President Elect Donald Trump has not yet taken office, but he is already stirring discontent — and activist action — among a subset of the local Jewish community.
A group of five friends and organizers, all involved in both local activist groups and the Jewish community, felt they could use an outlet for their concerns regarding the incoming administration. So they set up a Facebook event to coincide with an event on Nov. 30 called Day of #JewishResistance created by the national Jewish activist organization IfNotNow and happening in more than 30 cities across the country. The group does not have a Baltimore chapter.
Because the friends set up the event only a few days before it was set to happen, they originally figured it would be a small group of friends and fellow activists discussing issues and writing letters to local Jewish organizations to ask them to take public stances. In just a couple days, however, the event had garnered nearly 100 interested attendees, many of whom couldn’t come on short notice, but who were interested in future opportunities to be involved.
“I feel like if we’d put [the event] out even a week earlier, we’d have more than 100 people here,” said Jodie Zisow-McClean, one of the organizers of the event, which was hosted at Red Emma’s Bookstore and attracted about two dozen attendees over the course of the night. “People are hungry for spaces to resist and especially Jewish spaces.”
Though both the organizers and attendees were frustrated by the election of Donald Trump in general, their letter-writing energy was mostly focused on asking local Jewish organizations — in particular The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the Baltimore Jewish Council — to speak out against the rise in hate crimes and appointment of Steve Bannon. The recently appointed White House chief strategist is former editor of Brietbart News, a site known for attracting white nationalist supporters. (On Nov. 14, the Baltimore Jewish Council issued a news alert that said the organization is monitoring the recent spike in hate crimes in Maryland and across the country).
“I think the Jewish community should signal early what side it’s on, and I hope it’s the side of support, optimism and hope,” said attendee Sarah Pinsker, 39, who works with people with developmental disabilities.
This was a sentiment shared by many attendees — the idea that the Jewish community understands what it is like to be oppressed and should take a public stand against the oppression of others.
“I also felt it was very important that the Jewish community speak out not just on anti-Semitism, but on other strains of white supremacy,” said 18-year-old attendee Evan Drukker-Schardl.
The crowd skewed young — mostly 20-somethings — but also included a few older adults and even a couple with their baby. Red Emma’s backroom filled up quickly, so some people migrated out into the coffee shop area to continue writing. According to Zisow-McClean, they sent 10 letters the next day, and many others grabbed envelopes and stamps to send themselves once they’d finished their letter.
“I’m one of the co-presidents of the J Street U chapter at Hopkins, and I think our work kind of coincides with actions like this,” said Johns Hopkins University junior Marty Feuerstein-Mendik.
The event ended with both a call to action and ritual of hope, based on Rosh Chodesh. After a few people read aloud short sections of their letters, the organizers gave a shout-out to other organizations such as Jews United for Justice.
To close out the evening, the organizers asked everyone to write down one thing currently giving them hope on a slip of paper. Zisow-McClean mixed up the slips and handed them back out so people could read aloud someone else’s.
There were several variations of “this event of collective action,” along with responses ranging from the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota and looking to Jewish history to the story of Chanukah and everyday thoughtful humans.
“We’re just refusing to stay silent,” said Zisow-McClean.