Jewish Community Relations Council leader, at rally, calls for compassion at the border


MILWAUKEE – Hundreds gathered to protest the way undocumented migrants, including children, have been held after they cross the U.S.-Mexico border, including one speaker who said we are being “miserly” with our “compassion.”

Elana Kahn, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, continued, “It’s time to soften our hearts and harden our stances.”

The “Close the Camps” rally had attendees gathered on the steps of the Milwaukee Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, 517 E. Wisconsin Ave., at mid-day on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. It was an energized group, clearly disturbed by the news emanating from camps holding migrants. Chants and cheers drowned out everything else at moments among each speaker’s talk.


Part of the scene at a “Close the Camps” rally on July 2 in Milwaukee. A number of people from the Jewish community were in attendance, including some holding signs with messages like “Love the stranger.”

Near the border, thousands of children have been separated from their parents and several children have died in custody, according to media reports. Conditions have been described as cold, with lights on all night and only a concrete floor for sleeping.

The situation was met with a day of 184 rallies held around the nation, including the Downtown Milwaukee one, according to MoveOn.org. Tens of thousands of migrants are being held in horrific conditions, forcibly separated from their families, with no promise of reunification or future assistance, according to MoveOn.org.

President Donald Trump sees things from a different perspective. On June 26 he tweeted, “Democrats want Open Borders, which equals violent crime, drugs and human trafficking.”

Several speakers at the rally expressed dismay over reports of conditions in the camps, including Kahn.

“We know what history says about the Nazis. But the question is how will we be judged?” she said, referring to U.S. policy.  “How will we be judged for separating children from their parents?”

Some in the national media have argued over whether the camps can be referred to as “concentration camps.” Is doing so a dangerous diminishment of the atrocities committed by the Nazis or is it forgivable hyperbole as passions run high? Or something else altogether?

“Political pundits have gotten distracted on what to call the camps,” Kahn said at the rally. “Are they concentration camps? Are they internment camps?”

“While there are robust and persuasive arguments on both sides, the issue remains the same. These prison-like camps are unconscionable,” she said. “We are arguing about semantics while children are going unfed, unclothed and unbathed, left to fend for themselves under terrible conditions.”

Kahn said Judaism commands over and over again to love the stranger, because we were once strangers in a strange land.

Part of the scene at a “Close the Camps” rally on July 2 in Milwaukee.

“We need to close down the cages. We need to close down the camps,” said R. Timothy Muth, staff attorney for ACLU of Wisconsin.  

“We understand that immigration is a complex issue,” said Pardeep Singh Kaleka, executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. “We all believe that separation of families is wrong.”

Kahn said we need to “see in these other people that they too are created in the image of God.”