Invoking the Holocaust-related phrase "Never Again," Jewish groups across the region and throughout the country will head to Washington on April 30 to call attention to the ongoing genocide in Sudan.
"The entire world has a mandate to stop genocide," proclaimed Ruth W. Messinger, president and executive director of American Jewish World Service, which, along with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, co-founded the Save Darfur Coalition.
The coalition – comprised of more than 100 activist and faith-based groups, including a who's who of American Jewish organizations, ranging from the Society for Humanistic Judaism to the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – organized the "Rally to Stop Genocide."
"At my age, I've seen the Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, South Sudan and now Darfur," said Messinger, 65, who has visited refugee camps in Sudan and in neighboring Chad. "We need to give some meaning to 'never again,' or else it is going to be an empty slogan. The Jewish community knows better than any other community the dangers of silence."
According to the coalition, more than 400,000 people – mostly ethnic Africans – have perished, and more than 2 million have been made homeless by a campaign of government-sponsored violence that began in 2003. The African Union peacekeeping force has been charged with protecting civilians from the Arab nomadic militia known as the Janjaweed, but these forces are widely regarded as underfunded, underequipped and overmatched.
According to Messenger, the situation has further destabilized as the Janjaweed have begun crossing from western Sudan into neighboring Chad to attack refugees – a situation that could lead to armed conflict between the two nations. She explained that officials with the Chadian government have talked of expelling the refugees back to Sudan, but so far, that has not happened.
'Where They Need to Be'
A number of Philadelphia-area synagogues and other Jewish institutions are sending groups by the busloads to the nation's capitol. This effort comes despite a scheduling conflict that has the rally taking place on the same day as the the annual Memorial Ceremony for the Six Million Jewish Martyrs at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Center City.
"People need to be where they feel they need to be," said 23-year-old Isabel de Koninck, a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College who helped secure funding from the administration to subsidize student participation. Roughly 50 members of the college community are expected to travel to the nation's capital for the rally.
"For me, the legacy of one genocide – the Holocaust – compels me to be in D.C.," said de Koninck.
But for others, she added, the best way to commemorate the Holocaust will be to attend the ceremony on the Parkway.
Other events to recall the Shoah are taking place throughout the area.
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, whose parents both survived the Holocaust, will be making the trip down to Washington.
"I'm hoping the rally is going to help focus the attention of the American population and government on the issue," said Liebling, 57, vice president for programs at the Jewish Funds for Justice.
Last June, Liebling traveled to Sudan on a trip organized by the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation. There, he saw little evidence of mass killings, though he attributed that to the fact that the government in Khartoum would only allow them to visit certain areas.
"There is a moral imperative for me to speak out against what is going on there, and it is an appropriate way to honor my aunts and grandparents who were killed," he said.
Among the local Jewish institutions sending groups to the rally are Main Line Reform Temple, Beth Elohim; Beth Am Israel; Har Zion Temple; the Germantown Jewish Centre; and Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania.
Starting last fall, students in the Human Rights Club at Akiba Hebrew Academy decided to make Darfur their primary focus for the school year. About 75 students from grades six through 12 are expected to attend the rally.
"Hopefully, the rally will make the message clear to our government that there is a large constituency of people who really care about this issue," said Nomi Teutsch, 18, co-president of the club.
"It's good that George Bush has acknowledged that there is a genocide that is unfolding in front of us in Sudan and is threatening to spread to Chad," said William Becker, a board member of the American Jewish World Service and congregant at Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley.
"The government needs to do more than acknowledge it," he added. "It needs to take specific action."
Messinger explained that the rally is not advocating actual policy, but is simply asking the U.S. government and international community to do and consider more than what's currently taking place.
"The United States has a universe of diplomatic, strategic and financial tools in its toolbox," said the one-time borough president of Manhattan. "They can figure out what combination of steps it makes the most sense to take in order to do more to protect the people on the ground."