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LA rabbis arrested at ICE protest

A protest and civil disobedience involving Jewish, Muslim and Christian faith leaders and community members on Thursday expressed “Exodus from detention!”

The event called out Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and resulted in the arrest of more than 30 people for their refusal to remove themselves from blocking a loading dock of the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC). MDC is a federal jail downtown that holds individuals for immigration-related crimes, among other offenses.

The April 13 act took place on the third day of Passover. Those who participated drew parallels with the Israelite Exodus story from bondage to liberation with the slavery of undocumented immigrants who live in fear of being detained.

“I’m standing with my brothers and sisters in faith … on behalf of the undocumented and the refugee and immigrant communities that are being targeted now. Especially now during Passover it is time we remember our own liberation,” Rabbi Sarah Bassin, associate rabbi at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, told the Journal, locking arms with Wilshire Boulevard Temple Rabbi Susan Goldberg, prior to their arrest.

Approximately 200 members of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) and other faith-based social organizations turned out.

Fewer than the 200 attendees were arrested. They included Bassin, Goldberg; Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director emeritus at Hillel at UCLA; Bend the Arc Rabbi in Residence Aryeh Cohen; and Rabbi Susan Laemmle, dean of religious life at USC.

Goldberg said the purpose of blocking the MDC entrance was to prevent ICE vehicles from doing round-ups.

“We’re making sure that ICE vans don’t have the ability to leave and round people up and deport them during this week of Passover,” she said.

Locking arms with Shakeel Syed, executive director at Orange County Communities for Responsible Development prior to his arrest and standing in the closed-down Aliso street, between Los Angeles and Alameda, Feller said lessons gleaned from Passover obligates him to stand up for undocumented immigrants.

“At Passover we understand we are all strangers and citizens of the world together,” Seidler-Feller said.

Syed, who is Muslim, echoed the importance of interfaith unity in the face of injustice.

“Today I am full human being standing in solidarity with all my Jewish brothers and sisters,” he said.

LAPD charged individuals arrested Thursday with willfully disobeying a police officer.

Bassin said she was released shortly after her arrest. The LAPD treated her professionally, she said, adding that the charge is equivalent to a traffic violation.

The event kicked off with people congregating in the historic La Placita Church on Olvera Street, where Rabbi Aryeh Cohen delivered remarks that expressed his frustration with the Trump administration’s treatment of undocumented immigrants.

“We are here to say this as loud as we can,” Cohen said, addressing packed pews. “We will not abide this anymore.”

A march to the Federal Building, which conducts immigration processing, at 300 N. Los Angeles street, followed the service in the church. People stopped at the steps at the entrance of the Federal Building and chanted, “Not one more deportation!” while Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials stood at the entrance to the building.

Two DHS officers, who declined to be identified, said they did not know beforehand the motley group would be showing up.

“Passover is the ultimate Jewish story of liberation,” David Bocarsly, a 26-year-old USC graduate student in public policy, said as the group marched from the Federal Building to the MDC. “The reason we retell is we don’t forget. This is a holiday not just for Jews but for all people.

“Passover is the story of God’s social justice work,” Bocarsly, who was arrested on Thursday, said.

The group arrived outside the MDC around 11: 15 a.m. They formed a circle around a seder table set up in the middle of the closed-down street. Matzah, grape juice and bitter herbs sat on the table.

Holding up a piece of broken matzah, Seidler-Feller said the broken matzah symbolized families broken apart by the country’s immigration policy.

“This is a broken matzah,” he said. “It’s broken families, broken hearts, broken people.”

Rabbi Jonathan Klein, executive director at CLUE, held up bitter herbs “to call out the bitterness of ICE sweeps, of fathers detained in front of their children, of the bitterness of imprisonment for no crime,” he said.

Rabbi Laura Geller, rabbi emerita at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, held up a cup of grape juice.

“We set aside a cup for Elijah, and open the door to announce the coming of redemption,” Geller said. “We fill this cup from our own cups to remind us that bringing to redemption to our world is up to us all.”

Rabbi Danny Mehlman, spiritual leader of Ner Tamid of Downey and a chaplain at North Kern State Prison, stood in the group watching the seder. He was born in Argentina and lived in Israel for 13 years before coming to the United States with the American-born wife he’d recently married. He said when he became a citizen, the pathway to citizenship was much easier. This was before September 11, 2001, he acknowledged, but he would like to see a return to a more sensible naturalization process for the undocumented, he said.

“There hasn’t been a change in immigration law, which is necessary,” he said, wearing a tie that was decorated like a matzah, “the tie of affliction,” said Mehlman, who did not partake in the civil disobedience due to his role as a prison chaplain.

Mehlman hoped the the event raised awareness about the challenges facing the undocumented community.

“One one the points of the seder is to increase awareness,” he said. “Indifference is the enemy of awareness, of action, and that’s what’s needed.”

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