“We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Over the past few months, I have marched, emailed, sent postcards, made phone calls and wrung my hand a lot, but nothing I have done has been as powerful or as inspiring as the 4 days I just spent in Washington, DC. From mid-day Sunday April 30 through Tuesday May 2, the Religious Action Center (RAC) held its biennial Consultation on Conscience, but I got an early start. As my kids say, I started pregaming on Saturday night.
Actually, I’ve been pregaming longer than that. For several years, WRJ’s leadership has talked about a social justice event for women, and for the past 18 months or so, I have been chairing the planning for such an event. First by leading a brainstorming task force to imagine what such an event might look like, and more recently by chairing the planning of our “pre-Consultation programming.” As we arrived at Consultation weekend, it was a bit like arriving at a wedding or the arrival of a child—the long anticipated, long dreamed of moment had finally arrived.
So that is how as darkness fell on Saturday, April 29, I found myself standing at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial with a havdalah candle in my hand, surrounded by 50 Reform Jews, men and women, old friends and new acquaintances, as we said goodbye to Shabbat and welcomed in the new week. Jo-Ellen Unger led us in song and worship, and we heard MLK quotations as we smelled the spices and moved into the week.
Sunday morning, we gathered to learn. Over 100 women (and a few men) attended our learning session. We heard from Judith Lichtman, Senior Advisor to the National Partnership for Women and Families. She laid out the “lay of the land” for women’s issues in the current Congress and under the current administration. She also opened my eyes to a broader definition of “women’s issues.” Never before had I considered the federal budget a “women’s issue,” but of course, it is. When the budget affects social services, education, families, and so on, it affects women. Seen through that lens, pretty much everything is a women’s issue, and since women’s rights are in fact human rights, all women’s issues are everyone’s issues. After that, we heard from Rabbi Jessica Oleon Kirschner, of the RAC. She told us how we could take our energy and our passion and effect change on the local and state and provincial levels as well as the federal level. These days, there is more chance of change at the local level than the federal.
Then we moved to lunch. 75 women learned about WRJ’s social justice work (for more information, please see http://wrj.org/social-justice-0). We heard from WRJ’s Legislative Assistant at the RAC, Maya Weinstein, whose passion, poise and bravery in the pursuit of a better world are awe inspiring. We were fortunate to have a gatecrasher, Anat Hoffman, of the Israel Religious Action Center and Women of the Wall (WOW), who gave us an update on WOW’s activities. We also had a chance for informal networking.
After lunch, we adjourned and moved across the street for the Consultation itself. For two and a half days, 800 Reform Jews gathered in the pursuit of justice. We sang, we learned, we cried. We learned about telling our stories, building relationships, protecting the vulnerable, and standing up for what we believe. And then on Tuesday we went to Capitol Hill. We heard from several unbelievably inspiring members of Congress and then, 800 strong, we visited senators and representatives, arguing for immigration reform and criminal justice reform.
Over four days, I “recharged” my social justice batteries. I commiserated on the state of things with like-minded folks, and I saw the power of faith. I know that ultimately we shall overcome. These are trying times, but I remember the words of Dr. King (with a minor change for our ears):
“The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.”
Deeply rooted in our faith, WRJ and I stand for justice and equality, whether the times are good or bad. We may have been planning this weekend for years, but we are far from done.
Abigail Fisher is a WRJ Executive Committee Member and a Member of the Commision on Social Action of Reform Judasim.