Facing approximately 900 people in his Beth Am Synagogue sanctuary last night, Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg couldn’t help but joke that he was happy to see so many in attendance for “Yom Kippur services.”
In actuality, the sanctuary was full of area residents who came to the historic Reservoir Hill synagogue for “City of Immigrants: A Night of Support,” a program and fundraiser for organizations opposed to President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban.
The ban, signed by executive order on Jan. 27, barred Syrian refugees from entering the United States for an indefinite period of time and temporarily barred entry by immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries. A federal judge in New York on Jan. 28 temporarily prevented the deportation of refugees and others, and a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 9 rejected the administration’s challenge to the New York ruling.
“City of Immigrants” was organized and hosted by former Baltimore Sun reporter and “The Wire” creator David Simon and his company, Blown Deadline Productions, and the grassroots organization Tech Solidarity.
In addition to Simon, speakers included Beau Willimon, creator of the television show “House of Cards,” Pulitzer Prize-winning author/historian Taylor Branch, Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana S. Wen, Black Lives Matter activist and organizer Deray McKesson, and Grammy Award-winning folk singer-songwriter Steve Earle, who portrayed the character of Walon on “The Wire.”
Like many of the evening’s speakers, Simon, who belongs to Beth Am, said the issue of immigration is deeply personal to him and his family. Holding up a piece of paper with photo-copied images of family members killed during the Holocaust, he said, “These are 10 or 11 people in my family who didn’t escape from Europe in the pre-war years when the path for refugees narrowed. The fear of these people — their otherness, their politics, their faith — was sufficient to close borders and deny safe passage to America and elsewhere. … I can’t look at those faces and succumb to this president.”
A native of Shanghai, Wen told the gathering that her parents were political dissidents in China. After the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, the family came to the U.S. when Wen was 8 and settled in a small town in Utah.
“Like so many other immigrants, my parents made do and they worked very hard,” Wen said. “We looked different from everybody else, we spoke a different language, we had a different religion. … By the grace of God, I’m here, but I could have just as easily not been.”
A Colombian immigrant, Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said her parents “made immense personal sacrifices” so that she and her nine siblings “could have the same opportunities that previous generations of immigrants have had.” Hincapie said she and her colleagues are committed to “working around the clock … to fight back against anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies that violate our values as Americans and our constitution.”
Branch urged listeners to embrace America’s long history of diversity and welcoming newcomers. “Over the past 50 years, our openness has brought newcomers to transform the face of America, literally and figuratively,” he said. “More than we realize, Americans are at home with our national creed of multi-national, multi-ethnic citizenship. …
“We must stand up for stragglers and against bigots, recognizing that no foreign origin is too foreign to yield a fellow citizen.”
Sonia Kumar, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, thanked audience members for their support and dedication to immigrants and civil rights.
“It’s so amazing to live in a country where so many people are mobilizing to resist hate,” she said. “I’m not just here as an ACLU lawyer. I’m here as an Iranian born in Iran, one of the seven countries targeted by the executive order. Though I’ve lived here all my life and am a U.S. citizen, I and countless others have been harmed by the executive order that claims to protect us.”
Jmore Exclusive: Talking in Shul with David Simon
Ira Gewanter brings us this conversation from Beth Am Synagogue on the eve of David’s hosting the “City of Immigrants” fundraiser supporting the ACLU of MD, National Immigration Law Center, Tahirih Justice Center, and International Rescue Committee. Special thanks to audio editor Mark Gunnery.
A False Distance
McKesson called on audience members not to be “seduced by a false distance of history,” and to remain committed to fighting against inequality and bigotry.
“So many people didn’t stand up until it affected them directly,” he said, alluding to President Trump’s election victory in November. “Now, we see the cost of our silence. Can we make the country live up to its promise?”
In the wake of the election, Willimon said he sees a new surge in political activity, awareness and mobilization.
“We in this room are a microcosm of what’s happening in similar rooms all over the country,” he said. “The majority are finding ways to gather, organize and make a difference. Whether you realize it or not, our lives are on the line, our futures are on the line.”
After performing a crowd-rousing rendition of Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land Is Your Land,” and before playing his own songs “God is God” “Jerusalem,” and his 2007 ode to tolerance and diversity “City of Immigrants,” Earle said Americans need to open their arms and minds to immigrants and refugees.
“All this talk about illegals … There’s no such thing as illegal people, folks,” he said. “I grew up in Texas, so I know that wall thing ain’t going to work.”
After the performance, Mount Washington resident Jason Loviglio said he felt a strong sense of solidarity with the audience. “I’ve been to a lot of demonstrations in the last few weeks, but this was the first time I felt I was part of a movement,” he said. “We need to keep these issues at the forefront of awareness for non-voters and voters-to-be. Then, maybe we can change and open some minds.”
Beth Am congregant Jill Glassgold agreed and said she was proud that her synagogue hosted the event. “Some speakers brought tears to my eyes,” said the Mount Washington resident. “I can’t think of a better place to be tonight.”
Felice Shore, also a Mount Washington resident, said she came to the gathering to “stand up for refugees everywhere. As Jews, this issue should be of particular importance because of our own refugee history.” Waverly resident Lisa Spritzer said she attended the program because she is “scared and anxious” about the new administration, which she called “small-minded, terrible, bad, fascist.”
Simon said donations from the program, which totaled more than $50,000, would benefit the National Immigration Law Center, Tahirih Justice Center, the International Rescue Committee and the ACLU of Maryland. He said Blown Deadline Productions will match the proceeds raised from the night.
Top Photo: With his trademark acoustic guitar and harmonica, folk singer Steve Earle performs a stirring version of his 2007 song “City of Immigrants” on Beth Am Synagogue’s bimah. “Singing helps sometimes,” Earle told the audience.
Above: Writer and TV producer David Simon greets Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana S. Wen.
Below: David Simon shares a private moment with his friend, Steve Earle. Simon recently tweeted, “I always wanted to get Steve Earle, the finest redneck mensch on the planet, inside a working synagogue.”
Photos by Kyle Yearwood
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