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Hundreds gather on Tisha b’Av to protest immigrant detention
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Hundreds gather on Tisha b’Av to protest immigrant detention

Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Congregation Beth El in South Orange addresses the crowd in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters in Newark on Tisha b’Av. Photo by Michele Alperin
Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Congregation Beth El in South Orange addresses the crowd in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters in Newark on Tisha b’Av. Photo by Michele Alperin

About 350 attendees gathered Sunday morning, Aug. 11, in the plaza in front of the Peter Rodino Federal Building in Newark, site of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, to stand in solidarity with immigrants “experiencing unjust law enforcement and wanton destruction,” according to promotional material from event organizers Rabbi Marc Katz of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield and Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of Bnai Keshet in Montclair.

Fifteen N.J. synagogues, from counties including Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Middlesex, helped organize the protest in partnership with eight Jewish organizations, including HIAS, J Street, National Council of Jewish Women, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. The protest was timed to coincide with Tisha b’Av, a day of mourning for calamitous Jewish events.

“The lessons of history only matter if they reflect back to today, therefore, when we think about the suffering that we face we need to use it to engender empathy for the suffering of others,” Katz told NJJN.

Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston opened the ceremony with the reading of a poem titled “Home,” by Warsan Shire, a British-Somali poet. 

After a short prayer service, Cantor Kenneth Feibush of Temple Sholom of West Essex and Rabbi Jordan Millstein of Temple Sinai of Bergen County read excerpts from the Book of Lamentations and four testimonials by immigrant youth in U.S. detention centers. One excerpt from Lamentations included Jeremiah’s statement that “Judah has gone into exile because of misery and harsh oppression; when she settled among the nations, she found no rest.… We get our bread at the peril of our lives.”

Another excerpt, this one written by a 12-year-old in a detention center in Texas, expressed a similar sentiment: “I’m so hungry that I have woken up in the middle of the night with hunger.… I’m too scared to ask the officials here for any more food.”

Participants brought signs expressing opposition to the administration’s treatment of immigrants. Photo by Randi Brokman

The program ended with a call to action from Liz Cohen of Princeton, a member of Temple Beth El in Hillsborough and co-chair of Reform Jewish Voice of New Jersey, one of the event’s sponsors.

“It is not enough to hear and reflect,” she said at the assembly. “From the spirit that we have built together today, now we must take action,” and she urged attendees to call their congressional representatives in support of the Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act, a proposed bill that would prohibit emergency temporary shelters for migrant children.

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