Protesters in front of the San Francisco Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in downtown San Francisco, Jan. 26, 2018 (Photo/David A.M. Wilensky)
Protesters in front of the San Francisco Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in downtown San Francisco, Jan. 26, 2018 (Photo/David A.M. Wilensky)

WATCH: ‘Let my people stay’ rings out in Jewish protest at S.F. immigration office

More than 100 Jews from around the Bay Area gathered in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in downtown San Francisco today, calling for justice for undocumented immigrants and showing support for renewal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The protest was organized mainly by Jewish entities, such as Reform California (a project of the Religion Action Center of Reform Judaism), Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice and the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley’s Community Relations Council, along with Faith in Action Bay Area (a multifaith network of congregations and community leaders) and others.

Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller, an East Bay-based rabbi formerly serving Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, acted as emcee of the event, which was titled “Let My People Stay: Rally in Solidarity with Bay Area Immigrants.”

“My grandmother’s escape from Germany was facilitated by a woman who worked in a German passport office,” Saxe-Taller told the participants. “Without her, I would not be here. I will never know [the worker’s] name, but I stand here in her spirit and in the spirit of my grandmother to say that we are all connected.

“As a community of Jews, so many of whom are descended from immigrants, we say to today’s immigrants: We affirm your humanity … the California we want to live in includes you.”

Another speaker was Nicoll Mischel, a Bend the Arc volunteer who was arrested in Washington, D.C. last week at a similar protest. Bend the Arc is a national Jewish social justice organization with a regional office in San Francisco.

When someone knocks on [my] door too hard, we get scared.

Mischel, 26, of San Francisco, spoke about her Mexican-born mother’s difficulty immigrating to the United States.

“Her whole life has been a back-and-forth struggle in pursuit of the American dream,” Mischel said. “When she became a citizen, it was so beautiful to see her gain access to health care, better job opportunities, a better life, but most importantly, her dignity.”

Violeta Roman, an organizer with San Carlos-based Faith in Action Bay Area, spoke in Spanish, telling the crowd, via a translator, about her father being taken by U.S. immigration officials.

“Immigration came to my house when I was at work, and they came for my father, who is an old man. They came with guns, and my children were there,” Roman said, choking back tears. “From that day, there’s a trauma in all of us. When someone knocks on [my] door too hard, we get scared.”

Protesters held signs with slogans such as “Jews for Dreamers,” “We’ve Seen This Before” and “Never Again Is Now.” Many signs said simply, “Let My People Stay,” a riff on Moses’ famous declaration, “Let my people go.”

At the end of the one-hour event, an organizer brought out a humongous loaf of challah for everyone to share. The crowd sang “Gesher Tzar Me’od,” which quotes Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, but the most important part is not to be afraid.” Rabbi David Cooper of Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont blew a shofar.

In closing, Saxe-Taller called out triumphantly: “We’ll be back next Friday. We’ll be back again!”


Full video of the protest:

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is the online editor of J. and "Jew in the Pew" columnist. He can be reached at david@jweekly.com.