May 19, 2005
Pray for the Innocent of Darfur
"The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones." Shakespeare's comment remains pertinent in our times.
Evil acts enjoy great publicity. Every inch of graffiti on the walls of schools is photographed, and every ethnic or racial outrage resonates in the public media.
Surrounded by the news of such malevolence, we feel isolated, abandoned and despondent. Religious bigotry, anti-Semitism, ethnic denigrations overwhelm us. It seems that nobody cares, and we are alone.
But there is a brighter side. There are in our midst caring people whose acts of goodness must not be shrouded in anonymity. Goodness must be recognized, not only so as to honor the good, but to raise the shoulders of lonely spirits.
St. Bernard is a black, Catholic school in a poor section near Los Angeles International Airport. Recently, one of its teachers explained to the students the work of the Jewish World Watch.
This grass-roots organization has banded together synagogues of all Jewish schools of thought -- Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist -- to protest the torture, rape and genocide of the innocent people of Darfur in Sudan. It gathers monies to open water holes in the desert of Sudan and establishes medical clinics in Darfur to heal the wounds and scars of these frightened people -- 400,000 of whom have been slaughtered, and casualties rise on an average of 500 each day. This is a traumatized people who are approaching the horizon of 1 million dead.
The students of St. Bernard not only contributed money to Jewish World Watch, but are now in partnership with the New Community Jewish High School for the same cause.
St. Bernard is not alone. Notre Dame, another Catholic high school, has contributed over $5,000 to the Jewish World Watch, all raised by its student body. Crespi, yet another Catholic high school, has enthusiastically adopted the goals of the Jewish World Watch, and continues to make its contribution to its cause.
L.A. Jewish high schools and day schools collect money and signatures for petitions to state, federal and international policymakers. We are not alone. Our goodness reaches out to touch the hem of other goodness.
Jewish World Watch is important because it lives out the mandate that Judaism is to be a "light to the nations." It is important because it exemplifies what the rabbinic sages called "ha-karat ha-tov," the recognition of goodness. It is important because it has brought together synagogues of all denominations for a sacred cause that we Jews share and which pragmatically unites us.
The synagogue community of Los Angeles has proclaimed Thursday, May 26, as a day of fasting, praying and learning (see page 17 for full story). The fast will be broken at the end of the day, and will be followed by major discussions of the Jewish role in global affairs. It will take place at 7:30 p.m. in three synagogue locations: B'nai David Judea Congregation, Stephen S. Wise Temple and Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center.
We pray so that we can raise our conscience; we fast so that we can experience the emptiness of our stomachs to remind us of the growling sounds of starvation in the bowels of the poor; we study so as to learn how we can move out of the pulpit and out of the pews, into the marketplaces of life, into the halls of Congress and into the corridors of the United Nations.
Judaism does not mandate us to save souls. We are mandated to save lives. Protecting the lives of the innocent realizes our belief in the goodness and existence of godliness in the world.
For more information, visit www.vbs.org/organizations/worldwatch.
Harold M. Schulweis is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.