What Keeps Me Hopeful

The early days of the summer of 2016 have been bitter ones. Orlando, Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas, Nice, Baghdad and Istanbul—the bloody streets of these cities tell the story. Immigrants vilified, African-American men murdered, and LGBT people massacred. From the campaign trail to angry Twitter feeds, people driven by intolerance, xenophobia, misogyny and racism have seized the day.

Rarely, in recent decades, have I witnessed such despair. I have not felt so at odds with the world as it is since my youth in apartheid South Africa, where the cruelties of racism dominated life.

Yet, I remain hopeful. As the Indian novelist and human rights activist Arundhati Roy put it, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Despite the cacophony of hate, I hear that new world breathing as I join with others around the globe to build the kind of world we want to live in. An inclusive world inspired by respect for every person. A world anchored by human rights in which we celebrate our differences, deepen democracy and pursue justice.

I am especially hopeful this week, as I am spending my days with more than 120 of my colleagues from American Jewish World Service (AJWS)’s offices and outposts throughout the United States and around the world, who have gathered here in New York to renew our ties to one another, our work and our mission.

We are Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Jain. We are spiritual, religious and secular. We are American, African, Caribbean and Asian. We are straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex. We are proud of who we are. We appreciate one another. And we share a vision for a world made whole by each of us caring for the other. We are committed to working together across cultures and continents to repair our broken world.

To give you a picture of our diverse team and glimpse of the world we are building, I’d like to introduce you to six wonderful members of the AJWS family from around the world:

  • Praneeta, our country advisor in India, spends her days supporting Indian communities that are striving to empower girls and young women to end the tradition of child marriage, to stay in school, and to change societal norms that prevent women from shaping their lives as they see fit.
  • Ah Noh, from Burma, works with ethnic minority groups that have faced vicious brutality at the hands of the Burmese government. Ah Noh—herself a member of the Kachin ethnic group and a Christian—stands with Burma’s Muslim minority, the Rohingya, which has suffered near-genocidal persecution in recent years.
  • Timi, our director of government affairs in Washington D.C., urges our policymakers to put the power and the purse of the American government behind global efforts to reduce poverty and advance human rights.
  • Caroline, from Uganda, works in solidarity with LGBT people in her country who face ostracism, violence and even death simply because of who they are and whom they love.
  • Boumba, from Haiti, supports Dominicans of Haitian descent whose citizenship rights have been stripped away by the top court of the Dominican Republic and who face the constant threat of xenophobic violence and deportation.
  • And finally, Barbara, our board member and past board chair, a feisty Jewish feminist who is proud to stand as a Jewish woman with AJWS and others around the world who are pursuing justice.
Left to right: Ah Noh, Robert, Caroline, Barbara, Boumba and Praneeta
Left to right: Ah Noh, Robert, Caroline, Barbara, Boumba and Praneeta

As Jewish teachers have taught for centuries, we have the power to repair the broken world in which we live. Through our individual actions and those we undertake together, we can turn hate into love and war into peace. And while there are many reasons to despair, we are building the world we want to live in. And we are listening, and we can hear her breathe.


bank_update10.15-300x300 (3)Robert Bank is President and CEO of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the world’s leading Jewish organization working to end poverty and promote human rights in the developing world.