A little before noon, a small crowd starts to gather at the intersection of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. The group dispenses signs, a flag and a plastic replica of the torch that the Statue of Liberty carries. Participants stand at the four corners of the junction waving signs that read, "Stop putting kids in cages" and "Close the camps," at the cars that pass by. Some of the drivers honk to show their support.
The group is a jumble of religious figures who organized the protest, community members who responded and the occasional passerby who stops to join. Members of Bend the Arc, a socially-progressive Jewish organization, and Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice, an interfaith social justice group, organized the vigil, which began on July 21, to protest the treatment of migrants detained at the U.S.-Mexico border. It will be held daily, excluding Saturdays, until Aug. 11 from noon to 12:30 p.m.
Sheldon Lewis, a rabbi with Bend the Arc who helped organize the event, centered it around the Jewish holiday Bein haMetzarim, or "the Three Weeks," which mourns the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
"Long ago in the Jewish community there were some great tragedies. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and rabbis who reflected on this came to the conclusion that it wasn't just Rome that destroyed the Jewish commonwealth and the temple, but it was our own divisions and the way we didn't live up to our own principles and our own values," Lewis said.
"We're here today because we don't believe that our country is living up to its own values. Certainly not Jewish values, not American values of being welcoming to the refugees, having compassion for children and families who are looking for safety and often fleeing for their lives."
Nechama Tamler, a rabbi who organized the vigil, said that the protest was a response to her frustration with the government's response to migrants seeking asylum in the U.S.
"Last year I started doing what everybody does; sending money and spreading the word and being outraged and calling (Rep.) Anna Eshoo and (U.S. senators) Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, and it's just gotten worse," she said. "About three or four weeks ago I hit a wall, and I said, 'I cannot let this happen in my name, my government.'"
Julia Hallee, another organizer, said that her work as a pediatrician prompted her to take a stand against separating children from their families.
"Not only is there toxic stress that these children are going to suffer from for the rest of their lives, this is irreparable harm that we are doing to each and every one of those children," Hallee said. "It's deprivation... and we are doing it in the name of our country."
Some attendees, like Flaurie Imberman, felt a duty to take a stand against the detention centers because of her religion.
"I think I'm particularly drawn to this because I am Jewish, and millions of my people were held in camps," she said. "Some were murdered in extermination camps — not some, many. I feel like that's what 'never again' means."
Other attendees, such as Deb Kurland, a member of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos, believe the treatment of migrants in detention goes against many fundamental American ideals.
"For me, this is about morality. Our country has always welcomed immigrants. Our country is a country of immigrants. The treatment is at the border is unconscionable, and I feel like if I don't stand up, I'm complicit," Kurland said. "I'm not under any assumption that standing here today is going to change what's happening at the border, but I feel that I need to take a stand."
According to the organizers, there have been a few negative encounters from people passing by.
"We get an occasional negative comment that we're traitors. That's very rare, but it happens," Lewis said. "We're a country of free speech so people can react as they wish."
However, the group has also received a number of positive responses, including hundreds of supportive honks from people driving through the intersection and a few people who stopped in their tracks to join the event. On Monday, Tamler said, a man stopped and handed out water bottles to those at the vigil. The group was also joined on Thursday by state Assemblyman Marc Berman, whose district includes Mountain View.
Since the vigil started, Tamler said she has gotten in touch with many other community members from other organizations and religious groups who want to participate.
"I struck a match and threw it, and people responded," she said.
The vigil will culminate with a multifaith demonstration in front of Palo Alto City Hall at 6 p.m. on Aug. 11, with members of both the Jewish and Quaker communities organizing the event.
The end of the vigil will not, however, stop Tamler's efforts to protest the treatment of migrants at the border. She has been in contact with other state and national representatives, and will meet with Eshoo sometime in mid-August.
"There's not an end to this activism until no more families are separated and until the situation at the border change," Tamler said. "We're going to keep on being active on these issues until we have a good immigration policy in this country."