BURLINGTON, Massachusetts — Thousands of Jews gathered in American cities over the weekend to commemorate the fast day of Tisha B’Av with pro-refugee vigils and protests against the Trump Administration’s immigration policies.
The rallies were organized by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. In recent months, the clergy-led group has been at the forefront of denouncing what it calls the Administration’s “immoral and cruel immigration policies.”
At Sunday evening’s outdoor gathering in Burlington, outside Boston, participants convened outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices. It is here that immigrants are informed of their pending deportation, and attempts are sometimes made by good Samaritans to post bonds or otherwise assist the deportees.
“I am crying tears of rage today,” said Rabbi Mike Rothbaum of Congregation Beth Elohim, outside Boston. Speaking about his work with refugees and asylum-seekers in Massachusetts, he urged participants to help make “the walls of hate and the walls of cruelty come down,” he said.
“What happens in this building is that we create widows, we create orphans,” said Rothbaum, referencing the Prophets’ teachings about caring for the downtrodden.
In recent months, Rothbaum has visited the non-descript government facility to accompany potential deportees during their meetings with officials. He has also posted bonds for people at risk, he said.
“Don’t forget what happens in this building. Don’t forget it’s done in our name,” said Rothbaum.
According to T’ruah deputy director Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, “Tisha B’Av commemorates Jewish national tragedy, tragedy that led to wandering and displacement. On Tisha B’Av we read the book of Lamentations, which is filled with the gut-wrenching choices that families made in the worst of circumstances,” she said.
At the protest outside Boston, some members of the relatively quiet crowd held signs or wore T-shirts related to the immigrant situation, including one large poster quoting the Statue of Liberty’s dedication plaque, penned by Jewish poet Emma Lazarus, with a more recent intonation: “Send these the homeless tempest tost to me… abolish ICE!!!”
Whereas the liturgy for Tisha B’Av revolves around the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the weekend’s “public laments” were in acknowledgement of “our broken immigration system,” according to organizers.
“Mixed multitudes we were when we left Egypt, the narrow place,” read the text of a modernized “Lamentations 6” prayer included on song sheets in Burlington. “Now, the world narrows around the 68 million displaced people around the globe.”
Toward the end of the program, the Woody Guthrie hit, “Deportee,” was performed. The song is about Mexican workers being chased “like outlaws” from the country, even after devoting their lived to harvesting the food eaten by Americans.
“We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,” go the lyrics. “We died in your valleys and died on your plains. We died ‘neath your trees and we died in your bushes, both sides of the river, we died just the same.”
During the hour-long gathering, several clergy members spoke about Jews “being able to recognize pain.” Prominently displayed on the song sheet were two photos: one of a “Stop Separating Families” protester during a rally, and the other of Jews with their baggage waiting to be put on Nazi deportation trains during the Holocaust.
In a statement made before the weekend, Rothbaum noted that “even the most beautiful of Temples collapse under the weight of groundless hatred. Persecution of the very people who grow our food, build our towns, and care for our most vulnerable is not only cruel — it’s tragically senseless.”
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