My Rabbi Was Arrested For Protesting On Capitol Hill, And He Has No Regrets

"It felt deeply holy and religious as an experience."

Throughout the day on Wednesday, I saw news reports break about a group of protesters being arrested on Capitol Hill. Early Wednesday evening, I found out I knew one of them.

Close to 100 Jewish activists — many from the group Bend the Arc Jewish Action — poured into the Russel Rotunda Senate building in song and solidarity on Wednesday morning. They were protesting the potential end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA), an Obama-era immigration policy that exempted minors brought to the United States illegally as children from deportation.

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One of those protesters was Rabbi Mike Moskowitz, a senior educator at the Orthodox Social Justice group Uri L'Tzedek. Moskowitz, who has been a guest on my show, A Grain Of Saul, and featured in stories I have written, was also the rabbi at a synagogue I attend for Friday night Shabbat services. (He has since moved.) I've known about his activism and watched as he faced challenges from other religious Jews for his support of the LGBT community, but was surprised to learn that he was one of the protesters that I had read about. So I picked up the phone to call him.

Why did he attend this particular protest?

"This country has provided a phenomenal life experience for me and I'm so grateful for this country," Moskowitz explained. "Thinking about the America that I want my grandchildren and children to live in, I want to be able to pay it forward."

But for Moskowitz and many of the other Jewish protesters arrested in Washington D.C. today, the motivation went well beyond personal life experiences. According to Moskowitz, the group of protesters included Jews of color, members of the LGBT community, Orthodox Jews and reformist Jews, people with physical disabilities and people with both far-right and far-left political ideologies. There was a 60-year difference between the oldest and youngest participant. 

"When we relegate people to this shell of the color of their skin and the place of their birth, it removes space to see the soul at its most dominant expression, and I find it deeply offensive," Moskowitz told me. "So today, I got arrested to show in solidarity that the most pronounced identity of a human being is that of being created in the image of God."

Moskowitz was released by 4 p.m. and received a $50 ticket. 

For the last week, conversations about immigration have been the dominant topic on Capitol Hill. Republican and Democrat lawmakers are trying to draft legislation that President Donald Trump will sign to both codify DACA protections into law and provide border security simultaneously. The president initially signaled that he would sign any bill the bipartisan group came up with, but backpedaled on that agreement when the group approached him with a bill that provided a fraction of the money he requested for a border wall. Then, over the weekend, negotiations were thrown into a tailspin when reports broke that the president used the word "shithole" to describe Haiti and African countries. (The president has denied that he used that word, saying that he used "tough language.")

Now, activists and lawmakers are concerned a deal to protected the so-called DREAMers will not be complete before this legislative session ends, and many politicians have expressed a willingness to shut down the government by blocking a spending bill if no deal on DACA is formed. Protections for the nearly 800,000 immigrants will expire on March 5.

"These children that came here are now just as American as the rest of us," Moskowitz told me. "It's so deeply offensive and unholy and ungodly to break up families and deport people exclusively because of the fact that they are different."

A live video of the protests, which included song and prayer, has already received over 300,000 views and was featured in a live segment on MSNBC. Moskowitz said that the Capitol Police, who arrested all 82 protesters one-by-one, were incredibly kind. Some, he said, actually thanked the protesters for being there.

"It felt deeply holy and religious as an experience," Moskowitz said. "There was a solidarity, a unity... deep within our tradition to have love for the stranger, and we need to put it into action right now."

Cover photo: Courtesy of Bend the Arc Jewish Action Facebook Page 

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