Jewish Values and Social Justice
Jews have an enduring legacy of leadership and participation in social movements—the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement and the LGBTQI+ rights movement, to name a few. We know what it feels like to be denied rights, to be treated as “others,” and to experience discrimination simply because of our ethnic origin or religious identity.
Today, American Jewish leaders are uniquely positioned to use their influence to support vulnerable people in the developing world who are suffering from bigotry, violence and other injustices that are similar to what Jews have endured throughout history. Together, we’re guided by a shared belief that all people are created b’tzelem Elohim—in the Divine image—and deserve to live with human rights and dignity.
In our current political climate, many U.S. policies have harmful effects on millions of people who live far beyond our national borders. For example, the recent expansion of the “Global Gag Rule”—a policy that blocks U.S. federal funding to international organizations that provide abortions or abortion-related services to their patients—is an assault on the human rights of women, girls and LGBTQI+ people.
AJWS mobilizes Jewish leaders to speak out against this injustice, among many others, and amplify the voices of people who are often ignored or silenced in political decision-making processes.
How We Create Change
As the only American Jewish organization solely dedicated to ending poverty and advocating for human rights in the developing world, AJWS works with Jewish leaders to shape policies that will help vulnerable people live dignified, healthy and productive lives. We do this through the Global Justice Chavurah, a learning and action circle for rabbis and cantors advocating for justice and human rights. Additionally, through our signature program the Global Justice Fellowship, AJWS inspires, educates and trains American rabbis to become activist leaders in support of global justice. This Fellowship is a selective six-month-long experience that includes a 7-day educational trip to a developing country and the opportunity to advocate for policy change in Washington, D.C.
Through advocacy in Washington, D.C. and community engagement efforts nationwide, our Global Justice Fellows and other Jewish leaders have joined with AJWS to address some of the most severe human rights abuses of our day:
- In response to the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Burma, more than 100 rabbis around the country participated in “Rohingya Rights Shabbat”—an effort to raise awareness about the plight of the Rohingya people and commit to fighting for their rights. One rabbi in Kentucky worked with leaders of different faiths to encourage Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to move legislation forward in support of the Rohingya community.
- Additionally, AJWS and a coalition of partners and allies launched the Jewish Rohingya Justice Network. We mobilized 72 American Jewish organizations and 248 rabbis and communal leaders to petition the Senate to pass the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2018, a bill calling for immediate U.S. government intervention. Thanks to this advocacy, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced the bill to the full Senate in February 2018. Though this legislation is currently stalled in the Senate, the U.S. government acted on several of our key asks. In August 2018, they sanctioned several Burmese military officials and denied them entry visas into the U.S. And in September, the administration increased humanitarian aid to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
- Rabbis who traveled with AJWS to the Dominican Republic learned about how Dominicans of Haitian descent have been stripped of their citizenship. Inspired by the stories and experiences of Dominican people, rabbis spoke to Ambassadors and Congressional representatives about their own family histories of being denied or stripped of their right to a nationality. As a result of two years of lobbying, the U.S. State Department publicly commented on the magnitude of the crisis in the Dominican Republic and began working with AJWS’s local partners to inform their work with the Dominican government.