September 23, 2004
A Stand for Darfur
"Dear friends, they are killing people every day in Darfur, in the Sudan."
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We gave to civilization whistle blowers against the exploitation and corruption of power. Listen, my people, to the outcry of the Jewish prophet Amos against tyranny: "For they ripped open the pregnant woman. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes. They trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted." (Amos 21)
We gave the world the unique heroes of a world religion who were not philosophers searching for a definition or miracle men who promised life after death, but emphasized the goal of all life here and now. The prophet touched the ethical nerve and chastised the kings of all nations, including Judah. Damascus and Judah, to protest the lot of the poor,
the widow, the orphan, the sick here in God's world. The Jewish religious hero adopted God's agenda as his own--and it became our agenda.
The Torah insists that I open the newspaper, and not only the entertainment section. Why should I care about "them"?
In the late 1960's I was invited by the West German government to visit Germany and to see its progress after the conclusion of the Second World War. In Berlin I met with German theological students--young men who urged me (for what reason I knew not) to visit with D. Otto Dibellius, the Bishop of Berlin Brandenburg. I came to his large home, and because I had just visited the Dachau concentration camp, I turned to him and said, "Bishop, what did you do on Kristallnacht when the synagogues and temples and houses were destroyed by the Nazis? What did you do when so many Jews were placed in jail?"
The Bishop looked at me and said, "You are a rabbi, and you should know that it is my first obligation to protect the well-being of my church." I asked him about the crucifixion, about sacrifice for fellow human beings, for Christian compassion, and he answered, "As a Bishop my primary concern was with my church and its people." I brought home from Germany a most valuable lesson. He taught me to beware of spiritual narcissism and to overcome religious selfishness and religious tribalism.
I recalled the confession of Pastor Martin Miemoeller who, during the Nazi years, was silent and indifferent to the lot of Jews and socialists and workers. When, in 1937 the Nazis came for Miemoeller, her wrote these celebrated lines:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--because I was not a socialist.
Then the came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.
Dear friends, they are killing people every day in Darfur, in the Sudan. They are raping girls and women. They have already forcibly displaced a million human beings--200,000 refugees with nowhere to go. Men, women and children die of starvation--30,000 dead in only 18 months. The janjaweed militia of Sudan condinues to destroy, pillage, torture. "Janjaweed" is an Arabic term that is translated, "A devil on horseback with a gun." It brought to mind the Cossacks and the pogroms, "Chmielnicki".
I say: "Never again!" Was this vow only to protect Jews from genocide? Don't I remember what you and I said, and preached, and taught and heard: "Where are the nations of the world? Where are the churches of the world? Where are the priests, pastors, the bishops and the Pope? And will my children and grandchildren ask of me, "And where was the Synagogue, where were the rabbis, and where you during Rwanda, when genocide took place in 1994?" Or the slaughter of the Tutsis by the Huti?
Can I shut the newspapers; do I dare shut my eyes and my ears so as not to see, not to hear what is going on in God's world? You and I know that the real question is not why God does not intervene; the question is why God's partners, in whose nostrils God breathed Divine potentiality, pretend that they are mute, paralyzed, deaf, impotent.
On Rosh Hashanah, I must answer the man within that is angry at me. Perhaps you have heard from him as well. I need your help. I need your Jewish heart and soul and compassion. I need your Jewish neshamah. I need you as a religious Jew of a world religion.
"Few are guilty," my teacher Heschel wrote, "but all are responsible." We are responsible to protect each other, to love and protect the stranger, the pariah, the weak, those of another color, those of another faith. We need to cry out to the world and to influence the world, beginning with ourselves, to mandate them, "Lay not your hands upon the innocent. Do not do anything to harm them, for they are God's children."
At stake is humanity. At stake is the universe. At stake is the stature of God. How big is our God? The rabbis interpreted the verse "Adonai Tzilchah," "God is your shadow," to mean the following: If you stand bent down, then the shadow of God will be contracted and shriveled, but if you stand erect, the shadow will expand, grow mighty and enlarged." As we stand, God will be elevated. We live in God's shadow and God's shadow lives in us.
>We start after Yom Kippur a commission from Valley Beth Shalom of caring men and women who organize a Jewish World Watch. The purpose of this Commission is to educate ourselves by inviting into the Congregation statesmen, politicians, experts in the field of international relations. We wish to be educated, to know what atrocities lie out there and where they are. We wish to raise our voice, because we global Jews know that silence is lethal and meekness is inexcusable. And our children--let them know that they belong to a world religion. God's agenda is ours.
You have cards that are for no financial contribution--but much more. Join this J.W.W.--Jewish World Watch.
We must know; to know in order to do. And we must do in order to change the world. We know how essential raising our voice is. We know that silence is lethal and feigned laryngitis, wicked.
I knew what I wanted the church to do. I knew what I wanted the church to say. I wanted them to protest, to fast, to stand before embassies, and to chain their hands to iron fences.
Can we do less? We can protest. We can use our voice to pierce the callousness of society. We can take our fasts from Yom Kippur into the streets and into the marketplace.
"Is this the fast that I have given you, but to break every yolk, to deal bread to starving infants, to break down the curtains of indifference?"
We gave the world the sacred power of conscience.
Conscience stayed the hands of those who would destroy our children. Conscience must not slumber, conscience can waken the world.
Join in the World Jewish Watch.
And if you ask, "Who in the world are we?" the answer is clear: we are Jews.
May not be reproduced (except for personal use) or published without written permission of the author. For permission, contact Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis at Valley Beth Shalom, 818-530-4007 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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