Rabbi Sydney Mintz (center) of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco marches with other faith leaders at a protest in San Diego on July 2. (Photo/Ellen Fleishhacker)
Rabbi Sydney Mintz (center) of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco marches with other faith leaders at a protest in San Diego on July 2. (Photo/Ellen Fleishhacker)

‘Moral emergency’: Bay Area Jews join nationwide immigration protests

From Berkeley to San Francisco to San Diego, Bay Area Jews this past week joined hundreds of thousands of demonstrators at more than 700 rallies across the country to oppose the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies, which includes holding thousands of children in detention centers. Protests were held in more than 30 cities and towns across the Bay Area.

At the June 30 rally in San Francisco, sponsored by the national movement Families Belong Together, Congregation Emanu-El Rabbi Sydney Mintz was among the speakers who inspired protesters from the steps of City Hall.

During her remarks, she sounded a shofar and told the crowd she was “declaring a state of moral emergency.”

“We stand to abolish ICE,” she said, referring to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency responsible for immigration raids taking place across the country. “We invite you not just to turn red states blue, but turn states that are insane, humane.”

A few days later, on July 2, Mintz joined thousands of others in San Diego at a day of protest, which included a march through the downtown area.

Mintz told J. her activism stems from her sense of moral imperative.

“As Jews, how can we not come forward?” she said. “People who were not politically animated before are moving into [activism] because they can’t abide having someone in office expressing inhumane treatment of human beings with a zero tolerance policy. If your blood is not curdling and you don’t see a moral obligation to oppose this administration, I don’t know what kind of engaging conversation we can have in this community.”

Sue Reinhold of Berkeley (left, wearing tallit and sunglasses) blocks the
Sue Reinhold of Berkeley (left, wearing tallit and sunglasses) blocks the entrance to the San Diego ICE office, July 2 (Photo/Courtesy T’ruah)

Another Bay Area resident in San Diego was Sue Reinhold of Berkeley, who participated in civil disobedience organized by the Latino rights group Mijente and cosponsored by some Jewish groups including Bend the Arc (for which Reinhold and Mintz  serve as board members) and the rabbinic social justice group T’ruah and social action group Bend the Arc.

She attended immigration court hearings where undocumented immigrants were sent into detention or deported.

“Detainees were being processed five at a time very quickly by a federal judge,” she told J. “Folks had bail set at $5,000 to $10,000 and were asked to come up with 10 percent of that until court date. It was clear none of them had that. It looked like the wheels of injustice were grinding.”

Reinhold filmed fellow protesters disrupting the proceedings and being removed from the courtroom. She later joined a sit-in at the local offices of ICE, which has come under scrutiny for its intensified crackdown on undocumented immigration.

Reinhold donned a kippah and tallit during the sit-in.

“I thought it was important to show up as a Jew,” she said. “As Jews we were all strangers. The Torah tells us 37 times to love the stranger. Immigrants built this country, and to take a group of people and turn them into this ‘other’ to be vilified is evil. We are taught in our tradition to stand up to evil in the world and try to make the world a better place. Hopefully in some small way this will help.”

A June 30 rally in Richmond took place at the West County Detention Center, a facility ICE uses to detain immigrants. Thousands of protesters turned out to chant “Let my people go,” among them Berkeley resident Rachel Biale, a social worker and board member of Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay.

Left to right: Rachel Biale, David Biale, Mollie Katzen and Deborah Kaufman protesting June 30 at the West County Detention Center in Richmond (Photo/Alan Snitow)
Left to right: Rachel Biale, David Biale, Mollie Katzen and Deborah Kaufman protesting June 30 at the West County Detention Center in Richmond (Photo/Alan Snitow)

She clutched a sign that read, “Reunite all families.”

“As a human being it is shattering to see it,” she said of the child detentions. “As a clinical social worker with expertise in early childhood education, I know the damage done to children and parents is lifelong. Some kids are lucky and resilient; some children’s lives will be scarred forever.”

Though the Richmond rally was peaceful, Biale worries that the divisions in the country will worsen.

“My overall feeling is we’re in a nearly catastrophic situation,” she said, “and we are in the last stretch of defending it through civic involvement and the court system. With the news on [Supreme Court Justice Anthony] Kennedy’s retirement, I’m more alarmed on whether the courts will provide the bulwark we need.”

Mintz was buoyed by the pronounced Jewish presence at the protests.

“Jews are morally responsible to be the light unto the nations,” she said. “That’s what it says in our texts. It really means leading the way by example as role models, and engaging people in conversations.”

Added Biale, “This is us at our best.”

pine-dan
Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.