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Teaming Up with Jewish Groups, Israel to Aid Distressed Sudanese

For the first time, Israel is sending humanitarian aid to an Arab nation with which it has no ties. The Jewish state has joined the American Jewish World Service, the Union for Reform Judaism, the UJA-Federation of New York and the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, N.J., in donating $20,000 apiece for an educational project in Chad, now home to at least 200,000 refugees from Sudan.

Israel also has no ties with Sudan.

The Sudanese situation reminds Jews of the Holocaust, said Ambassador Arye Mekel, consul general of Israel in New York.

“Israel, as the Jewish state, can’t sit idly by when such a humanitarian disaster is taking place,” Mekel said, adding that this is only Israel’s first step in offering aid to affected Sudanese.

Since last year, government-backed Arab militias have killed tens of thousands of Africans in the country’s Darfur region.

The new program in Chad, set to begin Jan. 1, 2005, is run through the International Rescue Committee and offers schooling to the children of the Kashuni camp — many of whom have been orphaned. Children comprise more than half of the camp’s population.

The funds will help train teachers and provide materials at several neighboring schools to offset tension between the camp and its surrounding community.

Giving displaced Sudanese children “something of a routine and quality educational programming is really important,” said Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service.

“It is critical for the Jewish community to respond to this genocide” and to back the Jewish promise that “we would never again let the world stand silently by,” she added.

When Messinger visited a camp for displaced Sudanese refugees in August, an aid worker approached her about a notebook he was keeping — packed with stories of 5,000 women who were raped in their villages.

Messinger was visiting the ironically named Abu Shock camp during a trip to Sudan to see the devastation firsthand.

“I was there,” Messinger says. “I saw the level of fear and depression and the unbelievable boredom for the children who have been uprooted, frightened and now have nothing to do all day.”

In addition to the deaths and countless rapes, some 1.6 million people have been displaced in the conflict that broke out in Feb. 2003.

Some groups, like the International Rescue Committee and Doctors Without Borders, have been fund raising for distressed Sudanese already, funneling money to nonprofits serving some of the camps.

The Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief, made up of 24 mostly North American Jewish groups, was created in June and has raised some $250,000.

Separately, the American Jewish World Service has raised $500,000, and the Union of Reform Judaism has raised $172,000.

“We’re the community that knows better than anybody else the dangers of silence from the international community and we ought to lead the way,” Messinger said.

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