I am sitting in the Phoenix airport awaiting my flight home. What feels most true is that I can't figure out which story to tell you first. Please excuse these unedited reflections. Over the coming weeks and months I will be processing the experience and I look forward to figuring out how to integrate it. We completed the action yesterday and things went smoothly. I am sharing some Facebook reflections from yesterday and additional thoughts below.
"Starting at sunrise beneath the brilliant waning moon, I ventured into the desert with 70 clergy and humanitarian aid facilitators. In each of them I saw a face of the Divine.
Together we delivered 125 gallons of water to some of the most remote parts of the West Desert of Arizona, which involved 1.5 hours on a dirt road by car and then another 1.5 hours by foot. The desert was devastatingly hot and the elements were relentless. Several people experienced heat exhaustion after an hour of exposure. I cannot imagine what a day or a week or a month would do to a person.
As we placed the water, we wrote messages of love and hope for our amigos migrantes to encounter so that they know it is safe to drink. I offered a blessing that has new clarity and resonance for me. The blessing over the Source that gives life to the dead.
These gallons of water are life saving measures. They are necessary humanitarian aid in the face of life threatening conditions. It is an act of a faith and a testament to the presence of the Holy One to place water in the desert.
ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העילם מחיה המתים
Blessed are you, who revives those on the verge of death."
Overall, law enforcement was present and on their best behavior. They were wearing body cameras and working overtime on Sundays (both of which have never happened before). They took our names and may give us citations (it will take six months to know). I was deeply reminded of my work in prisons and interactions with corrections officers, all of whom are human beings with families and systematically trained to fear and dehumanize the populations they are regulating. In the remote desert of southwest Arizona, law enforcement is the major industry. We encountered Border Patrol, Bureau of Land Management rangers, Fish and Wildlife police officers, as well as the Pima County Sheriff. All concerned with a group of clergy caching water under the scarce shade of ironwood bushes (see Facebook for photos and videos).
There are two things I want to highlight in this moment. First, we humans are a giant interconnected ecosystem. And this applies to our actions and our oppressive systems. From Standing Rock to Flint to the U.S. Border, everyone is fighting for access to water because Water is Life/Agua es Vida.
The second thing is that the government is attempting to repress humanitarian aid by criminalizing it. One of the reasons it was essential and strategic to have clergy present is that one of the defendant's arguments in court will be that this is an act of faith and religious conviction. That we as human beings and people of faith cannot not do everything we can to save lives.
I will close with the reflections of my colleague Rabbi Salem Pearce who said it so well:
"I am overwhelmed by my experience today with No More Deaths/No Más Muertes going into the Cabeza Prieta nature preserve with a dozen other clergy (including four other rabbis) to drop off water for those crossing the desert. We hiked about three miles, knew exactly where we were going, and had all the supplies we needed, plus extensive medical support. And it was still one of the hardest things I've ever done (mostly because of the heat, 107+). I still can't wrap my head around what it would be like to do that for a hundred miles, without what you need, without knowing where to go, while being hunted by Border Patrol. I'll share more soon after I've had a chance to process more. For now, we're all safe and hydrated. #dropthecharges #waternotwalls #floodthedesert"
Looking forward to coming home and sharing more with you on Friday night. Thank you for your words of support. If you want to support financially you are invited to donate to my discretionary fund to help underwrite this trip and to No More Deaths/No Más Muertes for their righteous, rigorous work.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.