Rabbis holding vigil for detained African migrants ahead of Shavuot


JERUSALEM (JTA) — More than 40 rabbis will hold a prayer vigil and pre-Shavuot study session at the Holot detention center for African migrants.

The program, organized by leaders of Rabbis for Human Rights and supported by the New Israel Fund, was scheduled for Wednesday outside the open-detention facility in the Negev Desert. Its participants come from across the denominational spectrum.

Organizers said the event was scheduled “to mark Shavuot, our turning point from freed slaves to a nation in covenant with God, by demanding that Israel honor our most commanded mitzvah,” citing Leviticus 19:33-34, which calls on Jews to love the stranger.

The date also was chosen because 12 of the detainees are facing immediate deportation, according to Haaretz.

Rabbi Nava Hefetz, educational director of Rabbis for Human Rights, and Rabbi Susan Silverman planned the vigil.

”God repeated the commandment to protect the stranger at least thirty-six times because it’s a really hard thing to do,” the organizers wrote in promoting the event. “Now that we are in our own land, it is something that takes real faith in God, and embracing discomfort — in a way that keeping kosher or Shabbat does not. But it is the real test of the Jewish soul. In that way, the refugees hold up a mirror to our inner character. And they give us an opportunity to rise to our highest selves.”

Some 42,000 Eritrean and Sudanese citizens are living in Israel, with 2,000 in the Holot detention facility. The residents there are required to check in twice a day. Many of the migrants have made their home in south Tel Aviv.

Israel has granted official refugee status to just four of more than 5,500 official asylum seekers.

Over 9,000 African migrants have left Israel in the past two years in voluntary departures, according to Haaretz. The Israeli government provided them with airplane tickets and grants.

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