Immigrant Action Meeting Follow-up

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A very productive meeting was held at Shomrei on Wednesday night (July 24). We primarily discussed the Essex County contract with ICE and how we can join forces with other houses of worship in the area to advocate for the best possible conditions for people being held in detention.

We also discussed establishing a social action committee at Shomrei. Stay tuned about next steps.

Two meetings were held the following evening (Thursday July 25) in which Shomrei was very well represented. The first Audrey attended with the clergy at BK and Reverend Joel Hubbard with Freeholder Luciano, who seemed to be open to the abpve proposals.

IMG_6988This was followed by a very well attended Freeholder’s meeting open to the public in Livingston. The vast majority of public comments focused on the ICE contract, requests for meetings with Freeholders, objections to the ICE contract and advocacy for the proposals outlined below.

The goal is to have the Freeholders who have not met with religious and community members agree to do so in advance of a vote in September for the attached proposals.

As a next next, below is contact information and a script to reach out to those Freeholders who have not yet agreed to meet. It would be great if you send an email to these freeholders to keep the momentum going.

Thanks so very much and we will keep you updated as things progress.  Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Audrey and Sarita

ACTION ITEM: Please contact these Freeholders

Rufus Johnson: email hidden; JavaScript is required

Romaine Graham: email hidden; JavaScript is required
(973) 621-5680

Robert Mercado: email hidden; JavaScript is required


To: Freeholder [INSERT NAME]

I’m an Essex County resident and I’m calling/writing to ask you to meet with the multi-faith Essex County clergy who have requested a meeting with you to discuss a civilian oversight board, a detainee advocate, universal legal representation for ICE detainees, and a responsible end to the business of incarcerating immigrants.

Thank you,



Regarding the ICE contract, the following solutions are being proposed with the leadership of the ACLU of New Jersey and other faith based groups and the information below comes from BK’s immigration committee.

1) A Civilian Oversight Board:

Background: ECCF (Essex County Correctional Facility) failed a DHS inspection in June 2018; those findings, which included rotten food, an unattended exposed firearm, and mold growing on bathroom ceilings, were made public in February 2019. In a March 13, 2019 letter to the Freeholders, the NJCLU wrote that “meaningful civilian oversight and accountability are critical” to meeting the county’s obligation to protect “the safety, physical and mental health, and due process of those it confines.” While the county has taken action to remedy the problems cited in the earlier report, Essex County Correctional Facility was also found in violation of 2011 PBNDS (Performance-based National Detention Standards) in a June 3, 2019 OIG (Office of Inspector General, DHS) report. Many of the violations surrounded the use of solitary confinement.

2) A Detainee Advocate:

Background: Hudson County has taken a number of steps to remedy DHS violations, including creating a Detainee Advocate who reviews all grievances filed by ICE detainees. First Friends argues that this would be a meaningful improvement at ECCF. At Hudson County, this role is filled by Rosa Santana of First Friends. This position is especially crucial because according to Essex County staff, ECCF hasn’t met the standards for grievance boards and advocates outlined in the 2011 PBNDS.

3) Universal Legal Representation for Detainees:

Background: The Freeholders approved an additional $750,000 in funding for legal representation for ICE detainees in July 2019 and is exploring possible contractors for these services (SAFE and VERA). This is a great first step, but Make the Road NJ estimates that the true cost of legal representation for all detainees is $5 million. By the county’s own estimate, $750,000 will cover the cost of representing only 200 of the 850+ ICE detainees. The NJCLU wrote in a March letter to the Freeholders that “data from New York’s publicly funded universal representation program shows that success rates for program clients increased by 1100 percent over underrepresented cases.”

New Leadership: Parashat Pinchas


Parashat Pinchas
Numbers 25:10–30:1

Long-time Aide to Moses Picked as His Successor

After a period of intense speculation, the question of who would be stepping into Moses’ leadership position seems to have been settled. In a public ceremony, clearly designed to bolster the standing of his heir-apparent, Moses presented his long-time aide-de-camp, Joshua, son of Nun, before Eleazar the Priest and the entire community. He solemnly placed his hands upon his loyal protege and charged him, in God’s Name, to follow in his footsteps.

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Unbearable Riches: Parashat Balaq


Parashat Balaq (5779 – 2019)
Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

He took in the vast encampment spread out before him on the plain below. It seemed to him like some kind of Levittown of the wilderness. The open country had been tamed by well-ordered rows of prim tents, set up just so, the very model of peaceable neighborliness. And Bil`am, despite himself, was overcome with a rush of blessings that he poured out upon the people of Israel.

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Fly Me to the Moon

moon1The Talmud tells us that the nations of the world count by the sun, but Israel counts by the moon. In fact, while the Israelites were still in Egypt, God commanded that the moon be sanctified.

The Jewish calendar is lunar, but as with many things, we Jews have improved upon the basic lunar calendar so that –as commanded- the holidays fall in the correct seasons.

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Suffocating Death: Parashat Huqqat


Parashat Huqqat (5779 – 2019)
Numbers 19:1 – 22:1

No one can avoid death or hide from death. Death is our fate and the fate of everyone we care about as well as of all those about whom we care not a bit. Death does not care whether we care about it or not, whether we care about those who die, or not. Death is our one certainty.

And death is, for the Torah, the definitive source of ritual impurity. Perhaps this tells us that certainty is death and that it is certainty whence ritual impurity springs.
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A Day to Celebrate


No matter where you are on the political spectrum, July 4 is a holiday to both celebrate and even revere: celebrate for the present and revere for the promise which the holiday represents.

As Jews, we should hold the promise of Independence Day in special reverence. While Jews were not always treated equally in the colonies and the nascent nation, they were usually treated better than in the lands from which they came.

The streets may not have been paved with gold- as some rumors promised- but they were more often paved than not.
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Demonize the Other: Parashat Korah


Parashat Korah
Numbers 16:1 – 18:32

The rebellion of Korah and his allies is recounted in this Torah reading. The story is incredible, of course, in its depiction of the miraculous way that the rebels meet their end. The earth swallows them all up! Another miracle, just as wondrous, is the miracle of the flowering of Aaron’s staff. I have written about both these miracles in the past.

This time I wish to highlight another incredible aspect of this story. It is incredible to me that Korah was able to mount a challenge to Moses in the first place! How could his complaints, or the complaints of his partners, Datan and Aviram, gain any traction at all among the people? Could anyone really believe that Moses was not the legitimate leader of the Israelites? Could anyone really believe that it was Moses’ fault that the Israelites have not yet entered the Promised Land?
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Spiritual Audacity: Parashat Sh’lah


Parashat Sh’lah
Numbers 13:1 – 15:41

“And they shall put upon the corner’s tassel (tzitzit) a deep-blue (t’khelet) thread, and it will become a tassel for you, and you shall see it, and you shall remember all the commandments of the Eternal, and you shall do them.” (Num. 15:38 – 39) These words, in the closing paragraph of our Torah portion,  describe and prescribe the mitzvah of tzitzit, the ritual tassels placed at the corners of a four-cornered garment. Today we call such a garment, mostly worn during prayer (- a “prayer shawl”) a tallit.  The plain sense of the Torah seems to indicate that this blue thread is what “makes” the tassel and completes the garment. Why is it so important? Our tradition answers that the blue color is evocative. It reminds us of God’s commandments because it reminds us of the infinite expanses of the sea and of the sky, and these associations lead us to contemplate our God in heaven. (yBer. 1:2) Thus the thread is like a scout, or guide, taking us along a voyage of imagination, each step drawing us along until we sense God’s commanding Presence. Continue reading