In June, I had a visitor come to Chicago. Brizan, one of AJWS’ remarkable grantees in Kenya, had come to share his story of perseverance—being an out member of the LGBTQ community in Kenya, despite facing almost complete intolerance from his government and church.
When Brizan checked into his hotel in downtown Chicago, the receptionist smiled and handed him a pin with a rainbow flag. Unaware that it was Pride Week in Chicago (and that all guests were being given the same pin), Brizan pulled me aside and nervously and asked if I, for whatever reason, had informed the concierge that he was gay. He went on to explain his apprehension: On more than one occasion, hotels in Kenya had informed on LGBTQ folks to the police and authorities. And as a visible activist in Northern Kenya, Brizan had more than once been arrested and thrown in jail upon checking into a hotel. For the past few years he had avoided hotels altogether, often opting to sleep outside when traveling in Kenya.
When I explained that it was Pride Week in Chicago and they were simply welcoming him like any other guest, he broke down in tears and hugged the receptionist—she started crying, and I promptly followed suit. He could not believe that instead of being persecuted for who he was, he was being welcomed, and that his struggle and that of so many others was being acknowledged by an entire city. He was safe.
This small act of kindness by the hotel, this “ahavat chinam” (or “love without stipulation”), is what I’m striving for in all my interactions during the upcoming Jewish New Year. It’s also what you, as a supporter of AJWS, demonstrate with your partnership as we support hundreds of “Brizans” across the world—people fighting to have their human rights respected, regardless of who they are or whom they love.
I hope you enjoy these uplifting stories from our grantees around the world, and that you carry this spirit into the new year.
Shana tova u’metukah,
Director, Midwest Region
In a huge victory for local communities and the global fight against climate change, a national court halted the construction of a mega coal plant on Kenya’s coast. Two AJWS grantees were instrumental in researching the plant’s harmful effects, protesting the coal industry, and successfully litigating the case that has stopped the construction.
It’s been two years since more than 700,000 Rohingya people were forced to flee a brutal genocide in Burma. As Jews, we have refused to remain silent. Last month, AJWS spearheaded a letter from nearly 600 Jewish clergy from across the United States to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, calling for decisive action from our government. Learn more about AJWS’s response and watch the powerful delivery of the letter from Rabbis Aderet Drucker, Jonah Pesner and Mike Knopf.
In the highlands of Guatemala, indigenous people have been forcefully evicted from their farms with nowhere to go. But now, 81 of these families have something that gives them hope: titles to land of their own. Read how Comité Campesino del Altiplano (CCDA), a grassroots organization that we support in Guatemala, is working with indigenous farmers so they can lay down permanent roots for the future. And check out the Al Jazeera article in the next section to learn more about threats to CCDA activists.