Their defiance goes far beyond a hashtag. Since Trump took office, liberal Jews have joined and organized protests against the Trump administration, and specifically, its controversial immigration policies. And it is their adherence to their faith and their past — not any kind of “disloyalty” to it — that they say motivates them to stand in opposition to Trump.
As the Trump administration separates migrant children from their families and detains adults in squalid facilities, some Jews see echoes of their own tragic past.
“Jews of my generation grew up with just the Holocaust as the defining aspect of the way we look at our Judaism and the Jewish experience of the last century,” explained Elad Nehorai, the 34-year-old executive director of Torah Trumps Hate, a group for Orthodox Jews who oppose the president’s policies. “One of the things that we were taught is that we should not allow any of that to happen again. Many of us took it extremely seriously."
So integral is the Holocaust to the identity of American Jews that nearly three-quarters of them say that remembering the genocide is an essential part of being Jewish, according to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center.
One of the most vocal Jewish groups opposing the president’s immigration policy didn’t exist three months ago. Never Again Action, a grass-roots organization made up of a young network of volunteers that directly invokes the Holocaust in its name, say they have held over 30 protests across the country, many of which are organized through Facebook groups. On Twitter, Never Again Action already has over 55,000 followers whom it serves with videos of its protests and frequent condemnations of the president.
The network sprung from a spontaneous call to action that eventually led to a 200-person protest outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in New Jersey in late June, during which 36 protesters were arrested, NJ.com reported. The group clashed with ICE again during an August protest outside a privately operated Rhode Island prison that worked with the agency, when a viral video captured a prison guard driving a truck into a group of Never Again Action protesters.
Mallory Harris, 23, joined Never Again Action as an Atlanta-based organizer after seeing videos of their protests on social media. She told The Washington Post that she had never formally organized before but wanted to combine her faith with her desire for activism.
“I went to Jewish day school, and we had a class called Jewish history, where we specifically talked about [the Holocaust] throughout, but we also talked about Japanese internment, the way that governments demonize a group and launch violence against them,” she said. “It’s always been part of my upbringing and education that these are the patterns that allow these things to happen.”
In addition to Jewish history, the religion also teaches that “it is our obligation to care for the stranger,” said Stosh Cotler, chief executive of activist group Bend the Arc. “We have many teachings about creating systems of justice and equality for immigrants and people who are migrating.”
In recent weeks, Jewish activists and their allies in the immigration reform and social justice movements have protested outside of the government’s detention centers for undocumented immigrants, blocked roads leading to the Department of Homeland Security, waved signs outside the White House, and staged sit-ins at Manhattan bookstores. On Twitter, the #JewsAgainstICE hashtag is populated with videos of these protests, several of which have gone viral. Many protesters have demanded that the administration “Close the Camps,” a rallying cry that links Trump’s detention policies to the Nazis’ concentration camps.
On Aug. 11, several Jewish activist groups and allied organizations held protests to coincide with the holiday Tisha B’Av, a somber day that commemorates the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem and the beginning of the Jewish diaspora. Established organizations including Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Bend the Arc, and the human rights organization T’ruah, as well as more nascent groups like Never Again Action, demonstrated from Los Angeles to Boston to protest ICE and its treatment of migrants. Police arrested several of the protesters who attended a sit-in at an Amazon bookstore in Manhattan to demand the company cut ties with ICE. (Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.)
Some American Jews have defended the president this week. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) tweeted Wednesday that Trump “loves the Jewish people & the US-Israel alliance” as evidenced by his decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and his opposition of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The Republican Jewish Coalition tried to explain Trump’s remarks, tweeting, “We take the President seriously, not literally. President Trump is pointing out the obvious: for those who care about Israel, the position of many elected Democrats has become anti-Israel.”
But a vast majority of American Jews vote for Democrats. They overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton over Trump in the 2016 presidential election, and 79 percent of Jewish voters backed Democrats in the 2018 midterms, according to the Pew Research Center. And many of them are furious with the current administration.
“Under Trump, the stakes have shifted and changed and are greater,” said Audrey Sasson, executive director of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), which participated in the sit-in. The New York City-based activist group collaborated with other progressive organizations to protest issues such as police brutality for several years. Sasson said JFREJ has seen an uptick in interest during Trump’s presidency, with more individuals becoming dues-paying members and events at the organization’s small Midtown headquarters frequently exceeding capacity.
“We’re bursting at the seams right now,” she said.