This summer, the way I understand the meaning of my identity as an American Jewish college student has changed.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s immigration crackdowns, being a young American Jew now means that I watch my friends place their bodies on the line outside US Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, obstructing passage and risking arrest.
I am one of the many young Jews against ICE, and I will be going to court in New Jersey two days before my 21st birthday.
I was part of the first group of protesters arrested with the fledgling Never Again Action movement, which stands opposed to the fleet of policies – such as expedited deportations with minimal hearings for children as young as three – that have recently been established to disenfranchise Latinx and undocumented immigrants in the US. Most of those policies are carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, a government agency that has been around since 2003 but has over the past several years been given more and more power, and has established appalling camps for immigrants across the country which I consider to be concentration camps.
Throughout our childhoods, many of us who were raised within the American Jewish community have had the phrase “Never Again” repeated at us over and over – meaning that we should never allow anything like the Holocaust to happen again. By taking part in these protests, and demanding that ICE be abolished, I believe I am fulfilling that promise.
On 30 June, 36 young activists, including myself, were arrested outside of an ICE detention centre in Elizabeth, New Jersey at which we were protesting.
We sat in a jail cell for a few hours, a term which was, no doubt, lessened by the white privilege that many of us hold, and were released. We are awaiting our trial date next month.
Since our first protest, Jews rising up against ICE have mobilised in multiple ways to spread our message. A friend with a mobility-limiting disability attended one of Never Again Action’s protests, and it was the first time she had been able to go to a protest in two years. That’s in part because this is a disability justice issue for disabled detained migrants. For Latinx and black Jews, being arrested carries an increased risk of being hurt — and yet, I see my friends take that risk fearlessly.
On 11 August, there were two major Never Again protests. In New York City, Jews and immigrants shut down the Amazon bookstore to hold a Jewish memorial service commemorating those whose lives were cut short due to horrific conditions in ICE facilities.
We chose Amazon’s storefront because Amazon provides the servers used for ICE’s surveillance software. The store staff called in the police and dozens of Jews were carted away in a New York City bus that the police re-commissioned as an arrest vehicle, but still, the service did not stop.
At a smaller protest outside of Baltimore, a group of Jews, immigrants, and allies shut down a detention and processing centre for an entire afternoon. Later that day, the director of communications for the Howard County Government Executive released a statement announcing that the county government was going to “evaluate our contract [with ICE] to determine whether it remains appropriate in its current form.” After a single protest, Howard County is considering terminating its contracts with ICE, making immigrant communities in that area that much safer.
We’ve had many other small victories: in the nation’s capital, we shut down ICE headquarters for a day. Immigrant organisers with Cosecha, who have influenced of the Never Again Action work, interrupted a presidential debate with signs reading “STOP ALL DEPORTATIONS ON DAY ONE.”
As Jews, we have a unique positionality here: a generation ago, our people experienced horrors like what we now see happening to our neighbours. For many American Jews, standing up for immigrants has become a necessary part of being Jewish. Never Again means now.
And yet, without more pressure — within the United States and internationally — this won’t be enough.
A week ago, despite a month of #JewsAgainstICE protests, hundreds and hundreds of immigrants were taken and deported from their workplace, a Koch Foods plant in Mississippi. Not long after, Trump announced that immigrants on food stamps will no longer be able to receive green cards. In one of the mass shootings that happened here last week, the white shooter said that he was seeking out Mexicans to kill.
In other words, things here are getting worse, and that is why we are all obligated to fight.
As the noted Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, to truly study and understand Judaism, one must live Jewishly. And in The Prophets, Heschel wrote: “It is an act of evil to accept the state of evil as either inevitable or final.” Right now, this mobilisation of Jewish Americans against ICE is, for me and for many others, redefining what it means to live Jewishly.
As one Twitter user yesterday noted, “I almost feel like it’s what Hebrew school trained us for.” At each protest, as I watch protesters on livestream reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer, I see my childhood Hebrew school memories come together with today’s necessity to protect our neighbours.
It’s as if this is what our collective history has been preparing us for — to join in allyship with immigrant organisers and leaders and to make sure that one day, those who have hurt our people by empowering ICE to commit these atrocities face their own Nuremberg trials. We, as Jews, see undeniable parallels to our Holocaust in ICE’s crackdowns, for this is how it starts. Thus, we have stood, and will continue to stand, in opposition to inhumanity.
Being Jewish in America, for a growing number of us, will forever mean the moral obligation to not only say Never Again, but to mean it.