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Let My People Stay: Why Bay Area Jews Rallied in Support of Immigrants

Let My People Stay: Why Bay Area Jews Rallied in Support of Immigrants

Jewish protesters holding signs outside ICE San Francisco offices


On Friday, January 26th, Jewish clergy from across the Bay Area, community leaders, and everyday citizens gathered outside of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices in San Francisco to declare: Let My People Stay, and show our solidarity with our immigrant neighbors.

Last week, we read news reports that ICE officers were planning massive raids in the Bay Area, potentially seeking to arrest more than 1,500 undocumented immigrants. Our local communities were abuzz with rising fear and uncertainty. I have felt sadness and anger as I realize that even being a sanctuary state cannot protect people who have been valued and beloved members of our communities for decades. As a Jewish community, we came together to say: not in our backyard, and not to our neighbors. We could not stand idly by while immigrants in our community, who work alongside us and whose children go to school with ours, are threatened by random and widespread raids that could tear them away from their families and their lives in this country.

So, we rallied. At noon, we stood outside the ICE headquarters – a diverse group of Jews and allies, from all corners of our community, united by the belief that no one should have to live in fear of deportation. Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller and Rabbi Sydney Mintz galvanized us in the chant: “Let our people stay!” while Rabbi Dev Noily reminded us of the enduring lesson of Beshallach: that not one of us is free until all of us are free. Violeta Roman and Lourdes Barraza shared personal stories of loved ones being detained after years in America. Tonda Case from Bend the Arc reminded all of us that the current deportation crisis is only the latest iteration of pervasive systems of oppression and racism that exist in our country. We ended by sharing in a blessing over the braided challah, symbolizing our interconnection.

As a Rabbi, standing in solidarity with my immigrant neighbors feels like a sacred obligation to me that goes beyond the Torah’s repeated injunction to welcome the stranger. As a Jewish people we have known intimately in our history the pain of being the target of discriminatory laws and the consequences of being denied access to safe haven. We cannot allow immigrant communities to live in fear of deportation, of the random ICE officer showing up at their place of work, bus stop, or grocery store. We must afford everyone in our community – regardless of citizenship status – basic human dignity. This includes the right to go about one’s daily life without existing in a constant state of fear and anxiety. On Friday, we showed the power of the Jewish community uniting in support of our immigrant neighbors, inspired by our commandment to ‘Welcome the Stranger’ and our belief that the best version of America is a generous, inclusive, and diverse America.

This was not the first time that we’ve rallied at 630 Sansome Street and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But I work and I pray for a time when our presence at the ICE building will no longer be necessary. Until that day arrives we will continue to advocate relentlessly, build congregational networks of support to provide accompaniment, develop deeper relationships of solidarity and friendship with organizations and people outside the Jewish community, and continue to raise our own awareness of the interconnection between our broken immigration system and broken criminal justice system, white supremacy, and the ways that systems of oppression persist and permutate in America. In doing so, while we may not see change in our government today or tomorrow, we will most certainly bring change to our communities and above all experience transformative change in ourselves. 

Rabbi-Cantor Elana Rosen-Brown is an associate rabbi at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, CA. In the past year she helped to guide Rodef Sholom in the process of becoming a sanctuary congregation and has worked in solidarity with local immigrant rights organizations on a number of deportation cases. Alongside the Marin Interfaith Council she is currently working to build a stronger sanctuary network in Marin County, CA.

Published: 1/29/2018