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A Salute to Jewish Philanthropy – A Tree of Life Quietly and Faithfully Welcoming the Stranger in Our Midst

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The fatal shooting that claimed the lives of eleven members of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago has left so many in our country shocked and devastated. It has eerie parallels to the church massacre that took place three years ago that took the lives of nine African Americans during a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina.

On behalf of the Imago Dei Fund, my heartfelt condolences to all who lost loved ones at Tree of Life and our prayers and solidarity to our Jewish brothers and sisters, fellow human beings, neighbors, friends, co-workers, and fellow people of faith.

Like many, we are deeply disturbed by the rise of anti-semitic violence (that has spiked by over 57% over the past two years) and disdain for minorities and immigrants that has been walking out in bald form onto our streets and in our newsfeeds in the familiar clothing of nationalism and an eerie cloak of religiosity which is hard to watch. The killer barged into the sacred space of the synagogue while people were worshiping God with the venom of hate in his heart imbibed by the rising tide of both anti-semitism and the refugee work that Tree of Life was so involved in.

In my conversation with Jewish friends and colleagues after the tragedy, I was reminded of observations I have made over the past decade of the particularly values-driven tenor of Jewish philanthropy that I have glimpsed in places far and wide like Haiti, Cambodia, and remote places in Africa where there is barely a Jewish population but where the American Jewish World Service has a presence in the global development ecosystem. But until the Tree of Life tragedy, I didn’t know how deeply engaged Jewish philanthropy and activism was right here in the US living out one its core values: love and welcome of the “stranger in our midst”.

Depending on how much of the coverage you watched, you might not have connected the dots that this synagogue was attacked not only because it is Jewish but also because it is deeply involved in the work of supporting and resettling refugees fleeing violence and war. Shortly before the massacre, the gunman’s hate for not only Jewish people but also refugees and immigrants was proudly posted all over social media: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” he wrote. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.” In this tragedy, you see in vivid form the fatal intersectionality of two ancient stigmas rising to the surface of the American psyche today: anti-semitism (which has deep roots in Christianity) and fear and disdain of the foreigner.

I am proud to be part of a Christian faith community here in Boston that welcomes newcomers to Boston and lends support to refugees through Christian organizations like World Relief which, along with HIAS, is one of the nine resettlement organizations here in the US that is faithfully continuing to serve refugees despite dramatic cuts in funding and fear of being closed down all together. But there is something different about the tenor of Jewish philanthropy. There is no evangelism mixed in, no echoes of colonialism dressed up in religious clothes. Over the past decade or so of doing philanthropy, I have noticed and admired a number of Jewish women I have interacted with in women’s philanthropic settings who have this dogged commitment to the marginalized and a no-nonsense, practical yet holistic approach to alleviating human suffering that is embodied in the core value of Tikkun Olam which means “Repair the World”.

If you listened to the eulogies at the Tree of Life funeral and the news coverage afterwards, you got a window into what Tikkun Olam looks like on our own doorsteps and around the world: an activism centered on something so basic: being a good neighbor to “strangers” (aka “foreigners”) in our midst. As Christians, we share the same Bible and also have a core value of “loving our neighbor as ourselves” but our witness in the world right now (with many notable exceptions) seems to be falling into the same trap Christianity has fallen into throughout the centuries: getting more swept up with political power and tribal identity than our core spiritual identity as human beings who are all branches of the same Tree of Life and as followers of Christ who are called very simply to love our neighbor as ourself. The work of Tikkun Olam is all of ours and knows no ethnic, religious, or geographic boundaries.

I was just privileged to attend the Black Ministerial Alliance annual dinner last week and felt so lifted by the sense of solidarity, spirituality, and love in the room that made me feel the same Tikkun Olam I sense in my Jewish friends. They are leading a faith-inspired movement in Boston to care for not only their own but for their communities who are made of many races and nationalities, many who are newcomers to Boston. There are many wonderful Christian organizations in Boston, like The Greater Boston Refugee Ministry working in partnership with the Emmanuel Gospel Center, which are doing the work of Tikkun Olam.

So we too have some tikkun Olam in our Christian activism and philanthropy but we have much to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters to center our spirituality and our do-goodism more firmly in this core Biblical principle which appears again and again throughout the Bible—love for the stranger in our midst—but which we have lost touch with, and as a result we have lost something so basic, our very humanity and which is at the core of what philanthropy is all about and is what truly makes any country great:

And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:19

You must treat the foreigner living among you as native-born and love him as Read More

IDF Welcomes Erin Gerber and Katie Bunten-Wamaru to the Team!

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The Imago Dei Fund (IDF) is excited to welcome our two new Program Partners, Erin Gerber and Katie Bunten-Wamaru. Erin and Katie both bring a depth of experience, kindness, generosity and a humble respect of humanity and the challenges we face in the world. Along with Jen Oakley, they are responsible for building out the IDF portfolio, cultivating and maintaining relationships with grantee partners, funding partners, and other network partners, and executing the IDF grantmaking process.

Erin comes to IDF with over nine years of experience in gender-based violence programing across five regions in the world. She has worked for various international organizations leading programs to address violence against women and girls in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Iraq and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the Thailand-Burma border. Most recently, Erin acted as a technical advisor to the United Nations Population Fund on gender and mental health issues, supporting local and international organizations in their programming on reproductive health and psychosocial care in crisis-affected areas across Syria, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.

Katie has over seven years’ experience working in East African development and eleven years of experience in non-profit management. She completed her BA at Wellesley College in Peace and Justice Studies and was subsequently awarded a Masters in Sustainable International Development at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management, where she focused on monitoring, evaluation, and youth programming. As an organizational development specialist, Katie has worked with non-profits to align their model, operations, and impact measurement with their ultimate vision for change.

North America on Its Way to Continent-Wide Human Trafficking Safety Net Response

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From the Praxis Project:

It’s official! In late October, our partners at the Canada Centre to End Human Trafficking were awarded the contract to build and run Canada’s first ever national human trafficking hotline. Polaris’s global hotlines experts have been working closely with the Centre to build out the implementation plan for the hotline, which is modelled very closely on the Polaris-operated U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. Now, three years into a successful partnership with Consejo Ciudadano, which runs the national human trafficking hotline in Mexico, North America is well on its way to having a continent-wide safety net response for victims and survivors of human trafficking.

Shining Hope for Communities in the New York Times

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What a Kenyan Slum Can Teach America About Politics?  Don’t put your hope in elected officials. Real change has to start locally. Read More

Still Harbor Group Facilitation Immersion 2019 Cohort – Still Accepting Applications!

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Are you committed to contemplatively facilitating reflection, dialogue, and connection in communities working for justice and peace?

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Praxis Co-Founder Transitions & New Openings

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From the Praxis team:

We want to share some exciting but bittersweet news with you. After a period of mutual discernment and prayer, Praxis co-founder Josh Kwan has accepted an amazing opportunity to be the new President of The Gathering, a leading community of Christian philanthropists who have been meeting together for over 30 years under the stewardship of friend and Praxis Mentor Fred Smith.

As you may know, over the past few years Praxis has been fortunate to host the conclusion of our Nonprofit Accelerator at the same site as The Gathering’s annual conference. Perhaps it goes without saying, but it is our plan that through this transition we’ll continue to have the opportunity to work together in this way. Much of why this collaboration has been possible is a result of Josh’s decade-plus, trust-building relationship with Fred, which opened the door for this role conversation.

It’s natural in a departure like this to wonder if the co-founders and/or team had a falling out, but that can’t be further from the truth for us. We plan to be lifelong friends, praying for each other and wishing the best for Praxis and for The Gathering. While we will deeply miss Josh and his incredible spirit, he is clearly a great fit for this next task, given his experience in philanthropy, longstanding trust with The Gathering’s team and board, pulse on the next generation of philanthropic leaders, and experiences with Praxis at the edge of redemptive entrepreneurship.

We’re not only writing to share the news, but also to make this transition as seamless as possible for our community of collaborators and advocates. To this end, we want to make sure you know of Mary Elizabeth Goodell, our Community Manager. She will be helping continue to build and connect leaders across the Praxis ecosystem.

Additionally, we are actively recruiting top talent for two new positions in our NYC headquarters: an Internal Operations Lead and a Venture Programs Associate.

Josh will be reachable via Praxis through the end of the year as he completes and hands off his work with us. We’ll have the chance to both plan with him and also celebrate all the ways he has blessed us and Praxis. We’ll miss him tremendously, as he’ll miss the work and the team at Praxis. At the same time, we both feel fortunate to be making this transition in such a positive way, knowing that Praxis programs are thriving, the community continues to grow, and our team is well prepared to continue our mission in advancing redemptive entrepreneurship.

Blessings and thanks for your friendship,
Dave, Josh, and the Praxis Team

“Africans believe in something that is difficult to render in English. We call it ubuntu, botho. It means the essence of being human. You know when it is there and when it is absent. It speaks about humaneness, gentleness, hospitality, putting yourself out on behalf of others, being vulnerable. It embraces compassion and toughness. It recognizes that my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
Desmond Tutu