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Pursuing Justice in Haiti
“Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof – Justice, justice, shall you pursue” (Deut. 16:20) If you’re wondering why tzedek, or justice, is used twice in this biblical verse, I believe that it is because we are commanded to not only pursue justice for ourselves, but justice for others. And, it is for this reason that I traveled to Haiti last month with the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), a partner of our Federation. JDC organized the trip as part of its Entwine programming to show first-hand how dollars from Jewish Federations all over North America are being invested overseas. The Entwine program offers service opportunities for young Jewish adults who seek to make a meaningful impact on global Jewish needs and international humanitarian issues.
Having personally donated to our Federation’s Haiti Relief Fund in response to the devastating earthquake in 2010, I left for Haiti with wonder, excitement, curiosity, and a bit of anxiety. After all, it had been over 2 years since the quake, and every news source I read noted misuse or simply no distribution of funds. Upon arrival, I was amazed to see the impact that a lack of government infrastructure has, coupled with a people that have the will to overcome any obstacle. Whether selling gasoline from jerry cans on the side of the road or renting a neighbor’s car to offer a transportation route to travelers in need, the people are unwavering and resourceful.
Our 14-person group was based in Port-au-Prince, where we spent most days volunteering at a nearby school co-founded by JDC and. The is where we not only built a playground and attended classes with the kids, but learned of what it means to value education. Some of these kids walk more than 2 hours each way just to learn, a gift that is not taken for granted in this country. Their enthusiasm is infectious, leaving us all with hope and determination to make a change. And, unlike children in the States, you never hear them complain – nor does it seem that they yearn for what they do not have. It gave me great perspective and appreciation for the simplicities that I take for granted.
We visited many sites, including Heart to Heart and Partners in Health, both organizations that offer a chance to Haitians they wouldn’t otherwise have. Particularly at Partners in Health, whether it was the disabled children abandoned by their parents due to high medical costs or the children orphaned by the disaster, these were all kids whose lives were transformed because the global community wouldn’t turn a blind eye.
Finally, we explored the countryside and the beach, seeing first-hand the potential of this beautiful country and the everlasting spirit of its inhabitants. And, as Shabbat came in and we then read the Megillah together on Saturday night, I realized that, as a people, we too had overcome many obstacles in our history, but our own resilience can help to inspire others and continue to enrich ourselves as we pursue justice through helping others and exemplifying the Jewish value of tikkun olam.
Robyn Schneider is a Major Gifts Associate for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and can be reached at RSchneider@JewishLA.org.