Protesters at a Jewish rally at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in New York City demonstrate against the government’s border separation policy, June 21, 2018. (Photo/JTA-Ben Sales)
Protesters at a Jewish rally at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in New York City demonstrate against the government’s border separation policy, June 21, 2018. (Photo/JTA-Ben Sales)

Bay Area Jews head for the border for weekend protests

Jews across the nation are protesting a government policy that separates children from their parents who have sought asylum at US-Mexico border or who have crossed the border illegally. Many of those children are being held in detention facilities that some Jews have likened to “concentration camps.” At least 2,400 children have been separated from their parents so far.

On Thursday, a group of 10 rabbis traveled to Texas to examine detention facilities, as part of a delegation of interfaith leaders, including Rev. Al Sharpton. The same day, a rally organized by 30 Jewish organizations from a broad political and religious spectrum gathered in front of the New York City office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That night, a massive group of protesters, including many Jewish leaders, descended on LaGuardia Airport in New York to greet arriving planeloads of immigrant children that had been forcibly separated from their parents.

Following widespread outcry, including from many Jewish groups, President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Wednesday stating that from now on, families who cross the border illegally will be detained together as the parents await probable deportation.

That has not satisfied activists, including many in the Bay Area.

Rabbi Amy Eilberg hopped on a plane today, headed for San Diego. Tomorrow morning she will join thousands from the Bay Area and around California for a protest at the San Ysidro border crossing with Mexico, the site of many family separations.

Rabbi Amy Eilberg
Rabbi Amy Eilberg

Eilberg, a Conservative rabbi, would rather spend her Shabbat differently. “I like to do it in peace and quiet with friends,” she told J. But, after praying tomorrow morning in her hotel room, she’ll head for the interfaith border protest.

“We are in the middle of an emergency. This Shabbat, the right thing for me to do is to pray with my feet,” Eilberg said, paraphrasing Civil Rights-era rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

The protest she is attending is organized by the California arm of Faith in Action, an international interfaith group. Eilberg is the coordinator of Jewish engagement for Faith in Action Bay Area. She says they are expecting thousands to join the protest, including hundreds from the Bay Area.

Another sizable Bay Area contingent will take part in an interfaith protest at an ICE detention facility in McAllen, Texas, on Monday morning. That protest will include prayers, speakers and marching in front of the facility.

San Francisco resident and Jewish parent Julie Chronister is one of them. A psychologist who has worked in non-profits that serve vulnerable populations, she was touched deeply by recent news of the treatment of children along the border and in detention centers, where some have been given psychotropic drugs, and staff members are forbidden from physically comforting them.

I have no background in activism, but this just rocked my world.

“I have no background in activism, but this just rocked my world,” she said. “I just started rounding up everyone I knew.”

Chronister has reached out to friends via Facebook and any other way she can. Her son attends the Brandeis School of San Francisco, and she has sought out other parents from the school community to join her in McAllen.

“We often feel helpless in being able to effect change, and that’s what drove me to use social media to see what we can get,” she said. “And I do think all these rallies and marches do make a change because it gives people a voice.”

The San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council is the main local Jewish group organizing supporters to go to the Texas protest.

In an email to friends and supporters today, Abby Porth, executive director of JCRC, invited others to join her in Texas on Monday, writing, “I am deeply distressed about the delegitimization and decay of our democracy. I’m concerned about the replacement of compassion and rational thinking with xenophobia, hatred, and the undermining of our democratic ideals and safeguards.

“If you can’t join me for this, and if you live in the Bay Area, stay tuned — the JCRC is bringing a major democracy conference and actions soon. Would love to have your support and participation then.”

Longtime political activist Rabbi David Cooper of Kehillah Community Synagogue in Piedmont was on a bus today headed south to the San Ysidro protest.

Like many Jews crying out about the family separation policy, his commitment to this cause stems from his family history.

“I’m the child and grandchild of immigrants. I know what they braved trying to get to the United States,” he told J. “I can’t stand around and say, ‘Well they got in, now let’s shut the door behind them.’” — J. intern Hannah Jannol contributed to this article.

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.