a large crowd holds signs like "tri-valley cultural jews: refugees welcome"
Mindy Berkowitz, executive director of Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, speaks to several hundred people at a rally supporting refugees Feb. 12 in Mountain View. (Photo/Rob Gloster)

Day of ‘Jewish Action for Refugees’ draws Bay Area Jews to protests in Mountain View, S.F.

Hundreds of people demonstrated their support for immigrant rights at events in Mountain View and San Francisco last weekend, part of a National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees sponsored by HIAS, a Jewish organization that works on behalf of refugees.

Signs say things like: "refugees welcome"
Women who attended the San Francisco National Day of Action for Refugees (Photo/Ruth Jaeger)

Participants ranging from young children to senior citizens carried signs such as “My People Were Refugees Too” and “Make America Love Again” at the Mountain View rally, where Rabbi Sarah Weissman of Congregation Beth Am of Los Altos led the crowd in singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.”

“Why do we do this? Because our Jewish values compel us to do this,” Mindy Berkowitz, executive director of Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, said at the Mountain View rally.

Cantor Marsha Attie of Congregation Emanu-El and Fred Ross Perry help lead the S.F. action
Cantor Marsha Attie of Congregation Emanu-El and Fred Ross Perry help lead the S.F. action

The rallies came three days after a three-judge federal appeals court panel in San Francisco unanimously refused to vacate a federal district judge’s order blocking the Trump administration’s refugee ban. The president’s executive order had banned all refugees from the U.S. for 120 days and closed the nation’s borders to people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Leider at a microphone
Rabbi Susan Leider of Kol Shofar in Tiburon speaking at the San Francisco rally (Courtesy/Rabbi Susan Leider)

Thousands attended HIAS rallies protesting the executive order on Feb. 12,  including rallies held in Boston, Washington, D.C, and other major cities. The HIAS initiative had more than 20 co-sponsors, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish World Service, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.

Mark Hetfield, the CEO of HIAS, said the rallies were a rare moment of joining together in support of refugees.

“I haven’t seen anything like this since I got my start [with HIAS] in 1989, which was at the height of the Soviet Jewry movement,” he said. “This is a galvanizing moment like that, but the difference is that then we were standing up for Jews, and now we are standing up as Jews.”

At the San Francisco rally, speakers included Rabbi Susan Leider of Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon.

“There’s such a hunger to stand up and speak out,” Leider said after the rally. “Part of what we’re doing as clergy is finding constructive ways for people to channel their passion and energy. We want to be strategic, positive and constructive.”

JTA contributed to this report.

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Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster is J.'s senior writer. He can be reached at rob@jweekly.com.