Elizabeth Daube

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Congress Passes Bill to Assess U.S. Funding in Haiti

Ian Schwab, AJWS's associate director of advocacy (far left), speaks at a Haiti Advocacy Working Group event.

Ian Schwab, AJWS’s associate director of advocacy (far left), speaks at a Haiti Advocacy Working Group event.

More than four years after a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, the country is still struggling with deep-rooted inequality, rampant poverty and a troubled government. Congress recently passed a new bill to reform how the U.S. tracks the progress of its development projects in Haiti—with the hope of making those projects more effective.

“Our government laudably committed a significant amount of aid to help Haiti rebuild, but a lack of transparency made it difficult to understand how U.S. government funds were being used,” said Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service. “The bill will help establish clear and transparent goals for future U.S. involvement in Haiti and will ensure that U.S. dollars are spent in responsible ways that create long-term, positive change.”

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The End of the Road

Despite global praise for Burma’s democratic reforms, the country hasn’t resolved its decades-long legacy of ethnic persecution. Burma’s refugees fear what will happen to them next. To learn more, American Jewish World Service’s Elizabeth Daube interviewed refugees living along the Thailand-Burma border.

Karen refugees on the Thailand-Burma border

Karen refugees on the Thailand-Burma border

Naw Htee Ku doesn’t want to talk about the past. She’s sitting on a concrete floor not far from the amplified music and clapping of Mae Ra Moe refugee camp’s public square, where a crowd has gathered to celebrate the birthday of Thailand’s king.

He’s not their king, of course. But it’s a Thai tradition that the Karen refugees—pronounced Kah-REN—have grown accustomed to in the camps. Over the past 30 years, hundreds of thousands of Karen and other ethnic minorities have fled from Burma* and into Thailand, for reasons Naw Htee Ku prefers not to dwell on.

“Even if we discuss it, we can no longer do anything about it,” she says, slowly chewing on a betel nut. “Things that happened to me in the past will remain in the past. If we talk about these things, we will just feel upset.”

What Naw Htee Ku wants to talk about is happening now. The Karen refugees fear a forced return to Burma—and with it, more of the oppression that pushed them into Thailand in the first place.

As we walk back to the festivities in the square, green mountains enclose us on all sides. I know there’s a way out of this place: a tedious drive past the clusters of thin bamboo houses, past the Thai border guards, climbing up and up a winding road. But it’s nowhere in sight.

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For Eddie: I Am Keeping My Promise

Photo: Associated Press

Photo: Associated Press

Originally published in LGBTQ Nation.

Twenty-two years ago, I made a promise that has shaped my life and my work ever since. My beloved partner Eddie, a talented musician, was dying of AIDS.

At the time, we felt powerless, isolated and angry—there was no effective medical treatment, no hope for recovery and too much hate rooted in fear of a mysterious disease and its association with gay men. As his final days neared, Eddie asked me to swear to him that he would not become “just another AIDS statistic.”

I’ve done everything in my power to keep this promise to stop HIV-positive and LGBT people like Eddie from being forgotten. Read More »

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Our Journey to Capitol Hill

Summit Capitol StepsMore than 150 AJWS supporters gathered in Washington, D.C. this week for the 2014 AJWS Policy Summit. Yesterday, after 48 hours of inspirational programming and skills building, we headed out to Capitol Hill to urge our legislators to pass the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), which was introduced in the Senate on May 8th.

Together we visited 100 Congressional offices all in one day—and secured new allies in our fight to end violence against women and girls worldwide!

As a result of these visits, many Representatives learned about the bill for the first time—and others committed to support it as co-sponsors. We crisscrossed the Hill from the House to the Senate and back, and felt the momentum for We Believe building.

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How Being a Third Generation Holocaust Survivor Inspired My Journey to Social Justice

rebecca-grandfather

Rebecca and her grandfather Moshe, a Holocaust survivor, in Staten Island in the late 1980s.

Every day, but especially on Yom Hashoah, I think about my family’s experience in the Holocaust and how that has shaped who I am today.

As a young child, I didn’t fully grasp what being a Holocaust survivor meant. I knew that my grandfather had a big family before the Holocaust and that my great aunt had numbers tattooed on her arm. I knew that two of my great aunts were on line for the gas chambers at Auschwitz, minutes from cremation, when the camp was liberated. I knew that my mom dedicated her life to supporting the needs of Holocaust survivors—physically, emotionally and financially. But I didn’t know what all of these markers would truly mean to me.

Ten years later when I was in college, I had the opportunity to meet Paul Rusesabagina, the Rwandan hotel manager who hid and protected more than 1,200 Hutu and Tutsi refugees during the Rwandan Genocide. I heard him speak during an event with the Hillel at Binghamton University. None of the refugees that he hid in his hotel were harmed during the genocide. He spoke about the genocide in Rwanda—what it was like to live through the violence, religious persecution and political strife. It was during his speech that I had my moment of realization; the moment when I realized that being a third generation Holocaust survivor was bigger than just carrying the story of my family. For me, being a third generation survivor meant taking a stand against injustice everywhere. Read More »

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Notes from Senegal: My American Jewish World Service Study Tour Experience

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Originally posted on the blog of Absolute Travel.

On a recent one week study tour sponsored by American Jewish World Service (AJWS), with the assistance of Absolute Travel, I became fully immersed in the magical world of Senegal—its people, its culture and its struggles to forge peace and overcome poverty. Read More »

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Sex Workers Can Speak for Themselves

WONETHA is a human rights-based organization and registered NGO, based in Uganda. WONETHA seeks to improve the health, social and economic wellbeing of female adult sex workers in Uganda. Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP), India, is a collective of women in sex work against injustice who have mobilized in order to speak out about HIV and AIDS, violence against sex workers and to fight for the rights of people in sex work. 

In a CNN piece published late last year, filmmakers Jane Wells and John-Keith Wasson make sweeping conclusions about sex workers: that they are all victims and that the best way to help them is by shutting down the “evil” sex industry. Their conclusion is troubling because, in order to arrive at it, Wells and Wasson had to blatantly ignore the voices of sex workers themselves who have proposed very different solutions than Wells and Wasson. Read More »

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Fighting Anti-Gay Hate on Purim

Demonstrators in Nairobi, Kenya rally against wave of anti-gay legislation in Africa. Photo: Getty Images.

Demonstrators in Nairobi, Kenya rally against wave of anti-gay legislation in Africa. Photo: Getty Images.

The ancient rabbi Hillel famously asked: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” I feel it is important to answer the first two questions in the way Hillel hoped—that we must stand up for both ourselves and for others. (After 40 years as a legislator, my answer to the third is “as soon as we have the votes.”)

On Purim, Jews remember the oppression we faced and overcame in ancient Persia and throughout our history. With Hillel’s questions in mind, we must rededicate ourselves to combating anti-Semitism throughout the world and to combating the oppression of others.

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Looking Back, Moving Forward: Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law and the Fight for Human Rights

It was a moment we could barely believe had come. For more than four years, my Ugandan colleagues and I watched and waited and debated and strategized as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill emerged and disappeared from Uganda’s political agenda. Yesterday, Ugandan President Museveni signed the bill into law.

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That’s a Wrap: What We Won in the Farm Bill

Photo credit: Nehanda Radio

Photo credit: Nehanda Radio

When we launched the Reverse Hunger campaign on World Food Day 2011, we set out to ensure that the U.S. Farm Bill reflected our Jewish values, ensuring that our international food aid programs feed more hungry people and support local farmers abroad. Never could we have imagined how incredible, sometimes dysfunctional, and downright comical this journey would be.

Today is the culmination of that journey. Later this afternoon, the President will sign the U.S. Farm Bill (officially known as the Agricultural Act of 2014) into law. While AJWS does not have a position on the entire bill, a massive piece of legislation that shapes the majority of U.S. food and agricultural policies, we welcome the modest, yet critical improvements to international food aid programs.

The changes in this bill are aimed at increasing flexibility: making it easier to utilize alternative food aid approaches and to move away from inefficient practices that slow down delivery and sometimes undermine our goals of helping people for the long-haul. Read More »

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