On Tuesday, June 21, across from Baxter Pond, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, a prominent Jewish social justice organization, led one of many nationwide vigils in denunciation of Trump’s anti-immigration policy. Alarmed by Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim agenda, this Jewish organization invited anyone in the community opposed to his proposals to unite in a national day of action, the “Vigil Against Violence.” The group recognized the 52nd anniversary of the murder of two white Jewish men, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner, and one black Christian man, James Chaney—three civil rights activists killed for registering black voters in Mississippi.
“Their deaths galvanized the nation to build the Civil Rights movement that marched in Selma in 1965, and pushed Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act,” said Jeanette Walowitz, a member of the Volunteer Leadership Team for the New York Chapter of the organization. She emphasized the role that Jews played in an interfaith Civil Rights movement, having worked alongside African-American leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.
As the sun began to set, Jews from Port Washington and neighboring communities, representing many ages and synagogues, recited Jewish prayers used to commemorate the deceased and to pray for peace, and also lit yahrzeit (or memorial) candles. To honor the slain Freedom Riders’ dedication and legacy, the group pledged to promote this generation’s fight against exclusion, hate, violence, racism and subjugation. Fellow member of the Volunteer Leadership Team of the New York Chapter, Solomon Hoffman, also delivered a speech to underscore the network’s mission.
“Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again,” said Hoffman. “What he really means is that he wants to take us back to that time of political violence and widespread racial hatred. Today, we say, ‘We’ve seen it before, and we will not stand for it again.’ This concept is fundamental to our history as a Jewish people and in the teachings of our traditions.”
Hoffman alluded to enslavement, exile and religious suppression—struggles that recur throughout Jewish history. For example, Hoffman referred to the United States’ rejection of Jewish refugees escaping Hitler’s genocidal regime.
“We take this history and we say, ‘Never again,’” said Hoffman. “We will stand up for an America where all citizens are respected and valued, regardless of their religion, race or ethnicity.” Invoking a Jewish teaching to love the stranger as oneself, Hoffman continued, “I want to take a moment to think of the Muslim community in America not as strangers among us, but as fellow Americans. There’s a parallel narrative to Jews, who sought refuge in this country. So when Trump calls for a ban of all Muslims entering the country, when he calls for surveillance of mosques, when he suggests that all Muslims should be registered in a database, we must stand up to these calls as both Jews and Americans, and say, ‘We have seen this before, and we reject this hate, and we reject this racism, and this is not the country we want to live in.’ ”