Jews traditionally read the book of Lamentations — Eicha — on Tisha B’Av.
It’s a hard book to read; it’s got images of deprivation, depravity, and terror, generally sung in a hauntingly beautiful melody that somehow makes the images both easier to hear and then harder to shake.
This year, as they did last year, some groups of Jews from across the United States are going to protest the federal government’s immigration policy at the courthouse in Newark. Tisha B’Av is a logical time to protest injustice, and the fast that is at its heart makes protest even more powerful, its leaders believe.
As of last week, 42 demonstrations have been organized; more might well be planned.
“Jews care very deeply about this issue,” Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster of Teaneck, the deputy director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, said. “We have a very diverse community; some of us have the traditional Ellis Island immigration story, and some of us do not, but as Jews, we have a shared story of exodus and liberation.
“We have been victims of this kind of thing ourselves before, so for Jews, when we literally are holding people in camps, for us to be able to use the commemoration of our national tragedy to say that we will not allow these things to continue to happen is really important,” she added.
“One reason this is so important is that the Jewish community should stand in solidarity with immigrant groups. We have to show that what is happening is not what we stand for.”
The protests are in conjunction with United We Dream, an organization started by young immigrants to help other immigrants, particularly the undocumented ones among them (and most particularly the Dreamers). T’ruah is working with six other groups, ranging surprisingly far across the Jewish spectrum — they are Bend the Arc, J Street, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the National Council of Jewish Women, HIAS, and Torah Trumps Hate.
There will be two protests in northern New Jersey; one, at the Peter Rodino Office Building in Newark on Sunday morning, will be cosponsored by a number of organizations. The local ones are Temple Sinai of Bergen County in Tenafly, Temple Emeth in Teaneck, and Congregation B’nai Israel in Emerson; on the local and regional level, the National Council of Jewish Women joins that group too.
The second protest, at the Elizabeth Detention Center in Elizabeth that evening, is sponsored by Torah Trumps Hate, an originally online group made up of mostly Orthodox and Orthodox-adjacent Jews.
As Torah Trumps Hate puts it on T’ruah’s website: “We are mourning. We are mourning the baseless hatred of this administration that has separated families, ripped young children from their families, forced immigrants and asylum seekers into unimaginable conditions unfit for people made b’tzelem elokim, in the image of G-d. Join Torah Trumps Hate and T’ruah as we stand up and demand an end to this terror. We must stand up for immigrants as we wish others would have stood up for us. The Torah commands us, and our history commands us. Join us at the Elizabeth Detention Center to daven mincha and ma’ariv (the afternoon and evening prayers), sing songs of our redemption, and break the fast together.”
Last year, the demonstration in Newark, at another facility, was in the evening, when Tisha B’Av started. The immigration situation already was bad, but it has deteriorated far beyond that in 2019, Rabbi Kahn-Troster said.
Changing to Sunday morning, as in the demonstration planned for Newark, or Sunday evening, like the one planned for Elizabeth, makes it possible for people to go to hear Eicha read in their own shuls the first evening; if they go to the 10 a.m. one, they will hear it again, on the street, against a backdrop of oppression and fear.
“Last year, it was raining, so it was a little challenging,” Rabbi Kahn-Troster said. “A group of us from a number of synagogues across northern New Jersey gathered outside the facility, we read Eicha, we lit candles, and we reflected on why we were there.
“We were there to draw parallels between the events of last year and our obligations as Jews. Last year, what was going on was the separation of families” — as we have learned, this did not stop, but last year we had just begun to learn about it.
“This year, things feel even more dire. This year, the messaging is to close the camps.
“This year, we are saying that never again really means never again.”
What: Mark Tisha B’Av by protesting the government’s treatment of immigrants
With whom: Hosted by NJ Rabbis / Co-sponsored by: Temple Ner Tamid, Bloomfield • Bnai Keshet, Montclair • Congregation Beth El, South Orange • Temple B’nai Abraham, Livingston • Temple Sinai of Bergen County • Temple Emeth, Teaneck • Congregation B’nai Israel, Emerson • Reform Jewish Voice of NJ
When: On Sunday, August 11, at 10 a.m.
Where: At the Peter Rodino Federal Building, outside ICE’s office, 972 Broad St. in Newark.
Keep in mind: There’s parking across the street.
With whom: Hosted by Torah Trumps Hate
When: On Sunday, August 11, at 7:15 p.m.
Where: At the Elizabeth Detention Center, 625 Evans St. in Elizabeth
Keep in mind: They will “daven mincha and ma’ariv (the afternoon and evening prayers), sing songs of our redemption, and break the fast together.”
For more information: Go to www.truah.org.