Lessons from a hotel check-in

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,
Brad Sugar
Director, Midwest Region

Photo courtesy of deCOALonize

A win for the climate and local communities in Kenya

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.


600 rabbis call for action on the Rohingya genocide

Photo by Justin Jacobs

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.


Photo by Christine Han

Fighting for indigenous land rights in Guatemala

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.

What We're Reading

We refuse to be silent on the Rohingya genocide

In this Newsday essay, AJWS Burma expert Jeff Stein reflects on meeting Yasmin, a woman who fled persecution in Burma. He recounts the parallels between her experience and that of his own family as they escaped Nazi Germany and calls on Congress and each of us to take decisive action to stop the Rohingya genocide.


Speaking out against the discriminatory "Unalienable Rights Commission"

Dena Kimball, Executive Director of the Kendeda Fund and one of AJWS’s leading supporters, calls on nonprofits and philanthropies around the world to help stop child marriage by fighting its root cause: gender inequality.

Chronicle of Philanthropy

Restoring America's Global Human Rights Leadership

This New York Times article mentions AJWS’s opposition to Secretary of State Pompeo’s controversial “Commission on Unalienable Rights,” a new body that threatens to undermine critical human rights protections around the world.

New York Times

An alarming rise in killings of environmental activists in Guatemala

Standing up for the environment is a dangerous job, with over 100 activists murdered and many more threatened each year around the world. One of the world’s deadliest places for this work is Guatemala, where several AJWS grantees are documenting the frequent attacks and protecting activists from harm. Two AJWS grantees are featured prominently in this Al Jazeera article about the rising crisis.

Al Jazeera

AJWS grantee honored by the United Nations

Bianka Rodríguez, Executive Director of AJWS grantee Comcavis Trans, was named regional winner for the Americas for the prestigious UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award, recognizing her courageous advocacy for El Salvador’s trans community and her support for forcibly displaced people.

The UN Refugee Agency

The Rohingya activist uniting Burma’s ethnic groups against persecution

Yasmin Ullah, a leading voice for Rohingya rights and an AJWS ally, penned this powerful op-ed calling on the U.S. to take steps that would put an end to the Rohingya genocide and restore equality, dignity and respect for persecuted ethnic minorities in Burma.

The Washington Post