Forty people gathered at Railroad Green on Sunday afternoon to speak on behalf of women in Iran, who are currently facing a violent government crackdown that includes arrests and imprisonment, for refusing to cover their hair with the traditional Muslim hijab headscarf, in response to a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, who recently died in police custody in questionable circumstances.
The sunny mid-autumn day in the village of Warwick matched the generally jubilant mood of the protesters, as music played, children made giant soap bubbles and people of various ages held up signs in solidarity with Iranian women.
Rabbi Rebecca Shinder, spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Florida, along with his wife and several members of his congregation, explained why they were there: “It is absolutely a Jewish value to stand in solidarity with oppressed people. We celebrated the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret yesterday morning with our Torah scrolls; we said we were going to celebrate the Torah in the morning and come to the demonstration to do the Torah… Defending what is right is a Jewish value.
The initiator of the event, Sara Rutkevitz, is a resident and mother of Chester, as well as an immigrant from Iran.
Rutkevitz left Iran as a child refugee, along with her mother and siblings, shortly after the Iranian Revolution. Their departure was prompted by the beating of her 10-year-old brother by school officials for wearing pants they deemed inappropriate. The family moved to Canada and Rutkevitz came to the United States as an adult in 2014 when she met and married her husband.
She has dual American/Canadian citizenship but does not hold an Iranian passport.
“I don’t think I could go back to the current regime, given that I married an Israeli Jew,” she said.
Rutkevitz saw the growing unrest in her home country and decided she had to do something.
“All my friends on social media were asking friends to post…to show non-Iranians why they should care,” she said.
Although she might have attended protests in New York, Rutkevtiz said, she wanted to draw the attention of her community to the plight of Iranian women.
“Look at the turnout, everyone who cares!” she says.
Although she still has family members – “aunts, uncles and cousins” – in Iran, many of them are older and feel they have no choice but “to accept the regime. “, she said. So she’s not as worried about them as she is about the younger members of society there.
She feels that Amini was and that other young Iranian women are her “family”, connected in their desire for change and freedom. Rutkevitz decided to use her freedom to be their voice, noting that it is important for those who are able to speak for those who cannot, because a day may come “when we are not strong, and we will have to rely on someone else.
“I want to celebrate this new hope. This level of unity of the Iranian people is unprecedented,” she said.
She is also encouraged by the solidarity of women: “We are tired of being ‘shushed’… The world is sick” because women are oppressed. Its objective is to “do everything to make the voice of women heard”.
Rutkevitz took to social media — “mom groups” — to spread the word, and had an immediate response: “Signs (were) dropped off at my house…flowers were delivered…Moms are cute gangsters.
She thinks Iranians will see the shows of support here and elsewhere: “People will see that you don’t have to worry about this issue or have to be a woman to care about women’s rights – women’s rights are women’s rights. humans”.
The Iranian regime has been in power for 43 years, but its leaders, Rutkevitz said, are keeping their citizens poor, despite having the world’s second-largest source of oil.
She added that the current government of Iran has nothing to offer its people: “Iran is about three things: ‘Death to Israel, Death to America’, and veiling women.”
But this issue, she continued, “is not about a nuclear deal or the economy: it is about basic human rights. The possibility of not being veiled… of kissing your partner in the street… of not being arrested for showing your ankles… Not needing your husband’s or father’s permission for what whether it be. It’s things like that that make us appreciate the basic freedoms we enjoy. You can brainwash people, but you can’t “wash their hearts.”