Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton with children in Ghana. Photo: Will Berkovitz
What could our observances of the Yamim Nora’im, the High Holy Days, possibly have to do with a school in a fishing village on the coast of Ghana?
The Jewish New Year celebrates the birthday of the world, harat olam, the beginning of all. This summer, I traveled with American Jewish World Service’s Young Rabbis’ Delegation to Winneba, Ghana. In Winneba, we partnered with an NGO called Challenging Heights that provides education to former child slaves, and resources for families whose children are at risk of slavery and human trafficking. Under the direction of a local contractor and alongside local workers, we spent our mornings mixing and pouring cement, carrying bricks and making mortar for the foundation and walls of a new IT Center. We spent afternoons and evenings learning about social justice and global responsibility from Jewish texts and traditions. Read More
Rabbi Zoe Klein recently traveled with AJWS on a Young Rabbis’ Delegation (YRD) to Ghana. Below is a sermon she delivered last Shabbat, August 12, 2011, at Temple Isaiah of Los Angeles, where she is the senior rabbi.
This week’s Torah portion [Parshat Va’etchanan] includes the words Shema Yisrael,
And in the Torah, as many know,
The last letter of the first word,
The ayin of shema,
And the last letter of the last word,
The dalet of echad,
Are written large,
Larger than the other letters.
Together those two letters,
Ayin-dalet spell the Hebrew word Eid,
Which means witness.
The essence of our call to faith,
Not only to hear oh Israel,
Hear that God is One,
But bear witness to it,
Bear witness to oneness,
To the potential for oneness
When God’s image is shattered, or trashed.
You cannot truly witness through a book.
You cannot truly witness through a screen.
Witness means being there,
Eyes ears heart open,
Tasting the air,
its metallic tinge.
I signed up for the Global Circle trip to Ghana with some reluctance. Couldn’t I just write a check to AJWS and take a vacation to Hawaii instead? Or if I wanted to do something for people in need, couldn’t I start somewhere a little closer to home? Who would I be helping by spending money to visit the developing world?
I am uncomfortable. I am hot, sweaty and tired. I have been continuously carrying 45 lb blocks for about 10 minutes, fairly certain this is the first time I have ever carried cement blocks in my entire life. While I am used to seeing huge cement mixers on the side of the highway, here I am mixing cement myself with a shovel.
Traveling to the developing world for the first time has aroused a mix of emotions for me. As I sit in my light-flickering room in the rather hot, however charming lodge in Winneba, a small town of Ghana, I’m beginning to decompress my feelings about what I’ve seen and experienced: I visited a slum and saw an arresting level of poverty. I watched a condom demonstration from a former sex worker. I met the US Ambassador to Ghana. Read More
James Kofi Annan, founder and executive director of AJWS’s grantee Challenging Heights, has won the prestigious $100,000 Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize. Amazing! With 1,000 nominees from 66 countries, the competition was fierce, but Annan stood out as one of only three activists to be awarded the prize.
His story is both humbling and inspiring. At the age of six, Annan was sold into slavery in his native country Ghana. For the next seven years, he worked from dawn to dusk on a small boat, leaning far over the side rails to haul in heavy fishing nets—often in rough waters. At the age of 13, Annan escaped from slavery without knowing how to read or write. Against all odds, he rose from a life of poverty and abuse, and—while working for a living—taught himself to read using books he borrowed from kindergarten students. He eventually attended university and excelled in his studies.
The count-down is on for Global Circle’s inaugural trip to Ghana! In just a few days, 15 Jewish young professionals from around the country will join AJWS to explore the cultural and political dynamics that drive poverty and injustice in Ghanaian society. Trip participants will roll up their sleeves for a service project, and meet some of AJWS’s grantees that combat HIV/AIDS, promote LGBTI rights, and prevent child trafficking.
Bummed that you couldn’t make the trip this time around? Don’t worry, Global Circle will be blogging from the field to give you a sense of the sights, sounds and social justice issues they’re encountering. Follow Global Voices next week to read blog posts from trip participants. Stay tuned!