When my husband, Avram, and I heard about the “Families Belong Together” rally on June 30 in Washington, D.C., we were determined to go.
The irony that we were blessed with the rights, the liberty, the ease of travel and the resources to choose to go — all things denied to those we were rallying for — and that in going we would be able to visit our son and daughter-in-law, did not escape us.
We were motivated in part by two teachings of our tradition. The one was the commandment repeated in various ways throughout the Torah: “Do not oppress the foreigner, the alien, the other. You know how it feels to be an outsider, for you were outsiders in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)
We, our people, have been there, centuries ago and in our lifetime. We have been the stranger, the other, the alien, seeking — sometimes begging — desperately that someone take us in and save us from the very worst that one group of humans can do to another.
We cannot allow others to be treated as we once were.
And more, we, as Jews in America, blessed as we are with the gifts of freedom, comfort and prosperity, cannot stay silent when others are in need.
The rabbis make a point of this when they retell the story of Abraham. They teach that Abraham was brought to perfection when he circumcised himself. He had reached his pinnacle of physical and spiritual heights, and could have been satisfied with that. For it is indeed a great achievement and aspiration for everyone to seek to bring themselves to the highest level of goodness and shleimut (wholeness) they can attain.
Yet that was not enough for Abraham. He knew that personal shleimut was not the fullness of shleimut.
As long as we do not strive for the wholeness of others, as long as we see the lack, the loss, the emptiness in the world around us and do nothing to heal it, we cannot be truly whole.
So Avram and I made our reservations at a hotel within walking distance of Lafayette Park and the White House, and drove down to D.C.
On Shabbat morning, we began our trek to the park. We got there a bit early and staked out a bench in the shade to protect us from the scorching sun. (We were grateful for the reports we heard that at least the children separated from their families in locations of extreme heat had air conditioning). Over the next hour or so, we watched the park fill up – with all manner of America: the young and the old, the strong and the infirm, the pale and the tattooed, entrepreneurs and union folk, Jews, Christians and Muslims, no doubt those who professed other religions and those who professed none.
And even as we watched this parade of humanity surround us, we knew that the same thing was happening in more than 700 locations around the country.
All of us had come to say that at times, America is best defined not by its current leaders but by its people. That quirk, which Alexander Hamilton called “occasional ill humors in society,” would sometimes overtake our leaders, so the people would have to act to re-assert the fundamental values of goodness, liberty and justice for all that define the character of this country.
Watching this rainbow of colors and the varieties of humanity that gathered as one on that hot Shabbat morning, my husband and I were moved to recite the blessing we are asked to say when witnessing the massing of thousands of people: Barukh hakham ha’razim, blessed is the knower, the wizard, of all these secrets.
We could not fathom the vastness of the personal stories, motivations, the impetus that caused all these people to come to protest on behalf of total strangers, people they never met, do not know and will likely never, ever see. We cannot know what stirred their hearts — but something moved them deeply.
And if I were to guess, it was that this was more than a one-cause rally. Most people seemed to be there because they feel our country has been overtaken by “an ill humor,” and these latest immigration regulations — compounded with the demonization of the press, casting doubt on the patriotism and integrity of our federal agencies, the assault on science and truth, the debasing language of hate that continually spews forth from the president, complimenting our enemies while offending our allies, the effort to divide our country into winners and losers — all combine to bring out hundreds of thousands across the country.
One woman had a sign which read: “I want my Saturdays back!” indicating just how much she feels besieged by the actions of this administration.
Yet the most robust chant was one of determination and commitment: “We won’t back down.” This is a fight for our country, for the good of all of us.
And we are all in.
Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin is a Baltimore-based spiritual leader, educator, author and environmental activist.