As hundreds of protestors from around the country stood on the Mall Tuesday ready to rally against Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Rabbi Mira Rivera, here from New York, wondered aloud, why must Jews wait until the situation of migrants and undocumented people gets worse to take action?
Her friend and fellow protestor Rabbi Arthur Waskow agreed. Dressed in a T-shirt that said “Resisting tyrants since Pharoah,” the longtime activist mentioned the controversy about using the term “concentration camps” to refer to the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I think the difference between concentration camps and death camps is not to be found in a dictionary, it’s to be found in calendars,” Waskow said. “Because what begins as a concentration camp can turn into a death camp if nobody intervenes.”
Never Again Action, a group of Jews who oppose ICE, and Movimiento Cosecha organized the protest, one of several around the country in the last two weeks. Formed only a few weeks ago, Never Again Action has 32,000 followers on Twitter.
Brandon Mond, an organizer of Never Again Action, said the group hopes the protest will spur House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats to stop funding detention centers at the southern border.
“We’re here in the nation’s capital because it’s ridiculous that all of these normal citizens are willing to [protest] and that our politicians aren’t doing anything,” said Mond, from Durham, N.C.
Rivera, the first Filipino-American woman to be ordained as a rabbi, said actions in Washington have significance. She said Jews have an obligation to fight for migrants’ rights.
“For Jews not to get out of the sanctity of their prayer spaces, for them to not take the words of Torah out to the streets, for them not to take the bully pulpit now, is to completely ignore what brought Jews here in this country in the first place,” Rivera said.
Waskow said Washington is the seat of power, and is where power and ICE need to be challenged.
Movimiento Cosecha organizer Emilia Feldman, a Columbian Jew, told the crowd: “I’m here as a Latinx Jew to say that my Jewish ancestors did not die only to have the immigrant community today face the same dehumanization and systemic murder as they had at the hands of the Nazis.”
The rally continued with a march down Independence Avenue, blocking traffic one way. Jews held up signs that read, “We’ve seen this before” and “Jews say close the camps.” Many wore kippot and tallitot.
Mond said the system of detention and deportation is “incredibly atrocious,” and resonates with him as someone whose family was displaced because of the Holocaust.
“My family came to the United States explicitly as refugees from that violence, and to think that this is what we’re doing to people who are now refugees from violence is really sickening to me as an American Jewish person,” Mond said.
Waskow and Rivera pointed to passages in the Torah that tell Jews to welcome refugees and immigrants.
“Every day that we read the Torah, it’s right there in front of us, that even people who need to pass through to get to a safe place must be given passage,” Rivera said. “That even a dove, a swallow, finds a groove in the rocks and finds a home.”
Feldman said working with Movimiento Cosecha and Never Again Action allows her to represent both sides of her identity as an activist.
“I think that this is not a partnership you see many other places,” she said. “This has just been so incredible to see both parts of who I am come together and both communities that I’ve grown up being a part of come together and realize that our narratives are so similar.”
At the ICE building, protestors chanted and blocked 12th Street and the entrances to the building with their bodies. One protestor blew a shofar to the rhythm of the group’s chants. Ten protesters who attempted to enter the building were arrested and held inside.
Protesters blocked several frustrated ICE employees from entering the building. Some were good-natured about having to stand outside in the heat. “It’s hot, but we understand,” said one man, adding that he knew it wasn’t personal. “What’s more American than protesting?”