CCAR members and clergy from other faiths were in El Paso, Texas July 28-29th for two days in support of Moral Mondays at the Borderlands. We have invited them to share their experiences in a short series on RavBlog.
We squinted as we stepped down from the buses that brought us to the detention facility and ICE processing center. The sun was blazing and the temperature was near 100. We had landed in what looked like an extremely large, brown, barren field, but barbed wire and walls bordered it. We saw these signs:
RAC staffers had brought posters for us, and there were so many extra that we started offering them to our fellow marchers, some of whom wore crosses around their necks and scarves over their hair. There were smiles all around as the message from texts we all honor was given and received. As we began to march to the main gate of the detention facility, several of us fell into step directly behind the Reverend Barber, resplendent in his red robes, our own Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Imam Omar Suleiman and the other clergy leaders. (We so completely filled the spaces right behind their heads with our RAC signs – Do Justice, Love Mercy, March Proudly, Reform Jews Welcome Immigrants – that, seeing photographs later, Rick said it looked like a URJ rally. That made us smile.)
Finally, we arrived at the main gate which had been closed and locked against our arrival. Some detainees inside had begun a hunger strike that day. Reverend Barber motioned all the clergy forward and, speaking into the intercom, trying to touch hearts within the walls, called on those inside with the power to do so to allow us in to minister to those who were suffering. There was no response. Rabbi Jacobs tried, then Imam Omar Suleiman, then Reverend Teresa Hord Owens and Reverend Dr. Robin Tanner.
Silence. For that day, at least, there was no touching of hearts, no opportunity for connection, at least not with the souls held captive inside. As a large contingent of police cars began to converge on the area, we stepped back and silently moved away. We did not come to fight with anyone. We did not seek “glory” in arrest. We came only to witness and, if given the chance, to offer solace. As Reverend Barber had taught us earlier that day: “We don’t come to be arrested, we come to arrest the attention of the nation.” — Reverend William Barber, July 2019
Rabbi Kim S. Geringer is an Adjunct instructor in Professional Development, Rabbinic Supervision at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.