Tree of Life Educational Fund

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Tree Of Life has a strong record of bringing together different communities, including those engaged in social justice work, around issues of justice in Palestine, and bringing to the table the voices of people on the ground.

Address:
2 Ferry Road
Old Lyme, CT 06371
www.tolef.org

Mission:

Tree of Life Educational Fund (TOLEF) amplifies voices of conscience speaking out for social justice (especially justice for Palestine) by providing cross-cultural and transnational travel experiences, interfaith conferences and educational opportunities to help participants to become more enlightened and more engaged in making this a more just and peaceful world in which to live.

History:

Following 9/11, the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, Connecticut created TOLEF to build a broader inter-faith community, address the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and encourage a greater awareness of U.S. foreign policy and its consequences at home and internationally. They have since led 21 Witness Journeys, bringing more than 450 participants to Israel/Palestine, and organized and have organized and sponsored over 100 educational and cultural events that bring Palestinian, Israeli and American voices together. These include a week-long tour through New England with Palestinians and Native Americans from the Cheyenne River Reservation, a Palestinian film festival, a Nakba Tour featuring two Palestinian refugees and a Courageous Women of Resistance speaker series.

The Issues:

TOLEF sees a range of challenges for organizations working towards justice in Palestine. These include how the U.S. currently supports Israel at a rate of $3.8 billion per year, how the Trump administration has moved the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and has cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, how 26 U.S. states have enacted anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) laws, and how the attempts to criminalize BDS actions continue to grow. TOLEF further cites the U.S. support of Israel, as well as media bias, for leaving the majority of the American public ill-informed.

Constituency and Leadership:

The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme’s congregation is primarily white, but TOLEF supporters and participants are multi-ethnic and of a variety of faiths including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Indigenous and atheist/agnostic. TOLEF operates with a dedicated core of board members and community organizers throughout New England and beyond. Their 15-member Board have Christian, Muslim and Jewish representation, and their nine-member Board of Advisors is made up of social justice leaders and scholars. Volunteers play a great leadership role in their regional programs, events and advocacy work.

Tackling Oppressive Structures:

TOLEF works to show how Palestinian human rights are connected to the world’s refugee crisis. They also work to bring awareness to the tie between deadly force against non-violent demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank to deadly force used against black Americans by U.S. law enforcement. They show the connection between the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the ongoing struggle in Palestine. They educate on how the Anti-Defamation League brings a growing number of delegates from U.S. police forces, the F.B.I., I.C.E. and more to receive training in the use of militarized force against civilians directly from the Israeli Defense Forces.

Movement Building:

TOLEF’s close partners include Jewish Voice for Peace – New Haven, the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford-Berlin Mosque and Connecticut labor unions. For their advocacy agenda, TOLEF works with the leadership of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. For their educational programs, they work in close cooperation with a number of local, regional and national organizations such as the Council on American Islamic Relations, Middle East Crisis Committee, the Middle East Children’s Alliance and more, plus a number of churches and mosques.

Evaluation:

TOLEF measures success in terms of how many people they reach with their educational events; how many Witness Journey scholarships and loans they can provide; and how many organizations and individuals working towards peace and justice on the ground they can support with honoraria. In their advocacy work, they are growing the number of partner organizations signing a resolution in support of HR 4391 (No Way to Treat a Child) and are growing the number of volunteers willing to engage in direct action phone calls, emails and meetings with elected officials.

Long-term Vision for Change:

TOLEF strives to move their supporters from empathy and understanding to advocacy and action. TOLEF sees that the fulcrum of change is in the U.S., and aims to provide education and to affect change by amplifying voices of conscience, by shifting the perceptions of the American public, and by encouraging participation in advocacy efforts.

Organization Budget:  $204,500
Request: $10,000

raised to date this week:  $4,670

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