What are you doing for your summer vacation? Perhaps you’re catching up with old friends. Getting to know new friends. Enjoying that book you’ve been waiting to read. Lazy days at the beach or action-packed travel.
I just returned from Guatemala. As an American Jewish World Service (AJWS) Rabbinic Global Justice Fellow, I and ten other rabbis traveled with Ruth Messinger, president of AJWS, and two other staff members. I wouldn’t call it a vacation but rather a listening trip to hear individuals’ stories and gain a first-hand understanding of what it means to pursue global justice. “Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, AJWS works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world” [excerpt AJWS mission statement]. For example, some of the areas of focus include ending violence against women and children and ending forced child marriage.
A few impressions from my experience. As we prepared to meet with individuals at NGOs, (non-governmental organizations), we learned how AJWS helps them through upholding hesed (loving kindness) and tzedek (righteousness). For example, one organization we met with Codecot, (Coordinadora Departamental del Comadronas Tradicionales) led by Maria Cecelia, is a group of midwives. Having a midwife help with the birth of a new baby is an act of hesed. If a challenge arises and a hospital visit is required, the women deserve the right to still be accompanied by a midwife. But discrimination against Indigenous (Mayan) women is a reason for a pursuit of tzedek to ensure this problem is eradicated. AJWS supports grantees to pursue long-term solutions (tzedek) in addition to providing immediate need (hesed).
Members of Codecot performed a skit depicting the mistreatment of Mayan women when they go to the hospital. I was surprised to learn that Guillermo is also a midwife in training. Yes, men can be midwives! Guillermo soaked up the lime-light as he portrayed a doctor ignoring a Mayan woman about to give birth instead giving preferential treatment to a Ladino woman. Though not a Tony winning performance, of note was the intense laughter, or perhaps it was actually painful recognition, from the 40 midwives and midwives in training present.
Meetings with a few of the organizations began with candle lighting. Mayan (indigenous) people are spiritual. In sharing their stories of standing up for justice, they also shared their stories of faith. A group of rabbis, we embraced this opportunity to share a taste of Judaism and our spirituality. How amazing to introduce Judaism in addition to learning about the inspiring work of AJWS’ partners in Guatemala.
I particularly thought of everyone at TBA when visiting the relief map in Guatemala City. It was neat to learn the name of one of the ports is Livingston. But on a more profound note, I was deeply moved when our group engaged in text study in honor of Ruth Messinger’s 17th anniversary at AJWS. We studied her favorite speech which was Rabbi Joachim Prinz’ speech from the March on Washington in 1963. The visit to Guatemala exemplified his words: “Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept.”
In addition to learning about the pursuit of justice, we enjoyed a taste of true peace and relaxation on Shabbat at Hotel Atitlan in Solola, where we arrived by boat. Shabbat is considered a taste of the messianic age—a time of perfection and peace. There is much work to be done in our world, locally, nationally and globally, to achieve such a reality.
Pirke Avot tells us: Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor v’lo atah ben chorin l’hibatel mimena. (“It is not up to you to complete the work but you are not free to abstain from it.”)
My trip to Guatemala was heart-opening and mind-expanding. I am grateful to AJWS for this Fellowship and invite you to join me in pursuit of global justice.
Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz