By Maggie Dolan, news correspondent
“Never again” was the rallying cry of several hundred people who gathered at the New England Holocaust Memorial for the HIAS National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees on Sunday. The protesters stood throughout the snowy morning in support of refugees and immigrants affected by President Donald J. Trump’s executive order barring them from entering the United States.
Sunday’s protest honored Jews who were affected by previous bans on immigration in American history and declared commitment to those affected by the new travel ban. Protesters’ signs bore phrases including, “My people were refugees too,” “No place for hate” and “We’re all immigrants.”
The event’s theme, “never again,” was repeated throughout the rally, emphasizing the importance of learning from history so that Holocaust-like events do not repeat.
“‘Never again’ means we sound the alarm when injustice preys on the other,” former City Councilor Mike Ross said. “‘Never again’ means we speak out when religious minorities are victims of exclusion, expulsion and targeting. ‘Never again’ means we call out policies of hatred and bigotry for what they are.”
HIAS, formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, has helped Jewish refugees escape persecution and re-establish themselves around the world since 1881. The group extended its services to non-Jewish refugees after the Sept. 11 attacks led to new immigration protocols that severely limited refugees’ abilities to enter the country, according to the organization’s website.
Ross spoke at the rally about the importance of remembering the victims of Nazi Germany, including his own grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, who were unable to escape because of stringent immigration quotas.
“Today, amid the largest refugee crisis since the Holocaust, where innocent people are the target of hatred, violence and war, our government is seeking to close its borders to the victims,” Ross said. “The Trump executive order is nothing more than a naked attempt to ban Muslims from entering this country.”
City Councilor Josh Zakim (D-8) facilitated the event, repeating the message that neighbors need to stand together to remind each other of their American values.
“That means lending a helping hand and sharing our values with our neighbors,” Zakim said. “We need to say to them, ‘This is why I believe we should be open to refugees and immigrants and everyone in the United States of America.’”
Susan Mayer, a protester from Lexington, Massachusetts, came to the rally to find out how to help refugees. She spoke of her family, most of whom were killed during the Holocaust, though her father’s immediate family reached America with visas.
“I think we brought our good qualities here, and we were successful here and we’re happy for it,” Mayer said. “So I want to stand with refugees.”
The rally also drew people whose families worked with HIAS in the United States, including Karin Blum, chief development officer of Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) in Boston. Blum, whose Jewish grandparents volunteered with HIAS in the 1940s, said assisting this generation of refugees is very important to her. JVS helps refugees find employment opportunities that fit their needs and learn English and other job skills they may need in the United States.
“[Refugees] are amazing people. They work hard,” Blum said. “They’re trying to find jobs right away. They’re not trying to do nothing.”
In his final remarks, Zakim invited everyone to the sanctuary city that is Boston.
“Love, not fear,” Zakim said. “Immigrants and refugees, you’re certainly welcome here.”
Photo by Maggie Dolan