Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Saturday January 20, 2017: Today, I’m committed to reading the Torah’s story about the seven women who give life to Moses — and to attending the Women’s March on Washington in my own city, Vancouver, Canada. I plan to do both.
So, I’m up and dressed early, prepaid transit pass in hand. I join a line of women at the bus stop. We exchange no words; we smile knowingly at one another. We reach the downtown transit hub, where local groups are meeting up. They carry homemade signs: I am a person. Hell hath no fury like 157 million women scorned.
Some of the women have special gear: handmade pink pussy hats, pink feather boas, pink face paint. Others bring only themselves. Safety opportunity dignity.
From every street, people pour into the convention center plaza by the harbour. Emblems of our collective life in this international port city frame the main stage. Docks, soaring seagulls, mists, mountains and water surround us. Climate change is real. Diversity is real.
A group of young socialists trades signs for donations. I choose a two-sided sign. Brandishing it, I push my way to the front of the crowd. Education not deportation. Fight sexism.
On the stage, Indigenous leaders are robing up in tribal blankets for a traditional welcome. Look, it’s Metis Elder Aline Laflamme! My heroine, a model of dignity, wisdom and compassion. I can’t wait to hear her drum! Make America kind again.
“Daughters of the Drum,” says an organizer over the PA, “go to the red tent.” Aline leaves the stage and heads for the red tent. I’ve read Anita Diamant’s book The Red Tent; I know it’s a place where women gather their collective strength. I’m with her!
“Look who’s here!” Rev. Jaylynn Byassee, a fellow American citizen, gives me a hug. “I’m just so exhausted,” she says. “I feel the pressure in my home state of Texas, and in our shared state of North Carolina, and on my last trip to Lebanon, hearing women’s stories…but I had to come today, to find strength in community.” We become stronger together.
Voices of singing women radiate from the stage. A young Coast Salish elder welcomes us. “This is not the time to sit in complacency,” she says, “and smugly watch what goes on below that imaginary line imposed on so many Indigenous peoples! We have problems on our side of the border too!” Women for the future.
It is time for me to leave, so I can attend synagogue and chant from the Torah scroll. Weaving through the still-growing crowd, I find a bus stop. A Malaysian man inspects my sign. Despite his limited English, he understands instantly where I have been. “I don’t like this man,” he says. “My daughter is sixteen years old. He said about his own daughter that if she were someone different he would marry her. Can you imagine! His own daughter! How terrible!”
On the bus, a Jamaican man sits next to me, points to my sign. “He’s getting ready to feather his buddies’ nests, isn’t he? I’ve been watching you on TV all morning. All those crones!” I feel like I am still marching.
At synagogue, Rabbi Susan Shamash leads the Torah service. “This week’s parsha [Torah portion], Shmot, is all about the power of women who set liberation in motion by working together across their differences to save Moses and raise him.” Rabbi Hannah Dresner offers a dvar Torah (Torah commentary) about transformative female power. “As people crossed the narrow channel to freedom through the waters of the Red Sea, they called out, ‘This is the God who birthed me!’”
I feel them echoing, for our time and place, the words of American abolitionist and women’s rights leader Sojourner Truth (1851): “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!”
Photo credit: Laura Duhan Kaplan, Women’s March on Washington, Vancouver, Canada.
Pronounced: PAR-sha or par-SHAH, Origin: Hebrew, portion, usually referring to the weekly Torah portion.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.