Rabbi Adam Baldachin of Shaarei Tikvah in Scarsdale is one of 15 influential Jewish leaders who traveled to Guatemala in January as part of the prestigious Global Justice Fellowship run by American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading Jewish organization working to fight poverty and promote human rights in the developing world.
The group returned on January 20, after meeting with leaders of nonprofit groups working to advance human rights in Guatemala, one of the Central American countries that residents are fleeing to seek work or asylum in the United States.
“I have a responsibility as someone with power to figure out not only how I can help, but also how my government is responsible – and then I have a real duty to respond to that,” said Rabbi Baldachin. He vowed to tell his Scarsdale community about the history of human rights violations in Central America. He will continue the effort during a visit to members of Congress and other officials in Washington, D.C. in March in the next part of the fellowship.
The rabbinic fellows arrived as Guatemala faced widespread condemnation for ordering a United Nations-approved team of corruption investigators to vacate the country. During a week in the country, the fellows met with advocates fighting for legal protections for human rights activists at risk of violence, midwives providing maternal health support for indigenous women, and members of an independent journalism collective led by young Guatemalans seeking to expose human rights abuses.
The rabbis learned from human rights advocates about working to improve life in Guatemala and how American Jews and others can support this work.
The rabbis, who were joined on the trip by AJWS Global Ambassador Ruth Messinger, also met with top leadership at the U.S. Embassy.
“There is a positive aspect of anger—it compels you to act,” said Rabbi Baldachin. “You decide that there’s a sense of conviction and confidence that you didn’t have before.”
The fellowship program empowers leading American rabbis to advocate in support of international policies that advance the human rights and well-being of some of the world’s poorest and most oppressed communities.
In addition to traveling to Guatemala, each rabbi in AJWS’ Global Justice Fellowship engages in six months of human rights education and action, including training with AJWS staff in the United States.
The fellows will travel to Washington, D.C. in March to educate members of Congress and other government officials about pressing international human rights issues. With the new Congress challenging the Trump administration on issues of American foreign aid, support for human rights and funding for a border wall, these fellows will play a key role in educating the public and elected officials about the importance of U.S. leadership on the global stage in standing up for human rights and ending poverty.
Years after its civil war concluded, Guatemala continues to grapple with tensions over land, ethnicity and economic inequality. Indigenous communities make up a majority of the country, yet they have little power in government or in shaping decisions that affect their lives. They face intense discrimination and poverty – especially indigenous women, who are doubly disadvantaged, and who suffer from a lack of health care services.
Guatemalan human rights activists and journalists who expose or speak out about these injustices face harassment, intimidation and violence.
“At a time when human rights in Guatemala are under attack and hard-working residents are fleeing the country and seeking a new life in the United States, it is crucial that these influential Jewish leaders learn first-hand from courageous advocates,” said Robert Bank, President and CEO of AJWS. “Our fellows bring back what they learn to their communities and to the halls of Congress. Together, these rabbis will issue a moral call to action to their communities and persuade decision-makers in the United States to support human rights and end poverty in Guatemala and the rest of the developing world.”
American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is the leading Jewish organization working to pursue justice and fight poverty in the developing world. By supporting hundreds of social change organizations in 19 countries, they respond to the most pressing issues of our time—from disasters, genocide and hunger to the persecution of women and minorities worldwide. With Jewish values and a global reach, AJWS is making a difference in millions of lives and bringing a more just and equitable world closer for all. Learn more at www.ajws.org.