Local rabbi arrested at traffic-snarling San Francisco demonstration

An East Bay rabbi was arrested while participating in an April 4 protest urging President Barack Obama to halt all deportations, including those of undocumented workers in San Francisco.

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum, an associate rabbi and educator at Beth Chaim Congregation in Danville, took part in a rally organized by the SF Bay Coalition for Immigrant Justice.

Rabbi Michael Rothbaum speaks at a protest in San Francisco calling for an end to deportations.

The rally was staged in front of the  Federal Immigration Court, at 120 Montgomery St., “where thousands of cases are currently backlogged,” said Rothbaum, 42.

Approximately 300 people attended the rally. Rothbaum was one of 23 arrested for failure to disperse and for blocking an intersection; he was part of a group that sat in a circle, singing and chanting, in the intersection of Montgomery and Sutter streets. They also reportedly held up a banner that read “Deporter in Chief” and parodied Obama’s “Hope” campaign poster with handcuffs replacing the president’s image.

Two other members of the clergy, the Rev. Debra Lee of the United Church of Christ and the Rev. Richard Smith of St. John Evangelist Episcopal Church, also were arrested.

Detainees were booked and released at the Tenderloin substation, according to the San Francisco Police Department.

Rothbaum, who serves on the regional board of the nonprofit Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, spoke at the protest, relating the plight of undocumented workers to his own family history. He addressed the gathering while standing atop a parked pickup truck, and he held up a black-and-white photo of his great-aunt Rose, who was from Poland.

“The Passover story teaches us to shout ‘My father was a fugitive Aramean,’” Rothbaum said. “In my case, my aunt was a wandering Polish Jew. How about you? Was your father a wandering Nicaraguan? Or a wandering Mandarin? … Or, Mr. Obama, maybe your father was a wandering Kenyan?

“The difference between us, here today, and the forces of hate, is that we celebrate your Kenyan father. And our Mexican mothers. And our European Jewish aunts.”

Immigration reform is a priority issue for Rothbaum. Last year he spoke at another immigration rally, denouncing Congress’ inaction on immigration reform as well as federal policies that have triggered an increase in deportations.

Ordained at the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York, Rothbaum, who lives in Oakland, has done extensive work with faith-based social justice organizations, including Bend the Arc and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

In 2013, he joined a rabbinic delegation to Ghana, sponsored by American Jewish World Service.

On April 21, Rothbaum will be taking part in a seder-like event in San Francisco titled Passover Justice Experience. American Jewish World Service, Bend the Arc, Hazon, the New Israel Fund, the Kitchen and Congregation Beth Sholom are joining forces to present a justice-oriented Pesach dinner and learning session. For more information on the event, which is slated to run from 6 to 9:30 p.m. at Beth Sholom in San Francisco, visit www.bendthearc.us. — j. staff