Hundreds of Jewish San Diegans Gather for Forum on Resistance to Refugee Ban

by Natalie Jacobs February 3, 2017


get-involvedCars lined up along Gilman Drive outside Congregation Beth El in all directions. The lot was full by 6:15 and people kept arriving until well past 7. On Thursday night, the largest Jewish organizations in San Diego, including Leichtag Foundation, Jewish Family Service, Federation, and ADL, convened a community-wide gathering to discuss the President’s executive order banning refugees from 7 Muslim-majority countries and to encourage action and resistance from the Jewish community.

There were about 800 people in the main hall at the Conservative synagogue in La Jolla. Local elected officials representing that district in the City Council (Barbara Bry) and in the State Assembly (Todd Gloria) offered remarks and rallying cries alongside rabbis from four different congregations (Dor Hadash, Beth El, Ner Tamid and Ohr Shalom) and leaders from the host organizations (Michael Hopkins of JFS, Charlene Seidle of Leichtag, and Tammy Gilles of ADL).

16463854_1105746329536405_6404306531782575777_oAcknowledging the crowd, Rabbi Avi Libman of Beth El implored the group to “remember what this moment is about – your voices matter, don’t ever be afraid to use your voices. If you feel afraid, remember the power of this room.”

Rabbi Nadav Caine of Ner Tamid  and president of the San Diego Rabbinic Association, turned to the Torah and remarked that it was no coincidence that the ban came just as Jews began reading the book of Exodus. Later, Michael Hopkins of JFS noted that at day 66 of the ban (just past the halfway mark on the 120 days), Jews will be celebrating Passover. Hopkins noted that this year, it will not be a “symbolic retelling of the past.” The crowd gasped at the realization and fell into a heavy silence.

Rabbi Caine told the story of a congregant who told him she was in favor of the ban, because the people are from dangerous, foreign lands and cannot be trusted. He remarked the congregant said “We were different than those refugees,” to which Caine cited the most egregious and discriminatory passages pertaining to Jewish refugees in the Immigration Act of 1924, which placed quotas and bans on immigration during a tumultuous international time.

Rabbi Scott Meltzer did not sugarcoat the situation, opening his remarks by stating frankly, “dark days are here and will not end when we wake up in the morning.”

He then underscored the need to “not stand idly by,” and offered up encouragement that “perhaps we have the power we have for this exact moment.”

16402649_10154936867051354_1142014057303338318_oWith his organization’s direct involvement in the refugee crisis, Michael Hopkins offered statistics he said were vital in informing the conversation around this executive order. He noted that JFS, which is one of four refugee resettlement agencies in San Diego County, resettled 4,000 refugees from 25 countries in 2016. As a result of the ban, 129 people who were assigned to JFS at various stages of the screening process were halted with the order, and one family that was set to arrive in San Diego imminently, after eight years in a refugee camp in Jordan, was unable to board the plane.

Hopkins also noted that 800,000 refugees have been resettled in the United States since 9/11. Others have noted that no fatal terrorist attacks have been carried out by refugees in the United States since the 1980s. The Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees has noted previously that “the odds of being killed in a terrorist incident on U.S. soil by a person with a refugee visa is 1 in 3.6 billion.”

Both Hopkins and Leichtag’s Charlene Seidle noted that this ban goes against Jewish values and that their organizations are helping refugees “not because they are Jewish, but because we are Jewish.”

Assemblymember Todd Gloria offered a brief rundown of the state-level actions and legislation that are taking place to aid in the fight against the executive order. He noted the confirmation of the state’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the state’s hiring of former federal Attorney General Eric Holder. On the legislative side, Gloria noted the progress of SB54 which stipulates that no federal dollars will be spent on the enforcement of the President’s immigration measures; SB6 which will support due process for all immigrants by providing increased funding for legal aid and other immigration-related legal help; and AB3 which also allocates more resources for public defenders to more effectively represent immigrants.

After the speakers, attendees flooded the ADL resource table to sign postcards and pick up “action packets.” People also flocked to Leichtag’s poster board listing “Tech tools for getting involved.”

People who attended have begun posted their responses in the Facebook event. The San Diego Jewish Journal will update this post if follow-up resources become available.

Leichtag Foundation has compiled this helpful list for people to stay involved:


Giving Opportunities

Tech Tools for Getting Involved

  • Indivisible Guide (How to effectively make your voice heard to your elected officials + local grassroots organizing)
  • (Scripts you can use to call your elected officials)
  • Daily Action (Daily text reminders for immediate issues)
  • Women’s March (The march continues evolving into a movement with its “10 Actions in 100 Days” campaign)
  • Countable (iPhone/Android app for understanding current legislation)

*If you are engaging in efforts against the ban, or in support of refugees locally and would like to share your story with the San Diego Jewish community, please contact

*This post was updated with headcount estimate from Congregation Beth El. The original post said nearly 500 people attended, but organizers totaled nearly 800. This post was also updated to include the resources from Leichtag Foundation.


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