Why My Judaism Compelled Me To Protest The Abuse Of Immigrants

(Ariel Friedlander/Courtesy)
(Ariel Friedlander/Courtesy)

On Tuesday night, I was one of 18 Jews and allies arrested for trespassing, while protesting the U.S. government's detention and dehumanizing abuse of immigrants in concentration camps at the border and around the country.

Today, we’ll all be forced to fund Trump’s fascistic, ego-driven military display, draped in the supposed bunting of patriotism. But I took action because the only spirit of July Fourth worth celebrating isn't about red, white and blue chest-pounding. It’s about resistance and revolution.

I’m not saying the Founding Fathers would have linked arms with us as we were being zip-tied by the police, outside the Suffolk County House of Correction, which houses U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees. The signatories to the Declaration of Independence were profoundly racist, thinking nothing of removing Native peoples from their lands, and enslaving Africans. Almost to a man, they rejected the idea that women had any role to play in influencing public discourse, let alone federal policy. But on today of all days, it behooves us to remember that the Revolutionary War wasn't about how our tanks were the best tanks. It was a fight for liberation and dignity.

(Nur Shlapobersky/Courtesy)
(Nur Shlapobersky/Courtesy)

Of course, I didn't just take action as an American. I took action as a Jew, arm in arm with other Jews. Growing up Jewish, I heard the message over and over from my elders: Never again. I heard it so often I got a little impatient, as kids sometimes do, thinking: I get it, you don't have to keep saying it. Obviously, the Holocaust should never happen again. Everyone surely understands that now.

But here we are in 2019, a nation locking children in cages, forcing grown women to drink from toilets, compelling men to live in cells so cramped they can't lie down to sleep. We are a nation that refuses families fleeing the most desperate circumstances their legal right to apply for asylum at ports of entry, driving them to attempt much more dangerous crossings, where some of them to die trying. Those who succeed have their children, or their grandchildren, ripped from their arms, kidnapped by our government to be held in conditions we would not even consider fit for our pets, and placed in foster care, as though they don't have families of their own.

I’m not saying the Founding Fathers would have linked arms with us as we were being zip-tied by the police.

My elders raised me to recognize a concentration camp when I see one. Many of my ancestors narrowly escaped conditions similar to those we see at the border and in detention centers around the country. Too many of them did not escape. So I proudly became one of the 1,000 or so activists in Boston who fought for the liberation and dignity of immigrants on Tuesday, because I’m an American and a Jew, and I’m tired of hearing too many of our elected officials express outrage at the actions of the Trump administration while they take precious little action to stop them.

As a survivor of sexual violence, I do not cede my bodily autonomy to men with guns and cages and legal impunity lightly. We were left with our hands zip-tied behind our backs for hours, and some of us sustained injuries to our wrists and shoulders. We were held deep into the night in cells that increasingly smelled of our own urine, as the toilet didn’t flush. As the night wore on, the cells got noticeably, uncomfortably colder. And yet we were acutely aware that we were being treated like royalty compared to the immigrants in ICE custody at the border and around the country.

We also knew that there was an enormous team working to ensure that our time in detention would be brief, our mental and physical health would be looked after and our rights respected. Ultimately, thanks to the pro bono work of our lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild, the privilege we derived from the fact that most of us are white and identified by the system as female and a progressive district attorney, we were not only released but the charges against us were dropped. Meanwhile, countless immigrants who have committed no crimes are held indefinitely.

So as you fire up the grill, or pack your fireworks picnic, I beg you to consider the real meaning you want to make of this day, and, Jewish or not, stand up to ICE as an American. Think about what you would sacrifice to keep yourself and your family free and safe. Think about what you would want people to do if you were in those cages. Then think about doing something a little bigger than you're comfortable with to stop the mass atrocities being committed under the banner of the stars and stripes. Never again really is now.

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Jaclyn Friedman Cognoscenti contributor
Jaclyn Friedman is an activist, educator and author of four books, including her latest, "Believe Me: How Trusting Women Can Change the World."



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