Thursday, April 13, 2006


Last night was the first night of Passover. As Jews, we are reminded to remember the plight our ancestors suffered as slaves in Egypt.

Over three millennia ago, 600,000 Jewish refugees escaped oppression in Egypt only to find themselves wandering in a hostile and dangerous wilderness. They carried everything they owned. They had no food. They were attacked by murderous tribes. They were entirely at the mercy of an unfamiliar environment.

We are not invited to remember merely for the sake of remembering. What would be the point of that?

The idea is to remember so that we, today, remember to stand against injustice as an individual and as a People.

That brings us to Darfur.

The unity statement of the Save Darfur coalition reads in part:

The emergency in Sudan’s western region of Darfur presents the starkest challenge to the world since the Rwanda genocide in 1994. A government-backed Arab militia known as Janjaweed has been engaging in campaigns to displace and wipe out communities of African tribal farmers.

Villages have been razed, women and girls are systematically raped and branded, men and boys murdered, and food and water supplies targeted and destroyed. Government aerial bombardments support the Janjaweed by hurling explosives as well as barrels of nails, car chassis and old appliances from planes to crush people and property. Tens of thousands have died. Well over a million people have been driven from their homes, and only in the past few weeks have humanitarian agencies gained limited access to some of the affected region.

Mukesh Kapila, the former United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, said on March 19 that the violence in Darfur is “more than a conflict, it\'s an organized attempt to do away with one set of people.” The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has issued its first ever genocide emergency. John Prendergast of International Crisis Group warns, “We have not yet hit the apex of the crisis.”.

No one, no one has done enough to end this genocide.

The American Jewish World Service recently published a Haggadah for this year (the Haggadah is readed and in some ways acted out at a tradition Passover seder). From that Haggadah:

A Passover reflection by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

Who knows one? One is the Janjaweed militia cleansing Darfur
Who knows one? Two is the stealing and killing of livestock
Who knows one? Three is the poisoning of wells and the destruction of crops
Who knows one? Four is the deliberate use of rape to destroy and humiliate families
Who knows one? Five is the creation of over 2 million people: displaced, hungry, susceptible to disease
Who knows one? Six is the over 400,000 people who have already died
These and more are the plagues of Darfur.
Who knows one?
I know one.
Send a postcard to President Bush. Urge him to take leadership on this issue.
lo dayenu - but it is not enough.
Who knows one?
I know one.
Encourage institutions to hang Save Darfur banners outside their buildings.
lo dayenu - but it is not enough.
Who knows one?
I know one.
Attend the rally in Washington, D.C. on April 30.
lo dayenu - but it is not enough.
Who knows one?
I know one.
Encourage others to go to the rally.
lo dayenu - but it is not enough.
Who knows one?
I know one—Rwanda
Who knows one?
I know one—Bosnia
Who knows one?
I know one—Cambodia
There are too many ones.
And I am the child who does not know how to count:
One. Two. Four hundred thousand. Six million.
For six million are the lips of our dead mouthing “never again” in eternal silence.
Who knows one? I know one.
For I am that one.
One person created in the image of God.
It is for me alone to speak out. I and no other.
Not a messenger, not a congress person, not a president.
I alone am here to tell the tale.
Who knows one? I am that one.
And who knows--I may be the one who will make the difference.

Michael Strassfeld is the rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a synagogue in Manhattan.

The following columt appeared in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Jews at Passover urge an end to genocide in Darfur area
Rabbi Alan J. Katz
Guest essayist

(April 13, 2006) — "We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and now we are free." These words are recited by Jews as we sit around our Seder tables at Passover. Commanded to retell the story which begins with our degradation and proceeds with our redemption, this holiday reminds us not only of our history but also points to our future and the future of all.

The Torah teaches that we are to tell our story to our children, specifically on the day of Passover. We do this with elaborate ritual and items adorning our tables such as matzo, wine, a shank bone and bitter herbs. We teach our children and remind ourselves that we know the heart of the oppressed. We have experienced their pain and we are commanded to make sure others do not suffer a similar fate.

During the Seder we pour an extra cup of wine and open the door with the hope that Elijah the prophet will come to us announcing the coming of an age of peace. For many of us the belief is that our actions to repair the world are how we beckon the coming of that messianic time of peace. If we react to the call of the haggadah, the seder's ritual prayer booklet, which recounts our journey from the dreadful conditions of Egyptian servitude to the sands of freedom, then we must work to ensure that others are not inflicted with any burden of subjugation.

This Passover many of us are focusing on the horrendous tragedy in the Darfur region of Sudan. The deaths of more than 400,000 people, and the displacement of more than 2 million have added this scenario to the list of genocidal incidents that have continued even after the Holocaust.

Some will add readings to recount the details of this growing catastrophe. Others will fill out postcards to President Bush reminding him that he promised that such genocide would not occur on his watch. Many of us will gather at Temple B'rith Kodesh on April 27 at 7 p.m. for an interfaith rally to raise our voices. Those who are able will attend a rally in Washington, D.C., on April 30 sponsored by the "Save Darfur Coalition" to demonstrate in the face of these massive killings.

While some have expressed that there is little we can do, there is a Jewish teaching from the "Sayings of the Fathers" that it might not be within our capability to complete the task, but we are not free to desist from trying.

If we believe that genocide is enabled by the silence of the bystanders we cannot keep silent. If we want to look at ourselves without the shame of knowing we did nothing, then we, too, must stand up for those unable to speak for themselves.

In celebrating our liberation, we as a Jewish people will pray and act for the liberation of all who themselves are oppressed.

Katz is rabbi at Temple Sinai.

Rally to Stop Genocide
April 30th, 2006
Washington, DC
For information

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