written by Joe and Barry
This incredibly powerful line in the motion picture "Hotel Rwanda" not only captures the response from the West during the Rwandan genocide, but also describes the current response to the crisis in Darfur, Sudan. I am writing to urge you to help raise awareness about the crisis in Darfur and lead people to action."
As well-informed members of our community, I know you have been aware of the crisis in Darfur, in western Sudan, and in neighboring Chad. As a gruesome tactic in a long-running civil war, the Sudanese government, controlled by Sunni Muslims, has employed ethnic cleansing of Christians, followers of African traditional religions, and others in Darfur. Particularly brutal tactics include the raiding, pillaging and torching of villages by militia on horseback --- you will recognize this as the pogroms redux. Estimates are that more than 300,000 people have been killed and perhaps as many as 2 million people have been displaced, including 200,000 or more into Chad. Chad, already one of the poorest and least-developed nations on Earth, is ill-equipped to provide food, water and medical care to the displaced, many of whom are malnourished and suffer from diseases such as cholera.
Over a month ago, the UN released a long-awaited report which stopped short of calling the Darfur atrocities "genocide," likely for political reasons since such an express finding would have obligated signatories of a UN treaty on genocide to take action against the Sudanese government and risk offending various political or religious blocs in the process. Over six months ago former Secretary of State Colin Powell did say that he believed what was happening in Darfur was "genocide."
Last Fall, spurred by Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom, a group called Jewish World Watch was formed as a response to the crisis in Darfur. An article in the November 26, 2004 edition of the Jewish Journal describes it: Rabbi Schulweis said to his congregation in a sermon-"We wish to be educated, to know what atrocities lie out there and where they are. We wish to raise our voice, because we global Jews know that silence is lethal and meekness is inexcusable." After the sermon was publicized, clergy from different congregations asked if they could get involved, too. The result was the Inter-Synagogue World Watch Council. JWW raised funds to build a medical clinic in Chad for Sudanese refugees. It cost about $45,000 to build and will also serve as a rape counseling center and a food distribution center. To dig a well in Chad to save millions from dying of thirst costs about $3,000.
"This whole project was born out of the notion that 'never again' is supposed to mean 'never again,' Janice Kaminer Reznik, the chairperson of JWW, said. "But there have been other genocides since [the Holocaust], and it seems it just went over our heads. One of the main objectives of JWW is educating people in our position that there is this terrible thing happening that we can't separate ourselves from, and that is what being Jewish is all about." (Please read more about Jewish World Watch at www.jewishworldwatch.org )
The situation in Darfur has worsened dramatically. Toward the end of April, Sudanese army troops, against their commitments to the United Nations denied humanitarian access to refugees (internally displaced persons) and continues to brutally force refugee relocation. A story in the New York Times described the severity and prevalence of the rapes and callousness of Sudanese forces, and the Washington Post said that "war crimes and crimes against humanity have occurred in Darfur on a large and systematic scale."
On April 3 rd we had a private screening here at Temple Isaiah of the very powerful film Hotel Rwanda. The actor, Don Cheadle, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in the film, and John Prendergast, and advisor for the International Crisis Group ( www.crisisgroup.org ) together wrote an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in which they said:
"As we sat in a refugee camp in Chad listening to Fatima describe how most of her family was killed by Sudanese government-sponsored Janjaweed militias, we found it incomprehensible that the world could not muster the political will necessary to protect her surviving family members or to hold the killers accountable. ..So what is the real reason why the U.S. has not responded as it should have? The truth is that combating crimes against humanity is simply not considered a national security issue. We don't want to burn our leverage on Sudan in the face of issues such as Iraq, Iran and Syria. The only antidote to this searing truth--the only way the U.S. will take the kind of leadership necessary to end the horrors for Fatima and her people--is for there to be a political cost to inaction. As American citizens increasingly raise their voices and write their letters about Darfur, the temperature has indeed risen. But not enough. We need to make it a little warmer, a little more uncomfortable for those politicians who would look away. Just a few more degrees. Just a few more thousand letters. It is, frankly, that simple."
Temple Isaiah is proudly affiliated with the Jewish World Watch, and we have become active in making a difference for those powerless to help themselves, responding to genocide in a way that makes the words "never again" have real meaning, as well for our own spirit as a temple community.
On March 8 th , one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan came to speak to our religious school. In response to hearing him, one of our Religious school classes, the seventh grade and their teacher Julie Kohner, decided to hold a bake sale with homemade treats during the break on Tuesday nights, and another class, the ninth grade with their teacher Didi Thomas, decided to sell milk to go along with the baked goods. I remember the seventh grade class coming up to me and saying, "We would like to do something, but it doesn't seem like any of the other classes are participating, and we are only six students, what difference can we make?" I thought of the words in the article above, "Just a few more degrees. Just a few more thousand letters. It is, frankly, that simple." I also thought of the Margaret Mead quote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Encouraged, these students set an example for the rest of us, and along with those individuals who were motivated to sell green Jewish World Watch silicon bracelets and those who brought home JWW tzedakka boxes to their families, I am amazed and deeply awed that these wonderful students have together collected over $500!
Your voice and your contributions make a difference. Our students have proudly proven this fact. To express your concern and outrage, we ask that you call the Sudanese mission to the United Nations (212-573-6033) (Fax is 212 573-6160) in New York to urge the international access to the camps be restored and that no involuntary relocation of civilians take place. Keep your message very simple, one or two sentences are enough. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan can be reached by fax at 212-963-3511. You can also send emails to the Sudanese embassy: firstname.lastname@example.org, Sudanese mission to the U.N.: email@example.com, President George W. Bush: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also an important site to have on file is http://mygov.governmentguide.com/mygov/home/ where you can send letters to your congressperson, senators and to the President urging increased action to stop the genocide.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: "In a free society where terrible wrongs exist, some are guilty, all are responsible."