Sunday’s ice and cold weather did not deter New Jerseyans from trekking into Battery Park to protest President Donald Trump’s now-stayed ban against U.S. entry of Muslim immigrants from seven nations.
“Considering all that the Syrian refugees have gone through, standing outside in bad weather for a few hours was not so much of a hardship,” said Genesia Kamen of South Orange, president of the American Jewish Committee’s Metro New Jersey Region.
Noting that all four of her grandparents came to the United States as European refugees in the 1920s, Kamen said it was incumbent upon Jewish-Americans to support immigrant groups following in those Jewish footsteps.
The New York rally was one of 20 held throughout the country on Feb. 12 organized by HIAS, the Jewish-led advocacy group for immigrants’ rights and refugee resettlement. They were part of a National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees that took place in cities including Boston; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Buffalo, N.Y.; Newark, Del.; Denver, Colorado; Austin, Texas; and Kenosha, Wis.
Menashe Dickman of West Orange said he was “very pleasantly surprised” to see how many people turned out in spite of the weather, on a cold day with rain and sleet. Participants gathered in Battery Park, Manhattan’s southern tip, in the shadows of Ellis Island immigration center where many Jews first entered the United States.
“I would have gone whether it was run by Jewish groups or not,” Dickman said.
Despite the presence of what he considers to be “quite a bit of anti-Semitism” in Muslim-majority nations, Dickman said “we are not talking about taking in entire countries. We are talking about taking in thousands of refugees from countries where they have suffered tremendously. I am not concerned about their politics given what they have gone through. We cannot turn them away. We can’t let that happen.”
Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz, who accompanied members of her congregation, Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, called the rally a “powerful statement” by the Jewish community.
“It is really important that we continue to stand up when things are not normal,” she told NJJN. “Trump’s executive order is probably illegal, unacceptable, and we cannot idly stand by.”
“We hope our voices are heard,” said attendee Lori Feldstein of Princeton, president of the AJC’s Central NJ region. “As Jews, when we see this type of situation — having walked in their shoes before — our voices should carry some real credibility.”
Feldstein said AJC looks at most Muslim immigrants as “potential neighbors. We are making a concerted effort to reach out to the Muslim community in our own backyards so that we can stand together when threats like this face each of our communities.”
Among the dignitaries to address the New York rally were Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Ill.), a Muslim.
Joining HIAS as sponsors of the rallies were AJC, the Anti-Defamation League, J Street, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, American Jewish World Service, Avodah, Bend the Arc, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Hebrew Union College, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, Jewish Theological Seminary, Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, National Council of Jewish Women, New Israel Fund, Rabbinical Assembly, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, T’ruah: A Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Union for Reform Judaism, and Women of Reform Judaism.
Although rally participants believe it’s vital to speak out against the Trump administration’s immigration policies, some doubted that the event would have any significant effect on changing them.
“I don’t think Trump listens to public opinion much,” said Michael Diamond of West Orange. He thinks rallies and other protests could increase awareness and fund-raising efforts by groups opposed to the president’s policies.
“I have been to many rallies, before and after Trump became president,” said Kamen. “I know this one will not be my last.”