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Jewish Groups Strive to Keep Darfur’s Plight in the Spotlight

May 3, 2006
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Two days after the Save Darfur rally in Washington, one participant, 29-year-old Margie Klein, said it would be a “colossal mistake” to walk away from the fight right now. “Imagine telling people in Auschwitz facing the gas chambers, ‘Don’t feel bad because 25,000 people got together and are rooting for you,’ ” the rabbinical student said.

“We need to get these people out of their hell, not rest on our laurels. We need to keep working until this tragedy has ended,” said Klein, who is studying at Hebrew College, a non-denominational rabbinical school in Boston.

All across the country, Jewish community organizers are heeding her advice: Instead of seeing the rally as an end point, they are working to harness its momentum and keep the Darfur cause alive.

Jewish leaders are responding to the ongoing genocide of black Africans in Darfur, Sudan. Since 2003, Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, have been raping, torturing, killing and displacing Darfuri citizens. The situation in Darfur, which some estimate has claimed more than 400,000 lives and displaced millions, constitutes the first time the U.S. government has recognized genocide while it is still occurring.

Jewish groups have been particularly appalled by the atrocities in Darfur. Determined to make ‘never again’ not just a meaningless cliche, they have taken a leading role in anti-genocide advocacy and education.

It was two Jewish groups — the American Jewish World Service and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum — that founded the Save Darfur coalition, which organized Sunday’s rally.

Now Jewish activists are turning their attention to other forms of mobilization.

Klein, who heads a group of socially minded seminary students across the religious spectrum, called Jewish Seminarians for Justice, leads by example. After the rally, 60 of the 250 seminarians her group bused to Washington participated in a training session with Rabbi David Saperstein, president of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service.

Monday afternoon they met with Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and held a brainstorming session on how to conduct grassroots mobilization. More projects are in the works.

Klein says the group will keep on Darfur “as long as the situation there continues.”

The Religious Action Center is of a similar mind-set.

Addressing an energetic crowd Sunday, Saperstein announced a new campaign — “30 Days for Darfur” — meant to urge a beefed-up international response.

Saperstein said the initiative will send representatives to U.N. offices, embassies and consulates of NATO and African Union countries, as well as to those of Russia and China. Saperstein said that President Bush, with whom he met on Friday, was highly receptive to this effort.

“History, looking back on Darfur, will not grade either him or us on our efforts but on our success or failures in stopping the genocidal activities,” Saperstein said. “We need to engage the international community… America can’t do it alone.”

Saperstein called the rally “the beginning of an ongoing effort.”

The American Jewish World Service echoed this message.

“Though the rally is over, we can’t afford for Darfur to slip out of print, radio or television news sources,” the organization’s Web site reads. “You can help keep Darfur in the public eye.”

Specifically, the group asks for volunteers to speak about Darfur on the local level, meet with members of Congress and urge news outlets to cover the issue more.

“The rally is over, but the people of Darfur still need your help,” the site reads. “Take the next steps to keep up the momentum.”

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