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A protester blows the shofar, a ram's horn, at the demonstration outside of an ICE detention center in Elizabeth, NJ, on June 30. More than 200 Jewish activists and allies gathered to demand an end to ICE and the closure of immigrant detention centers throughout the United States. Photo: Nur Shlaopbersky
A protester blows the shofar, a ram's horn, at the demonstration outside of an ICE detention center in Elizabeth, NJ, on June 30. More than 200 Jewish activists and allies gathered to demand an end to ICE and the closure of immigrant detention centers…

Jewish protesters call for closure of immigrant detention centers

In Philadelphia, on July 4, Jewish activists will say "Never Again," joining a national movement to end immigrant detention sparked by a June 30 protest in New…

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Last month, U.S. representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referred to the detention facilities in this country as “concentration camps.” Though criticized by some as a term that was disrespectful of the Holocaust and the concentration camps in Nazi Germany in which more than 6 million Jews were killed, the comparison was taken to heart by many Jews across the country who are now organizing protests to close immigrant detention centers, reminding Americans that “Never Again is Now.”

On Sunday, June 30, more than 200 Jewish activists protested outside of a detention facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in conjunction with Movimiento Cosecha, a nonviolent organization that fights for immigrant rights. The demonstration led to the arrest of 36 of the Jewish protesters

Sophie Ellman-Golan, one of the thirty organizers for the New Jersey protest, explained why Jewish activists are protesting.

“When Jews say, ‘Never again,’ we mean it. We should take action however we can to stop things before they get worse. And that means never again for anyone,” she said.

At the protest, Jewish activists and allies sang songs of hope and recited a prayer called the mourner’s kaddish for children who have died in the custody of ICE. The shofar, which is a ram’s horn, was also blown, which protester Daniel Holtzman referred to as a wakeup call.

Sunday’s protest has since sparked other demonstrations, including one which took place on July 2 in Boston, in front of the New England Holocaust Memorial, and another protest in Providence, Rhode Island.

Several other protests will be held across the country by Jewish activists in their fight to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) and demand that detention centers at the border and across the country be closed.

In Philadelphia, on July 4, protesters will organize in front of the DHS ICE Philadelphia office. Over 115 people have signed up on Facebook saying they are planning to attend.

To help organize for these protests, Jewish activists hosted a call on Monday night, where organizers and protesters from Sunday’s protest spoke about how to get involved in the movement. Two hundred people pledged to take action during the phone call by helping to organize protests in their area, and working to remind people “Never Again.”

This phrase is used in reference to the Holocaust, and means that Jews never again want to see another Holocaust; it also has now been adopted to refer to atrocities affecting other communities, such as asylum seekers and the undocumented immigrant community.

The protest on Sunday, June 30, led to the arrest of 36 Jews, who refused to move and blocked the entrance to the ICE detention center. Philadelphia native Daniel Holtzman, whose pronouns are they/them, was one of the 36 who was arrested and said they plan to attend the protest in Philadelphia on Independence Day.

Holtzman talked about what it meant for them to be arrested.

“I chose to risk arrest. After we were arrested it was very powerful for me singing different songs in Hebrew and English… as we were in the police vans,” they said.

Ocasio-Cortez commended the Jewish activists who were arrested, and Holtzman said they felt inspired by the congresswoman's support.

Those who were arrested on Sunday were held in custody for several hours and had a preliminary hearing Monday, with more to come soon, according to Holtzman.

A GoFundMe page was created to help cover bail and court costs for Jews who were arrested on Sunday, and any others who may be arrested at future protests for civil disobedience. The remaining money is going to Movimiento Cosecha. The page outlines the goals of the Jewish activists who are saying #NeverAgain.

Many of those who have protested have compared the conditions that their Jewish ancestors experienced to the persecution that immigrants in the United States face today.

“We believe that this government's treatment of immigrants is absolutely unacceptable, a violation of human rights,” said Ellman-Golan. “We owe it to our ancestors to ensure that people who are immigrating today are not treated this way. A lot of ancestors were fleeing the same persecution that immigrants are experiencing right now. Or fleeing the same violence that immigrants coming in are fleeing.”

On July 2, CBS reported that there was overcrowding at Border Patrol facilities in Texas.  Yesterday, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visited detention centers at the border, where she reported that people were forced to drink water from toilets. This comes after other reports which have said that children are living in inhumane conditions in detention centers, without access to adequate food, water or sanitation.

Ellman-Golan said that Sunday’s protest is just the beginning of what she sees as a sustained effort on the part of the Jewish community to advocate for justice for immigrants.

“It felt really important to take action as Jews to speak out against the mass atrocities being perpetuated by our government. We did this so that we would inspire other people to take action and we're seeing that happen,” she said.

Holtzman shared a similar sentiment.

“I think it is incredibly beautiful for us to access our Jewish tradition as we fight for justice,” they said.   

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