With African drumming and a chorus of shofars, more than 2,000 people in purple T-shirts reading “I walk to tip the scales” gathered in Pan Pacific Park on April 14 to call attention to global injustice.
Under overcast skies, the seventh annual Walk to End Genocide raised more than $200,000 and was sponsored by the nonprofit Jewish World Watch (JWW).
“I just think it’s a fantastic cause, and it’s the sort of thing that I don’t feel like I’m educated enough about,” said Joe Holt, who took part in the walk for the first time.
JWW was founded in Southern California in 2004 to fight genocide and mass atrocities. It is a coalition of more than 70 synagogues of all denominations, as well as individuals, schools, churches and other partner organizations.
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Video by Jared Sichel
Currently, JWW focuses on the ongoing conflict in Sudan, which has claimed the lives of 400,000 in the Darfur region, and on the mass murders and rapes occurring in eastern Congo, where millions of civilians have perished from war-related violence, disease and hunger over the last 15 years.
Prior to the 5k walk, which took place along the streets near the Beverly Boulevard park, a number of people spoke about genocide from personal experience.
Julia Juliama, who was born in Sudan, came to America via Egypt on Sept. 11, 2001, when she was 7 years old. She and her immediate family were able to escape, but she spoke of how many of her relatives weren’t so lucky.
“My grandparents and all of my extended family still lives in the Nuba Mountains,” Juliama told the crowd. “There [are] bombings every day, and my relatives are hiding in caves.”
Helen Freeman, a 92-year-old woman who survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and now works with JWW to raise public awareness about genocide, said she doesn’t want history to repeat itself.
“I don’t want any other teenager [to] go through what I did as a teen in Poland,” Freeman said. “[Youth] will carry on my message to speak up and fight intolerance and hatred, to prevent future holocausts and stop genocide whenever it occurs.”
Funds raised by the event will be used for education, advocacy and on-the-ground relief projects for survivors in Congo and Sudan, according to Janice Kamenir-Reznik, JWW’s president and co-founder with Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis. Since its creation, JWW has raised more than $11 million.
One of its initiatives is the Solar Cooker Project. The concept behind the project is basic — harness the sun’s energy to provide heat for cooking. The result, though, is deeply impactful. Many women in Darfur and surrounding refugee camps in neighboring Chad leave themselves vulnerable to abduction, rape and murder when they leave their camps to gather firewood. The solar cooker is able to reduce the amount of firewood needed and already has been distributed in four Chadian refugee camps. A 2007 study done on the effectiveness of the cookers in the Iridimi refugee camp in Chad showed that trips outside the camp to gather firewood were reduced by 86 percent.
Framing JWW’s fight against genocide with the biblical commandment to “not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” Kamenir-Reznik believes that the walk keeps the ongoing conflicts in Africa in people’s minds.
“Without activism, a cause gets lost,” Kamenir-Reznik told the Journal. “One of the main objectives of this walk is to ensure that the cause of the Darfur survivors and of the victims in eastern Congo does not get lost in the shuffle of the busy-ness of everybody’s lives.”
Juliama reminded the participants why they came. “We, with our will, intellect and passion, can walk to end genocide step by step,” she said. “So let’s take the first step.”