Moral Mincha Mondays

Moral Mincha Mondays

Young Orthodox Jews daven to protest family separations by the U.S.

Members of the social action groups Hitoreri and Torah Trumps Hate gather for Moral Mincha Monday in the plaza at One Broadway in lower Manhattan.
Members of the social action groups Hitoreri and Torah Trumps Hate gather for Moral Mincha Monday in the plaza at One Broadway in lower Manhattan.

Sometimes a good way to show your unease with the way things are, to make clear your refusal to be bullied or shamed or bored into going along with the things the way they are when you know, deep in your heart and your head, that they are wrong, is to do what you know to be the right thing to do — but to do it with a twist.

Drawing from the Christian tradition, the Rev. William Barber, who heads the NAACP in North Carolina, began what he calls “Moral Mondays,” a civil disobedience movement whose participants showed great respect to the politicians whose policies they protested.

Drawing from the Jewish tradition, Nava Friedman, who grew up in Teaneck, and her partner in this work, Rebecca Krevitz, began what they call Moral Mincha Mondays. They organize minyanim, run according to Orthodox halacha, at which Jews can pray together to show solidarity with each other and protest what they see as immoral governmental policy, showing great respect to each other and to the tradition as they do so.

The idea for Moral Mincha Mondays began as a protest against the Orthodox Union’s award to the United States’ attorney general, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. The OU gave Mr. Sessions an award; “Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue,” it said, in Hebrew and in English. The award was given at around the same time that the Justice Department enacted its policy of separating children from their parents as they entered the United States illegally or in search of amnesty. The OU resolved that situation quickly by putting out a statement deploring the family separations, but the idea of Moral Mincha Mondays, not aimed at the OU or its actions but as a general protest against perceived immorality and as a push toward more goodness — as well as a deep abhorrence of the policy of separating children from their parents — took hold.

Ms. Friedman and Ms. Krevitz are part of a group called Hitoreri, which is “an Orthodox movement for social change,” Ms. Friedman said. “We want to be a voice for justice in the Orthodox community. We’re a grassroots group; we express the feelings of people in the community. A big part of what we think is important is getting leaders within the community to speak out on the issues, make more public statements about them, and help express the rumblings within the community.

“We also want to push these things forward practically,” she added.

“With Moral Mincha Mondays, we want to move forward on chesed as we do it in the synagogue and school system,” she said. “You have chesed programs, and you do it for a day, and you don’t necessarily understand what you are doing, and it can feel very performative. And sometimes it is treated as just a day off.

“If you think about the values that we are taught, it doesn’t really jibe with how we are supposed to be treating each other. We are interested in working with schools to create a more robust teaching program. It’s not just about doing good things, but about broader ways of looking at issues in context.”

Nava Friedman

So, for the last month, Hitoreri and Torah Trumps Hate — groups that developed independently with overlapping memberships and goals — have joined to daven mincha. People meet at One Broadway, way down in southern Manhattan, at 6:15. “We try to keep it to 30 minutes,” Ms. Friedman said. “We all daven mincha, and then we will recite a few psalms and we always have a d’var Torah.

“We are just down the street from the OU,” she added, so that people walking to or from its offices who might want to join the minyan will spot it. “We need to make sure that we are Orthodox, so that anyone who requires an Orthodox minyan will feel comfortable.

“At the same time, people who wouldn’t necessarily be davening mincha every day find us as a way to connect with their Judaism,” she said. “And we repeated our message of social justice while expressing ourselves ritually.”

Barry Lichtenberg of Teaneck is a lawyer whose offices are close to One Broadway; on a recent Monday he decided to check out the minyan. “It was very moving,” Mr. Lichtenberg said. “One cannot help but feel optimism about the modern Orthodox future when close to 60 young people attend the Moral Monday Mincha.

“It was very orderly,” he continued. “They made the point that they are not protesting the OU. They are protesting the policy of separating children from their parents, and it was done in an Orthodox context, which is great to see.

“And they repurpose a Torah Trumps Hate banner as a mechitzah,” he added. “That kind of says it all. And it is great.”

Mr. Lichtenberg also was struck by the venue. “It’s in a small plaza, with a subway entrance, right by the bankruptcy court and the Museum of the America Indian,” he said. “The museum is a branch of the Smithsonian, inside the old Customs House.

“Outside there is a massive statue of Queen Isabella, with a black slave beneath her feet.” There is something gratifying about the minyan being in front of “this symbol of slavery and oppression,” he said.

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