When Jenny’s Hair is a Racial Problem (On the Road with AJWS in the DR)

Santo Domingo/Day One
When Jenny, a Dominican citizen and community activist, went to get her Government ID reissued recently in Santo Domingo, she was told to brush her ‘kinky’ hair to look more European and lady-like – or she will not get her ID. This, she told us, was just one, and almost comical, aspect of the hostile and some say racist tone that is increasingly responsible for so many of the discriminatory policies that make the lives of Dominicans on the margins and esp. of Haitian Descent (AKA – black or bi-racial) so difficult and troubling. 

Jenny in action at the privately run school in the Palmarejo Batey

I arrived here in Santo Domingo, the capitol of the Dominican Republic, yesterday, honored to be a member of AJWS‘s  Global Justice Fellowship, with distinguished Jewish clergy from all over the US, some of whom good friends and mentors, led by the tireless and inspiring Ruth Messinger.
With the benefits of a global economy comes global responsibility, and we’re here to see first hand what AJWS is doing on the ground, what we can learn about local activism in the face of problematic government policies that jeopardize human and civic rights – and what of this we can, and likely need to, take back home to the US.
We didn’t think that this is what would be on our minds when this journey was planned many months ago but here we are, carefully comparing notes between history and current events, here and there and everywhere.  For the record – showing up in a foreign land and criticizing its complex reality is not a virtue I aspire to but the detail oriented and carefully prepared agenda by the AJWS team sets up up for as careful and critical an observation as possible.
We met Jenny this morning,  along with her colleagues from MUDHATHE WOMEN DOMINICO-HAITIANS MOVEMENT, founded in 1983 by  a group of Dominican women of Haitian descent living in the bateyes (marginalized poor communities) in the country, committed to  improve the living conditions of these vulnerable communities, especially for women and children, while implementing human development programs including health programs, legal assistance, and human rights.”
After we met with Jenny and her colleagues downtown we drove through the beautiful beach town on our way to Palmarejo Batey, the former sugar mill/plantation now still populated with thousands of Dominicans and Dominicans of Haitian descent – in varying degrees of terrible poverty. We meet in a school supported by MUDHA and AJWS to meet the students, hear about their dreams, count our blessings, commit in some way to help towards theirs. 
This is not a charity trip nor slum dog tourism. We are here to learn how over centuries a complex conflict between people and nations, fueled by economic need and greed, political power, humanity at its baseness, turned this luscious island into a tourism destination for some and a literal prison for so many others. 
Since 2010 the Dominican Government has issued a series of laws based in a new constitution that strips those of Haitian descent of the right to citizenship. This is a democracy. For many thousands living here, some documented, some not and so called ‘stateless’ – it simply means that they don’t know if they are still citizens. Without the ID there can be no school, work, health care, bank account or even cellphone purchase. 
In some ways this IS slavery – continued. The government gets to have very cheap labor from Haiti, deport the workers, get new ones, and not have to provide them with the citizenship and its benefits. While this country thrives and more hotels are built for more wealthy tourists – the Haitians and some of  those who immigrated here generations ago are living way way below poverty line and are at constant risk of depression. Last year 40,000 were deported and 60,000 fled. 
This can happen anywhere. 
scenes in the Palmarejo Batey
What gives you hope – I asked our interpreter. Hate Watch’ she said. 
I must have looked puzzled so she explained: I sit down to watch one of the TV shows that I know I will love to hate, and I bring popcorn and a  friend. House Hunters is a favorite – watching rich people fight over millions of dollars worth homes because the kitchen is too small.. So I hate for a night, and then I let it out of my system and focus on happy.
Also, I dance. She offered to take me and whoever wants.. 
Maybe tomorrow. 


Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie, Founding Ritual Leader, Executive and Spiritual Director of Lab/Shul

EIGHT VS. HATE/CHANUKAH 2011/DIY Occupy Darkness

It starts tonight.
I’d like to invite you to join me, on each of the upcoming eight nights of lights, for a simple intention:
With each of our lights let‘s offer each other a light at the end of a tunnel,  a ray of hope.
Each night, starting tonight, I will post a specific intention for the lighting of the candles and invite your conversation.
Each night offers an opportunity for focus on one form of darkness that we may want to name – and do something about.
Imagine this intention as one that can accompany your lighting of the candles, privately, or in conversation with others.
The goal is to make more meaning of this sacred ritual, rededicating ourselves each night to bringing on more light, with clearer focus and intention.
Scroll down for WHY, HOW,  list of eight intentions, sources and links to real action

To Light!



Candles are the oldest physical – metaphysical technology we got.
The lighting of the candles of Chanukah is about the power of light to diminish darkness.

Darkness has many faces: terror, tyranny, anxiety, depression, despair, illness, poverty, hatred, discrimination,violence, loneliness. Tunnels of darkness.
Chanukah candles are lit publicly, for all to see and remember the power of the possible.
The role of the candles is to remind us to turn on the lights for each other, to be each others’ ray in the dark. a light unto others.
Candles are public smiles.  a single candle defeats darkness with ease just as simple acts of kindness can do so much to
alleviate hatred. The way a smile lights up a face.


1. Each night, light. From one to eight candles or the other way around.

(For basics refresher : How to Light Your Menorah )

2. Once the candles have been lit, take a moment to think of a specific darkness you want to  focus on. (see one list below)

3. What can you do about it?  See list of links below to chanukah and social justice activism, ideas, programs and opportunities 

Consider: An intention, conversation, phone call, email, hug, donation, public call to action.

4. Occupy darkness. discuss, but don’t stay there. It’s a holiday. move on to focus on how the light can change.

5. Repeat eight nights.

MY LIST OF INTENTIONS 2011 (subject to change)
Night 1: The Darkness of Dignity: human rights, human dignity and freedom – where is the darkness that troubles me? who are the sources of light? how can I help?
Night 2: The Darkness of Greed: In this climate of calling for more economic justice – what do I recognize as the darkness, sources of light, and how can I help?
Night 3: The Darkness of Disease: What darkness related to health is on my mind tonight? in my heart? What can I do to help?
Night  4: The Darkness of Love:  When intimacy and love and relationships and sex go wrong – where in my life? where is the light switch.
Night 5: The Darkness of Literacy: What forms of educational darkness do you recognize, and what can you do to help repair?
Night 6: The Darkness of Rage:  Have I come close to violence, abuse, hostilities? In my own behaviour or those I know. What can be helpful to diminish these rages in the world?
Night 7: The Darkness of Direction: Who are our leaders and where are we in the dark? Whom can we support?
Night 8:The Darkness of Soul:  How have so many of our sacred traditions and religious paths become shrouded with dark rags of rage and righteousness? How can we help restore the spirit?



Occupy Darkness – online links

 (thank you Dara Kessler for putting this together. Got more? Please share!)

AJWS Chag v’Chesed

Make this a real season of change. occupy darkness. turn on the lights.