Marisa Elana James is the Senior Organizer for T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. Marisa spent more than five years living, working, and studying in Jerusalem. While there, she worked for Encounter Programs, taught Introduction to Judaism classes both in Jerusalem and in Bethlehem, and co-created and led the rabbinical student program for T’ruah. Marisa has also taught college English at the University of Connecticut and Rutgers and acted as cantor for communities in Israel and America. Marisa and her wife, contrabassoonist and translator Barbara Ann Schmutzler, live in New York City.
“I’ve been to so many Jerusalem Pride marches, but in the wake of the stabbing attack at today’s march, the one that’s standing out in my memory is 2009. I had volunteered to be a סדרנית (marshal), and spent a lot of time scanning the crowd, particularly along the sides, to watch for anything unusual, any sign of trouble. At one point, I noticed a young orthodox guy in a long black coat with a black velvet kippah and long side curls slowly walking alongside the march, a few meters away, but pacing us, and I slowly moved closer to get a better look.
I’ve been watching today’s events in Jerusalem unfold from my desk in New York, feeling like a piece of my heart is trying to leap out of my chest and fling itself across the ocean. I’m grateful to know that the authorities are taking this seriously, grateful for every time an attack against a minority group is taken seriously, because it’s not what I’ve come to expect. If American authorities responded to attacks on black Americans the way the Israeli authorities responded today – I would be grateful.
The young man who approached me with his questions in 2009 wasn’t what I expected. To be honest, I was wary, I had the worst-case scenarios running through the back of my head, I also thought I was a bit crazy.
There are people in Jerusalem and around the world who would try to kill me, for lots of reasons and for no reason. I know that. And yet I still hope that I will always feel crazy enough to hope for the best, to engage those who it seems crazy to engage, and to believe that they might just surprise me.
Today, I am praying for healing. For the six people wounded today. For all those nearby who experienced the terror of the attack. For the families going crazy with worry. For the secular and the religious and everyone in between. For LGBTQQI people everywhere who should be able to walk down their own streets without fear, and for the S folks who love them and fight for them. For the city of Jerusalem itself, with its many layers of brokenness and hatred layered between strata of compassion and kindness. And for all of us, everywhere, who speak our prayers for the better world we want to see and then translate those prayers into active work for change. We do not have to complete the work, but we cannot stop trying.”