American Rabbis Visit Guatemala to Support Human Rights Advocates

Rabbis from AZ, CA, KY, MA, MD, MO, NC, NY, OR, PA, TN and VA meet with leaders of organizations on the frontlines of the fight for human rights

Fifteen American rabbis traveled to Guatemala for a week, as part of the prestigious Global Justice Fellowship run by American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading Jewish organization supporting human rights and efforts to fight poverty in developing countries.

The fellows arrived shortly after Guatemala’s president faced widespread condemnation for dismantling a United Nations-approved team of corruption investigators working in country.  Over a week, the fellows met a team of attorneys helping indigenous communities fight for the rights to their lands, midwives providing maternal healthcare for indigenous women, and members of an independent journalism collective led by young Guatemalans seeking to expose human rights abuses.

The rabbis learned from diverse human rights advocates working to improve life in Guatemala—and crucially, they heard how American Jews and others can support this vital work.

“I am bringing back a sense that what happens here matters at home—and what happens at home matters here,” said Rabbi Michael Knopf of Temple Beth El in Richmond, Virginia. “We’re intertwined on levels we don’t fully appreciate or understand. And because we’re interconnected, we have a deep responsibility to one another.”

“We have a certain power to lift up the stories of other who can’t, for many reasons, lift up their own stories,” said Rabbi Jill Perlman of Temple Isaiah in Lexington, Mass.

The rabbis, who were joined on the trip by AJWS Global Ambassador Ruth Messinger, also met with top leadership at the U.S. Embassy.

In addition to traveling to Guatemala, each rabbi in AJWS’s Global Justice Fellowship engages in six months of human rights education and action, including training with AJWS staff in the United States.

In March, the fellows will travel to Washington D.C. to educate members of Congress and other government officials about pressing international human rights issues. With a new Congress challenging the Trump administration on issues of American foreign aid, support for human rights, and funding for a border wall, these fellows will play a key role in educating the public and elected officials about the importance of U.S. leadership on the global stage in standing up for human rights and ending poverty.

Years after its civil war concluded, Guatemala continues to grapple with tensions over land, ethnicity and economic inequality. Indigenous communities make up a majority of the country, yet they have little power in government or in shaping decisions that affect their lives. They face intense discrimination and poverty – especially indigenous women, who are doubly disadvantaged, and who suffer from a lack of health care services and political representation. Guatemalan human rights activists and journalists who expose or speak out about these injustices often face harassment, criminalization and physical violence.

AJWS’s Global Justice Fellowship empowers leading American rabbis to advocate for international policies that advance the human rights and well-being of some of the world’s poorest and most oppressed communities.

Robert Bank, President and CEO of AJWS, said: “At a time when human rights in Guatemala are under attack and hard-working residents are fleeing the country and seeking a new life in the United States, it is crucial that these influential Jewish leaders learn first-hand from courageous advocates. Our fellows bring back what they learn to their communities and to the halls of Congress. Together, these rabbis will issue a moral call to action to their communities and persuade decision-makers in the United States to support human rights and end poverty in Guatemala and the rest of the developing world.”

The AJWS 2018-2019 Global Justice Fellows:


  • Rabbi Dean Shapiro of Temple Emanuel in Tempe


  • Rabbi Jessica Graf of Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco


  • Rabbi David Wirtschafter of Temple Adath Israel in Lexington


  • Rabbi Aderet Drucker in Silver Spring


  • Rabbi Barbara Penzner of Temple Hillel B’nai Torah in Boston
  • Rabbi Jill Perlman of Temple Isaiah in Lexington
  • Rabbi Michael Rothbaum of Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton


  • Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis

New York

  • Rabbi Adam Baldachin of Shaarei Tikvah in Scarsdale
  • Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster of T’ruah in New York City

North Carolina

  • Rabbi Eric Solomon of Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh


  • Rabbi Eve Posen of Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland


  • Rabbi Sharyn Henry of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh


  • Rabbi Philip Rice of Congregation Micah in Brentwood


  • Rabbi Michael Knopf of Temple Beth El in Richmond

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