Bend the Arc develops Pittsburgh presence

Bend the Arc develops Pittsburgh presence

A Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh Havdalah service and vigil	Photo courtesy of Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh
A Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh Havdalah service and vigil Photo courtesy of Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh

Local Jews are countering President Donald Trump’s agenda. Operating under the banner Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh, the group, one of several branches within Bend the Arc’s network, is committed to gathering together “for acts of public protest and organizing,” as explained by its national website.

In Pittsburgh, “activist-minded members” comprise a “moral minyan,” noted Rachel Kranson, an early advocate for Bend the Arc’s Pittsburgh presence.

“It seemed to us that almost all of the political organizing happening in the Jewish community revolved around Israel and relatively little focused on domestic and local social justice issues,” she said.

With such omissions noted, “we felt strongly that, as Jews, we had a moral obligation to work for justice and equality right here at home — both because of the ethical dictates of the Jewish religion and because of historical Jewish experiences of persecution and vulnerability.”

Kranson, and others, discovered that their values largely mirrored Bend the Arc’s mission and beliefs.

Because of similar concerns, “we decided to reach out to them and see how we might work together,” she explained.

With the aid of organizers, Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh has attempted to follow the national group’s vision of building and activating “Jewish power to help transform our country to be inclusive, equitable and supportive of the dignity of every person across race, class, gender and faith.”

Current Washington practices have distanced the United States from that mark, noted Bend the Arc’s website. “The election of Trump and his radical allies in Congress have fanned bigotry and hatred, and their disregard for democracy, religious freedom and human rights present an unprecedented existential threat to this vision and the founding ideal of this country.”

Bend the Arc’s strategy is to develop a grassroots movement of Jewish activists who “fight the extremist, authoritarian agenda of Trump and the Republican Party … and obstruct, delay and prevent their destructive and hateful policies, while exposing, discrediting and disrupting their false narrative and dystopian vision of America” as well as winning “victories for progressive principles and policies at the state and local level” in upcoming elections.

Since its inception nearly five months ago, Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh has already hosted two events.

In February, 50 people attended a community meeting, noted Kranson.

“This meeting encouraged interested people to get involved in our core activities around electoral strategy, political action and solidarity with frontline communities in Pittsburgh,” she said. “[It also] helped us build a robust network of activists motivated to work toward a more just and equitable United States.”

Roughly one month later, Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh, along with Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh, organized a Havdalah service and vigil at the Gary and Nancy Tuckfelt Keeping Tabs: A Holocaust Structure, located on Community Day School’s campus.

“The setting reminded us how the rallying cry of ‘Never Again’ does not just apply to Jews, but to all people facing injustice,” said Kranson.

Despite poor weather, nearly 200 participants gathered for the Saturday evening ceremony, including Mayor Bill Peduto, City Councilman Dan Gilman and Pittsburgh Public Schools board members Terry Kennedy and Lynda Wrenn.

Tammy Hepps, a member of Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh’s steering committee, offered introductory remarks.

“It is a frightening time to be Jewish in America. Our cemeteries are being desecrated. Our synagogues and community centers are receiving bomb threats. Our children — our babies! — are being evacuated from their schools,” Hepps told the crowd.

Invoking the memory of the Holocaust, she added, “We’ve seen this before.”

The program demonstrated “support of refugees and immigrants and [an] opposition to xenophobia and Islamophobia,” said Kranson. “[It also] provided a way for attendees to publicly register their heartbreak and outrage at the ways that immigrants and refugees are being treated in this country and around the world.”

Moving forward, Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh seeks new members. However, a caveat stands, said Hepps.

“We are an action-oriented group,” described the steering committee member. People should know that “all our activities aren’t just about showing up, but about learning what actions we as individuals can take.”

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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