Among the most dramatic local demonstrations against President Donald Trump’s immigration and refuge curbs — now stalled by a federal appeals court — came on the evening of February 6, when 19 rabbis affiliated with the group T’ruah, The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, were arrested after staging a sit-in on Central Park West outside the Trump International Hotel in Columbus Circle.
Among the 19 arrested were Rabbis Sharon Kleinbaum and David Dunn Bauer of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, an LGBTQ congregation on West 30th Street in Chelsea.
The rabbis were part of a group of roughly 200 that marched from West 88th Street to West 61st Street outside the Trump hotel. When they arrived near Columbus Circle, the demonstrators played guitar and banged drums, as they sang “Song of the Sea,” which the ancient Israelites are believed to have sung as they crossed the Red Sea in their flight from Egypt.
The demonstration outside the hotel, peppered as well with chants of “No fear, refugees are welcome here,” lasted roughly 20 minutes before the police removed the rabbis who had occupied Central Park West.
In a posting on T’ruah’s website, the group’s executive director, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, explained, “We took this action because we, as rabbis and Jews, know too well the dangers of closing America’s borders to those fleeing war, persecution, and terror. In the rhetoric employed against Muslims, we hear the echoes of the language used to close the borders to our own community beginning in 1924. And we took this action because our tradition teaches us the obligation of pikuach nefesh — saving a life above almost all else. Today’s refugee crisis is nothing less than a matter of life and death… Finally, we took this action because we are standing up for the soul of America, which has long defined itself as a home for people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds. When the core values of our country are at stake, we must speak out.”
Kleinbaum, posting on her Facebook page, wrote, “Let’s keep what we did in perspective, those of us arrested were white with excellent pro bono lawyers standing ready. Honestly, I can’t take credit for profound courage. I’m not facing daily bombings or fleeing in terror. I don’t face police brutality because I am black or brown. That’s real courage. But I will use whatever voice I DO have to speak in the name of my God and my tradition against the injustices being done.”
Rabbi Rachel Timoner, who leads Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, told the Brooklyn Paper, a sister publication to Gay City News, that, like Jacobs, she felt compelled as a member of a faith with a long history of persecution to challenge the president’s ban on citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the US.
“Our people were exterminated because we couldn’t get into other countries,” said Timoner. “As rabbis many of us feel obligated to stand up when other people are being discriminated against due to their religion and national origin.”
Timoner said that only a few members of her congregation were present during her arrest, while the majority were engaged back at the Beth Elohim sanctuary in Park Slope in a workshop on resisting Trump’s policies.
Among the others arrested were Rabbi David Ingber of Romemu, a congregation with services on West 105th Street, as well as rabbis from around the nation.
Police issued desk appearance tickets to the rabbis on misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges, and the 19 are scheduled to appear before a judge on April 4. — Additional reporting by Colin Mixson
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