Rabbi Timoner had just begun her tenure as Senior Rabbi for CBE.
“I want to take our social justice work to the next level, by creating a full spectrum of opportunities for people to be involved in social change, from one-time acts of kindness to long-term community organizing that repairs the root causes of injustice in our city and country,” she told me at the time.
Clearly, her words continue to manifest themselves into action.
Rabbi Timoner, along with other members of the rabbinical group T’ruah, was arrested during a protest last night for blocking an intersection at the Trump International Hotel and Tower, located at Columbus Circle in Manhattan. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that 18 rabbis were arrested.
While the deliberate choice of 18 rabbis has not been confirmed, the number takes on important symbolism in Judaism. 18 is the numerical value of “Chai” — the Hebrew word for “life.” Jewish gifts and donations are often given in multiples of 18, considered to be a good omen.
Rabbi Timoner’s name can be heard on the Facebook Live video on the T’ruah page as a voice calls off the protestors while they were being arrested.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah explained that the protest was to express that many Jews oppose President Donald Trump’s Executive Order which he signed on January 27 to block refugees and other “foreign-born individuals” from entering the U.S. from a list of seven predominantly Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen).
“We remember our history, and we remember that the borders of this country closed to us in 1924 with very catastrophic consequences during the Holocaust,” Rabbi Jacobs said, as reported by the New York Times. “We know that some of the language that’s being used now to stop Muslims from coming in is the same language that was used to stop Jewish refugees from coming.”
“If you remain in the roadway and refuse to utilize the sidewalk, you will be arrested and charged with disorderly conduct,” a loudspeaker announced. The T’ruah protesters stated their intention to take symbolic action and disobey the announcement, choosing to be arrested.
Members of the group stepped into the street, sat down, and blocked traffic on Central Park West.
According to the mission listed on their website, T’ruah is “the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights brings together rabbis and cantors from all streams of Judaism, together with all members of the Jewish community, to act on the Jewish imperative to respect and advance the human rights of all people.”
Rabbi Timoner’s activist background has been on even greater display since the election of Donald Trump. In addition, social activism and outreach have served as cornerstones of Congregation Beth Elohim.
The Park Slope and surrounding community packed into CBE on November 15, 2016, the inaugural #getorganizedbk meeting. According to Council Member Brad Lander, who collaborated with Rabbi Timoner on the gathering, the group “serves as common ground for diverse Brooklynites to share events, actions, and information for resisting Trump’s policies and defending our rights.”
Rabbi Timoner was first to speak at that meeting. She began by saying that it had been seven days since Trump was elected, and equating that to the Jewish tradition of “sitting shiva,” the ritual of mourning the death of a loved one.
“What Jews do at the end of shiva is get up,” said Rabbi Timoner. “It’s time to get up and leave our house of mourning.”
Rabbi Timoner has engaged in protests previous to this occasion. In 2010, she was among 63 people arrested in a peaceful protest to support hotel workers’ rights in Los Angeles. Regarding “the gap between the haves and the haves not, Judaism obligates us to do what we can for the less fortunate,” she said. At the time, Rabbi Timoner was a rabbi at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles.
Protests and gatherings have taken place throughout New York City, the U.S., and around the globe since President Trump signed the executive order. Last week, Yemeni-Americans staged a ‘Bodega Strike’ and rally in response to the travel ban.
“The relationship between social justice and spirituality is perhaps the central question in my life.” Rabbi Timoner said.