Dispatches from the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice | New Voices – New Voices

Posted By on May 25, 2022

At 9am on March 17th, 2022, hundreds of Jews gathered in Washington DC for the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice, organized by The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and sponsored by a number of other Jewish organizations. Even among Jews, the American discourse around abortions has been a polarizing issue long before the leaked Supreme Court memo raising alarm bells about the end of Roe V. Wade. For many Jews, state denial of abortion access as preventive care contradicts the nations claim of a separation of church and state, causing turmoil for citizens who want their reproductive care free from the religious rights infringement. In response to recent events, the NCJW has shifted major donations from the Jewish Fund for Abortion Access to the National Abortion Federation, hoping to support abortion access on a national level in a potentially post-Roe world.

Growing up in a Orthodox Jewish background, anytime the A word was discussed, the reaction I heard was that abortion was wrong & evil. I remember in a 7th grade debate class, stem cell research could only be presented with an anti-abortion approach. Years later, now being in progressive circles and even among left-leaning Jews who affirm a persons right to choose, I find myself in an identity crisis, wrestling among countless others who still struggle to grow from the fundamentalist beliefs of their upbringings, wrestling with their gods and finding their own ethical approach to this ongoing debate.

With the GOPs attack on overturning Roe v.s wade, and the rise of antisemitic hate crimes in America, the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice provided Jewish progressives a significant, supportive setting to demonstrate their shared anger and hopes for a future of reproductive freedom. Wishing I had a caffeinated drink for the 9am function, I proudly joined over 1500 ralliers from across the nation, boldly sharing their words and actions for Abortion Justice. Heres what rally-goers said:

What brings you to todays rallying call for Abortion Justice?

I encompass several marginal identities, a person of color, womxyn, and a Jew being targeted by The same alt-right and their GOP legislators want to prevent me to getting married to my girlfriend, have our own family, and having a choice for an abortion. Why do they have the right to legislate a fixed Christianity into law and on my body? Batsheva (she/her) D.C.

Im the president of my high schools women empowerment group, I didnt want to be a performative activist, by talking over doing justice, I showed up early this morning, to remind my cohort, we must live by our values, and empower all American women for their bodily care. Emma R. (She/Her) Bergen County, NJ

Im here to show remind the world that millions of children are neglected because theyre poor, disabled, queer/trans, black/brown arent being cared for by their biological parents, we dont need to overpopulate the world with unwilling mothers, forced to care for more kids that wont be unconditionally loved if forced to be born without means of sustaining them. Matthew D. (he/him)

I was asked by the NCJW organizers to bring the ruach high spirit through drumming. I know plenty of women & tgnci [transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex] folks who have had abortions and feel silenced. Talking openly about our abortion experiences brings us together out of cultural shame. Lee Smith, (he/him) Arlington, VA

Im here as a Trans Jewess who wants to dispel all the Terf-ism in equating womanhood with a uterus. Ive had plenty of pregnancy scares, and to be denied care is restricting who I proudly am. While advocating for other trans, nonbinary and intersex folks who are left out of the conversation for contraceptive care, as the discourse around Abortion Rights, has been focused on cis women, while excluding TGNCI+ bodily autonomy to equal access to safe abortions. Bee Kline (She/her) Barcroft, VA

What is at risk for American Jewish life if Roe V. Wade is overturned?

The impact of federal anti-abortion legislation passage, is a central target on Jewish life and a boundless value to defend our vulnerable Yids/gentiles. For those of us who are white, cis male presenting need to use our privilege for womens safety, now more than ever. Jeff Jeffries (he/him) Richmond, VA

For 40 years, Ive been proudly standing up for abortion rights. The anti-abortion movement is based off fanatical christian values, Judaism protects the life of the mother over everything. Turning Roe V. Wade is an assault on women & Jewish values. Jane P. (she/her) Arlington, VA

Any law that restricts our bodily autonomy isnt good for Jews. Jewish women, privileged or not, will be targeted directly. There was a great need among the Jewish Left for a small intimate setting for folks to gather as a progressive caucus in D.C, demonstrating our democratic rights to be loud, and uniquely kvetch for our collective liberation. Rabbi Elise Koppel (she/her) Durham, NC

How can we convince other American Jews who arent standing up for abortion access to support this sacred cause?

Abortions is a Jewish value. How do you uphold loving your neighbor but turn a blind eye to those suffering with their plans for reproductive care? Hailey Amder (she/her) Philly, PA

This is my first protest Ive attended since the start of the pandemic. Im here with countless of Jews standing up for a just cause for our reproductive rights and religious freedom. In a democracy, no ones religious extremism should be passed onto us. Joe Silverstri (He/they) Ann Harbor, MI

What Jewish values do you source from in your efforts to protect reproductive health care?

Im angry that we are rallying time and time again to demand womens bodily autonomy. Its my main virtue to bring my daughter to teach her to fight for future generations to live in a better world where reproductive choice is affirmed and guarded. We should all be progressing for all women, not headed backwards. Lauren A (she/her) Bethesda, MD

Being a Jew is about human rights, to repair the world. We have to prevent to going back into the dark, where backstreet illegal abortions are permitted. Marsha Semel, (she/her) Arlington, VA

I believe in justice, fairness and equality for all people. Those targeted policies will affect the most marginalized who will not be able to afford or protect themselves with forced pregnancies. Why in 2022 does the alt-right religious views get to impose onto the livelihood whole of our American cis-society? Gabrielle Kantor (she/her) D.C

What are some conversation starters for ones Shabbat table to enhance this movements trajectory?

We dont need religion to justify abortion. People have the right, because they are divinely granted. If you claim to really care about your orthodox faith, know theres room for you in the movement for reproductive rights. You can worship Hashem, and use your Emunah to alleviate planned parenthood barriers for womxyn, while celebrating peoples choice to freedom. Rabbi Abby Stein (she/her) NYC

Its been a Jewish values for thousands of years to sustain the mental, physical wellbeing of mothers and genders who are unwanting a pregnancy. This fight isnt new. At your next shabbat table, take one small text study, from the Rishonim to the Tanayim, of understanding the evolution of reproductive care. Rabbi Marcia (she/her) Chester, CT

The rally was organized on a dime in order to take immediate action. Unfortunately, this meant that the rally wasnt able to provide ADA accessible seating, and details about meeting points were sent just hours before the 9am protest. However, I was still impressed by how effectively a progressive caucus of Jews and their allies came out amidst the Washington DC heat to express their outrage at a future that prohibits abortion, and their solidarity with grieving and marginalized womxyn, transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex folks who are terrified by the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The National Council of Jewish Womens rally garnered more than 150 synagogues and Jewish organizations, in addition to hearing from several members of Congress, including Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Andy Levin (D-MI) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and rabbis of various denominations. The crowd was filled with people of all ages and backgrounds. It bears noting, however, that a majority of those congregating were middle-aged, white, cisgender women; this is perhaps unsurprising for an held during working hours, when many, especially working class womxyn, arent privileged to leave their jobs on a weekday morning for their public health concerns. Surveying the crowd begged the question: does white upper class feminism represent the face of Jewish progressivism in America? Whose voices may drown unheard as we appraise the impact of a deadly legislation?

Among the countless reporters, there was a small handful of counter-protesters; less than a minyan of Orthodox Jews claiming to speak for the Jewish Religious whole, and some evangelical Christians. The counter-protesters were likely to have been affiliated with The Jewish Pro-Life Foundation, who likens the NCJW to Nazis and abortions to the ovens of Aushwitz. At one point, a counter protester affiliated with Neturei Karta pointed at me and said, You are responsible for killing the Jewish people.

As a reporter from an ex-Orthodox background, I received hate messages on WhatsApp from blood relatives, attempting to distract my attention from the rally and my writing. It was a struggle to avoid incendiary debates while trying to focus on drafting a perspective for New Voices, while thinking of fundamentalists I grew up with who try to guilt and shame me for my beliefs, while forgetting that love and respect for fellow Jews supersedes ones interpretation of Torah.

A day of swift protest and ralliers from across the nation in high spirits, acting to protect abortion care for those in need as a united Jewish front isnt often seen as a normal event, whether among Jews across denominations in the USA or globally. They say, two Jews come from two vulvas, but they might both be kvetching whose birth is halachically Jewish

On Tuesday, rally-goers traveled to D.C out of anger and fear of an advancing dystopian America, and walked away with new connections between allies. Rabbi Sara Hurwitz, President of Yeshivat Maharat was one the final speakers. It is no coincidence that the Hebrew word for womb is rechem, rooted in rachamim or compassion, she said, conveying that when it comes to wombs or a decision to choose to build or not build a family, we need to operate from a place of understanding and of compassion for our divine given liberties.

Photos by the author, JeJae Cleo Daniels.

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Dispatches from the Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice | New Voices - New Voices

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