Rabbis Return From American Jewish World Service Delegation to the Dominican Republic Where they Witnessed an Ongoing Human Rights Crisis

Rabbis met with activists working to reverse the Dominican government’s policy to strip tens of thousands Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship rights

New York, NY — Ten Rabbis from across the country returned from the Dominican Republic earlier this week as part of a Global Justice Fellowship trip with American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading Jewish international development and human rights organization. The delegation traveled across the Dominican Republic, meeting with AJWS grantees working to address some of the most pressing human rights issues in the region. This year’s trip focused heavily on the Dominican government’s policies related to Dominicans of Haitian descent, threatening to strip hundreds of thousands of them of their citizenship rights because of their ancestry. To respond to the crisis it has created, the government has cynically offered proposed solutions to the crisis, which are highly bureaucratic and of little use to Dominicans of Haitian descent who wish to retain their citizenship rights.

“Witnessing injustice and working to build a better world is at the heart of what this rabbinic delegation and I have been doing in the Dominican Republic, where the Dominican government has taken away the citizenship rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent by narrowing sharply the qualifications for citizenship, effectively excluding people of Haitian descent because of their families’ national origin,” said Ruth Messinger, president of AJWS. “The diverse group of rabbis who traveled with me to the Dominican Republic are now educating their congregants, communities and many more about this tragic human rights crisis that is unfolding not far from our shores. As Jews who understand the consequences of oppression of minorities by states, we stand together for the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent and other minorities. We view standing up for the “stranger” as one of the most Jewish things one can do in our deeply broken world, and that is what our work is about.”

The Global Justice Fellowship is a selective, six-month program designed to educate and train key opinion leaders in the American Jewish community to become advocates in support of U.S. policies that will help improve the lives of people in the developing world and mobilize the rabbis’ own communities to take action to address these issues.

Through a series of laws and court rulings, the Dominican Republic has stripped citizenship from tens of thousands of Dominican-born individuals who are living on Dominican soil and know no other home. For some, their families’ presence can be traced back in the Dominican Republic as far as 85 years. Although the Dominican government talks about laws that allow these individuals to file for citizenship, those being targeted see it as a trap that has actually only created such a toxic environment of discrimination that victims of these policies are living in a state of constant fear. Thousands of people have already left, fleeing the ongoing threat of deportation and violence. These individuals are living in makeshift camps in economically depressed Haiti, which is not their homeland. This crisis has created the largest population of “stateless” individuals in the Western Hemisphere and exacerbated an environment of discrimination and violence within the Dominican Republic.

“I am moved and sobered by my journey to meet activists in the Dominican Republic with other rabbis and American Jewish World Service. These brave advocates are working to reverse the increasingly harsh and intolerant environment the Dominican government has fostered against people of Haitian descent who are being persecuted because of their families’ national origin,” said Rabbi Ronit Tsadok of IKAR in Los Angeles. “As Jews, we are obligated to work toward a world in which every human being is treated with dignity. This trip to the Dominican Republic strengthened my ability to stand with oppressed Dominicans of Haitian descent as an ally. I am eager to take what I have learned from Dominican activists back to my own congregation and community where we will raise awareness about the human rights crisis in the Dominican Republic which echoes some of the most difficult and disturbing chapters of Jewish history.”

In addition to meeting with grassroots groups addressing the citizenship crisis, the delegation met with organizations working to combat discrimination against other communities in the Dominican Republic, including women and LGBT people.

“On our trip to the Dominican Republic, we met with members of communities whose right to Dominican citizenship has been questioned because of their families’ national origin. Tens of thousands of people have been put in a position where the law is working against them and not for them. It’s creating an environment so intolerable that many see leaving the only country they’ve ever called home as the only solution,” said Rabbi Joshua Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta. “The stories we heard from these activists are ones I will never forget, and I will bring them back to my community so we can mobilize American Jews to stand with those who are persecuted in the Dominican Republic.”

The Global Justice Fellows were selected through a competitive process and represent a diverse array of denominations, communities, professional experiences and networks. The fellows include:

Rabbi Ronit Tsadok of IKAR in Los Angeles

Rabbi Jaime Aklepi from Bet Breira Samu-El Or Olom in Miami

Rabbi Josh Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta

Rabbi Cindy Enger of Congregation Or Chadash in Chicago

Rabbi James Greene of Springfield Jewish Community Center in Massachusetts
Rabbi Elyse Winick of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts

New York
Rabbi Jeff Brown From Scarsdale Synagogue in Scarsdale, New York
Rabbi Mark Kaiserman of Forest Hills, New York
Rabbi Sharon Sobel of Temple Isaiah of in Stony Brook, New York

Washington, DC
Rabbi Laurie Green of Congregation Bet Mishpachah in Washington, DC


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.