Time to take action on Darfur

Time to take action on Darfur

Teaneck resident Libby Klein agrees that it’s important to present up-to-date information on the situation in Darfur. But she says, it’s also important to take action.

Coordinator of a "A Call to Action: Genocide in Darfur," to be held Nov. 11 at Cong. Beth Sholom in Teaneck, Klein says the program will offer more than just talk about the ongoing genocidal campaign in Darfur, Sudan, that has claimed more than 450,000 lives and displaced ‘ million people since February ‘003.

While the program will include presentations by Gitta Zomorodi, senior policy associate of the American Jewish World Service, and Barkley Calkins, speaking for the Darfur Rehabilitation Project, "we’ll have stations at the back of the room where people can do something concrete," said Klein.

"We thought, ‘Let’s not just do consciousness-raising,’" she added, explaining the organizers’ decision to present "easy ways to move to the next step. People can make a difference through their involvement," she said.

Attendees will be given action sheets prepared by AWJS suggesting such measures as writing letters to local newspapers, joining vigils outside the United Nations, and participating in the Sudan divestment movement.

"At our tables we’ll collect donations for AWJS, Save Darfur, and the Darfur Rehabilitation Project," said Klein, noting that green "Save Darfur" wristbands will also be available for sale. In addition, attendees will be given postcards with sample messages intended for members of Congress.

According to Klein, who said AJWS changes the emphasis of its messages on a regular basis, last week the group targeted major investors in PetroChina, a major financial supporter of the Sudanese government. AJWS is also supporting the right of states throughout the United States to divest from companies that fund the Sudanese government and is calling on the Senate to pass a bill similar to The Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act (H.R. 180), which passed the House in July. The bill protects the right of states to divest from Sudan and prohibits U.S. government contracts with foreign companies that help the genocide.

Zomorodi, whose primary focus at AJWS is on advocating for an end to the crisis in Sudan, previously worked with Middle Eastern immigrant and refugee women in the United States and refugee children from Bosnia-Herzegovina and the former Yugoslavia in Berlin. At the Teaneck meeting, she will talk about the ongoing genocidal campaign in Darfur and present the history and background of the conflict.

Also presenting will be Barkley Calkins, board member of the Darfur Rehabilitation Project, a charitable group founded by Darfurians in this country "with deep concern for those in their homeland." Calkins explained that the group, giving the issue "a Darfurian face," provides speakers, engages in advocacy efforts, and "is preparing for the time when they may be called upon to begin rebuilding their country."

Calkins, director of the Nonprofit Sector Resource Institute at Seton Hall University, became interested in the effort when he met a graduate student at the school looking to begin such a group. One of only two board members who are not from Darfur, Calkins said he has been personally affected by the "dignity" of the group’s members, who, in the face of the horror and the violence, "talk about rebuilding."

"The Jewish community has been terrific on this issue," he said. "It’s a tribute to the Jewish community that with its own history of persecution, it has responded to this situation in such a positive and constructive way."

Klein said the upcoming meeting, co-sponsored by the synagogue’s sisterhood and social action committee, was instigated by several members of the committee who have "gotten more invested in the Save Darfur Coalition. The Jewish community needs to pay more attention," she said, citing Jewish teachings such as the injunction from Leviticus, "Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor."

"We’ve been victims, and we have the obligation to ensure that this doesn’t happen to any other group," she said. "There are different ways to help," she added. "You can decide to organize and raise money, get others involved and build a coalition, and keep Darfur on the radar screen."

Klein said she hopes the synagogue will do a follow-up program in the spring, inviting elected officials such as Sen. Robert Menendez, whom she called "an involved and passionate" advocate for Darfur.

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