The image of rabbis, draped in tallit (prayer shawls), being handcuffed and marched into police cars, is definitely not one you see every day. But that’s exactly what happened this past Monday night when 19 rabbis, who gathered in New York City from all over the country, were arrested as part of a protest against President Trump’s refugee ban. Now, we’re starting to hear the stories behind this powerful act.
Rabbi, parenting expert, and Kveller contributor Danya Ruttenberg was one of the rabbis arrested, and today she wrote for the Washington Post about her experience. In the piece, Ruttenberg passionately writes about the symbolism behind this “holy act,” stating:
I chose to allow my hands to be cuffed, my body to be put into a jail cell. I chose to use my privilege and my position as a clergyperson — regarded in our society as having a special kind of moral authority — to send a message to the public and those with institutional power that this assault on human safety and dignity is unacceptable.
She also talked about what it was like in the jail holding cell she shared with the other female rabbis arrested:
While in the holding cell, we rabbis sang, meditated, taught Torah and spoke of the work that lies ahead. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, a nonviolent activist with decades of arrests under her belt, told us, “I fear the time is coming when we will need to fill all the jails.”
Ruttenberg also made an important note about the level of privilege which allowed her to do such a radical act without much fear of the consequences, stating:
My skin color, ability, gender identity and class offer me a wealth of protections not afforded to many other people. I did not fear for my safety.
It’s exactly because of that privilege that Ruttenberg felt compelled to do this, knowing that other people affected by this ban do not have the power to do so.
I’m incredibly proud of Danya and the other rabbis for speaking–and acting–out for the sake of folks who are marginalized and persecuted in the current political climate. The image of those handcuffed rabbis will forever remain in my mind as one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen.