Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Reflections on My Trip to Postville

Guest post by Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman of Madison, Wisconsin

I was standing next to a long table full of neatly arranged trays of cookies when I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw a woman with white hair smiling kindly at me. Noticing my kippah she offered, "The kosher cookies are over here." After finishing our march through the tiny town of Postville, Iowa, the hospitality committee of St. Bridget's Catholic Church was waiting for us, eager to show their appreciation that we had come. (Photo Credits: Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman)

Interfaith March Joins Over 1,000 People

It was an extraordinary experience to march through Postville, a town of 2,200 people. The afternoon began with an interfaith service with hundreds of people packed into the tiny church. We read liturgy of courage, hope, and love together both in English and Spanish, and we sang a beautiful rendition of Hinei mah tov in unison - indeed, how great it was that we were all sitting there together.

We were quite a diverse group of over 1,000 people. The march, organized by Jewish Community Action of Minneapolis, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs of Chicago, and our host, St. Bridget's Catholic Church, drew a fascinating crowd. As we walked through the neighborhoods, Postville residents sat on porch stoops or lawn chairs watching us as we marched by. They seemed to be fascinated by us - after all, such a march had never happened in this town.

When we arrived at Agriprocessors, a rabbi, speaking through the loud-speaker, explained a piece of Talmud which prohibits employers from oppressing their workers. We passed a park where we heard more speeches and a poem by children. We then walked into the center of town where we were confronted by a small, angry group of counter-protestors who did not seem to be from Postville. One sign read, "Pack their sack and send them back." A line of police officers separated us.

Community Reflects on "Disaster" of Raids

I walked for some time with an older couple who lived ten miles outside of Postville. They kept repeating the word disaster - the raid was a disaster, the working conditions at the plant were a disaster, the plight of the children separated from their parents was a disaster, the deportations were a disaster. They were members of St. Bridget's. I asked what people in the church thought of all of this. They answered, "The church just doesn't like to see families separated. It's just not right."

Iowan Hospitality

A downpour interrupted the last of the speeches outside of St. Bridget's. We all piled into the church - with a spread of cookies waiting for us. Throughout the day I had wondered what the folks at St. Bridget's thought of so many Jews converging on their town. Did they understand that we also shared so many things in common? The kosher cookies seemed to say it all. I thanked one of the women on the hospitality committee. She responded, "We are so happy to have you." "But serving 1,000 people cookies?" I asked. "We're Iowans. This is what we do."


For information on the May 12 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid in Postville and AFSC's involvement, click here and find out how you can help.

  • To read "Interpreting after the Largest ICE Raid in US History: A Personal Account," by Erik Camayd-Freixas, Ph.D., click here (PDF, 104Kb).
  • To read an article by Sandra Sanchez of AFSC Des Moines about the ICE raid on immigrant workers in Postville, click here.