Curator’s Catch

January 2018: Women’s March Protest Sign

Women’s March Protest Sign
  • Object No.: 2017.03.1
  • Donor: Toby Reiter and Nechama Malkiel
  • Description:

    16.5 x 28" painted sign on cardboard with inscription, 2017

On January 21, 2017, half a million people came together on the National Mall here in Washington, D.C. to demonstrate for human rights and dignity and advocated for immigration, health care, reproductive rights, environmental justice, freedom of religion, and racial equality.

Among the protestors of the Women’s March were families, individuals, and groups from all over the country who held up signs, pennants, sculptures, and various forms of protest art to make their voices heard. One of these – a colorful hand-painted sign from a local family – is now part of our collection. Toby Reiter and Nechama Malkiel donated their own creation to our archives, so that we can tell the story of the biggest public demonstration in recent years through a Jewish lens.

Toby Reiter and Nechama Malkiel met in Washington in 2007 and got married in the capital two years later. After a few years of living and working in Israel and Boston, they came back to DC in 2014 – the city they loved and felt home in and that offers a myriad of meaningful ways to connect to Judaism.

The day before the March, the couple was invited to a sign-making party at a friend’s place. Together with their two children, they painted a big globe on a cardboard piece and added the world’s continents with their footprints. “We wanted to include them in the preparation, so we had them paint their feet and leave their footprints on the sign,” Nechama explained. Acknowledging the fact that the March was happening on a Shabbat, they painted Shabbat Shalom in Hebrew letters on the upper right corner of the sign.

The Reiter / Malkiel family at the sign-making party the day before the Women’s March

Courtesy of Toby Reiter and Nechama Malkiel

The bright orange letters Praying with our feet allude to a famous quote by civil rights activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: He was marching with Martin Luther King, Jr., from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama and later wrote in a letter to him about his experience of the march: “For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”

This quote resonated strongly with Toby Reiter and Nechama Malkiel who are members of the DC Minyan, an egalitarian Jewish community, and take inspiration from Heschel’s Jewish philosophy. For them, the preparations for the Women’s March went hand in hand with the preparation for Shabbat, and their participation in the March on Shabbat was an expression of putting their prayers into a visible expression for social and political causes they deeply care for. What could have been a better quote to take to the streets?

We are still searching for more stories and objects that illustrate how our community has participated in the Women’s March in 2017 and following protests, including this month’s Women’s March. How did you prepare for the protests and why did you feel compelled to participate? Which causes are most important to you? Share your pictures and stories with us and consider donating your protest art to our collection. In our new core exhibition, stories about protest and activism will center stage in a section called Taking a Stand. Reach out to us via 202 789 0900 or CBauer@jhsgw.org.