Category Archives: Africa

Coming Soon: Return to Rwanda

With fellow delegation particiant Hannah Gelder and the children of the Amahoro youth program (supported by CHABHA)

For the next two weeks I’ll be blogging from Rwanda where, I will be joining fifteen other participants in JRC’s third service delegation to Africa.  We’re returning to visit and volunteer with our good friends at WE-ACTx, a visionary NGO that works to increase women’s and children’s access to HIV testing, care, treatment, support, education and training throughout Rwanda. We’ll also spend time with CHABHA, another important NGO that funds and supports orphans and other children affected by HIV/AIDS in Rwanda and Burundi.

You may remember that our last trip included a visit to an infamous massacre site as well as conversations with individuals who briefed us on the latest efforts to heal Rwandan society in the wake of the devastating 1994 genocide.  While it has not been a straight path (nor has it ever been) I do believe that the Rwandan example has much to teach the world about how to move past tribal enmity and the tragic legacy of colonialism.

I’m particularly thrilled that this time around our group will include six teenagers, who will be spending significant time with Rwanda youth programs supported by WE-ACTx and CHABHA. As a father of a teenager who attended our last African delegation, I can personally attest that these kinds of service trips can be genuinely life-changing experiences for young people.

As before, I’ll be posting regularly about our experiences If you’d like to read my posts from our last delegation, go to the Categories drop-down menu on the right and click on “JRC Africa Trip 2008.” Reading through these posts brought back some powerful memories for me and I’m eager to create new ones on our most current trip.

Stay tuned!

How to Support Relief Efforts in Somalia

From the NY Times:

Much of the Horn of Africa, which includes Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, has been struck this summer by one of the worst droughts in 60 years. But two Shabab-controlled parts of southern Somalia are the only areas where the United Nations has declared a famine, using scientific criteria of death and malnutrition rates.

I commend to you this report from Charity Navigator, which includes essential information about this tragic, urgent crisis along with the highest rated orgs currently doing relief work in the region.

Libya and the “Never Again” Doctrine

I’ve always believed that in the wake of the Holocaust, the popular Jewish imperative “Never Again” shouldn’t just apply exclusively to Jews, but to all peoples everywhere.  While it might come out of our particular experience, it must be considered a universal imperative. Since we Jews know first hand about such things, never again can we remain silent when any people’s existence is threatened by murderous regimes.

To be completely fair, however, it’s easy enough to determine to not stand idly by in the face of government-sponsored brutality – but it’s quite another to determine what in fact should be done.  Our current military operations in Libya provide the perfect case in point.

Among the many pieces I’ve read on these horrible developments, I was interested to learn that Ban Ki-Moon had in fact invoked “Never Again” while discussing Libya during a recent tour of the US Holocaust Museum. And it was extremely significant to me to learn that National Security Advisor Samantha Powers – an eloquent voice of conscience on the subject of genocide – was among those who urged Obama to support military action against the Kadaffi regime.

However, while I do indeed believe in “Never Again,” and while it has been increasingly agonizing to read the tragic reports coming out of Libya, I must reluctantly admit I do not support our military operations there.

First, and probably foremost, whatever is happening in Libya, it is not close to the scale of a genocide. If that sounds overly crass, it is worth asking why we are eager to engage militarily with Libya yet have chosen not to act on behalf of Cote D’Ivoire, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or any number of other countries whose governments are committing atrocities that are no less brutal than Kadaffi’s (and in some cases more so.)

On this point, Israeli journalist Yael Lavie comes to a fairly blunt conclusion:

Call me a cynic, call me a product of the Middle East or better yet a citizen of this region who witnessed the outcome of western intervention over the course of the last 20 years – but the war that has just begun is not just. It is not being waged to stop the Libyan people from being killed. If that were the case we can name many ongoing genocides around the world, such as the decade long holocaust in the Sudan, where no western UN resolution motivated military action has ever been taken and ask why now?

As it stands right now we may be facing another attempt by the west for enforcing regime change in the Middle East with the usual western personal agenda – the agenda of oil. There is one thing recent history has proven to us time and time again – Where there is no oil, there is no intervention.

Even if one doesn’t share Lavie’s level of cynicism, we’d do well to ask whether or not it’s our place to engage militarily with every oppressive regime around the world.  Especially given our recent history of military regime change with Muslim nations, our operations in Libya might at least give us cause for concern.

As for me, I believe it is profoundly ill-advised for our country to pursue yet another war against an Arab country. While it is true that the Arab League voted to back a no-fly zone, that support is already waning now that air strikes are killing Libyan civilians.  Make no mistake: we are now waging war in Libya.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, as usual, hit this point right on the head on the eve of the UN Security Council vote:

While the action is billed as protecting the civilians of Libya, a no-fly-zone begins with an attack on the air defenses of Libya and Qaddafi forces. It is an act of war. The president made statements which attempt to minimize U.S. action, but U.S. planes may drop U.S. bombs and U.S. missiles may be involved in striking another sovereign nation. War from the air is still war…

The last thing we need is to be embroiled in yet another intervention in another Muslim country. The American people have had enough. First it was Afghanistan, then Iraq. Then bombs began to fall in Pakistan, then Yemen, and soon it seems bombs could be falling in Libya. Our nation simply cannot afford another war, economically, diplomatically or spiritually.

None of this is meant to diminish the sacrosanct imperative of “Never Again.” But beyond the moral absolutes there are difficult and painful questions we must face when confronted with human rights abusing nations: when should we deem it necessary to authorize the use of military force? Why are we compelled to act in some cases but not others? To what extent are our decisions motivated less by need than by national self-interest?

I’ll give the final word to a recent Nation editorial:

(There) is a worrying dimension to this intervention, in that it reflects a mindset that associates US foreign policy, whether alone or as part of an allied force, with heroic crusades to bring down the bad guys. But it is exactly that mindset that has done so much damage in the Middle East over the years and that has saddled us with the costly burdens of two ongoing wars in Muslim lands. And Washington’s support for military action in Libya, on avowedly humanitarian grounds, should call into question ever more sharply the cynical American acquiescence in brutal suppression of peaceful demonstrations in Bahrain.

The democratic awakening in the Arab world presents the United States with an opportunity to put that past behind us. It offers us a chance to align our interests with democratic change and economic progress. It would be a tragedy if we allowed the intervention in Libya to distract us from these difficult and important challenges. We need to deal with longstanding allies like Jordan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia—which continue to resist democratic reforms—and to help the Egyptian people consolidate democracy and create jobs and economic opportunity. The most productive role for America in the Middle East today is diplomatic and economic, not military.

Interfaith Jamming the the Desert!

Just learned that the great alt-Jewish band The Sway Machinery, recently played at “Le Festival au Désert” – an amazing international music festival held annually in the Sahara desert near Timbuktu, Mali. Apparently, SM played before a largely Muslim audience and performed with several local African musicians as well. Click above for a taste.

Afro-pop Worldwide:

Koudede was followed by Sway Machinery’s own set.  They were strong and energetic.  They brought the audience into their groove within seconds.  While (band leader Jeremiah) Lockwood sang singing in Hebrew, the Muslim crowd respected the music and showed its appreciation by dancing along.  Haira Arby joined the group for their final song and showed once again her mastery of music.  She was immediately in the groove and brought her own authenticity to the number.

The Sway Machinery website reports:

In an unprecedented act of intercultural exchange, underground rock cult favorites and iconoclastic champions of historic Jewish music traditions, The Sway Machinery, have been invited to perform at The Festival of the Desert in Esekane, Mali, in the depths of the Sahara Desert this January. The Sway Machinery will bring its unique vision of Jewish Spiritual Music traditions to the heart of Islamic Africa, performing for an audience of thousands!

While in Mali, The Sway Machinery will record a new album, featuring collaborations with stars of the Malian music world. A documentary film about this journey is also in the making!

“The Sway Machinery Pilgrimage, as they have entitled their Africa project, is a beautiful example for the world of the great role artists can play in building bridges of love and understanding between cultures. This project is of clear importance in establishing new and positive images of Jews and Muslims engaging with each other”  (Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman, Cordoba Initiative).

Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill: The Plot Thickens

If ever we needed a lesson in how prejudice can fan the flames of oppression, how is this? The NY Times recently reported that three American evangelical Christians visited Uganda last March to give a series of high profile talks:

For three days, according to participants and audio recordings, thousands of Ugandans, including police officers, teachers and national politicians, listened raptly to the Americans, who were presented as experts on homosexuality. The visitors discussed how to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomized teenage boys and how “the gay movement is an evil institution” whose goal is “to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.”

As it turns out, just one month after the conference, a Ugandan politician who claims to have ties to evangelical members of the American government, introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, which among other things, imposes a death sentence for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The evangelicals are naturally backtracking, claiming they had no idea their anti-gay ideas could possibly be used in such a way. (One is actually quoted as saying, “Some of the nicest people I have ever met are gay people.”)

I’ve visited Uganda twice with members of my congregation, and I can personally attest to the palpable growth of American evangelicalism in that country. Whether or not this bill bears direct American influence, I can’t help but note the disingenuousness of someone who preaches that “the gay movement is an evil institution” then expresses surprise when others prove more than willing to take him at his word.

Click here for a CNN article on the Ugandan bill, and here for a Human Rights Watch Report.

Counting the Beans at JRC!

pic.phpAllow me another congregational kvell: the good folks at Mirembe Kowamera coffee recently informed us that JRC occupies the number 50 spot on their list of top customers this year!

Thanksgiving Coffee staffer Jenais Zarlin broke the cool news on the Mirembe blog:

(JRC member and Fair Trade Coordinator Elaine Waxman) pointed out that they have been involved with the project for long enough now that it mostly carries itself. Folks that buy coffee just do it at the synagogue now instead of at the grocery store. It doesn’t require tremendous effort from anyone. They have integrated it  into their community so it isn’t actually a project. Mirembe Kawomera is just the coffee they all buy regularly.

Jenais went on to explain that the Peace Kawomera Co-op has tripled their coffee harvest in the last four years and the group of participating farmers has now grown to about 1,000, with more farmers on the waiting list. The only thing needed are more customers, so drink up!