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Deborah Sutton Chammah

Our Positive Woman is Deborah Sutton Chammah pedagogue, Education Manager at StandWithUs Brasil and vice-president of KKL Brasil. Deborah tells us about the challenges of her career, working in the third sector in a pro-peace educational organization, why she decided to pursue a career in the third sector and how she balances life as a mother and wife.

1.   How did your career start?

I believe that to explain how I started at StandWithUs Brasil, I need to explain why I got here, after all, not everyone dreams of working in the third sector.

I grew up in a Jewish family, in which there was always a strong connection to Israel, the national home of the Jewish people. When I turned 16, I traveled to Israel for a month with the Jewish youth movement that I attended throughout my childhood and adolescence. The moment we landed there, a war broke out between the country and the terrorist group Hamas, which had just kidnapped and murdered three Israeli boys, this was in 2014. I spent the month of my trip between fun and war. We enjoyed the beach, and then the siren sounded and we had to run to a safe shelter to protect ourselves from missiles that Hamas sent with the intention of assassinating Israelis. I saw the society, diverse, prosperous and resilient, intersperse its daily life with the suffering of having lost three lives at the hands of terrorists.

It was the first war that Israel experienced in which social networks were already part of society's daily life. While I got to know a diverse country, coexisting with Arabs, Christians, Druze and several other ethnicities and religions, I also witnessed anti-Semitism and blatant hatred on social media and around the world, as well as a huge wave of fake news about a war in which Israel I didn't want to, I didn't even start. At that moment I understood my responsibility as a Jew and a Zionist (someone who believes in the self-determination of the Jewish people) to be able to educate and show the world the reality of Israel and the truth about the conflict in the region.

So, I graduated in pedagogy to delve into the world of education and in parallel I was and continue to specialize in the history of Israel, the conflicts in the Middle East and anti-Semitism. At the beginning of 2020, I contacted StandWithUs Brasil, which was in its initial years, with just six employees (today we have almost 30) and explained my desire to educate about Israel and have a transformative impact on Brazilian education when it comes to Middle East, so that young people can delve deeper into the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict and its Israeli-Palestinian aspect.

Since then, I have grown together with StandWithUs Brasil to become an education manager, responsible for our educational initiatives with schools across Brazil; being the organization's bridge with Jewish communities and institutions spread across the country; coordinating a leadership program for high school youth and also teaching classes on a wide range of topics.

2.  What is StandWithUs Brasil’s business model?

StandWithUs is an international, non-governmental, non-partisan nonprofit educational organization. Therefore, we are a third sector institution that is supported by donors and we do not charge any amount for our educational initiatives. We seek an active, pro-peace and pro-dialogue learning education in which we provide socio-cultural and socio-emotional tools so that people become more tolerant and work towards coexistence, we develop educational initiatives in which our participants are at the center of learning, elucidating all the aspects of the topics covered so that he can develop his own opinion and critical sense.


3.   What was the most difficult moment in your career?

Without a doubt, the most difficult moment of my career was, and has been, after the massacre of October 7th in Israel which triggered a war against Hamas, the perpetrator of the massacre. Hate speech and anti-Semitism escalated considerably around the world, several schools and institutions sought the support of StandWithUs Brasil to clarify the context at a time when there were escalations and new developments all the time. The number of demands, events, projects, educational initiatives and people seeking support for StandWithUs Brasil's educational work tripled, making us an important foundation and support for anyone who wanted to understand the complexities of the war that began on October 7th. While our work routine was at the most intense moment I've ever seen, at the same time, we were mourning the 1,200 lives lost and 240 kidnapped people of different nationalities in which we received very little news over the weeks. Working for Israel has always been my goal, but I found myself in a situation where the demand for work was very intense and I should be focused on being able to educate as many people as possible about the current situation in Israel, work on coexistence and generate awareness about the massacre and the hostages, at the same time that I was going through great grief, I saw friends in Israel suffering, I had the feeling that that massacre could have been me, accompanied by the increase in hate speech that spoke directly about my existence. In this difficult and complex time, I had the opportunity to visit Israel and the places affected by Hamas in the massacre just 70 days after the event. I visited places intact after such a bloody massacre, I saw and even smelled it in a place where so many people died, among which, I went to the Kibbutz of Kfar Aza and the site of the Nova Festival. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to talk to survivors of the Nova Festival and family members of hostages who, obviously, were extremely shaken. At the same time as it was a difficult trip emotionally, I started thinking about my challenges at work when I returned, since I became a witness to such a violent carnage, how and what I should do to generate greater awareness for Brazilian society. Without a doubt, I am currently experiencing the most difficult moment of my career.

4. How do you manage to balance your personal life x corporate/entrepreneurial life?

If you asked me this 2 years ago, my answer would certainly be different and probably a much less challenging situation. Today I have a daughter who is one year and four months old, I am married and I make a point of having an active Jewish life, of being a present wife and mother. I love taking care of my daughter, doing programs with her and my husband and receiving my family at home and being close to my friends. But I also love my work, I love educating people, knowing that what I do is for something much bigger than me, I work to bring more dialogue and coexistence to Brazilian society. Taking all this into account, balancing so many small dishes becomes somewhat challenging. But I understood that to be an active and good mother to my daughter, I need to include work that I love in my routine; that in order to dedicate myself to my family and social life, I also need to dedicate myself to educating the larger society. I feel that at the end of the day, what I do is to give my family a fairer world to live in. At the same time, to be the best educator I can be, overcome the day-to-day challenges of my work and meet the goals of StandWithUs Brasil, I need to do the things I love that disconnect me from the work week, if at all. The demands do not consume me and I believe that I especially would have burnout. For all of this to work, you need a lot of organization and routine, highlighting the day's tasks (both work, family and social) and routine planning also needs to be well defined for things to flow. Furthermore, I am very privileged to have a good support network, both at home and at work, as it is not always easy, sometimes one “little dish” will weigh more than the other. But it's at that moment that I know I have good people to count on, who can give me a hand when things get challenging, I believe that no one achieves anything alone. I also learned the hard way that things will never be completely perfect and that it is inevitable, that what is done is better than what is perfect. But I believe that the more responsibility we have, the more capable we are of handling it.

5. What is your biggest dream?

My biggest dream is to be able to see peace in the world, especially in the Middle East region. I know it sounds cliché, and to skeptics it may seem impossible. But my career revolves around this, working with education to achieve peace, at least peace in dialogue. Improve education so that people are more tolerant and respectful, so that even when they disagree with each other, there can be dialogue and coexistence instead of hate speech, which often leaves the field of words and becomes actions. I will raise my children in a tolerant way, so that one day they will be part of a more respectful society, with less polarization and that values coexistence more. And to be able to see this dream come true one day, we have to work for it. Quoting Theodor Herzl, a Jewish personality who sought the empowerment of Jews, who for centuries were persecuted and oppressed, but who also dreamed of coexistence, “if you want, it will not be a dream”.

6. What is your greatest achievement?

My greatest professional achievement to date (I hope there are many more to come) was the possibility of creating a public policy together with the São Paulo State Department of Education, with two other work colleagues, Cleo Assunção and Hana Nusbaum. Our public policy was a project developed to apply to SEDUC's “Reading Room” program, in which high school students participated in an educational circuit with the theme “Anti-Semitism: past, present and future”. The circuit used the theme of anti-Semitism as a backdrop to talk about all types of hate speech and the importance of dialogue. The end of the project was one of the most emotional moments I have ever witnessed in my professional life. We brought together almost 50 students who stood out most in their written productions, which involved a poem about the Holocaust and a letter addressed to Israelis and Palestinians in order to dialogue for peace, for a closing award, in which they were honored by survivors of the Holocaust. Holocaust. In 2023, we will apply the pilot project to 100 schools in the State, and this year, we intend to double the number of schools, as well as reach new states.

7. Book, film and woman he admires (cannot be his mother).

A book: Letters to my Palestinian neighbor. This book, in my opinion, is a work of art, which, written on the model of letters from an Israeli to a Palestinian, and at the end with the Palestinian's replies, talks about the self-determination of both peoples, considering their historical proximity, and the need to live in peace and coexistence, believing in the freedom and security of Israelis and Palestinians.

Film: Freedom Writers. I was introduced to this film at the age of 12 by a teacher at school, since then I have been deeply touched by it and I'm sure it was one of my inspirations for wanting to work in education. The film, based on real events, tells the story of an English teacher at a peripheral school in California, where students are divided into social groups and gangs. These are teenagers who live in a situation of vulnerability and danger considering that gangs from different social groups face each other, resulting in deaths and arrests. Using the Holocaust as a backdrop, the teacher decides to face these challenges and help young people work on dialogue and coexistence between different groups, abandon violence and encourage them to study to create more opportunities in their lives.


I stopped to reflect on how no one with much name and fame inspired me much. I realize that I am inspired by women around me, “ordinary” women. Whether they are from my family, friends or women I have met during my personal and professional career. Every time I connect with women who make a difference in their environment, I find myself thinking about how I can learn from them. I am inspired by the woman who pursued her dream and was able to raise her family with values. I am inspired by women who work to support their home and have no support network. I am inspired by the woman who left her country of origin as a refugee and started a life from scratch. I am inspired by women who don't work and dedicate their time full time to raising their family. I am inspired by the woman who returned to work after going through a divorce and changing her life. I am inspired by the woman who came from a world without opportunities, and went above and beyond in her career, seeking to transform society. I am inspired by the woman who went through persecution and resisted, and then was caught. The woman who started her life over from scratch inspires me. I am inspired by women who seek to make a difference in the world. I believe that all these women, and many others, teach me something and inspire me. After all, I believe that the world is made up of incredible women.



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