Leah Kaplan Robins Senior Writer and Editor

Leah Kaplan Robins is AJWS's senior writer and editor. When she's not writing about global justice at AJWS, she's enjoying time with her husband and nine-month-old son in Hoboken, NJ.

Posts by Leah:

Dvar Tzedek: Parashat Breishit 5773

We are, by nature, creatures of habit. We find comfort in things that are familiar, carving out routines that give our lives order. But repetition also leads to the curious subduing of awareness that we call “autopilot”—the feeling we get when we arrive at work having absolutely no recollection of the roads or steps we took to get there. Autopilot can free our brains for daydreaming or creative thinking, but when its numbing effect starts to creep into important activities in our daily lives, it can dim our passion for things that once excited or inspired us.

This week, as we begin the familiar refrain of the opening chapters of the Torah in Parashat Breishit for the umpteenth time in Jewish history, it’s so easy to zone out in this way. After all, “In the beginning” is not really the beginning; we’ve heard it before. How often do we sit in synagogue hearing the chant with our ears but thinking other thoughts? Suddenly the Torah is being lifted and tied 30 minutes later and we have no recollection of all of the aliyot in between—let alone any deep thinking about the vital content within them. Read More »

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Into the Field: Stories from Cambodia

Leah Kaplan Robins in Cambodia.

As AJWS’s senior writer and editor, my job is to put AJWS’s complex work—helping marginalized people in the developing world realize their human rights—into words. I tell stories about activists around the globe, trying to bring their lives and challenges alive for AJWS supporters who’ve never met them—or who may have never seen this kind of poverty and injustice themselves.

What may surprise you is that, until just recently, I hadn’t seen it either. For the past four years at AJWS, I have portrayed communities and human rights struggles by hearing stories from colleagues, interviewing our grantees when they visited New York, and pouring over photos from our staff, volunteers and grantees to glean images and feelings that I could convey on the page.

But two weeks ago, AJWS sent me into the field with two of my colleagues—to Cambodia. For the first time, I stood face-to-face with the people whose struggles we’re funding—in their own communities. While this one trip can’t encapsulate the diverse range of places AJWS works, it provided moments of deep connection that I can now share with you, and that will inspire my work for a long time to come. Read More »

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Getting to the Promised Land at Last: Lessons from Moses to Speed the Fight Against AIDS

Each year when we reach Parashat Dvarim I experience a rush of exhilaration when I imagine the scene: the Israelites are gathered high on the steppes of Moab, having finally reached the end of their 40-year ordeal in the desert. As they wait for Moses to deliver his final address, they look out at the expanse below, and see the Promised Land at last. For a few moments, perhaps, their thoughts of the traumas behind them and the battles ahead are eclipsed by the simple joy that home is within their sight. Read More »

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Activism in Asia – Link Roundup

April, May and June have unleashed a firestorm of media coverage for our grantees in Asia. Check out this roundup of the most significant stories:

For the first time ever, our Burma grantees garnered tremendous media coverage in major outlets around the world. But what’s so significant about this coverage? Our grantees are speaking and the world is listening. More than ever before, our grantees are being tapped by policy makers and journalists for their on-the-ground experience and their decades-long work on documenting human rights abuses. Though our grantees are excited about the changes happening in the country, they are quick to remind the international community that human rights abuses abound and there is still tremendous work to be done. Here are a few of the stories:

  • The Bangkok Post wrote a piece about the underbelly of an “open” Burma, highlighting that though cosmetic political changes have been made, activists are drawing attention to the stream of constant, brutal abuse committed by Burmese authorities against ethnic minorities and political prisoners. The first part of the article is told from the perspective of Moon Lay Ni, coordinator of Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT). Formed in 1999, KWAT works with vulnerable refugees and migrant workers from Kachin state in Thailand and Burma to provide leadership training and educational programs to increase awareness of women’s rights, health and environmental protection.
  • On June 5, The Nation ran an opinion piece by Jackie Pollock, director of Map Foundation, an organization that strives for Burmese migrant workers to be free from discrimination and live safely and securely in Thailand. Pollock’s article calls for Thailand to include domestic and migrant workers in national labor laws in addition to “act quickly improve the pay and conditions of domestic workers” in the country, particularly with the number of arrests that will follow any kind of nationality verification processes.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights has also been a critical topic this spring. From sex workers to LGBTI communities, AJWS grantees are making waves in the news:

  • In April, when a pregnant Indian sex worker was assaulted by the police and miscarried, SANGRAM organized a vast cross-section of organizations (including AJWS partner Awaaz-E-Niswaan) to protest the human rights violations that sex workers suffer at the hands of the police. Read the article about the protest in The Hindu here. Sign the Change.org petition here.
Posted in Change-Makers, Human Rights, In the News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

AJWS’s Annual Report Has Arrived… and It’s 100% Green!

We have something exciting to share with you! Our brand new annual report is fresh off the proverbial press.

Not only is it totally green—no paper, period!—it’s chock full of info about all of the issues that you come to this blog to read about… recovery in Haiti, promoting LGBTI rights, reversing global hunger and building a Jewish movement to pursue human rights. It also has a great recap of the human rights victories we’re most proud of having helped achieve in 2011. Read More »

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Jews vs. The Farm Bill

Originally posted on The Jew and the Carrot.

AJWS President Ruth Messinger supporting local agriculture in Kenya.

The issue inspiring the latest Jewish political movement won’t surprise readers of this blog—but it might cause some head scratching among the rest of the Jewish community. It isn’t Israel or the 99%. Nope, it’s… the U.S. Farm Bill!

While it may seem like an unlikely target for a swell of Jewish activism, the Farm Bill—which dictates U.S. law on everything from agriculture to food stamps to biofuels—is packed with policies that go against the grain of Jewish ethics. The bill is up for debate and reauthorization this year, and six Jewish organizations are seizing the opportunity to call for reforms that they feel will go a long way toward achieving their Torah-inspired visions of food justice.

Even though they’re each tackling a different aspect of the bill, they’ve recently joined forces to maximize their power and mobilize their constituents toward a common goal. Read More »

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Food Aid: Help or Harm? Both.

Contradictions are popping up a lot around here lately: By now, you’ve likely heard AJWS say “U.S. food aid saves lives but it’s also causing more hunger.”  We’re often uncomfortable with contradictions like these, and instead, crave clear messages that we can embrace: hunger is bad. Aid is good. Too bad things can’t be that simple.

It turns out that food aid has been a complicated topic all the way back to biblical times, when the imprisoned patriarch Joseph was charged with devising a plan for avoiding a hunger crisis in Egypt. He decided to hoard food during the “seven years of plenty” and distribute it to hungry Egyptians during the “seven years of famine”—the world’s earliest example of in-kind food aid. Read More »

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Haiti Doesn’t Need Your Old T-Shirt… Or Our Surplus Rice

AJWS has been saying for a while that shipping surplus U.S. food thousands of miles to developing countries is about as useless in ending global hunger as, well, sending them our old T-shirts.

According to this article in Foreign Policy Magazine, here’s a great acronym for the leftovers people send to the poor under the guise of helping: SWEDOW (“stuff we don’t want”).

Charles Kenny makes it clear and compelling why casting our SWEDOW on the Global South isn’t going to foster sustainable change—it just clears out our closets and the coffers of U.S. farming surplus to make room for the next useless T-shirt or bumper crop. Read More »

Posted in Food Justice | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

A Year of Global Justice

This word cloud is a visual representation of all the text in AJWS’s new 2010 online annual report (pretty neat!). I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out the report itself, but for readers-on-the-go, enjoy this quick snapshot of AJWS’s work for global justice in 2010.

As you can see (click the word cloud for more detail) AJWS’s impact spanned the globe. Haiti looms large and so do AJWS’s commitments to grassroots change, sustainable solutions to hunger and advocacy for peace in Sudan. “Jewish” is also central, of course.

Read More »

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Let’s Not Forget About LGBT Haitians

Sunday’s New York Times editorial on Haiti’s refugee camps, rightly focuses on one of the most critical issues facing the hundreds of thousands of Haitians still living in Haiti’s decrepit tent settlements: rape. The editorial encourages policymakers to do something about the terrible conditions—a lack of streetlights and not enough police protection—that lead to relentless rapes of women; women who can’t even go to the bathroom at night without real fears of brutal violence. Read More »

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