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Statement on Violence Against Jewish Protesters at ICE Detention Center

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Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association condemn the violence committed against peaceful protestors at the entrance to an ICE detention center in Rhode Island.  

We wish to express our full support for the non-violent tactics and moral message of the #NeverAgainIsNow Rhode Island Tisha B’Av action. We are proud of our RRA rabbi participants, Rabbi Alex Weissman and Rabbi Adam Lavitt, as well as all the organizers and protestors for their courage to resist the detention and mistreatment of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Now is the time to overcome the inertia of silence in the face of these ongoing human rights abuses.  

We denounce the actions of the employees of the for-profit Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility, which contracts with ICE, both for driving a truck into the protesters and for aggressively dispersing them with pepper spray.  We welcome the Attorney General and state police’s investigation into this violence.  We pray for a refu’ah shlaymah — full and complete healing — for the three people hospitalized for severe pepper spray exposure and the two hospitalized after being hit by the truck.  

For many of us, the images and video from last night’s protest echo our lingering fear and hurt following the devastating car attack two years ago in Charlottesville, Va. that killed Heather Heyer and injured many others. In the face of such intimidating violence, we must recommit ourselves to the constitutional protections of free speech and free assembly. These are the cornerstones of our democracy and fundamental rights our society cannot afford to lose.  

As fear increases, so can the capacity for closing our hearts to the suffering of others. We offer you these reflections from Rabbi Alex Weissman (RRC ‘17) as an example of the moral leadership we so desperately need in these times: 

To work in a system that dehumanizes people requires you to close your heart. It was clear these men’s hearts were closed. Their hearts were hardened. For reasons I do not know, they chose violence.

Our country is in a moment of heart hardening. I too felt my heart harden, wanting revenge, wanting to do violence to those that harmed my people. My friends. My dear ones.
This is not the way forward, as tempting as it is.

As we sang again and again tonight, “olam chesed yibaneh” (psalm 89). The world is built on love. We must build this world from love.

Those with hardened hearts will fall.
Justice will come.
Liberation is coming.
It is what God wants.
It is what our ancestors want.
It is what we want.
It.
Will.
Be.