BOSTON — More than 200 activists gathered at the New England Holocaust Memorial on Sunday to protest the Trump administration’s recent executive order temporarily banning travel to the US from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Rally speakers slammed the controversial executive order, describing it as an attempt “to ban Muslims” from entering the US. President Trump was dealt a legal blow last week when an appellate court refused to reimpose the measure, which had been halted by a Seattle judge soon after being announced by the administration.
Part of a national day of action for refugees organized by HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), the Boston gathering was held as snow and light hail swirled around the Shoah memorial’s six glass towers, a stoic fixture along the Freedom Trail route since 1995.
Several Jewish speakers compared the Trump administration’s recent actions to America’s treatment of Jewish refugees during the lead-up to the Holocaust, years in which few Jews were permitted entry into the US.
“America had very much the same attitude about Jews as they have today about Muslims,” said Fred Manasse, who survived the Holocaust as a child in France by hiding from the Nazis.
Manasse’s father, Alfred, was a passenger on the ill-fated Jewish refugee ship, the St. Louis, which was turned away from Cuba and the US. Most of its passengers, including Alfred Manasse, were murdered in Nazi death camps, and the ship’s failed journey became a symbol of global indifference to the plight of Jews under Hitler.
“[Those Jews] were victims of the same kind of policy Trump seems to be espousing,” said the 81-year old Manasse with respect to Syrian refugees seeking to enter the US in order to escape their war-ravaged country.
In addition to Jewish leaders, the gathering was addressed by Imam Faisal Khan, religious affairs director of the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland. Having come to the US from Kenya, Khan, a leading cardiologist, spoke about local Muslims’ reaction to President Trump’s polarizing executive order.
“Even those [of us Muslims] who have settled here for years suddenly felt vulnerable,” said Khan, who praised Americans for “showing up at airports and rallies” to protest the order.
“You have given us hope,” said Khan to the largely Jewish crowd. “We have learned from you, our Jewish and Christian brethren,” said Khan, who mentioned bomb threats received by area synagogues in recent months as an example of hatred affecting the state at large.
As the Muslim leader spoke, machines quietly pumped steam up the memorial’s glass towers with the names of Nazi-built death camps inscribed on the six bases. Tourists streamed through the towers to read quotes from survivors etched onto glass panels, while others paused at a plaque honoring American soldiers who liberated the Nazi camps.
The gathering was hosted by city councilor Josh Zakim, son of the late civil rights leader Lenny Zakim. Although he opened the protest by calling out the Trump administration for “animus toward refugees,” Zakim, along with other Jewish speakers, referenced the Holocaust more than the president.
“’Never again’ means we sound the alarm whenever injustice preys on the other,” said Mike Ross, son of Holocaust survivor Stephan Ross, who founded the memorial 22 years ago.
“This is the largest refugee crisis since the Holocaust,” said Ross, a former city councilor and member of Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council, a co-organizer of the rally.
“This [executive order] is a naked attempt to ban Muslims from entering this country,” said Ross, who spoke about his father’s experience as a survivor and refugee.
A new US citizen to address the rally was rabbi Claudia Kreiman of Brookline’s Temple Beth Zion, who said she took the oath of citizenship last April.
Known as “Rav Claudia,” Kreiman spoke about growing up in Chile during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. In 1994, Kreiman’s mother, Susy Wolynski Kreiman, was one of 85 people killed in the terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Invoking the “ghosts of Jews who are not here with us because the US refused their entry,” the rabbi called Trump’s executive order an example of “history repeating itself.” She urged attendees to “stand up against the executive orders and boldly say we welcome refugees,” said Kreiman.
“Never again, not only for Jews. Never again for anyone,” said the rabbi, whose citizenship ceremony took place across the street at historic Faneuil Hall.