What is it about the holiday of Sukkot that makes it so powerful? Tradition teaches that the energy of Sukkot is so intense, so visceral and delightful, that seven mythic figures leave the Garden of Eden to join in the light of our earthly sukkot (temporary shelters). But why? What is it about the sukkah that compels even those who have tasted Paradise?
These spirit guests, known as the Ushpizin, are invited each night into our sukkot. Groupings of Ushpizin vary by community, and include biblical prophetess, revered sages and modern heroes, invoked in turn each night of Sukkot. Jewish mystical tradition suggests that each guest also serves as a reminder of an action through which the brokenness of our world is repaired.
AJWS’s small but mighty marathon team will soon embark on a journey that will test their physical and mental strength: the 2013 New York City Marathon. Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, these nine runners have already spent months tirelessly training to tackle 26.2 miles.
In addition to training for the race on November 3, the team is dedicating its efforts to raising money—more than $21,000—to support AJWS’s work in the developing world. You can support the team here.
So, who are these runners and what motivates them to seize this challenge? Here’s what they had to say for themselves:
This post is also featured on the blog of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.
Marvin Goodman, far left, traveled with an AJWS rabbinic delegation to India.
This July, I traveled to Lucknow in northern India with American Jewish World Service and a group of 17 rabbis from across the United States. Our goal was to personally see and understand AJWS’s important international work. And, as I look back at the trip, we certainly accomplished that—but we also got a more powerful crash course in the profound disparities between the conditions and expectations for human rights in the U.S. versus the developing world. The experience was overwhelming, surprising, uplifting, depressing and eye-opening. Read More
Posted in Giving, Human Rights, Jewish Justice, Letters from the Field
Tagged caste, human rights, India, Poverty, rabbis, travel, violence, women
This week, the Ugandan parliament approved a piece of legislation that violates its citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms, effectively ending true democracy in the country. The final text of the “Public Order Management” bill has not been released, but the most recent draft of the bill will essentially muzzle free speech.
If that bill becomes law, it will give the Ugandan government unprecedented power to prevent and halt any public gatherings of a political nature. The law will outlaw any “group” of people, defined as three or more, from meeting in any public place to discuss or critique the government, its laws or its programs. These kinds of everyday debates will now require prior permission by the head of the Ugandan police force. The meetings have to be requested a full week in advance, cannot be held after 6 p.m. and can be quickly dispersed if police feel they are disrupting the peace.
AJWS President Ruth Messinger described the situation in a statement:
American Jewish World Service (AJWS) recently hosted Meena Seshu for a visit to our headquarters in New York City. Meena is the secretary general of SANGRAM, an AJWS grantee in India that educates and empowers sex workers to overcome their most challenging health and human rights issues.
While she was here, Meena stopped by The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC, New York City’s public radio station. She talked with guest host and actress Martha Plimpton, star of the Fox television show “Raising Hope,” about SANGRAM’s efforts to help Indian sex workers curb violence and keep themselves safe from HIV.
Translated as “the ninth day of the month of Av,” Tisha B’Av marks the destruction of the two great Temples that once stood in Jerusalem, and over time it has come to mourn many of the tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people. Tisha B’Av embodies our collective history and struggles, and it is one of the most challenging days on the Jewish calendar. Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning.
On the eve of Tisha B’Av, we read the book of Eicha (Lamentations). It begins, “how lonely sits the city once full of people,” bearing witness to the destruction of the Temple and the exile from Jerusalem. But remembering alone is not enough. Jewish tradition tells us to observe Tisha B’Av by removing the amenities that provide us comfort and make up our daily lives and instructs us to fast, sit on the floor (a traditional sign of mourning), and to refrain from bathing, beautifying or applying cosmetics. These practices express collective mourning and remind us, once again, of what was and still is greater than ourselves.
Staff and friends of American Jewish World Service marching in the 2013 NYC Pride March.
Staff and supporters of American Jewish World Service hit the streets of New York City last week, joining the NYC Pride March and serving as the Jewish voice for LGBTI rights worldwide.
My colleagues and I were so excited to show our pride, celebrate the latest victory in the struggle for marriage equality in the U.S. (the Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8) and make it clear that our work will not be done until the human rights of people of all sexual orientations are respected worldwide.
President Obama was in Senegal last week, the first stop on his three-country visit to Africa. The trip kicks off Obama’s efforts to deepen the United States’ engagement in Africa focusing on trade and investment, democratic institution-building and economic opportunities for young people. The president is traveling with a team of economic advisors and representatives from the private sector and will be speaking with members of civil society and judicial leaders.
Why Senegal Was Chosen
The US ambassador to Senegal affirmed that Senegal was selected because of its political stability and democratic record. Indeed, the Senegalese people are the pride of West Africa because last year they peacefully elected as president an opposition member in a highly contested presidential race. The country plays an important diplomatic role in francophone Africa. It is a large contributor of troops to international peacekeeping missions and a strong US ally in fighting transnational security threats including terrorism, drug trafficking and maritime piracy.
We were thrilled to see Senegal host President Obama and it was a moment to celebrate his homecoming to the land of Teranga (hospitality). Read More
The fight for food aid reform is about to come down to an historic vote. With our partners at the leading development and humanitarian organizations in the country, we just released a joint statement of our support for updating the U.S. food aid system, making it more flexible and effective.
Building on the ideas for reform we have been promoting for years, last month President Obama called for improvements to our outdated and inefficient international food aid system. This week the House will vote on a bi-partisan amendment, sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) to provide greater flexibility and help more people with our international food assistance without spending any additional U.S. taxpayer dollars.
As committed AJWS activist Jonathan Zasloff recently noted the reforms have widespread support, from organizations spanning the ideological divide from the Heritage Foundation to the Center for American Progress. It’s not surprising, as the reforms are really just common sense updates to outdated laws.
[The current, outdated law requires that] the vast majority of our aid be provided in the form of U.S.-sourced commodities, but] the U.S. needs greater flexibility to respond quickly and effectively to emergencies and longer-term food insecurity. In emergency situations in particular, the delivery of U.S. commodities can be extremely difficult – due to insecurity, as has been the case in Syria, or due to a host of other obstacles. Purchasing food locally or regionally, or providing cash transfers/food vouchers that work through local market systems, is often the best option for getting food aid to people who need it. Independent research has shown this approach can reach people considerably faster than shipping commodities from the U.S. These are well-tested and proven approaches that come with strong safeguards to ensure assistance is delivered quickly and not diverted from those in need.
Email your representative in Congress now and tell him or her that food aid reform matters to you!
When 870 million people around the world suffering from hunger every day, making every food aid dollar count is not only a responsible use of taxpayer money — it is a moral imperative. We thank all of our partners and supporters who have brought us so close to making these critically important reforms into a reality.
Wilmer Gutiérrez Gómez (right), a leader of AJWS grantee Coordinadora Chorotega, works to defend the land rights of indigenous communities. Photograph by Stefanie Rubin
American Jewish World Service has worked in Nicaragua for 14 years, focusing on two of the most pressing challenges facing some of the most disadvantaged groups in the country:
- The struggle for land, food, water and resources needed for the survival of indigenous people
- Human rights violations against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people
This week, a group of AJWS supporters will travel to Nicaragua to engage with nine of our grantee organizations. They’ll meet with staff members who are mobilizing their communities to make long-lasting change.
Our grantees take on critical rights issues in Nicaragua—like Coordinadora Chorotega, which trains local leaders to take legal action against the government’s sale of indigenous land. There’s also Grupo Safo, which recently opened the first health clinic in Nicaragua specifically for lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.
Want to learn more? Check out Promoting Human Rights in Nicaragua, a new review of AJWS’s work in the country.