AJWS Sends Its First Interdenominational Group of Rabbis to Mexico for Service Learning

New York, NY; June 24, 2010—A delegation of 11 rabbis—representing a wide range of Jewish denominations and backgrounds—returned last week from a week-long service-learning trip to Muchucuxcah, Mexico, sponsored by AJWS. The participants, all ordained within the past five to 15 years, were part of AJWS’s inaugural Rabbis’ Delegation (RD)—an effort to invigorate religious leaders’ commitment to global justice as a core expression of Jewish tradition.

AJWS president Ruth Messinger, who spent four days with the delegation, said:

“After being with this group in Mexico and learning more about the rest of their trip, I am confident that these extraordinary leaders will galvanize their congregations, Hillels and communities to help marginalized groups around the globe help themselves in the name of tikkun olam (repairing the world). AJWS is committed to this type of programming as it allows us to extend our vision into the American Jewish community and encourage leaders to think seriously about the role of Jews in pursuing justice and responding to needs of the other and stranger.”

The inaugural RD to Mexico offered rabbis from across the country the opportunity to join AJWS’s grantee, El Hombre Sobre La Tierra, in its work to assist Mayan communities that are promoting environmental sustainability and food self-sufficiency, integrating women in the local economy and strengthening the capacity of local grassroots groups. The RD’s main project in Muchucuxcah, a small town in Mexico’s Yucatan region, was to construct several cisterns for raising fish for consumption and sale. Following several hours of physical labor each morning, participants gathered to discuss the community’s needs. Using a Jewish text-based approach, participants discussed how they could authentically engage their own communities in the fight against global hunger, poverty and disease.

Reflecting on the trip, RD participant Rabbi Marcus Burstein of Temple Har Shalom in Warren, New Jersey said:

“It was an incredible experience to have an entirely new world of social justice opened up to me. It’s amazing what can be done with open hearts and open minds, both on the part of the rabbis and on the part of the people of Muchucuxcah. I know this experience will be with me long after I return home.”

Following the RD in Mexico, AJWS will provide participants with year-round domestic programming that will enable them to engage with each other, RSD alumni and the organization around building Jewish communities that are committed to pursuing global justice.

Since 2004, AJWS has engaged emerging religious leaders through its Rabbinical Students’ Delegations (RSD). Over the course of six years, AJWS has sent more than 200 rabbinical students and Jewish educators to developing countries to examine and strengthen the relationship between Jewish teachings and social justice. While in the field, participants learn classical Jewish texts, discuss Jewish ethics and volunteer with human rights organizations. This year, thanks to a generous grant from the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, AJWS has expanded the program to include annual delegations for early-career rabbis. Similar to the RSD program, RD participants live and work with AJWS grantees, explore texts and theology and develop a first-hand understanding of grassroots development. Each week-long trip is led by a senior AJWS educator and includes rabbis from all denominations and backgrounds.

“In Jewish thought the invisible is often just as important as the visible,” said AJWS’s Rabbi in Residence, Brent Chaim Spodek, who oversees the program. “Through the RD program, rabbis see the invisible world of rural poverty and are privileged to work with organizers who are helping to empower those around the globe who too often live anonymously.”

For More Information

If you are a member of the press and wish to obtain information about our work or speak to a member of our global team on deadline, please contact Tanyanika Davis, Director of Media Relations, at tdavis@ajws.org.