Naomi Litwack: Activist In The Making

 

As an avid Facebook user, whenever I find someone's doing really cool things I'm genuinely very curious about getting to know them.

With Naomi, while she is my mentee in the Daniels Mentorship Program, I never properly asked her about her trip to Israel and the protests she's been at, which again sparked my interest when she posted photos of herself smiling proudly at the synagogue and outside the U.S consulate protesting against the recent Muslim ban. Along with her engagement in activism, Naomi has one of the most radiant personalities I have seen within my faculty, striking up a conversation with any person she meets. It's her charisma and warm nature that inspired me to interview her to not only get to know her more but inspire others to be true to their identities and get out of their comfort zone as she has.

 

Name: Naomi Litwack

Year: 2

Subject POST(s): Architecture: design major, Environment and Energy minor, Jewish Studies minor

Favourite Kind of Water: altocumulus clouds

 

 1. Can you tell me a bit about yourself in a few sentences or less?

I try my best to pay attention to what’s going on around me in both a micro and macro sense. I’m not afraid to say what’s on my mind, whether it’s a callout or a compliment. I don’t succeed at everything I do, but every lesson learned is a success on its own.

 

2. So I know you’re studying here from the States. How has your experience been at UofT, and Canada in general, been so far?

I couldn’t be happier with my choice of school. My small town doesn’t compare to the vibrant, bustling city of Toronto and the fascinating material in my architecture courses here. A lot of the Canadian stereotypes are totally true, the sorries and door-holding and general consideration. I can only hope I’m giving as much kindness as I’m getting here.

3. What’s something you didn’t expect when going to University?

I never in a million years thought I’d join a sorority, but I decided to go through recruitment to get out of my comfort zone a little. I’m so glad I did; even though I don’t think of myself as a “sorority girl,” I’m so thankful for the friendships and experiences I’ve gotten through AΓΔ.

 

4. I saw that you went to Israel recently. How was the experience?

Totally incredible. It was a whirlwind of a ten days with snorkeling and archaeological visits and holy site visits. My absolute favorite part was getting to meet Anat Hoffman, the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center and founding member of the Women of the Wall. She told us, “In order to love something truly, you have to know the good and the bad of it.” She’s been working toward egalitarian policies in Israel for decades as a part of the Jewish principle of tikkun olam, repairing the world. I was very much inspired and only hope I can make a percent of the impact she has.

5. You’ve told me that you’ll be attending your third protest since the start of this year. Can you briefly describe each and why you feel that these movements are important for current discourse?

I’d been to a couple of rallies during high school but a lot has been shaken up since then. Criminals are in command of my country, firing people who uphold our constitution and showing the signs of a path toward fascism. When Toronto had its Women’s March, I didn’t take one second to think about whether or not I wanted to go; the words of Anat Hoffman and my rabbi and the Jewish teaching of tikkun olam were all I could think of. I was there marching at the same time that my mother marched in Seattle, my sister marched in Portland, and my aunt marched in St. Paul. We were part of millions of women saying we will not stand for such bigotry.

On Monday, I attended the protest against the Muslim immigration ban at the US consulate along with three of my sorority sisters, one of whom is Muslim. I was really impressed at the hundreds of people protesting considering it was a Monday morning. I was very proud to be one of them. As a Jew, it’s so vital that I speak up against the xenophobic and Islamophobic sentiment and actions; the Shoah didn’t start with the camps, it started with hateful rhetoric and outbreaks of violence. We can’t allow that to continue, and that’s what Monday’s protest was all about.

On Wednesday, I attended University of Toronto’s Environmental Action’s rally for climate justice. At our largest, there were forty of us listening to speakers about the striking inequity of older generations deciding environmental policies that future generations will have to bear the consequences of. A lawsuit is being developed against the government’s negligent policies, fossil fuel subsidies, and pipeline development on the grounds of ageism. We marched up St. George and to the office of MP Chrystia Freeland to deliver a document outlining our stance. I expected to feel nervous at such a smaller protest like I stand out more, but instead, I felt braver and stronger. Starting with the women's march as one of sixty thousand and then attending the Muslim solidarity march as one of the hundreds built up my confidence to hold a sign and chant catchy political messages. I can't wait for the Women's Memorial March on the 14th (the best way to spend Valentine’s Day) and the International Women's Day March on March 11th, as well as any other protests I hear about.

6. Do you feel that your identities have helped inspire you to engage in activism more?

Absolutely. Day one in Jewish religious school, we’re taught Rabbi Hillel’s lesson: do unto others as you would have done unto you. We're taught the value of gimilut hasadim, acts of loving kindness; tikkun olam, repairing the world; and b’tzelem elohim, that we're all made in the divine image. With my youth group, I learned about a wide variety of social issues and Jewish perspectives on them.

Judaism is one of many sources of motivation. After being diagnosed with type one diabetes in 2004, virtually every aspect of my life is impacted, which hits my mental health especially hard. Through my sorority, I’ve been able to volunteer with diabetes organizations as well as lots of other causes. Accessibility is something I take very seriously as I move forward in my architecture journey; if a space isn’t accessible, it isn’t worth building.

 

7. What advice do you give to students wanting to further engage with their religious identities?

Find your people! Search through your university’s clubs and organizations to find your faith and reach out, they are more than excited to get you on board and make you feel welcome. If religion isn’t your thing or if it already is and you want a different crowd too, don’t be scared to try something new! There are tons of different kinds of clubs out there waiting for you to try out.