First Impressions: Day 1 in the Dominican Republic
January 10, 2017
I usually would not include a disclaimer, but I think some is in order here. I will be trying to update these thoughts regularly, primarily to allow my community in Walnut Creek, CA insight into my journey to the Dominican Republic. I generally try to share polished works; I will be trying here, instead, to share my immediate impressions to the day. While I think this will be useful, I also fear that these thoughts may be lacking in reflection and redaction. I hope, though, that the benefit outweighs these shortcomings.
I am fortunate to be traveling to the Dominican Republics as part of American Jewish World Service's Global Justice Fellowship, and I am grateful to AJWS for this opportunity to learn about their work with a diverse, thoughtful, and engaged group of colleagues from across the United States.
This past shabbat, after I reminded the congregation of my upcoming absence, and the unique opportunity I had to study with American Jewish World Service in the Dominican Republic, several people asked why this cause was particularly important. While I have been a supporter of AJWS's work for years, and have long admired Ruth Messinger's courageous moral leadership, the answers I gave were less than satisfying. Why should I, as an American Jew living in California, be concerned about human rights issues?
As it happened, a compelling answer comes from a book I picked up to read on my flight, and stems (in some ways) more from our American tradition than the Jewish one. In Believers, Thinkers, and Founders lawyer and theologian Kevin Hasson suggests that America's founders had a philosophical belief in the existence of God while simultaneously eschewing any one religious approach to worship. They did, though, share a belief that God's moral authority stood above any one government and, in the worlds of the Deceleration of Independence, endowed humanity with "certain inalienable rights." Both the Deceleration of Independence and the Constitution suggest that a just government should "secure" these rights—that is to say that it should protect what was already granted not by governments, but by God. When we advocate for rights, domestically or internationally, we are not only fulfilling a Jewish call to justice, we are also recalling the greatest aspirations in our American tradition. While we still have a long way to go in achieving the equality envisioned by our founding documents, we should not shy away from working towards their realization.
It was this call, ultimately, that motivated my study with AJWS in the Dominican Republic.
Tomorrow, I'll post on AJWS's specific human rights work in the DR, and what our advocacy looks like. I'm also going to start posting some questions to think about; feel free to respond in the comments. I'll start with a basic one: In what ways should our community be advocating for justice? How do we asses our priorities: given limited time and financial resources, how do we make these decisions?
I'll also post some photos below; they will make more sense as I provide context in the coming days. A few things for now, though: (1) AJWS's work globally is as a grant-making organization. It funds local agencies that advocate for and create justice. These photos are from a school funded by an agency called MUDHA (read about its inspiring founder here.) that serves primarily stateless Dominicans of Haitian Descent. (2) For the privacy's sake, these pictures do not include the many beautiful humans with whom we interacted.
A mural of Sonia Pierre at MUDHA's school in a bateynear Santo Domingo.