Tisha B’Av Immigration Service כָּל֨וּ בַדְּמָע֤וֹת עֵינַי֙ חֳמַרְמְר֣וּ מֵעַ֔י
Rabbi Michael Knopf’s opening remarks at the Tisha B’Av “Witness and Lament” interfaith vigil to lament the treatment of immigrants. He is the Rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Richmond, Virginia and a board member of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, which co-sponsored the vigil.
More than 300 people of all faiths participated in the vigil in front of the Synagogue on August 11, 2019.
Read Style Weekly cover story: Style Weekly 8 13 19 Tisha B’Av Interfaith Vigil Unsettling Parallels
RABBI KNOPF REMARKS:
כָּל֨וּ בַדְּמָע֤וֹת עֵינַי֙ חֳמַרְמְר֣וּ מֵעַ֔י
“My eyes are spent with tears, my heart is in tumult.”
These are the words of the biblical book of Lamentations, traditionally believed to have been authored by the prophet Jeremiah, describing the Jewish people’s anguish when, in ancient times, conquering tyrants destroyed our Temple, laid Jerusalem in ruins, and forced our people into exile.
For over two-thousand years, Jewish people have recalled those laments on this day, Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av. On Tisha B’Av, we gather as mourners —fasting, chanting lamentations, singing dirges and elegies — not so much in grief for what has been lost, but rather in anguish over what has not yet been rebuilt. The destroyed city of Jerusalem is the Jewish tradition’s symbol for a world yet unredeemed. We observe Tisha B’Av because millions upon millions of people in our world — our brothers and sisters in our great human family — continue to suffer exile, torment and oppression.
“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither. Let my tongue cleave to my palate if I don’t remember you, if I don’t place Jerusalem above my highest joy.” (Psalm 137:5-6)
We hold the recognition of our world’s brokenness before us, and we are urged to keep it there, obscuring, even if only a little bit, our privilege, our comfort, and our joy, because none of us can be truly free until all are free, because my liberation is bound up in yours, because, as Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” So we grieve today, because our grief reminds us that our work is not yet completed, that our broken world is not yet repaired, and that we are called upon to pursue justice for all, to champion the stranger, to protect the vulnerable, to free the bound from their chains, and to frustrate the designs of all would-be oppressors.
That is why we are here today. This year, Tisha B’Av, a day that reminds Jewish people that we descend from immigrants and refugees, a day that reminds us that we inhabit a broken world, a day that reminds us that hatred and injustice lies at the heart of our disrepair, falls against the backdrop of a profound moral crisis in our country:
As we speak, children are separated from parents and locked in cages. Asylum seekers and refugees are turned away and sent back to their pursuers or crammed by the thousands into inhumane detention camps in our country. Entire communities are gripped with the fear of mass deportation. Even American citizens are detained and given deportation orders because of the color of their skin.
And now — this state-sanctioned bigotry has inspired hate-filled individuals, individuals with easy access to the deadliest weapons of war, to attack, maim, and kill innocents. These injustices, unprecedented in their scope and cruelty, are being perpetrated in broad daylight, as a matter of policy, in our name, enacted by cruel officials, endorsed by hard-hearted leaders, and enabled by widespread silence.
But we refuse to be silent. As the Book of Lamentations says:
ק֣וּמִי ׀ רֹ֣נִּי בליל [בַלַּ֗יְלָה] לְרֹאשׁ֙ אַשְׁמֻר֔וֹת שִׁפְכִ֤י כַמַּ֙יִם֙ לִבֵּ֔ךְ נֹ֖כַח פְּנֵ֣י אֲדֹנָ֑י שְׂאִ֧י אֵלָ֣יו כַּפַּ֗יִךְ עַל־נֶ֙פֶשׁ֙ עֽוֹלָלַ֔יִךְ הָעֲטוּפִ֥ים בְּרָעָ֖ב בְּרֹ֥אשׁ כָּל־חוּצֽוֹת׃ (ס)
Arise, cry out in the night At the beginning of the watches, Pour out your heart like water In the presence of the Lord! Lift up your hands to Him For the life of your infants, who faint for hunger at every street corner.
We are here to cry out together. We are here to pour out our hearts like water together. We are here to lift up our hands to testify about the desperate parents who have been torn from their babies, and about the uninhabitable detention centers crammed with children. We are here to bear witness that the wealthiest country on earth callously shuts its doors to people fleeing disaster, poverty, violence, and persecution. We are here to bear witness to a government that criminalizes the most vulnerable and tries to dehumanize migrants and asylum seekers through criminalizing them. We are here to insist that immoral practices cannot be justified simply because they are legal, and indeed that unjust laws must be altogether uprooted and replaced with a more moral code.
We are here, ultimately, in the spirit of this day, to lament:
We lament inhumane immigration policy
We lament family separations
We lament family detention
We lament denying asylum
We lament the ending of temporary protected status
We lament Muslim bans
We lament refugee bans
We lament for-profit detention
We lament inhumane conditions and widespread abuse in detention centers
We lament vilifying immigrants, criminalizing immigration, and targeting immigrant communities
We lament cruelty masquerading as law
We lament injustice.
Before I turn the microphone over to some dear friends and allies, I want to acknowledge that virtually everything I just said, I also said when we gathered together a year ago today. I am sad, and frustrated, and angry that, in a year’s time, little has changed. If anything, the situation that we lamented together last year is even worse today. In such a time as this, it is tempting to give into despair. It is tempting to accept defeat and retreat into silence. Why continue to speak out?
Many centuries ago, the ancient rabbis told the following story: A man once stood at the entrance of Sodom crying out against the injustice and evil in that city. Day after day, year after year, he railed against the abuses being perpetrated there. One day, someone passed by and said to him, “For years you have been urging the people to repent, and yet no one has changed. Why do you continue?” He responded: “In the beginning, I protested because I hoped to change them. Now I continue to protest and cry out, so that they do not change me.”
My friends, let us continue to speak out. Let us continue to march forward. Let us continue to demand justice. We may, in the end, not change them. But, at the very least, we will not allow them to change us.