Shortly after Election Day, Lisa Hilbink and Alena Temple separately started making their plans to travel to Washington, D.C., for the Women’s March On Washington, on Jan. 21. Once an event started taking shape in St. Paul, the two MOTs, who hadn’t met until the first organizing meeting, both got heavily involved.
Hilbink, a St. Paul resident, is a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, is involved in the human rights program, is one of the faculty co-chairs that organized the new Master’s in Human Rights program, and is on the faculty advisory board for the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Temple is a St. Louis Park realtor who has long been politically active. The two are part of the engagement committee that is trying to get groups to take part in the event, which has nearly 20,000 people interested on Facebook. So, Who The Folk are Alena Temple and Lisa Hilbink?
How did you initially get involved?
Lisa: After the election, I had first heard about the national march the Friday after the election from a friend in New York. In the next 24 hours, I started thinking that we needed it to be really inclusive, it needed to be coordinated around the country. I floated that idea but many others had too. That weekend, we had our B’nai Mitzvah retreat and Liza Henry, who is the youth engagement director at Mt. Zion, had told me about the local group and I had an invitation from her. The first planning meeting was Nov. 20. That’s where Alena and I met. Because I was so assertive in sending ideas, they pulled me into the planning group.
Alena: You had a lot of contacts and engagement ideas.
Lisa: Not experience. This is my first time doing anything like this.
Alena: As a professor, you’re very well connected in social justice events.
Neither of you comes from an organizing background?
Alena: I’ve always gotten involved in social action activities and events for many years, but I haven’t truly been an organizer. My one organizing experience where I was really on the committee was the Minnesota Interfaith Darfur Coalition and we met at Temple Israel. Other than that, just more as a participant. I was headed to D.C. with my daughters, we were lining up accommodations after buying our tickets, which was a week before the first planning meeting. I started to think ‘I’m sure there’s a local march and it would be great to be in on the organizing of the local march and meet other women in the Minneapolis-St. Paul or Greater Minnesota area that feel the same way as I do.’ For us, D.C. was going to be chaotic. Within 24 hours, we decided to not only go to the march, but be in the organizing.
How much does being at your respective synagogues play into your decisions to get involved?
Lisa: That Liza was the person that invited me, she gave the most impassioned and inspiring mini-sermon after Philando Castile’s killing. There have been a number of moments in the last year or so at Mt. Zion. I feel supported, I feel inspired. I feel that commitment is really cultivated in that community. Generally, Mt. Zion provides that home and commitment. One of the things that came up was how to welcome a stranger and provide a safe space. In terms of women’s issues, it’s not the temple itself that has been pushing it.
Alena: I’ve been at Shir Tikvah close to 15 years, but I feel I found my congregational home. I had been really politically involved, but didn’t find a spiritual community that reflected those same values until I got to Shir Tikvah. There’s solidarity and comfort and strength and support in being with people who share those values, but it didn’t inform me in that direction, politically. But it motivates me, for sure. There are some congregants who are incredibly inspiring in terms of the work they do. It keeps me engaged as an everyday person.
What does the engagement committee do?
Lisa: We’re trying to reach out to as many organizations and communities in the Twin Cities.
Alena: We’re reaching out to organizations in particular. It’s a broad list of faith orgs, social action groups, peace groups, women’s groups. Various cultural or ethnic advocacy groups.
Does the event being on a Saturday hurt potential Jewish turnout?
Alena: JCA won’t be able to officially sponsor, but if individuals take part, they may. I know my mother-in-law was eager to come but won’t. She’ll be there in spirit. Say, Shir Tikvah: It’s just a given that you will have congregation-wide support. Other congregations will be split. We are communicating that it’s a multi-partisan event. It’s not an anti-Trump march, and that’s something that’s being communicated from national. It’s definitely a message to the incoming administration.
Lisa: It’s not a protest; it’s an effort where we’re trying to unite people across categories. It’s not just about women and women’s rights, but uniting them in a positive message to remind ourselves and the new administration and the world that we’re still here and we aren’t going to roll over or cower in fear. There was so much fear expressed in the first meeting. Many multi-racial families afraid for their children. The idea that we’re here to create light and have hope in a time of darkness. That’s what it’s about rather than being ‘anti.’
How much of your activism is rooted in your Judaism and how you practice? Is there a link?
Alena: Very much so. I’m sure for a lot of people it was their Judaism that informed them about their activism. For me, it was the other way around. But finding that resonating set of ideas was really affirming and grounding for me. Living by certain Jewish values, tikkun olam in particular, and shedding light in the darkness. And just really living by your values obligates you to not be silent, not be oblivious, not be inactive. It’s a praying with your feet experience. As much as I love being in prayer at my synagogue, it’s something I feel compelled to do. And it’s something I try to impart on my children.
Lisa: I was going to say that, too. Between my son – who became Bar Mitzvah in 2011 and he’s now a freshman at the University of Minnesota – and my daughter, who will become Bat Mitzvah in June 2018, it’s walking the walk. My son is pretty involved himself. For him, it’s more social. He was involved in NFTY, he joined AEPi at the U. They do good things but it hasn’t been his main focus. Demonstrating this for them is really important to me.
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