Jewish activists gather at Greenfield jail in response to ICE detentions

  • —photo courtesy of Rabbi Riqi Kosovske.

  •  Rabbi Kaya Stern-Kaufman chanting Lamentations. —photo courtesy of Rabbi Riqi Kosovske.

  • ”And you shall love the immigrant” sign held by Nili Simhai. — photo courtesy of Rabbi Riqi Kosovske.

Staff Writer
Published: 8/11/2019 11:45:56 PM

GREENFIELD — Gathered in a circle in front of the Franklin County Jail and House of Correction on Sunday morning, around 150 people, mainly Jews from throughout the Pioneer Valley, listened to the story of a 19-month-old girl from Guatemala who died after being in Immigrations and Customs Enforcement custody.

While the jail doesn’t house children like Mariee Juarez, it does have 90 beds available for ICE to hold undocumented immigrants involved in alleged criminal activity and facing deportation.

For activists interested in taking action against what they view as the Trump administration’s creation of a humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, placing people in detention centers and what they refer to as concentration camps, the jail is the nearest site to stage a reflection.

“It’s an important target for prayer, even though people aren’t being mistreated there,” said Rabbi David Seidenberg, who leads Prayground Minyan in Northampton, which helped sponsor Sunday’s action with BeitAhavah, the Reform Synagogue of Greater Northampton.

The event in Greenfield was part of Tisha B’Av, an annual fast day in Judaism, which has come in recent years to focus on the plight of refugees. It was one of 40 to 50 similar actions taking place across the country organized by T’ruah, an organization of rabbis supporting human rights issues that has launched a #CloseTheCamps campaign.

During the event, few signs were being held, no slogans were chanted and no one spoke from a podium. Instead, people read excerpts from “The Diary of Anne Frank,” read testimony from the mother of Mariee Juarez, who died in May 2018, and chanted a liturgical poem that took its chorus from writings that survived the Warsaw Ghetto: “And in truth, it is amazing that the world is still standing after so many cries for help such as these.”

Seidenberg said he feels that the government’s attempt to make crossing the border to seek asylum a criminal activity is a “crime against humanity" and that the atrocities being committed in the detention centers and can be viewed as similar to what occurred in early Nazi Germany.

“A lot of people see this through the same lens as to what led up to the Holocaust,” Seidenberg said.

The action concluded with the Kaddish prayer for mourners that is a traditional end of a Jewish service, and also saw Rabbi Justin David of Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton blowing the shofar that, in this case, symbolizes a wake-up call and an alarm.

​​​​Seidenberg said there is clearly a growing concern for area residents about what is happening, noting a similar vigil at the jail on Tisha B’Av in 2018 drew 30 to 40 people, even with limited advance notice.

“This time we got 150 people,” Seidenberg said. “People really feel called to speak out on this issue.”

During the event, people also heard from Dina Friedman of Hadley, who in June visited a now-closed detention facility for migrant children in Homestead, Florida, with the Western Mass Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice, and Rabbi Riqi Kosovske of BeitAhavah.

Before the event concluded, Seidenberg all people who have taken actions to directly help refugees and immigrants to identify themselves so everyone else could bless them. Then he asked those who had just received a blessing to bless the crowd to be given courage and to find the right way to become more involved “and for all of us, that our actions should lead to the world we were hoping for and praying for.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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