More than 200 people gathered at the New England Holocaust Memorial on Sunday, February 12, for “A National Day of Action for Refugees,” a protest against President Trump’s January 27 executive order that temporarily banned refugees and immigrants from seven countries with predominant Muslim populations. The ban has been temporarily halted following a ruling by a panel of judges on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The national day of protest was called by HIAS, formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a national organization that historically aided Jewish refugees in resettlement. In the last decade, the organization has broadened its mission to the global refugee crisis.
Locally, the protest, held in a morning of snow and freezing rain, was hosted by Boston city councilor Josh Zakim and several groups including the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, the New England Anti Defamation League, MIRA (Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy), the Islamic Society of Boston-Wayland. Zakim is the son of Lenny Zakim, the late civil rights advocate who directed the New England Anti Defamation League.
Nahma Naditch, associate director of the JCRC, recalled her grandparents who were Jewish refugees who fled religious and political persecution in Czarist Russia.
“I shudder to think about their response to their beloved adopted home threatening to turn its back on refugees escaping violence and terror, abandoning its commitment to today’s huddled masses yearning to be free,” she said.
Mike Ross, former Boston City Council President and son of Stephan Ross, a Holocaust survivor from Newton, who led the effort to build the New England Holocaust Memorial more than twenty years ago.
“’Never again’ means we sound the alarm whenever injustice preys on the other,” said Mike Ross.
Fred Manasse, of Waltham, was a child Holocaust survivor who was hidden with his brother in France. His father was a passenger on the ill-fated St. Louis, that, in 1939, was refused entry in Cuba and the US Manasse’s father, Alfred, perished in a Nazi camp.
He told the crowd he didn’t think that at age 81, he’d be protesting about refugee bans. In a phone conversation after the rally, he said he is particularly alarmed by the plight of children refugees.
“I’ve always been against intolerance, not because I’m Jewish, but because I’m human,” said Manasse, who speaks regularly in schools through Facing History and Ourselves about his experience surviving the Holocaust.
Imam Faisal Khan, religious affairs director of the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland, who is a Kenyan-born cardiologist, told the Journal that it was important for him to speak at the rally in part to thank Jewish organizations for organizing the protest. “You have given us hope,” he said that day.
“We are all minorities. It’s been very reassuring for us when other minorities, like the Jewish community and Christians and other faiths are standing up for us,” he said in a follow up phone conversation.
He was accompanied by his school-age son.
“I wanted him to see the important civic action and that there are a lot of good people supporting his faith, even though they are not Muslim. We could see the love and good will,” Imam Khan said.
He sees the vulnerability of his own congregants as a result of the President’s executive order.
“There’s a lot of confusion and not fear, so much, but uncertainty about the future. There is a realization that this is a country of law and order and hopefully, it will prevail,” he said.
Robert Trestan, New England Regional Director of the ADL, who was born in Canada, shared his own personal experience of taking the oath of US citizenship in a moving ceremony at Fanueil Hall, just steps from the N.E. Holocaust Memorial on Boston’s historic Freedom Trail. Throughout US history, American ideals of equality, liberty and justice have been tested, Trestan said. The rally served as a call not to repeat history’s mistakes.
“Liberty and justice transcend religion. Human dignity transcends what country you were born in,” he declared.