Congregants at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick spent a day immersed in stories of those touched by exploitation of women and immigrants, abuse of low-wage workers, and gun violence.
Nicholas Kristof, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, was among the speakers at “Living and Responding to Violence in Our Time,” the 10th biannual Gertrude and Milton Kleinman Consultation on Conscience, on April 6.
The event featured a gun control advocate whose daughter was murdered and activists fighting for the rights of local immigrants and low-wage workers. A film director told the gathering about her documentary that tells the story of a Minnesota woman granted political asylum in the Netherlands after the behavior of her abusive ex-husband was ignored in custody hearings for her three children.
The approximately 150 people in attendance also heard from representatives of the Anshe Emeth Community Development Corporation about the nonprofit’s work with the poor and disabled in the local community.
Kristof spoke about the plight of women in many Third World countries.
“We think there are more females in the world,” he said, “because in the U.S. and Europe, where women have equal access to medical care and food, there are.
“In the rest of the world it is lethal to be female…. There are 50 to 120 million women missing around the world.”
In many instances, if a family doesn’t have enough food to go around, it is given to the sons while daughters are left to starve, said Kristof.
In countries with a “strong son preference,” sex-selective abortion is common. In other places, women are forced into sex slavery or denied medical care and education.
Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, are the authors of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.
“Just as in the 19th century the challenge for the world was slavery and in the 20th century, totalitarianism,” said Kristof, “in this century it will be equal rights for women and girls around the world.”
He recounted some of his encounters with troubling or deadly instances of gender inequality. In one case, a Times front-page story he wrote about a Chinese girl — the brightest child in her elementary school — who was forced to quit school because her family couldn’t pay the $13 tuition brought a flood of $13 checks and one $100 contribution from readers.
Kristof worked with the head of the school to set up a tuition fund for girls. When a bank error mistakenly recorded the $100 donation as a sum 10 times that amount, Kristof convinced the bank to absorb the error and add the $9,900 to the fund. Today that girl has graduated college and is an accountant who is able to earn enough to send money to her family and village.
“She is one of the girls who would have been working in the rice paddies,” said Kristof, noting that that bank mistake “transformed” a rural Chinese village forever.
Lois Schaffer, the author of The Unthinkable: Life, Loss, and a Mother’s Mission to Ban Illegal Guns, said in her talk that her goal is “to put a human face on gun violence and raise consciousness about the easy accessibility of guns.”
Her 48-year-old daughter, Susie Schaffer, was shot and killed by two 17-year-olds who broke into her St. Louis home as she talked on the phone with her own daughter in New York.
A gun control advocate even before the murder, Schaffer, of Great Neck, NY, has been confronted by protestors from the National Rifle Association, but remains undeterred, guided by the Torah admonition, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”
“We are standing by the blood of our neighbors when we allow gun concealment laws,” said Schaffer.
“In truth,” she said, “I would like to totally rid our society of guns,” but she would compromise in exchange for strict background checks and gun safety. “As Jews we should be doing what is right and just.”
“To the NRA,” she said, “compromise is a dirty word.”
The event also featured Garland Waller, producer of No Way Out But One. It tells the real-life story of Holly Collins, who became an international fugitive when, after suffering domestic violence, she fled the United States with her three children, becoming the first U.S. citizen to be granted asylum by the government of the Netherlands. Eventually tracked down by the FBI, Collins was acquitted on kidnapping charges.