Rabbis join Saperstein for Darfur fast

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Eighty rabbis from five countries joined a leading Reform rabbi in a water-only fast to call attention to the crisis in Darfur.

Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, began his three-day fast Monday evening and invited rabbis from the four major streams of Judaism to join him.

They join a number of activists, including American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger, politicians and celebrities who have carried on fasts. Actress Mia Farrow had to end her fast last month due to health risks. 

The aim is to publicize the lack of humanitarian aid available for the victims of genocide. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir three months ago expelled humanitarian aid groups from the country, which has more than 1 million people at risk of dying.

"Fasting is a traditional part of Judaism, usually accompanying the memory of a great tragedy or deep repentance," Saperstein said. "But here we must do a fast as a protest and as an emblem of solidarity with the individuals in the camps, sharing the plight of too many in Darfur — water but too little food."

Saperstein told JTA that the 80 rabbis volunteered for the fast on just a day’s notice, and that cantors, lay leaders and others also participated.

"This is something the Jewish community really cares about," he said.

The fast comes as the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, told reporters Wednesday that the Sudanese government is no longer engaged in a "coordinated" campaign of genocide.

"The level of violence that we’re seeing right now is primarily between rebel groups, the Sudanese government" and "some violence between Chad and Sudan," Gration said, according to the Washington Post.

Saperstein was one of a group of Darfur activists who met Wednesday with Gration.

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