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We Shall Be Heard

Shabbat Shirah 5779 /  19 January 2019

January 24, 2019

Rabbi Annie Lewis gave this D’var Torah during the Women’s March on Philadelphia, January 19, 2019.

Shabbat Shalom.
Today, we are gathered here on the Parkway.
We are marching and calling out for liberation,
for dignity, for racial, economic and gender justice.

And beneath it all, we are in pain.
We are suffering from
the crushing burden
of sexism, racism, Anti-semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia,
classism, ableism, transphobia and homophobia,
and the terrible toll they take on our communities,
on our bodies, and on our souls;
The way these forces sully every strand of our social fabric,
the way they make us sick.

On this Sabbath morning, Jewish people around the world are telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The journey to liberation begins with a cry. The Israelite people are suffering. They can’t bear it any more, and so they cry out. And their cries are heard. The premise–and the promise–of this story is that when we cry out, the God of Justice and Mercy hears us and remembers us.

וַתַּעַל שַׁוְעָתָם
Va’ta’al shav’atam
And our cry rose up!

[1]וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹקִים אֶת־נַאֲקָתָם
Vayishma et na’akatam
And our voice was heard!

Today, our cries rise up.
Our voices will be heard.

We are survivors, groaning from the strain of injustice.

This year, among our dead, we mourn for:

  • Jewish elders gunned down while praying in their synagogue on a Shabbat morning like this one.
  • African American women who gave birth and bled to death because their pain was not taken seriously.
  • Migrant children who stopped breathing, imprisoned in camps in our country.
  • People of color whose freedom and lives were plundered by mass incarceration in this nation.
  • Trans women and indigenous girls, missing and murdered.

We carry the stories of all of our ancestors, and our siblings
who have died by genocide and by suicide,
by patriarchy and white supremacy.
We lift up and hear their cries today.

And their cries rise up!
And their voices will be heard!

We, the living,
We are courageous and vulnerable.
We are warriors of love.
We are impressively angry.

We are beautiful.
We are beloved.
We are worthy of dignity.
We are worthy of life.
We ache with the shame
of having been told otherwise.

We are all of these things at once.
We are all of these things and more.

And our cries rise up!
And our voices will be heard!
Exactly as we are,
where we are,
in this moment.

My siblings, my comrades, my friends —
Your pain is real. Our pain is real.
And so is our power
when we bring our varied voices together,
when we cry out
in different languages, keys and rhythms.
We are a mass movement,
a collective of millions,
reconstructing a feminism
that affirms the voices of all.

Our cries rise up,
and our voices will be heard!

In the Book of Exodus the Israelites leave Egypt by way of the Sea of Reeds.
They cross the sea on a strip of dry land and they sing a song of celebration. According to some commentators, the Israelites start to sing
not when they reach the other shore;
Rather, they sing as they walk through the waves,
into the unknown,
with walls of water towering to the right and to the left.

So here we are today,
Marching amidst threats of walls and oceans rising,
-and still we sing

The road to freedom is never straightforward-
it is full of twists and turns,
false starts, dead ends, do-overs,
-and still we sing

There is joy, too, in this place,
in this movement,
as we build and act and dance,
as we open, repair and connect,
as we breathe and rest and nurture.
-and still we sing

On this path to justice,
May we sing
May we cry
May we listen
For, together, we shall be heard!

[1] Exodus, 2:23-24