Jewish prayer session held at JFK in solidarity with refugees

Citing Jewish texts, students and rabbis gather at airport to protest Trump ban.

February 8, 2017 22:47
2 minute read.
Jewish prayer session held at JFK in solidarity with refugees

Jewish prayer session held at JFK in solidarity with refugees. (photo credit: DANIEL ATWOOD)


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Some 30 American rabbinical students and rabbis gathered at New York City’s JFK airport on Wednesday morning in a show of solidarity with refugees, on the heels of a temporary ban on refugees ordered by President Donald Trump.

Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews gathered at the International Synagogue at Terminal 4 for a morning of prayer and Torah study. Event organizers stated that the purpose of the event was “to offer spiritual support for those refugees who are yearning to reach our shores.”

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“The book of Deuteronomy, chapter 10, tell us that ‘you must love the stranger, for you were a stranger in the land of Egypt.’ Whether it be fleeing Egypt or Spain, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem or the destruction of European Jewry in the Holocaust, as Jews we are unfortunately all too familiar with what it is like to be a refugee,” an invitation to the gathering stated.

“As current and future leaders of the Jewish community, we want to offer our prayers and our Torah learning to serve as a source of strength for those at deepest risk, for the refugees who seek shelter in the land of the free, the United States,” the organizers said.

Some 20 of the participants were Yeshivat Chovevei Torah students, and they were joined by Yeshivat Maharat students, among others.

“We’re here at JFK, learning our Torah, to bring attention to the plight of those who have come to this country to enjoy the freedoms we enjoy,” co-organizer Daniel Atwood told The Jerusalem Post. “America is proud of its diversity. One day we hope all of us – regardless of religion or national origin – can learn together in America.”

Student Jeremy Borovitz organized the event together with Atwood, with the support of Chovevei Torah. His father, Rabbi Neal Borovitz, rabbi emeritus of Temple Avodat Shalom, Riveredge, New Jersey, and vice chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, was filled with pride over the efforts of his son and his classmates.

“In Jewish tradition we’re commanded to make them [strangers] part of our own,” he said. “It’s heartening to me to see, as a child of the sixties, that younger generations are willing to pick up the mantle of social justice for all.”

Jenna Englender, a student at Maharat, said the gathering was particularly meaningful to her as the granddaughter of immigrants.

“I feel a real power in learning and to use that power to engage with what I perceive to be severe injustices happening in our country right now,” she said.

“Combining learning Torah with being here to protest the immigration policy feels like learning in a way that’s particularly meaningful and relevant,” agreed Devorah Zlochower, a teacher at Chovevei Torah.

The event was capped with a recital of Psalms, a speech delivered by Chovevei Torah president Rabbi Asher Lopatin and a rally in solidarity with refugees.

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