Clergy and Community Unite for Separated Migrant Children

June 22, 2018

Waving banners proclaiming everything from ‘Jesus Was a Brown Skinned Refugee’ to ‘Rulers Tearing Babies Away From Parents is ‘Biblical?’ around 200 people participated in an early morning interfaith protest at the Downtown Los Angeles Federal Building on June 21.

Billed “a non-violent, interfaith protest against the violence against children and their parents taking place along America’s southern border,” the vigil was co-sponsored by several religious organizations including Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), T’ruah – the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Bend the Arc, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and Sacred resistance.

The protest was organized before President Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 20 stating that the government would no longer separate children from their parents at the border. However, the vigil went ahead as planned, with speakers and attendees protesting the shortcomings of Trump’s order, including no reunification plan for the 2,300 children that have already been separated from their parents; lack of resources to detain entire families; and that families are being detained at all.

During the event CLUE Rabbi Aryeh Cohen blew the shofar, Reverend Susan Russell of Pasadena’s All Saint’s Church led a Christian call to worship, and Salam Al-Marayati from the Muslim Public Affairs Council translated verses from the Koran, which read, in part, “People are at a loss. They are losing time. They are losing their spirit. Except, God says, those who are committed to faith and who will do the work of justice.”

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Temple Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica and Reverend Jaime Edwards-Acton of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Hollywood, brought out their guitars and led the crowd in singing, ‘Somebody’s hurting my brother and it’s gone on far too long, yes it’s gone on far too long, and we won’t stay silent anymore.’ Janice Mautner Markham from the band Mostly Kosher accompanied them on the violin.

Reverend Tera Klein and Samantha Gupta of the Throop Unitarian Universalist Church lit a candle inside a chalice and declared, “This chalice and its flame were born out of another time and place where families were being separated, detained, tortured and made less than human: the Nazi occupation.”

Throughout their speech, the two women had the crowd shout out, “Families belong together!”

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David Judea in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, decried not just the current administration’s zero tolerance policy, but the hate and division that he said has become a hallmark of Trump’s presidency.

“We are living in a time and place in which it is possible to say that Mexicans are rapists and drug runners, and be elected to the highest office in the land,” Kanefsky said.  “We are living in a time when it is possible to say that all Muslims are suspect and need to be banned from our country.”

He added America has a deep cultural problem “in which we are dehumanizing one another. It is possible to rip children from the arms of their parents only when you don’t regard those parents as full human beings.”

In a call to action, Kanefsky said that everyone is a human being and must be treated that way. “The moment that our sense of shared humanity returns is the moment when the sun shines again on the United States of America.”

Rabbi Susan Goldberg of Wilshire Boulevard Temple said, “I am a mother and I am a rabbi. And at this moment, as a mother, how can your heart not leave your body when you think of these children who are torn from their parents?”

The hour-long protest ended with participants singing ‘We shall overcome.’ However, many attendees immediately made their way around the corner for yet another rally in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detention center.

Organized by the Latino Caucus and Children Over Politics, many speakers shared their immigrant stories. Among them was 18-year-old Yamilex Rustrian who escaped Guatemala with her sister when she was just 7, after their father was shot and killed by gang members.

Rustrian told the Journal she came to speak because it was important that communities come together and know that the president’s executive order “didn’t actually change anything. Our families are still being separated and our families are still struggling at the border and also in the detention centers. We are going to  [keep] bringing awareness and keep holding politicians accountable.”

Nicole Levi is a senior at Palisades High School and a Jewish Journal summer intern.

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