Darfur Sermon Resources
A selection of sermons and articles by members of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, on the crisis in Darfur.
Will You Be at Peace?Remarks at Interfaith Call to HumanityConspiracy of WomenLet's Mean What We SaySudan and Our ResponseOn the Atrocities in Sudan
Rabbi Ken Chasen, Leo Baeck Temple, Los Angeles
Member, Executive Committee, Board of Rabbis of Southern California
Published in The Jewish Journal 2006-05-19
I always knew that it would be very difficult to stop a genocide. I just never appreciated how difficult it would be merely to demonstrate against a genocide.
I was among a group of nearly 100 Los Angeles Jews who traveled to San Francisco on Sunday, April 30, to participate in the "Day of Conscience for Darfur" rally. In addition to being accompanied by more than 30 of my congregants from Leo Baeck Temple, I was delighted to be joined by a number of colleagues, including Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, and the board's president, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B'nai David-Judea Congregation.
The majority of us flew into Oakland that Sunday morning, and the rally organizers had arranged for us to be transported to the rally by bus -- only the bus never arrived. Forced to fend for ourselves, we quickly filled every taxi we could hail, urging the drivers to take us to the Golden Gate Bridge on the double.
As my cab began to depart from the airport, I remember being stunned when the driver indicated that he did not know how to get to the Golden Gate Bridge. There was no time to lose, so I started to fetch directions for him on my mobile phone. But as I focused intently on my job as our cabbie's navigator, I couldn't miss the conversation that he was having with my fellow passengers.
The driver identified himself as a recent immigrant from Darfur. Incredible. When he learned we were headed to the rally, he shook his head slowly, asking, "Are you Jews?"
When we confirmed his hunch, he snickered and said, "That explains it."
We couldn't resist taking the bait: "What do you mean by that?"
"There is no genocide taking place in Darfur," he replied. "I know. I lived there. This 'genocide' has been concocted by the Jews as a means of diverting the world's attention from what Israel is doing to the Palestinians."
As the conversation continued, he peppered his verbal assault with a few disparaging references to the "Israel Lobby," insisting that the truth would soon come out.
It was a rather surreal circumstance from which to emerge on the Golden Gate Bridge with 5,000 demonstrators determined to save Darfur. The rally was filled with inspirational moments. We heard from impassioned Washington legislators. Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders implored us to stop the murders. Eyewitnesses to the slaughter relayed their heartrending accounts. African musicians filled the air with glorious song. It was an extraordinary day. But the episode in the cab served as a dark reminder of just how much vigilance it will take to stop this genocide before we are left to mourn it.
The 20th century offered repeated incontrovertible proof that launching a campaign against genocide, getting it to permeate the collective consciousness and mobilizing the masses to take action is a difficult challenge.
There are many, like our cabbie, who possess personal and political reasons to deny the atrocities, and their efforts are bolstered by the very banality of genocide. That is to say, genocide is not always especially newsworthy. Nothing new happened today in Darfur that didn't happen yesterday ... and that won't happen tomorrow.
This keeps a catastrophe like Darfur's out of the news, fueling the lies of the deniers and the disinterest of the millions whose righteous indignation will be needed to motivate the world to take action.
With the notable exception of Nicholas Kristof's venerable work in The New York Times, there is an embarrassing paucity of news about Darfur. Hundreds of thousands have been murdered, and millions have been displaced, but it is largely left to our imaginations to hear the cries of the victims. But if we listen closely enough, they can be heard. There are screams. Screams of women being branded and raped -- right now. Screams of children being chased from their homes. Screams of men knowingly taking their final breath.
Just another day in Darfur.
Can we remain silent and live with ourselves?
We have a responsibility because we are neither the deniers nor the disinterested. There may not be enough news about Darfur, but we cannot claim that we are uninformed. Talking about the tragedy is not enough. Weeping about the tragedy is not enough. We must relentlessly urge our legislators to move the world to action. On Capitol Hill and at the White House, they count up our phone calls. That's how they decide whether this genocide matters to us. That's how they decide whether we want them to take life-saving action. Knowing this, calling daily isn't too often.
As Jews, who know the scourge of genocide too well, we should each ask ourselves one question every day: "When this atrocity in Darfur is over, and the final losses are known, will I be at peace with what I did to stop it?"
During the week of the Darfur rallies in Washington and San Francisco, Jews all over the world were studying our famous command from the Holiness Code in the Book of Leviticus: "Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor."
Five-hundred more will perish in Darfur today. When the killing is over, will you be at peace with what you did to stop it?
Remarks at Interfaith Call to Humanity
Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, Executive Vice President, The Board of Rabbis of Southern California
October 25, 2004
Hashofet kol ha-aretz lo ya-aseh mishpat? "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Gen. 18:25)
This coming Saturday, in synagogues throughout the world, we will chant these words from the Book of Genesis. They are a part of Abraham's plea to God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham is the first defense attorney in recorded history. He argues with God. He bargains with God. He challenges God to deal justly with His children, all His children.
How does God respond to Abraham's brazen questioning of the Divine will and testing of Divine limits? I picture God smiling�and crying. God smiles, celebrates and rejoices in the image of Abraham who had the righteous hutzpah to speak up for the innocent victims of the two cities. And God cries, bemoans, and laments our shocking inhumanity toward our fellowmen and women.
Then, as now, God cries out to us: I created you in My image. You challenge Me to deal justly? I challenge you, implore you and command you to do justice. My children in Darfur suffer the injustice of murder, rape, starvation and disease. You must feed them, clothe them, heal them, end their battles and wars. My children live in darkness and despair. You must bring them hope and light.
I am a Jew. I am a rabbi. I feel the pain of my fellow Jews, my fellow Christians, my fellow Muslims, the pain of all God's children, who are the innocent victims of violence, oppression and terror. My tradition teaches me that when any of God's children suffer, we all suffer. When we destroy one life, we destroy an entire world. When we save one life, we save an entire world.
Our faith traditions call upon us to translate our faith into action. The men, women and children of Darfur cry out to us for justice and compassion. In a few moments, we will once again hear the blasts of the Shofar, the ram's horn. May the sounds of the Shofar shatter our complacency and arouse us to redeem the lives of the innocent victims of Darfur. May the notes of the Shofar awaken us from our slumber and unite us to work together on their behalf. May the blasts of the Shofar pierce our heart, and stir us to erase the pain of human suffering in Sudan.
Hashofet kol ha-aretz ya-aseh mishpat. God will do justice when we do justice. Let us serve as God's partners to bring justice and compassion, peace and healing, to our fractured world. Amen.
Conspiracy of Women
Rabbi Laura Geller, Temple Emanuel, Beverly Hills
Jewish World Watch, May 31, 2006
Lunch, Learn, & Lend a Hand to Help the Women of Darfur
For the past 48 days, the entire Jewish community has been counting...counting the days between Passover and the holy day that begins tomorrow night, the anniversary of the day we received Torah. This linking of Passover and receiving Torah reminds us that our exodus from Egypt wasn't only about our own freedom, but rather about the freedom to work to create a world linked to the values of Torah, to the principle that every human being is created in the image of God.
On Passover we learn that we were redeemed from Egypt because of the righteousness of the women of that generation. And who were the women? Shifra and Puah...the midwives who defied Pharaoh's orders and let the infant boys live; Yocheved, and Miriam, the mother and brother of Moses who risked everything to save a child; the daughter of Pharaoh, a woman who reached across race, class and religious to rescue a human life. This was a conspiracy of women, women who understood that every human being is created in the image of God.
We want to be that conspiracy of women, working together to change the world, to make it a little safer for other women who are just like us, mothers, daughters, sisters, wives...other women in whose face we see the face of God and our own faces. We want to be the women who help redeem others from slavery.
We, this conspiracy of women, know what we should be counting: We should be counting the 400,000 people, human beings like us, killed in this genocide; we should be counting the over 2,000,000 people displaced; we should be counting the women and the girls, just like us, who are the victim of brutal rape as they leave the relative security of their temporary homes to gather firewood. These are women just like us� each one a human being created in God's image.
Our tradition makes it clear that each one counts. We are taught: "Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor." (Lev. 19: 16); We are taught: "If you save one life it is as though you have saved an entire world." There are 19,171 refugees, mostly women and children in the Iridimi Refugee Camp, each one a whole world. Each one counts. Each solar cooker we provide can save lives. That really counts. And along with providing two solar cookers for each family tent, we are also enabling some of these women to be trained to teach along with the relief workers in the refugee camp, reminding them that they are our partners in this conspiracy of women, that they are not forgotten and not alone.
We are part of a people who understands genocide, who remember what it was like to be forgotten and alone. When we say "Never Again," we mean "never again", not for us and not for anyone� because every human being is created in the image of God and everyone counts.
Let's Mean What We Say
Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center
Chair, Social Action Committee, Board of Rabbis of Southern California
Rally For Darfur
April 28 2006
What was it like in 1942, sitting in America, hearing the rumors of the Holocaust, not wanting to believe them, not knowing what to do, scared and confused? Some of you were in that situation, and as the years crept forward, 1943, 1944, things got worse, more desperate, what were you thinking? What did you wish could be done? We have heard, "just bomb the railroad tracks," that will help stop the murder, or at least disrupt it. But, with all of the channels of government, with all of the levels of bureaucracy, with all the shades of political machinations, nothing happened, we didn't bomb the tracks, and millions of our people died. We honored their memories this past Monday. What have we learned, what have we gained from the horrible experience of the Holocaust, what are we doing differently today?
Today, we have yet another genocide happening. Not Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo -- those were the genocides of last century, where the lessons of the Holocaust went unheeded, unlearned. I want to end the genocide in Darfur, as we begin this new century and millennium no differently than we ended the last one, with people being systematically wiped out while we debate the merits of intervention, the strategic value of saving lives.
Yet, I sit and spend hours, staring at a blank screen, wondering how to articulate a meaningful and timely message, again, about an atrocity that I have talked about many times before. My heart falters as I wonder which words, which combination of syllables and letters will make a difference this time around. Maybe it will be the Torah, "Don't stand idly by the blood of your neighbor." Maybe it will be the words of Elie Wiesel, "How can a citizen of a free country not pay attention? How can anyone, anywhere not feel outraged? How can a person, whether religious or secular, not be moved by compassion? `And above all, how can anyone who remembers remain silent?" Maybe it will be the words of Ruth Messinger, executive director of AJWS, and in my opinion, a worthy candidate for the Noble Peace Prize for her efforts in Darfur, "Failure to act properly now will result in endless, preventable and meaningless human suffering. Three quarters of a million children are waiting to see if the world cares enough to intervene; we cannot disappoint them."
I believe in the power of words to move the heart to action. Ours is a people of action, a nation that declares that we study because it leads to action. We learn Torah, seek to understand history, educate ourselves about the events of the day, not solely for the sake of knowledge, but for the sake of action. People are being systematically killed right now in Darfur and Chad -- we know this, we have eyewitnesses of this, some of our elected leaders have declared genocide to be happening. Now, after all the talk, all the wrestling, all the questioning, all the doubting, what are we going to do?
As I heard Rabbi Ed Feinstein say this past Sunday at the teen rally against genocide, "When are we going to stop talking and start acting?" Moshe was reminded by God at the edge of the sea, before it parted, that there is a time for prayer, a time for words, and then there is a time for action. Stop praying, God tells Moshe, and act. And the action we are calling for has the same tenor as "just bomb the tracks." It is: just protect the innocent civilians, guard the refugee camps. That is the place to start, so we can push back the janjaweed, the evil, government-sponsored fighters who are perpetrating this genocide against men, women and children. Just bomb the tracks, just guard the camps.
Why do I care about this issue so much? Why am I not working to end poverty in Pasadena or Israel with as much passion? I ask myself that question late at night, as I contemplate how my words will be received in this moment. And the honest answer is: I don't know. Maybe I should be. That is not to say that we are not working to help those in our community, for we are. Our social justice committee, under the able leadership of Joseph Charney, proud father of his twins this Shabbat as they become b'nai mitzvah, is involved in a multitude of projects that serve the needs of our community, locally and in Israel.
However, I am inspired by Ruth Messinger, who is one of my greatest teachers, and a dear friend and mentor, who is asking the bold question, "What if instead of mourning a genocide, we could actually stop one?" Genocide is not like other tragedies facing our world; it is unique in its scope and immediacy. Leon Leyson, our amazing Yom Hashoah speaker this past Monday night, who is the youngest member of Schindler's List, said that we "needed a different kind of language to talk about the Holocaust, for regular words, usual phrases cannot do justice to the magnitude of the horror."
This is not just another "issue," something to care about and volunteer some time to help alleviate. In fact, none of the major illness of the world, be it poverty, homelessness, war or genocide, HIV / AIDS, none of them are issues at all. We have removed ourselves from the humanity of these crises by calling them issues. Issues are things we can talk about, debate, wrestle with, write about, and think about. But, when human lives are at stake, it becomes more than an issue; I feel that we dilute our attention and diminish our responsibility when we call humanitarian crises "issues." I do it, we all do it. But, we must find different language, new language, in order to articulate the severity, enormity and seriousness of the problems before us. When people are dying, that is not an issue; that is an emergency.
What are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of ending a genocide? One of our congregants is going to Washington, DC for the major rally on the mall this Sunday. Yasher koach to Paulette Benson for taking action! Franci and I are going to San Francisco this Sunday for another major rally. There is still time to join us. Who is willing to sacrifice a Sunday for the sake of people dying Darfur? A short flight, a peaceful vigil across the Golden Gate Bridge, a rally, a concert, plenty of food, water and company -- I am sure the millions of displaced people and the thousands who will die on Sunday in Darfur would much rather be at the rally. Go to Southwest.com and make your flight arrangements for Sunday morning, Flight 2609 or 2500. The first five people to contact me will be reimbursed for the cost of their plane ticket. I hope to see some of you at Burbank Airport on Sunday morning.
Together we will be counted, together we will stand with silence and voice, with tears and song, with outrage and hope, determination and courage that each person, each soul, makes a difference, each voice matters, each cry adds to the collective scream of a world that is tired of genocide, tired of sinat chinam, senseless and baseless hatred, tired of watching innocent people go to the slaughterhouse because of who they are, how they were born, the destiny of their place in life.
genocide, or actually stop one? We have a challenge before us and let us pray that we can succeed. And when we are done praying, we must act.
Sudan and Our Response
Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Valley Beth Shalom, Encino
Founder, Jewish World Watch
August 26, 2005
What have we to do with a people we do not know, in a land we have not visited? What have we to do with people of another faith, another culture, another civilization? Have we Jews not sufficient burdens of our own? Is the struggle against anti-Semitism not enough for us? Are we so numerous that we can take on the suffering of others not our kinsmen?
We Jews see with ancient eyes. We have seen the torture, the starvation, the death by disease, the rapes, the abandonment by the civilized world before.
We Jews possess a terrible knowledge, an awesome wisdom we gained not out of books, but out of our own bodies. A knowledge out of the testimony of numbers seared into the skin of living human beings and the stench of burned flesh.
We see with ancient eyes: We are eye witnesses to the consequences of the callousness of lethal silence. We offer testimony to the morbid symptoms of apathy, the moral laryngitis that strangles the voice of protest.
We see with ancient eyes: Embassies shut down, visa denied, borders sealed off, refugee ships returned to the ports that transported the persecuted into the furnaces of hell. And we know what happens when churches are complicit with the killers of the dream.
With ancient eyes we see Darfur with a shock of recognition. We experience a collective deja vu even as we speak. More than two million frightened souls fleeing homes in Darfur, 400,000 helpless people murdered, the terror of the Janjaweed, which in Arabic is derived from "jan" - which means "evil", and "jawed" - which means "horsemen," soldiers on horses with swords, whips and truncheons, beating down a people and trampling them.
We heard before the treacherous excuses, the lying alibis, the rationalizations from church and state and international bodies. We count six million alibis. They said: What can we do? We are too few, too weak, too exhausted, the enemy too implacable. Do we not have a prior responsibility to our own church, to our own parish, to our own congregants? Are these reports really genocide or just propaganda?
We Jews remember what we expected sixty years ago. We prayed and hoped for a cry, a protest from out of the basilica, from out of the nave, from out of the cathedral, some proclamation of a fast, some decision to march in public, some demonstration on to the streets and marketplaces, some sob of conscience that could pierce the hardness of the heart: Can we do less? Like the Psalmist we cry to God into the ears of man:
"Rouse Yourself -- why do You sleep?
Awaken -- why do You hide Your face and ignore our affliction?"
And we also offer the following piece, by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel.
On the Atrocities in Sudan
Remarks delivered at the Darfur Emergency Summit, convened at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York on July 14, 2004, by the American Jewish World Service and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Sudan has become today's world capital of human pain, suffering and agony. There, one part of the population has been � and still is � subjected by another part, the dominating part, to humiliation, hunger and death. For a while, the so-called civilized world knew about it and preferred to look away. Now people know. And so they have no excuse for their passivity bordering on indifference. Those who, like you my friends, try to break the walls of their apathy deserve everyone's support and everyone's solidarity.
This gathering was organized by several important bodies. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's Committee on Conscience (Jerry Fowler), the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, the American Jewish World Service (Ruth Messinger) and several other humanitarian organizations.
As for myself, I have been involved in the efforts to help Sudanese victims for some years. It was a direct or indirect consequence of a millennium lecture I had given in the White House on the subject, "The Perils of Indifference". After I concluded, a woman in the audience rose and said: "I am from Rwanda." She asked me how I could explain the international community's indifference to the Rwandan massacres. I turned to the President who sat at my right and said: "Mr. President, you better answer this question. You know as well as we do that the Rwanda tragedy, which cost from 600,000 to 800,000 victims, innocent men, women and children, could have been averted. Why wasn't it?" His answer was honest and sincere: "It is true, that tragedy could have been averted. That's why I went there to apologize in my personal name and in the name of the American people. But I promise you: it will not happen again."
The next day I received a delegation from Sudan and friends of Sudan, headed by a Sudanese refugee bishop. They informed me that two million Sudanese had already died. They said, "You are now the custodian of the President's pledge. Let him keep it by helping stop the genocide in Sudan."
That brutal tragedy is still continuing, now in Sudan's Darfur region. Now its horrors are shown on television screens and on front pages of influential publications. Congressional delegations, special envoys and humanitarian agencies send back or bring back horror-
filled reports from the scene. A million human beings, young and old, have been uprooted, deported. Scores of women are being raped every day, children are dying of disease hunger and violence.
How can a citizen of a free country not pay attention? How can anyone, anywhere not feel outraged? How can a person, whether religious or secular, not be moved by compassion? And above all, how can anyone who remembers remain silent?
As a Jew who does not compare any event to the Holocaust, I feel concerned and challenged by the Sudanese tragedy. We must be involved. How can we reproach the indifference of non-Jews to Jewish suffering if we remain indifferent to another people's plight?
It happened in Cambodia, then in former Yugoslavia, and in Rwanda, now in Sudan. Asia, Europe, Africa: Three continents have become prisons, killing fields and cemeteries for countless innocent, defenseless populations. Will the plague be allowed to spread?
"Lo taamod al dam reakha" is a Biblical commandment. "Thou shall not stand idly by the shedding of the blood of thy fellow man." The word is not "akhikha," thy Jewish brother, but "reakha," thy fellow human being, be he or she Jewish or not. All are entitled to live with dignity and hope. All are entitled to live without fear and pain.
Not to assist Sudan's victims today would for me be unworthy of what I have learned from my teachers, my ancestors and my friends, namely that God alone is alone: His creatures must not be.
What pains and hurts me most now is the simultaneity of events. While we sit here and discuss how to behave morally, both individually and collectively, over there, in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan, human beings kill and die.
Should the Sudanese victims feel abandoned and neglected, it would be our fault � and perhaps our guilt.
That's why we must intervene.
If we do, they and their children will be grateful for us. As will be, through them, our own.