My Jewish Traditions Teaches Me That It is Time for Rebellion

By Emma Goldberg

For a faith community so rooted in obligation and commandment, Jewish liturgy displays a surprising appreciation for the rebel. Torah teachings are filled with stories of rule breakers, from Korach’s rebellion to the truth-telling prophets to Jacob, who went so far as to wrestle with God. So much of Jewish history is the story of counterculture. It’s the story of David and Goliath, of speaking truth to power when the odds are stacked against you.

This is a history that should leave us well prepared for the crises of 2018. We find ourselves in a time when we must fight even the battles that it seems we’ve already lost. We need to voice our dissent at all costs — especially so that those whose lives are most endangered by the policies of the current political administration know that we are weaving a net of support, doing all we can to counter the forces of hate warping our governance, legislative, and judicial systems.

When Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court, I worried at first that his confirmation wouldn’t be a battle worth fighting. I worried that we couldn’t win, and that in fighting this battle we would lose sight of other urgent campaigns ahead. But as the Unite for Justice campaign emerged to organize opposition, I began to realize the stakes of his appointment. His record of anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-gun control policies could be cemented on the country’s highest court for generations. There was no excuse for silence or inaction.

On September 5, I traveled to DC with the Women’s March to disrupt Kavanaugh’s hearing. During the senators’ questioning, I stood up and from the back of the room yelled: “Look my daughters in the face and tell them they don’t deserve the rights that I have now.” I was arrested alongside Rabbi Barat Ellman, who wore her tallit as she was dragged from the hearing room. In the paddy wagon, en route to the holding station, she led the protesters in prayer: “Olam chesed yivaneh. We will build this world with love.”

Kavanaugh’s hearing was my first time risking arrest, dissenting so openly as to break the law. It’s invigorating to see the practice of civil disobedience spreading. Women, especially, are building the skills and networks that will serve as the foundation for a multi-generational battle for justice. Each time we march, each time we risk arrest, we build muscle memory — just as in Judaism, when we repeat the same daily prayers and find new layers of meaning each time.

Growing up, I didn’t always know how to make sense of the Jewish traditions and stories that I memorized in classrooms. Now, I find that they resonate most when I least expect it — like in the back of the U.S. Senate, as I prepare to risk arrest. I believe deeply that Judaism was made for this moment. Judaism is the ritual of truth-telling, even when it’s hard and repetitive and inconvenient. It’s a tradition that teaches us to love fiercely even as we shout and criticize, in fact to criticize because we love and because we know our country’s capacity for change.

Emma Goldberg is a writer and activist based in New York. She is currently at the start-up initiative Longpath.

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