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Never Again Is Now: Jewish Memory in Action

We Jews do not just have a history of migration -- we remember being a refugee. We remember Abraham, our patriarch, leaving his country and his family to find a new land to practice his own faith. We remember the Israelites leaving every land they ever inhabited: Canaan, Egypt, the Land of Israel. We remember them fleeing from famine, from pharaohs, from autocratic rulers. We remember our Spanish ancestors escaping the Inquisition. And, of course, we remember our European parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents trying to evade the Nazis, only to be met with blockades and quotas. These are the memories of Jews. These are the memories of refugees. These are our memories.

This Jewish, refugee memory led me, along with 200 Jewish and other individuals concerned about immigration, to the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building on Tuesday morning, July 9. This action was one of many occurring around the country entitled “Never Again Is Now” -- a reference to the Jewish memory of refugee, resettlement, and encampment that we have promised would never happen again, yet believe we are seeing at the U.S. southern border.

I walked into a sea of recent college graduates and young professionals. Gray hair was few and far between. This was a Jewish event led and overwhelmingly attended by millennials. A generation often reprimanded for not joining and being Jewishly apathetic filled this room with protests of Jewish memory and words of Jewish prayer.

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Photo by: Rabbi Eliana Fischel

I looked into the middle of the crowd and found 18 individuals dressed in white. These were the protesters who volunteered to lead our group on the front line. The rest of us were told to follow directions and leave when told. I looked a little closer and realized one face was familiar -- a former camper and staff member from my days at URJ Eisner Camp. She wore white and stood stoically for her leadership role in the protest. She saw me and smiled. I blew her a kiss and she blew one back. We were far from the camp quad in the Berkshires, but I was, yet again, so proud of the work she was doing. 

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Photo by: Rabbi Eliana Fischel

There were chants of “Never Again” and rounds of “Oseh Shalom.” Police quickly dispersed the larger crowd. We watched from the balcony as they arrested the 18 young and vibrant volunteers dressed in white. I became teary as each protestor was escorted, one at a time, from the rotunda. Each one of them has their own Jewish memories, their own understanding of what a refugee memory means to them. Yet each came to the same conclusion: never again means never again. Never again means putting themselves on the line so that others’ stories can be told and highlighted. Never again means expressing when we believe inhumane practices are being conducted on our soil. Never again means relying on our Jewish memory to ensure that we leave this country and this world a better place than when we found it.

I entered the rotunda on Tuesday morning with Jewish memory on my mind. I left with the Jewish future blazing in front of me. It is hard to find hope when faced with images of detention centers and crying children. Yet, I found hope on Tuesday morning in the faces of these leaders. They are putting our faith into action. They are converting our Jewish memory into Jewish activism. They are working to actualize the words they pray.

Oseh shalom bimromav,
May the one who creates peace on high
Bring peace to us and to all Israel.
And may we discover our role
in bringing that peace
to all the inhabitants of this country.
And when we have acted, may we say: Amen.