Across the U.S., a Day of Jewish Action for Refugees

By Rebecca Kirzner,

From coast to coast, despite winter weather, the National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees drew thousands in the Jewish community together this weekend to show support for welcoming refugees to the United States and demonstrate fervent opposition to slamming America’s doors on the most vulnerable.

The initiative began on Saturday night with a community program in Washington D.C., during which clergy from congregations across the city symbolically separated darkness from light through a Havdalah service. Powerful speakers addressed the overflow crowd of 600, calling them to remember “that ‘Never Again’ means never again for everyone.”

In Boston, 200 people braved the snow to rally at the New England Holocaust Memorial. One of the speakers, Fred Manasse, spoke about the parallels between our country’s treatment of Syrian refugees today, and the story of his own father who tried to flee Europe on the MS St. Louis. Manasse’s father was turned around with the rest of the ship's passengers before reaching safety on our shores.

City Council Member Josh Zakim and Imam Faisal Khan, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Wayland, also addressed the crowd in Boston.

“You have given us hope,” Khan told the crowd.

Among the 20 actions taken around the country, four were in the Chicago area, representing the efforts of many congregations and Hillels. At Anshe Emet Synagogue, for example, more than 200 community members attended the event to hear refugee testimonials, study Jewish texts about refugees and sign pledges to take action.  

At Beth Am in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, 130 people joined for a powerful and evocative program including songs and chants, and at Congregation Solel in Highland Park, former refugees from Ukraine spoke about their experience and the importance of helping contemporary refugees. Congressman Brad Schneider, who represents Illinois’ 10th District, spoke at two of the rallies.

In Denver, the program united the entire local Jewish community, with two state legislators, several rabbis and staff from resettlement organizations participating. San Francisco’s event at the Holocaust Memorial at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, was sponsored by eight community organizations. Not far away in Mountain View, hundreds filled the Civic Center Plaza for a sister rally.

In Delaware, supporters marched through Newark, and held an interfaith rally on the campus of the University of Delaware. Meanwhile, in Austin, Texas, participants gathered to hear speakers on Jewish history, Jewish values, and what can be done to support the local refugee population.

And in New York City, a rally in Battery Park brought upwards of 1,000 people and 60+ co-sponsoring organizations together to demonstrate unwavering commitment to welcoming refugees. Participants there tore ribbons in mourning for the potential loss of life inflicted by Donald Trump’s executive order.

Throughout the United States, the American Jewish community sent a clear and powerful message: we will not stand idly by while our country slams its doors on refugees.

As participants across the country chanted: “When refugees are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

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