This piece by Helene Cohen Bludman was originally published in Lilith. Helene is a congregant of Rabbi Beth Kalisch who works at Beth David Reform Congregation of Gladwyne, PA. Rabbi Kalisch is both an alum of JOIN’s Seminary Leadership Project and our Clergy Fellowship.
My daughter Laurie and I arrived at the designated meeting point and found a crowd of at least several hundred strong. About 30 members of my synagogue—Beth David in Gladwyne, PA—were there too. The mood was calm and friendly.
The march began and we fell into the sea of humanity walking as one: young and old, skin color of all hues, men in kippot walking alongside men in clerical collars, children on scooters, several people in wheelchairs. White people and black people holding signs with the same message.
“This is awesome,” I breathed to my daughter as we stepped along.
“It sure is,” said a voice next to me. The voice belonged to an African American woman walking with a friend.
I reached out my hand and she clasped it.
“My name is Helene, and this is my daughter Laurie,” I said.
She smiled. “My name is Whitney and this is my friend Tiffany.”
We walked on. Together.
Along the route were local police officers stationed to make sure everything was under control. It was.
“Wait a minute,” I said to my daughter. I broke out of the line and ran over to one of the officers. “Thank you for protecting us,” I told him.
He smiled. “I appreciate that. Thank you.”
I am a white woman of privilege, a Jewish woman who needs to understand more in order to make a difference.
What I see on the news and read in the newspaper and hear on the street are my only frames of reference.
I have not walked in the shoes of my black neighbors. But last week our shoes were pointed in the same direction.
Blessing Osazuwa, a recent high school graduate and pursuer of peace, organized the march to bring about understanding and solidarity in our community. In an emotional speech, she said, “We want our sons to know that they will not be a target when walking down the street. We want to be heard. Please do not silence us.”
She acknowledged several children standing in front. “Our young people need to see this [show of solidarity]. The next generation should know that we can take action. We don’t have to be silent.”
“Our old people need to see this!” yelled a silver-haired woman in the crowd.
Ms. Osazuwa smiled. And then, pointing to each child, she said, “If he’s not free …. If she’s not free …. If he’s not free … no one is free.” Thunderous applause erupted.
A woman in front of me turned around and whispered, “Do you have a kleenex?” I handed one to her.
As we walked back to the car, my daughter said she was glad we went. This is just the start, I thought.
My rabbi posted this on her Facebook wall last night:
“Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.”
— Elie Wiesel z”tl
The march with my rabbi was one step, one tiny step but a step nonetheless, toward tikkun olam, repairing the world. May we all continue to march that path together.