Hefting signs, giving prayers and reciting poems, about 100 volunteers from Utah Jewish community groups gathered for a vigil outside Utah’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office Saturday, with one message: “Close the camps.”
“It was illuminating to be there,” said Eileen Hallet Stone, Utah section president of the National Council of Jewish Women, one of the groups organizing the protest in West Valley City. “People got out of their on lives for a moment to think about the lives of others, to think about how they would feel to be taken out of their homes.”
Stone was on a list of speakers — including Reps. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, and Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City — calling on Congress and the Trump administration to close ICE-operated camps along the U.S.-Mexico border where thousands of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers are being detained.
Benjamin Luks-Morgan blew the shofar, the ram’s horn traditionally used in Jewish rituals, to "blast into our consciousness the possibility of redemption, of an end to the dehumanizing and targeting of immigrants, of a world in which all people find sanctuary, safety and home."
Amid the speeches, some speakers read poems. Alyshia Klein, president of Utah Hadassah, read Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus,” the poem printed on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty — the one that includes “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Stone, a former freelance history columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune, read a more recent poem, “Home,” which begins, “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” “Home,” written by the British-Somali poet Warsan Shire, has become a rallying cry for refugees.
The vigil lasted an hour, Stone said, and there were no counterprotesters visible.
The West Valley City protest was one of more than 50 organized across the country this weekend by Jewish organizations, meant to focus on the treatment of immigrants. The vigils are timed to the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the ancient Jewish temples in Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the Romans.
“It’s a day of mourning,” Stone said. “As Jews, we are always taught to welcome the strangers, because we were strangers.”
Tribune photographer Francisco Kjolseth contributed to this report.