A Lament for the Detained Children

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My rendering of Lamentations 2, written and read for a Tisha B’Av vigil held at the Jerome Combs Detention Center, Kankakee, IL, August 11, 2019.

we are beyond humiliation
beyond shame
we incarcerate children without pity
we deport parents without a thought
and build systems that destroy families indiscriminately
now we truly know what it means to be dishonored
our so-called glorious past is now seen
for the sham that it was
the way of life we celebrate is but a privilege
for the few and the powerful
we can’t see that our own might
will be our downfall

we venerate leaders
who should be tried for their crimes
we never dared imagine a power
greater than our own
like so many before us
we conquered the land then drew borders
as a testament to our fear and dread
now we build higher walls
to keep out those who seek shelter
we built massive checkpoints
we lined up human beings
like cattle in cages
now children cry out for parents
who will never answer their calls
their voices echo endlessly
through the camps but there
is no one left to hear

we ask one another with bewilderment
have we ever seen such cruel violations
yet in truth we ourselves have inflicted
such cruelties on children here
and around the world
we sentence minors to life in prison without parole
we remain silent as a cruel occupation
abducts and imprisons children in military prisons
convicts them in military courts
and yet we dare to act surprised when
we hear news of children thrown into cages
at our southern border

our silence betrays us
these walls will soon encircle us all
soon there will be no one left
only a single mass of mourners
whispering broken hymns of lament
grieving what was lost
and what might have been
one day we will know the sorrow
of the dispossessed

we who never heard the cries of migrants
and their children will know what it means
to be uprooted detained and discarded
those who we scorned and abandoned
will bitterly welcome us to the world
of the dispossessed
the enemies we created
through our own fearful actions
will surely come back for us all

let us hope and pray
there is still time
let the cries of our children
pour into our hearts like water
the cries of any who have been forced
from their homes pursued
taken locked away sent away
anyone whose very lives are forbidden
forgotten forsaken
let their cries compel us
to take down oppressive systems
built by the powerful to maintain
the power of the powerful
let their cries remind us
that there is a power yet greater
that comes from a place that knows no borders
no deportations no barrier walls no prisons
no guards no soldiers no ICE no police

a place where we no longer need to struggle because
justice gushes forth like a mighty stream flowing freely
from the sovereign beyond all sovereigns
we beseech you chadeish yameniu
renew our days
that we may build the world
that somehow still might be
kein yehi ratzon – may it be your will
and may it be ours’
ve’nomar and let us say

Amen.


shalom aleichem/beyond borders

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photo: Love + Struggle

My invocation for the Action to End Criminalization, Detention and Deportations,
delivered at Daley Plaza, Chicago, July 13, 2019

shalom aleichem peace to you
angels of the most high
watch over those who find no rest
forced from their homes
forced to leave everything they’ve ever known
everyone they’ve ever loved
because poverty gripped their communities
because the military occupied their land
because agribusiness seized their farms
because the mining companies poisoned their soil
because the multinationals polluted their water
because they couldn’t leave their houses
for fear of the gangs who walked the streets day and night
oh angels who come from a place beyond all borders
sovereign beyond all sovereigns please
watch over them as they make their way
this is our prayer let’s say amen

shalom aleichem peace to you
angels of the most high
watch over the young woman eight months pregnant
who begged her family for five thousand dollars
after her house was burned to the ground by the militia
who crossed nine borders in two months
from cameroon to nigeria to ecuador then by bus and by foot
through colombia panama costa rica nicaragua honduras guatemala
and finally to tapachula mexico
now she’s sitting on a concrete bench cradling her swollen belly
wondering what will happen when she gets to tijuana
will she be detained will she be allowed to cross will she
be granted asylum will she be sent back to face the death squads
oh angels who come from a place beyond all borders
sovereign beyond all sovereigns please
watch over her as she makes her way
this is our prayer let’s say amen

shalom aleichem peace to you
angels of the most high
watch over the parents whose children
are ripped crying from their arms
just as they arrive at the border
who have no idea where their babies have been taken
who are not told where they are
or how they can reach them
watch over the children
who are left to fend for themselves
some too young to speak
without a guardian who knows them
without an adult who understands them
forced into backlogged courts
forced to sit in cold crowded holding cells for days
with no beds or showers where they can only
wait and hope and pray that someone will somehow find them
oh angels who come from a place beyond all borders
sovereign beyond all sovereigns please
don’t let them be forgotten
this is our prayer let’s say amen

shalom aleichem peace to you
angels of the most high
watch over those who live in constant fear
that those flashing police lights are meant for them
who wake up each day wondering is this the day
my children will be gone when i come home
is this the day i won’t come home
is this the day they’ll be snatched from the streets
from their cars from their workplaces
is this the day they’ll be shackled and thrown in unmarked vans
sent into detention cells onto airplanes and sent off into the night
for the crime of seeking a life of dignity for their families
oh angels who come from a place beyond all borders
sovereign beyond all sovereigns please
watch over them
this is our prayer let’s say amen

shalom aleichem to you angels of justice
angels of the most high
show us how to fight for the liberation of anyone
who has been forced from their homes pursued
taken locked away sent away
anyone whose very lives are forbidden forgotten forsaken
inspire us to take down oppressive systems
that were built by the powerful to maintain
the power of the powerful
remind us that there is a power yet greater
that comes from a place that knows no borders
no deportations no barrier walls no prisons
no guards no soldiers no police
a place where we no longer have to struggle for justice because
justice gushes forth like a mighty stream flowing freely
from the sovereign beyond all sovereigns
all of us angels of justice all of us
building the world we know is possible yes
shalom aleichem peace to you
peace to us all
this is our prayer let’s say amen