“I would like to return to an America that did a much better job as a place that embraced immigrants,” Rabbi Daniel Burg of Beth Am Congregation told a crowd of more than 400 people outside the Howard County Detention Center on Sunday.
On Tisha B’Av, the Jewish Day of Mourning, these people came together as part of the Jews Against ICE movement. The protest was one of 50 such actions held nationwide by a cross-section of Jews and other coalitions concerned about the treatment of immigrants, both at the border and in detention camps. The Baltimore protest took place outside the Jessup-based facility to protest Howard County government’s contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Speakers included: Rabbi Sonya Starr of Columbia Jewish Congregation; Rabbi Jeremy Kridel of Machar: The Washington Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism; Rabbi Burg, who read from Lamentations; Rabbi Jessy Dressin, senior director of Jewish learning and life for the JCC of Greater Baltimore; Rabbi Deborah Wechsler of Chizuk Amuno Congregation; and Rabbi Andy Gordon of Bolton Street Synagogue, who read the Mourner’s Kaddish preceded by the name of immigrants who have died in ICE custody.
The Maryland protest was hosted by Baltimore Jews Against ICE and co-sponsored by numerous organizations including Jews United For Justice, Hinenu, Baltimore Jewish Cultural Chavurah, Torah Trumps Hate and Sanctuary Streets Baltimore.
“It is significant that in our moment of sadness, we join together as a Jewish community to mourn the immoral practices of our government against the immigrant and refugee,” said Gordon. “We join voices together to say ‘Never Again,’ and to bring our sadness to light in order to change the practices of our government and broader society.”
Rabbi Ariana Katz, spiritual leader of Hinenu in Baltimore City, also weighed in on the significance of Sunday’s protest.
“Tisha B’Av demands that we understand that tragedy is intersectional, that the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE in Jerusalem is the erection of concentration camps and detention camps in the US today,” she said. “Our Jewish tradition calls us to these moments, to recognize our own complicity, and join the movement demanding an end to ICE and its policies.”
Takoma Park resident Darius Sivin remarked, “This is about social justice. I am here as a human being because I can’t tolerate what’s happening to my neighbors. As an American Jew, I can’t stand idly by.”
He added, “This is a commandment in the Torah: don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”
Bentley Addison, a sociology major at the Johns Hopkins University, said he came out “because for 19 years, I have been told that Jews need to stand up. We’ve seen this before, and we won’t let it happen again.”
“We are a co-host and our organization exists to amplify the voices that are not heard or marginalized, the voices of the immigrant population and of people of color,” said Eve Horwitz, a Jewish leader for March on Maryland.
Molly Amster, who leads Jews United for Justice, stated, “This facility is holding people for ICE. The county executive has said that the only people being held here are those who’ve committed violent crimes, but we don’t think this is true. I don’t think [he] is lying, but I do think that he is being misled.”
In a statement made to the JT, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball acknowledged the nationwide Jews Against ICE protests and thanked them for “making their voices heard.”
“The day of Tisha B’Av is a time for reflection and mourning, as well as action. I stand with them in opposition to policies of detaining children and separating families,” Ball said.
Ball stated that dialogue to help “uphold Howard County’s shared values of diversity, inclusion and civility towards all” is always welcome. He aligned himself with immigrants, “whether they have been here for decades or are new to our county.”
Ball announced that the Howard County government is working with local organizations to address concerns about the Howard County Department of Correction’s contract with the federal government.