June 2016 -- Iyar-Sivan 5776,  Volume 22, Issue 6

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Ignacio, a Dominican of Haitian descent recruited to play Major League Baseball (left) and Rabbi Jeff Brown.

Rabbi Brown Participates in Human Rights Mission to Dominican Republic

WJL Staff Report


After returning from a winter fact finding trip to the Dominican Republic as part of an American Jewish World Service {AJWS} Rabbinical delegation, Rabbi Jeffrey Brown of Scarsdale Synagogue-Temples Tremont and Emanu-El, said he was deeply moved by the experience. As the leading Jewish international development and human rights organization, AJWS sponsors a Global Justice Rabbinic Fellows program that this year included Rabbi Brown, two other New York Rabbis; Rabbi Mark Kaiserman of Forest Hills and Rabbi Sharon Sobel of Stony Brook; and seven more leading rabbis’ from across the United States. They ventured to the Dominican Republic, meeting with and learning from AJWS’s grantees working to overcome poverty and injustice and to address some of the most pressing human rights issues in the area.


The trip was the centerpiece to Rabbi Browns’ association as a Fellow which began in October of 2015. He revealed how humbled and grateful he was to be part of the delegation that was led by AJWS President Ruth Messinger and some of her staff members. “There is something transformative and powerful about leaving one’s geographic space and going somewhere new and unfamiliar. Traveling allows us to see the world in a new way, to see the social injustices. The opportunity to study with my colleagues and Ruth, to engage her in conversation was hugely impactful,” Brown said. “She is a tremendous role model, a living legend.”


The Global Justice Fellowship is a selective 6 month program designed to educate and train key opinion leaders in the American Jewish community to become advocates in support of U.S. policies that will help improve the lives of people in the developing world and mobilize the rabbis’ own communities to take action to address these issues.


 Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, American Jewish World Service {AJWS} works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world. Through their international grant making and U.S. advocacy, they work to advance the health and rights of women, girls and LGBT people; promote civil and political rights; defend access to food, land and water; and aid communities in the aftermath of disasters. They strive to build a more just and equitable world.


“Witnessing injustice and working to build a better world is at the heart of what this rabbinic delegation and I have been doing in the Dominican Republic, where the Dominican government has taken away the citizenship rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent by narrowing sharply the qualifications for citizenship, effectively excluding people of Haitian descent because of their families’ national origin,” Messinger explained.


 “The diverse group of rabbis who traveled with me to the Dominican Republic are now educating their congregants, communities and many more about this tragic human rights crisis that is unfolding not far from our shores. As Jews who understand the consequences of oppression of minorities by states, we stand together for the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent and other minorities. We view standing up for the ‘stranger’ as one of the most Jewish things one can do in our deeply broken world, and that is what our work is about.”


The group spent two-thirds of the week in Santo Domingo, meeting with local activists and many different groups to address some of the region’s most pressing human rights issues including the citizenship crisis and Human Rights violations against women and the LGBT communities. Shabbat was spent in the mountain community of Jarabacoa.


“In the Dominican Republic, many people have been marginalized by their government because of their poverty, gender, sexual orientation, skin color, occupation or ancestry.  It is heartbreaking to see that women are robbed of their rights,” revealed the Rabbi.  “ I witnessed that there is the possibility of change, spurred by the community-based activities of the many new friends that I made. We had interfaith discussions and I was deeply moved to bring these stories back to share at Shabbat services and congregational gatherings in Scarsdale, to engage people in a larger dialogue.”


With the hope of inspiring his congregation on the subjects of gender rights and statelessness, Rabbi Brown intends to spark a further renaissance to challenge his community to think about more than regular activities. He shares his thoughts on a blog attached to Scarsdale Synagogue-Temples Tremont and Emanu-El’s website, www.sstte.org.


“There are other big things that can be done to change the world,” the Rabbi believes. “It is part of my spiritual commitment and my very being, to help fulfill the duty we have as Jews,  to stand up against injustice and preserve, protect and advance human dignity. By working together to improve lives, it’s simple faith that change is powerful. We can make an impact.”


Scarsdale Synagogue Temples Tremont and Emanu-El is located at 2 Ogden Road, Scarsdale.