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Calls for Learning and Action at Jewish Teach-in on Sudan

June 28, 2005
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Judy Katz lives an ocean away from Sudan, but that doesn’t diminish her sense of obligation to respond to the mass killings there. “I feel I’m responsible for what’s going on,” said Katz, a travel agent. “My parents are survivors of the Holocaust. There weren’t a whole lot of people helping them out then.”

Katz’s attitudes toward the violence in Sudan were shared by many at Sunday’s teach-in to promote action and awareness regarding the violence in Sudan.

Some 200 people attended the event at the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning at Temple Emanu-el in New York City, raising about $9,000 for victims in Darfur, a region of Sudan.

The event was spearheaded by Barak Epstein, a second-grade teacher at the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, and sponsored by some 30 Jewish groups from across the denominational spectrum, including the American Jewish World Service, the UJA-Federation of New York, Amcha: The Coalition for Jewish Concerns and Hebrew Union College.

Citing World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz’s recent apology for the Clinton administration’s failure to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Epstein said, “I don’t want to live to see another apology in 10 years’ time.”

More than a dozen speakers addressed participants, focusing heavily on classical Jewish teachings on social action as well as specific action plans to pressure the Bush administration to intercede.

Plenary speakers included Rabbi Daniel Landes, director of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies; Zeinab Eyega, founder and director of the Sauti Yetu Center for African Women, a group that helps victims of domestic violence in the African immigrant community; Marie Clarke Brill, director for public education and mobilization of Africa Action; and Aaron Dorfman, director of Jewish education at AJWS.

In her address, Brill called upon the international community to send a multinational peacekeeping force with a mandate to protect civilians. She also urged attendees to bombard the White House with phone calls.

According to the AJWS, since February 2003 more than 400,000 people belonging to three African ethnic communities — the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massaleit have died at the hands of Arab militias under the aegis of the Sudanese government. About 1.85 million people have lost their homes.

In April, both houses of Congress passed the Darfur Accountability Act of 2005, which seeks to provide aid to genocide victims, impose sanctions on the Sudanese government and expand the United Nations Mission in Sudan, among other steps.

Since the onset of the crisis, AJWS has raised about $1 million to provide basic health care, establish a children’s center in North Darfur for orphaned children and support relief for rape victims.

In addition, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has convened the Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief, which consists of 24 North American Jewish organizations, to amass funds. The coalition has raised $445,000 to date.

Many of those in attendance at Sunday’s teach-in said it’s critical for the Jewish community to speak out on issues like these, especially in light of Jewish persecution throughout history.

“It’s important for the Jewish community to help out not only their own, but also the community at large,” said Eric Levy, a legal assistant at a law firm in New York.

Epstein said that while the overall response of the Jewish community to the Darfur crisis has been “exemplary,” much more work remains to be done.

“This day helped lay a foundation for people to take action and move forward,” he said. “It’ll be enough when the genocide stops.”

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