Why I can’t just shake my head at the death of Guatemalans

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On June 3, 2018, a deadly volcanic eruption took place in Guatemala, demolishing their Jewish community. The connection between Guatemala and Israel was deepened as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent medical equipment, logistical assistance and doctors to aid in the rescue as the death rates climbed. Rising from the ashes is a new neighborhood called Jerusalem as new houses are being built with donations led by the Central American country’s rabbis.

The Jewish people are no stranger to feeling unsafe in their homes and feeling the need to search for a better life. Two Guatemalan kids this past year died during their search for a better life in their family’s attempt to come to America. It is another instance in which the Jewish community can relate and help.


Over this year, I had been watching the news and heard about the two children, 8-year-old Felipe and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, who died on the U.S. border. Both of these children were from small villages in Guatemala and were coming to the United States with hopes of starting a new life and achieving their American dream like millions of people, including Jews, before them.

When we read the newspapers, we shouldn’t just shake our heads in disgust. We should try to do something positive and impact people’s lives for the better. It is why I have been working with Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Shalom — The National Synagogue to organize a mission to
Guatemala in June. We want to go to Guatemala to be human witnesses to the poverty and living conditions of these people seeking a better life.

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People in this country have become so caught up in fighting over whether or not to build a border wall that it has overshadowed the real people, like Felipe and Jakelin, who deal with poverty and death on a regular basis. A wall is just a physical structure, but it is a constant and dominant subject in today’s media that has overshadowed the lives of two innocent children and thousands of others.

While in Guatemala, we will connect with the Jewish community. We will pray with them, eat with them and learn from them.


We will also raise money to buy a home for a family whose house was destroyed by the volcano eruption last year. We will also be giving glasses to those in need and building new beds in an orphanage.

Besides trying to help in a small way to improve the lives of the Guatemalan people, we want to memorialize some of the tragedies that are driving people away from the country. One particularly poignant visit will be to the spot where in February 41 teenage girls, who had been physically and sexually abused, were burned alive in a government-run home, as the police officials stood outside and listened to them scream. Hearing about cases like this and thinking about what I am doing as a 16-year-old girl in the United States makes me take a step back to realize how fortunate I am to have grown up here.

This trip is not a political statement but a mission of hope and spirituality to connect with our moral core and awaken a drive in ourselves and others to bring more light and hope to the world.

Mairav Diamond is a junior at the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville.

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