TBA’s 24th annual Women’s Interfaith Forum explores dissent

Photo Courtesy of Tina Greenberg
From left are Lori Kudish, Bonnie Colletti, Janet Penn, the Rev. Robin Tanner, Elizabeth Meyer, Saily Avelenda, Ruth Ross and Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz.

LIVINGSTON, NJ — On Wednesday, Jan. 17, braving frigid temperatures and the aftermath of a morning snowstorm, 140 participants from numerous houses of worship and faith-based groups from greater Essex County attended Temple B’nai Abraham’s 24th annual Women’s Interfaith Forum. Sponsored by the temple’s Social Action Committee and Sisterhood–The Women’s Connection since 1994, the Women’s Interfaith Forum, celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., has served as a platform for dialogue about issues of interest to women of all backgrounds as they share a vegetarian meal, prepared by the women of TBA’s Sisterhood–The Women’s Connection.

The year’s topic, “Effective Dissent: Getting Your Point Across,” was addressed by a panel of four speakers, each of whom addressed a different form of dissent carried out on the grassroots level.

Through a TED Talk video, Jamila Raqib, executive director of the Albert Einstein Institution, which promotes the study and strategic use of nonviolent action worldwide, described effective nonviolent dissent, from animals in the streets wearing hats to a nationwide strike that brought down the Guatemalan government.

In her address, “Applying Political Pressure through Protest,” attorney Saily M. Avelenda, co-executive director of NJ 11th for Change, told how the election of November 2016 spurred her to action. She discussed the conundrum faced by parents’ expecting obedience from their children while teaching them to speak up for themselves. Each Friday, the NJ 11th for Change group gathers outside the Morristown headquarters of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen in an effort to talk to him about issues that concern his constituents. Despite his never appearing, they continue to gather and raise their voices in respectful protest.

The Rev. Robin Noelle Tanner, the minister of worship and outreach at Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit, notable for her activism for the causes of religious freedom and civil rights, connected moral obedience with civil disobedience. She recounted her experience in South Carolina as an accidental social justice activist for equal rights, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or economic situation.

Taking as her topic “Marching as Protest,” Elizabeth Meyer, the founder and lead organizer of the Women’s March on New Jersey, also referred to the 2016 general election as a watershed moment for her as an activist. Driven by her desire for a better world for her two young daughters, this former middle school history teacher and current stay-at-home mom related how she organized the 2017 Women’s March on Trenton and her involvement in the March on Morristown this year. An ordinary person, she had to learn by doing, collaborating with others while taking care of herself and her family.

The event was a resounding success. Several veteran attendees claimed it was the best in 24 years, while many of the younger women proclaimed themselves inspired by the narratives delivered by four “ordinary” women — mothers, wives, sisters, daughters — whose activism had been prompted by current events. Despite the program’s ending at 9:15 p.m., many attendees lingered to talk to the presenters and among themselves. In fact, several pledged to march in Morristown on Jan. 20! And everyone received a takeaway outlining “Things to Do to Register Dissent.”

Text was provided by Ruth Ross of West Orange.