“Let’s Go, My People!”–Remarks at the 2019 Women+s March Olympia

I was honored to be invited to deliver remarks as part of the opening program at the Women’s March in Olympia on January 19. Here is what I shared:

Shabbat shalom!

“A Sabbath of peace” is what we say today, but today is going to be a Sabbath of causing ruckus.

Thank you, it is an honor to be here with you today on this sacred occasion, a sacred day on our calendar but also a day made sacred and special by this gathering here today. I am humbled to be up here with these powerful voices of truth we have just heard and will hear.

In the Jewish liturgical tradition, we read the entirety of our sacred Scripture, the Torah, the first five books of the bible over the course of a year. Beginning in the fall, each week on the Sabbath we read a section, beginning with Genesis and ending with Deuteronomy.

Today we read from the book of Exodus, telling the story of the Israelites who having been in bondage for centuries, are finally freed, and begin their journey of liberation, passing through a divided Red Sea to a new and better and hopeful future.

And as we read in Scripture, the journey from bondage to liberation was not an easy one.

In the story we read of Moses who is called by God at the burning bush to return to his people, to be the messenger and liberator, to be the one who will lead this uprising and resistance against an oppressive power. Moses goes to the halls of government and makes the demand that his people should be freed—“Let My People Go.”

And we know, at first, it doesn’t go over well.

But Moses is supported by God, who brings, with each demand for freedom, a plague. A symbol of divine power, a symbol of the rightness of Moses’s claim, a show of force against a ruler, a tyrant whose heart was hardened.

There are 10 plagues in all, 10 times that Moses returns to Pharaoh to demand freedom. First turning the water of the Nile into blood. When the blood didn’t work, there was an infestation of frogs, when the frogs failed to convince lice descended on the land, when the lice was ineffective, wild animals came to roam, when the power structure still did not change boils appeared, then hail, then locusts, then darkness—each plague increasing in severity until with the final plague when it literally becomes a matter of life or death.

And he won.

As Moses did in Scripture, we do in our day. We confront tyrants and systems of oppression. And we return again and again demanding change. First we sign petitions. When the petitions do not work, we write letters. When the letters go unanswered, we make phone calls. When the phone calls fail to convince, we sit in protest. When we are done sitting, we rise. After we rise, we march. When we march, we sing. When we are done singing, we shout. And we will return time and time again until it literally becomes a matter of life or death.

And we will win.

Today we are confronted by systems of injustice and hatred and fear in ways we have not seen in recent times. Systems that support violence against the most vulnerable, systems that perpetuate inequality, systems that fail to recognize that we are all human beings, created in the image of God, worthy of love and respect.

Three months ago today hatred was visited on my community as 11 people were gunned down in a synagogue in Pittsburgh on the Sabbath because of anti-Semitism and white supremacy. A truly sad and horrific day.

And now, in response, I’m reminded of the old Yiddish protest phrase “Mir veln zey iberlebn”–We will outlive them.

We will outlive them, because we will create a community built on love.

We will outlive them, because we will create a society that is just and moral.

We will outlive them, because we will create a society that honors the indigenous peoples of this land.

We will outlive them, because we will create a society that welcomes the immigrant.

We will outlive them, because we will create a society that has no place for racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, ableism, and anti-Semitism.

We will outlive them, because we will create a society that ends violence, especially as perpetrated by the government and its agents.

We will outlive them, because we will create a society that provides access and support, health care and housing, fairness and equality.

We will outlive them, because we will create a society that protects the earth, that most precious gift that is greater than any of us.

We will outlive them.

And we will march today, and we will keep marching. Like Moses we rise up and resist.

For we know that it is possible to challenge and change structures of power and privilege, that we can overcome oppression, that we can right the wrongs of the past. Through persistence and perseverance, through continuous action, by returning again and again and again, we live up to our highest ideals.

Moses said then, “Let my people go!”

We say today, “Let’s go, my people!”

Thank you.

(For full disclosure, I did borrow a little–from myself–using some words from a MLK Day invocation I gave previously.)

 

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