Human Rights in 2013: Our End-of-Year Top 10

As we get ready for the New Year, we’re also taking a moment to celebrate the joys and victories in human rights that took place in 2013—an exciting and tumultuous year for human rights around the globe. Read on for 10 human rights happenings that AJWS celebrated in 2013, listed in chronological order. Let’s celebrate the strides we’ve made together and take heart for the work still ahead of us!

10.  India: Supreme Court ruling upholds indigenous people’s rights over contested land (April 2013)

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Children from the Dongria Kondh community. Credit: Survival International

In a landmark ruling, India’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal that would have allowed a UK-based company, Vedanta Resources, to mine the Niyamgiri hills. The court recognized the indigenous community of Dongria Kondh‘s right to the land, which they make a living from and worship as part of their traditional beliefs. The ruling affirmed that people with religious and cultural rights to land must be involved in decisions about how to use it.

This marked a major win for the rights of indigenous people in India, and it shows the power of social action. Thousands of protesters rallied to protest the mining effort last December, and hundreds of Dongria pledged to stay in the Niyamgiri hills.

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Click to watch Survival International’s video story on the mine. A new window will open.

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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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My Thanksgivukah Recipe

11.13_Thanksgivukah_Recipes_v1 (2)Lately, no matter where I am—conferences, meetings, board rooms—American Jews are buzzing about Thanksgivukah, the concurrent celebration of Thanksgiving and Chanukah on November 28, 2013.

These two holidays have overlapped only once before, in 1888. And, according to calculations by Jonathan Mizrahi, a quantum physicist at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, this Thanksgivukah miracle won’t happen again until 2070 and then again in 2165. After that, Chanukah and Thanksgiving aren’t set to coincide until 76,695!

Food and gratitude are at the center of my Thanksgiving and Chanukah celebrations. So, it will come as no surprise that I’m eagerly awaiting the convergence of two culinary traditions.

So, as you prepare your own Thanksgivukah menu, I wanted to share my recipe for cranberry-lathered latkes—a mash-up of two signature dishes that will be front and center at my holiday table. Read More »

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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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Crisis in the Philippines: AJWS provides Typhoon Haiyan relief

help_typhoon_survivorsWe’ve all been horrified and saddened by the images in the news since Typhoon Haiyan struck land on November 7 in the Philippines: flattened buildings, smashed boats and displaced people. Families digging through the wreckage of their homes and lives. Parents searching desperately for lost children. One of the most powerful typhoons to hit land in recorded history has left thousands dead and many more homeless and desperate.

In the midst of all this tragedy, AJWS supporters have turned to us to help. Our donors have contributed nearly $500,000 for typhoon survivors, and we have been working around the clock to get this critical funding to people who need it most. Read More »

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Congo peace activists celebrate defeat of M23 rebels

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Women in Goma marched in the streets to celebrate the defeat of the M23.

For many months, I have heard tragic reports of rising conflict from our partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Eastern DRC has been engulfed by conflict since 1994, when Hutu militias fled across the border from Rwanda—where they had just slaughtered Tutsis and moderate Hutus in one of the most organized genocides of the 20th century.

But in the last week, we have started seeing signs of hope. The notorious M23 rebels have finally surrendered, after years of unrelenting attacks against both civilians and the DRC military.

Here in DRC, people have been celebrating this important milestone. Women have dressed in white to show their support to the Congolese army and government in Goma and Kinshasa. There is a festive mood in the air.

However, grassroots advocates for peace are also calling for caution.  People are waiting to see what happens next and how the pending peace negotiations between the government and the M23 unfold. Still, this is a huge step toward breaking the cycle of recurrent violence in the Eastern DRC. We hope the United Nations and the Congolese army succeed in fighting the remaining rebel groups. There will be challenges ahead, particularly when human rights groups seek justice for war crimes—but this is a huge first step.

Read on for reflections on this news from AJWS partners in Goma and Bukavu, DRC, who will continue working with their communities to recover from this conflict and demand their basic human rights.

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AJWS’s first Global Justice Fellows set off for Mexico

This week, AJWS Los Angeles is thrilled to venture to Mexico with our inaugural group of Global Justice Fellows. Ranging from ages 22 to 68, this group includes rabbis, entertainment professionals, Jewish communal professionals, lay leaders, philanthropic leaders and nonprofit executives. Hailing from broad geographies and diverse communities, these fellows truly represent the vitality and variety of Los Angeles.

In August, the Los Angeles fellows began their year-long program designed to help them become activist leaders in support of global justice. By traveling to meet AJWS’s grantee partners in Mexico and witness their struggles and stories, we hope to return inspired and ready to lead the charge of repairing the world.

Meet the Los Angeles fellows below, and watch for updates on their experience in Mexico in the coming weeks!

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