Jews Responding to the Earthquake in Haiti
Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia is looking beyond the headlines in thinking
about how best to form their communal response to the recent earthquake
in Haiti. This week, TRS's senior rabbi, Amy Schwartzman, shares a guest post about the connection her congregation is building with Haiti. Rabbi Schwartzman currently serves the President of the Rabbinic Alumni Association of HUC-JIR and has been recognized nationally for her social justice work. This post first appeared on A Blog of Continuing Jewish Learning and is republished with permission from HUC-JIR.
When we arrived at the Haitian embassy to meet the Ambassador and
his wife, there was little to indicate the devastation and loss of life
that the earthquake had left in its wake. Apparently weeks before
hundreds of people stopped by the tiny embassy, trying to leave
donations or find out if families and friends were known to be alive.
But now it was silent. No passers-by, just a sign on the door to say
that they could not accept any goods in kind. The building is dwarfed
by the surrounding embassies. They are grand and imposing. Perhaps
this slim and modest building is appropriate for the poorest country in
the Americas. Inside the furniture is classically European but the art
is spectacularly Haitian - it left me a bit confused until I met the
Ambassador and his wife.
His Excellency Raymond Joseph, Ambassador to the United States from the Republic of Haiti,
is a joyful, intelligent, sharp amalgam of Haitian culture and the ways
of the west. Born and raised in Cayes, Haiti, he is mostly known as a
journalist. In the 1960's he was a radio personality. In the 70's and
80's he was at the Wall Street Journal in New York as a financial
writer and co-founded the Haiti-Observateur,
the first crusading commercial Haitian weekly. In 1990 Mr. Joseph was
called to be Haiti's Charge d'Affaires in Washington and his own
country's representative at the Organization of American States. After
helping with the first democratic elections in December of 1990, he
returned to the Haiti Observateur where he remained until he was called
to Washington in 2004 as the Ambassador.
Cantor Tracey Scher, Rabbi Amy Schwartzman,
Mrs. Lola Possion-Joseph, Ambassador Raymond Joseph, Rabbi Jeffrey
Saxe, Cantor Michael Shochet
You can imagine what a wealth of experiences this man brings to a
meeting. Members of the Temple Rodef Shalom clergy sat down with the
Ambassador and his equally engaging and articulate wife, Lola Poisson-Joseph,
to discuss how we might embark on a joint venture to help repair
Haiti. While the weight of his nation and its deep tragedy sat on his
shoulders, the Ambassador regaled us with stories that connect Haiti
with the Jewish people. He talked about Haiti's vote to support the creation of the State of Israel.
He told stories about welcoming Jewish refugees after WWII. He shared
his knowledge of Torah and his love of Hebrew! Finally, we spoke about
creating a project to restore a community in his country.
Lola Posson-Joseph, a social activist and artist, has a relationship with a town outside of Port-au-Prince called Petit-Guave.
She had been working on building a shelter there for the poor members
of the community. She painted a splendid picture of this town, its
history and its citizens. It is filled with a rich culture and teaming
with human potential. We agreed that our goal would be to rebuild at
least one central institution of Petit-Guave - the shelter, the only
school or the 300 year old church, which also functions as a community
On February 16th the Ambassador and his wife came to Temple Rodef
Shalom to participate in a service of solidarity and hope for Haiti.
The Ambassador updated the congregation about the relief efforts. Mrs.
Poisson-Joseph talked about Petit-Guave and helped us to imagine how we
might help. The day of our service, there were no pictures in the paper
about Haiti. Support efforts by doctors and builders and emergency
workers were still under way but for many, in our safe and comfortable
homes, the story of the earthquake has passed. Some have moved onto
other issues in the world. Those who came to our service affirmed that
Haiti, and its need for our support, is still very much alive. As
former President Bill Clinton recently wrote: "Haiti can surely move
beyond its troubled history and this lethal earthquake to emerge a
stronger, more secure nation. But that can't be done with government
support alone. Ordinary citizens must fill the gaps."
We are those ordinary citizens and our Jewish tradition and
commitment to tikkun olam calls us to not only offer comfort to the
people of Haiti but to offer our resources, our creativity, our time
and our energy to restore this nation. As our rabbis taught - "it is
not for us to complete the task, but neither are we free to refrain
from engaging with it." (Pirke Avot 2:21)
Church in Petite Guave before the earthquake