Northampton rabbi to be honored as a ‘human rights hero’

  • Northampton Rabbi Justin David was arrested in February after a protest in front of Trump International Hotel. Submitted photo

Published: 11/17/2017 8:48:33 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A city rabbi known for taking risks in the name of social justice will be nationally recognized next year as a “human rights hero.”

Rabbi Justin David of Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton, who was arrested twice this year during protests in New York City and Springfield, has been selected to receive the Rabbinic Human Rights Hero Award by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

T’ruah is a network of 1,800 rabbis and cantors from all streams of Judaism that work to protect and expand human rights in North America, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The award honors rabbis who demonstrate extraordinary commitment and dedication to a leadership focused on human rights work, according to T’ruah.

“This award is really, tremendously, humbling,” David said, adding that he has been strongly supported by the Congregation B’nai Israel. “I derive so much of my strength and wisdom from the community.”

The award will be presented on May 8, 2018, at the gala of T’ruah in New York City.

David was arrested in February outside the Trump International Hotel in New York City when he was protesting President Donald Trump’s effort to ban travelers from six predominantly Muslim nations. David, charged with disorderly conduct, was one of 19 rabbis arrested and part of a 200-person action organized by T’ruah.

He knew the risk he was taking, David said, and it wasn’t a decision he took lightly.

“I wasn’t sure at first,” David said, adding that he questioned himself. Am I the right person and is this the right time? he remembers asking. But he spoke with his family, and the congregation, and found many to be supportive of him, including some offering to pay his bail.

Last month, David took another risk.

Along with 17 other demonstrators, David blocked the doors to the Department of Department of Homeland Security office in Springfield, calling for Lucio Perez — a Springfield resident and native of Guatemala — be granted a stay of deportation. David was arrested for trespassing.

But is risking arrest worth it? David says yes.

February’s demonstration in New York City created an emotional change for the community with the sight of 19 rabbis getting arrest and 200 rabbis gathered around them, he said.

“It was a real source of encouragement for the people in the Jewish community,” David said.

At the protest in Springfield, the moment and arrest led some local politicians to take notice, David said. Perez is now staying at the First Congregational Church of Amherst, which will provide him sanctuary for as long as necessary.

“Rabbi David has been a longstanding voice for justice and human dignity across every sector of our city and region,” Mayor David Narkewicz said in a statement. “We are thrilled to share in the pride and celebration for this much deserved recognition.”

David has led Congregation B’nai Israel for 16 years and has been an advocate for a range of social justice issues, one of which includes leading the congregation in becoming a sanctuary synagogue. The congregation is now discussing the option of offering physical sanctuary to undocumented immigrants, he said.

He also led the initiative to start a garden which bigger and us now Abundance Farm. It provides produce to the Northampton Survival Center.

Max Page, co-president of the congregation, said they are thrilled for David, adding that he is an important figure for the community.

“He’s defining what a rabbi should be,” Page said.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at
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