On Yom Kippur, as his congregants at B'nai David Judea were fasting and praying for the year ahead, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky asked them to think not about themselves, but about people being killed in Darfur, Sudan.
"I asked people to make a contribution to one of the relief organizations in the amount of what they would have eaten themselves were in not Yom Kippur," Kanefsky said. "Sudan is calling to us for immediate attention."
The world response to the crisis in Sudan has been minimal. The Muslim terrorists known as the Janjaweed, which receive support from the Sudanese government, have killed 50,000 people, raped hundreds of women and displaced 1.4 million from their homes in the last 18 months, according to a Time magazine cover story earlier this month.
Secretary of State Colin Powell labeled the crisis a "genocide" when he testified before Congress, but the world community has done little to halt the killings. No sanctions have been placed against the Sudanese, and no international peacekeeping forces have been sent over to stop the killings.
But the Jewish community, fearful of the consequences of world silence and inaction, has been working to engender more aggressive action from the world community to stop the killings. Kanefsky was one of several rabbis to make synagogue appeals for Sudanese refugees during the High Holidays. The Jewish Community Relations Council, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and American Jewish World Service were just a few of the many Jewish organizations that joined the Save Darfur Coalition, a national alliance of faith-based humanitarian and human rights organizations that are working to raise awareness and money.
On Oct. 25, the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) will head the Call to Humanity: Darfur Interfaith March, an action endorsed by Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders.
Rabbi Harold Schulweis from Valley Beth Shalom in Encino is starting a Jewish World Watch, which will monitor humanitarian crises around the world.
"The Jewish World Watch will be different [from other watchdog organizations] because it will be a grass-roots organization, run by a religious group, that will be unabashedly Jewish in its motivation. I want Jews themselves to recognize that this is on our moral agenda."
Schulweis said that after the Los Angeles Times published an article about his intent to start the Jewish World Watch, he received letters from hundreds of Jews and non-Jews expressing interest, and he also received pledges of support from several prominent local rabbis like Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple and Rabbi Stephen Jacobs of Kol Tikvah.
Daniel Sokatch, executive director of the PJA, said that he doesn't expect a military response from the U.S. government because troops are overly committed elsewhere, but his organization is "still figuring out" which world body to lobby that would be able to effectively deal with the crisis.
"Genocidal civil wars create breeding grounds for chaos and terrorism in the world, and the international community has an obligation to make sure that genocide doesn't happen," Sokatch said. "I would like to see meaningful international intervention to end the slaughter. We are focusing on the humanitarian aspect of this right now, in part because verbally the politicians in this country are saying the right things -- but how does that get translated into meaningful action and intervention?"
Sokatch will be joined at the march by other Jewish leaders, like Rabbis Laura Geller of Temple Emmanuel, Sharon Brous of Ikar, Joshua Levine Grater of the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center and Mark Diamond, executive vice-president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis. Over the next six months, PJA hopes to mobilize thousands of Angelenos to support humanitarian relief efforts and to apply strategic pressure to make sure that the relief efforts are successful.
But some in the Jewish community think that the response to Sudan shouldn't come from the Jews.
Harvey Schechter, the ADL's Western States director emeritus, wrote in his Schechter Sez newsletter that this is the time for the African American community in America to raise their voices and march on Washington.
"Why am I calling on African Americans to lead these demonstrations?" he wrote on Oct. 1. "Because they are proud of the adjective 'African,' which identifies them; because it is their people who are being slaughtered."
"Jews will jump like crazy to participate in this, but what are the blacks going to do?" Schechter told The Journal.
Jewish leaders working to help the crisis dismiss Schechter's concerns, saying that now is the time to act, not quibble.
"This is an issue that transcends politics and transcends religion," Sokatch said.
Call to Humanity: Darfur Interfaith March, will start at 7 p.m. on Oct. 25 at the Islamic Center of Southern California, 434 S. Vermont Ave. For more information, call (323) 761-8350 or send e-mail to href="http://email@example.com" target="_blank">firstname.lastname@example.org.
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