This year I am a Rabbinic Global Justice Fellow with American Jewish World Service (AJWS). AJWS is committed to helping developing nations around the globe and its “We Believe” campaign launched last year specifically focuses on getting the International Violence against Women Act (IVAWA) passed in Congress, promoting equal rights and ending discrimination to LGBT individuals in America and throughout the world and empowering girls to end child marriage.
Last week, AJWS hosted a Policy Summit in Washington DC where we were inspired by human rights leaders and brought our feet and voices to Capitol Hill. Ruth Messinger, AJWS’ president is an amazing leader and voice of truth and justice. It was especially rewarding to see the fruits of AJWS’ labor in successfully advocating for the first Special Envoy for Human Rights and meeting Randy Berry. Randy spoke at the Summit, quoting Charles Radcliffe, head of global human rights for the UN, who taught “when is the best time to plant a tree? 25 years ago. When is the second best time? Today.” While we are grateful for the progress that has been made, he remarked that we are “investing in a very long game.”
(photo on right) Randy Berry, Special Envoy for Human Rights of LGBT person, US Department of State with Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz
Berry spoke eloquently and thanked AJWS for their efforts in securing this new position. A gay man, he could never have imagined twenty years ago when he began his career as a foreign service worker that he would one day be able to be in such a position. In order to help civil society stand up for themselves, it has to be home grown. This is why AJWS is committed to working with grassroots organizations. Long term cultural change can not be forced or imposed. Part of the work of AJWS is to advocate for legislation removing criminal legislation of LGBT individuals around the world.
Prior to his new position, Randy Berry was the US Ambassador in Amsterdam and good friends with Ronald Leopold, Director of the Anne Frank house. Upon his departure, Leopold gave Berry a gift of a photograph of a tree. This was the tree that Anne could see outside the Annex, a symbol of hope for her. New to his position, Berry’s office is not yet decorated but he does have this picture already there, holding fast to the symbol of hope.
Along with Berry’s inspiring presentation, there were other speakers who energized the conference attendees. Late Tuesday night after a full day of learning, I walked with my colleagues and fellow global justice fellows, Rabbi Pamela Wax and Rabbi Elliot Baskin to view the Monuments, finally arriving at the relatively new Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial. We read his words and messages that compel us today. One quote particularly spoke to me about the work I’m engaged in with AJWS, reaching out to our global society:
“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
(photo on left) During AJWS Policy Summit lobby day, AJWS delegates ( l- r), Laura Wasserman, Rabbi Elliot Tepperman, Nancy Warshowsky, Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz, Elaine Cohen, Laura Wasserman, Henry Ramer and Rachel Ackoff met with US Senator Cory Booker.