WASHINGTON — Jewish organizations faced challenges organizing for a march scheduled for the Sabbath, but that didn’t prevent the youngest generation of activists from being out in force for the anti-Trump Women’s March held Saturday in Washington, DC. Despite the logistical complications observant Jewish marchers faced, many said their Jewish identity was an important facet of their participation in the demonstration.
At a pre-march prayer meeting at Washington’s historic Sixth and I Synagogue, rows of Habonim Dror youth movement members wearing their traditional blue shirts sang together and joined in call-and-response prayers.
Members of Young Judea and the North American Federation of Temple Youth also participated in the march, and Jewish students from campuses across the country came in buses, planes and rental cars to join the protest.
“Praying with our feet today,” said one youth group leader as he marshaled his younger charges.
The Saturday mega-march was organized to protest President Donald Trump’s attitudes and policies toward women, but served as a catch-all for a wide array of grievances against the president. Trump was inaugurated on Friday during a celebration that was itself the subject of hot debate after the new president harped on what he described as false reports regarding low turnout for the event.
The turnout for Saturday’s march, however, exceeded organizers’ and police estimates, spilling out blocks beyond its permitted boundaries and on to Pennsylvania Avenue, the route of Friday’s inaugural parade. For many of its youngest participants, it was their first major protest.
Participating in the march was a cathartic experience for 21-year-old Emily, a student at Barnard College in New York. Emily came to Washington with a group of Jewish students. They had gathered in the city the day before, to celebrate the Sabbath together before marching.
“After the election results came in, I think a lot of people on campus, including myself, were feeling a lot of feelings — but feeling a bit stuck. We wanted to get involved and we knew that it was a vulnerable position, but checking out also felt inadequate,” she said.
When she was asked whether she would like to attend the march, it clicked.
“It felt like a tangible way I could be engaged, but in a positive and empowering way with my community at school,” Emily said.
Emily described the 2016 election that brought Trump to office as a watershed.
“This was the first presidential election I could vote in,” she explained. “The data that was being poured out saying it was probably going to go one way but the outcome going the other way was startling. I haven’t felt like a lot of major world events would affect me or my life, but as a senior in college about to go into the real world, it seemed like this would determine what that world will look like.”
14-year-old Isabel, who attended the march with her mother and a group of women from the National Council of Jewish Women, was also moved to political activism by the election results.
“The day after Trump was announced as president, I was very upset and I went to school where we saw Hillary Clinton’s concession speech and everybody was upset and crying,” Isabel recalled as she stood on the Mall, surrounded by fellow protesters.
She went home from school early that day, but when she got there, she did what most teens would do and checked her social media.
“My friends were texting about a protest, and then another friend posted about it on social media and said that numbers matter, the more the better.”
That was her first protest. Saturday’s was her second.
Isabel joined in with women singing Jewish songs during the demonstration, and more and more Jewish women gathered toward her, drawn by the familiar lyrics.
What upset her the most, Isabel said, is that Trump “is such a bigoted person.”
“It really, really upsets me that we could live in a country where someone this obviously racist, homophobic, sexist and ablist could get elected president,” she said. “That half the country could vote for him really upsets me.”
Since the election, Isabel said, her outlook has changed.
“I’m really concerned about all the things he’s going to do and the laws he’s going pass. I see that I’m going to be in the streets marching and protesting,” she said.
“I didn’t get a say in this election, but it is going to impact my adult life.”
She added that she worries that she will attend and graduate college in an economy worse than the present one.
“I don’t want to grow up in a place where hatred is so visible, but I’m ready to march and get out there and be a part of the resistance,” she emphasized.
For Emily as well, the future was on the line.
“I am an idealistic person who wants to make the world a better place and now there are seemingly larger obstacles,” she said, citing equality as a major concern. “This election was pretty nasty in all senses of the world, and I really hope that the future is kind and not cruel, and hopeful.”
Despite her concerns, Emily said after the march that she was inspired.
“I cried a lot,” Emily said of her initial response to the scale of the demonstration. “I felt a little overwhelmed, but also inspired and part of something much, much bigger than myself. I think I learned a lot this weekend.”
“To see this massive group of people upholding my values was comforting and to see that these people exist, that they are here, and that they are ready to stand up for what we believe in was inspiring,” she added.