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Why I was arrested on Tisha B’av – August 2019

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann

On Tisha B’av, I chose to put my body on the line and engage in civil disobedience to protest the cruelty and violence that is happening in our country and at the border at the hands of ICE and the administration. In particular, I took part in a protest that targeted Amazon for its role in supporting ICE’s deportation machine (more on that below). This action was one of 57 Tisha B’av actions across the country making a link between our people’s history as mourners and refugees described in Lamentations with those who are wandering and whose lives are at risk today. In particular, Tisha B’av evokes the image of a mother bereft from losing her child, which sadly has tremendous resonance today.

I chose to be arrested because the words written by Anne Frank wrote on January 13, 1943 could have been written today: “Terrible things are happening outside…poor helpless people are being dragged out of their homes. Families are torn apart: men, women and children are separated. Children come home from school to find their parents have disappeared.”

I chose to be arrested because I cannot stop hearing the voice of Magdalena Gomez Gregorio, age 11, who came home from school after the Mississippi poultry factory raids to find her father gone. She cried out, “He’s not a criminal…” Dozens of other children that day found themselves without a parent or both parents, likely to never see them again.

I chose to be arrested because those who cross a border to claim asylum, which is a legal right, are being placed in conditions that we would not want our worst enemy to endure. Meals are inedible and rationed. People are put in “freezers” often without blankets. Soap is now deemed a luxury. LGTBQ folks and young girls especially, who are running away from the threat of violence, are being forced to endure sexual and physical harassment and abuse. People of all ages have died avoidable deaths because of lack of adequate and timely medical attention.

I chose to be arrested because I wonder what might have been different in times of our people’s past oppression if more allies had stood up and said that they would not tolerate what is happening to us.

And, I chose to be arrested because I have the privilege to do so. I can risk arrest and know that I would be treated humanely because of my skin color and because I am a clergy person.

As for why Amazon, many of the attached articles and especially the “Now This” video linked below will explain the facts more clearly. To be clear, there is not a call to boycott Amazon. This is an effort to draw attention to Amazon Web Services (AWS)’s role in tracking and deporting immigrants and to put pressure on them so they will divest from ICE. ICE is a government agency that does not need to listen or be accountable to the people. But Amazon and other companies who profit from this system can be forced to listen and hopefully to act. There is still a long fight ahead in seeking justice and humanity for immigrants in this country and at the border, but I am grateful to have had an opportunity to raise my voice alongside so many other rabbis and leaders in NYC and across the country.

As I always say, I do not assume that everyone reading this agrees with me on every issue or even with my decision to engage in civil disobedience. But, no matter where we stand on immigration policy, I hope that we can all affirm our Jewish teachings that tell us that every person is valuable, made in the Divine image. No one deserves to be separated from their family. No one deserves to be treated in the ways that those detained are being treated.

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