September 16, 2019

Rabbis Speak at Rallies for Migrant Families

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen speaks at the immigration rights rally in downtown Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Aryeh Cohen

Five days after President Donald Trump threatened to round up and deport “millions” of undocumented immigrants, close to 300 people gathered outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles on June 23 for a rally organized by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles to protest immigration laws and the separation of migrant families at the southern border. Last June, a similar rally was held in front of City Hall. 

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels, of Temple Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica, told the Journal the rally was prompted by the “threatened roundup and immediate deportation of hundreds, if not thousands, of people nationwide who are living in this country [without] full documentation.”

Although Trump backtracked on his promise on June 22, stating on Twitter that he would delay the deportations by two weeks, Comess-Daniels said, “We were also protesting the situation at the border, which is governmentally organized and forced upon families and individuals fleeing trauma, chaos and violence in their own countries, [including] the separation of children from their parents, overcrowded and unhealthy conditions, sleep deprivation and more.” 

Addressing the crowd at the rally, Comess-Daniels spoke about how the Torah demands strangers and citizens to be treated in a similar manner. 

“We have a law in the Torah, a commandment, that tells us there’s supposed to be one law for stranger and citizen alike and that is not how this administration is operating,” Comess-Daniels told the Journal in a phone interview after the rally. “The Torah mentions 36 times that we are not to abuse the stranger … because we were strangers in the land of Egypt and that’s the lens through which we, as Jews, see the world.”

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen of Bend the Arc also spoke at the rally, comparing his Jewish ancestors who ended up in the foreign land of Egypt to the strict immigration policies of the Trump administration. 

“My message was that Abraham, our father [and] ancestor, was actually sent out as an immigrant from Haran by God and wandered and ended up in Egypt,” Cohen told the Journal in a phone interview after the rally. “When [the Israelites] were in Egypt, the Pharaoh decided that they were a dangerous group. Obviously, there’s a resonance to what’s going on nowadays [with Trump]. In order for us to get back on the path of righteousness, we should send doctors and social workers, [instead of] sending the Army to the borders, to find out how we can be a refuge and asylum for these people who are fleeing violence and poverty.” 

Cohen added that he believes the public united two weekends ago because of the repetitive “stories of abuses under the care of Homeland Security and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the terror that ICE is [bringing] into our community.” The protesters, he said, are determined to stop the abuses so that “Los Angeles and the country as a whole [can] return to or start [becoming] a welcoming country as we are supposed to be. I have a personal stake in having a society [that] is just and righteous, and in my name, people are being persecuted and directly killed or dying by neglect.” 

Other speakers included State Sen. María Elena Durazo and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago. Teen DACA recipient Liliana García spoke about how her cousin went missing in El Salvador in 2013 on his way to school. 

A second demonstration was held on July 1, when the protesters walked from La Placita on Olvera Street to the Metropolitan Detention Center  “to bring to life and amplify the fact that people are dying,” Cohen said.  “Everybody should call their representatives and their senators and tell them to not approve any budget increases for the Department of Homeland Security because that money goes to funding hate,” he said. “There is an obligation on Jewish communities to give asylum to those who are fleeing oppression.”

For advice on how to take action for asylum seekers, visit HIAS at HIAS.org.


 Melissa Simon is a senior studying journalism at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Jewish Journal summer intern.