Naomi Strachman and Arvind Krishnamurthy had something in common. Both Ridgewood residents were looking for an effective way to help the people of Darfur.
“It’s a political nightmare there – it’s hard to do anything,” said Strachman, a member of Temple Israel & Jewish Community Center’s tikkun olam committee. “We wanted to find some way to support the Darfur effort while ensuring that the aid would reach the intended recipients.”
“We had decided to wait and see,” she added. But months later, while visiting her son’s college and talking with other parents, she learned that a synagogue in Manhattan was engaged in a project with Jewish World Watch that seemed to meet the committee’s requirements.
According to its Website, JewishWorldWatch.org, the group, established in 2004, was created to “educate and activate our community to rise up against … unspeakable acts. We will take responsibility for mobilizing the community and for helping to care for the victims of inhuman abuses.”
A member of the Save Darfur Coalition, JWW has launched several projects targeted specifically to that area. Among them is the Solar Cooker Project, providing solar cookers – together with pots, pot holders, and plastic bags – to women and girls fleeing the violence in Darfur.
Pointing out that women are placed in extreme jeopardy when undertaking the task of collecting firewood for cooking fuel, the Website explains that it is “reducing the vulnerability of these women by providing the Iridimi and Touloum refugee camps in Chad with solar cookers” to keep the women inside the relative safety of the camp.
“They also train women in how to use it,” said Strachman, describing the cookers as “accordion-shaped sun shields. They come with a black pot to concentrate the heat and two clips to keep the lids secure. It helps keep the steam in.”
Strachman said that “Jewish World Watch is also sensitive to not upsetting the cultural balance.” The cookers are placed together in a communal area “to maintain the continuity of gathering to cook. The woman can sit and socialize.”
The project “fits well into what our community does,” said Strachman, noting that the Ridgewood shul is involved in ecological causes. “So to work on a solar project is very exciting.”
In addition, she said, the project provides “an easy way to deal with a difficult situation. You collect the money and JWW takes care of the rest.”
It costs $30 to provide two solar cookers to one family. On three Sunday mornings this past spring, Strachman set up fund-raising tables in the synagogue, collecting checks for the cookers.
“We also got some additional contributions,” she said. In the end, the shul was able to purchase 72 units.
Arvind Krishnamurthy – a 17-year-old senior at Ridgewood High School and a member of the school’s Project Interact, which does fund-raising for a variety of causes – was also looking for a way to help Darfur.
During the summer of 2007, Arvind had seen the movie “Hotel Rwanda” and was moved by the images of genocide. “It opened me up to the things that were happening,” he said, noting that he was also inspired by what he learns in his Sunday school, Vivekananda Vidyapith in Wayne, “whose core principle is service.”
Arvind raised $1,000 for Darfur – a “Herculean task,” said Strachman.
“Some kids did a benefit concert and gave us the proceeds,” Arvind said, noting that additional monies came from two bake sales, as well as his own savings. He then called various groups working to aid Darfur, looking for a specific project to support.
“Temple Israel responded right away,” he said. As a result, Arvind presented Temple Israel with a $1,000 check, which the synagogue, in turn, donated to JWW.
“It was very exciting when I visited the high school and saw so many kids in the Interact club,” said Strachman, estimating the number of students at 40.
“I didn’t know how successful my program would be,” said Arvind, whose contribution paid for 66 solar cookers. The student said he intends to continue his fund-raising efforts.