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Rabbinical Training Helps in Planning Immigrant Rights Demonstration

On November 2, 2010, The Philadelphia Inquirer carried the following article:

Pro-immigrant protest hits Philadelphia City Hall

Pro-immigrant Protest - Day of the DeadCarrying cardboard coffins and wearing "Day of the Dead" masks, pro-immigrant groups led by the New Sanctuary Movement marched on Philadelphia City Hall and the District Attorney's Office on Monday, seeking to end the contracts that govern cooperation between local police and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.


Michael Ramberg (RRC, 2012) who is serving this year as a Multifatih Intern with the New Sanctuary Movement and Congregation Mishkan Shalom helped plan the event.

Here is Michael's reflection on the demonstration: 

In rabbinical school, we are constantly working to create rituals that communicate profound content clearly yet elegantly. A recent demonstration at City Hall on behalf of Immigrants' Rights provided an opportunity to put my rabbinical training to work. When I joined the interfaith committee planning this event, the group had already decided to hold a protest to coincide with the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday at the start of November. The major elements of the protest would be delivering a petition to the District Attorney and marching around City Hall, stopping for cultural performances by immigrant groups.

I suggested that we make the first part of the demonstration a funeral procession, complete with black veils, delivering our demands and our fear to the office of the district attorney. After doing this, we would mark the transition from death and fear to life and hope by shedding the veils, crossing the street to City Hall and celebrating with cultural performances.

Pro-immigrant Protest - Day of the DeadThis bit of rabbinic wisdom moved us one step closer to what ultimately became a very powerful demonstration. Seven members of Mishkan Shalom joined the crowd of more than 60 immigrants and their allies and at the end of the event we led everyone in singing Hinei Mah Tov.


Rabbi Linda Holtzman of Mishkan Shalom, after participating in the event, wrote in her blog

It was an honor to be at this “Day of the Dead” event with members of our community. After leaving our coffins and black veils of mourning at the D.A.’s office, we declared our fear of the “police–ICE” collaboration buried, and we marched to City Hall to celebrate as a unified, strong community…”

I believe fervently in the power of ritual to transform people and societies. When I take in the words of A.J. Heschel, I become clearer about my own expectations and hopes for what prayer can be. Heschel wrote, “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and ruin pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.”

Michael Ramberg serves as an RRC Multifaith Intern through the generosity of the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

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