President Trump’s executive order banning refugees from the U.S. and closing the nation’s borders to people from seven predominantly Muslim countries sent Bay Area Jewish community members to San Francisco International Airport this past weekend as thousands protested the move.
Several local and national Jewish organizations condemned the travel restrictions, and at least one Bay Area group was making plans to join in Muslim prayers later this week in Oakland.
This is what Jews do. Sometimes we have to break Shabbat and go to the airport. — Rabbi Ryan Bauer
Among those at SFO were Rabbi Ryan Bauer of San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El, who said he went to the airport because he doesn’t want to see a repeat of the 1939 tragedy involving the ocean liner St. Louis, which had hundreds of German Jews on board. The U.S. denied it entry, and the passengers were sent back to Europe — where many of them died in the Holocaust.
“This is what Jews do. Sometimes we have to break Shabbat and go to the airport,” Bauer said. “I think of when I was a young teacher, teaching about the St. Louis. Now refugees are sitting, not offshore, but in the basement of my airport, a mile away. And if they are sent back, they’re dead. Like the St. Louis.”
Trump’s order, which administration officials defended as necessary to protect national security and as carrying through on a campaign promise, led to chaos at several major airports around the country and to protests outside the White House.
Jewish organizations ranging from B’nai B’rith International to the Rabbinical Council of America to the Union for Reform Judaism called on Trump to rescind his order. Institutional organizations overseeing all four major Jewish denominations issued condemnations, while a group of 942 Soviet Jewish émigrés wrote an open letter saying the U.S. “must not turn our backs on the human beings who are fleeing violence and persecution.”
Many local rabbis weighed in on social media and other outlets. Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom was swift in expressing his abhorrence of the Trump administration, saying Jews have witnessed a “dehumanizing process skillfully and stealthily administered by elected leaders before.”
“People have to open their eyes,” Creditor continued. “This is beyond politics. This is a threat to our democracy and our society. If an American Jew is a bystander to this, they are ignorant of history and complicit in what is to come.”
Jewish elected officials also spoke out. State Assemblymember Marc Levine, chairman of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, said, “It is un-American to turn away refugees at their greatest moment of need.”
Levine, a Democrat who represents Marin and southern Sonoma counties, added: “Jews have directly experienced how xenophobic immigration policies in the past have resulted in the deaths of thousands.”
Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb went to SFO to protest and was cheered by what he saw. “I think the Jewish community was well represented at this and other airports around the country.” He said. “If one community comes under threat, we’re all under threat. We’ve seen this before. We can’t let it build up. We have to stop it now.”
Rabbi Bridget Wynne, executive director of Albany-based Jewish Gateways, invited people to join her at Feb. 3 prayers at the Islamic and Cultural Center of Northern California in Oakland.
Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan of Lehrhaus Judaica said he had just come home from synagogue on Saturday and was preparing to take a nap when he and his wife got a text from a friend and quickly headed to the airport.
“Every Shabbat we sing, ‘Open the gates of righteousness,’” he said. “And there we were at the arrivals gate, protesting injustice, the closing of gates to refugees.
“How could I sing of righteousness in the morning and go home to take a nap when the gates of righteousness are being closed to refugees, in my city, in my time?”