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Tisha B’Av 5779
by Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz, Sunday, August 11, 2019

“Will there be any chairs there? No, but I will bring one for you.”

On Sunday morning I placed a few folding chairs in my trunk before I drove to the Peter Rodino Federal Building in Newark. When I arrived at 9:40 am, there was already a sizeable crowd assembling in preparation for the 10 am Tisha B’Av service. Tisha B’Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, when we recall the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples in Jerusalem was being observed in public, with over 15 congregations and multiple Jewish organizations cosponsoring our prayers becoming protest.

The location in Newark is ICE headquarters and this Tisha B’Av (and last year too), we chose to offer our prayers there as we recalled our history of persecution and homelessness while standing in solidarity with immigrants experiencing the contemporary tragedy of unjust law and wanton destruction.

More than a dozen TBA members joined over 300 people gathered there.  Why was I compelled to bring my prayers to the streets?  I think back to my great grandparents who fled pogroms in Russia to find safety in America.  In this year in which we as Jews have suffered the horrific attacks in Pittsburgh and San Diego it is clear that xenophobia, racism and attacks on immigrants today, is a danger to all of us.

At the beginning of the service I read a poem entitled Home by Warsan Shire, a Somali poet in London.
Here are a couple of verses:

no one leaves home unless

 home is the mouth of a shark

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city running as well

you have to understand,

that no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

Verses from each of the chapters of Lamentations, a poetic lament of the destruction of Jerusalem, were interspersed with testimonials from children in the child detention centers today. Hear the similar expressions of pain from ancient days (6th Century BCE) and today.

“Alas! The gold is dulled, Debased the finest gold! The sacred gems are spilled at every street corner. The precious children of Zion; Once valued as gold-Alas, they are accounted as earthen pots, Work of a potter’s hands! Even jackals offer the breast and suckle their young; But my poor people has turned cruel, like ostriches of the desert. The tongue of the suckling cleaves to its palate for thirst. Little children beg for bread; None gives them a morsel.” –Lamentations 4

“I’m hungry here at Clint [detention center] all the time. I’m so hungry that I have woken up in the middle of the night with hunger. Sometimes I wake from hunger at 4 a.m., sometimes at other hours. I’m too scared to ask the officials here for any more food, even though there is not enough food here for me.” –Male, 12 years old

Gathering together in prayer and protest was powerful but not enough. Before the service ended, there was a call to action.  One area of attention is the role Essex County plays with ICE detainees at the Essex County Correctional Facility (ECCF). I went to jail in July. For a tour. I also met with the Essex County Executive and Freeholders to advocate for improved conditions for ICE (and all) detainees in the ECCF.

As I packed up the chairs I brought, I knew that each person who occupied it was inspired by the message of Tisha B’Av. We mourn and then we rise up and act to improve the world.

Here are suggestions from the Tisha B’Av service booklet.

Action Steps: How To Get Involved Today
Inspired to work for change? Here are a few local and national steps you can take to work toward a better world for immigrant, refugee, and undocumented members of our society.
1- Sign a petition to expand drivers licenses to undocumented New Jersey residents by texting SIGN PETITION to +19735776388
2- Get involved in First Friends – visit detainees or write to them through their “STAMP OUT DESPAIR” campaign.
3- Donate to a legal aid organization to help ensure that people get a fair shot. Some ideas include the Seton Hall, the ACLU, or the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. (LALDEF).
4-Visit the next Essex County Freeholder meeting and advocate for universal legal representation to all detainees in the Essex Country Detention Center.
5- Call your elected representative in Washington and ask them to support the Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act (H.R. 1069/S. 397)
6- Spend time researching on our partners websites for more information and programming. If they are a sanctuary congregation, consider offering to help with meals and rides.

For other ideas visit this helpful packet by Truah “How to Help in The Time of Immigration Policy Crises”

photos by Bennett Wasserman

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