September 16, 2019

Jewish Groups Denounce U.S. Immigration Policies at Tisha b’Av Rally

On Tisha b’Av, hundreds of Jewish community members turned out for a rally outside the Metropolitan Detention Center. They expressed their support for undocumented immigrants. Photo by Ryan Torok

Hundreds of Jewish community members convened on Aug. 11 outside the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in downtown Los Angeles for a Tisha b’Av prayer service and rally to denounce President Donald Trump’s administration’s immigration policy as well as opposition to the detention centers on the U.S. southern border, where immigrants who entered the country without legal permission are being held.

Protesters chanted “Defund ICE!” (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and carried signs that included  “Reform Jews Welcome Immigrants,” and “Never Again Means Never Again for Everyone.” 

The gathering was one of more than 50 events Jewish groups staged across the country this past weekend. Outside the MDC, attendees participated in traditional Tisha b’Av rituals: reciting the Amidah and the mourner’s Kaddish. They read also from the Book of Eicha (Lamentations), which describes Jerusalem under siege during the destruction of the First Temple. They sat on the sidewalk as if in mourning. Several people also blew a shofar. 

“Today is Tisha b’Av, which is one of the most important fasts of the year and commemorates trials and tragedies that happened to the Jewish people over the centuries, from the [destruction of the] temple to the Holocaust,” Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, rabbi-in-residence at Bend the Arc told the Journal. “And today, one of the tragedies we as citizens of the United States are participating in is what’s happening on the borders with the camps and the way we treat migrants and asylum-seekers when they come into the country.” 

Bend the Arc was among the organizations that coordinated the rally along with IKAR, T’ruah, HIAS, Leo Baeck Temple, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.

“It’s great to see the Jewish community coming out,” Polo Morales, political director at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, said. “I think it’s an issue that’s gotten a hell of a lot more attention as white supremacy has hit the ground running this year, and we can only expect it’s going to get worse.”

The rally was “a modern approach to Tisha b’Av,” said Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director of Beth Chayim Chadashim, the LGBTQ synagogue and an advocate for economic justice.

Sarah Benor, professor of contemporary Jewish studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, told the Journal, “It feels like it’s my responsibility as a Jew to protest against the lack of compassion of this administration.” 

 “It feels like it’s my responsibility as a Jew to protest against the lack of compassion of this administration.” — Rabbi Sarah Benor

Ellen Dubois, a congregant of Ahavat Torah in West L.A. and a professor emeritus at UCLA, attended the rally with her fiancé, Arnold Schwartz. She said, “This is what Judaism means to me — crusading for justice, attaching to people who care about the displaced, refugees, strangers. I’m proud most American Jews stand on the right side of this and other liberal issues. I’m determined to make that case. I’m proud to stand with my people.”

Father-and-son Eric and Aaron Stockel attended an Aug. 11 rally on Tisha b’Av in support of undocumented immigrants. Photo by Ryan Torok

Dubois added she gave up her other religion — yoga —  to attend the rally. 

Santa Monica College student Jordana Owens learned about the event through Facebook. She said she wanted to go somewhere where she could express her opposition to current immigration policies while also being “connected to Judaism.”

The rally was peaceful except for one man across the street carrying a megaphone and wearing a “Make American Great Again” cap. Identifying himself as an “American Jewish Latino” who “stands with ICE,” he said the protestors were making a mockery of Judaism.

At the rally, the protester recorded his interactions with the demonstrators on his cellphone, including with Klein; Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, a board member of T’ruah; and with Los Angeles Police Department officers. At one point, the protester repeatedly said, “Shame” into the megaphone, prompting demonstrators across the street to chant, “Love.” 

Kathy, a social worker who declined to give her last name, said, “It’s a wonderful thing to be gathered like this but for the MAGA guy to be louder than this is just stupid. It’s important for Jews to be heard in this.”

Rabbi Susan Goldberg, a member of the national board of Bend the Arc and founder of the forthcoming community Nefesh, said she was heartened by the strong turnout.

“I’m moved by how many people showed up, how many Jewish organizations were involved,” she said. “To have this many people here on Sunday morning to do Tisha b’Av is beautiful. The fact that this many people are here to take further steps to support immigrants is moving.”