The Center for Victims of Torture, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the Program for Survivors of Torture, a joint program of Bellevue hospital and New York University in New York City, received the 1998 Roger E. Joseph Prize at the Ordination and Investiture Ceremonies of HUC-JIR on Sunday, May 17 at 9:00 AM at Congregation Emanu-El, 65thStreet and 5th Avenue in New York City.
The Roger E. Joseph Prize is presented annually to an individual or organization that has made a distinctive contribution to humanity by virtue of religious and moral commitment. Douglas A. Johnson, Executive Director, accepted the prize on behalf of The Center for Victims of Torture, and Dr. Allen Keller, Director, accepted on behalf of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture.
Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, HUC-JIR President, presented the prize and praised the two programs as "inspiring examples of institutions governed by conscience, and staffed by individuals whose courage is mirrored in their personal commitment and moral passion to redeem and resettle individuals relentlessly ravaged by human tragedy." It is estimated that there are approximately 500,000 survivors of torture in this country.
Dr. Keller of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture extended his warm congratulations to "a future generation of Jewish leaders." He admonished the new rabbis and cantors not to "underestimate the profound impact you will have on those whom you serve." He described two rabbis who inspired him in his work to heal the scars of torture victims. One of these rabbis was expelled from South Africa for speaking up against apartheid. The other rabbi provides housing for a torture survivor in the program. The rabbi told him "It is our duty as Jews and as human beings to open our home to those in need."
Dr. Johnson of The Center for Victims of Torture described the trauma of torture as going beyond the physical pain and impacting families, communities, and societies. "Facing evil and suffering atrocity is not something one simply gets over," he said. Clinical evidence suggests that children of Holocaust survivors suffer psychological symptoms, as do children of torture survivors. "In other words, the legacy of atrocity does pass from generation to generation," Dr. Johnson warned. "That is why we say that torture is the most effective weapon against democracy." He called on the attendant religious leaders and community members to "overcome our fears and act with hope."
The Joseph Prize has been awarded since 1978. It provides a $10,000 cash award to be used for further humanitarian efforts. The first award went to Victor Kugler, who gave refuge to Anne Frank and her family in The Netherlands. Other honorees have included Rosa Parks; Helen Suzman, an anti-apartheid activist; The Children's Defense Fund; and the Montana Association of Churches and the First Congregational Church of Billings, Montana, for public activism in combating local anti-Semitic hate crimes. Last year, the award went to Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. of Harvard University for his commitment to improving Black-Jewish relations.
The Center for Victims of Torture is a private, non-profit organization that was founded in 1985 to provide direct care to survivors of politically-motivated torture and members of their families. CVT, the first organization of its kind in the United States, provides care on an outpatient basis for approximately 150 clients annually. CVT also conducts ongoing research on the long-term effects of torture and effective rehabilitation models; provides professional training to health care, human service, resettlement and immigration professionals; and contributes to the prevention of torture through public education, policy initiatives, and cooperative efforts with other organizations. Douglas Johnson, Executive Director, is also an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and previously worked as National Chairperson and cofounder of the Infant Formula Action Coalition.
The Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture was founded in 1995 as the first comprehensive clinic for treatment of torture survivors in New York City. The center has treated over 300 victims of torture or severe political violence, along with their families, and field at least five referrals every week. Patients come from 40 countries, roughly a third of them from Africa and many others from Bosnia, Tibet, Bangladesh, and China. The Program receives some funding from the United Nations, but many of the staff members are volunteers. Dr. Allen Keller, an attending physician at Bellevue and an assistant professor of clinical medicine at New York University School of Medicine, organized the program with Dr. Jack Saul, a psychologist and assistant professor in psychiatry at NYU. Dr. Keller previously taught courses in Cambodia on treating trauma survivors, and worked for Physicians for Human Rights in New York.
During the New York School's Ordination and Investiture services of the 123rd class, Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, President of HUC-JIR, ordained 18 men and 12 women as rabbis and 3 men and 8 women as cantors. An additional 10 women and 15 men were ordained at HUC-JIR's Cincinnati School on June 6, 1998.