Two rabbis were among 13 citizens arrested on Oct. 3 at a protest in front of the New Jersey Enforcement and Removal Operations Field Office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). The rally called for an end to operations by ICE and demanded the state government cancel its public contracts and end funding of immigrant detention centers.
Organizers, led by Jewish groups Never Again Action and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, timed the rally to take place during the 10 Days of Repentance between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.
“I am here with others, at this important time of the year, to show my support,” said Rabbi Mike Moskowitz, a Lakewood resident who is serving as scholar-in-residence for Trans and Queer Jewish Studies at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York. He and Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster of T’ruah were among those arrested.
Rain fell on an estimated 200 protesters, some of whom in an act of civil disobedience ran to block the intersection of Broad and Court streets at the start of evening rush hour. The 13 arrested were charged with disorderly conduct.
“We want Newark to know, as long as ICE is operating in the city, there will be times when things won’t be business as usual here,” Yael Webber, 37, one of the Never Again Action organizers, told NJJN. “That’s what our action was all about today. Peacefully, by blocking Broad Street, we accomplished that.” Webber is a speech pathologist who lives in Montclair.
The rally began with the blast of a shofar blown by David Gaynes of Montclair, followed by singing led by Cantor Rikki Lippitz of Conservative Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange, who composed a special song for the event titled “The Heart of the Stranger.” (“Seek justice, show kindness, for we know the heart of the stranger.”)
Lippitz said she was both “humbled and empowered” by her participation in the rally. “It was a powerful and uplifting protest, and, as Jews, we need to be involved in more of this type of effort,” she told NJJN. “I hope more join us at events like this in the future.”
Several rabbis spoke — including Elliott Tepperman of Bnai Keshet in Montclair, Kahn-Troster of Teaneck, and Moskowitz — reaffirming solidarity with the immigrant, a position many Jews once filled, and speaking up for rights they believe are being abused by ICE.
“Hebrew means to cross over,” said Tepperman, whose Reconstructionist synagogue has offered sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. “Let those who cross over, the immigrant to our country like we all once were, have rights and protections.”
Kahn-Troster told the crowd, “Never again, in these times, means closing migrant detention camps and abolishing ICE.”
The protest blocked Broad Street for nearly two hours while Newark police officers re-routed traffic, which was snarled throughout the downtown Newark area. Police cleared the blocked intersection, in non-violent fashion, just before 6 p.m. Those charged were released from the Newark Police’s Metro Division and were told they would be sent court dates in the mail. Newark attorney Bennet D. Zurofsky, a progressive activist who attended the rally, agreed to represent the defendants pro bono.
“We stand in solidarity with immigrant communities who demand an end to the brutality of the horrors of ICE and the horrors of our detention and deportation system,” said Webber. “This is happening right here in New Jersey, and we feel the time for action is now.”
Rachel Kleinbaum, 31, of Montclair is an organizer with Never Again Action. She told NJJN that the group started spontaneously a few months ago in spots around the country. It is looking to solidify into a more cohesive national group to achieve its goal of shutting down ICE and holding “the political establishment accountable for enabling both the deportation machine … and the current crises at the border,” according to a press release.
The name comes from parallels the group sees between the 1940s and “concentration camps at the border and detention centers around the country,” according to the Never Again Action website.
The organization supports non-violent demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience. During a protest, representatives will secure participants’ valuables in a safe place, offer advice when they are arrested, and help with attorney representation.
“We really respect people who are risking arrest,” said Kleinbaum, a former labor union organizer. “They really put themselves on the line.”
One who did just that was Joyce Frommer, 69, of Little Falls, a retired community business manager for Barnes and Noble. She was with the group blocking the intersection during the afternoon rush hour but was not arrested.
“I was born right after World War II,” she said. “I heard a lot about the Holocaust, and we hear that kind of language now with immigrants. I also don’t think the people running Essex County should be taking money to house immigrants. I regard that as blood money. I’m willing to go out there and put myself on the line because if not now, when?”
Kleinbaum and Webber said their event went well and were happy with the turnout in spite of the wet weather.
“If the day was nicer, we might have gotten some more people, but I thought we met all the goals of the event,” Kleinbaum told NJJN. “We’ll be showing our presence in New Jersey.”
Jewish sponsors of the rally also included the Northern New Jersey chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace and Congregation Beit Simchat Torah. Joining them were immigration rights organizations and progressive political groups.