February 22, 2019

Why I Left the Women’s March L.A.

Marwa Rifahie

To Emiliana Guereca and Deena Katz, Co-founders Women’s March L.A.

Dear Emiliana and Deena,

There’s a rabbinic dictum, Dan lkaf zchut, give every person the benefit of the doubt. And that is what I did this past week and today. I booked a hotel room from Friday to Sunday in order to observe Shabbat downtown and stand for equality and the ability for women and men to join together to give voice to those unable to speak. However, I was assured by you, the founders of this March, countlessly in a private meeting, that this March was different. That in Los Angeles (unlike the National March) Israel would not be attacked, labeling Israel as an apartheid state would be unwelcome on the stage and if a speaker went off script, the managers of the program would raise the music. In the very first hour of the Women’s March L.A. program at Pershing Square, all those promises were broken.

Marwa Rifahie, representing the Council on American-Islamic Relations used her allotted time to focus on the Palestinian agenda, a conversation that I was told would not be a focus. I waited. When she called Israel an apartheid state…I waited. Where was the music? Where was someone asking her to remain on script? Who vetted this speaker? Why was I assured that anti-Semitic statements would not be permitted or tolerated in this anti-hate arena? Why was someone allowed to defend the organizers of the march in Washington? I used my voice, opinion and reputation to defend you, the founders that assured me, a Jewish woman was welcome and needed. I know I’m needed but today, I was not welcomed.

My family and I left the March immediately after we heard this woman’s rhetoric. Almost meant to be, I ran into you, Emiliana and voiced my dismay, disappointment and sense of betrayal. I explained that Jewish leaders were assured time and time again to trust you; that I was personally promised that the agenda would not include hate against Israel, that the scheduled speakers would be screened and if off message, monitored and kept on script. And you, Emiliana apologized and hoped the next three hours of the March would look different. Perhaps I was meant to be at the March just to have this conversation and potentially prevent hate speech from infiltrating the remainder of a program that should focus on a united bipartisan cause of cultivating a nation where women feel heard and protected. But now, as a woman, mother and rabbi, I feel dejected, embarrassed and misled.

Other Jewish women around me said, “That’s it. This is my last March.” Help me. Help me to bring Jewish voices into this fold. Help me to trust you again. Help me understand and believe that when you invite a lover of Israel to a march for women, my people won’t be attacked.

If you want me back at next year’s March, someone like me better vet and screen your speakers. Someone like me must be willing to say anti-Zionist speech is the language of hatred and won’t be allowed on stage. But until you take this course of action, it will be quite a while until I give someone like you the benefit of the doubt.

I held a sign that read, “Jewish and Proud Zionist standing for women’s equality.” My daughter’s sign read, “I march for kindness.” I hope to find a place where those signs are welcome and not attacked. It’s with the heaviest of hearts, that I admit I was wrong. This March was clearly not meant for me.

I pray, next year, teshuvah, great repentance and change is taken to win back my trust. But today was not a day for all women, all people, all creeds and voices. When Israel is publicly attacked, my voice is silenced. I will not be silenced.

If you want to learn how to include me in ensuring hate against Israel isn’t on next year’s agenda, I’m all ears. Until then, this March is over.

Rabbi Nicole Guzik