Galvanized by the Women’s March on Washington, nearly 200 people gathered recently at Temple Oheb Shalom to discuss how to follow up on the issues raised by the event on Jan. 21 that drew at least 500,000 protesters to the nation’s capital the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Many of those in attendance at Oheb Shalom’s “What Now?” event said they believe the Trump administration’s policies are anathema to core Jewish values regarding such issues as women’s rights, racial equality, LGBTQ rights, immigration reform, matters of ecological concern, freedom of the press, and health care reform.

“I’m here because I am really disturbed by what’s going on in the country, particularly how due to fear we are not taking good care of each other, the lack of inclusiveness and the intolerance for differences,” said Oheb Shalom congregant Dr. Vanessa Pikler. “I am so proud of those who came out today to Oheb to stand up for what is right and let our voices be heard.”

Vicki Spira, executive vice president of Oheb Shalom’s board of directors, said encouraging dialogue in a civil manner is crucial to addressing the issues of intolerance and divisiveness. “We should get together and talk, discuss tikkun olam [repairing the world] and Jewish values,” she said. “We can have different political views, but we need to find a way to engage in constructive dialogue with each other.”

Program participants broke into groups of 10 and shared their thoughts on what they felt were the most pressing issues raised by the march. After the group discussions, participants were encouraged to sign up to work on the issues that most interested them.

Longtime Oheb Shalom member Anne Liner said she is concerned that the election has divided the Jewish community at large, even at her temple. She said she came to the Oheb Shalom gathering looking for a “silver lining,” something that Melissa Edwards, another congregant, seemed to have found.

“It was inspiring today because the themes of the Women’s March were echoed in the spirit of what today was — inclusivity,” Edwards said. “This room was filled. That says something, that people are passionate about making the world a better place, that now is not a time to sit at home, that we care about each other and that we are taking care of each other.”

Given the current divisive political climate, synagogues have no choice but to weigh in on topical issues, said Rabbi Steven M. Fink, Oheb Shalom’s senior spiritual leader.

“We stand for the values of the Jewish tradition,” he said. “Those values call upon us to not stand idly by when others are oppressed, hurt and in need. … If we take our mandate seriously, it is imperative for us to work for a more humane and caring world.

“That may cause us to become advocates for certain issues within the political arena.  If we are true to our calling, we may not avoid politics.”

Assistant Rabbi Sarah R. Marion said the results of the presidential election offer an opportunity to speak up against injustice and promote diversity and coexistence.

“What is it about our tradition that gives us this opportunity? Jews were enslaved, oppressed and [know] what it’s like to be slaves in Egypt, an event we remember every spring,” she said, alluding to the upcoming Passover festival. “We have the opportunity, the obligation and the responsibility.”

On March 9th from 6-9 p.m., Temple Oheb Shalom will hold a dinner and training session with Jeannie Appleman, senior organizer and trainer for the Jewish Organizing Institute & Network for Justice. Oheb Shalom is located at 7310 Park Heights Avenue. To RSVP email cbrazner@templeohebshalom.org by March 2th.

Haydee M. Rodriguez is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.

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