Jewish activist group to hold immigrant justice event for High Holy Days

  • All eight members of the Western Mass Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice stand on stepladders outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Homestead, Fla. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/27/2019 5:20:20 PM
Modified: 9/27/2019 5:20:10 PM

NORTHAMPTON — For many Jewish people, the High Holy Days are when they feel closest to their faith. This year, Jewish community leaders and activists in the Pioneer Valley are urging Jews and allies to pray with their feet during this sacred time period.

Western Massachusetts Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice is organizing an immigration justice event for Oct. 6 — the Sunday between the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur — that will be part protest, part ritual and part rally. 

“They’ve really taken the lead,” Rabbi Riqi Kosovske said of the activist organization.

The event, which is part of a series of actions associated with the national progressive organization Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, has the support of Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton, Beit Ahavah in Florence, the Jewish Community of Amherst, and Temple Israel in Greenfield.

“We’ve very much tried to develop it as a Valley-wide action,” said Alice Levine, a founder of the group.

How immigrants are being treated in this country “is just deplorable,” said Kosovske, the rabbi at Beit Ahavah.

Both she and Levine also connected the Jewish experience with the immigrant experience.

The rabbi noted that Jews have been refugees multiple times in their history and that many Jews died in the Holocaust because they were unable to immigrate to the United States.

“We have been enslaved, we have been thrown out of countries, we have been killed,” Levine said.

Participants will gather in Pulaski Park at 4 p.m. to march to the boat launch on the Northampton side of the Coolidge Bridge; marchers also can join up at 4:30 p.m. at Sheldon Field. Those coming from the Hadley area will gather at 4 p.m. and march over from the corner of Railroad Street and West Street.

At the boat launch, Jewish and non-Jewish participants alike will be invited to participate in a variation of the Rosh Hashanah ritual of Tashlich. While many Jews perform Tashlich by tossing bread crumbs into running bodies of water to represent their sins, in the Oct. 6 observance participants will throw stones into the Connecticut River.

This gesture will represent both a rejection of the federal government’s treatment of immigrants and of personal complacency in those actions. 

“We can be doing so much more,” said Kosovske, who will be leading the ritual.

The event will feature a number of speakers, including Holocaust survivor Henia Lewis, ACLU Massachusetts Immigrant Protection Project Coordinator Javier Luengo-Garrido and Western Massachusetts Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice member Dina Friedman, who will share her experience of visiting the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Florida.

The Jewish activist organization formed right before its members went to Homestead to protest at the detention center. Since that time, the children and teenagers that were held at the site have been moved, and the group has been following up on their fate.

“There is no transparency,” Levine said.

In addition to educating and mobilizing the local Jewish community around immigration issues and working with national groups, Levine said the activist organization is also advocating for local and state legislation that impacts immigration and family separation. One such piece of legislation is a state law that would make driver’s licenses available for undocumented residents.

The group is also asking local rabbis to incorporate messages of immigration justice into their Rosh Hashanah services, and Kosovske said she tries to talk about immigration rights every year in hers.

“It’s always a major concern for me,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at

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