Rosa Parks at the Wall
This January, the month where we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights, our Rising Voices Fellows are celebrating equality. Be sure to check the JWA blog each Tuesday for a new post from our fellows—and check out the great educational resources provided by our partner organization, Prozdor.
For as long as I can remember, Rosa Parks has been the star of every social studies lesson. In third grade, we learned about the nice lady who worked as a seamstress and boarded a bus to go home from work. In eighth grade, she was the strong woman who stood up for herself and played a significant role in the civil rights movement. In eleventh grade, we learned that her historic refusal to give up her seat was not random, but planned by civil rights leaders.
But the message of Rosa Parks goes beyond the classroom.
Today, the modern-day Rosa Parks can be found in many places, including Israel. Women of the Wall—a feminist organization whose goal is to secure the rights of women to pray at the Western Wall, read aloud from the Torah, and wear religious garments—represent the message of Rosa Parks. They’ve endured people spitting on them, pushing them, and calling them names—just to participate in their own religion.
The women aren’t asking for much—they aren’t protesting to remove the physical division between men and women at the kotel, for example. Rather, they want the same rights men have on “their” side. Despite all the women’s obstacles, they’ve embraced their inner Rosa Parks and refused to give up their seats.
Utilizing this inner Rosa Parks is easier said than done. We may feel pressured by societal norms, wrestle with doubts, or just be too shy to find and call upon our inner Rosa Parks.
I saw this challenge play out in a Prozdor class on leadership that I help teach for middle school students. We asked the kids if they knew the difference between a bystander and an upstander—someone who lets injustice continue versus someone who takes a stand. We used a bullying example, something we thought would be more relevant and specific to their lives. The answers varied—some kids actively said they would intervene if they saw someone at school getting bullied, while other kids honestly thought they would be too scared to get involved.
We tried to show them that we are all scared sometimes, but the key to finding courage, similar to that displayed by Rosa Parks, is empathy. Would they want someone else’s help if they were the ones getting bullied? All of us, at some point in our lives, may be pressured to give up our seats. We each need to determine how much that seat is worth to us.
Rosa Parks once said, “I knew someone had to take the first step and I made up my mind not to move.” We all have an “inner Rosa Parks,” but it’s up to us to find her.