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Broad Range of Jewish Groups Drawn to March for Women’s Rights

April 22, 2004
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

This weekend’s march on Washington for reproductive rights, an election-year exercise in mass message-sending, has a substantial Jewish component.

Two major national Jewish women’s organizations and three religious denominations are organizing busloads of participants for Sunday’s March for Women’s Lives on the National Mall in Washington.

Many more Jews are expected to participate with other national organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women. Several associated events are geared toward the Jewish community.

The goal is to highlight the religious community’s advocacy for abortion rights and send a strong political message in an election year.

“Decisions that are made about who constitutes our federal judiciary will affect our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren to come,” said Marsha Atkind, National Council of Jewish Women president. A number of Supreme Court vacancies are expected in the coming years.

“Whoever is elected should know that there are millions upon millions of people in this country that are pro-choice,” Atkind said.

Atkind will join celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg, Kevin Bacon, Camryn Manheim and members of the Indigo Girls music band as speakers at Sunday’s rally. She said she believes the Jewish community has a distinctive role to play in this debate.

“As Jewish women, it’s particularly important because we know what it is like to lose rights,” Atkind said. “These are rights that are in danger of being lost.”

Many segments of the Jewish community are concerned about what they see as increasing limitations on a woman’s right to choose. They rallied against last year’s passage of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, which outlawed a specific abortion procedure technically known as intact dilation and evacuation, generally carried out late in a pregnancy.

Some Jewish groups also criticized President Bush’s signing of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act earlier this month, which made attacks against pregnant women that harm embryos a separate crime. They said granting a fetus legal status contradicted the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding legal abortions.

Orthodox Jews generally differ from other streams when it comes to abortion, and Orthodox Jewish representatives in Washington have expressed support for both acts.

Backers of this weekend’s march, including officials from the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements, said they had the Jewish majority behind them.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action for Reform Judaism, said polls consistently show that the Jewish community is more supportive of reproductive rights and Roe v. Wade than any other religious or ethnic community in the United States.

“Jews have always been involved in struggles for justice in America,” said Saperstein, who expects about 2,500 members of the Reform Jewish community to attend the rally. “These issues will weigh very heavily in the hearts and minds of the Jewish community.”

Rabbi Sally Priesand, the first woman ordained as a rabbi in the United States, said she is traveling to the rally because she wants to preserve women’s rights and the rights of Jews to practice their religion.

“Judaism says very specifically that a fetus is not a person until birth and until it survives 30 days,” said Priesand, who is traveling with a contingent from her synagogue, Monmouth Reform Temple, in Tinton Falls, N.J.

“Any legislation that says otherwise restricts my rights and the rights of any Jewish woman to follow their religion.”

Jewish leaders, including Priesand, are expected to participate in an interfaith service during Sunday’s events, in conjunction with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Official events also include a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill Friday and a 24-hour prayer vigil Saturday.

The Women of Reform Judaism will hold a Havdalah service Saturday evening at the Jefferson Memorial, followed by a reception Saturday evening. Both WRJ and NCJW are holding events Sunday morning to bring together their participants.

The Reconstructionist movement is also holding a weekend of events, including Shabbat and Havdalah services at a synagogue in a Maryland suburb. They expect several hundred participants.

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, anticipates 1,500 participants in matching red and white shirts.

“I think it’s important because we are part of the American community and part of the American world,” said June Walker, Hadassah’s national president. “We have an obligation to express our opinions to our legislators.”

About 120 students are expected to participate in the rally through Hillel, as part of Jewish female empowerment weekend at Hillel at the University of Maryland.

Liz Rutzick, coordinator for “Strong Voices, Strong Choices: A Weekend for the Next Generation of Jewish Women,” said she thought it was important for college students to understand that the Jewish community can relate to issues young Jewish women now face.

“We want the Jewish college-age woman, who is coming into own, to feel there is room for them to make choices within the Jewish community,” said Rutzick, the senior Jewish campus service corps fellow at the Hillel.

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