Like any good early 30s childless progressive Jew, my relationship with prayer, with organized Judaism really, has been complex and challenging over the past few years. My politics, my desire for community, my lack of financial capital, have sort of been an obstacle to traditional ways of engaging in my religious identity. My biggest Jewish connection of late is teaching; I’ve enjoyed teaching teens at Temple Israel of Boston, young people in Needham, adults in Western Mass—almost all on the same topic of whiteness and racial justice in the Jewish community. It’s been a nice way to stay connected, but something communal has been missing.
When I heard that black women from Boston would be organizing a march to combat white supremacy and stand up against hate in our city, I knew I would be there. But it struck me that this was the moment to organize the Jewish community and march together on Shabbat.
So we called and posted and organized and got a nice group together. Some came with their spiritual community, some came with a buddy, many came alone. We did kiddush and motzi, we covered the basics of nonviolent protest, and we joined the rest of our fellow Bostonians outside the Reggie Lewis Center.
We marched from Roxbury through the South End to Back Bay. The Roxbury residents living on Tremont Street waved from their windows, held up signs and babies, gave us thumbs up. South Enders sat on their stoops and took video. Once we reached the Common, Black Lives Matter organizers lifted up the voices of mothers who lost sons to police violence, young people who have fought against the gentrification of their communities, politicians urging us to use this day as a motivator for the hard work ahead.
I thought often of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s quote about the civil rights march that began in Selma, “I felt my feet were praying.” We Jews love to talk about Heschel and this quote when we’re discussing our engagement in activist work; whether or not we truly walk the walk beyond the actual march is another topic for another day. But since I have not felt particularly into prayer lately, the profound sense of community and awe I felt on Saturday feels like the closest I’ve come to davening in a long time. Because my Jewish values have taught me that showing up is important; that words and deeds are more than just one act on one day, that it’s a lifelong commitment to justice. My Jewish values have taught me to fight for housing justice in Boston, to make sure the voices of the most marginalized are lifted up and heard, and that marching is more than a long walk.
So while I got goosebumps as I saw thousands of protest signs up and down Tremont Street with the skyline in the background, I am reminded that prayer is a solitary act. It is about one’s relationship with God or community or oneself. Prayer, like marching, is an individual choice. It is only one piece of a larger tapestry that makes up my religious identity. So while I haven’t felt much like praying lately, my marching reminded me that my activism and my Judaism cannot be separated. When I marched I carried my ancestors with me, and they are the ones now urging me to continue to fight white supremacy in my city, in my religious institutions, and in myself.
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