‘To be truly safe, we need our community’: Jewish groups rally in Northampton for immigration justice

  • Javier Luengo-Garrido, a longtime advocate for immigrants’ rights and deputy director of the Yes on Question 4 campaign to offer driving licenses regardless of immigration status, speaks at an outdoor rally for immigration justice at the Connecticut River Greenway State Park on Damon Road in Northampton, Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/BRIAN STEELE

  • Jewish leaders and their congregations came together Sunday in Northampton to show their support for the local immigrant community. More than 50 people attended an hour-long outdoor rally for immigration justice at the Connecticut River Greenway State Park on Damon Road on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/BRIAN STEELE

  • Participants in a traditional tashlich ceremony — meaning the “casting off” of sins and negativity — throw stones into the river at an outdoor rally for immigration justice at the Connecticut River Greenway State Park on Damon Road in Northampton on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/BRIAN STEELE

  • Marie Ange Laroche, a Haitian immigrant and case manager for Jewish Family Services of Western MA, speaks at an outdoor rally for immigration justice at the Connecticut River Greenway State Park on Damon Road in Northampton on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/BRIAN STEELE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/2/2022 10:24:45 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Jewish leaders and their congregations came together Sunday to show support and respect for the local immigrant community at a time when those who are fleeing violence and oppression in their homelands are struggling to find acceptance in many parts of the country.

More than 50 people attended an hour-long “Securing Safety” rally for immigration justice at the Connecticut River Greenway State Park on Damon Road. Dina Friedman, a member of Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice of Western Massachusetts, led a program of speakers who urged a kinder approach.

“To be truly safe, we need our community. We need everyone,” Friedman said. “I’m not just talking about people here. I’m talking about people in the world who we care about, whose lives touch us just because we’re part of the community of humanity.”

In 2019, members of the activist group visited a Florida camp for children who were separated from their parents during the immigration process, and traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas.

“We heard stories that would make you weep about why people left their homes,” Friedman said. “We were sitting and eating with people in the refugee camps and a woman said to one of our members, ‘I didn’t leave when they threatened to kill me. I left when they threatened to kill my child.’”

She said anti-immigrant sentiment exists now as it did during the Holocaust, when many Americans felt compelled to help European Jews in any way possible except by allowing them safe passage into the U.S.

“They felt like they could be sympathetic, they could send money or support, but they didn’t want more immigrants to come here,” Friedman said, even though those fleeing oppression and ultimately death camps were trying to “lead a life of safety and security for themselves and their families.”

Friedman and others noted that animus against immigrants even has a negative impact on those who came to the U.S. decades ago and built successful lives. They said such a person is still under constant pressure from political actors who want to limit their rights and force them to repeatedly show documentation to authorities.

Driver’s licenses

Javier Luengo-Garrido, a longtime advocate for immigrant rights, urged voters to pass Question 4 on the November ballot, which would guarantee that Massachusetts residents can receive a driver’s license regardless of their immigration status. He is deputy director of the Yes on Question 4 campaign.

“We don’t need to forget that Trump had more than a million votes in Massachusetts” in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, he said. “We need help. We need you canvassing. We need you informing your neighbors. We need you in the streets to pass this. If this law gets voted down, there is no way that the legislators handle it again.”

He said that Question 4 will be printed on the back of the ballot and urged voters to make sure they don’t miss it.

Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener of Temple Israel in Greenfield said that God commands people to love each other and, “If God is one, we are all one.” Marie Ange Laroche, a Haitian immigrant and case manager for Jewish Family Services of Western MA, urged attendees to volunteer their time, services and homes to immigrants and refugees.

Toby Bobbit, a member of the First Church of Amherst, a congregation of the United Church of Christ, told the story of Lucio Perez, a Guatemalan immigrant who now lives in Springfield. Perez took sanctuary at the First Congregational Church for more than three years while living under a deportation order, starting in October 2017, with the help of an interfaith network.

Perez left the church in March 2021 when he was granted a stay of removal from the U.S.

“It is God’s desire that we share love with everyone. Even ICE officers, I must say,” Bobbit said, referring to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents whom critics frequently accuse of being heavy-handed. “God’s word, the source of love, is available for all people, even the outcasts. Even the ones that we least understand.”

The rally was held between the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, times of self-reflection and renewing commitment to one’s values.

Rabbi Riqi Kosovske of Beit Ahavah, the Reform Synagogue of Greater Northampton, led a traditional tashlich ceremony — meaning “casting off” — while her husband, David Seidenberg, held a sign bearing a scripture that calls on Jewish people to accept strangers. The tashlich is when observant Jews cast stones into water to symbolize letting go of their sins; Kosovske asked participants to put “positive energy into the water” as well.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.

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