The sign Menachem Roetter carried.
The sign Menachem Roetter carried. (Photo courtesy of Menachem Roetter)

Menachem Roetter explains why he joined a protest/march in Oak Park.

I’m going to start off by saying that I know I don’t need to “defend” my decision to join a protest/march. But I’m going to try and explain some of it, for others to understand.

I’ll start off by saying that the protest/march was something I wasn’t sure I would attend, especially as a religious Jew, because I knew I would get (or actually continue to get) a lot of backlash from friends, family and strangers.

Menachem Roetter
Menachem Roetter

But, in the end, I chose to go because I knew that I would be doing a disservice to myself if I didn’t go simply because others told me not to. I’m going to continue to stand up for what I believe is right, no matter which cause, even if people I care about disagree.

To say that the protest/march was handled in the way one should is an understatement. It started out peacefully, continued peacefully and ended peacefully. Yes, that is possible, despite the media mostly showing otherwise.

There was a ton of diversity — people putting aside their differences to join in unity. I witnessed people of multiple races and religions walking together. We walked as one community. I couldn’t hear any of the speeches, so I can’t comment on them. There were tables where one could register to vote. It was truly beautiful. Totally worth the sunburn I received.

Aside from the very end, I could count on my fingers just how few people did not have a mask on. And at least in my section of the protest, and in most of the march, people were trying to be about as socially distant as they are in supermarkets. (Toward the end, not so much.)

The Oak Park Police Department were amazing. They were giving out free masks and gloves to those who wanted them, as well as free water. They even brought their famous ice cream truck for free (kosher dairy) ice cream to whomever wanted. They worked hard to navigate the traffic so that we can march in the street as well as the sidewalk to help with the social distancing.

Multiple officers even marched with us, spread out amongst the crowd. Some of them gladly took photos with the protesters. And a few even took a knee, when the crowd all did.

I’m glad I went and I’m glad I joined. My sign said, “I’m Jewish & I support peaceful protests for a better world.” And then underneath it said, “black people matter.”
And I believe every part of those statements. I specifically didn’t write some of the specifics that other’s signs said because I can’t genuinely say I’ve done enough research on each individual topic to state my opinion. Just like how if I didn’t research a specific topic before an election, I would not blindly vote on that topic.

But I fully support peaceful protests that have the goal of a better world. And the Oak Park protest was one of them. I also believe that black people matter. I specifically didn’t state “black lives matter” or “BLM” because, while I believe in a lot of the things the movement stands for, I cannot agree with everything the organization itself stands for or supports and I’m not a fan of some of the leaders’ viewpoints on Israel and anti-Semitism.

I did not bend a knee when everyone else did because I wasn’t sure if I could as a Jew, so I erred on the side of caution. But no one said anything negative to me about it.

I joined the protest/march because I care about my black neighbors. I joined the protest/march because I care about my black classmates. I joined the protest/march because I care about my black friends. I joined the protest/march because I care about black Jews.

I joined the protest/march today because I care.

Menachem Roetter, 25, is from Oak Park. He is a full-time student at the University of Detroit-Mercy working on a bachelor’s degree in Addiction Studies. He also works at the local restaurant Kravings. In his spare time, he advocates for Agunot.

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