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How Desolate Lie Our Borders

For the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, JCUA co-sponsored a vigil outside an ICE detention center in Kankakee, Illinois. Three hundred Jews, immigrants and allies joined us to bear witness to the unspeakable suffering thousands of immigrant families face.

Jonathan Elbaz
Aug 12, 2019 · 4 min read
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Tisha B’Av is often considered the most somber day on the Jewish calendar. It’s the day we mourn the destruction of the holy temples of ancient Jerusalem. It’s the day we recount the tragedies Jews have experienced throughout our history: demonization, eviction, pogroms and genocide. It’s the day we reflect on the corrosive power of sinat chinam, baseless hatred, which animates our worst tendencies as individuals and nations.

We are a nation that hunts down, detains and deports immigrants. We are a nation that separates families, cages children and turns away asylum seekers. Our baseless hatred has metastasized.

To bring attention to this widespread suffering, JCUA and a coalition of Jewish and immigrant justice organizations co-sponsored a vigil, How Desolate Lie Our Borders,” outside the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee, Illinois. We took action because we believe it’s not enough for Jews to spend Tisha B’Av reflecting on our own suffering, but that we must also channel our collective resolve to confront the tragedies unfolding across our country.

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Vigil organizer Brant Rosen presenting an original reading

Our vigil in Kankakee was one of 50 similar events nationwide, as Jews spent the weekend demonstrating outside ICE offices, protesting ICE corporate partners, marching through urban centers, and risking arrest. Three hundred Jews in Kankakee and thousands more across the United State were united and forceful in our call to #CloseTheCamps.

JCUA member Rabbi Suzanne Griffel, who helped organize the vigil, said it was essential for Jews to tie our own rituals and experience with today’s immigration crisis. “On Tisha B’Av, Jews mourn the destruction of the temples in ancient Jerusalem — a tragedy that sent us into exile for 2,000 years. Throughout our history, Jews have sought out homes where we could escape violence and persecution. We see ourselves in the stories and struggles of thousands of immigrants today, many of whom have fled their home countries because the living conditions were intolerable. It’s imperative that we connect our history and experience to the current immigration crisis, and that we stand with immigrant communities in Illinois and across the United States.”

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Rabbi Suzanne Griffel leading the vigil in prayer

The vigil was organized in five parts, mirroring the five chapters of the biblical Book of Lamentations (Eicha). For each part, we chanted verses from Lamentations, then listened to the testimony of individuals suffering from cruel and unjust immigration policies. We also learned about the work advocacy organizations are undertaking, such as Connect Kankakee, a local group pushing Kankakee County to end its cooperation with ICE and working to prevent a proposed expansion of the Jerome Combs Detention Center.

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The event was co-sponsored by a broad coalition of Jewish and immigrant justice organizations, including T’ruah — Chicago, Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants, Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America, Connect Kankakee, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, National Council of Jewish Women, RAC-IL, #IfNotNow — Chicago, Jewish Voice for Peace — Chicago, J Street — Chicago, HIAS Immigration & Citizenship/JCFS Chicago, Avodah — Chicago, and Bend the Arc — Champaign Urbana.

Our work continues. If you feel inspired to pursue a more just and equitable Chicago, join us. Learn more about JCUA here, and become a member today.

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Jewish Council on Urban Affairs

JCUA is the Jewish voice for social justice in Chicago.

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