Hearing Sudan's Cry
Detroit Jewish News (December 30, 2004)
Genocide in Africa stirs an outpouring of Jewish aid.
As news of the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region spread throughout the Western world over the past 18 months, local and national Jewish groups have shown a particular interest in educating Americans and aiding the situation.
“For the first time in its history, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [in Washington, D.C.] declared a ‘genocide emergency’ in the Sudan, indicating that genocide is imminent or is actually happening in the Darfur region,” Allan Gale, associate director of the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Detroit, reported in his weekly Israel Advocacy Network e-mail. “To date, as many as 50,000-100,000 Sudanese civilians have been killed.”
The United Nations reports 1.5 million people have been driven from their homes. By current estimates, at least 120,000 are living in tent camps, where disease and malnutrition have already claimed more than 70,000 lives (as of last March). A reported 200,000 Darfuri refugees are encamped in neighboring Chad.
After 21 years of civil war in Sudan, it is reported that more than 2 million have died, many as a result of famine induced by the fighting. The government-backed Arab militia, known as Janjaweed, has wiped out communities of African tribal farmers, razed villages, raped and branded women and girls, murdered men and boys and destroyed or tainted food and water supplies.
In a Dec. 13 candlelight vigil in New York City to protest the Darfur genocide, the New York Board of Rabbis and the Students of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah joined other groups, including New York University Law Students for Human Rights, the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concern and the Columbia Coalition for Sudan.
Locally, rabbis incorporated information on Darfur in their Shabbat Chanukah sermons to raise awareness of the crisis and to find ways to end the suffering. They joined the New York-based Save Darfur Coalition, an alliance of more than 100 diverse faith-based, humanitarian and human rights organizations that identified Dec. 10-12 as the Weekend of Conscience on Darfur.
“The Darfur situation is a human issue, not particularly Jewish, but we’re among those bringing it to the attention of Americans,” said Rabbi Elliot Pachter of Congregation B’nai Moshe and president of the Michigan Board of Rabbis.
His congregation is looking for ways to make contributions. He suggests starting with the American Jewish World Service, which partnered with international organizations for Sudan relief (see related story). The rabbi also suggested taking action, like writing letters to President George W. Bush and to the United Nations and insisting on action to stop the killing, rape and destruction of villages and to provide needed humanitarian relief.
More Pressure Needed
The U.N. and African initiatives to save the Sudanese people have been hampered by the lack of sustained pressure on the Sudanese government, said Fred Pearson, director of Wayne State University’s Peace and Conflict Studies Center in Detroit.
“Neither Egypt nor the United States wants to destabilize the Sudanese government [which is considered behind the mass murder],” he said. “Yes, it’s bad to have a glaring genocidal situation there; but, because of the oil-rich areas in Sudan that both Egypt and the United States are interested in, our government is not as forceful as it should be to stop the killings.”
Pearson remembered when the Clinton administration bombed parts of Sudan in response to the terrorist bombings of American embassies in Africa. “It was a fiasco,” Pearson said. “We bombed a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum as a potential place making weapons of mass destruction. Innocent people were killed. So there’s been a touchy situation between us and Sudan.”
Add to the mix the complicated layers of a long civil war between a northern Islamic government and Southern African clans and tribes
that are neither Christian nor a traditionally African religion and you have a complicated mess, he said.
He recommended that concerned Americans press their senators to get involved, especially in moving more peacekeepers to the area, which may already be too late, he said.
A Jewish Issue
Among those bringing attention to what the U.N. called “the worst preventable humanitarian crisis in the world” is the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills. In special lectures and as part of information imparted by the center’s guides, visitors learn the mass murders in Sudan are akin to what Jews experienced and never expected to see again, said Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig, HMC founder and executive director.
“Unfortunately, the United Nations makes resolutions but doesn’t have the courage to execute them in constructive ways,” the rabbi said.
“This genocide is certainly a Jewish issue,” added Rabbi Jason Miller, associate director of the University of Michigan Hillel Foundation in Ann Arbor. He gave his sermon on the Shabbat of Conscience as guest rabbi at Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield.
“Just as God gifted us the light of Torah, it is up to us to plant the seeds of Torah and spread the message of tikkun olam — repairing the world situation — and of righteousness to others,” he told the congregation.
“The phrase ‘never again’ must not be reserved for Jews alone. It is not enough to say that we will never allow our own people to suffer those atrocities again. As Jews, we have an increased moral obligation to speak out and take action against ethnic cleansing regardless of the ethnicity or religion.”
Rabbi Miller got a firsthand account of the problems in Africa from David Post, program associate at U-M Hillel and a recent U-M graduate. Post spent two months in Africa this summer helping displaced people in a slum in the capital of Uganda, Kampala. He also took a three-week tour of other countries.
“I was surprised by the beauty of the country and the warmth of the people,” said Post, who also has traveled to Asia and India. “Africans are among the most gracious I’ve met in the world. My optimism for the region is not without the recognition of the great tragedy there. But people should not be scared away from interest in the continent.”
Besides the important humanitarian reasons, Post believes there are mutual benefits in helping Darfur, especially for Israel.
“No one has taken the time to care about Africa, yet it’s going to develop in the next 10 to 20 years with democratic regimes and could be a friend and trading partner with Israel,” said Post, who met Israeli doctors in Uganda who already are building bridges between the two countries.
“It’s very inspiring to talk to the African people because they really want to help themselves,” he said. “It [a democratic society] can happen. The desire is there. But it’s the resources they need to start the process.”
For more information, visit the Web sites: Save Darfur Coalition at www.savedarfur.org and the American Jewish World Service at www.ajws.org
© 2004 Detroit Jewish News
© Rabbi Jason Miller 1996-2007