Because the quintessential Jewish celebration -- of life, of survival, of victory -- always involves food, it only makes sense that a Jewish response to tragedy involves fasting.
Rabbis from all denominations are calling upon Jews in Los Angeles to participate in a day of fasting, prayer and political activism to raise alarm about the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Roving militias, backed by the Muslim Sudanese government, have killed an estimated 300,000 black Africans and displaced, raped or maimed another 2 million in the last year and a half.
"We are appealing to people's conscience to invoke traditional responses to calamity, and to think beyond the immediate bodily welfare of the Jewish people as entering our perception of what constitutes a calamity," said Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and rabbi of B'nai David-Judea Congregation. The Board of Rabbis responded to a call to action issued by Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom, who founded Jewish World Watch (JWW) in September 2004. The coalition of 14 synagogues works to combat genocide and human rights violations around the world through education and by building political will to confront genocide.
In the last eight months, JWW speakers have addressed students at 40 schools and dozens of clubs and synagogue groups. It advocated for the Darfur Accountability Act currently in Congress, has sent thousands of letters to politicians and raised $150,000 to build wells and medical clinics in Darfur.
The May 26 fast, sponsored by JWW and the Board of Rabbis, brings the Darfur atrocities to a wider swath of the Jewish community.
An almost unprecedented coalition of 17 Orthodox, Reform and Conservative schools and shuls on the Westside joined to sponsor a mincha (afternoon prayer) service and break fast at B'nai David-Judea on Pico Boulevard, one of three venues that evening.
While the Orthodox community has traditionally been more concerned with issues that directly impact Jews, rabbis' readiness to sponsor this event indicates an acknowledgment that genocide anywhere is a Jewish issue, said Kanefsky, who is Orthodox.
"Our claim that the world stood by while the Holocaust unfolded is now pointed at us, and we have this opportunity to demonstrate that we understand the accusation we have leveled at others over the last 50 years," Kanefsky said.
All three May 26 events will highlight action items such as fundraising or pressuring politicians.
"It is critical that this not be some sort of guilt-assuaging event, but a touchstone for a pattern of activity," Kanefsky said.
Stephen S. Wise Temple: Service and break the fast, followed by lecture from John Prendergast, former director of African affairs for the National Security Council and currently director of the International Crisis Group. 6:45 p.m. (service/break the fast), 7:30 p.m. (speech). 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, off of Mulholland Drive near Sepulveda Boulevard; (310) 889-2274; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center: Interfaith service with the All-Saints Church and musician Craig Taubman with break the fast and a short film on Darfur. 7 p.m. 1434 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena. (626) 798-1161.
B'nai David-Judea: Mincha service, Torah study, short film on Darfur and break fast, 6:45 p.m., 8906 Pico Blvd. west of Robertson Boulevard; (310) 276-9269; e-mail email@example.com.
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