Jewish community mobilizes for abortion rights at Michigan's largest synagogue

·4 min read

Standing under an outdoor tent at the largest synagogue in Michigan, a group of rabbis on stage held up a piece of black cloth. In the crowd in front, many had pieces of black paper at their seats.

"Will each of you join us in this moment of grief and tear the square of paper you have been given?" Rabbi Blair Nosanwisch said Wednesday night at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield. "Take a breath in. And tear."

The rabbis then tore through the cloth and the crowd ripped through black pieces of paper to symbolize a mourning ritual that Jewish people perform after a loved one dies. But on this evening, the mourning was for the end of Roe v. Wade.

Rabbis tear a black cloth during a rally expressing outrage and grief over Roe v. Wade being overturned last week by the U.S. Supreme Court at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield on Wednesday, June 29, 2022. The tearing of the black cloth is a Jewish tradition, known as kriah, to cope with grief, usually after a loved one dies.
Rabbis tear a black cloth during a rally expressing outrage and grief over Roe v. Wade being overturned last week by the U.S. Supreme Court at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield on Wednesday, June 29, 2022. The tearing of the black cloth is a Jewish tradition, known as kriah, to cope with grief, usually after a loved one dies.

Hundreds of Jewish people  gathered at the synagogue to rally for abortion rights, saying the rights of women, religious minorities and others are at stake. They expressed fear, but also called for people to mobilize to preserve rights in states, where decisions on abortion will be made now that the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling has been overturned.

"Something has been torn," Nosanwisch of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills said before helping tear the cloth. "It's something deeper and more powerful than the Supreme Court, than politics, than right or left. Something basic and true is being lost, and that is where we as Jews must turn to the few truths that are eternal. ... We love our country. We grieve for what she is losing. And so we tear."

At the entrance to the tent, a sign from the National Council of Jewish Women read: “Abortion bans are against our religion.” Next to it was a table with petitions that attendees were asked to sign that would put on the ballot a proposal protecting reproductive rights in Michigan.

Members of the Jewish community rally for abortion rights at  Temple Israel in West Bloomfield on Wednesday, June 29, 2022.
Members of the Jewish community rally for abortion rights at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield on Wednesday, June 29, 2022.

Linda Levy, who leads the Michigan chapter of the National Council, spoke at the rally, mentioning ways people can help to protect abortion rights, such as signing the petition.

"We are here because of sadness," Levy said. "But what you should not feel is defeated. Because what has happened is the fight for reproductive rights has changed. It has gone from the national fight to a state fight."

She mentioned the 1931 law in Michigan that criminalizes most abortions, but has been prevented from taking effect because of a judge's temporary injunction.

More: Faith leaders and activists in Michigan react to Supreme Court's abortion decision

More: Michigan doctor's mom died during childbirth after she couldn't get an abortion

Jewish community leaders gave passionate speeches about how banning abortion violates Jewish faith and traditions.

"Our religion says that is the woman's right ... to make that decision" on abortion, said Rabbi Asher Lopatin, who is Orthodox and the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of metro Detroit/American Jewish Committee. "And any decision by any court or by any statehouse across this country that says that the woman does not have that right violates the Jewish religion."

The crowd applauded his remarks.

Lopatin said there is a diversity of thought within Judaism and other religions about abortion, but ultimately, the state can't impose the views of a particular faith. In metro Detroit, there are Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and Humanist synagogues.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin speaks during the Abortion is a Jewish Value rally at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield on Wednesday, June 29, 2022.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin speaks during the Abortion is a Jewish Value rally at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield on Wednesday, June 29, 2022.

"There are disagreements, but we live in a country where it is illegal to establish a religion," he said. Abortion restrictions are "imposing a religion upon that woman and that should be illegal."

Jewish and Muslim leaders recently signed a joint statement expressing concern over the government intervening in a woman's right to choose, but acknowledged there are different views within their groups.

During the rally, several rabbis spoke the words of women who have had abortions and shared their personal stories on a social media website.

Noah Arbit, a member of Temple Israel who attended the rally and leads the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus, said he's concerned that the U.S. is turning into a theocracy.

It's "an assault on the religious freedom of Jews," said Arbit, of West Bloomfield, who's running for state representative. "No one has the right to ... prescribe their faith to someone else."

Before the tearing of the cloth, Nosanwisch explained the Jewish ritual.

Edie Rubin, a volunteer for the National Council of Jewish Women, gives a black card to Bonnie Kieda, 73, of West Bloomfield, at the Abortion is a Jewish Value rally at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield on Wednesday, June 29, 2022. The black cards were later torn apart as a symbolic gesture of grief.
Edie Rubin, a volunteer for the National Council of Jewish Women, gives a black card to Bonnie Kieda, 73, of West Bloomfield, at the Abortion is a Jewish Value rally at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield on Wednesday, June 29, 2022. The black cards were later torn apart as a symbolic gesture of grief.

"Our tradition has an ancient ritual stretching back to Jacob, King David and Job, that when we hear of the loss of a loved one, we tear our clothing," she said. "It's called kriah, tearing, and it is a response to hearing news that flattens us, leaving us breathless and unable to look forward. When that happens, we grab a hold of something solid, and rend it in two."

After the tearing, she said to the crowd: "Blessed are you ... our God, ruler of the universe, because you are the true judge. From this torn place, we seek to mend, not to erase what has been lost, but to move from the intensity of grief into repair."

Near the end of the rally, a cantor with Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, Rachel Gottlieb Kalmowitz, led the crowd in singing: "Stand up for our mothers, stand up for each other."

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or Twitter @nwarikoo

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan Jews rally for abortion rights at Temple Israel