Darfur--A Supplement to the Passover Seder
INTRODUCTION AND NOTE TO THE SEDER LEADER
Every year at this time, Jews are commanded to remember that we were slaves in Egypt. We tell each other the story of Exodus, of Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh, and give thanks to G-d for our freedom and redemption. But the commandment goes much further, according to Nachmanides: the Torah's reminder "you were strangers in Egypt" is a lesson that G-d stands by the persecuted in situations of oppression. The recollection of our redemption is meant to encourage Jews, who are G-d's partners, to help the oppressed, Jews and non-Jews alike.
In past years, Jews throughout the world have been asked to remember other oppressed groups in their Passover seders: Soviet Jews, Ethiopian Jews, etc. This Passover, as you remember our passage as a people m'avdut l'cherut (from slavery to freedom), we ask you to think of the genocide taking place in Darfur (a region in western Sudan). On the following pages, you will find background information, Jewish readings and prayers, and specific actions you and your family can take to help stop this terrible crime. Please find an appropriate moment in your Passover seder to read some of these, so that you and your guests can leave the seder inspired to take action.
Passover is about halfway between last Yom Kippur and the next, an excellent time for a "midyear review" of our progress with promises we made to G-d and to ourselves. In the prayer "Al Chayt" ("For the Sin"), we ask G-d to forgive us "in the matter of extending a hand." Let's make sure that next Yom Kippur, we can cross that sin off our list. There are actions each of us can take that can, and will, make a difference.
As our ancestors were faced with the genocidal intent and oppression of Pharaoh, so today the people of Darfur face enslavement and ethnic extinction. Since both the victims and the perpetrators are Muslim, this conflict is racial— between Arab raiders and the black African people of Darfur. Since February 2003, the Sudanese government have recruited and sponsored Janjaweed (literally, "armed men on horseback") militias to displace native black African civilians. Using rape, organized starvation and mass murder as tools of war, the Janjaweed have killed an estimated 400,000 people (with 6,000 more Darfuris killed each month), and displaced more than 2.5 million. According to reports by the World Food Program, the UN and the Coalition for International Justice, 3.5 million people are now hungry. The militias burn villages, systematically rape women and girls (as young as eight), abduct children, and destroy food and water supplies. Survivors of the raids have reported seeing government military planes participate in the attacks, bombing their villages. As the situation on the ground deteriorates, the Darfur crisis is spreading to eastern Chad, where Janjaweed are employing identical tactics against Chadian civilians (also non-Arab Africans), with similar consequences. "If no preventive action is taken, it may only be a matter of time before the refugee camps in Chad (which house Darfuri refugees) are threatened," warns Human Rights Watch Africa Director Peter Takirambudde.
Despite the efforts by the U.S. government to bring about peace in the North-South conflict in Sudan, UN agencies report that the Janjaweed militias continue to abduct women and children in Darfur in the west, which is not covered by the peace talks. According to the American Anti-Slavery Group, "Since the mid-1980s, Sudan has experienced a surge in cases of slavery." When the Janjaweed raid black African villages, they murder the men, but take women and children as slaves. "Of over 1,000 female slaves recently freed, nearly 70% confessed they were victim to rape, 60% to gang rape, and nearly a third to genital mutilation." For more information, please visit the web sites listed in the "What Can We Do?" section of this supplement.
PASSOVER READINGS AND PRAYERS
Shabbat 54b: One who can prevent members of his household from committing a sin and does not do so, is punishable for their sin. If one can prevent his fellow citizens from committing a sin, and does not do so, he is punishable for their sin. If one can prevent the whole world from committing a sin and does not, he is punishable for the sin of the entire world.
The Four Children (To be discussed after "The Four Children" in the seder) There is much rabbinic commentary on the Four Children (traditionally, Four Sons) in the seder. The Rabbis see them as representing four types of people. The types of people we are will determine our responses to human tragedies like the genocide in Darfur. Discuss the response to each of these Four Children— the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who does not know how to ask— about Darfur.
The wise child asks "What are our responsibilities, as Jews, to the oppressed people of Darfur?" The wicked child asks, "Why should we care what happens to a bunch of Muslims thousands of miles away?" The simple child asks, "What can we do to help those people?" And what shall we say to the child who does not know how to ask?
From Elie Wiesel (Remarks delivered July 14, 2004, in New York at the Darfur Emergency Summit, cosponsored by the American Jewish World Service and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.)
"Lo taamod al dam réakha" is a Biblical commandment. "Thou shalt not stand idly by the shedding of the blood of thy fellow man." The word is not "akhikha," thy Jewish brother, but "réakha," thy fellow human being, be he or she Jewish or not.
A CALL TO SOCIAL JUSTICE
Judaism is not simply a religious expression, an ethnic group or a nation. Our relationship with G-d is built on the principle of partnership— we are stewards of G-d's creation and the guardians of civilization.... Ecclesiastes Rabba explicates: When the Holy One created the first human, G-d took him and led him around all the trees of the garden of Eden, and said to him: "Behold my works— how beautiful, and how splendid they are. All that I have created, I created for your sake. Take care that you do not become corrupt and destroy My world. For once you become corrupt, there is none after you to repair it." Our b'rit (covenant) with G-d is predicated on our willingness to be a light to the nations. Our relationship with G-d obligates us as partners in the ongoing perfection of this world. As Jews living in a sacred community, it is our duty to look for the divine spark in others, and to magnify that light by creating a world based on the principles of justice and righteousness. — Rabbi David B. Thomas, Congregation Beth El, December 21, 2001
PRAYER FOR OVERCOMING INDIFFERENCE (Gates of Repentance, Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1978) For the sin of silence, For the sin of indifference, For the secret complicity of the neutral. For the closing of borders, For the washing of hands, For the crime of indifference, For the sin of silence, For the closing of borders. For all that was done, For all that was not done, Let there be no forgetfulness before the Throne of Glory; Let there be remembrance within the human heart; And let there at last be forgiveness When Your children, O God, Are free and at peace.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Will anything help? When asked why the United States didn't step in to stop the massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda, Bill Clinton's National Security Advisor, Tony Lake, answered, "Because the phones didn't ring." Politicians respond to issues that their constituents bring to their attention. If you don't care, your MP won't, either. David Kilgour, a former Liberal MP who left the Martin caucus, and voted against the initial Martin budget as a protest against Canada's inaction on Darfur, told a conference at the University of Western Ontario that an MP will pay attention if (s)he receives 5 letters or gets a visit from 3 voters. And, he said, Ottawa could never ignore a rally of 10,000 people.
Think Canada can't do anything? True, we're not a superpower, but Canada's traditional international role has been one of moral leadership, peacekeeping and persuasion. If Canada doesn't speak out, who will? So, make your voice heard— it really does make a difference!
Take these actions:
* Write to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter MacKay, and your MP. Tell them you want Canada to use its international influence to SAVE DARFUR. A sample letter is included at the end of this supplement. You can reach all three at: House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6. No stamp is required. To find your MP's name, go to: http://www.parl.gc.ca/common/index.asp?Language=E and scroll down to "Current Parliamentarians." Type in your postal code and click "find." * If you have received this supplement in hard copy, you can get an electronic copy of it, and of the letter, at www.narayever.ca
* While a paper letter carries more weight, e-mail can also be effective. To contact Members of Parliament, follow this pattern: (surnameDOTfirstinitial@parl.gc.ca). For example, Stephen Harper would be: Harper.S@parl.gc.ca
* Write to the media. Encourage your local papers and TV and radio stations to give Darfur more coverage. Write letters to the editor or submit an opinion piece. Express outrage that Michael Jackson and the Oscars get far more coverage than this important issue.
* Get your friends and family involved. Numbers are important— the more people write, the more the politicians will respond. Send an e-mail to your whole address book, with some background information and the sample letter. Invite some friends over for coffee, a discussion and a letter-writing session.
* Raise the issue of Darfur at your synagogue. Maybe your Social Action Committee will take it on, or you can start an Urgent Action Darfur Committee.
* Sign up for newsletters at the following web sites: CASTS (Canadians Against Slavery and Torture in Sudan), www.geocities.com/castsudan 416... STAND (Students Taking Action Now— Darfur), www.standcanada.org Save Darfur Coalition, www.savedarfur.org
* Have a speaker come to your synagogue. Contact the above organizations for help and names of speakers.
* Create awareness with SAVE DARFUR merchandise, available on the savedarfur.org website at: http://store.yahoo.com/yhst-88482264721289/index.html
* Make a donation to any of the above organizations. * Educate yourself. Order a DVD on Darfur by sending an e-mail to Darfur@ushmm.org. Visit these websites: