The Jewish community has learned the lessons, unfortunately, from the Holocaust, and when we say, ‘Never again,’ we have to mean never again for all people in the world," said Joy Kurland, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. "If we don’t speak up [about Darfur], who will?"
At least 1,000 people from this area will be speaking up, she said in an interview last week, at the Save Darfur rally in Washington April 30.
Called the Rally to Stop Genocide and sponsored by the Save Darfur Coalition and its partners, it will feature survivors of the Holocaust and genocides in Cambodia, Kosovo, Srebrenica, Rwanda, South Sudan and Darfur, as well as celebrities and human rights activists. UJA NNJ is coordinating with Jewish groups throughout Bergen County to send at least 15 buses to the event. Groups from synagogues throughout the county, Hillel, day schools, and people going on their own, will be picked up by a caravan sent by Young Judea in Boston that will make stops along the way, including locally.
"We are faring quite well in relation to mobilizing the community," Kurland said.
The Save Darfur Coalition is an alliance made up of more than 100 faith groups, including the American Jewish World Service, the American Jewish Committee, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella organization for JCRCs across the country.
According to the coalition’s Website, SaveDarfur.org, during the past year, Janjaweed Arab militias "in Darfur have received government support to clear civilians from areas considered disloyal to the Sudanese government." This has led to massive displacement, indiscriminate killings, looting, and rape throughout the Darfur region.
According to the United Nations and the Coalition for International Justice, 3.4 million people go hungry in Darfur, while violence has displaced ‘.5 million and killed 400,000.
The political aim of the rally, say its organizers, is to pressure the U.S. government to become more active in ending the conflict in Darfur.
Relief efforts are another major part of the Darfur campaign, but the JCRC is not as focused on that aspect for the time being. In fall ‘004, JCRC cosponsored a program called Gift of Hope with the Israeli government, American Jewish World Service, Union of Reform Judaism, UJC of MetroWest, UJA Federation of New York, and the Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief. Overall, the groups raised $100,000 for relief, with $10,000 coming from the local area. In ‘005, JCRC raised $’,000 for the International Rescue Committee at an interfaith brotherhood/sisterhood brunch; $1,000 went toward Darfur relief while the other half went to tsunami relief.
The problem with fund-raising for Darfur right now, Kurland explained, is that relief agencies are blocked from entering the area because of the Sudanese government. Whereas UJA has larger fund-raising campaigns for immediate disaster relief, as in Hurricane Katrina, they cannot put the same money toward Darfur because of the difficulty in getting aid into the country.
"Our main thrust [right now] is mobilization for the rally and the million postcards," Kurland said, referring to a national campaign to send 1 million postcards to President Bush urging intervention in Darfur. "We’re really focused right now on those two things."
The Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief had raised, as of last week, more than $445,000, which it has distri-buted to Doctors Without Borders, the International Medical Corps, and the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, among other international organizations.
"There’s been a lot of individual communities doing a lot of fund-raising," said Max Mulcahy, a public policy fellow at the JCPA in New York. "With the rally, it’s not so much gathering funds; it’s more to show a united voice for the interfaith community and Jewish community to make a statement about Darfur and how nothing can get done without the United States."
At the present time, Mulcahy explained, the best way to get relief to the people of Darfur is through diplomatic means. The JCPA is working with relief organizations to make more of a political statement to effect change, rather than focusing on providing monetary aid, which the Sudanese government may hold up.
At its ‘006 Plenum, JCPA passed a resolution to engage community leaders, serve as a clearinghouse of programs and ideas to mobilize the Jewish community to act to end the genocide in the Sudan, and collaborate with national and local organizations to ensure multiple efforts to end the genocide complement and build upon each other.
New Jersey’s elected officials are also pushing the political track for Darfur. Reps. Steve Rothman (D-9th District) and Bill Pascrell (D-8th District) were two of 16′ cosponsors of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of ‘006, which passed the House on April 5 in a 416 to 3 vote and now heads to the Senate.
The bill supports deployment of NATO troops upon the request of the African Union, and it urges the U.N. Security Council to increase the number of soldiers in the A.U. It also prohibits U.S. assistance for any country that provides military assistance to the Sudanese government; the bill also proposes economic sanctions and the blocking of visas and assets.
"The United States has a moral obligation to use all of its political and economic influence over the Sudanese government to help end the tragedy in Darfur," Rothman said in a statement. "The crimes against humanity that are occurring there from mass killings to rape to torture are inhuman, immoral, and wrong."
On Sunday, Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes held "Walk/Run/Ride/Jump for Darfur," in which about 110 people raised money by running on treadmills, jumping rope, and riding exercise bikes. The synagogue leadership hoped to raise $50,000, which would all go toward relief efforts.
"The Holocaust taught us how sacred human life is," said Barnert’s Rabbi Elyse Frishman. "When there’s some form of genocide occurring in the world we feel the need to rally to that."
During the past two years, the congregation has been promoting a letter-writing campaign, selling T-shirts to raise money, and speaking every Shabbat about the importance of the Darfur cause. To date, it has raised $16,000, not including Sunday’s earnings.
The synagogue will also send two buses to the rally in Washington to push for a political resolution.
"We see this as an ongoing effort and we’ll continue until the genocide stops," Frishman said. "I keep thinking of the time when our government could have sent planes to bomb the railroad tracks in Auschwitz."
Cong. Beth Sholom of Teaneck has been encouraging people for weeks to sign up for the rally. "The Jewish community’s part of a larger community and we can’t just ask ourselves ‘how does this affect the Jewish community?’" said Beth Sholom’s Rabbi Ken Berger. "This is a humanitarian issue and in addition to supporting Jewish education and the social services needs of our own community, we have to be concerned with the social justice needs of the world in which we live."