with anti-Semitism with Coalition Partners. Over 200 Jewish women from across the U.S. signed up to be on the webinar. It's clear that there is a growing hunger to understand about anti-Semitism and not have it get in the way of progressive Coalition work-- particularly on women's issues.
The March: Today-- the day began for me with an early morning Shabbat service before the March-- led by Jewish Women of Color. Hundreds of us showed up to participate and be in solidarity. Then we marched behind a strong powerful contingent of Jewish Women of Color.
Many of us were moved to tears as two Black African heritage Jewish women ( April Baskin and Yavilah McCoy) alongside other Jewish Women of Color stood on the stage and addressed the whole March. They spoke strongly of unity and fighting together against sexism. They spoke out against anti-Semitism and insisted that the work against anti-Semitism was a part of the work against sexism. They were holding a Torah Scroll; several were wearing Talleisim [prayer shawls] and they wished the Women's March “Shabbat Shalom!”
There is still a lot of work to be done. The anti-Semitism is by no means gone. The classic historic pattern of having anti-Semitism be thrown out as a bone to divide progress forces was so apparent in these past few weeks. The press has not always played a good role. It has spent much of its time focused on the controversy and how the March was so divided--and very little on the important agenda goals of the March to end sexism.
I am learning a lot about how we can stand up fiercely against anti-Semitism while at the same time, not let the anti-Semitism keep Jews and other progressives divided or walking away from the work of eliminating sexism.
Rafael’s video is very moving, as of course were the Prophetic actions and the words he filmed -- especially Yavilah McCoy’s quotations from “the Prophet” (MLK).
I was especially touched by the film’s catching the traditional gesture in which Jews touch the fringes of their talleisim to the Torah Scroll when it is carried into the congregation, and then kiss the fringes.
I was taught by my friend and teacher Rabbi Max Ticktin, tz’z’l, that those who take on the joyful burden of carrying the Torah are themselves, each one of them, a Torah -- and he therefore touched the fringes to the carriers as well.
So I found myself wanting to touch the fringes of my tallis not only to the Sefer Torah the women were carrying but to the women themselves, to the band of Jewish Women of Color who created this powerful moment.
Shalom, salaam, paz, peace -- Arthur