The Case for Radical Empathy

jill-jacobsWay too many people still believe these hideous stereotypes about Israelis and Palestinians  By Jill Jacobs (reposted from WashingtonPost).

My heart jumped when I saw the poster at the entrance to the Muslim community center in Central Java, Indonesia, in 2009. I didn’t need to speak Indonesian to understand the photo of dead and injured Gazan children. Still, I asked for a translation. Uneasily, our group’s translator explained that the poster reported the amount of money the community group had raised in relief funds after Operation Cast Lead, just a few months before, and prayed for the health and safety of all Muslims . . . and for an end to “the Zionist entity.”

I had come to Indonesia with a delegation of U.S. faith leaders, organized by Legacy International and sponsored by the State Department, to speak at universities and community centers about religious pluralism in America. It wasn’t my turn to present that day, so I enjoyed a brief respite as I debated how and whether to address the poster with these members of Muhammadiyah, one of the largest Muslim organizations in Indonesia. In the end, I had little choice. “I have a question for the rabbi,” began one attendee during a Q&A session:  “Why do Jews kill Muslim children?”

Heart pounding, I stood up. I spoke of my pain at the loss of life among Gazan civilians, tragically including so many children. And then I took a deep breath. “I noticed the poster in the entranceway,” I began. I praised the group for raising money for humanitarian relief. But, I continued, “When you call for an end to the Zionist entity, I want you to know that you’re talking about my family and my friends and my people.” I spoke of my own commitments to Israel, of the significance of Israel to the Jewish people, and of my firm belief that a two-state solution will allow both peoples to live securely and peacefully.

To my shock, the audience applauded. Afterwards, many of those present told me that they had never before thought about who might live in Israel. That they had never thought a two-state solution to be possible. That they had believed that Jews wanted only to kill Muslims. And they crossed out the final line of the poster.

This incident did not transform Israeli-Palestinian or Jewish-Muslim relations. It did not drastically shift the perception of Jews in Indonesia. I did learn, though, that a little empathy goes a long way. Hearing my own concern about the death of Muslims, the group could be open to imagining the suffering of Jews.

During the current war between Israel and Hamas, we desperately need radical empathy. By this, I mean opening ourselves to the pain of the other exactly at the moment when we are terrified of this other, and exactly at the moment when fear for our lives and for our loved ones pushes us inward.

This is not a new idea. As far back as the first century CE, in the shadow of the destruction of Jerusalem, Rabban Gamliel, one of the most important rabbis of his time, taught that – “Anyone who has compassion for other human beings will merit compassion from above.”

Today, we suffer through increasingly vitriolic language from both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian partisans, and — even more frighteningly — violent protests in Europe,  Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and even the United States. Strident voices ignore or deny the painful narrative of the other.

The pro-Palestinian side places all blame on Israel and the occupation, dismisses or justifies rocket attacks on major Israeli cities, and allows criticism of Israel to slide into ugly anti-Semitism.  “Rocket attacks from Gaza are a desperate response to these injustices [of occupation],” Waleed Ahmad writes in Mondoweiss. “No people would ever tolerate an oppressive occupation and an unjust siege, so why should the Palestinians?” Protesters in London, Paris and Berlin have held signs saying “Hitler was right” and encouraging the reading of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of T’ruah, which mobilizes 1,800 rabbis, cantors, and their communities to protect human rights in North America, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories. Her most recent book is “Where Justice Dwells.”

DOSRabbi Jill Jacobs was a delegate in Legacy’s Religion and Society: A Dialogue program, traveling to Indonesian with a group of Religious scholars, clerics, and community leaders of Indonesia and the United States. The program goals were to increase their knowledge of the counterpart country and  establish a dialogue about the scholarship and practice of religion (particularly Islam) in both countries.  They examined the compatibility of religious practice with democratic social and political values in this two year program sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. State Department.


Progressive Leadership in Morocco

On the 15th anniversary of the ascension of His Majesty King Mohammad VI to the Throne of Morocco, Legacy President J.E. Rash reflects on the ongoing need for development work in Morocco and the King’s example of progressive leadership in the region.

Legacy has a long history of work in Morocco.  One simple story illustrates in several ways both the ongoing need in this country and the reason Morocco is an example of progressive leadership in the region, particularly when it comes to supporting women’s rights and education.

Former Congressman Bill Zeliff speaks with Moroccan children

Former Congressman Bill Zeliff speaks with Moroccan children

In September of 2012, Legacy sent a delegation, including former member of Congress Bill Zeliff; Amy Dailey, Oregon State Program Director for the Corporation for National and Community Service; and Sherry Shapiro, Senior Research Advisor for the Library of Congress, to Morocco.

As a part of that program the delegation traveled to Fez to visit an NGO called the Chourouk Center for Social Development.  Our delegation and staff were deeply touched by the work of this small organization and its three staff who offer job-training, literacy skills, and legal rights education for women. The Legacy delegation visited several of the beneficiaries of the NGO and was interviewed by the national media while there. Continue reading

Advocacy Tools to promote Change

Championing the rights of society’s most vulnerable members, whatever the social cause, requires strategy and planning to succeed. Those who take on advocacy roles are often at the forefront of social change. Yet they are often faced with clients who lack the resources; and, at times, even the means to maintain basic human needs for themselves and their families. Continue reading

Service is a Universal Value

Community service is a doorway to a stronger civil society, it is a doorway to health, equity, equality, education and empowerment. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”. There is no way to overestimate the value of community service; the value of working with, and for, those in-need in our communities.

universal core values“When citizens gather together to serve their local community it is a positive affirmation of our collective and individual future, it affirms the understanding that human beings are the protectors of this planet and of each other.”- J. E. Rash

Legacy International is committed to a Universal Values based approach to serving our fellow human beings. That means treating all people with respect, honoring their cultures, and understanding their needs and the contributions they can and do make to society, home and globally.  Our work is designed for the future leaders who lead and serve with hope and care for others. Whether they are a public health worker in rural Morocco, saving children’s lives, or a young activist in NYC or Indonesia involved in water clean ups, as each of these participants in Legacy’s program were, serving others stirs shared human core values and promotes beneficial change. Continue reading

The Digital Evolution or Revolution?

China’s Lack of Creativity in the midst of Economic Growth
by J.E.Rash, Founder and President, Legacy International

J.E. Rash, Founder and President, Legacy International

J.E. Rash

China: Despite China’s rapid growth and development, and reflecting on it’s global reach and influence, as well as new found affluence; there is no guarantee that the trajectory of growth and development will ever embrace or positively benefit the majority of people nor establish a permanent trusting relationship with the global community.  One of the reasons one could posit, vis a vis this premise, is that a subtle but essential component of the Digital Evolution- one that distinguishes it from A Digital Revolution- is Values: Core Universal Values.

In fact, it would be a very revealing and interesting study to examine how spiritual, cultural and social values influence sustainable development and the role that Digital marketing, social marketing, and socially conscious core values play in success models that are sustainable and reinforce those values. Continue reading

Successful Innovators in Agriculture

by Dr Khaled Hassouna
Legacy International’s Board of Advisors 

“There is a need to educate youth about agriculture in its broader definition to help overcome the view that it is a manual labour activity.” His article was recently published in the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture newsletter.

Khaled Hassouna“Agriculture was an activity practiced by people in the Middle East for thousands of years. Throughout these years, a culture of agriculture and farming communities was built. As the nations in the area developed their social structures, farming seemingly became associated with peasantry. The social casts evolved into landowners and peasant farmers. It seems that this image was sustained throughout the years and settled in the psyche of people.

As agriculture developed into many intricate disciplines, many crafts became associated with the value chain that we tend to refer to as agricultural process. As we discuss sustainable agriculture or sustainable natural resources management, we add new disciplines and crafts to life old practices and knowledge. The traditional farmer (peasant) and the agriculture engineer (if well trained) represent two ends of the spectrum needed by a new agriculture operator.  It became more and more obvious that we need operators in the agricultural process that are higher standard than earlier years in our human development.

If we believe that the agricultural revolution depended on machinery then on chemicals, then we are facing a new challenge. The NEW agricultural revolution needed to feed over six billion people will depend on producing a special caliber of agrofesionals. Continue reading

Collectivism Re. Adulthood, Women, and Television

by Rachel Mead
Arabic Language Institute


Rachel poses at a pre-school in Touama next to the butterflies that she has painted.

We all came into this knowing that Moroccans would have different ways of looking at things, different backgrounds and cultural influences that make their daily lives much different from ours. Maybe because we were so ready to be culturally sensitive and culture-shocked and faced with all-around alien situations, when we actually got here… things weren’t that crazy. We had a whole session at orientation about thinking of things as “different” instead of weird, so we were prepared to start thinking about things as different immediately, but I think partly because the people we live with and learn with are so used to Americans and so accepting of and interested in our own culture and values, it took a little while for the real differences to show. And most of them, perhaps as we should have expected, come from the dissonance between our individualist culture in America and the collectivist culture here. I don’t think that one–individualist or collectivist–is better or worse than the other, but there are definitely things that are hard to get used to in each if you come from a background in the other. Continue reading

The Thrill of Teaching

Author: Ethan Reichsman

Ethan Reichsman is an Arabic Language student in Morocco at the Arabic Language Institute (ALI) program with Legacy International and The Center for Language and Culture.

There’s no thrill greater than walking into a classroom full of eager students, ready to learn. This is perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned in Morocco so far, and it’s just one of the benefits of teaching English here. I enjoy every lesson I teach, and look forward to my Saturday evening classes. The best part about it is their desire to learn. Because these students are studying English on a scholarship, they know how lucky they are, and are determined not to waste this opportunity, so they’re a joy to teach. All in all, teaching has been one of the most enjoyable and enlightening experiences I’ve had so far here.

One of the things I’m most glad about is that I’m teaching Beginning 1. The students I have were complete beginners, and knew only the most basic English. This has meant that I have been able to watch them progress from no English to being able to give and receive information. The change is astounding, and heartwarming. It helps that all of my students seem to be able to just soak up language, and make me look like a better teacher than I am. I count myself lucky to be able to teach them.

Ethan painting in the village of Touama

Ethan painting in the village of Touama

Of course, as I teach them, they teach me. They teach me patience, when explaining a difficult concept. They teach me organization, as I prepare for my daily lesson. They teach to prepare for anything, when my lesson plan goes completely awry. But most of all, they teach me to take pride in my work. I can leave class every Saturday and think, “I have made a difference. If even one of those children’s lives is improved by this class, then I have been successful.” This is the highlight of my week. I do know that I’m making a difference. Knowing English makes one very employable in Morocco, and one has to start somewhere. If I can foster a love of English in these kids, there’s a good chance their lives will be improved by it.

Teaching is an incredible experience, one that I will miss. I will miss the drive of the students, the feeling of making a real difference, and even the sheer fun we have in class. All of these factors add up to make teaching my favorite activity in Morocco, one which I look forward to continuing.

In what ways has teaching a language impacted you and others around you? We’d like to hear from you. Post your comments below!

In Honor of International Women’s Day 2013

International Women’s Day recently took place on March 8th. Here a post highlighting the amazing women Legacy has had the privilege of working with.

Legacy International serves to empower women through a number of initiatives we promote through the work of our organization. Women worldwide deserve equal access to health, education and economic security. Through our work, we have helped build the capacity of current and future generations of female pioneers in health, social innovation, and technology.

On International Women’s Day 2013, we highlight young women from the Middle East and North Africa who have participated and partnered with Legacy International through our dynamic programs.

mary-samirMary Samir seeks to help Egyptian women overcome cultural issues around educating youth and women about sexual health, reproductive rights, and violence against women. As an alumnus of the North African Community Health Initiative, She has taught classes all over the country, primarily Cairo and Upper Egypt. She recently spoke at an event which brought together 76 young women to talk about sexual health, reproductive rights, violence against women, and hygiene. Her program is called: “Because we are Girls”.

sharifa-al-baramiThe advancement of women is of prime importance to the economy, business and society. Meet Sharifa Al Barami, managing director of Aljazeera Global Services & Investments. Legacy International is proud to be partnering with her on the Legislative Fellows Program in Oman. Speaking as an Omani woman on empowerment, Sharifa notes, “Women are already very empowered; perhaps it’s time for us to focus on how more women can contribute in building the nation, shifting the focus away from gender and onto action. Empowerment, in my opinion, comes from within. It’s an internal process that only needs to be instigated with an external affecter.”

lara Kasbari teaching


In July 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the launch of TechGirls—a three-week, intensive youth exchange “to encourage innovation and promote the spread of new technologies to give women and girls the support that they need to become leaders in this field. The TechGirls exchange program aims to inspire girls from the Middle East and North Africa to pursue higher education and careers in technology through hands-on skills development.


Sura (right)

TechGirls 2012 Alumni: Sura Mubarak, Lara Kasbari  and Fatma Altahery carry on the torch as young Arab female pioneers in technology. They have all been working with local youth in their home countries teaching them tech skills centered on gaming, robotics and computer knowledge.

Sura from Jordan is very active as a robotics mentor with a tech group called the “Techno Musketeers” working on First Lego League projects.



Fatma from Yemen has been teaching 3D Game Design to children in Yemen.

Lara from Palestine, recently completed teaching a series of computer literacy courses at the Diabetic Friends Center. It was a huge success.


Public and Community Health

J.E. Rash, Legacy International Founder and President. “Public and Community Health Issues often know no gender, economic status, tribe or community; even the wealthiest and most powerful become vulnerable when it comes to health issues and even when those at the highest level of power and wealth are exempt by virtue of their wealth or mobility, their lives and their power are certainly affected eventually by the illnesses, ignorance and hopelessness of others.

Often the first step is building trust; over coming pessimism and anger or worse that hopeless and helpless feeling that paralyzes whole segments and communities. Seeing a way for your child to live, to grow, to be educated builds hope; Seeing the life of a mother saved or a father from the ravages of HIV AIDS and able to then serve their children/family; builds hope and trust. Seeing professionals come and remain and sustain programs and projects, train local people and give them a sense of integrity and honor ; builds trust.  Holding standards of excellence not just passable standards builds trust. As dark as tomorrow may seem the existential light of hope can begin to illuminate the horizon and from off that horizon can come simple and real solutions to life’s health, well being, safety and security challenges.”

Larissa Naylor is a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, with funding through a follow on project of Legacy International she is working with rural women in Morocco.

“With the financial assistance of Legacy International, I am managing The Healthy Mothers, 

Peace Corps Volunteer Morocco

Larissa Naylor, Peace Corps Volunteer Morocco, 

Healthy Children: Rural Women’s Peer Health Education Project, which addresses health issues and empowers women in Essaouira, Morocco. The inaccessibility of formal health care for rural families in Morocco, coupled with poverty, high rates of illiteracy – particularly among women – and high birth rates, results in significant numbers of infant and maternal deaths. This project is designed to address this imbalance by disseminating crucial information to women about the health problems they are forced to deal with at home and equipping them with the tools needed to improve their own health and the health of their children.

Malika Belbouhali, a local woman who serves as the project’s health educator, is being empowered by this project to use the training she received in reproductive, maternal and child health from UNICEF. She organizes and conducts workshops – to be a total of eight by the completion of the project this month – in four rural villages in sessions of between 20-30 rural uneducated women. The workshops cover reproductive health, including birth control and STI prevention, maternal and breastfeeding nutrition and general reproductive and maternal health, and child nutrition and hygiene. The workshops are recorded and will be translated to enable both the lectures and question and answer sessions to be preserved for further study.”

Rachid Lamjaimer

Rachid Lamjaimer

One of Legacy’s Community Health Fellows, Rachid Lamjaimer is the Health Program Assistant & Training Coordinator with the Peace Corp in Morocco – his follow on project is Healthy Mother Health Baby” A Lay Health Educator’s Program. He was able to implement his project with the assistance of Larissa in  Essaouira.

Mr. Rash believes “The Legacy we leave must be positive and better than that which came before.  How can that be unless we build trust and understanding between people action and need, those who have the knowledge and the skill to effectuate change and those who are the recipients of that change?

Rachid received funding as part of Legacy’s North African Community Health Initiative which provides community health care professionals from Morocco and Egypt a new set of tools, resources, and knowledge to enhance rural health care in their respective communities.  In particular, this program builds the capacity of professionals who serve marginalized populations, particularly women and children. The initiative is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs.

spring-fellows2NACHI Fellows meet with Legacy’s President, J.E. Rash