Already a time for reflection and mourning for Jews, Tisha B’Av turned into a backdrop this year for some Jews to shine light on the suffering of others.
Across the country — in D.C., New York, Houston, Salt Lake City, Boston, Baltimore and many other cities — rallies were held in support of refugees and immigrants on Aug. 11, the day of Tisha B’Av.
Locally, a rally called For These We Cry Out: A Tisha B’Av Vigil for Refugees, was held at the Independence National Historical Park. The event was organized by the Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia and built on the momentum behind a similar rally last year that was held in front of the ICE Enforcement and Removal field office in Philadelphia.
“Last year, for the first time, we felt that we needed to have some kind of response as a community,” said Rabbi Joshua Waxman, the Board of Rabbis president, referring to stories in the news about family separation at the southern border. “People were horrified across the country about what was going on. And while there were protests in Philadelphia, there wasn’t really an opportunity for the Jewish community to come together as a community to raise our voice.”
This year, thanks in part to Waxman’s organizing, the Jewish community had that opportunity.
Several leaders from the local Jewish community spoke at the Aug. 11 event, as did Blanca Pacheco, co-director of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, who talked about how the treatment of immigrants has impacted her community.
“The pain that we feel, the fear that we feel when we walk on the streets, how alert we are as people of color, walking on the street is not normal,” she said. “We feel frozen, but we still have to take action.”
Rabbi Batya Glazer, who heads the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, spoke of Jewish responsibility.
“The Talmud teaches us that every person who knows of a wrong being done by a member of our family and doesn’t speak out is responsible for that wrong,” Glazer said. “Every person who knows of a wrong being done in our community and our city is responsible. We are here as Jews and as Americans, and it’s our responsibility to speak and act.”
HIAS Pennsylvania Executive Director Cathryn Miller-Wilson spoke of the importance of supporting all immigrants.
“I can’t say this strongly enough — I’m not trying to be alarmist — there are 70 million displaced people. We cannot turn our backs, and we cannot be the leaders amongst other countries in turning our backs,” she said. “We have to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. So make your calls, process your grief and gain hope from the work we’re all doing collectively and know that you are making a difference.”
This was the second time in a week that Miller-Wilson publicly spoke about immigration issues at a local rally with significant Jewish representation.
On Aug. 6, she spoke at a gathering in LOVE Park called Love Over Hate: Addressing America’s Gun Problem, which was held in response to the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 dead.
Miller-Wilson urged people at that rally to welcome asylum-seekers and refugees in response to the attack in El Paso.
“There’s a straight line between the shootings in El Paso and the closure of the refugee resettlement program, which is imminent because of the hate, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee rhetoric which is coming from our federal government,” she said. “It is not tolerable. We’re here to say that we support any measure that leaves us, as a people, more safe and more secure.”
At the same rally, Rabbi Shawn Zevit of Mishkan Shalom, a member of the interfaith organization POWER – Philadelphia Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild, spoke of the two tragedies in connection to Tisha B’Av.
“And so the sages on the ashes of such an endeavor were left to understand how this could have happened to us. And the conclusion they came to was not that some bad luck had happened, but rather basic hatred between people,” Zevit said. “And the Roman army and their might was simply the instrument that pointed out where there had already been corruption and decay, because people were not paying attention to how to love each other without reason as opposed to hate each other with reason.”
Jewish Federation Board of Trustees member Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, which organized the event on Aug. 6, was pleased with the turnout.
“We were honored that so many community partners came out to honor the victims of gun violence, commit to action and pledge to disarm hate,” Goodman said. “Together, we will make it impossible for Harrisburg and D.C. to ignore the voices calling for change.”
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