AJWS Urges Rabbis to Address Darfur During High Holidays

Senior Rabbi Offers Suggestions and Expresses Concern over ‘Darfur Fatigue’

September 10, 2008; New York, NY — AJWS is urging rabbis across the country to discuss the genocide in Darfur with their congregants during the upcoming high-holidays. On a conference call, Rabbi Rick Jacobs—a member of AJWS’s Board of Trustees and Senior Rabbi at Westchester Reform Temple—addressed a group of 70 rabbis. A podcast of the call is available at http://www.ajws.org/emergencies/darfur/rabbis_darfur_conference.mp3

“During the month of Elul, it is a time to take inventory of our souls,” Rabbi Jacobs told the group.  “We must awaken the conscience of our communities.”

Since the genocide began more than five years ago in Sudan’s Darfur region, at least 450,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been displaced. The violence continues. Last month, the Sudanese military raided a village, killing dozens of people—including seven children.

The American Jewish community, with leadership from AJWS, has been at the forefront of several successful campaigns to pass and enact government sanctions against Sudan as well as Sudan divestment legislation at state and federal levels, build awareness of China’s role as the principal enabler of the genocide, raise money for humanitarian relief work, increase government support for humanitarian and international peacekeeping missions, and advocate for bringing Sudan’s leaders to justice.    

On the call, Rabbi Jacobs offered suggestions for contextualizing the genocide during the high holidays and ways that rabbis can weave the topic into their services. These include:

  • Before reciting Unetaneh Tokef, adding a kavanah listing all of the genocides of the 20th and 21st centuries
  • Referencing the principle of “standing up against injustice” before reciting a standing prayer
  • Invoking Jewish responsibilities to the four corners of the Earth as congregants take hold of their four tzitzis prior to reciting the Shma.
  • As part Al Chiet, reminding congregants that the sins of “silence”, “hardening hearts”, and “closing our eyes” are tantamount to the sin of “crying out ‘Never Again’ only for the Jews”

In addition to these suggestions, Rabbi Jacobs addressed the topic of “Darfur fatigue”, which he worries could be affecting efforts at continued mobilization in the Jewish community.

“We have to keep the community fire going,” Jacobs told other rabbis on the call. “(The Jewish community’s) work has made a difference in saving lives, but I am distressed at the strong inclination to move on—there will be some eye-rolling, but don’t be afraid of somebody saying ‘enough already about Darfur.'”

The conference call also included updates and briefings by AJWS president Ruth W. Messinger; actress Mia Farrow, a leading Darfur activist; and journalist Nick Kristof, who has written extensively on the genocide. Both Farrow and Kristof have been to the region in recent months.  

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