Why did I march in the Women’s March in NYC this weekend? Because I learned from my father that, when you believe in the rightness of something, make it happen.
He died last week at age 95. During shiva, the seven-day period of mourning for him which just concluded, I reflected on his life.
As a soldier in the US Army, he fought in every European theater of WWII and witnessed the liberation of emaciated victims of a concentration camp. After the war, he became a physician, saving countless lives with spot-on medical intuition.
His principles were strong. In the late 1960s, he advocated for and instituted sex education in our public school. It didn’t make him popular. But he didn’t care.
We had real differences. He never wanted to sign a petition. His fear of doing so was rooted in having experienced anti-Semitism in childhood, witnessing the rise of the Nazis and seeing how McCarthyism ravaged freedom in the United States. His fears sometimes outweighed his passion for social action.
By comparison, my life has been incredibly blessed. I was raised in a safe and supportive environment and received a great education. I was born with choices before me.
Despite my fathers’ fears of past periods of repression, I took for granted that our voices could be heard in this nation without fear of retaliation. But now, I’m not certain. I took for granted that informed leaders would always guide our nation. Now I’m not certain. I took for granted that my generation, raised on the milk of civic pride, would always care about the other. Now I’m not certain.
After a week of mourning, I’m resuming my life. And now, with a new President, I’m keenly aware of the fragility of our lives—especially our freedom as women, even our health and vitality. Things I cherish are now threatened: the broad, essential mission of Planned Parenthood, the right of women to control their bodies as established by Roe v. Wade, our commitment to conquer domestic violence globally, our ability to educate youth, our aspirations to achieve racial equality and preserve religious freedom.
I have learned from our ancient Jewish sages that at no time can we care only for ourselves. Social justice goes beyond attending to the impoverished and the stranger. Social justice is about advocating for them. We must speak for others as we’d want them to speak for us. We must be vocal about policy and politics when they fail to address the needs of people who are vulnerable – those who are the other.
I have also learned from modern sages, including the twentieth-century prophet Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Succinctly and brilliantly, he described marching alongside the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. with this poetic line: “I pray with my feet.”
So on Saturday, January 21—on Shabbat, the day that connects us to one another—I offered the prayer of my feet. I joined with the American Jewish World Service community in NYC to march for wise leadership for our nation and the world. We honored the voices of women everywhere who fear being silenced because of the new U.S. administration’s potential policies. Our march was a sustained, respectful and vivid statement of presence. We will not be overcome.
I marched to make certain that this new era in our nation will be one to celebrate. I walked in the footsteps of my father, doing what is right.