Cleveland native Esther Mack was one of 36 protesters arrested at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center June 30 in New Jersey. She said she took part in the protest to highlight the plight of immigrants who have been detained at the border.
“I decided to go because that’s what I’ve been brought up with my whole life: that refugees are valuable and that concentration camps should never happen again,” she said. “We were outside this detention center, I believe the biggest or possibly second biggest detention center in New Jersey, and there are people who are held there and don’t know when they’re going to see their families again and don’t know when they’re going to get our or where they’re going to go.”
She said there were a “couple hundred” protesters at the site and were organized by the group Never Again.
Mack said the processing of all 36 arrested took just a couple of hours, treatment she contrasted with those held in the detention center.
“It was really powerful to be there with fellow Jews saying we don’t stand for this,” she said. “Myself and a group of other Jews blocked the road leading to the entrance to the detention center that prevented employees of the detention center from leaving or arriving. And our goal was to bring attention to the children and families who are being separated, specifically at the border – but at detention centers throughout the country – … being imprisoned in concentration camps.”
Mack, 27, was charged with obstruction of a roadway and released without being asked to post bail. She said she does not know when her next court date will be.
The student of Yeshiva Hadar in New York City said she decided to protest when she learned about the action through people she knows at the yeshiva.
She said she has engaged in civil disobedience once before. In 2017, in support of American Indians at Standing Rock, she chained herself to a couple other people inside Citibank in Chicago.
“Our goal was to get the bank to divest from the (Dakota Access) pipeline,” she said.
Mack, 27, was born in Cleveland and was raised in Cleveland Heights. She attended Fuchs Mizrachi School in Beachwood from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. At that time, she relocated with her family to Jerusalem.
Prior to relocating, her father, Eric Mack, had been executive director of the former Sinai Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and University Heights. Her mother, Cheryl Birkner Mack, taught at Gross Schechter Day School in Pepper Pike. Her childhood synagogue was Beth El-The Heights Synagogue in Cleveland Heights.
“My parents, as well as my education at Mizrachi, always raised me to say that with the narrative of the Holocaust, that this was a terrible atrocity that happened to our people, and so it should never happen again,” she said. “So I realized that education from my parents and my schooling is what led me directly to this activism that I’m doing now.”
Today, Mack lives in Durham, N.C., where she worships at Beth El Durham. She works as a freelance copyeditor.
She said verses pertaining to the stranger resonate with her.
“Because you were strangers in the land of Egypt, so therefore you should love the stranger and take care of the stranger and provide for the stranger because you were once that stranger,” she said. “We were once in concentration camps, and now immigrants in Latin America, refugees, are in concentration camps as well.”