Dominicans of Haitian descent deserve full equality in the Dominican Republic

DR protest

Protesters organize outside the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court.

Daniela lives in a batey—a town of sugar cane workers—in the Dominican Republic. At 17 years old, she has just graduated from high school and now volunteers as a community health educator. Her dream is to go to college—but that dream was crushed last month, when the country’s Constitutional Court revoked citizenship from all Dominicans of Haitian descent born after 1929.

Daniela was born in the Dominican Republic, but the government no longer considers her a citizen—just because of her family’s Haitian heritage. The impact on Daniela and her family will be devastating. Her college dream is now shattered, and she might be deported from the only home she’s ever known. Read More »

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Seynabou Male Cissé wins prize from Women’s World Summit Foundation

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Seynabou Male Cissé

Seynabou Male Cissé, leader of AJWS grantee Comité Régional de Solidarité des Femmes pour la Paix en Casamance*/USOFORAL in Senegal, recently won the Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF) Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life. The annual prize celebrates the International Day of Rural Women on October 15. Every year, WWSF awards 10 notable women with this prize, honoring female leaders for their courageous and creative work in the rural women’s movement. Read More »

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Ruth Messinger at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative

CGI_Annual_Meeting_2013Last week, AJWS President Ruth Messinger attended the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), which annually convenes global leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. This prestigious event draws heads of state from around the world, along with Nobel Prize laureates and hundreds of major philanthropists and heads of foundations and NGOs.

Ruth, pictured to the right with Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reflected on her experience at this year’s event:

“The Clinton Global Initiative offers one highlight after another.  This year, there were some spectacular panels on the status of women and girls, on the challenges of land grabbing and on the importance of turning our beliefs and values into action.  As always, though, the most fun was simply in the opportunity to make new connections and work collaboratively with others.”

Attending CGI is a valuable opportunity for AJWS and our partners, allowing us to deepen our relationships with activists and policymakers in pursuit of global justice. We are grateful to CGI and its visionary leadership. Learn more about CGI here.

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Women’s groups in DRC pressure UN special envoy for inclusion in peace process

On Saturday, the International Day of Peace, AJWS grantees and other women’s groups in North Kivu gathered to protest ongoing conflict and finalize a joint statement to Mary Robinson. This activist's sign reads, "Mrs. Robsinson, we want justice and not impunity."

On Saturday, the International Day of Peace, AJWS grantees and other women’s groups in North Kivu gathered to protest ongoing conflict and finalize a joint statement to Mary Robinson. This activist’s sign reads, “Mrs. Robinson, we want justice and not impunity.”

On September 21, the International Day of Peace, many of AJWS’s partners around the world were pushing for peace, justice and reconciliation in their communities and countries. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where fighting has escalated due to a standoff between armed groups, civilians have increasingly become the targets of violence, particularly women and children. AJWS’s grantees and allies in DRC are particularly working to address sexual violence in North Kivu province, the epicenter of the recent fighting. Read More »

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Terrorist attack in Nairobi; AJWS grantees safe

Most readers have probably seen the widespread news about the Al Shabab terrorist attack at Westgate Mall in Nairobi. AJWS staff members were able to check in with all of our Kenyan grantees, and we are relieved to report that none of them have been injured or killed. However, many of them know people affected by this horrific attack, which has killed scores of people and injured many more.

We’re grateful that our Kenyan partners are safe, and we mourn for the victims and their families. Please keep Kenya in your thoughts and prayers.

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Chag v’Chesed: Holiday Dvar Tzedek, Sukkot 5774

Chag v'ChesedWhat 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.

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Meet the 2013 AJWS NYC Marathon Team

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:

Read More »

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New video highlights Obama speech on American Jews and social change

Hineni_video_for_blog

It’s no secret that American Jews have a rich legacy of involvement in American social movements—the labor movement, the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, LGBT rights and immigration reform, to name just a few.

That’s why we’re so moved by this powerful new video, Hineni, created by our friends and colleagues at the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable. Built around a moving speech by President Obama, this video chronicles how American Jews have played key roles in the arc of social change. As President Obama notes, American Jews have “made a difference on so many of the defining issues of the last half century. The world’s a better place for it.”

The video features AJWS President Ruth Messinger, along with many other familiar Jewish leaders. Take a look!

And if you missed Ruth’s op-ed about the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, check it out here. How will you carry this work forward in the new year?

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Chag v’Chesed: Holiday Dvar Tzedek,Yom Kippur 5774

Chag v'Chesed

Is apathy inherited? Is inaction passed on from generation to generation? Will our lack of responsiveness to global anguish be passed on to our children?

When it comes to the question of whether our sins will be visited upon generations to come, Sinai and the Golden Calf offer us a clue.

While the story is likely familiar to us, its connection to Yom Kippur may be less well known: Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive God’s law. But he was gone so long that the Israelites doubted he was coming back. In their panic, they turned to Moses’ brother and lieutenant, Aaron, to help them build a totem to stand in for God. (Exodus 32:1) Aaron instructed his people to turn over their gold jewelry and he melted it down to mold the golden calf.

When God observed this heresy and distrust, God was disgusted and enraged, vowing to destroy the entire people and start a new line from Moses. But Moses went back up the peak to talk God down, asking what was the point of destroying a people so recently delivered. God relented and on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei (Yom Kippur), Moses returned to his flock with a message of atonement. But God made clear that the leniency was not open-ended, saying, “[God] does not remit all punishment, but visits the iniquity of parents upon children and children’s children, upon the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:7)

The sinner’s descendants pay a price.

Whether one thinks it’s fair to punish a child for a parent’s missteps, there’s no escaping the reality of inherited sins. If our children see us lose our temper with a waiter, aren’t they likely to mistreat people who serve them in the future? If our children watch us texting while we’re talking to them, haven’t they learned that one needn’t give someone full attention? If our children see us choose to go to a yoga class instead of a colleague’s shiva, haven’t we taught them priorities? And on a more indelible scale, if our children see that our most generous acts are done almost entirely for our inner circle of family and friends, rarely for the stranger—the factory worker we don’t know in Bangladesh, the nurse toiling without medical supplies in Tanzania, the child (whose blistered feet could be our child’s feet) walking miles to school in Mexico—then how should they possibly absorb the message that we have a responsibility to alleviate suffering, no matter how distant the pain?

I can’t hold myself up as a role model. For the last three years, every Thursday I’ve helped serve breakfast at dawn to 100 homeless people at our synagogue. But I don’t do anything for them the rest of the week, nor am I involved in efforts to change the system that keeps them homeless.

I participated in Hurricane Sandy relief, but only while the crisis was acute.

I hosted children from the Fresh Air Fund two summers in a row, but couldn’t figure out how to remain in their lives without feeling intrusive or awkward, so we lost touch.

So what do my children see? That I’m involved, but to a point. That I give of my time and money, but that my most generous moments involve the people closest to me. That I rarely broach the world’s horrors with them because I worry they’ll feel traumatized instead of galvanized. That I don’t enumerate the checks my husband and I write because it feels inappropriate to list donations.

All of us justify our own action or inaction but I think we too readily say, “I’ve done enough.” It’s actually not enough. We all know that the international need is bottomless, and granted, guilt is not a constructive motivator. But when we think about what kind of people we want our children to be, (and I hear so many parents fret about how to make their kids aware of privilege), perhaps we should look at whether we’re laying the groundwork for future benevolence or careerism? Do we send the message that we value good work as much as good grades? Are we committing sins of silence that our children are destined to recommit?

God may have been harsh and punitive in promising to “visit the iniquity of parents upon children,” but it’s a warning worth hearing. When we don’t act, our children learn inaction. When we don’t read aloud from the morning’s toughest news stories, our children are untouched by them. When we aren’t willing to upend our comfortable routines to figure out how to help “heal the world,” then all our talk about the importance of tikkun olam is just talk.

I am the first to say that it’s hard to look at global heartbreak without flinching. It’s hard to internalize the world’s brokenness: girls who are robbed of an education; ethnic minorities who are denied jobs and healthcare; LGBT people who face relentless abuse of their basic human rights; garment workers who are not paid a decent wage; and millions of people who experience the chronic reality of hunger and violence. But our failure to look begets our failure to act. Which begets another generation of bystanders. On these days of renewal and repentance, let’s be honest about our sins of inertia and whether, like the ancient crime of the Golden Calf, we’re passing them on.

Abigail Pogrebin is a former producer for 60 Minutes and Charlie Rose, and has written for many publications including The Daily Beast, New York Magazine, and Tablet. She is the author of Stars of Jews: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish (2005), which is being adapted for the stage, and One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I’ve Learned About Everyone’s Struggle to Be Singular (2009). She moderates an interview series at the JCC in Manhattan called “What Everyone’s Talking About” and for the last three years has co-authored Newsweek’s list of Most Influential Rabbis.

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A New Year of Promise

It’s hard to believe fall is here, and Rosh Hashanah has already come and gone.

Ruth Messinger in Kenya with an AJWS grantee staff member

Ruth Messinger in Kenya with an AJWS grantee staff member

As my thoughts turn to the Jewish New Year, I begin to think about all the exciting ways American Jewish World Service will continue to deepen its work in developing world. Here’s what we’re working toward this year: Read More »

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