On Tuesday (July 16), I took part in a large Jewishly sponsored action -- "NEVER AGAIN MEANS NOW!" blocking entrances to the ICE headquarters in Washington DC. Ten of us at one of the entrances were arrested; evidently once ICE had opened that entrance they decided not to arrest those of us at other entrances. We sat blocking them for a sweltering three hours, after a huge gathering (more than 1,000) at the Mall.
I was invited by the organizers to speak at both places. One the Mall I lifted up specific Torah passages about how to treat refugees (Deut 23: 15-16) and immigrants (Num 11) and spoke about the Shoah as bearing holy lessons for our own generation.
The Washington Post (plus other papers around the country that picked up the WaPo story) quoted me:
"'You can't use a dictionary or an encyclopedia to understand the word 'concentration camp'; what you need is a calendar, because concentration camps over time turn into death camps if you don't stop them,' said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 85, who came from Philadelphia to stand outside the doors of ICE headquarters.
"Waskow, who became a rabbi after beginning public life as a civil rights activist more than 55 years ago, said he was ready to be arrested. He stood at the door as officers inside milled about. On his shirt, Waskow wore this message: 'Resisting tyrants since Pharaoh.'”
I had added that in organizing to affirm and embody that “Never Again is Now,” we are not demeaning the memory of the Six Million but blessing their memory. For the most sacred wisdom we can take from the Holocaust is the understanding of how to halt any campaign of cruelty and subjugation against any community that could lead toward genocide.
The Trumpist policy of cruelty toward both refugees and immigrants has already taken the first steps on that march into the darkest of disasters. “Never again” must indeed mean action now.
Every society faces that profound question: How do we treat "outsiders"? With love, or with fear, hatred, and violence? The American people and our government are not the first society in history to face the basic spiritual question of how to respond to people from outside the community. Long ago, the Hebrew Bible taught how to respond both to refugees and to settled immigrants. Torah pointed the way toward lchoosing love, for every society that inherits its wisdom -- though some have turned away from that wisdom. Torah teaches:
“If people flee a tyrannical master, do not force them to return to their master. Welcome them to live within your borders wherever they choose. Do not maltreat them!” (Deut. 23:16-17)
“If a foreigner who lives in your country wishes to take part in Passover (the Festival of Freedom), welcome them to take part just as you do, for there must be one law for the home-born and the foreigner.” (Num. 9:14)
At the deepest roots of our morality are these 3000-year-old teachings of wisdom. Thank God – literally! -- that thousands today are acting to affirm them.
The reporter asked whether, at 85, I was tired of protesting. As the Post reports, I said:
“‘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.'"
At the ICE HQ, as we prepared to risk arrest, I retold the story of the first recorded acts of nonviolent civil disobedience: the midwives Shifra & Puah who refused to obey Pharaoh’s orders to kill newborn babies, and then Miriam & Bat Pharaoh’s daughter, who saved Moses’ life. Probably the first act of resistance, I said, and for sure the second were “international feminist conspiracies” -- just as Jews and Latinx were joining in these actions to protect refugees and immigrants.
And the Pharaoh's attack on children pointed toward a repeated tactic of tyrants who have planned genocide: Attack the children first. Since the human instinct to protect human children is so strong, if the tyrant gets away with that it proves these children are not really human -- and then their whole communiity can be dehumanized and murdered.
Beyond even that, for Pharaoh and for Trump, is a policy of bringing Plagues upon our Planet. The impulse to subjugate others, even Earth herself, becomes an addiction. Every act of resistance -- protecting and freeing immigrants, and Blacks, and Muslims, and women, and the poor, and the suffocated middle class, and the free press, and Congress, and Earth -- becomes an act of protection for all the othes who are under attack.
For a fuller report and more photos, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/10-protesters-arrested-inside-ice-headquarters-in-washington/2019/07/16/f030bb8e-a7d9-11e9-a3a6-ab670962db05_story.html?utm_term=.8c9c41f3e536
Shalom, salaam, paz, peace -- the peace that is rooted in justce -- Arthur