NEW YORK — Several hundred demonstrators from various Jewish organizations gathered in Brooklyn’s Trinity Park on Sunday to show solidarity with the national March for Racial Justice. Under the warm New York autumn sun, they held signs aloft with slogans including, “Resisting tyrants since the pharaoh,” “True Patriots Condemn Racism,” “White Silence is Violence.”
In the mixed crowd there were liberal democrats and conservative Republicans; secular Jews and Orthodox Jews. Some there had lost count of how many times they’ve put one foot in front of the other in the name of civil rights. Others were making their debut as political activists, such as the new grassroots organization, Torah Trumps Hate (TTH).
“We are diverse by race, by geographic location, by class. We span from Hasidic, to Yeshivish, to Modern Orthodox, to those who are observant in other ways, to those like me who are OTD [off the derech, or lapsed Jews]. There are so many sheitels [wigs], beards, snoods, and black hats in our group that it even surprised me,” said Victoria Cook, TTH founder.
Less than a year old, the group launched on Facebook with a handful of people shortly after the election of President Donald Trump. It now counts over 1,700 members.
“It was a daily shock that people I knew and loved who supposedly lived their lives according to Torah values — including rabbis and Jewish studies teachers — were ignoring every blatant act of corruption, mendacity, racism, misogyny and xenophobia. They didn’t care that he [Trump] was a walking example of everything the Torah stands against,” Cook said.
In Brooklyn on Sunday, TTH joined several other Jewish organizations, including T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights; Jewish Voice for Peace; and the American Union of Jewish Students. They spoke out against mass incarceration, discriminatory policing policies, and racial and religious barriers to entry into the United States.
Yet, regardless of where they fell on the political and religious spectrum, the demonstrators agreed on one thing: the Trump Administration is anathema to Torah values and corrosive to the Jewish community and the United States.
“As we read in the Torah portion for Yom Kippur morning, Aaron the High Priest must go into the Holy of Holies, the innermost core, to achieve atonement. The same is true for racism. If we want to root it out, we must seek it at the core, and acknowledge the ways in which it is built into the key institutions of this country. We must unite our resources, values and actions in fighting for racial justice,” said Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, in a statement.
The national March for Racial Justice in Washington was held on the 90th anniversary of the Elaine Massacre, when law enforcement and vigilante Arkansans killed upwards of 237 African Americans in one of the deadliest racial conflicts in US history.
The announced date fueled criticism from the Jewish community in that the march fell on Yom Kippur. Ultimately, the organizers of the national group apologized and created sister events across the country.
“That they went so far as to go beyond an apology and literally create an entire march to accommodate their Jewish allies is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful moments since the election — and part of why we so badly wanted to be part of it as a group,” said Elad Nehorai, one of TTH’s co-founders.
Having two days of marches and demonstrations rather than one as originally planned was a blessing in disguise, said Dorcas Davis, co-founder and co-chair of the March for Racial Justice.
Davis said she hopes after the marches end protesters will continue to find ways to get involved in fighting voter suppression, gerrymandering and minimum sentencing.
“Beyond the marches the mission is to educate about the laws, policies and practices that harm all of us. We are all complex human beings. Our interest should be in dismantling racial injustice and white supremacy, not in dismantling each other,” Davis said.
As if to punctuate her message, a white truck traveling on the highway above started honking. Its occupants, white and black, lowered the windows, pumped their fists in the air and yelled “Black Lives Matter!”
That’s what drew Sarah Friedson to the event.
Friedson, 27, put the finishing touches on her poster “Make Black-Jewish Relations Great Again,” after breaking her Yom Kippur fast last night.
“I’m a hip-hop dancer and I feel both my worlds have fused together. I know a lot of people who are dealing with bigotry and I had to be here,” she said.
Many people at the march, including Friedson, pointed to Trump’s recent remarks on Twitter and elsewhere as an example of intolerance. For example, Trump has attacked NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, saying the should be fired.
While most people were keen to talk about why they gathered here in Brooklyn the day after Yom Kippur, controversial activist Linda Sarsour, who was accompanied at all times by two men dressed in black suits, refused to answer questions from The Times of Israel.
Rabbi Joshua Stanton, who is a fellow with Rabbis Without Borders, said there was moral clarity to this moment of so many Jews of different backgrounds coming together.
“People who hate Jews hate blacks. People who hate blacks hate immigrants. People who hate immigrants hate Muslims. We have an opportunity here to build coalitions and fight for justice together,” he said.
For newly minted American citizen Robert Ayers, Trinity Park was the place to be.
“I feel as an American citizen that I have an obligation to stand up for justice, and the amount of injustice rolling out of the Trump White House is unbelievable,” Ayers said.