Local Jewish women are organizing a public rally in West Orange on Sunday to coincide with the 2023 National Women’s March in Madison, Wisconsin, dubbed “Bigger than Roe.”
Organizer Miriam Gardin of West Orange took on the local demonstration — one of hundreds planned across the country — because, “as a Jew, I’m very concerned with reproductive justice, social justice, religious freedom, equal rights for women and just human rights in general,” she said.
Ms. Gardin didn’t anticipate that two organizers would quit over their anti-Israel beliefs and their wish to exclude Israel advocacy organizations from participating as advocates for women’s rights — but that’s what happened.
This Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion across the country. Roe was overturned in the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in June; the majority of Americans see Dobbs as a reversal of women’s autonomy and equality. The march will protest Dobbs. The West Orange demonstration is expected to draw more than 100 participants. Word is spreading primarily through social media platforms, said Ms. Gardin, who attended the “Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice” in D.C. last May with her two daughters, 8 and 12.
The location of the march is available to people who register online. The security decision is meant to thwart counter-protestors, Ms. Gardin said.
There are at least five marches happening in New Jersey, according to www.womensmarch.com.
One of the local speakers will be West Orange Township’s new mayor, Susan McCartney, the first woman to hold the job in the township’s 150-year history. Other speakers include Erica Bradshaw, an actor and member of the LGBTQ+ community, and Michele Delisfort, the former mayor of Union, who is now on the township committee. Miranda Flumen, 12, a student at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, will be the youngest speaker.
Another speaker, Phoebe Pollinger, National Council of Jewish Women’s New Jersey state policy advocate and co-chair of NCJW/Essex’s reproductive rights committee, also is on the steering committee of the Thrive NJ Coalition, which works to promote sexual and reproductive health.
“The Women’s March event in West Orange on Sunday and others in New Jersey and around the country are critically important as opportunities to speak up and speak out for reproductive rights, equity and access and reproductive justice,” Ms. Pollinger wrote in an email.
“Everyone should have access to time-sensitive care, the ability to make personal decisions about their own bodies and their own lives, regardless of income, zip code or immigration status, because rights without access are meaningless,” she wrote.
Leslie Felner, the president of Hadassah of Northern New Jersey, also encouraged people to go to the rally. “We are concerned with the ability of a woman to make decisions with regard to her health care,” she said. “It’s between her and her doctor.”
Ms. Gardin has decided to speak at the rally, in part to discuss her difficult encounter in organizing it, she said. Two of the five organizers quit the group when they learned that Hadassah, a Zionist organization, would be a partner in the event. “We had a breakdown among our core group of organizers, and it was triggered by me striking up a partnership with Hadassah,” she said.
The dissension is nothing new to the Women’s March organization. Nationally, the organization edged out its antisemitic leaders in 2019. They were considered to be Israel-haters.
“I’m a lifetime member of Hadassah, and they’re a huge advocate for women’s rights,” Ms. Gardin said. “And we’ve been doing this since before there was a woke political left in this country. It just feels to me like it’s an obvious thing, like we’re not talking about the situation in the Middle East, we’re talking about women’s rights and human rights, so Hadassah belongs there.”
Ms. Gardin contacted the national Women’s March organization telling them she was “feeling uncomfortable at being called a racist and colonialist.” Her contact at the organization told her that “they really want people to show up authentically and be respected for who they are and that we’re all doing this specific work together.”
“Once we lost half of the organizers, that’s when I really stepped in,” Sonja Seglin of West Orange, a mental health therapist, said. “It does make me sad that something that’s happening across the planet is enough to reduce support around this very important topic — and important for this country that we live in.”
She has been pushing out text, email and Facebook messages. “Whatever I can think of to get the word out.”
“It’s obvious to me that this is something women should be able to make their own choices about, whether they want to continue a pregnancy,” Ms. Seglin, who belongs to Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, continued. “The root of the issue for me is basic human rights. It saddens and scares me that the court decision was overturned.
“It’s really important to me personally to find connection with other people around this cause. We want everyone there who can coalesce around this one point.”
Register for the rally online at www.action.womensmarch.com. Enter your zip code or “West Orange” to receive instructions on where and when to attend.