Aaron Dorfman

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Dvar Tzedek: Parashat Bereshit 5775

DvarTzedek

On the subway the other day, my four-year-old daughter piped up with the observation, “There are more white people than brown people on the train today.” I was immediately discomfited, looking around to see if anyone had heard and then probing to see if her comment had any valence beyond the simple truth that there were, in fact, more white people than people of color in our car. It was unsettling to recognize the deep human urge to separate and draw distinctions—and to note my own reaction of anxiety.

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Why Yom Kippur Tells Us To Fight Ebola

Originally published in The Jewish Daily Forward.

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Photo: Getty Images

As Jews around the world prepare for Yom Kippur — a day when we pray to be “sealed in the Book of Life” for the year to come — the people of West Africa are struggling to save the lives of their loved ones from the Ebola outbreak, one of the most desperate crises of our day.

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Reflections on India and Behind the Beautiful Forevers

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Photo by Jeff Zorabedian

I was drawn to Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, Katherine Boo, when it first appeared in 2012. Boo’s raw and vivid portrait of life in an Indian slum is 100 percent nonfiction, yet it reads like a novel. This past summer I returned to Boo’s book and was newly impressed by the candor and honesty of her writing. Her words shed light on the crucial human rights issues that American Jewish World Service’s grantees confront every day. And just a few weeks ago I was delighted to be in conversation with Katherine Boo to discuss the challenges facing India’s 68 million slum dwellers. Forty-two percent of India’s 1.2 billion people live below the international poverty line, earning less than $1.25 per day. Many of these people go unnoticed by our global community, and they are in dire need of our attention.

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Meet the 2014 AJWS New York City Marathon Team

On November 2nd, AJWS’s mighty marathon team will embark on a journey that will test their physical and mental strength: 26.2 miles! Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, these 15 runners have already spent months tirelessly training to run the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon. In addition to training for the race, the team is dedicating its efforts to raising money—more than $45,000—to support AJWS’s work in the developing world. You can support the team here. We hope you’ll cheer on Team AJWS as they race through all five boroughs to build a more just and equitable world. Learn why these runners are seizing this challenge:  Read More »

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Kenyan women speak out against sexual violence

Grace Mbugua, founder and director of Women’s Empowerment Link (WEL)

Grace Mbugua, founder and director of Women’s Empowerment Link (WEL)

KENYA—Grace Mbugua was riding in a matatu van when the attendant started to harass her. First, he started flirting with her. When Grace made it clear that she was not interested, he tried touching her anyway.

“When I came out [of the matatu],” she said, “I actually felt abused … How often [must this experience occur] for those who have to commute every day?” Read More »

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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

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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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