Koli Kulanu - July 17, 2019
Yesterday I did something new, never before in my life. I participated in a Jewish “action” in which I risked arrest. I stood, arms linked, with other protesters to block the entrance to a government building (it was the parking garage, but hey, that counts, no?) and I did the same to block a public street. A phalanx of police deployed in a line parallel to ours and 2 feet away from our faces. At one point the police picked me up and moved me and my colleagues. We were not arrested.
The ”action” was covered by the press, including local WJLA, WUSA, WAMU, The Hill, Examiner, Washington Post, Daily Beast, Jewish Press including Forward and another Forward, and national news including NBC, Newsweek, and even Ha’aretz and the Jerusalem Post (see their interview with me and other participants)
We succeeded. We shut down ICE (US Immigration & Customs Enforcement) for the afternoon. We prevented many people from entering and exiting the building, we blocked traffic, we forced ICE to relocate workers and stopped many of their employees from working.
This congregation knows me quite well. You know that I am not a highly political person, although I certainly pay attention to politics. You also know that I am not a “lefty” liberal, I am a moderate. I have even voted in the past for Republicans, much to Annette’s chagrin.
I feel strongly about how our government is treating illegal immigrants. I believe in laws, I believe in enforcing laws, including (as Tom Friedman writes) requiring someone to ring our doorbell when they enter our homes and our country. I also understand that the crush of illegal immigrants has overwhelmed the facilities and capabilities to handle such large numbers of people.
But what our government is doing is horrible. Asking federal agencies to detect illegal immigrants reeks of a police state. Rounding up illegal immigrants reeks of a police state. Cramming hundreds of detainees into cages lacking basic provisions of beds and space and showers is simply inhumane. When I see this, how can I resist concluding that our government is acting in a racist manner unbefitting the greatness of America.
Too many things are reminiscent of Nazi Germany, l’havdil (meaning there is a clear distinction between the horrors on Nazi Germany and the inhumane treatment of illegal immigrants today). Of course there is no comparison in degree between the US border and Nazi Germany. There is certainly a comparison in kind: many people see our government being directed to act in a racist manner, treating people without dignity, in disregard for even the most basic necessities. Our government leadership is creating an “other” whom it then targets for mistreatment.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow spoke at yesterday’s demonstration. He is 85 years old. He wore a T-shirt saying: “Resisting tyrants since Pharaoh.” Perfect. He spoke about the Torah’s command to welcome the stranger, to not mistreat the “other”.
He told the Washington Post: “I’m not tired, but I am sad that it is still necessary to do this. I can’t imagine how my grandparents, who came to this country thinking they could make a life of freedom here, how they would be feeling now,” he said, his voice shaking. “It horrifies me to imagine.”
I read an excellent book, Death of Democracy on Hitler’s rise to power. One of the remarkable points is that Hitler and Nazism did not take power overnight; it was a series of small events over many years. An additional point is that too many people said or did nothing; it was the silence that enabled Hitler to take power.
At yesterday’s “action” we sang “Whose side are you on?”, and we chanted “The whole world is watching!” and “Stand up, fight back!” I feel that now is one of those times to stand up and fight back.
I try to repeat to myself daily, and often in my communications with our congregation, that we Jews are here to teach the world merciful justice and acts of loving kindness. We must think and do these acts, not just talk. I participated yesterday to put myself on the line, and to make my voice heard. I plan to continue.
I want to be in dialogue with you. You can click here to send me a message, or you can email me at [email protected]. I am thrilled to hear from you, to get to know you better, and to hear your suggestions on continuing Kol Shalom’s growth and value to you.
Thank you for your help and for your part in our kehillah k’dosha, our sacred community!
Marc Lieber, President