It has been a couple of days since I posted here – I will admit that this is mainly due to late nights, early mornings, and packed days. This has been a fascinating and impactful experience, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have seen a country and met people I could not possibly have met in any other imaginable circumstance. This Global Justice Fellowship through the American Jewish World Service has affected me as a human being, and one thought has occurred to me again and again especially over the past few days: an affirmation of the need for human rights to be realized globally is a Jewish issue. The work that AJWS is doing is quintessentially Jewish work. It is not the only work that the Jewish community needs to be doing, but it is indispensable in an interconnected world that we make a difference for people living in circumstances of virtually unimaginable hardship – and do so motivated by our Jewish commitments.
We met today with one AJWS grantee, and unlike other meetings, this was with only one person from the organization. That was fine, because Claudio has the same energy and presence and enthusiasm for her work as a roomful of energetic people! She is a whirlwind and a powerhouse, and has through her career with an organization called Udefegua – a coordinating agency for defending those who defend human rights in Central America – has put her life on the line again and again to insure that those who want to use their voices, and march with their legs, and testify in courts of law, to call out those who have committed human rights violations should be able to do so in safety and security. This is an extremely hard thing to do in a country that knows of “disappearances” and has a history of corruption in all levels of government. Imagine the courage it takes to speak out, to organize a march, to insist that basic rights be extended to all citizens! Udefegua works tirelessly to create space for a right to be exercised that we take for granted – the right to speak up, and to speak up for justice. She – and the work of Udefegua – is inspirational.
Earier in the day we took some time for a “cultural excursion,” leaving a lovely Shabbat experience on Lake Atitlan (the deepest lake in Central America, who knew?) for a Mayan excavation of a relatively small Mayan city that did not last very long, but which represents Mayan architecture and societal organizations (palaces, temples, ball fields, altars, and open spaces). The town of Iximche was destroyed by the arrival of the Spaniards in the area, which caused a Mayan destruction and dispersion that made the Mayan’s a kind of ‘stranger in their own land.’ Over generations they learned how to live ‘in exile at home’ and the “indiginous” Mayan people still represent about 50% of the Guatemalan population. They have been a persecuted people, lacking equal access to social assistance and government programs such as they exist, and many of the programs AJWS funds here seek, as a main or subsidiary goal, to address this now historic imbalance.
We got the chance to stop for a short time in Guatemala’s most popular tourist city, Antigua, which has a long history of its own and is maintained much as it has been for hundreds of years. It is organized around a central square, and is the home of ‘jade shopping’ (chocolate too, though I didn’t make it to the chocolate factory…) – jade is mined in Guatemala, and the stores that sell it seem proud that this beautiful natural stone is mined here. Like everything else in this beautiful but all too often broken country, I’m sure the story is more complicated than that.
We spent a good part of the day practicing our response to the question, “So rabbi, how was your trip?” Looking forward to sharing that answer with you. If American Airlines and the weather cooperate, I should be home sometime on Monday evening. So one last time…good night/good morning from Guatemala City.