National Council of Jewish Women CEO Sheila Katz spoke at the United Nations on Thursday, September 14, for an event commemorating Mahsa Amini and the Women, Life, Freedom movement, organized by Stop Femicide Iran’s Marjan Keypour Greenblatt, an Iranian Jewish human rights activist.
See a condensed version of her remarks published by Jerusalem Post and the full transcript below.
Good morning. My name is Sheila Katz, and I am the CEO of National Council of Jewish Women, a 130-year-old Jewish feminist civil rights organization working for equity and justice for women, children, and families in the United States and Israel.
This would be a powerful event for me to attend at any time, and I would be humbled to participate at any time — but being here today, just days before the one year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s murder, feels all the more resonant given where we are on the Jewish calendar.
Tomorrow night, Jews all around the world begin celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year and the first of several High holy days on our calendar. As part of our spiritual preparation to enter this season of reflection, repentance, and renewal, we have a practice of blowing the shofar, the ram’s horn, each day to wake us from our spiritual and emotional slumber and urge us to act.
The shofar has been used historically in other ways, as well: to call communities together. To summon us to action at a time of crisis. To proclaim a special time of liberty. And to alert us to the gravity and urgency of the words they are about to hear. To say that this, now, is the moment to act.
The shofar sound is a demand not to accept a broken world.
The shofar sound is a warning not to look the other way when people need us.
Today, we are here with a heartbreaking warning of injustice.
Because 44 years ago fundamentalists would ultimately strip the women of Iran of rights they haven’t seen since.
Because women are still being killed.
We’re here to startle the United Nations, government officials, nonprofit professionals, faith leaders, and all people in the United States and around the world out of their slumber, drawing attention to the millions of people, led by young women, who have taken to the streets of Iran – risking their lives every single day as they fight for freedom, for safety, for equity.
We must not stay silent. We must not look the other way. We must not and cannot allow murdering women for noncompliance with extreme laws to be normalized. Not now. Not ever. Normalization justifies and furthers oppression.
And that’s why I’m here today speaking on behalf of National Council of Jewish Women, a recognized United Nations NGO that does not typically engage on issues outside of the United States and Israel. Because the women in Iran are asking ALL OF US to see their fight for justice and join in solidarity. We felt compelled to be here to speak out with them.
Jews know all too well from our own history that silence is complicity.
And the Torah forbids us from standing idly by as our neighbors’ blood is shed. The blood of our Iranian sisters calls to us from the ground. They wonder if we hear them. We are here to answer: We see your fight. We see your sacrifice. We stand with you.
We are here to speak out in protest, to honor the memory of Mahsa Amini, and the hundreds of other Iranians killed protesting for their basic human rights. We mourn with your families, and stand in solidarity with everyone able to continue this fight.
In the Jewish community, when someone dies, we traditionally say, “Zichrono livracha,”may their memory be for a blessing. But sometime around 2019, during an epidemic of horrific domestic violence in Israel, Israeli feminists began to say something else: Zichrona l’ma’apacha – may her memory be for a revolution.
The gut wrenching final moments of Mahsa Amini’s life caught on film, the brutality of her oppressors, the so-called morality police, and the cruelty from the lack of agency over her own body has catalyzed a powerful, important revolution for women, and all people, in Iran. Its echoes are being heard around the globe.
The protest movement she inspired is like the sound of the shofar. The sound of liberation. Signaling a new era of freedom for Iranian women. For all of Iran.
The Iranian women protestors give me a great deal of hope. How they unite to demonstrate their power. How they unite to work to break the systems of oppression that cause harm to them and others. They are, with every action, literally, putting their lives on the line for freedom. And it is not lost on me that they are fighting for a freedom they may not even live to experience.
We must all be a part of this movement, in solidarity and in one raised voice. We must all speak the simple and yet, still radical, truth: Women’s rights are human rights, and every single human life is sacred.
To the women in Iran: We are here today at the United Nations in solidarity with you. To act on your chant, Maham baham hasteen. We are all together. In a moment, Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein, from Jewish Federations of North America, will blow the shofar.
The blasts of the shofar are meant to be a clarion call — a wake-up, an alarm — when danger is near, and an invitation to an era of liberation and justice.
It is the sound that echoes the words, “May her memory be a revolution.”
Let us pause for a moment to hear it, to take it in.
Women, life, freedom.
May Mahsa Amini’s memory — and the memories of each precious soul taken in this fight for freedom in Iran — be for a revolution. AMEN.