NORTHAMPTON — City Rabbi Justin David had “barely even gotten in trouble” before police officers arrested him during a sit-in Monday night in New York City outside Trump International Hotel.
David, and two other rabbis from Northampton, took part in a 200-person action that led to the arrest of some 20 rabbis. The event, organized by the rabbinic human rights group T’ruah, included a march down Broadway and culminated with the demonstration in front of the hotel on Columbus Circle.
“The goal was to create a statement of emphatic and passionate opposition to the racist and islamophobic bans that President Trump has enacted against refugees and against Muslims,” David said Tuesday morning. “By doing this action and drawing the attention that we did, we made that statement.”
David said he was arrested around 10 p.m. Monday, charged with disorderly conduct and released around 1:15 a.m. Rabbi David Dunn Bauer, former leader of Jewish Community of Amherst, was also among those arrested. Northampton Rabbis Riqi Kosovske and David Seidenberg joined in but were not arrested.
Kosovske said she was inspired by the words of Rabbi Joshua Heschel, who famously said after marching alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma: “I felt my legs were praying.”
She said that famous line never fully resonated with her until Donald Trump came to power. She said his travel ban for immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries strikes her as remarkably similar to the Immigration Act of 1924, which kept Jewish refugees from entering the U.S.
“I’ve never felt so pushed to really put that to life until this administration,” she said, adding this is not a time for grieving, but rather a time to get involved. “There’s no time to waste.
“It was also about showing up there to bring that energy back home,” she added.
David said he participated in the action knowing he’d be arrested. The rabbinic group notified the New York City Police Department in advance to inform officials they’d be sitting in, peacefully, in front of the hotel, where they blocked the road. David said T’ruah leaders asked him to be among the 20 to participate. David said he strived to be “calm, orderly and respectful” as police officers bound his hands.
“That’s ultimately what we wanted to project, is respect for all of humanity,” he said, adding officers were kind to him.
David said he wanted the action to be spiritually fulfilling as well as attention-getting.
“We were singing songs, and chanting, the whole way,” he said of the march. “We got there and about 15-20 police officers were waiting for us to do our action and arrest us.”
David said he was grounded in a sense of purpose during the event.
“I had an idea going into it what to expect,” he said. “But I think more importantly I took with me the support of my community and the support of the people there. However jarring it was to be sitting in the face of police headlights, I kept thinking about why I was there and those thoughts helped keep me calm.”
From the march to the arrests and the eruption of song that followed, Kosovske said it was moving to be there “as a Jew and as a woman.” “I live in Northampton, so in some ways we are in a very progressive bubble, but to be out in a much more diverse setting.”
She said the support from passers-by was overwhelming amid a strong police presence. Some of the officers were smiling at them, she said. After his first venture in civil disobedience, David said he would be honored to be arrested again if asked by the right people and for the right reasons.
“What (Trump) is failing to appreciate is how we are a country that is really built on the immigrant experience and the refugee experience — almost everyone in this country, in their family history, has that experience that informs them,” he said. “In doing what he does he really is acting against our collective history, our personal histories and against American values in the 21st century.
“We all have a part to play,” he said. “We all have an obligation both to understand and find our place in the ongoing work to ensure justice in our society.”
Members of David’s congregation at B’nai Israel all used the same word to describe their sentiments on the matter: proud. “As co-president of congregation B’nai Israel, I am immensely proud that our Rabbi, Justin David, chose to ‘pray with his feet,’” Max Page said. “Jews, who well know the destructive human impact of discrimination based on religious identity, and the immorality of refugee restrictions, have a special obligation to speak out on the anti-Muslim ban put forward by this administration.”
“We’re very proud of him,” said Mordechai Kamel, a member of the congregation’s board. “It’s in the finest tradition of Jewish ethics, to protest evil where it is and to pray with your feet.”
Diane Palladino said David’s actions are in line with Jewish teachings.
“He has really taken up the mantle of leaderhsip in this area, and I’m very proud of him,” she said.
“To have our religious leader out front is a beacon for us all. I am profoundly moved,” said Pamela Schwartz, a member of the congregation. “It’s a proud moment for our whole community. We can all take pride in our rabbi’s leadership.”
Amanda Drane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.