I once spent a week with more than half a million people on a very small island. That pretty much ended it for me and being in crowds.
In addition to that, I’m a raging introvert. Which means that when I’m in a room with more than a couple of people for more than a couple of minutes, I feel as if all the energy is being sucked out of me. As you might expect, I don’t enjoy it.
So even after contributing to the hevria bloggers’ group post about the Muslim ban and basically committing myself in public to attending the “Families Belong Together” protest in Washington, DC, I really did NOT want to go.
Given the above, it wasn’t hard to come up with a whole list of reasons/excuses not to:
- the crowd, of course
- the pain I could expect in my back, hips, and knees from walking
- the protests I lived through during the Vietnam War that didn’t seem to do much
- it wasn’t a specifically Jewish protest
- it was scheduled on Shabbat
And this last one was a biggie. I’ve been working very hard over the last couple of years to become more Shabbat observant. I’ve got a long way to go, but I’ve been feeling pretty good about being on this path, and about how far I’ve come. But there was no way I could walk the 20ish miles between my home and DC, in addition to walking during the march. I’ll admit I didn’t even know how many specific commandments I would be breaking. I just knew it would be quite a few.
On the other side of the argument with myself:
- I can’t say I *hear* the cries of the children, but I feel them.
- I think there’s a good chance this separation will make them broken people all their lives. And I have a lot of sympathy for broken people, being one myself. [Elizabeth Warren’s Facebook post about her trip to see the children is here]
- I desperately wanted/needed to do something… anything.
- I thought the folks were right who said: If you really cared, you’d be out in the streets protesting.
I really cared. I’ll be honest, it seemed like going to this protest was the least I could do. This is the first time in my life I wish I had become the lawyer my mother always wanted me to be because then I would be able to do more.
I kept waking up during the night watching the scales loaded with all the arguments slowly moving up and down as I kept changing my mind. It happens to me sometimes that I open my eyes with some new idea that completely changes my perspective.
Early the morning of the protest, I woke up thinking: There is one situation where you are allowed to violate the laws of Shabbat and that is to save a life. In fact, we are forbidden to not violate Shabbat in order to save a life. Granted the specific situations that are spoken of in our tradition relate to the physical, but there are many things that are life threatening besides physical illness.
I felt that these 2000+ children were suffering mental anguish equal to any physical illness, and that these were lives that desperately needed saving. No, they are not Jews. But our tradition also says we are supposed to show compassion and mercy to *all* people. To quote Rabbi Akiva: “Beloved is man for he was created in the image of God…” [Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch]
But what finally got me out of bed and moving was something more personal, and entirely selfish:
…my god-daughter and her sister had been taken from their mother and caged?
…they were sleeping on thin pads under Mylar blankets on a floor somewhere?
…we didn’t know where they were?
…we had no idea when, or if, we would ever see them again?
Would I break the Shabbat for them? Yes! No question. Yes! No hesitation.
I identify as Black, female and Jewish, but which of those is at the top of the list changes depending on what’s going on in my life on a given day.
That morning I realized I had left out one thing, equally important, that I also am: human.
So, at the very last moment, it was me as human first who made the only decision that would let me live with myself: I went to DC to protest.
I have only occasionally been wrong.
Do you believe that? Because if you do I have this bridge you might want to buy… OK. That is a total joke. I almost can’t type it for laughing at myself.
I’ve been wrong SO often in my life. And I may well be wrong now. Maybe G-d wasn’t happy about my choice, but given the little *coincidences* that happened to me for the good, I don’t think that’s true.
I didn’t know that the Metro system had decided to repair the line I needed to ride. But I still made it to the Shabbat service that happened before the protest… mostly on time. The service was filled with joy and song. We raised a lot of positive, loving energy in that room. I think it came from a G-d who was pleased we were all there… together… for those children.
I hadn’t brought any type of sign with me because I’d be riding the Metro. (I seemed to be the only one who let that slow them down and there were some great signs and even costumes. My favorite was someone dressed as a dinosaur, with a sign that said: Walls didn’t work at Jurassic Park either.) As I walked along, a group I’d never heard of just *happened* to be handing out the perfect sign: “What if she was your child?” Of course, I accepted one.
The temperature climbed into the mid 90s. It *happened* that there were people standing out in front of a church, on the street I used to walk from the services to the main gathering point, handing out cold water and snacks. (Since it really was the last moment when I decided to go, I had skipped breakfast.) It also *happened* that other people came by throughout the day and offered more water at just the right times.
I wasn’t sure I could stand up for hours in the sun. It *happened* that I found a seat on a bench in the shade. I sat there displaying my perfect sign until we got up to march. Then I carried that sign from the rally point near the White House past the formerly orange haired man’s hotel (What an ugly building!) and on the circuit we made around the Department of Justice chanting “Shame!”
I also *happened* to walk the entire length of the march without any serious pain; and when the person who can get lost anywhere needed help to find her way out of DC, a very nice lady just *happened* to be in the exact right building to help out. She even had visual aids (otherwise known as maps)!
So… I went to a protest. I violated the laws of Shabbat to do it. I felt, as a Black, female, Jewish, human being, that I had to. A sign I saw at the march summed up all my reasons in five words: They are all our children.
Some may say I don’t love G-d or respect the Sabbath, but that simply isn’t true. It is just that I think anything I can do to help these children IS loving G-d and more than respecting the Shabbat, it IS living the Shabbat.
To paraphrase what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said in another time of crisis in our country, I was praying my simple prayer with my feet:
Please G-d, hear us. Fix this. Amen.
Photo of a lonely looking Lady Liberty
by tom coe on Unsplash