As enthusiasm around the Women’s March continues to erode due to fallout from co-presidents Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour refusing to denounce anti-Semitic statements by Louis Farrakhan — including, just this week, the Democratic National Committee dropping its support — many women have been left feeling torn. Should they show up on Jan. 19, despite misgivings about Women’s March leadership? Or should they sit this one out to express their Jewish loyalty?
One contingent that’s standing firm in its support is JWOCmarching, a growing delegation of Jewish women of color heading to the Women’s March in D.C. in a show of unity.
“As Jewish women of color, we support the unity principles of the Women’s March and believe that this is the time for our communities to affirm together that women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights,” begins an open letter signed by more than 200 supporters, rallying around the social media hashtag #jwocmarching in the lead-up to the weekend:
— Wandering soul (@ShoB) January 12, 2019
A beautiful statement from our partners @JFREJNYC. We are honored to work with them and deeply grateful to Yavilah McCoy of our 2019 steering committee, for her leadership convening #JWOCmarching. https://t.co/unW8rIdhIC
— Women's March (@womensmarch) January 14, 2019
Below, six black Jewish women, all community leaders, share their thoughts on the Women’s March, and why they are sticking with it.
Jewish spiritual and life cycle officiant
Going to: Women’s March in Washington, D.C.
If African-Americans stayed away from everything that we were trying to do because of the bad attitudes of white people, we would’ve never gotten anything done. The way to get things done is to stay in conversation, to stay in relationships, to work it through, to understand that there’s a place in which you disagree and to continue to probe deeper to try and find out what are the ways we are talking past each other or not hearing each other.
I feel like Louis Farrakhan has become a boogeyman and a litmus test, and it’s ridiculous.
The real problem is white supremacy, because … they are the ones who are organizing not only against the Jewish community, but also against the African-American community, the Latino community. … It seems to me that a personal disagreement, grounded in reality, has become bigger than the larger issues of the Women’s March. And I think that’s unfortunate.
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jews of Color Caucus leader
Going to: Women’s March Washington, D.C.
What really got me excited about participating this year was Jewish Women of Color rising up together and forming this coalition. It’s a dream for me to be in community with those who identify the way that I do, and for us to stand up and own our voice and stand in our power. … Jewish Women of Color Marching created a space and a platform and a microphone for me to say, “These are the things that are important to us,” and having a space felt uplifting and unifying and like such a call to action for me.
Every part of my experience has been me choosing, choosing to show up in one way or another. So what’s really powerful about JWOC Marching is that in this moment I get to choose to show up in my full self, a Jewish black woman.
We don’t have room or spaciousness in the movement for social justice to dispose of people when we disagree on something. And if we had the space to do that, then we would have already won. I’m not interested in those things like divide and conquer. I’m interested in staying in dialogue, and practicing restorative justice principles, which to me means staying in the conversation, especially when it gets hard — not even when it gets hard, but especially when it gets hard.
Jews of Color Field Building Initiative, director
Going to: Women’s March Oakland, Calif.
We live in a national community that demands of us a more critical critique of all of our leadership; if we had a more critical critique of our national leadership, we might not be in this mess! Having said that, I feel challenged by some of the expectations placed on some of the leaders of the Women’s March — especially when we don’t assign those same standards to all of our leaders. I can recall occasions when Jewish community leaders have used and expressed their own poor judgement when it comes to issues of racial and even religious difference. I’ve not observed, placed on them, the same expectations of accountability that have been placed on Women’s March leadership. And so it’s not that I don’t think we should be critical of leaders who make tactical, strategic and sometimes values-based errors, it’s that I think we need to hold all leaders to a fair and high standard.
Louis Farrakhan is an anti-Semite, he’s a homophobe, he’s a misogynist, he is unappealing to a number of communities trying to come into unity with each other. If people want to criticize Minister Farrakhan, criticize Minister Farrakhan. At the same time, we have to acknowledge the Nation of Islam has helped marginalized black communities, especially in environments where no one else expressed care. We need to remember that leaders and movements are not the same thing. The Women’s March is … bigger than Louis Farrakhan.
African-American Judaica scholar, author, Howard University instructor
I don’t march anymore. I’m old, and I figure the young people should do it now! I was at the 1963 March on Washington in high school. But I think we women need to be together for change, and I don’t think we should let problems with Farrakhan stop us from marching. … I don’t know that by attending the Women’s March I’d be saying I agree with him — that’s something I would like to make clear, because I’m Jewish, black and supporting it. I don’t want Jewish women to be separated from the rest of the women.
Some women from my synagogue are going, although it bothered me that when they announced it, they didn’t make any mention of this controversy. I think we as Jews have such PTSD that we’re afraid if we say things too loud, we’re going to get hurt. But I wish they had mentioned it.
I don’t have much use for [Farrakhan]. Every time I hear from him, I’m disgusted. But we’re strong, we’re women, we’re together. Don’t let him stop us.
Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, board member
Going to: Women’s March Washington, D.C.
My interpretation of this whole dialogue is that it’s been exacerbated by the current administration, especially after the Tree of Life shooting, as both [African-American and Jewish] communities have been fighting hate crimes and discrimination from our highest office. It’s led to a complicated and problematic dynamic for two communities impacted and targeted by oppression, and to having their pain refracting back and forth, and therefore having misunderstandings.
Anti-Semitism serves to target and isolate Jews for blame and is used as a wedge issue to destabilize movements for change — which then serves to further isolate Jews. I don’t want us as Jewish women to allow our isolation to take place. We should be able to bring our true selves and lean in and to do the real work.
That said, I have a lot of understanding for my extended Jewish family and community if they’re like, “I just don’t feel comfortable in this movement.” That’s fair. But right now, Women’s March is one of our best shots at addressing so many issues. As Emma Goldberg wrote in Ha’aretz: “The Women’s March is America’s most vital and effective coalition for resisting hate. We Jewish women must be part of it.”
Rabbi Sandra Lawson
Associate chaplain for Jewish life at Elon University
There’s always going to be people in the room that we don’t agree on. That’s when you have to ask: “How important is it for me to stay in the conversation?” Because if you remove yourself from the conversation, then there’s nothing coming out of it.
For example, in the platform for the Black Lives Matter Movement [in 2016], there are things in there that I don’t necessarily agree with — the statement on Israel and BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] — and I told my white colleagues, “I don’t have a choice, I can’t remove myself from this conversation. You have a choice, I can’t.” I don’t have to agree with everything. But there’s so much in that particular document, there was so much good. And one itty bitty line is enough to make me leave? No. I have some white colleagues who made different choices, and that’s fine. But I can’t walk away from the black community because I’m always reminded, every time I step into a Jewish community, that I’m black.
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
- The Women’s March, under pressure from controversy, could implode. Here’s why that might be OK.
- Women’s March cancels rally over concerns it would be ‘overwhelmingly white’
- ‘Kingian Nonviolence’ is why Women’s March leader Tamika Mallory won’t condemn Farrakhan. What does it mean?