Rabbi brings home call to action from Guatemala

Rabbi Aderet Drucker meets with indigenous rights activists in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Aderet Drucker.

Rabbi Aderet Drucker thought she knew what she was getting into when she joined 14 other American rabbis on a weeklong trip to Guatemala City, Guatemala, in January. But she didn’t quite know how much the nation’s institutions were letting its
people down.

At one point, when the rabbis met with human rights activists, the group was smaller than the rabbis expected.

“They said it wasn’t safe for the women to travel that day,” said Drucker, a Bethesda rabbi who most recently served as the University of Maryland Hillel’s campus rabbi. “And that’s how we started.”

Drucker was in the Central American nation on a trip sponsored by the American Jewish World Service that focused on violence, corruption and discrimination inside the country. They met with local activists and non-governmental organization workers, many of whom risk their own safety in one of the most violent nations in Latin America.


The rabbis spoke with lawyers for indigenous Mayan communities facing discrimination and displacement, journalists working to expose corruption and violence, and activists working for greater human rights protections inside the country.

Now back home, Drucker and the other rabbis will be lobbying lawmakers and organizing support for the impoverished country.

“I really felt like I was sitting in front of heroes really putting their lives on the line,” said Drucker, who spoke in generalities out of concern for the safety of the people and groups the rabbis met. “Guatemala is in a situation that’s really heartbreaking, and yet, U.S. involvement in the past has not always made things better.”

According to the State Department, the nation of almost 17 million people consistently ranks as one of the top 10 to 25 most dangerous countries in the world. In 2017, there were about 4,400 homicides, 5,200 aggravated assaults and more than 2,900 missing persons. Human rights workers and journalists have also been targeted for prosecution and, at times, violence.

Lawyers whom the rabbis spoke to described a justice system rife with corruption at every level. Drucker said that when one told Drucker that the lawyers know some judges are corrupt and won’t rule in their favor no matter what, she asked why they continue to do the work.

“He didn’t skip a beat. ‘It’s persistence and faith,’ he said. And I thought that was so simple and powerful. He’s doing the right thing and he has no other choice,” Drucker said. “They’ve had some wins, but they’ve also had a lot of setbacks.”

Despite a dangerous journey to the U.S. border, more people from Guatemala attempt to cross into the United States than from anywhere else. President Donald Trump has threatened to cut foreign aid to Guatemala and other Central American nations if they don’t stem the flow of migrants to the United States. Drucker said that a cutoff of U.S. aid would be disastrous for people living there.

“People don’t want to leave their home and their families. If they’re taking that treacherous journey to an unknown place where people aren’t treating them well, it’s because things are so bad,” she said.

Still, she’d like to see the U.S. government apply more pressure on Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales to clean up corruption and respect his people’s basic human rights, something she plans to speak to lawmakers about when she meets with them on Capitol Hill this month.

“As a human, as a Jew, as a rabbi, I’m called to act,” Drucker said. “And this is a call to action. Really, this is something that we can actually impact. Not just how we’re treating people who are coming across our border, we should love the stranger because we were once strangers. But even in our responsibility to care for the other, because this is
our family.”

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