Members of the Jewish community typically observe Tisha B’Av, the annual day of mourning, by fasting, reading from the book of lamentations and going to temple. But on Sunday, more than 250 Jews from the Washington region spent the day under the searing afternoon sun at Lafayette Square, across from the White House, protesting the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
Some came in large groups from their synagogues, sporting matching T-shirts and signs that read “Never Again.” Others, like 87-year old Ann Ingram and her 59-year-old daughter, Julie Ingram, had never observed Tisha B’Av before, but felt compelled to mark the occasion for the first time this year.
They were joined by thousands more across the country who attended similar protests in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and 60 other locations — the latest manifestations of a growing wave of activism among Jews opposed to the Trump administration’s immigration policies, which some argue are reminiscent of the way Jewish people have been treated in the past.
In July, 10 Jewish demonstrators were arrested during a sit-in at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Southwest Washington. On Sunday, dozens of protesters in New York, including some rabbis, were arrested after conducting a prayer service outside the Amazon store in downtown Manhattan to protest what they argue is the tech company’s collaboration with ICE, organizers said.
Authorities asked demonstrators to leave the store and threatened to arrest those who refused, said Sophie Ellman-Golan, a representative of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, one of the organizing groups in New York. Around 5:30 p.m., a bus arrived to transport the 40 or so protesters who chose to stay in the store despite the risk of arrest, she added.
“On this day, to take action against something like this feels particularly poignant,” Ellman-Golan said.
In Washington, Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, started the afternoon event on a somber note: a moment of silence for the victims of the mass shootings in El Paso, Gilroy, Calif., and Dayton, Ohio. Several rabbis then took over, leading religious songs and prayers. The crowd was quiet for most of the event. Demonstrators whispered if they had to talk; many held signs, but looked down at the grass when the rabbis spoke, their heads slightly bowed.
Near the end, however, the tenor of the protest shifted. The microphone at the makeshift pulpit was cut off, causing some confusion. Around the same time, a man wielding a sign advocating for the United States to “bring back Bible to schools” entered the crowd, yelling agitatedly at demonstrators. The man, who later identified himself as 55-year-old Jorge Coronavo, pushed himself toward the stage, blocking the speakers and swinging his sign at demonstrators who came close.
As Coronavo was ushered away by U.S. Secret Service officers, the crowd cheered and returned to their chants of “close the camps!” referring to the detention centers where thousands of undocumented migrants, including children, are being held. The chants grew louder and denser as protesters congregated closer to hear the speakers. Not far away, tourists outside the White House, wearing red Make America Great Again caps, turned away from their cameras and looked toward the commotion.
Representatives from advocacy groups, including Sanctuary DMV and La ColectiVA, called for the federal government to defund ICE, and criticized D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) for not doing more to protect undocumented residents from federal agents.
“We chose today, our traditional day of mourning, to be sad together,” Katz said. “But we also wanted to share our anger, and I think you saw that today. You saw that arc.”
Dressed in white sneakers, jeans and a powder blue sun hat, Ingram, the 87-year-old, stood for the full hour in the center of the crowd, turning down offers from strangers for her to rest.
“What happened in Mississippi was unbelievable. Unbelievable!” she said, referring to the mass raids that were conducted at agricultural processing plants in the state last week, resulting in the arrest of 680 people, many of whom were parents whose children were left alone.
“Can you imagine a child coming home to find her parents have disappeared? I just —” the retiree stamped her walking stick into the ground, shaking her head. She had come to Lafayette Square frequently in the 1960s to protest the Vietnam War, but had not imagined that she would be back here at this age.
“I think a lot of people just don’t really know what to do,” her daughter, Julie Ingram said. “But there’s this sense that we have to do something.”