Jews For Justice In Darfur

Demonstrators gather on the Mall in Washington, DC, on Sunday, April 30, 2006 for a rally urging the Bush administration to help end genocide in Sudan's Darfur region.
By's Jennifer Hoar

On its Web page for Darfur activism, the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan prominently features the statement: "Genocide is a Jewish issue." The profound suffering that was and is so personal to Jews as a result of the Holocaust would seem to explain much of, if not all of, that sentiment.

There's actually more to it.

There's more to why an estimated 7,000 people attended the Darfur Rally in Washington through the Manhattan JCC alone. There's more to why the Cleveland Jewish Community re-scheduled its once-yearly "Super Sunday" fundraiser so that members could board buses to D.C. in the name of Darfur. There's more to why two rabbinical students took a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to attend the rally yesterday afternoon and lobby Senators today for action in Darfur.

What more is there besides "never again" allowing the decimation of millions at the behest of a cruel regime?

In a word: tradition. Because, for Jews, "saving one life is saving the world."

"The call to social justice is an important voice in Jewish tradition," said Rabbi Michael Strassfeld of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in New York.

That call is certainly an old one, too, as it originated in the Jews' slavery in Egypt about 3,500 years ago. What matters today, though, is that the experience is one that continues to resonate with Jews and their sense of obligation to "treat strangers with compassion," as Strassfeld put it.

"We're called to remember that experience [of slavery and Exodus] and be humbled by it even when it no longer oppresses us," Strassfeld said.

What's more, with the proximity of the celebration of Passover to yesterday's rally, the remembrance-compassion theme was very much at the forefront of the Jewish consciousness.

Arona Schreiber, one of the members of Rabbi Strassfeld's synagogue who came to Washington by bus and held a magic marker-scrawled sign at yesterday's rally, spoke to that.

Schreiber recalled a Passover reflection she heard about the slavery of the Jews. For her, it intensified and "increased the theme of the importance of freedom," she said.

That motif, in conjunction with her own 1960s civil rights spirit, motivated Schreiber to take a stand against the atrocities being perpetrated against citizens of Darfur by the government and its militia.