This past Wednesday, my beloved fellow-rabbi and life-partner Phyllis Berman and I were arrested, along with two other people, while blocking the entrance to the ICE offices in Philadelphia. We were arrested by the Federal Dept of Homeland Security police, not the Philadelphia police -- and were each harged with two Federal offenses (with whopping fines if we don’t stand trial and the possibility of prison time if we do).
The arrests were part of a demonstration of about 100 people organized by “ElderWitness and Friends,” many of whom wore “Statue of Liberty” costume and carried signs of the cartoon you see below, as Rabbi Berman is doing in this photo:
You can hear a very brief interview with me and see a photo of the row of us risking arrest blocking the ICE doorway at this link:
That’s Phyllis on the far right and me sitting -- wearing a Truah “Resisting Tyrants Since Pharaoh” T-shirt and Liberty’s crowning hat. (I’m sitting because my back hurts badly if I stand for a while.)
Although this particular action was organized and framed as Elders responsible especially for protecting children, Phyllis and I took part as rabbis in planning the action (Phyllis has been on the EldersWitness steering committee). For us, our arrests are also connected with a major wave of Jewish protests, including arrests, that swept across the country on or about Tisha B’Av in August and are still continuing.
I believe they were the first such event in American Jewish history -- the first time when a large segment of the Jewish community publicly and vigorously opposed a major policy priority of the US government. That did not happen, for example, in response to the Vietnam War.
American Jews are responding to four imperatives that join in a powerful message to ourselevs and to our country:
- Torah commands that we treat "foreigners" with the full dignity of residents and citizens: "One law for the home-born and the immigrant," (Num 9: 14) and that we welcome refugees from a cruel overlord to live anywhere they choose within our gates. "Do not return them to their masters; do not mistreat them!" (Deut. 23:16-17)
- For two thousand years, Jews have been forced to seek refuge from persecution.
- Just 70 years ago, Jewish refugees from Nazi cruelty were turned away by the USA and other nations -- and then were murdered by the Nazis.
- Practically all American Jewish familiies remember a grandparent or great-grandparent who was an immigrant.