AJWS Los Angeles: What’s Happening

June 2016

This spring, I have been reminded of just how courageous our AJWS partners can be, and just how dangerous so much of their work actually is. In March, two Honduran human rights defenders, Berta Cáceras and Nelson García, were murdered, presumably in an attempt to silence them and end their work. Cáceras and García were organizers of an effort to stop the building of a dam that would threaten the land and livelihoods of the Lenca indigenous people. Just a few weeks ago, Quintanilla Angelica, an AJWS partner working to promote sexual health and reproductive rights among sex workers in El Salvador, was murdered two blocks away from her office in San Salvador.

Like so many of our grantee partners, in the face of incredible odds, Berta, Nelson and Angelica were fighting for human rights so basic, we often take them for granted: the right to be heard, the right to work in safety and security, the right to their land and livelihoods, and the right to be a part of civil society. Advocating for these rights often means that the threat of violence is a daily struggle. This is the sobering reality our partners face, and more reason why AJWS’s financial support, solidarity and partnership are critical to their success and to the greater pursuit of global social justice.

Urge the Honduran government to seek justice for human rights defenders.

I am often asked how we, as American citizens, can stand in solidarity with these brave souls. This coming Tuesday, June 7th, we have a very easy opportunity to do so. Californians will head to the polls for one of the last of our nation’s primary elections. And yet, if 2012 (the last presidential primary) is any indication, a dismal 32 percent of Californians will actually cast a ballot. How easily we give up a right so many of our partners are risking their lives to defend. How carelessly we allow others to speak for us, instead of using our own voices to stand up for justice and against bigotry and fear. We can learn a lot from our partners on the ground. Their courage, in the face of all odds, is a constant reminder of our collective obligation to “not stand idly by.”

On Tuesday, I encourage you to stand in solidarity with our AJWS partners who risk their lives fighting for the rights we sometimes take for granted. Vote. Exercise this privilege we have in a free society, and then redouble your efforts to work with AJWS to ensure such freedoms across the developing world.

Allison M. Lee
Executive Director, AJWS Southern California

#TBT to AJWS at 30: Celebrating Our Global Leaders
It’s Throwback Thursday! We’re still buzzing about our first-ever gala that took place March 13th at the Montage Beverly Hills. The evening was an awe-inspiring tribute to the power of our global work and the spirit of AJWS. We were joined by three global leaders and activists whose tireless efforts to defend human rights are an inspiration to us all: U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer; Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D.; and AJWS Grantee Alejandra Ancheita. One of our favorite moments was the touching tribute to AJWS President Ruth Messinger’s 18 years of leadership. As Robert Bank, AJWS Executive Vice President and incoming President, said that night, “Thanks to Ruth, AJWS is the platform for American Jews to stand proudly as Jews to improve the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet.” Check out our #TBT pictures on Facebook!

Grab a Bite
Your favorite Sunday bagel brunches will be back on June 19th! Rabbi Sarah Bassin of Temple Emanuel Beverly Hills will be leading our next Bites of Jewish Justice session, “Like a Finger in the Eye: The Evolution of Jewish Thinking on Child Marriage.” Rather than condemning other cultures as “barbaric” for their early and child marriage practices, what can we learn from Judaism’s own less-than-stellar history with the rights of women and girls? We’ll explore the evolving conversation in Judaism about women’s rights, and how this can inform and influence our engagement with other cultures whose practices cause moral outrage. To RSVP, visit www.ajws.org/labites.

Global Circle Goes Top Chef
On June 9th, AJWS-LA’s Global Circle will be gathering for Masala Meetup: A Taste of AJWS. Join fellow young professionals at the Hipcooks kitchen to learn how to whip up tasty Indian fare, from samosas to mint cocktails. We’ll also share updates on AJWS’s work in India to end child marriage, advance the rights of women and girls, and defend the land and water rights of communities. There are only a few spots left, so RSVP today at www.ajws.org/tasteofajwsla. If you’re interested in connecting with Global Circle, contact Emma at eholm@ajws.org.

A Must-see Exhibit in LA This Summer
We recommend stopping by the Annenberg Space for Photography this summer for the powerful and beautiful REFUGEE exhibit featuring images by celebrated photographers from around the world. The photographs humanize the millions of displaced people around the world—sharing refugees’ stories of plight and survival, but also hopes and dreams for a better future. The exhibit shows the human impact of political violence, unrest, violence and discrimination, providing compelling background to the work of our grantees fighting for refugee rights. REFUGEE is open until August 21st, If you would like to visit the exhibit with fellow AJWS supporters on June 26th, contact Lila at lglick@ajws.org. See more about the refugee crisis in Burma in the AJWS in the News section below.

Summer Reads
Our Books Beyond Borders pick this summer is Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower. This non-fiction political thriller follows the life of John Githongo, a journalist and activist who becomes Kenya’s anti-corruption commissioner for the government under President Mwai Kibaki, and uncovers evidence of scandals and pervasive graft. With its dramatic storytelling and riveting account of Kenya’s history of tribalism and corruption, It’s Our Turn to Eat is a page-turner you won’t want to miss. Our Westside chapter will meet on June 13th at 7:00 p.m., and our Global Circle chapter will gather August 10th. If you’re interested in joining either our Westside chapter for all supporters or our Global Circle chapter for young professionals, contact Emma at eholm@ajws.org. We’re always looking to expand our Books Beyond Borders program, so if you’re inspired to lead your own group, you can also reach out to Emma for more information.

Reflections for Shavuot
As you celebrate the giving of the Torah this month, take a look at these AJWS holiday resources that explore social justice themes. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum‘s Chag v’chesed, “Celebrating the Torah of Economic Justice and Compassion,” reminds us of the obligation to make society care for the vulnerable, the immigrant, the migrant worker, the weak and the poor.

AJWS in the News!
Check out our latest video about ending early child marriage. “Something Different for Our Daughters” shares the story of Mangal and her daughter, Shital, who are advocating for their rights and demanding a better future for women and girls throughout their community in rural Maharashtra.

On the anniversary of the Nepal earthquake, The New York Times published Child, Bride, Mother: Nepal, a photo essay by Stephanie Sinclair about child marriage in post-earthquake Nepal—powerful work for which we provided financial support.

Matthew Smith, executive director of AJWS grantee Fortify Rights explains why This Is Not the Time to Ease Up on Burma. The article discusses the ongoing human rights violations committed against the Rohingya people—with no one being held accountable.”