NEW YORK – Hundreds of protesters attended a Jewish community rally in Manhattan on Thursday, demonstrating against President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy toward undocumented immigrants.
Holding signs saying “Torah trumps hate,” “No human is illegal” and “My people were refugees too,” the protesters expressed their anger toward the U.S. administration outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices.
“The idea that infants have been separated and there is no plan to unite them is appalling,” said Rabbi Mia Simring, 37, a mother of two and the lead organizer of the rally on behalf of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.
Despite the president’s latest executive order, which prevents further separation of children and parents, families are still being held indefinitely in detention facilities near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Over 2,300 children have been separated from their parents – some so young they are held in “tender-age” shelters in South Texas. There are no immediate plans to reunite them with their parents.
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“It’s a basic tenet of Jewish theology that no one is more human than anyone else,” Shai Held, president of the educational organization Hadar – and one of the rally speakers – told Haaretz. “The insistent dehumanization of people on the part of this president is an abomination,” he added.
Award-winning playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner, best known for penning “Angels in America” and “Munich,” was among the demonstrators.
Like many present, Kushner said he had been completely shaken by the reports and images emerging from the southern border in the past week.
“It’s the most devastating week I’ve ever experienced as an American,” the 61-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner told Haaretz. “I’m terribly ashamed and I’m furious.”
Kushner also expressed concern about where his country is headed. “Who isn’t terrified? The man running the United States is a certifiable psychopath who panders only to the most recidivist, bigoted, anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynist, racist elements in American society. We should all be terrified, and we should also act,” he said.
The mounting pressure in recent days appears to have had some effect. The Washington Post reported Thursday that in addition to stopping the separation of children from their parents, the United States Border Patrol will now refrain from sending undocumented families to federal courthouses for prosecution.
The reversals are “why we have to keep putting pressure on,” Simring said, moderating the rally while clutching her toddler son tight in her arms.
The protesters called to reunite all affected families, stop the treatment of immigrants as criminals, end racist immigration policies and defund ICE.
“We all feel this frantic need to bring this insanity and brutality to an end,” Kushner said. “The executive order is a complete farce – like everything [Trump] does. He throws whole communities of people into chaos and turmoil and terrorizes them, and then changes his mind two seconds later.”
Co-sponsored with three dozen organizations – including HIAS, Avodah, IfNotNow and J Street – the demonstration was intended to show a united Jewish front to what the groups call “inhumane and immoral immigration policies.”
The rally drew in members of those Jewish organizations and also individuals who came to show both their solidarity and anxiety.
“It was important for me to come here today to express my concern and outrage about the policies adopted by this administration with respect to people who are seeking the protection that this country has always afforded – the kind of protection that made it possible for our parents to find a place of refuge after the Holocaust,” said Fay Rosenfeld, who attended the protest with her brother Moishe.
Simring, too, felt that the administration’s policies go against what the history of the Jewish people taught her, “and also what our Torah teaches us and what America has stood for,” she said. “This is in our recent history. In my cultural heritage I have Holocaust survivors – a grandmother who was hidden in the closet of her neighbors’ house.”
“It’s not the Holocaust now, but it’s similar to the lead-up to the Holocaust,” said Moishe Rosenfeld. “[Trump’s] followers are unmoved by the pictures of crying children separated from their mothers because they justify everything – just like they did in 1930s Germany. The base of the Nazis had given the same permission to act horribly to human beings,” he noted.
“It was a politics of nationalism and racism that destroyed our family, and I feel I can’t stand by and allow those kinds of politics to take hold of this country,” his sister, Fay Rosenfeld, added. “We can’t ignore the signs that others ignored in the 1930s.”
Kushner concurred. “Let’s not be idiots who sit by and say, ‘Oh, it can’t get that bad,’” he said. “The reason that Hitler happened is because the German right decided it was OK to put a maniac, someone they knew was crazy, in the seat of power and then said, ‘We can control him.’ That is exactly what the Republicans are doing now.”
The writer, who received an Academy Award nomination in 2013 for his “Lincoln” screenplay, chose to conclude on an optimistic note, with a quote by the nation’s 16th president. “Abraham Lincoln said, ‘Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world?’ And that’s a beautiful thought,” said Kushner.