Miriyam Glazer (R) and
Ruth Messinger, (L) President of AJWS
Professor Miriyam Glazer, PhD, Chair of the Literature, Communication and Media Department, had a profound and resonant experience this past August which will no doubt impact her department and her students. She was one of 17 rabbis - Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and Trans-denominational - selected for the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) delegation to volunteer at Challenging Heights in Ghana.
Supported for five years with AJWS grants, Challenging Heights (CH) was founded by the remarkable James Kofi Annan. Like thousands of other poor boys and girls in Ghana, James, along with his five older brothers and sisters, had been sold by his poverty-stricken parents into slavery. But he managed to escape after seven years, when he was only 13 years old. Miraculously, James went on to school, even to a university, and eventually became a manager at Barclay's Bank. A modern day Moses, James left the bank to create Challenging Heights, whose mission is to redeem the children of Ghana from slavery, rehabilitate and educate them, and help their parents find a way out of poverty.
Dr. Glazer found Challenging Heights and the surrounding village to be rich with energy and bursting with shy but robustly friendly children eager to know the rabbis' names, sing with them, hang out with them, hear their stories, and just hug them. At the same time, she found the village's poverty omnipresent. Some images remain: the single faucet of cold water for the entire surrounding community; the stench of open sewers and constant eye-singeing smell of burning garbage; the rubbish-strewn fields, the untreated teeth of the villagers; the eyes of the elderly blinded by cataracts; the 16-year-old orphaned boy who explained that his scars were the result of his beatings by a child trafficker, and the little girl who confessed that she never quite had enough to eat.
Every morning, after a meditative hour in Sacred Space, the delegation went to work. They mixed cement and hauled blocks to build a concrete-block house, an outdoor space for washing, and a wall enclosing CH property. They helped level a playing field for soccer where they later held a Rabbis vs. CH soccer match, and to everyone's surprise, the rabbis actually won. In the afternoons, the delegation studied Jewish spiritual sources about the nature of their obligations to one another, the dynamics of their ethical choices, the essence of community, tzedakah, and social justice. AJWS group leaders guided them in learning about:
- the nature and shortcomings of current global aid
- root causes of global poverty, and how addressing such poverty means emphasizing all aspects of human rights
- ways in which public health challenges, lack of access to education, environmental degradation, and gender inequality and conflict require holistic responses that address the interrelationship of all these factors
- the necessity for the empowerment of women, and the power of micro-loans;
- the terrible consequences in poor countries of current American food policy regarding disaster relief, and how the vagaries of American politics have devastated family planning clinics all over the global south with disastrous social and economic results
- the power of advocacy
"Throughout my time at Challenging Heights," reports Dr. Glazer, "the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel reverberated: "'In a free society,' Heschel said, 'some are guilty, all are responsible.'"
Dr. Glazer returned from this experience with renewed vigor and determination. She created an Advanced Core Seminar for a spring 2013 course in "Human Slavery: From Ancient Times to the World Today," which will begin with the Hebrew Bible and the meaning of slavery in the Jewish tradition, and move through history to contemporary issues in slavery and human trafficking.
She initiated AJU's observance of Global Hunger Shabbat, an AJWS program which, on our campus, will involve an entire week of learning, events, and experiences for AJU students. The focus will be on issues of local and global food justice, the Farm Bill, U.S. Aid Policy, and related issues.
Dr. Glazer has also initiated changes in the Literature, Communication, and Media Department including:
- A greater emphasis on world literature, cross-cultural communication, and media studies
- An expanded role for service and experiential learning
- A greater emphasis on Advocacy Training.
Rabbi and Professor Miriyam Glazer is an award-winning teacher and widely published writer and translator whose most recent book is Psalms of the Jewish Liturgy. She serves as a Scholar in Residence throughout the United States, Europe, and Israel. She has been a Greenfaith Fellow and a Visiting Scholar at Hebrew University, UCLA, and USC, and serves on the Editorial Board of the Rabbinical Assembly's journal, Conservative Judaism, as well as on the Executive Board of the Board of Rabbis. Dr. Glazer also teaches both Tehillim and Megillot at the Academy for Jewish Religion. Dr. Glazer has held numerous fellowships, including the National Humanities Institute, Memorial Foundation, and Hadassah-Brandeis Institute. Before joining the AJU faculty, Dr. Glazer was Senior Lecturer & Head of the Foreign Literatures Department at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.