The lamentations of two young women were ringing in my ears yesterday, compelling me to join hundreds of other Jewish New Yorkers by observing the mourning day of Tisha b’Av in civil disobedience.
Magdalena Gomez Gregorio is 11 years old, just a few years younger than my daughter Rosa, and I just can’t stop hearing her desperate, loving, pleading cries for her father, one of 680 workers rounded up by ICE at a Mississippi food processing plant this week: “Government please show some heart, let my parent be free with everybody else.” Her English isn’t perfect, but nobody could say it more powerfully: “Don’t leave the childs with crying-ness.”
If you haven’t watched it, please do. If you have, watch again. We must not look away from what our own government is doing to immigrant families.
That obligation struck me hard earlier this summer, when Rosa and I saw an exhibit about Sophie Scholl. Sophie was one of five (non-Jewish) students and a professor who were part of the White Rose movement in Nazi Germany. Knowing the risks, they wrote, printed, and distributed flyers pleading with their fellow Germans to see the atrocities being committed by their government against Jews.
“If you know, why don’t you act?” they asked. They urged civil disobedience and resistance against the concentration camps.
Sophie was not without fear. In one of her poems, she wrote: “The day of my first trip dawns with a great, gaping hole of anxiety gnawing at my insides. Yet my fear of doing nothing is greater.” Sophie was 21, just a few years older than Rosa, when she was executed by the Nazis in 1943.
What if hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands more had joined Sophie? Maybe our whole history would be different.
Listening to Magdalena and Sophie’s lamentations, it is clear what is required of us when our government commits atrocities.
If we know, why don’t we act?
No, our government is not committing genocide or mass murder. And we are not required to find even a fraction of Sophie’s courage.
But what ICE is doing in the concentration camps on our border, in the raids on workplaces, in separating families, is without doubt a moral atrocity — with our tax dollars and in our name. So we are required to act.
Yesterday was Tisha b’Av, the most powerful Jewish day of mourning. On Tisha b’Av, Jews cry out in lamentation, Eichah, remembering the catastrophes that our people have endured at the hands of oppressors in our migrations across history.
As we recited Eichah yesterday, Magdalena and Sophie’s lamentations ringing in my ears, I joined Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, T’ruah, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, nearly a dozen rabbis (including Rabbis Rachel Timoner and Miriam Grossman from our neighborhood) in civil disobedience. 41 of us were arrested, sitting in at the Amazon store on 34th Street to protest the company’s willingness to provide tech services that enable ICE’s cruelty.
We cried out in protest for the catastrophe that our government — along with willing corporate partners like Amazon and Palantir (who provide ICE with facial recognition and other technology) — is imposing on immigrants and refugees, right here and now.
The mass movement to reverse our government’s cruel policies, to close the camps and stop the raids, to recognize that we are all migrants (check out this beautiful essay by Mohsin Hamid for a more poetic take on that recognition) and make public policy accordingly, is truly growing.
It builds from the powerful work of Movimiento Cosecha (who shut down the West Side highway in a powerful action Saturday), on the courage of groups like United We Dream and Make the Road and so many more immigrant-led organizations, on the strategic solidarity that Never Again Action launched earlier this summer, all gaining strength to Close the Camps.
To me, after listening to the lamentation of Magdalena Gomez Gregoria and learning about Sophie Scholl, there was no way I could not act. I hope you’ll check out the links above, join, contribute, and find ways to take action that makes sense for you.
When we say never again, we must mean never again.