Passover at a Detention Center


A diverse group of people gathered for social justice seder

Photo from Mele / Northwest Detention Center Resistance Solidarity Seder, courtesy of author

Passover is quintessentially a union story. Some 3,500 years ago, in the middle of the night, 600,000 immigrants downed the tools of their oppression and defiantly walked away from slavery in Egypt. It was the first recorded mass strike in history. And yes, it was an illegal strike!
Given the story and lessons of Passover, it seemed only fitting to celebrate the holiday at the site of today’s most inhumane injustices – to recall past freedom victories while also reminding us of yet-to-be-completed liberation work that requires our collective action.
On April 1, more than 100 Jews and friends gathered outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington to recall the ancient story of liberation and to recommit ourselves to fighting for the rights of today’s Hebrew slaves – immigrants unjustly detained inside places like the for-profit-run Northwest Detention Center, awaiting legal proceedings and likely deportations.
“We cannot be free until we are all free,” noted Rabbi David Basior of Kadima Reconstructionist Community in Seattle, pointing out that 1,500 people are held behind the barbed wire of the detention center, and that the center itself was built on occupied Puyallup tribal land. “Let us celebrate Passover, let us acknowledge it, but in this world where there are still places that occupy indigenous land, that break moral codes of how we should treat one another, that defy our values, not just as Jews but as humans . . . our work is not done,” Rabbi Basior said.
With broad representation, the group celebrated the Passover Seder and heard from a number of people facing deportation threats by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
“None of us should be in deportation proceedings,” declared Monica, whose partner, Melesio Morales Mata, or Mele, is being held by the detention center. “We need to dismantle ICE,” she said. “We need to stop the legal kidnapping of our families.”
The event, billed as Justice for Mele / Northwest Detention Center Resistance Solidarity Seder, was organized by Kadima, the Jewish Coalition for Immigrant Justice NW, and the Northwest Detention Center Resistance (NWDCR) movement.
Jose Robles told the crowd that he has been fighting against government deportation efforts for six years, and is now being told by ICE that he must leave the country by June.
“My heart is being ripped apart from my five children,” said Norma, who has been ordered to leave the country in May.
Immigrant rights leader Maru Mora-Villalpando, herself facing a deportation order, pointed out that “It’s important to remember this is happening to hundreds of thousands of people around the country.”
Image of seder plate from Mele / Northwest Detention Center Resistance Solidarity Seder, featuring a padlock

Image of Seder plate with padlock, courtesy of author

Immigration laws, through ICE, are tearing apart and destroying families, Mora-Villalpando noted.
For the Solidarity Seder plate, Rabbi Zari Weiss of Kol HaNeshamah, a West Seattle congregation, added a padlock to represent the mass incarceration of immigrants along with Black and Brown people in prisons around the country. The US represents just 5 percent of the world’s population, but holds 25 percent of the world’s inmates.

Rabbi Weiss also placed pieces of ice on the Seder plate, “to symbolize the hard-heartedness that separates loved ones, and the attitude of the top leadership of this country.”
“We can only pray,” Weiss noted, “that as the ice melts, that hard-heartedness will melt as well.”
Just as the liberation from Egypt 3,500 years ago took collective action, today’s fight for immigrant justice requires everyone’s creativity, passion, and energy. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, you can get involved in the Northwest Detention Center Resistance movement.
The event drew together people representing a wide range of organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews Undoing Institutional Racism, Advocates for Immigrants in Detention Northwest, Congregation Beth Shalom, IfNotNow, Socialist Workers Party, Congregation Beth Am, the Raging Grannies, Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue, Kol HaNeshamah, Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action, the Jewish Reform movement, Temple Beth Hatfiloh, Temple Beth El, and Kol Shalom.
Jonathan Rosenblum is a writer, a union and community organizer, and a leader in Kadima Reconstructionist Community in Seattle, Washington. He is the author of Beyond $15: Immigrant Workers, Faith Activists, and the Revival of the Labor Movement (Beacon Press, 2017), and is a member of the National Writers Union/UAW 1981. Follow him on Twitter: @jonathan4212.

One thought on “Passover at a Detention Center

  1. Thank you Jonathan for capturing this powerful action–there were 5 or 6 members of Temple Beth Am(not Congregation) including myself participating-reflecting our individual commitment as well as the strong commitment of our Temple Beth Am Sanctuary Action Team which last November visited the NWDC and continues to engage with members of the Jewish community and broader community to bring justice to our immigrant neighbors and friends so inhumanely treated. Bringing together our diverse range of Jewish communities to speak out together strongly against such inhumane treatment is personally inspiring and for so many of us seems to be what Rabbi Heschel’s words ‘Praying with my feet’ is all about..We are grateful to Rabbi David and Rabbi Zari and all who came together and Kol Ha’kavod on the Jewish Coalition for Immigrant Justice NW launch.

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