Jews and Darfur: An Open Letter to the Jewish Community

Dear Friends:

Let me begin by apologizing in advance for what follows. It is not my intention to lecture anyone about anything. I am no tzaddik, to be sure, and I have no right to preach about righteousness to anyone, let alone members of a community who, in many cases, have a moral compass much truer than mine and whose commitment to Torah puts mine to shame. Having said that, I am unable to keep silent about the subject that follows, so here goes:

Over the past few weeks, much discourse (both public and private) has taken place within the Jewish community (among many other communities, I am sure) on the subject of Darfur. Much of what has been said and written has been quite eloquent concerning the unspeakable horrors facing the victims there, and many have exhorted the members of our community to participate in an April 30 rally in Washington, to urge prompt action upon the Bush Administration. To my great surprise, and, I am sorry to say, embarrassment, I have heard words from people to the effect of: “what do I care about these people?” or “they’re mostly Muslim and hate Jews…why should we help them?”

In the world in which I grew up (and, I daresay, this applies to many, if not all of us), it was a virtual article of faith to say that: “while the Jews burned, the world kept silent.” I, like most of my peers, accepted that statement as (you should excuse the expression) Gospel. In my opinion, if we do not stand up for Darfur, we lose the right to continue complaining about world apathy, past and present, for Jewish woes. In short, we forfeit the moral ‘high ground’ and, I believe, no longer can lecture an uncaring world.

This is such a basic article of the Jewish creed, that I am astonished that it needs to be pointed out by anyone, least of all, an am ha’aretz like myself. One of the three principles enunciated and ALWAYS quoted and attributed to Hillel is: “If I am only for myself, what am I?”

Now I know that it is only natural that people worry first about their family, next about their friends and community and only afterward about strangers and the world at large. But somewhere in the mix, we need to consider not only WHO the victims are, but the severity and scale of the suffering. And while I would certainly be the last person to suggest that helping finance a yeshiva is unimportant (I beg that you not interpret my words to, G-d forbid, say such a thing), the people of Darfur are, in my opinion, the victims of a holocaust.

Yes, I know it makes Jews very angry to see that loaded term used in ANY context other than THE HOLOCAUST—hence, I use a lower-case ‘h’. But in reality, we might ask ourselves, “Why is this NOT a holocaust?” It is, after all, precipitated by nothing other than racial/ethnic hatred, involves the wholesale murder of, potentially, millions of people, and in a brutal, gruesome manner that would do the Nazis proud.

Thus, I am hard-pressed to understand why people who are always responsive to charitable requests, and who usually, if not always, turn out for Jewish or Israeli causes, find Darfur unworthy of their efforts. I don’t know a single one of the victims or potential victims of these atrocities. I probably never will. I don’t have any personal emotional investment in their well-being, or even that of their innocent children. But I know, as surely as one can know anything, that our standing up for them is a kiddush hashem, and an obligation that we all share.

Those who do not think this horror deserving of their attention must, I think, consider carefully any future complaints against a world indifferent to Jewish suffering. And if our community, which (rightly) supports Jewish soup kitchens, UJA, Israel Bonds, and literally dozens of other wonderful and important causes and acts of chesed, does not turn out in DROVES for this event on April 30, then SHAME ON US!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *