Editor’s Note: On Wednesday evening, Latino Rebels received the following media release:
Washington, DC – Today, in one of the largest Jewish-led acts of civil disobedience on the U.S. Capitol grounds in a generation, 86 rabbis and other Jewish activists led by Bend the Arc Jewish Action were arrested while demanding that Congress include a clean DREAM Act in the government funding bill. More than 100 people came from around the country to occupy the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building until most were forcibly removed by Capitol Police.
The civil disobedience was part of coalition efforts to demand passage of the DREAM Act, which will protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation. It coincided with the Sabbath reading of Exodus, when Moses demands, “Let my people go.” Bend the Arc Jewish Action grassroots volunteers joined leaders and volunteers from 17 other Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) to chant, “Let my people STAY.”
Bend the Arc Jewish Action CEO Stosh Cotler, who was among those arrested, said: “The Trump Administration’s treatment of immigrants in this country has proven to be inhumane, immoral and intolerable. Through his actions and words, Trump has made clear that his policies are rooted in base racism. Today, we came from all across the country to demonstrate what a policy rooted in love could look like. Fighting alongside Dreamers, and putting our own bodies on the line for them, is an expression of our deepest Jewish values. Congress must heed the will of the people and pass a clean Dream Act now.”
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Director, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, who was also among those arrested, said: “We demand that Congress act immediately to ensure that the Dreamers have a secure future in the United States. This is no time for business as usual. In the Torah, we are called 36 different ways to love the stranger, the orphan, and the widow. We insist that Dreamers be recognized as the Americans that they are.”
ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said: “As the Jewish community intimately understands, at its best, the United States has been a beacon of hope for refugees and immigrants around the world facing persecution or seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Congress must act immediately to ensure nothing less. A clean Dream Act is a moral imperative for the heart and soul of our nation.”
Along with the ADL and the RAC, other Jewish organizations co-sponsoring the event included the Union for Reform Judaism, Carolina Jews for Justice, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, HIAS, Jewish Community Action, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Jews for Racial Economic Justice, Jewish Labor Committee, Jewish Multiracial Network, Jews United for Justice, National Council of Jewish Women, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities, T’ruah, and Uri L’Tzedek. Also supporting the action were immigrant-led movement organizations such as the Fair Immigration Reform Movement of the Center for Community Change, United We Dream, and CASA.
Participants came from California, Illinois, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Virginia, Utah, Wisconsin and Washington DC. They were joined by a group of Dreamers prior to the arrests. Participants posted during the protests at facebook.com/pg/jewishaction.us/ and on Twitter with #LetMyPeopleStay.
The protest escalated Bend the Arc Jewish Action’s ongoing efforts to protect DREAMers and defend immigrants, including organizing thousands of phone calls from Jewish constituents to their members of Congress in recent weeks.
Alma Couverthie, Deputy Field Director of Immigration for CCCAction, one of the immigrant-led organizations supporting the action said: “Congress must do its job. The country is watching—and our movement is fired up. To the legislators who think they can continue to delay passing the DREAM Act our message is clear: keep Virginia and Alabama in your minds, because we are organizing. We are watching and we are organizing and we will make sure that we continue to knock on doors and educate and mobilize our communities so that when our people go to the polls, they will know who was with us and who was against us.”
Rabbi Elyse Wechterman, Executive Director, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, who was among the arrestees, said: “As Jews, we know the ‘heart of the stranger.’ How can we stand idly by while people who have lived among us, built homes, families and careers, are carted off as if they were not part of our human family? Just as Moses demanded of Pharaoh to ‘Let our people go’ from enslavement to freedom, we are here today demanding, ‘Let our people stay’ to live their lives in freedom in our country.”
Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities (RRC/JRC), said: “We join all people of conscience to resist in solidarity with DREAMers and all of our undocumented neighbors. As Jews, we are compelled to welcome the stranger, and to remember that we were also strangers — not only in Egypt but at many times throughout our history. As Reconstructionists, we know that the Jewish community thrives when we stand with dispossessed peoples whose stories echo as our own.”
Congregation Beit Simchat Torah Senior Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, who was among the arrestees, said: “I am outraged by the despicable racism and vulgarity of the current government. “Never Again” must mean never again for anyone. As a lesbian, a Jew, and a Rabbi – I am proud to stand with the Dreamers and all immigrants.”
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, Founder & President, Uri L’Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice, said: “Uri L’Tzedek, the Orthodox Social Justice movement, is very proud to join with many partners across the denominations and traditions to stand up for the rights of those who are left vulnerable by a tangled, cynical, and fear-inducing political regime. Throughout the millennia, the Jewish conscience has always stirred to the great pursuit of unfettered justice for the downtrodden and the immigrant. While hardened hearts may affect the status quo of Washington’s political elite, it does not trickle down to the people. Today, with that same spirit that called out to our ancestors, we are proud to stand in the great halls of American power echoing the call of our sages and prophets: ‘Let our people… STAY!’“
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, said: “Our history demands that we stand with those targeted for dispossession: We well know the tragedy of being forced from home and country because of being considered ‘other.’ The Jewish community today would look very different if our neighbors had stood in solidarity with us in times of persecution. Insisting that ‘they’ are ‘we,’ today we stand with our communities who are facing deportation to say, ‘Let my people stay.'”
Rabbi Elizabeth Richman, Deputy Director and Rabbi in Residence, Jews United for Justice, who was among the arrestees, said: “My family sought refuge in this country from violent mobs and state policies in Europe one hundred years ago. Today I am heartsick in their memory at this Administration’s cruel and short-sighted policies. Dreamers are our neighbors, our colleagues, our friends, and a vital part of the communities in DC, Maryland, and Virginia where I live and work. The legacy of our own families’ American Dreams propel me and my community to act today. Congress must act now to protect and welcome Dreamers the way this country welcomed our families a century ago.”
Rabbi Barbara Pezner, co-chair of the New England chapter of the Jewish Labor Committtee and rabbi of Temple Hillel B’nai Torah in West Roxbury, MA, who was among the arrestees, said:
“As Jews we know the United States of America to be a wondrous place where people can build a better life. We are not a country that would abandon children or separate families. We must not become an America of steel or concrete walls and broken dreams –such an America insults the ideals of our parents and our grandparents. The Jewish community and the labor movement have a responsibility to defend Dreamers and their families as they pursue the American dream of a decent, safe and secure life.”
Sam Singer, community organizer from Carolina Jews for Justice, who was among the arrestees, said: “We add our voices in protest against those who would seek to prevent Dreamers and other undocumented peoples from living alongside us. We as Jewish people remember our collective history as outsiders and stand firm against any Congressional act that seeks to counter that.”
Nancy K Kaufman, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women, said: “The president must move swiftly to find a permanent solution for the Dreamers. This is a matter of morality and justice. And the majority of American voters, including almost three-quarters of Trump voters, support legislation allowing the Dreamers to remain in the U.S. permanently. The time is now to settle this matter once and for all.”
Judy Levey, executive director at JCUA, said: “With almost half a million undocumented immigrants in Illinois, we cannot stand idly by as our immigrant siblings’ and members of our own community’s lives hang in the balance as Congress proposes band-aid measures without a path to citizenship. If America truly wants to live up to its ideals as a Promised Land for all, we must all stand together and say with one voice, “Let My People Stay!” We need the DREAM Act now!”