Cheryl Peress

Posts by AJWS:

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.

Read More »

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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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At the White House with 30 Rabbis and Jewish Leaders

On Wednesday, I had the privilege to join a group of 30 rabbis and Jewish leaders from 13 states for a day of meetings at the White House to learn about the Obama administration’s strategy to end violence against women, girls and LGBT people worldwide.

AJWS's rabbinic delegation at the White House. Photo Credit: Mike Kandel

AJWS’s rabbinic delegation at the White House. Photo Credit: Mike Kandel

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Reflections on Mandela’s Legacy from Our Partners in Africa

mandelaLike millions of people around the globe, we are mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, whose leadership as a peacemaker and human rights activist transformed our world.

Our partners in Africa have been writing to us to share their reflections on Mandela’s legacy. Here are a few: Read More »

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Welcoming Chanukah and My Daughter in Mumbai

This piece was originally published as part of AJWS’s Chag v’Chesed series

Rabbi Steven Greenberg's partner, Steven Goldstein, with his daughter Amalia.

Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s partner, Steven Goldstein, holding his daughter Amalia.

My daughter was born in Mumbai, India, between the Hindu and Jewish celebrations of lights—Diwali and Chanukah. We have sweet memories of lighting Chanukah candles in the hotel dining room in India, celebrating the transformation that her birth brought into our lives.

Both holidays are likely related to the ancient celebration, Saturnalia, a holiday of lights leading up to the winter solstice. Chanukah appears in this context to be tied to a universal human desire to resist the encroaching night by adding light of our own when the heavens grow dark.

Last July I traveled back to India, this time with American Jewish World Service and 17 rabbinic colleagues, in order to understand better how a very small group of people can bring some light to an often very dark place. The community we worked with, Bhakaripurwa, was literally dark at night with no electricity.

We were tasked with improving the school for the children of the village. Alongside the capable villagers, we paved the schoolyard so that the children didn’t have to play in the mud during the rainy season, and we refurbished the kitchen and a classroom floors, as well.  Read More »

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International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

VAWToday is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, so I’ve been thinking about the lives of women and girls around the world.

Zeenat, a 17 year old girl from the impoverished community of Hyderabad, India, has already been married and divorced three times. All three of her marriages took place against her will, and all three husbands abused her.

Unfortunately, Zeenat’s experience is not uncommon in her community. Like many girls living in poverty in Hyderabad, Zeenat was forced to drop out of school and did not have any vocational skills. Her parents viewed marriage as a way to relieve a financial burden on their household.

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Typhoon Haiyan Highlights the Need for a More Flexible Food Aid Response

For more than two years, American Jewish World Service has been working to improve the way the United States delivers life-saving food assistance to millions of hungry people worldwide. Thanks in part to the efforts of committed AJWS activists, AJWS and other allies were able to push forward incremental improvements to food aid programs in the Senate Farm Bill. A vote in the House of Representatives for even stronger reforms fell short by just nine votes.

The United States’ well-intentioned, but ill-advised food aid response in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti demonstrated that the U.S. food aid system was long over-due for a makeover. Typhoon Haiyan and the ongoing massive humanitarian crisis in the Philippines, has only added urgency to that fight. Read More »

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