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Jewish Women and Men Join Rally in Capital for Reproductive Rights

November 14, 1989
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Marching behind a banner reading “Jewish Tradition: Women’s Lives Are Also Sacred,” Jewish women and men made their way along the banks of the Potomac River on a sunny Sunday morning to join thousands of Americans rallying for reproductive rights.

The group, which included two and even three generations of Jewish families, were walking to the rally at the Lincoln Memorial from an American Jewish Congress briefing that drew a crowd of more than 300.

Those who took part in the “Mobilize for Women’s Lives” rally under Jewish auspices sounded a common theme: that they came to Washington because reproductive rights are among the civil liberties that Jews in America have traditionally fought to protect.

“We know too well that when one group’s rights are taken away — whether they are poor women, women of color, rural or city women, women in Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania or Illinois — others can have the same thing happen to them,” Lenore Feldman, president of the National Council of Jewish Women, said as she addressed the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial, estimated at 150,000.

“If we remember nothing else, we do remember as Jews that human rights must be respected and protected,” Feldman said.


During her turn at the microphone, Rabbi Lynn Landsberg, associate director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, declared, “I am pro-God, pro-family and pro-choice.

“Religious doctrine does not speak with a single voice nor declare a single stand on the abortion issue,” she said.

“Fundamentalists have duped this nation into thinking that the religious voice is the voice against freedom of choice, and that it is the godless who are in favor of reproductive rights,” she said.

Feldman and Landsberg were among the long list of speakers at the rally. Fourteen Jewish organizations formally lined up under the pro-choice banner, by endorsing the Nov. 12 mobilization. In addition to the Washington rally, there were demonstrations at the capitals of every state in the nation.

Wandering among the crowds of college students and families, and looking at the clever, often provocative, signs and buttons with which people decorated themselves, one could easily spot signs identifying the demonstrators as Jewish.

A tall young man named Philip Michaels stood close to the podium, waving a sign reading, “An Iranian Jewish Male for Choice.”

Michaels came to the rally from Somerville, Mass., with a group of 12 friends from his progressive havurah. He said he created his sign, because he “wanted to show that the issue really affects everyone. It’s not just a women’s issue.”

Seventy-year-old Esse Levine and her friend Edith Brook relaxed on their beach chairs on the edge of the reflecting pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, as they listened to the rally’s speakers.

Proudly holding triangular banners reading “Hadassah Is Pro-choice,” Levine recalled how, in the days before legalized abortion, some women tried to perform abortions on themselves.

“There’s more cruelty and danger in that” than in abortion, said Levine, who lives in Haddonfield, N.J.


In her mind, she said, the pro-choice stand “in no way conflicts with the Jewish view of reverence for life or responsibility for life.”

A few yards away, a group of 25 women from three sisterhoods of synagogues in Roslyn, N.Y., picnicked on the grass. The women said that their synagogues, two of which were Reform and one Conservative, had paid for the bus trip, and that they began their journey to Washington with a Shacharit (morning) service held aboard the bus.

Both the national movements to which their sisterhoods are affiliated, the Reform movement’s National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods and the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, support freedom of choice.

Earlier this month, at its biennial convention, NFTS passed a resolution affirming its support for choice and deploring the Supreme Court’s decision last summer permitting states to enact restrictive abortion laws.

Involvement by Jewish organizations gives the pro-choice forces spiritual ammunition, said Democratic party analyst Ann Lewis, because, in a struggle where those supporting abortion rights are often branded as amoral, the Jewish leadership “lends a voice of morality and values to the discourse.”

Lewis spoke at the AJCongress forum, along with Lynn Cutler, vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee; Elizabeth Holtzman, New York’s comptroller-elect; and Sen. Robert Packwood (R-Ore.), a longtime supporter of abortion rights.

All pointed out that the abortion issue was pivotal in the last week’s elections of pro-choice supporters for the posts of mayor of New York, governor of New Jersey and governor of Virginia.

“The map of American politics will be drawn in the 1990 elections, when the abortion issue is at its height,” Lewis predicted.

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