'We need to leave our place of privilege and join the liberation movement'

Thousands of Jewish protesters join 500,000-strong Women’s March

At massive anti-Trump rally, Jewish women’s and progressive groups seek ‘to march together as Jews’

Supporters of National Council of Jewish Women and other Jewish organizations come together on the National Mall for the Women’s March on Washington, January 21, 2017. (Ron Sachs via JTA)
Supporters of National Council of Jewish Women and other Jewish organizations come together on the National Mall for the Women’s March on Washington, January 21, 2017. (Ron Sachs via JTA)

WASHINGTON — Thousands of Jews joined an estimated 500,000 protesters in the Women’s March on Washington protesting newly installed President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric.

The march Saturday, focusing on anticipated rollbacks in abortion rights under the new president and broader issues like discrimination against minorities and preserving former President Barack Obama’s health care reforms, included among its hundreds of official partners a number of Jewish groups.

Organizers estimated that it drew at least twice the 250,000 they had anticipated. Clogging the city’s streets and subway system for hours, it appeared to dwarf the crowds who had attended Trump’s inauguration the day before.

Similar marches took place across the country and around the world, drawing what media said were millions of women – as well as many men – to protest Trump.

The National Council of Jewish Women, one of the march’s formal partners, drew at least a thousand marchers from across the country to Washington, and the Reform movement, while not formally affiliated with the march, also drew more than a thousand participants. There were participants as well from Bend the Arc, Jews United for Justice and T’ruah, among other groups.

NCJW organized Jewish contingents in marches across the United States, including in Boston, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

In Washington, spiritual and lay leaders marching with the group led an impromptu singalong that began with Hebrew religious songs such as Oseh Shalom (“Maker of Peace”) and Hineh Ma Tov (“How Good It Is”), but switched to traditional American protest songs, including “If I had a hammer” and “We shall overcome,” when they began to draw a crowd.

Members of the National Council of Jewish Women hold a singalo…

WATCH: Members of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) hold a singalong of Hebrew songs at the #WomensMarch on #Washington

Posted by The Times of Israel on Saturday, January 21, 2017

NCJW CEO Nancy Kaufman said the group helped shape the march’s overall tone and message. “We were part of the messaging, we were at the table,” she said.

Kaufman said NCJW believed it was important for Jews to be represented at the march by their organizations and not simply as individual participants. “We had a vision of wanting the community to march together as Jews,” she said.

Protesters from Manhattan's Upper West Side arrive at the anti-Trump Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017. (Jeffrey Singerman)
Protesters from Manhattan’s Upper West Side arrive at the anti-Trump Women’s March on Washington, January 21, 2017. (Jeffrey Singerman)

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, who directs T’ruah, a rabbinic human rights group, said the march was an opportunity for Jews to express identification with other communities made vulnerable by the rise in bigoted rhetoric during the election.

“As we’ve seen from the rise of anti-Semitism, we are still vulnerable as a community,” she said. “We have certain access, and we have managed to assimilate, but we’re vulnerable, we need to leave our place of privilege and join the liberation movement.”

Among the march’s speakers were Gloria Steinem, a founder of the modern American feminist movement, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Ilyse Hogue, who leads NARAL, an abortion rights group. Rabbi Sharon Brous, who founded and leads IKAR, a Los Angeles-based congregation, spoke, as did Jewish celebrities including Scarlett Johansson and Patricia Arquette.

A key focus of the march was Trump’s rhetoric during his campaign, as well as comments derogatory toward women made during his careers as an entertainer and a real estate developer.

Tens of thousands of the protesters wore pink pussycat hats, a reference to audio from 2006, revealed last year during the election, when Trump boasted to a reality TV colleague that he freely assaults women by grabbing their genitals. He later said his boast was empty and denied committing the assaults, although a number of women emerged to say they had suffered the experience. “Pussy grabs back,” illustrated by vicious looking cats, was a common poster at the march.

Jewish posters tended to be more subdued. NCJW protesters bore signs that said “Jews support women’s rights and human rights.” Reform movement protesters bore signs saying “Do justice, love mercy, march proudly.”

Two liberal Jewish groups – Jews United for Justice and T’ruah – joined with Sixth and I, a synagogue in the city’s downtown, to organize services and readings for those coming from out of town for the march. Services Friday evening packed the historic synagogue’s sanctuary, which seats nearly 500.

Trump, meantime, attended the multifaith service at the National Cathedral that traditionally takes place a day after the inauguration. It included two Jewish clergymen, Rabbi Fred Raskind of Temple Bet Yam in St. Augustine, Florida, and Cantor Mikhail Manevich, of Washington Hebrew Congregation, a neighbor of the cathedral, who sang the Ve’Ahavta prayer.

Trump departed from tradition by asking that clergy deliver only prayers and not sermons.

Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles was among the clergymen who delivered a benediction at Trump’s inauguration on the steps of the Capitol on Friday.

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