For every 100,000 babies born, 6,500 mothers die in the Badakhshan region of Afghanistan due to unavailable or inadequate medical care. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, violent conflicts over control of its rich mineral deposits have killed more people than the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Darfur combined.
And in Burma, the lives of innocent civilians are plagued with malaria, torture and forced labor.
Images depicting these horrific conditions comprised Jewish World Watch's (JWW) third State of Humanity Forum at Creative Artists Agency on Dec. 3., where JWW Executive Director Tzivia Schwartz-Getzug and President Janice Kamenir-Reznik welcomed more than 100 people to a screening of documentary films followed by a panel discussion.
The documentaries screened included "Losing Hope -- Women in Afghanistan" (2007), "War Against Women -- The Use of Rape as a Weapon in Congo's Civil War" (2008), a "60 Minutes" report by Anderson Cooper and "Fueling Abuse: Foreign Investment and Terror in Burma" (2002).
Each of the three panelists underscored the lifeblood of foreign investments enabling these dangerous situations.
"You have to ask yourself: Who is buying these minerals?" urged Ernestine Mwanasali from Friends of Congo. She explained that the global market for Congo's reserves of diamonds, gold, copper and manganese (a mineral found in many electronics, including cellphones and iPods) is directly arming the militias that orchestrate mass rape and genocide. "If we don't get to the source, this conflict continues," she said, insinuating that China, the United Kingdom and the United States play primary roles.
The conflict in the Congo began when thousands of Hutu militias fled Rwanda after participating in the 1994 genocide there, which killed more than 500,000 Tutsis. Mwanasali accused Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who was welcomed to President Bush's White House at least twice, of refusing to recapture the loose militias unless he can gain access to Congo's mineral resources.
"These bloody histories are fueled and funded by foreign contributions -- the U.S. chief among them," said Sonali Kolhatkar, co-director of the Afghan Women's Mission. Kolhatkar focused her address on the reversal of women's rights since the 1970s, when progressive views of women took root in the capital of Kabul.
She blamed U.S. troops for widespread civilian killings and disagreed with President-elect Barack Obama's plan to send more troops to the region.
Geoffrey Cowan, former dean of USC's Annenberg School for Communication, moderated the discussion, which at times lacked interplay among the panelists, and instead allowed each advocate to speak out.
Since its inception in 2004, JWW has administered more than $2 million in direct aid to Darfur/Chad in the form of water wells and medical clinics. And although humanitarian crises around the world continue to escalate and JWW needs funds to pursue its global mission, Kamenir-Reznik said JWW is "mindful of the economic times" but asked the Jewish community to prioritize its giving in the service of human rights.
Panel of Experts Discusses Dynamic Growth of Iranian Jewish Community
(From left) Nahid Pirnazar, Jimmy Delshad, Gina Nahai, Rabbi David Wolpe and Sam Nazarian. Photo by Jon Vidar
Nearly 200 local Iranian Jews, academic scholars and community leaders packed a Sinai Temple banquet hall on Nov. 17 to hear a panel of experts discuss the dynamic 30-year growth of Southern California's Iranian Jewry. The gathering at the Westwood synagogue was one of nearly a dozen during Integrating Sephardi and Mizrachi Studies: Research and Practice, a three-day academic conference that focused on the current state of Sephardic studies and was organized by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).
Moderated by Sinai Rabbi David Wolpe, panelists included author and Journal columnist Gina Nahai; Jewish UCLA professor of Judeo-Persian literature Nahid Pirnazar; Beverly Hills City Councilman Jimmy Delshad; and film producer, hotelier and nightclub entrepreneur Sam Nazarian. The panelists discussed sensitive topics, including gossip, differing levels of religious observance and the challenges of money and marriage that many in the community wrestle with but rarely discuss in public.
"We were incredibly pleased with the response we received from the community, and I don't think we quite expected it to hit the nerve it hit," said Mark Kligman, conference director and professor of Jewish musicology at HUC-JIR in New York.
"One reason we had this conference in Los Angeles was to feature a living Sephardic community like the Iranian Jewish community," he said.
Many attendees said they came to hear Nazarian, the successful 33-year-old businessman, who speaks infrequently at public forums.
"I think it's important to celebrate how the first set of Persian Jewish immigrants hit the ground running here," Nazarian said. "I bring another perspective, which is from the entertainment and hospitality industry, and I was honored to be asked to speak along with Mayor Delshad and Rabbi Wolpe."
-- Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer
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