It’s been days since that “me” became a “we” – since we rushed into the streets when Trump became president, because we felt justice dying in this country and we knew that righteousness needs fresh air to breath. We let the night air pump into our lungs and carry our feet forward as we assured our sleeping neighbors that we would not let justice die tonight.
I am marching with others to remind this nation that our hands are meant to write words of kindness, not hate. I am marching with other Jews to remind my people that our mitzvot and our stories will only have meaning when we take action and pray with our feet.
I hold up a photograph for my first-grade students at religious school. “Who is that?”
“Martin Luther King,” they answer.
“What is that?”
“A Torah,” they reply.
Now, after the election, I postpone the lesson I had planned. I need to teach my six-year-olds how to pray with their feet like Abraham Joshua Heschel. I play “Oseh Shalom” on my iPod and explain that we as Jews must help make peace in the world. They put together a puzzle of the Earth, collecting all of the disparate pieces of our broken world. They tape the puzzle together, but the jagged cracks in our planet are still visible.
“I’m sad,” one boy keeps repeating over and over when I ask him how he feels about the election.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I ask, but he just shakes his head and looks down at the floor.
My six-year-olds need to learn what so many of us have forgotten – that we as Jews, that we as people, must seek justice. “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof. Justice, justice you shall pursue.”
My sister painted these words onto a glowing pink and purple mural at our overnight camp. I imagine her painting the words over every swastika that white supremacists have graffitied since the election. I can see her brush dipping into the buckets of house paint, her long, bold strokes confidently restoring the tarnished buildings to glory. She steps back, and the whole neighborhood surrounds her. We sigh a breath of relief. Finally walls do more than keep us separated from one another. Finally our walls scream out the truths hatred buried so deep in our hearts.My students point to a picture pasted next to the prayer “Ma Tovu.” “It’s Moses,” I tell them. He is opening the Red Sea for the Israelites to march through.
“Where are they going?” my students ask. I tell them that they are running to freedom. I explain how they – how we – wandered for 40 years, because we knew that marching through pain and agony would eventually lead us to the dvash v’chalav, the honey and milk, that our tongues desired so deeply. But we did not march in somber defeat. We remembered that freedom rings out in our dancing steps when we sway and twirl to the sounds of Miriam’s timbrels. We moved through terrible straits with holy words on our backs, the ornamental beauty of the aron, the ark, gleaming in the hot sun. We enjoyed the journey. We wrote stories as we marched, and all of that joy kept us marching until we finally fell to our knees when we reached our freedom.Years later, Jews were promised “the land of the free.” But we filled America’s streets as soon as we realized there was no gold in the sidewalk’s cracked pavement. Crammed into New York’s Lower East Side, we organized into Yiddish-speaking wings of the Socialist movement. When Jewish and non-Jewish women jumped from the windows of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, laboring Jews fought for better conditions for sweatshop workers. We swelled the ranks of the Communist Party of America and took up arms to fight in the Spanish Civil War. We wrote anarchist speeches and rallied for the freedom of those wrongly convicted after the Haymarket riots. But these stories are silenced in the collective memory of our people. The Red Scare and the fear of not fitting in forced us to hide these tales of resistance from ourselves.
But my six-year-olds need to learn that Jews have always fought for justice, and that we will never stop. I am asking you, reader, to help me teach them this lesson. They are so scared. They fear world wars, they fear that their Mexican friends will be separated from their families, and they are sad. Can you help me teach them that Jews seek justice? Can you join me in the streets, join me at the rallies, join me at the dinner table, welcoming those who are hurting? We must pass on our stories of resistance and create our own tales about how we prayed so furiously with our feet when Trump threatened justice. Jews have marched in search of freedom before. Now, my students, myself, and the young people throughout this country need you, need our Jewish institutions, need our immas and abbas to join us in our march for peace.