In Guatemala, Rabbi Mack gets first-hand look at how human-rights advocates can make a difference

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At the end of January, Rabbi Sarah Mack of Temple Beth-El, in Providence, traveled to Guatemala as part of the Global Justice Fellowship run by American Jewish World Service (AJWS). There, she and 14 other Jewish leaders met with leaders of nonprofit groups working to advance human rights in Guatemala, one of the Central American countries whose residents are fleeing to seek asylum in the United States. 

“This journey has been eye-opening on a number of levels and reflective of our power to enact justice in the world based upon Jewish values that inspire us daily,” Rabbi Mack said in an interview upon her return.

“This was a wonderful cohort of colleagues from across the Jewish world,” she said. “We learned that the Jewish vision of repairing the world expands beyond our borders.

“Part of the program is to reflect on systems of inequality. That gave an extra layer of importance to immigration issues. Often, I feel like I’m not doing enough – and I don’t know what enough is.”

At the end of the trip, she said she had a better understanding, through the stories of people she met, of how her voice and the voices of others can make a difference.

The fellows arrived as Guatemala faced widespread condemnation for clamping down on the human rights of indigenous people and rural farmers.

During a week in the country, the fellows met with advocates fighting for legal protections for human-rights activists who are at risk of violence, forensic anthropologists working to identify remains from decades of internal armed conflict, a council of indigenous elders, and an artists’ collective that uses street performance to reintegrate indigenous cultures into public spaces and help communities heal from decades of trauma.

The fellows learned from local Guatemalan human-rights advocates about working to improve life in Guatemala and how American Jews and others can support this work.

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

In addition to traveling to Guatemala, each participant 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.

The fellows will be in Washington, D.C., March 30-April 1 to educate members of Congress and other government officials about pressing international human-rights issues. As Guatemala’s new president negotiates with President Donald Trump’s administration over its demand that Guatemala accept asylum seekers who were deported from the U.S., 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.

AJWS is a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization that works to fight poverty and pursues justice in developing countries around the world.

With reports from the American Jewish World Service.

FRAN OSTENDORF (fostendorf@jewishallianceri.org) is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.