I didn’t want to march. I don’t like crowds. I wasn’t sure what marching would accomplish or how it would be interpreted. But it felt like too much was at stake not to show up.
Why did I choose to go? Because, as Gloria Steinem said at the Women’s March on Washington, “Sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are.” Our national organization — National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) — was one of the partners who helped draft the March’s mission which dovetails with our local section’s goals: “to improve the quality of life for women, children, and families and to protect individual and civil rights.”
On Jan. 21, 2017, NCJW Milwaukee Section traveled to Madison to be a part of history. I was one of fifty-five people — including a few men — of varying religions and passions, brimming with comradery and excitement, who boarded a bus chartered by NCJW-Milwaukee and joined together for a day of education and advocacy in our state’s capital.
Political issues are complex but respect for human dignity is simple. One of my central Jewish values, from which many others stem, is the value of human dignity, kvod habriot. An attack on the human dignity of others feels like an attack on my own. This sentiment is what we marched to affirm — along with the millions of other people marching around the world — that we all have human rights and dignity that needs to be acknowledged and respected.
As one of the nearly 700 Women’s Marches in over 60 countries held that day, the Women’s March on Madison drew an estimated crowd of 75,000-100,000 participants. The women and families that we met as we marched up State Street toward the Capitol were energetic and engaged. I marched alongside a mother pushing her developmentally disabled daughter in a reclined wheelchair. I listened to the voice of a transgendered youth who spoke with such poise and power to the crowd about her pain and her convictions.
I was inspired by a congressman who challenged the crowd with, “Don’t boo, organize!” Prior to our arrival at the march, disability rights activist and former NCJW-MKE board member Barbara Beckert shared with us her expertise on how to advocate for policies on local, state and national levels. She reminded us that if we want our laws and policies to reflect human dignity, each of us needs to speak up. The energy and positivity of the march helped me to restore my faith and spirit so that I will have the strength to continue the work that must be done. I know that in the days ahead I will draw sustenance from the spirit of unity on this day.
I have been grateful for the opportunity to learn and engage in advocacy through my involvement with NCJW. It has offered me a community of mentors and friends who “put our faith into action” together. On behalf of our section, I welcome you to visit NcjwMke.org and join us in the important work ahead.
Andrea Bernstein of Bayside has served on the boards of several local Jewish and educational organizations and is currently president of the National Council of Jewish Women – Milwaukee Section.